JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- John Jenkins, the upbeat nose tackle for the Georgia football team, was speaking generally this week when he uttered this statement: Once game can change anything.
But then Jenkins, seeming to sense there was something different about this particular game, added this about the matchup with Florida: Its an all-or-nothing game.
That cuts to the heart of it for Georgia.
This is a chance for redemption, a chance to vault back into position for a run at the SEC championship game and even perhaps the BCS. It can end the Bulldogs struggles in big games and give the team the signature, program-defining victory it has lacked these past few years.
But if Georgia fails again, it almost certainly will have to wait until next season to get that big win.
Its now or never for us, sophomore Amarlo Herrera said, summing it up well.
Its notable that the story line of this years Georgia-Florida game isnt the struggle of the Bulldogs in Jacksonville -- but instead the inability to win the big game. Georgia beat its arch-rival last year, rallying from 14 points down to do it. This time the Bulldogs will be attempting to get a second straight win over the Gators for the first time since 1989. Since then, Florida owns an 18-4 advantage in the series.
But Florida wasnt ranked last year. It was undergoing a transition in the first year under head coach Will Muschamp, the former Georgia safety.
This year, the Gators are rolling. They are unbeaten, ranked No. 2 in the BCS and coming off a 44-11 rout of South Carolina -- the same team that three weeks ago routed Georgia 35-7.
Florida is a much different team this year, riding strong defense and special teams play and succeeding under first-year quarterback Jeff Driskel and offensive coordinator Brent Pease. The formula is similar to what has worked at LSU and Alabama, as Georgia head coach Mark Richt observed this week.
Thats definitely LSUs formula, defense, special teams and pound the ball and be patient and in time be able to physically take over the game, Richt said. Thats how LSUs been trying to do it, Alabamas been trying to do it that way, and Floridas been modeling their game after that, as well.
Georgias formula is different but not quite by design.
The defense was supposed to be the backbone of the team this year, but it has been mediocre. Senior safety Shawn Williams tried to ignite a spark this week by calling out the defense for playing soft, distracted and uninspired. Numerous teammates agreed, but whether the spark is there can only be evaluated in Saturdays game.
Any time you have a senior leader that pretty much holds everyone accountable and calls out the defense, I think its gonna motivate us to play harder, Georgia senior cornerback Sanders Commings said.
Georgias special teams also have been a struggle, often looking like amateur hour on extra points and punt returns. That will have to be firmed up in order to best the Gators, who have gotten a number of big plays on special teams, especially last week against South Carolina.
Then theres the Georgia offense, which has relied on a prolific passing attack, led by quarterback Aaron Murray. Floridas strength on defense is pass coverage, so something will have to give Saturday.
Still, the overwhelming story line for the Bulldogs will be whether they can turn around their season or cement their status as good, but not great.
Georgia is also looking for its first win over a top-10 team since 2009 and its first win over a top-five team since 2006.
I think itd be more satisfying -- I wouldnt care if they were ranked No. 2 or not ranked at all. I think itd be satisfying to know that if we win this game, we put ourselves in the driving seat to get back to Atlanta, Murray said. So thats the only thing Im really worried about.
I think coming into the season the main thing that everybody saw was the talent we had coming back and the schedule we had. And it lined up really well, Georgia senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. And also looking at the South Carolina game, it was a really hard environment to go into and to come away with a win. Especially with the first series, the way it went. I think it was just gone after that. We didnt make the right corrections to win that game.
But at this point, the schedule weve been given, we have the players we have, and if we want to get back to Atlanta, its this week against Florida. This is the only game that matters. And after that well worry about everything after that.
East Division SEC All
Florida 6-0 7-0
Georgia 4-1 6-1
South Carolina 4-2 6-2
Vanderbilt 2-3 3-4
Tennessee 0-4 3-4
Missouri 0-4 3-4
Kentucky 0-5 1-7
West Division SEC All
Alabama 4-0 7-0
Mississippi State 3-0 7-0
LSU 3-1 7-1
Texas A&M 2-2 5-2
Arkansas 2-2 3-4
Mississippi 1-2 4-3
Auburn 0-5 1-6