By Andrew Frierson
As the end of October nears and the warm summertime environment transitions to autumn, college football has eclipsed the halfway point in the season. For some teams, this means trying to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoffs while others settle with the reality of a bowl game. However, in Athens this means one of the biggest rivalries in the history of college football is just around the corner, a classic between two powerhouse SEC teams in the Deep South, Florida versus Georgia.
The stakes behind this game are high season after season with the winner of this matchup usually winning the entire SEC East division. This year, the stakes are as high as ever. Not only can either team pull ahead in the division with a victory, but they could also find themselves on the bubble of becoming a top four team in the nation. Buckle up. This is gonna be fun.
The history of this rivalry dates back to over one hundred years ago with the first game recognized by both colleges being played in 1915. For anyone wondering, Georgia won the contest convincingly with a 37-0 final score. This trend would continue for six straight years until Florida claimed their first victory in 1928, finally making the contest worth watching.
Georgia would continue to dominate the series in the early history only losing four times between the years 1915-1948. During this span of over three decades, the rivalry game found a home in Jacksonville, Florida where both universities agreed to play rather than traveling back and forth each season to the opposing college’s home turf.
Jacksonville is still home to this great rivalry with the recent match-ups taking place in the Jacksonville Jaguar’s EverBank Field. The sight of a stadium filled halfway with red and black while the other half is blue and orange truly sparks the intensity behind this bitter game each year. These teams are far from friendly.
One of the most iconic moments in this series occurred in 2007 in a touchdown celebration commonly referred to as the “Gator Stomp.” Following a Knowshon Moreno rushing touchdown in the first quarter, the entire Georgia team stormed the end zone sending a message to Florida early in the game. This tactic paid off as the Bulldogs pulled away with a 42-30 victory, the highest scoring matchup in rivalry history.
The new tradition starting in 2009 involves the winner of the Florida-Georgia game to be awarded the Okefenokee Oar. This trophy was carved from a 1,000 year old cypress tree from the Okefenokee Swamp near the border of Florida and Georgia. Since this was established, Florida has claimed the Oar five times compared to Georgia’s four times.
One of the most exciting aspects of this game every year is the unpredictability. Either team has the chance to run away with the game at any point resulting in major upsets or utter beatdowns. Georgia fans are pained to remember the upset during the 2002 season where the unranked Gators ended the Bulldogs undefeated season as the fourth seed in the nation. A few years down the road, Georgia would return the favor upsetting Florida in 2012 ending the third ranked Gators undefeated season. Recent history favors the Florida Gators as they have posted a 21-7 record since 1990. Nonetheless, history does not matter when it comes to college football.
This season’s competition will be the most thrilling and important since the 2012 season when both teams were ranked in the AP Poll in the same week. Georgia enters this game ranked seventh coming off a blowout loss in Death Valley at the hands of the LSU Tigers. Meanwhile, Florida has reached the top ten for the first time since 2016 and will be looking to make their first appearance in the College Football Playoffs following this tough obstacle.
Georgia appeared to have the edge on offense, but the stats last week might point in the other directions. The Bulldogs failed to establish the ground game while Jake Fromm struggled to complete passes consistently. This could be a developing problem or could have been the result of finally facing a defense who applied pressure repeatedly.
Florida’s defense will likely do the same as they possess some of the best defensive backs in football along with elite pass rushers. The offensive side of the ball for the Gators is shaky as Feleipe Franks has been hit or miss as a passer, but the running game has been able to bail them out of throwing the ball recently. Georgia’s game plan will likely be to shut down Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine and force the Gator offense to challenge the likes of Deandre Baker and JR Reed in the secondary.
With high stakes, high emotions will follow. There will be pushing, shoving, and plenty of other physical contact in this game from both sidelines. Dan Mullen and Kirby Smart will attempt to keep their players disciplined, but we are bound to see unsportsmanlike conduct penalties fly at some point during the game. It’s just part of football. The Florida-Georgia rivalry is one of the best to grace college football, and on Saturday afternoon, another chapter will be added to “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”