Georgia unfazed by Florida’s trash talk

UGA running back Nick Chubb is brought down Gators DB Quincy Wilson during the 2014 Georgia-Florida game. Georgia was ranked in the top 10 and a 12-point favorite against the Gators, but lost 38-20. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC file photo)

UGA running back Nick Chubb is brought down Gators DB Quincy Wilson during the 2014 Georgia-Florida game. Georgia was ranked in the top 10 and a 12-point favorite against the Gators, but lost 38-20. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC file photo)

“They can’t beat Florida.”

If the Bulldogs’ title run is to be taken seriously, they’ll have to exorcise their Jacksonville demons this weekend.

To say Florida has a mental edge over Georgia probably would be accurate. The Gators have won 21 of the past 27 meetings, many in demoralizing fashion. The SEC East champion is often crowned from the rivalry game. Since 1992, the Gators or Bulldogs have represented the East in 17 of 25 SEC Championship games.

The game welcomes trash talk, and this year’s ignitor is Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner, who opened fire on Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency with a 170.4 rating.

“I mean, you say they have a great quarterback. I get it,” Gardner said. “He’s throwing simple passes. I get it. Anybody can throw a slant. I get it.”

Gardner wasn’t alone in getting vocal. Gators receiver Josh Hammond is well aware of Florida’s recent success over Georgia, and he’s not afraid to talk about it.

“That brings a lot of confidence to us, just knowing that Georgia isn’t a team that we lose to,” Hammond said. “So I think that’s the message in the locker room right now: They might be the No. (3) team in the country, but they can’t beat Florida. That’s our mentality going forward, and we’ll come out and be ready to play.”

Georgia players didn’t offer much in response, perhaps another nod to how coach Kirby Smart is building an Alabama-lite in Athens.

“It’s a rivalry. You don’t expect anything less,” said linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who’s 0-3 against Florida. “There’s going to be a lot of trash talking out on the field, too. As long as we keep playing football the way we’ve been playing, physical, fast, then that stuff is going to take care of itself.”

“For me, it’s just regular trash talk,” safety J.R. Reed said. “People just talking, trying to get under your skin. Just don’t pay that much attention to it. … That’s Florida. That’s what you expect from some teams. Some teams you don’t expect it, but it doesn’t bother me that much.”

That’s what he expects from Florida?

“Nah, it’s just trash talk,” Reed clarified, laughing. “No big deal.”

These Gators are less likely to back up their talk than years past. Florida is 3-3, an inexcusable mark given its talent pool. But the defense is formidable, especially in the front seven. Taven Bryan has tormented SEC offensive lines, even drawing comparisons with Houston Texans superstar pass rusher J.J. Watt. CeCe Jefferson might be the most explosive edge in the conference.

‘’Extremely athletic. Extremely fast,” Smart said of Florida’s defensive front. “Faster and more athletic that what we’ve faced all year. Very disruptive. Vertical penetration guys. Unique skill set that we don’t typically face. I mean, you don’t see a lot of guys with that explosive power in the SEC. At least we haven’t faced many this year that have that same ability to disrupt plays, which they’re very good at.’’

Offense is a different story. The Gators haven’t been consistent anywhere except in their inability to score points. Florida’s recent two home losses came by three total points. Malik Davis is one of the better freshman running backs in the country, but it’s near impossible to make up the losses of Jordan Scarlett and Antonio Callaway, the Gators’ best offensive players who were among nine players suspended before the season for allegedly transferring money from a stolen credit card and using it at a school store.

Reed called Feleipe Franks a “good quarterback,” but it’s been a learning process for the redshirt freshman. That’s where Georgia’s key advantage lies in Fromm, the very freshman quarterback that Gardner was quick to call out.

“At the end of the day, it’s nothing you say that’s going to impact the game,” Carter said. “So we just keep preparing like we’ve been preparing and let our football and our helmets do the talking. … It’s very important. This is the game. The next one is the most important one. If we don’t win this one, that can derail our whole season.”

Derailing a season is just what the hapless Gators will aim for this weekend. If Georgia survives, the road from Jacksonville to Mercedes-Benz Stadium has never looked less crowded.