October 30, 2008

SEC: Everything on line for Georgia, Florida

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The sideshow regarding how Florida or Georgia will respond to the Bulldogs' end-zone celebration from a year ago has threatened to overshadow the importance of this year's rematch.

But it hasn't kept either team from realizing what's at stake.

The winner has the inside track on the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title and still has a chance to play in the BCS title game. The loser probably won't play in any type of BCS game.

"Without question, this will be a classic," Florida coach Urban Meyer said.

This represents the second consecutive de facto playoff game for Georgia. The Bulldogs kept their title hopes alive last week with a 52-38 road victory over defending national champion LSU.

Two weeks earlier, Florida buried LSU 51-21 at home.

In fact, both teams enter this showdown playing as well as they have all season.

Florida hardly resembles the team that lost 31-30 at home to Ole Miss a month ago. The Gators have outscored opponents 152-33 in the three games since. The emergence of Jeffrey Demps, who is averaging nearly 11 yards per carry during that winning streak, has taken some of the pressure off Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin.

Georgia also is benefiting from the emergence of a new face.

True freshman A.J. Green leads the SEC in receiving and has caught a touchdown pass in four of his last five games. The development of Georgia's passing game has opened up more running room for Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 163 yards against LSU.

"I think both teams are really hot right now and kind of at their peak," Georgia offensive guard Clint Boling said. "That's what we want. We want to get Florida at their best, and they're going to get us at our best, too."

The last time Florida and Georgia met, only one of these teams was at its best.

Florida has spent an entire year complaining about the way Georgia's entire team came on the field to celebrate its first touchdown, but the move sure didn't fire up the Gators on that particular afternoon.

Moreno rushed for 188 yards and quarterback Matthew Stafford threw three touchdown passes in a 42-30 victory over Florida that helped spark the Bulldogs' seven-game winning streak to end the season.

Georgia's offensive explosion underscored Florida's season-long defensive deficiencies, but the Gators should put up much more of a fight this season. Florida has allowed just 11.9 points per game to rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense.

"We have a better group this year," Meyer said. "I believe they're better as well, but I just feel we'll be better prepared this year."

How much better are the Gators? We're about to find out.

  • Best matchup
  • Georgia WRs A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi vs. Florida CBs Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins: Green and Massaquoi give Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford the best receiving corps he's had in his college career. Arguably the top true freshman receiver in the nation, Green has 39 catches for an SEC-leading 662 yards. Massaquoi has caught a touchdown pass in two of his last three games. But they could have trouble getting open against a Florida team that leads the SEC and ranks ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The youth of Florida's secondary was a cause for concern at the start of the season, but the Gators have recorded 10 interceptions while allowing only five touchdown passes this season. This showdown for the Eastern Division lead could come down to how well Haden and Jenkins handle the height of Green and Massaquoi. Green is 6 feet 4 and Massaquoi is 6-2, while Haden and Jenkins are both shorter than 6 feet.

  • Player to watch
    Auburn at Ole Miss, 12:30 p.m.
    Tulsa at Arkansas, 2 p.m.
    Kentucky at Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m.
    Arkansas State at Alabama, 3 p.m.
    Georgia vs. Florida at Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m.
    Tennessee at South Carolina, 7 p.m.
    Tulane at LSU, 8 p.m.
    Kentucky QB Randall Cobb: The true freshman already has shown off his versatility this season while alternating between quarterback and wide receiver. He even caught two touchdown passes in the final five minutes to help Kentucky rally for a 21-20 victory over Arkansas a couple of weeks ago. Now the Wildcats have made him the starting quarterback for Saturday's game at Mississippi State. Cobb has gone 18-of-33 for 214 yards with a touchdown and an interception in spot duty. He also has rushed for 109 yards on 23 carries. Cobb's mobility should spark a Kentucky offense that ranks 96th in the nation, though his inexperience also could lead to mistakes. Kentucky (5-3) almost certainly will earn its third consecutive bowl bid, but the quality of the Wildcats' postseason destination will depend on how Cobb handles his new assignment.

  • Who's hot
  • Arkansas RB Michael Smith has rushed for at least 129 yards in four consecutive games. Arkansas DT Malcolm Sheppard has five tackles for loss over the last two weeks. Florida RB Jeffrey Demps has rushed for 282 yards on only 24 carries over his last three games. Florida WR Percy Harvin has scored at least one touchdown in five consecutive games. Florida kicker Jonathan Phillips is 9-for-9 on field-goal attempts this season. Georgia RB Knowshon Moreno has run for a total of 335 yards in his last two games. Georgia WR A.J. Green has caught a touchdown pass in four of his last five games. Georgia FS Reshad Jones has picked off a pass in back-to-back games. Kentucky CB Trevard Lindley has recorded an interception in two of his last three games. Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge has caught a touchdown pass in three of his last four games. Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry has 4 tackles for loss in his last two games. Tennessee SS Eric Berry has picked off a pass in three of his last four games.

