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Perspective Piece: Florida-Georgia

Staff Columnist
Posted Oct 25, 2006

In the Planet Earth's Fairly Wide-Ranging Not-Indoor Social Gathering Dominated by Liquids With Kick, anything can happen. Put differently, a deeply wounded Dawg on its deathbed can be very dangerous.

There are two very obvious truths--one in the present moment, one affirmed by experience throughout history--that will collide in Jacksonville this Saturday afternoon. When Florida and Georgia renew their neutral-site holy war with the classic name that's being forced out of existence for no good (or non-hypocritical) reason, the truth of football logic will confront the truth of football passion.

The logical football truth is that Florida has a much better team than Georgia. Period. The Gators have better quarterbacking, superior speed, more reliable pass catchers, a better front seven, a better secondary, and a superior track record when it comes to forcing turnovers in big games. The Dawgs' only advantage was at the kicker position, but Brandon Coutu's injury throws even that comparison into question. And oh, Florida is coming off a bye, so the Gators are a fresher team as well. Did we say that the Gators will be steamed coming off a loss? So yeah, Florida doesn't seem likely to let down its guard. If logic prevails, this game figures to be a decisive romp for Urban Meyer's ballclub as it pursues an elusive SEC East title.

But the truth of formulaic football comparisons--as college football fans should know--often leaves town when a hotly-contested rivalry game comes across the calendar. The emotions that represent such a delicious--and often defining--part of the larger college football experience are abundantly felt when longstanding antagonisms rise to the surface. These emotions won't always carry the day for the under-Dawg, but they usually make these kinds of games--in the words of Lee Corso--"closer than the experts think." Sometimes, they even produce the titanic upset that shakes the earthly soil.

The fascinating dynamic of this Florida-Georgia game is the fact that after several years of Gator struggles, it is Georgia who will enter this game as the team with something to prove. Ever since Steve Spurrier left Gainesville after the 2001 season, it's been the Dawgs who--in the eyes of conventional wisdom and football logic--have usually entered this game with the upper hand. Last year's contest was thrown off-script by the injury to UGA quarterback D.J. Shockley, but the battle in Jacksonville became the razor-close affair it figured to be. This year, it's unquestionably true--for the first time in five years--that Georgia is the smaller Dawg in this Southern street fight. The change in football resources has to delight Florida fans; the Gators have much more to call upon in terms of skilled bodies this time around. However, Mark Richt's team has, in a narrow but real sense, the luxury of being psychologically liberated for once in this latest rendition of... errrr, uhhh... The Globe's Appreciably Far-Flung Festival of People Enhancing Joys or Drowning Sorrows in the Midst of Oxygen That's Real and Not Air-Conditioned.

Richt hasn't been in Athens for decades upon decades, but he's been at Georgia long enough to remember the first time he coached in this rivalry, in 2001 against Spurrier, the man he used to oppose as Florida State's offensive coordinator. Five years ago, Florida was even more loaded than this current incarnation of Gators; Richt's Bulldogs were outmanned and outgunned to the -nth degree. But for three quarters, that didn't matter: the size of the Dawg in the fight paled in comparison to the size of the fight in the Dawgs, who battled the Gators tooth and nail and--if not for some missed kicks and other assorted mistakes--could have made an already-close game that much more interesting down the stretch. Florida pulled away late for a deceivingly close 24-10 win, but Georgia had made the favored Gators sweat. Richt will call upon that experience this Saturday; what's more is that he has no choice but to do so.

While the Dawgs experience life as a decided underdog in this game for the first time in a while, the Gators--after years of fighting furiously to pluck these games from the fire and ruin numerous Georgia seasons--will reassume the role of heavy favorite in this rumble near the St. John's River. What's tricky for the Gators in this game is that, unlike past seasons, they don't have to come up with huge systemic fixes or improvements in their offense. Whereas past seasons have demanded that the Gators engage in massive offensive retooling during the pre-Georgia bye week, this year's game merely requires cleanness from the Florida operation.

Yes, Urban Meyer eventually wants to roll up big numbers on SEC defenses, very much including Georgia's, but for now, a Gator win will likely be sewn up if Chris Leak can merely play a solid, no-frills, turnover-free game in which he keeps the trains running on time. The avoidance of huge errors--the only way Georgia figures to score a lot of points on Saturday--looms as a much bigger key for Florida than the accumulation of huge, game-breaking plays. Simply being airtight should suffice for a Gator offense that doesn't have to be awesome or astronomical against a young and depleted opponent. Urban Meyer spent last year prepping for the Georgia game as a man in search of fresh answers. This year, Meyer only needs to rely on old, time-tested answers that have always been first and foremost in the minds and vocabularies of traditional Southern football coaches. Ball security, solid defense, and a sound kicking game will provide a fundamental foundation that will prevent Georgia--and its under-Dawg emotions--from overwhelming the talent advantage the Gators so clearly possess.

It's football logic against football passion this Saturday, in the latest staging of.... ahhhh, ummmm, uhhhh... Civilization's Not-Very-Small Collection of College Students--Not Inside a Domed Stadium, By the Way!--Holding Paper or Glass Containers in Their Right Hands and Talking About Things College Students Talk About While Occasionally Lifting Said Containers to Their Mouths and Then Appearing to Be Satisfied in Some Strange Way.

We'll see if a small and wounded Dawg can use emotions to overwhelm and upset a bunch of Gators that want to finally feast on a division title after a six-year period of starvation.

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