Points are plentiful for Georgia and at a premium for Florida heading into Saturday’s clash of rivals in Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs have scored 40 or more points in three straight Southeastern Conference games for the first time in program history during their current three-game winning streak.
The Gators have mustered just 42 points in their last three games during their three-game losing slide, but are coming off a bye week that coach Urban Meyer called the most important open date of his career.
“I’m sure that they’re doing some soul-searching and trying to find some answers, too,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “You have time to change your course a little bit, so I’m sure that’s what they’re focusing on right now.”
Georgia (4-4, 3-3 SEC) and Florida (4-3, 2-3) will meet Saturday with both teams unranked for the first time since 1979, but both remain very much in the mix in the SEC East race.
The Bulldogs have rebounded from the program’s first four-game losing streak in 20 years with resounding victories over Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
“We kind of had to do it in a short time frame with just a week to play before Tennessee, but we did make some fairly drastic changes, at least in how we’ve been practicing, and that seemed to spark us,” Richt said. “I’m sure they’re looking for that spark, too.”
Georgia’s decision to practice more physically – with the No. 1 offense going up against the No. 1 defense – has paid off with better blocking and tackling.
The Bulldogs rushed for 177 yards in their 44-31 win at Kentucky on Saturday night and the defense held the Wildcats to 70 rushing yards, rang up three sacks and forced four turnovers.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said after the game that Georgia was “the best pass-rush team we’ve seen, no question about it.”
SEC sack leader Justin Houston led the way with 2 1/2 sacks.
“They did win the physical battle,” Phillips said Sunday. “Georgia’s one of the most physical teams that we’ve played this year.”
Told about about Phillips’ comments, Richt said: “That’s music to my ears, quite frankly, because those are some of the very things we were wanting people to feel about us. We wanted to earn people’s respect and it sounds like we earned their respect.
“We wanted people to be able to look at our film and say, ‘These guys play hard, these guys play with a physical nature.’ I thought our guys played very hard. I thought they played physical.”
Under Meyer, Florida has headed into the Georgia game coming off a loss just twice – in 2005 (to LSU) and 2006 (to Auburn).
Those were also the only years under Meyer that the Gators had an open date before playing Georgia. Florida responded by beating Georgia in both of those years.
“We tweaked a lot of things those weeks just to clean some things up,” said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, the Gators’ offensive coordinator from 2005-08. “Any time you have a bye week, the biggest thing is you have the opportunity to get your guys healthy and get them back on track and if you need to make some tweaks it gives you a little extra time to do that.”
Notes: Tailback Caleb King returns from his two-game suspension Saturday to join a backfield where Washaun Ealey has topped 100 yards in consecutive games. King was the starter before his suspension following an arrest for failing to appear in a Walton County court for a speeding ticket. “We’ll give him as many reps as we think he deserves just by virtue of his practice and what he’s done in the past,” Richt said. “The discipline’s over.” … Richt said he did not think Ealey’s right knee injury sustained in Saturday night’s win is “anything serious.” Ealey left the game twice in the fourth quarter due to a knee he said he “tweaked.” Director of sports medicine Ron Courson did not mention Ealey in his injury report after the game and had not contacted Richt as of Sunday evening about Ealey. “The thing you don’t know is what happens over night, what crops up in the morning and all that,” Richt said. … Richt is uncertain of the status of cornerback/punt returner Branden Smith (concussion) for Saturday. Backup linebacker and special teamer Michael Gilliard has a hamstring injury, but Richt didn’t know how severe. Receiver Logan Gray also is dealing with a hamstring injury. … Georgia now leads the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 99.3 yards per game.