  • Who's not
  • Auburn RBs Brad Lester and Ben Tate have run for a combined total of 81 yards on 30 carries over their last two games. Auburn kicker Wes Byrum has gone 4-for-9 on field-goal attempts in the Tigers' last six games. Georgia kicker Blair Walsh is 2-for-5 in field-goal attempts in his last two games. LSU QB Jarrett Lee has thrown a total of six interceptions in his last three games. South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop has gone 3-for-9 on field-goal attempts in his last three games. After rushing for 12 touchdowns last year, Tennessee RB Arian Foster still hasn't reached the end zone this season. Vanderbilt QB Mackenzi Adams has gone 35-for-72 with five interceptions and only three touchdown passes during the Commodores' three-game losing streak. Vanderbilt kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt has missed three consecutive field-goal attempts.

  • They said it
  • "I'm not a dog that barks and then runs into the house. I'm going to do my job on a daily basis or bark from inside the house. I'm going to do my job and do it the right way. That's all. There's only so many hours and only so many things you can fix at one particular time, and (I'll) lay my head on the pillow at night and know I've done it and done it right and had a lot of success doing it. Would I have done it differently? Sure I would, looking at a couple things."
    - Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.

    "If you aren't motivated for this game, you have, like, no heart. It's impossible not to be motivated for this one."
    - Georgia LB Rennie Curran to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    "That's not been our style. When teams do that, they expect not to score. We plan on putting points on the board, so we don't need that. We don't celebrate here. We go to a big man (offensive lineman) and thank the people who got us in the end zone."
    - Florida WR Percy Harvin to the Florida Times-Union about celebrating by stomping on an end zone or logo.

    "I'm disappointed. It stinks. You don't ever expect to win that starting job and then lose it because guys around you aren't performing like they should. It's disappointing, but at the same time it's what's best for the team, and I'm a team player."
    - Kentucky QB Mike Hartline to CatsPause.com on Monday after losing his job to Randall Cobb.

    "I've apologized to the offense and the team, and it's a tough situation for me. I'm recuperating, and I know what's going on, so all I can do is move on and be ready to play. I got in front of the offense and told them if I disrespected anyone or it came out wrong, then I apologize."
    - Hartline to CatsPause.com on Tuesday.

    "I don't need to be distracted by anything. My focus is on our offensive guys and the best plans for them to be successful, and that's the honest truth."
    - Tulsa offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn about Saturday's game with Arkansas, where he served as offensive coordinator in 2006. Malzahn was named Rivals.com's national offensive coordinator of the year in his lone season with the Razorbacks.

    "We have to stop talking about doing things and start doing things. At the end of the day, we need to play the game. We have to go out and execute. You can't just want it. You have to go out and do it."
    - Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson.

    "We never have quit. Our guys have a lot of pride. They practice like everybody else. One thing we're going to do is we're going to play hard and we're going to play for four quarters. Now we might not play very well, and fatigue is a factor in that. But when people start talking about quitting, they start looking for excuses. We have no excuses."
    - Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville to AuburnSports.com .

  • Etc.
  • Georgia LB Dannell Ellerbe expects to play against Florida this week after missing three games with a sprained left knee. Darryl Gamble, who replaced Ellerbe in the starting lineup, scored on two interception returns against LSU last week. Arkansas FS Elton Ford is out for the season with a neck injury. LSU coach Les Miles has indicated that true freshman QB Jordan Jefferson could get more playing time the rest of the season. The SEC owns a 28-7 record in non-conference games and leads all "Big Six" conferences with its .800 non-conference winning percentage. Alabama has outscored teams 184-23 in the first half of games. Florida QB Tim Tebow had two touchdown runs Saturday against Kentucky to give him 36 for his career, which ties Emmitt Smith's school record. Florida also tied a school single-game record by blocking three kicks against Kentucky. Georgia's victory over LSU last week gave the Bulldogs a 28-4 record in an opposing team's stadium C including 10-2 against ranked foes C since coach Mark Richt's arrival in 2001. LSU kicker Colt David became the Tigers' all-time leading scorer last week with 324 career points. David broke the record with a career-long, 51-yard field goal Saturday against Georgia. Mississippi State FS Derek Pegues became the SEC's all-time leading kick returner last week. Pegues returned four kicks for 88 yards in a 31-22 victory over Middle Tennessee to give him a career kickoff return yardage total of 2,321. South Carolina WR Kenny McKinley has 2,422 career receiving yards, which puts him 75 behind Sterling Sharpe's school record.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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