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The Gators want to get their offense rolling and snap a two-game losing streak to Georgia on Saturday.

Friday November 1, 2013Seeking Separation: SEC East Hopes on Line in Florida-Georgia Game

The Gators want to get their offense rolling and snap a two-game losing streak to Georgia on Saturday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For two programs that work constantly to separate themselves from the other, the similarities this season between Florida and Georgia are striking.

Both began the season ranked in the top 10. Both are now unranked. Both are 4-3. Both have lost two SEC games. Both have two-game losing streaks. Both have been decimated by injuries.

Florida-Georgia logo

Oh, and both need a win in the worst way.

By early Saturday evening here at EverBank Field, a great divide will be unveiled in the annual Florida-Georgia clash: one team's SEC East hopes will remain alive, the other's killed off by their bitter rival.

"I haven't beaten them yet,'' Gators linebacker Michael Taylor said.

For all the similarities that exist between the teams this season, Taylor points out a distinct difference. Most of the players on Florida's roster have never beaten Georgia. And most of Georgia's players have not tasted defeat to the Gators.

The Gators owned the Bulldogs starting when Steve Spurrier took over the program, winning 18 of 21 meetings from 1990 through 2010. However, Georgia has won two in a row in the series since former Bulldogs safety Will Muschamp took over the Gators.The recent shift in this heated rivalry is one Florida wants to extinguish.

The Bulldogs have not defeated Florida three consecutive seasons since 1987-89.

No one has to remind Muschamp of the rivalry's recent history, but when they did this week -- Muschamp was 0-4 against the Gators as a player at Georgia -- he acknowledged he is ready to flip the script more than anyone.

"None of it is fun, but certainly being here at the University of Florida and understanding the importance of this game to us and our people, we need to get a win,'' he said.

This year's game received a booster shot when Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal in overtime last week against South Carolina. The SEC East-leading Tigers beat Georgia and Florida on back-to-back weekends last month, but their loss to the Gamecocks kept the door open for Florida and Georgia in the division.

Both must win their remaining conference games and have Missouri to lose twice.

While both the Gators and Bulldogs enter their annual meeting unranked for only the second time since 1979 and with two-game losing streaks for the first time since 1926 according to ESPN Stats and Information, neither team wants to hear how this year's game has lost some luster.

"There may be a lot of people across the country that aren't too interested in this one as much as they would have been maybe, but I know we are, and I know Florida will be," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We know what this game means. It means an awful lot regardless of the records."

How did they get here?

The Gators started 3-0 in the conference before losing on the road at LSU and Missouri. Georgia also started 3-0 before a home loss to Missouri and a road defeat at Vanderbilt.

Both teams are coming off a much-needed bye week to get healthy.

A dominant storyline for each has been injuries to key players.

The Gators have been decimated by season-ending injuries to key players, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Florida lost starting offensive lineman D.J. Humphries for two to four weeks on Monday night when he suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee at practice.

Meanwhile, Georgia is without running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley to season-ending knee injuries.

Despite the turbulence on the way to their annual showdown, none of that will matter once Saturday's game starts.

Since their 36-17 loss at Missouri, the Gators have focused on making adjustments to get their sputtering offense cranked up and resurrecting their season.

Mark Richt, left, and Will Muschamp

"We need to focus on Florida in this game and what our opponent does well and what we're going to try and take advantage of in the game and not worry about all the other stuff at this point,'' Muschamp said. "We just need to concentrate on us right now. That, to me, has been our message for our football team really the entire season and it is week-in and week-out.

"I don't know that this week you need any extra motivation to prepare well."

The SEC-leading Florida defense, which is surrendering only 273.1 yards per game, also seeks to rebound from an uncharacteristic performance. Missouri finished with 500 yards of total offense, including 205 yards rushing against the Gators.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, third in the SEC in passing (276.9 yards per game, 17 touchdowns, six interceptions), stretches defenses to the limit. Georgia is also expected to have running back Todd Gurley back.

Gurley has missed three games with an ankle sprain but rushed for more than 100 yards against the Gators last season in Georgia's 17-9 win. The loss ended Florida's bid to play for the SEC Championship. The Gators entered last year's game 7-0 and ranked No. 2.

"That was the one loss that separated us from going to the SEC Championship, even getting a chance to play in the national championship,'' Taylor said. "That's the one thing that stood in between us and all those goals. We owe them some payback, so Saturday will be interesting."

Florida last beat Georgia in 2010 on Chas Henry's game-winning field goal in overtime. The Gators lost 24-10 in 2011, Muschamp's first season.

He said there is no secret why the Gators have lost two in a row.

 "Our last two trips to Jacksonville we've been minus-four in the turnover margin, so you can cut it up however you want to -- we need to take care of the football,'' he said. "Two years ago we had two turnovers inside their 20-yard line that led to 14 points, and last year we turned it over six times.

"It's hard to win any games doing that. We need to take better care of the football."

Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy, who played with a sore shoulder at Missouri and was sacked six times, is expected to be much closer to 100 percent Saturday.

With Humphries out, Muschamp said that Tyler Moore will move to left tackle and 6-foot-8, 361-pound junior-college transfer Trenton Brown will make his first career start at right tackle.

The Gators have averaged just 195.5 yards the past two games after averaging 393.4 yards in their first five games. The offensive line has struggled over that stretch and must play better for the Gators to snap their drought against the Bulldogs.

There will a lot at stake on both sidelines come Separation Saturday.

"This is a huge game I think for the whole team,'' said Florida offensive lineman Max Garcia, a Georgia native playing in his first Florida-Georgia game. "We have a chance to go 5-3 or be 4-4. That’s a big deal for us."

The Bulldogs can say the same.


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