ATHENS -- Just got off the weekly Sunday teleconference call with Georgia coach Mark Richt. Obviously it's a big week, with the Bulldogs (4-3, 3-2 SEC) and Gators (4-3, 3-2) renewing their rivalry for the 82nd time on the banks of the St. Johns River down in Jacksonville.
Thanks to South Carolina's 27-24 win over Missouri in overtime Saturday night in Columbia, Mo., the Bulldogs' flickering hopes of three-peating as SEC Eastern Division champions remain alive, if just barely. So, of course, are the fleeting hopes for Florida as well. Both teams still have a mathematical shot at reaching the Georgia Dome, but that is absolutely dependent upon a win this Saturday.
With a victory already over the Gamecocks, Georgia could put itself in prime position to snatch the top spot should Missouri stumble two more times down the stretch. The Gators, who lost to Missouri on Oct. 19, play at South Carolina on Nov. 16 and would remain in the mix with a win over the Bulldogs.
Knowing all this, Richt struggled to watch Saturday's game betwwen the Gamecocks and Tigers. He actually walked away disgusted after Missouri got out to 17-0 lead.
"It was really painful so I quit watching it," Richt said. "I picked it back up when it was 17-7 and from that point on it was pretty painful as well. But at the very end it came out pretty good ."
Missouri had a chip-shot field goal bounce off an upright to lose in the second overtime.
Richt said knowing the mathematical possibility still exists does provide some motivation.
"Knowing that we're still trying to win the East, knowing we're needing help and everything, it certainly provided more motivation for me," he said. "I'm sure it will for the players as well."
Of course, health will play a huge factor in this year's contest. Both Georgia and Florida have been decimated by injuries to prominent players. Depending on availability Saturday, as many as 13 starters could miss the game.
Florida is going to be without at least five starters: Quarterback Jeff Driskell (ankle), wide receiver/kick return Andre DeBose (knee), running back Matt Jones (knee), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee) and tackle Chaz Green (shoulder). Defensive end Ronald Powell (ankle), linebacker Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) and noseguard Damien Jacobs (concussion) also missed the last game. Powell should return but the others remain undetermined.
Meanwhile, Richt indicated on Sunday the Bulldogs will likely be without wide receiver Chris Conley. Richt labeled Georgia's leading pass-catcher, who suffered a sprained an ankle on the last play of the game against Vanderbilt, as "very doubtful," which would leave the Bulldogs without their four top receivers. However, junior Michael Bennett is expected to return to practice this week from a knee injury that sidelined him on Oct. 5. His availability for Saturday's game will be dependent on his performance in practice this week.
Georgia also is hoping to get back leading rusher Todd Gurley, who returned to practice last week for the first time since a Sept. 28 ankle injury, and free safety Tray Matthews (hamstring). Richt was not sure about strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who hasn't been on the field since spraining his foot in the first half against Vanderbilt.
In the meantime, the Bulldogs lost backup linebacker Reggie Carter to a knee injury during its first of two practices last week. Richt still did not have a definitive answer on Carter's condition but indicated he won't be added to the lengthy list of season-enders.
"We're expecting a good result," he said.
Whether that's another player down for Florida is unclear. But Richt said the Bulldogs are determined to not let injuries define their season.
"They've been through it, too," he said of the Gators. "We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. I doubt Florida is feeling sorry for themselves. I think both teams know if we win we stay in the race for the East. So that's nothing to feel bad about."
A week after a pair of unimpressive losses, Georgia Tech regained a bit of its footing. The Yellow Jackets delivered an emphatic 87-57 thrashing of East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion to head into their final exam week on an up note.