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Florida vs Georgia

10.27.18 / 3:30 PM

TIAA Bank Field


The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Few rivalries in college football can hold a candle to this annual feud. Every year, hundreds of thousands of fans clad in orange and blue, and red and black descend upon the city of Jacksonville.

TIAA Bank Field will be split right down the middle with 80,000 screaming and ravenous fans cheering for their respective teams. Since 1933 these two schools have been meeting in Jacksonville to renew their hatred and often, to lay claim to the Eastern division title.

While the Bulldogs lead the overall series, it is Florida who has carried the momentum recently. Since 1990, the Gators have won 21 out of 28 meetings. However, Georgia embarrassed the Gators last season to the tune of 42-7.

Last year featured one of Georgia’s most dominant and veteran teams, one that lost 30 players to the NFL draft or graduation. Florida, entered the game dead on arrival following a tumultuous season that was rife with injury and controversy.

The season began with 9 players being suspended for credit card fraud and only went downhill from there. Former head coach, Jim McElwain made the head scratching decision to mention to his players that he might be fired on the morning of the game, during the team breakfast.

Players admitted that they were not mentally, emotionally, or physically prepared to face a team like Georgia on that day. McElwain did indeed get fired the next day and the Gators limped through the remainder of a 4-7 campaign.

Fast forward one year later and the Gators have a new coach, a renewed confidence, and a brand new identity. The offense is putting up its best numbers since 2009 and improving each week, the defense is one of the best in the nation, and the Gators find themselves with a 6-1 record with wins over two top 25 teams.

This year’s Cocktail Party boasts a top ten match up with the Gators checking in at #9 and the Bulldogs at #7. It is the first time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 when facing each other since 2008. ESPN’s flagship program, College Gameday will be on site for the first time since 2005. And for the first time ever, the SEC Network’s SEC Nation will be in the same location.

If this year’s edition of the Cocktail Party feels big time, that’s because it is. This game has playoff implications beyond simply vying for the division title and a spot in the SEC Championship game.

Both teams enter the contest having two weeks to prepare. Florida tied a school record for largest comeback on the road in their last game, erasing an 18 point deficit to Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Georgia was humbled by LSU in their last game, 36-16. The Gators defeated the same LSU team one week earlier.

In Dan Mullen‘s last 8 games coming off of a bye week, he is 6-2, with losses to Auburn and LSU respectively. He has honed the team’s bye week schedule over the years and uses it to their advantage. Players and coaches get time off as well as added time to work on technique and strength maintenance.

Beyond the opportunity to catch their breath, the staff has the ability to really study their opponent and prepare a perfect game plan. Mullen and company will be ready for both Georgia quarterbacks as well as the tandem of extraordinary running backs that the Bulldogs boast.

At a glance:

Georgia Bulldogs

Athens, GA

Enrollment: 28,848

2018 record: 6-1 (4-1)

Head coach: Kirby Smart

Elijah Holyfield is a big physical back with great speed and an incredible jump cut. He thrives on contact, often times trucking defenders in his path. If Holyfield is the thunder, De’Andre Swift is the lightning.

Coming back from an injury only days ago, Swift runs as his name implies. He is elusive, with superb vision and has an equally lethal jump cut as Holyfield. Florida will need to maintain gap assignments and keep this duo in front of them.

Jake Fromm is a good quarterback but he is not a great quarterback. Much like Feleipe Franks, he can eat a defense up with the short passing game. When he is called upon to go deep, things get shaky. When he is under duress, he falls apart.

Florida’s secondary will have to watch for his back shoulder throws and maintain tight coverage from start to finish. Expect Todd Grantham to dial up some new blitz packages to really make him uncomfortable.

When he’s feeling pressure, Fromm has a 33.6 passer rating, a 0/2 TD/INT ratio, and an adjusted completion percentage of 54.2%. Florida has excelled in pressuring opposing quarterbacks, compiling 21 sacks for a loss of 149 yards through 7 games.

This offense can hurt you and they can do so in a hurry but Florida’s defense is more than capable of getting the job done against what has proven to be a pretty plain offensive scheme.

For the Gators offense, the key to success will be the running game. Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine can carve this defense up. They are especially susceptible on the interior, as LSU and Mizzou were able to demonstrate.

Georgia’s secret weapon? Gators preparing to see Justin Fields in Cocktail Party. (Photo via Getty Images)

Georgia boasts the 40th overall rushing defense but they rank 70th in yards per carry. If teams weren’t playing from behind all season, the rush defense wouldn’t be rated so well.

The Bulldogs have had no pass rush to speak of this season, either. They’ve managed to sack the quarterback just 9 times through their first 7 games. If Florida can establish the running game early, that pass rush will be all but eliminated and Franks should have all day to throw.

When the season began, Georgia looked untouchable and Florida looked like a team that would suffer some growing pains. As we enter into the Cocktail Party, the Gators have a full head of steam and the Bulldogs look rather vulnerable. Regardless, they enter the game as a 6.5 point favorite over the Gators.

Florida has fared well playing the underdog card this year. Trust that they will do it again.

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will be broadcast live from Jacksonville at 3:30 EST on CBS. Be sure to follow along with all of the action on the Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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