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October 27, 2006
Game of the Week: No. 5 Florida vs. Georgia
"I feel somewhat confident, but would feel a whole lot more had UF escaped AU with a victory. I wish they were coming in as overly confident as possible. I still think they might be though and if our guys have anything left to stand up and make sure this season doesn't turn back into a Donnan/Goff type year, this is it."
-- kckd on the The Dawg Vent message board on UGASports.com.
Though the Georgia-Florida football game is no longer officially known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," more than a few spirits likely will flow Saturday at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
A Florida victory will likely result in Gators fans prematurely toasting another SEC East championship.
With a loss, Georgia fans - already unnerved by an inconsistent and uncharacteristic season - may feel in need of a stiff drink.
Although No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1) is coming off a loss and Georgia (6-2, 3-2) won its last game, the momentum is clearly with the Gators. Florida hopes to complete a treacherous four-game stretch that also included games with Alabama, LSU and Auburn with three victories.
If that is accomplished, the Gators will only need to defeat Vanderbilt (3-5) in Nashville and South Carolina (5-2) in The Swamp - where the Gators are 11-0 under coach Urban Meyer - to return to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2000.
Georgia, which narrowly avoided a three-game losing streak by eking past Mississippi State 27-24 last week, is a two touchdown underdog. The Bulldogs view the Florida clash as an opportunity to restore order in a chaotic season.
"This is a highly-anticipated game for us because this game could change the outcome of the whole season and answer some of the critics we have out there," Bulldogs safety Tra Battle said.
More importantly, the Bulldogs are going to have to find an answer for Florida quarterback Chris Leak. He has led the Gators to two previous victories over Georgia while completing 50 of 77 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions in his career against the Bulldogs.
"He's had success in this game," Florida coach Urban Meyer said of Leak. "He knows this game. We expect him to play very well in this game."
The Bulldogs probably do, too.
"The law of averages say he's due to throw a pick, so maybe it will be in this game," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's had a good time with us. We haven't pressured him enough to make it uncomfortable for him. Even in the game we won (in 2004) he kept his composure and never got in position to throw many bad balls. To think he would throw a bad ball unless pressured is highly unlikely."
Georgia has players capable of pressuring the quarterback, but they haven't done so with the frequency that was anticipated when the season started.
Georgia has more issues than failing to mount an overpowering pass rush. The Bulldogs have lost 17 turnovers while creating 14. Florida hasn't fared much better, losing 15 turnovers while getting 14.
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However, the Gators defense has allowed just five touchdowns all season. Georgia gave up that many in its 51-33 loss to Tennessee, then gave up three in a shocking loss to Vanderbilt and three more to Mississippi State.
"If we have mistakes here and there, that won't do it against Florida," Johnson said. "We have to be hitting on all cylinders for this one. I don't mind being the underdog going into this game, but mistakes can cost either team. Missed field goals, mistakes on special teams … we cannot have those this week. The key for us will be to not let them get in an offensive rhythm. We have to put a lot of pressure on them and cannot let them run."
The passing game is clearly Florida's greatest weapon, with Leak having thrown for 1,503 yards and 15 touchdowns. Receivers Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell have combined to catch nine touchdown passes.
Georgia has allowed five touchdown passes in the last five games.
But Meyer referenced Florida's 27-17 loss to Auburn two weeks ago and said the Gators will not be overconfident.
"We're not very good ourselves right now," he said. "We played our worst game of the year two weeks ago, so we have a lot of work to do ourselves. So, if you're asking me if we're overconfident …there's no chance of that at this point."
History shows the Gators shouldn't be overconfident. Georgia upset then-No. 1 Florida in 1985, and prevailed in 1997 despite being 19-point underdogs.
Optimistic Georgia faithful, who drink from a half-full glass, would say those are prime examples why the Bulldogs can pull off another upset.
Of course, cynics might say that's just the booze talking.