ATHENS -- Aron White didn’t dance around it. He’s a fifth-year senior and has been through enough Georgia-Florida games to dispense with the “just another game” nonsense.
“Everybody’s just a little on edge. That’s top to bottom,” said White, the Bulldogs’ tight end. “You definitely can tell it’s Florida week.”
Georgia might be on edge for this matchup a bit more than in past years.
The reason this rivalry has a national profile -- and has the CBS prime afternoon spot despite each team’s records -- is that it’s normally played with more at stake than just bragging rights.
This year, it’s Georgia that has the most to gain and to lose.
The Bulldogs are tied for first place in the SEC East, and a win in Jacksonville would seem to put them in better position than South Carolina, whose remaining schedule is more difficult.
The outcome should also have a big effect on the job security of head coach Mark Richt, who can blame the Gators for eight of the 36 defeats in his 11-year tenure at Georgia.
The history of this game is a constant reminder for Georgia players. They’re fully aware of it -- although not from the coaches, who have tried to be businesslike this week, not using the past as motivation.
“We haven’t really talked about the rivalry. But (Richt) doesn’t have the need to,” junior defensive end Abry Jones said. “Everybody is constantly reminded of it by fans. So there’s no need to put anything more in it than everyone else already has.”
The comments from some players this week approached defiant. But the defiance wasn’t about being better than Florida; players were careful to credit the Gators (4-3), who are on a three-game losing streak this season -- but on a three-game winning streak against the Bulldogs.
“We’re coming to get them, and we don’t care what happened last year because we’re a new team,” White said.
Quarterback Aaron Murray was dismissive of Florida’s recent 18-3 record against the Bulldogs.
“It’s not like we’ve lost those 18 games,” Murray said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been a part of two losses, but it’s not 21 or 18 or whatever it is. So you’ve just gotta put that behind here. Like I said, no one here is really talking about that.”
Murray, a Florida native, did admit that last year’s game was a bit on his mind. That was when he had perhaps his worst game of the year, getting picked off three times, including the decisive interception in overtime.
The sophomore quarterback gave a flat “no” when asked if any game disappointed him as much from last year.
“Maybe the bowl game a little bit,” Murray said. “But the Florida game was the toughest, as well.”
White is one of the few players on the roster who can remember beating the Gators. That happened in 2007, when Richt allowed his players to celebrate en masse in the end zone as a motivational ploy.
Such tactics aren’t likely to be employed this year. The stakes, whether it’s the division race or Richt’s job status, seem like enough.
“It’s not something I think we need to harp on,” White said. “We don’t need to hear all that to get up for Florida.”