Georgia, ohh Georgia, no peace they find. Just an old bitter loss, keeps Georgia on their mind.
“We always thinking about Georgia. It’s in the back of our mind.”
Even a week and a half ago, defensive end Zach Carter couldn’t hide the truth. Georgia was on their mind.
The No. 6 Florida Gators have had a meteoric rise this season. They’ve defeated one Top 10 team already—Auburn, then fell to No. 1 LSU in a game that brought more respect to Florida’s name than any win. They’re 7-1, are averaging 400+ offensive yards per game and have started receiving outside consideration as a 1-loss College Football Playoff contender.
But this week, this game against No. 8 Georgia, has been on their mind for a year. So much so that linebacker Jon Greenard—who wasn’t even here last year, but still at Louisville—feels responsible for the 2018 loss and therefore responsible for avenging the game.
“It's gonna be a really good matchup but we're going in with a chip on our shoulder just because we lost last year, so all that's just going to take into account and give us more motivation to get the dub.
“I'm a part of this team now, they lost last year, I'm a part of that too. They won last year, I'm a part of that as well, so 'cause I mean obviously when I get out on that field I've got to have the same juice and grit and fight that they had from last year so that way I can make plays and have that same intensity and play with that same intensity as the guys around me that have been here last year.”
Even if Greenard wasn’t in Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party last season, the Hiram, Georgia native has had this game circled on his calendar for—well—most of his life.
"This game is huge. This is a game I've been thinking about since I was a child, obviously, I heard about it, the opposite side, me being a Florida fan all my life, I got all the trash talk already, still got trash talk on my phone. But it'll be good, it'll be really good to get a W, bragging rights not only to them but it also sets us up for where we want to be moving forward with this team.”
For those that have been here a while though, like receiver Tyrie Cleveland, last years 36-17 loss and the 2017 loss of 42-7 can not be compounded for the senior.
"Played Georgia three times, only won one game and they beat us the last two years so it's kind of personal for me. Just leave out on a good note, get a W and finish out the season, this four-game stretch, so this one big right here. This game big against the Georgia Bulldogs so I'm looking forward to it.”
Even though last year’s game ended in a loss for the Gators—and then snowballed into another—there was a moment that became a rallying cry and an example defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could point to and say “that is who we are.” And now one year later, it’s still a moment that has helped define a team ready to face Georgia once again.
A six play goal line stand—seven really, if you account for the play disregarded due to a penalty—kept the Bulldogs out of the endzone from a distance that most offenses would have no trouble punching it in to score.
“We used that early on to build to where we are now,” explains Grantham.
“I think if you go back and look at our team, I mean I think that identity and that toughness kind of showed up at Kentucky when Feleipe [Franks] goes down and it's fourth-and-one. If we don't get that fourth-and-one stop we probably don't win the game. So I think it showed up there. I think when you look at the game, like the Auburn game there were some sudden-change situations where you had to go play and so I think that it's kind of shown up throughout the year because we preach.
“I think as a coach you can create that with your attitude and the way you coach and the way you teach and that kind of thing. So we just try to build upon that to make sure that we understand this is who we are and there's a certain way we have to play to be successful."
The rivalry ebbs and flows, each subset of the history relating to the landscape at that time. Currently, it’s been a game the last four years that has decided the SEC East and gotten a coach fired. It’s been a game that mirrored the hatred of the 90’s thanks in large part to head coach Dan Mullen’s willingness to throw barbs at the Bulldogs.
Grantham has been on both sides of the field, as former defensive coordinator for Georgia as well. He’s been in this current subset of the history and just like his players, he knows this is what they’ve been working for.
"I think it's an awesome environment because that's why you work and grind and do the things you do because you know it's a bowl type atmosphere. It's probably the loudest that place gets all year, and it's pretty dynamic that way. There's a lot of energy in it, and obviously there's a lot riding on the game in itself with two Top 10 teams, so the combination of the quality of teams, the pageantry, the passion of the fans, the energy, the fact that it's basically 50/50 as far as the fans go, as far as who's in the game. It creates a lot of energy and excitement and it's fun to play in.”
Adds corner CJ Henderson, “You don’t get these opportunities always, so we’ve got to take advantage of it. We’ve got a chance to make the SEC Championship. It starts with this game. That makes every game after this even harder.”
It does in fact start with this game. College football has a four game playoff currently, which makes games like this essentially a play-in for the SEC Championship given that mathematically the Gators currently lead the division with Georgia on their heels. In other words, it’s a de-facto playoff game. And while some are hesitant to put that qualifier on a game, risking ballooning the day, others are willing to admit what this game means.
“Me, personally yes it’s a playoff game. This game right here determine who gonna get in. Me, personally thinking about, you know, whoever win this game control their destiny,” says receiver Tyrie Cleveland.
Adds quarterback Kyle Trask, “It very well could be. This game is very important for our season, which is why we're going to do our best just to start out fast and play up to our standard."
It’s a game important to their season and to changing the past. Because even still in peaceful times they see, the road leads back to Georgia.