JACKSONVILLE — If you want to understand how desperate, how low the programs at Florida and Georgia have fallen this season, all you have to do is listen to Gators defensive back Cody Riggs' reaction to South Carolina's double-overtime win against Missouri last week.
“I went crazy,” Riggs said. “I was jumping around the house. I actually called (teammate) Jaylen (Watkins). I was like, 'We're back in it. We're back. We still have a chance.' So, thanks to South Carolina, but we have to handle our business first, a couple of things have to go right, but we still have hope.”
The Bulldogs and Gators are both 4-3 overall, 3-2 in the SEC — one of those losses to Missouri in the East. Both are coming off bye weeks and two-game losing streaks. Both have lost key players to injuries.
Neither one is ranked. It's just the second time since 1980 (the other in 2010) that neither is in the top 25.
How do you save at least your pride in a season like this?
Thank you, South Carolina?
“The minute that kick hit the upright I got my computer and started watching film of Georgia,” Riggs said.
Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett — who has missed only one other field goal try all season in league play — gave UGA and UF a shred of hope when he banged a double-OT try off the goal post to give the Gamecocks the 27-24 win and hand the Tigers their first conference loss.
Hope? There were a lot of players sitting at home on both rosters jumping up and down with joy for the first time in weeks. And today, that hope vanishes for one sideline while the other can keep its fingers crossed.
“We just need to go take care of Florida in this situation, and that's what we plan on doing,” said third-year Gators coach Will Muschamp, 0-4 as a Georgia player and 0-2 as the Florida coach in this rivalry.
Georgia is looking for some history today. The last time the Bulldogs won three straight in the series was 1987-89.
“I think there's plenty of motivation going into this game, there's no doubt about that,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. “Any time Georgia and Florida play in Jacksonville it's a big event, it's a big deal for sure. But knowing that we're still trying to win the East, we're needing help and all that kind of thing, will certainly provide motivation for me, so I would imagine it would provide motivation for the players as well.”
The spotlight for Georgia will be on record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray, whose 45-yard TD pass to Malcolm Mitchell sealed the 17-9 win late last season. If Murray is hot, the Gators' season is for all intents and purposes over. But the senior from Plant High has struggled making decisions when under pressure.
“I'm sure everyone in this state was watching that game hoping that South Carolina would pull it off and they did,” Murray said. “So it was a great feeling to know that we are still alive. Obviously we need them to lose a couple more, but the most important thing is we have to take care of business. We can't lose any more.”
UGA gets tailback Todd Gurley back after struggling with an ankle injury for several weeks.
“He's a back that whether they block them or not, he gains positive yards. You don't see many negative plays when he's in the game,” Muschamp said. “The thing that strikes me about the guy is he competes. He competes on every run. He goes after it every play. And he's a guy that certainly has the speed to take it the distance at any time.”
Florida must hope Tyler Murphy, who has rested a sprained throwing shoulder, will come back from not throwing a TD pass in the back-to-back losses. He was sacked a combined 10 times by Mizzou and LSU in those losses. The Gators are also giving freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor his first career start.
Georgia's defense has given up 72 points the last two games. Florida's offense has scored one touchdown (three field goals, a kickoff return for a touchdown and Taylor's 20-yard TD run).
The Gators got more bad news on the injury front this week when D.J. Humphries was sidelined with a knee injury and could miss the next month. That forces UF to start Tyler Moore and Trent Brown at tackles.
With the offense worst in the SEC in total offense (336.9 yards a game) that puts even more pressure on the Florida defense to play a larger role. Linebackers Ronald Powell (ankle) and Darrin Kitchens (shoulder), and defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (concussion) are back. Riggs was ejected for targeting on the first play of the Mizzou game. Those returns should help.
“We'll play more guys in this game, just because we have more guys available to us this game than we had last week,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “Yeah, there will be more guys in there in the rotation. It's a key component to what we've always been able to do here defensively. Having some guys out, you (don't have) quite the same luxury as normal. We're getting some of those guys back. I think playing a lot of guys is smart and what we do. We've got a lot of guys who can play. We'll try and keep guys fresh that way and roll them in.”
Slowing Murray would help the cause.
“He knows that offense probably as well as the coaching staff does, and it shows when you watch it on tape,'' Durkin said. “I mean, he's very comfortable in what they're doing and they check him out on a lot of things and I think put a lot on him in terms of protections and checking the play, and he handles it well. So, I mean, he presents a lot of issues that way, and he's a guy we have faced many times. We know what his ability is.”
Then there's that motivation. From Athens to Gainesville, the spark returned when the Mizzou players walked off the field with a loss that put the rest of the East back in contention.
“I think everybody got a good little bit of juice from that. It makes us feel that there's still hope to win the SEC East, and that's what we want to do,” Richt said. “It's what we're hoping to do. This game is obviously important, no matter what the situation is, but we still feel like we're in the race for the East, so it makes it a little bit more meaningful to everybody. I think it makes it a little bit easier to practice and get after it.”
But one team will see those dreams die for good today with a third league loss.
“You still feel, you know, you're still playing for something,” Gators linebacker Mike Taylor said. “It does give you motivation. We know we have to win all of our games for us to have any chance to do anything that we want to do anyway.”