JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The “Cocktail Party” has provided little drama in recent years.
Seven of the last eight games between Southeastern Conference rivals Florida and Georgia have been decided by at least two touchdowns. Even the one relatively close matchup, in 2019, was a 14-point contest before the Gators scored with a little more than 3 minutes remaining.
Most fans probably wouldn't be shocked to see another lopsided affair Saturday.
Top-ranked Georgia (7-0, 5-0 SEC) enters “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” as a 14½-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. It’s just the third time in the last 30 years that the Bulldogs were favored by double digits against Florida (4-3, 2-3). Georgia split the first two, getting upset in 2014 and winning big three years later.
The Bulldogs have even more to play for this time around. They are ranked No. 1 against Florida for the first time in nearly 80 years and can move a step closer to winning the league’s Eastern Division for the fourth time in the last five years.
“We all know what’s at stake,” Florida defensive end Zach Carter said. “Right now, we’re playing to finish strong and end the year on a good note. Getting this win would mean a lot, especially knocking off the No. 1 team. I wouldn’t necessarily say ruining their season because I’m sure if we beat them, they still might end up in the playoff somehow. But just getting that win, it would mean a lot, for real.”
Georgia has won 11 in a row since getting steamrolled in Jacksonville last year. The Gators racked up 571 yards – the most in Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart’s tenure – against a defense that played without massive nose tackle Jordan Davis and two other starters.
“I don’t try and use those extrinsic things,” said Smart, whose defense leads the nation by a significant margin. “I have never had great experiences with that. You count on emotions to do that. I don’t want the players emotional the whole time. That’s what the fan wants, but I want them thinking about what they have to do to win this game, and last year’s game has nothing to do with this year’s game.”
Georgia will be the fifth team to carry the No. 1 ranking into the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville, and three of the previous four fared well. The top-ranked Bulldogs dominated Florida 75-0 in 1942. No. 1 Florida won 47-7 in 1996 and 41-17 in 2009. The lone upset came in 1985 when No. 17 Georgia stunned the top-ranked Gators 24-3 and ended Florida’s 18-game unbeaten streak.
Now, the Gators are trying to play spoilers.
“The intensity levels are going to be high and the emotions are going to be high,” Florida running back Malik Davis said. “I love it.”
Neither team has announced its starting quarterback. Georgia's Stetson Bennett started the last three games while JT Daniels recovers from a strained lat. Daniels returned to practice last week and needed to show he could move and make accurate throws to get the nod. Daniels is 7-0 as Georgia's starter. Bennett struggled against Florida a year ago.
Florida coach Dan Mullen won’t definitively say whether Emory Jones or dynamic backup Anthony Richardson will be on the field first. Mullen insisted what matters more is who's on the field last. Jones was benched in Florida’s 49-42 loss at LSU. Richardson is bigger, faster and might give the Gators a better chance against Georgia's vaunted defense.
Georgia’s running back depth took a hit when Kendall Milton, third on the team with 243 yards rushing, suffered what Smart described as a “slight” knee injury in practice last week. Milton is not expected to play Saturday.
“I don’t know how many weeks it will be,” Smart said.
Davis, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound run-stuffer is starting to show up on some Heisman Trophy lists. His teammates are promoting the idea, though no defensive player has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1997.
“It’s cool. It's definitely cool, but at the end of the day, I’m more worried about the team awards and the team, if we win or not,” Davis said. “All the individual stuff comes and goes, but at the end of the day, we want to make something special of the season.”
Asked if he’d like to attend the ceremony, Davis said, “Honestly I haven’t stopped to think about it. ... I don’t even know when the ceremony is, if that gives you any idea."