Georgia is in the midst of its best start in more than a decade. Yet when head coach Kirby Smart walked into a meeting room Sunday, he offered a cold reminder that this program hasn’t truly turned the corner yet.
“Stand up if you have beaten Florida,” Smart told his team.
The Georgia players looked around the room. No one rose out of his seat.
“It was sobering. I think with so much praise going on, on the outside, it was like, ‘Guys this is where we’re at. We haven’t beaten these guys,’ ” tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “It was a call to action to get back to work, coming off the bye week. Sometimes you need to get cranked up, but we already did that.”
Florida has won the past three games and 21 of the past 27 meetings between the two programs. Once a series Georgia dominated, the Gators began to control the rivalry after Steve Spurrier became Florida’s head coach in 1990. Spurrier (11-1), Ron Zook (2-1), Urban Meyer (5-1) and Jim McElwain (2-0) have all posted winning records against Georgia as Florida head coaches during the past 27 years.
The only coach not to do so was Will Muschamp, who went 1-3 against Georgia from 2011-14.
Only a handful of players were on Georgia’s roster the last time the Bulldogs defeated Florida in 2013. Among those were nose tackle John Atkins, outside linebacker Davin Bellamy, defensive back Aaron Davis, quarterback Brice Ramsey, offensive lineman Aulden Bynum and long-snapper Trent Frix. Neither of those players competed against the Gators in that 23-20 victory.
Junior center Lamont Gaillard said the coaching staff is reminding the team of this fact. Pictures of Florida defenders tackling Georgia’s offensive standouts have been plastered across the team’s facility, as well as the scores of the past three games.
While the coaches do something similar each week, the Florida images resonate a little more.
“That’s an every game thing, but when it’s this game, it sticks,” Gaillard said.
Making it worse for Georgia is the fact the past three losses to Florida haven’t been close. In 2014, the Bulldogs were favored but allowed 418 rushing yards in a 38-20 loss. In 2015, third-string quarterback Faton Bauta drew a surprising start in what turned into a 27-3 loss.
Last season, Georgia’s offense was held to 21 rushing yards in a 24-10 defeat. For this senior class, losing the past three games has been tough to reconcile.
“With Florida, it’s one of the big rivalries,” Atkins said. “You don’t want to lose to one of your rivals. You’re upset about it.”
Said Blazevich, “Even before the season that was something I was thinking about. Coach is always saying, ‘What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be against these guys, this team?’ This is obviously a game where I’ve yet to beat these guys in my career. In terms of the East, this is the only team that it’s been like that.”
The reminder that no one has competed in a win over Florida was eye-opening to say the least.
With the hoopla surrounding the program, due to its 7-0 start for the first time since 2005, Smart’s message of Georgia’s recent history against Florida was well received.
“It set the tone for the week,” Blazevich said. “When you get back to work coming off the bye week, sometimes it’s hard to start. Once he said that it was time to get back in there and get to work. We’ve got a job to do.”