What to watch for as Georgia, Florida meet in another top-10 clash

Here are five quick things to know about the Georgia-Florida football series.

Say this about this year’s Georgia-Florida game: Nobody’s tiptoeing around what’s on the line.

The Bulldogs typically downplay the significance of a given matchup. You know, "it's the biggest game because it's the next game." But there's really no getting around the fact that Saturday's clash with Florida is basically for "all the marbles."

That was one of the descriptions offered by Georgia’s star running back D’Andre Swift. He had others.

“This is like a playoff game for us,” the junior from Philadelphia said. “We’re playing for pretty much everything we want in our season in one game. So, we have to approach it like it’s our last game.”

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An SEC Eastern Division playoff is effectively what it is. No. 6 Florida (7-1, 4-1 SEC) and No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 3-1) are the only one-loss teams remaining in the division. Missouri (5-3, 2-2) briefly looked like a contender before losing to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the past two weeks.

Here are some things to be on the watch for as these teams renew their rivalry for the 84th time on the banks of the St. Johns River:

Jacksonville wins

The city of Jacksonville stepped up and showed how important the Georgia-Florida game is to the area Oct. 25 when it announced it had extended its agreement with the two schools to host the game through the 2023 season, with an option to go two more years.

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The decision went against the wishes of coach Kirby Smart, who has complained about losing an on-campus recruiting opportunity every other year by playing an annual neutral-site game. But Jacksonville essentially gave the schools an offer they couldn’t refuse.

"I'm 100 percent on board with it," Smart said Monday. "I'm a team player, and I always said, once the decision is made, it's made."

Unspoken about the game being in Jacksonville is the fact that the odds of Georgia winning in the years that it’s the visiting team are significantly increased. Meanwhile, with a 50-50 crowd and the Bulldogs’ traveling by jet out of Athens — which causes no more travel difficulties than Florida busing two hours from Gainesville — it essentially makes for a playoff atmosphere.

Health check

Georgia will be the healthiest it has been all season, and Florida will be as healthy as it has been in a while.

The Bulldogs have two key players returning: wide receiver Lawrence Cager and cornerback Tyson Campbell.

Cager was Georgia’s leading receiver before a separated shoulder knocked him out of the South Carolina game. Moreover, the 6-foot-5 Cager has proved to be Fromm’s in-the-clutch target on critical downs.

Campbell started the first three games of the season at right cornerback — and 10 as a freshman last season — before a turf-toe injury took him early in the third game. But Campbell has been on the practice field with the Bulldogs for several weeks and dressed out their past three games, though he didn’t play. His ability to play and play well could be a difference for a Georgia defense trying to defend the most sophisticated passing attack it’s seen yet.

Florida also got better during the bye week. It welcomed back star defensive ends Jabari Zuniga and Jon Greenard and speedy wideout Kedarius Toney.

DBs vs. WRs

The most challenging matchup for Georgia will be between its defensive backs and Florida's wide receivers. The Gators feature a receiving corps that rivals Alabama and LSU in talent and depth and have four 300-plus-yard passing games to show for it.

Florida also has something those other teams don’t — a truly elite tight end.

Kyle Pitts, a 6-6, 239-pound sophomore, leads Florida with 391 yards on 35 catches and four touchdowns. And while he has the size of a tight end, the Gators often deploy him as a wide receiver. He’s a matchup nightmare.

“As talented as I’ve seen,” Smart said. “… I don’t think the SEC has seen a tight end over the years (like him) because he’s different. He’s 50 percent wideout and 50 percent tight end.”

The Gators also have senior Van Jefferson and five other speedsters with 12 or more catches.

Run the rock

In the past 13 years in this series, the team that finished with the most rushing yards won the game.

Georgia narrowly out-rushed the Gators 189 yards to 170 last year on the way to a 36-17 victory. D’Andre Swift led the Bulldogs with 105 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bulldogs appear to have the edge this year, too. They lead the SEC in rushing, at 237.1 yards per game, and Swift is the league’s leading rusher, at 107.4 yards per game. Nationally, Georgia ranks 16th to Florida’s 90th.

Florida has averaging only 142 yards per game. But LaMical Perine rushed for 130 yards against a stout Auburn defense earlier this season. And Emory Jones can provide some quarterback runs for Florida whenever needed.

Special teams

There is no kicker in America who is more loved by his fan base than Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, but what Blankenship has not been able to do this season is use his right leg to lift the Bulldogs to victory. He was not given that opportunity at the end of regulation in the South Carolina game and, as it turned out, was unable to come through for Georgia on a 42-yard try in overtime. Blankenship would like nothing better than to be a difference maker for the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Like Blankenship, Florida sophomore Evan McPherson was a Groza Award semifinalist last season, and he enters Saturday’s game with a better field-goal percentage (88.9) than Blankenship (85.7). McPherson’s long this season is 48 yards in the last game against South Carolina and his only miss this season came from 27 yards.

While place-kicking looks like a push, the Gators probably edge in punting with senior Tommy Townsend. Thirteen of his 25 punts (52 percent) have been downed inside the 20. That’s an area in which Georgia’s Jake Camarda has struggled.

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