Georgia knows all about going to Jacksonville, Fla., with its annual trip made around Halloween time to tangle with rival Florida.
Officials separate players during the second half of the NCAA college football game between Georgia and Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. Georgia won 23-20. (AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto)
Traveling there the day after Christmas for a New Year’s Day bowl game will certainly be different for the Bulldogs.
“The only time I’ve ever been down there is for the Florida game,” sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I know for the regular students, they always have fun. They go to Frat Beach (on St. Simons Island) for the whole weekend, but I personally have no idea what’s in Jacksonville.”
Georgia will experience the city in a different way starting today with an extended stay leading up to the Gator Bowl matchup with Nebraska.
This is the first Gator Bowl for Georgia since Jan. 1, 1989 when it beat Michigan State 34-27 in Vince Dooley’s last game as coach.
“For years, Jacksonville wasn’t a whole lot of fun for us to come to,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “The last couple of years we’ve had a little better luck.”
The Bulldogs have won three straight against the Gators and are looking to make it back-to-back bowl wins against the Cornhuskers.
Georgia players will make their own way to Jacksonville today. Nebraska is flying this morning from Lincoln on a charter.
There will be a team welcome dinner tonight of a Southern-style buffet for Georgia at the Jacksonville Omni Hotel, where the Bulldogs are staying.
The scheduled events for the teams in the week ahead put on by the bowl are a trip to Latitude 30 entertainment venue one day and a beach party at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club on another. Players from both teams will also pay a visit to lift up the spirits of kids at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
“Usually what our players love is the ability to relax and have great food,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “They want to stay at a nice place. They want to be able to relax. If they want to sit out by the pool, they’re going to have that opportunity.”
Georgia and Florida have played against each other in Jacksonville since 1933 (except for 1994 and 1995 when they played on their campuses while the Jacksonville stadium was being renovated).
“Anytime you get to experience a new bowl game, it’s great,” Richt said. “It’s great for the players, especially, they get to see new things, do new things. I know they’re looking forward to doing it as well.”
Georgia starting offensive tackle John Theus and snapper Nathan Theus will be playing in their hometown.
John Theus said players may come over his house a couple of nights during the week.
“I’m trying not to swamp my parents too much with people,” he said. “Save some of the per diem and get a home-cooked meal would be nice.”
Offensive guard Chris Burnette said he would probably be in Theus’ ear “to figure out what there is to do.”
Theus said he loves Jacksonville but was having a hard time coming up with ideas for teammates.
“There’s like the St. Johns Town Center,” he said. “There’s great shopping there. …My only bowl experience has been in Orlando and we went to a theme park every day.”
He said he might also mention going golfing.
Georgia is practicing at Jacksonville University while Nebraska will get its work done at the University of North Florida.
Bulldogs players will lift weights and do walk-throughs tonight and then practice Friday through Monday before taking the day off before the game.
“I’ve got way too much in right now (in the game plan),” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said before the team broke for the holiday. “So when we get down there, I’ll fire some things after watching some film over the break.”