Preview of the Gators – Dawgs showdown

Another sell-out crowd will be on hand Saturday in Jacksonville.
Another sell-out crowd will be on hand Saturday in Jacksonville.

A year ago, Florida and Georgia faced off for what essentially amounted to the SEC East title. On Saturday, the stakes aren’t quite as high, but there is still a lot to play for.

The Gators and Bulldogs will be meeting for the 91st time. Each squad is sitting at 4-3 on the year, and has lost what seems like nearly every starter. One might be led to believe that the divisional crown is out of reach, but such is not the case. Missouri’s double-overtime loss to South Carolina has slightly opened the door for the Dawgs, Gators and Gamecocks.

If Georgia can win for the 49th time, the Dawgs’ SEC title dreams will live to see another day. The same can be said for Florida, if the Gators can corral their 41st victory in the rivalry.

Wins have not been easy to come by for either team through the first half of 2013, and a victory in EverBank Field will not be a simple task either. It could very well come down to which team has enough healthy bodies to get through the game. Both teams were off in Week 9, and hopefully used the down time to get healthy.

Each squad has also dropped two games in a row. Georgia fell to Missouri and Vanderbilt, while Florida lost to LSU and Missouri.

The Dawgs have been without running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, as well as wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley. Marshall, Mitchell and Scott-Wesley are done for the year, but there is a very good chance that both Gurley and Bennett will be ready to play in Jacksonville.

The record-setting passer has thrown three of his six interceptions over his previous two games. Murray failed to throw a single touchdown pass in the upset loss at Vanderbilt. This was not the way his final year in red and black was supposed to unfold. A win over Florida would change everything. It would move the Bulldogs to 4-2 in the conference and with an outside shot at the SEC title game should Missouri slip up.

The Gators’ elite defense will be well-rested itself, and playing with a chip on its shoulder. The unit, led by defensive linemen Leon Orr, Dante Fowler, Jon Bullard, linebacker Antonio Morrison and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, will have been simmering for two weeks when it finally comes time for kickoff. After holding every team to 21 points or less, Florida gave up 36 points in a blowout loss to Mizzou.

Can the Gators do what they do best and shut down their bitter rivals? Better yet, will it even matter if they do? It won’t if Florida’s anemic offense hasn’t managed to solve the problems that has plagued it since crushing Arkansas, 30-10, on Oct. 5. At that point, it looked like redshirt junior Tyler Murphy was the savior of a unit that could barely tie its own shoes.

Since, however, he has been chased all around the field by rabid defenders as an injury-riddled offensive line tries to pass protect and a weak corps of wide receivers attempts to get open. Will Solomon Patton (28 receptions, 426 yards, four touchdowns), Trey Burton (29, 336 and one) and Quinton Dunbar (22, 301) be able to find space against Georgia’s freshman-laden defensive backfield?

Shaq Wiggins is a star in the making, but Patton and Burton are both seniors. Wiggins and Tray Matthews may both see extensive playing time at the Cocktail Party, but both are merely freshmen.

Then again, Florida’s hopes of victory may be hinging on a freshman as well. Starting running back Matt Jones is out for the year with a knee injury, opening the door for legacy Kelvin Taylor.

The son of legendary former UF and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred, the younger Taylor will have the chance to star on his father’s old stomping grounds. Taylor tallied career highs with 12 carries and 74 yards against Mizzou, while also scoring the first rushing touchdown of his young career.

He was one of the lone bright spots for the Gators offensively two weeks ago. With the extra preparation time, can he break out against a Georgia defense that has given up a very non-SEC average of 33.3 points per game?