October 29, 2010

Dawgs, Gators ready for another battle

It's a number fans from Georgia and Florida can likely quote in their sleep - 17-3.

Unless you're new to this game, formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, then you'll know that's the advantage the Gators have over the Bulldogs dating going back to the past 20 contests between the two.

But while such talk might bring out the angst in a Bulldog Nation hungry for retribution tight end Bruce Figgins said players don't generally bother getting caught up in the past. They want to win - for now.

"I can't tell you what happened before 2007, the year that I got here," the junior tight end said. "I can't tell you anything that happened before that. It's all about this week. All I know is it's going to be a good game, a good hard-fought game."

Granted, Saturday's contest at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (3:30 p.m., CBS) is going to be different than most.

This year's game marks the first time since 1979 that at least one of the two teams is not nationally ranked. In fact, both teams have been in the top 25 17 times when they have faced each other since 1979. The game pits two of the three winningest teams in the SEC since 2001. Florida has the SEC's best mark since 2001 at 94-30 (.758) while Georgia is third at 94-31 (.752). LSU has the league's second-best mark since 2001 at 98-28 (.778).

Yet despite that little bit of trivia, both teams are still in the chase for the SEC Eastern Division crown. A win by either team will likely eliminate the loser.

But even if the two were playing for cracker jacks and marbles, Bulldog defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said the rivalry would still exist.

Last year, former Gator linebacker Brandon Spikes was suspended a game after he gouged the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey.

Dobbs said that incident plus the Savannah native's claim that some Gators allegedly spit in the eyes of several Bulldog players has left some hard feelings.

"You can't fight back or anything like that, but you can beat them and tell to look at the scoreboard," Dobbs said.

The Gators have other issues to worry about.

Florida (4-3, 2-3) comes into play losers of three straight as opposed to the Bulldogs (4-4, 3-3) who have captured three in a row and actually come in as a three-point favorite.

The Gators have had a week off to nurse their wounds.

"I think the bye week came at the right time," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "But obviously we've got to get this thing turned around."

The majority of Florida's issues have revolved around its offense, which ranks ninth in the league in both scoring (27.6) and total yards (329).

"It's eye-opening the four areas in which there have been breakdowns in the offense and that's normally one of the strengths around here," Meyer said. "Turnovers is No. 1, No. 2 is big plays in the running game, passing efficiency is No. 3 and Red Zone is No. 4. We've addressed those as well as we possibly can. There will be some changes, but hopefully the biggest change will be to have everybody healthy."

And eligible:

On Thursday, Meyer announced that Chris Rainey will be able to play after serving a recent suspension for threatening a female acquaintance. Running back Jeff Demps and wide receiver Andre DuBose have also been slowed with injuries, but both are expected to play although kicker Caleb Sturgis has been ruled out.

But despite the Gators' recent offensive struggles, Bulldog coach Mark Richt is casting a wary eye.

"There are some good defenses out there and they have played some very good football teams. When you play Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State back-to-back, those might be the three best defenses definitely on that side of the league," Richt said. "I haven't looked at their statistics, but my guess is that they are all probably top-10 or 15 defenses in the country, so they have struggled some against those teams, but they've also had their games where they put the 30 and 40-point margins on there. We'll just see how we do against them, but they are not putting the numbers up that they've put up in the past."

As for Georgia, the Bulldogs are on an offensive roll.

After struggling during the team's 1-4 start, Georgia has scored over 40 points in three straight wins over Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Granted, the return of wide receiver A.J. Green from his four-game suspension has had a lot to do with that, but so has the continued growth by redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray who comes into play having completed 121 of 193 passes for 1,766 yards, 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

"He's had a very healthy respect for the ball. His ball handling has been exceptional; his ball fakes have been exceptional. He has learned to work the pocket better and better. I think he's improving on that," Richt said. "I think he is a little more athletic than I thought he was. We talked about that a little bit. I think he's made more plays with his wheels than I expected him to. Again, he has to still be wise when he gets out in the open. Some of the shots he's taken, that's the one thing I've been most concerned about with him is how he gets exposed to some of those hits, and we have to be smarter there. But he's done a nice job."

There still remains a question as to who will start at tailback for the Bulldogs. Ealey suffered a bone bruise during the fourth quarter of the Kentucky game and was limited in practice after rushing for 157 yards and a school-record five rushing touchdowns against the Wildcats.

Richt still expects Ealey to play, but if he can't start, that honor will go to Caleb King who is back after serving his two-game suspension.

Defensively, the Bulldogs finally don't have to see Tim Tebow but will see plenty of John Brantley and likely Trey Burton who scored six touchdowns against Kentucky earlier this year.

Georgia comes in as the SEC's fourth-ranked team in terms of total defense (306.8 yards per game) and sixth in scoring defense (19.1 yards per game). The Bulldogs are the league's best team against the run (99.2 yards per game).

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