Recent history shows the winner of the Florida-Georgia game has a one-way ticket to Atlanta.
The winner of the rivalry, (formerly) known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, represented the SEC East in each of the last five seasons.
Despite his winless record as a head coach against Georgia, Gators’ head coach Dan Mullen remains firm in believing that this year’s rivalry game is no different from the last.
“Two years ago, we didn’t beat Missouri. I don’t think that changed this year’s deal, playing them,” he said. “So I just think it’s usually a big game because it usually has some championship implications in it. Whether we won or lost last year does not affect this year’s game.”
Georgia’s defense stands to be the toughest test UF’s offense has faced to this point in the season.
“They’re a very, very good defensive football team and it’s not one thing that makes them a great football team. It’s every layer of it that makes them a really good defensive football team,” Mullen said.
Georgia hasn’t broken a sweat insulating opposing offenses this season. They lead the SEC in yards per drive allowed (25.49), forced three and outs (47.46%), opponent red zone play percentage (11.86%) and rate of touchdowns allowed (2.41%).
To his credit, Gators’ offensive coordinator Brian Johnson knows that UF has narrow margins of error available this weekend, even with UGA missing safety Richard LeCounte III and defensive tackles Jordan Davis and Julian Rochester this weekend.
“When you play a defense that's full of great players, you know, you're gonna have to make plays,” Johnson said.
Leading Florida’s offense is, quarterback Kyle Trask, whose performances are more electrifying than superhero Virgil “Static” Hawkins with a football. Trask is among the conference’s best passers this season. He’s second in passing touchdown percent (12.95%) and third in both explosive pass play percentage (15.11%) and fifth in passing yards (1,343), according to SEC StatCat.
“He does a great job managing our offense,” Mullen said. “He’s doing a great job distributing the ball to playmakers, limiting mistakes and shows great leadership within the team. You need all those things from your quarterback if you’re going to have the opportunity to be a championship team.”
Or maybe it’s senior wide receiver Kadarius Toney who is more deserving of the honor. In average yards after a catch (8.36), he’s sixth in the SEC. Toney averages 120 all-purpose yards per game, and his six touchdowns this season is triple his previous career total.
To keep the current flowing, Johnson intends to pull from his arsenal of weapons across the offense.
“I think that's the uniqueness of our offense is that we have the ability with all five skill positions that those guys can make a direct impact with the ball in their hands,” Johnson said. “I think it's a chess match going back and forth.”
The Gators went 6 for 6 on red zone attempts against Missouri, but settling for field goals during the first two attempts is an area Johnson wants to see improvement.
“You’d like to see us get touchdowns on those first two red-zone possessions,” Johnson said. “We talk so much about the ability to score touchdowns down there is critical if you want to be great offensively.”
Florida may be third in the SEC for total yards per game (479.5), but that figure is largely buoyed by the team’s 343.25 passing yards per game. Georgia’s defense leads the SEC in limiting runs, only allowing 80.2 yards per game on the ground.
While Mullen’s poker face reveals little sense of urgency, it will take a creative scheme to get his players in space and prevent any short circuits against one of the best defenses in the SEC.
Kyle Trask darts through Missouri defenders in Florida's game versus Missouri on Oct. 31. He and senior Kadarius Toney will lead the Gators in their charge against Georgia this weekend.