ATHENS -- Georgia coach Kirby Smart normally spends every week downplaying the importance of one game over another. He didn’t really bother this week.

For the third year in a row, the Florida game is a top-10 matchup, and it should decide the SEC Eastern Division title. Georgia has won the past three in this 98-game series and, not coincidentally, has played in the SEC Championship game each of those years. A win this year would be the Bulldogs' first four-game streak in the series since 1983. Georgia leads the series 53-43-2.

“This is a huge game, definitely, for both teams,” said sophomore guard Warren Ericson, whose parents attended Florida. “Everyone knows how huge this rivalry game is. We know what we have to do to win this game and that’s play hard and go play some UGA football.”

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Here are some factors that will have an impact on whether the Bulldogs win or lose:

1. Quarterback quotient

It seems almost fashionable to bash on former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. Here’s the only stat anyone really needs to know about him: He was 3-0 against Florida.

In an emotional and pragmatic sense, it’s the Bulldogs' annual tussle against Florida that is most meaningful to each season’s success. And Fromm tended to play very well against the Gators, even if he didn’t the previous week or the week after.

This year, all of Georgia’s quarterbacks are 0-0 against Florida. Indications are it will be Stetson Bennett’s game to win or lose, and that’s a lot of pressure considering how meaningful the outcome will be.

For that same reason, don’t expect Smart’s leash to be as long with Bennett as it has been. If things are going awry or just not going, look for the Bulldogs to turn to backup D’Wan Mathis, who got some first-team reps during the off week.

2. Run

The team that has rushed for the most yardage won this game the past 14 years. The odds of that streak extending to 15 are good, especially if the favored Bulldogs have a lead in the fourth quarter.

Salting away the game in the final minutes probably is the biggest reason for that trend. The teams are 7-7 over the course of those 14 games, but only five were decided by single-digit victory. So the majority of the time the victor was grinding out the clock at the end.

That was the case last year, even though Georgia’s winning margin was only seven. The Gators scored with 3:11 to play, then the Bulldogs got a first down and rode out the clock with a bunch of runs. UGA finished with 119 yards rushing, and Florida had only 21, as it spent all day throwing the ball trying to catch up.

Georgia was decidedly run-heavy against Kentucky on Saturday, averaging 5.0 yards on 43 attempts for a total of 215. Zamir White got the majority of carries, with 26 for 136 yards.

Florida can run the ball, too, but just doesn’t do it as much. The Gators actually average more yards per carry (4.8) than Georgia (4.2). But the Bulldogs have attempted 210 runs to 156 passes, while Florida has 112 runs to 142 pass attempts.

3. Stuff run

Even though the narrative is Florida is a pass-first team, it’s still important that the Bulldogs remain stout against the run. Georgia leads the SEC and is sixth nationally against the run, giving up just 80 yards per game and allowing one rushing touchdown all season.

With interior defensive linemen Julian Rochester (knee) and possibly Jordan Davis (elbow) out, you can be sure the Gators are going to test that. Any success they can create on the ground will make their protection of quarterback Kyle Trask all the more manageable. And while Trask is not particularly mobile, at 6-5, 239 pounds, he can be hard to bring down.

That said, if Georgia can’t glut the run in its traditional manner of middle-line penetration, then it will have to create it elsewhere. Don’t expect the Bulldogs to stand pat. Look for defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to take a page from Todd Grantham’s book and force the action on occasion. Georgia has been doing that to varying degrees, and that’s why it leads the league in sacks (17-121) and quarterback pressures (109).

4. Pitts stop

There is much to worry about with Florida’s offense, but the factor that really matters wears the No. 84. That would be Kyle Pitts, the Gators' fantastic tight end.

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior is a matchup nightmare. He’s fast enough to run with cornerbacks, who can’t match his size, and too big and fast for safeties and linebackers to defend him against passes. Defensive attention on Pitts, who has 22 catches for 355 yards and seven touchdowns, is the primary reason Trask has set a record with 18 touchdowns in the Gators’ four games.

But the Bulldogs' may have a secret weapon against Pitts. Georgia nickel back Mark Webb, who likely will draw Pitts more than any other defender, grew up playing rec ball and training with Pitts in Warminster, Pa., where they both attended Archbishop Wood Academy.

“It’s just crazy the improvement he’s gone through to now,” Webb said. “I remember when he couldn’t catch a cold. Now he catches everything that comes to him. It’s crazy to see him blossom, and I love that for him.”

But Webb made it clear he won’t love it for Pitts on Saturday. Also, Georgia’s defensive backs and linebackers point out that they’re quite experienced at defending big, talented tight ends.

“We cover those kind of guys every day,” UGA linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “Our (tight ends) are some of the best in the country.”

Indeed, the Bulldogs feature the nation’s No. 1 freshman in 6-7, 260-pound Darnell Washington, as well as Tre' McKitty (6-5, 245), John FitzPatrick (6-6, 230) and Ryland Goede (6-6, 240), among others.

5. Health and safety

Georgia would feel a lot better about its defense if it had All-American safety Richard LeCounte at its disposal. The 5-11, 190-pound senior has been playing the best ball of his career this season, which further underscored this week as he was named SEC defensive player of the week and the Jim Thorpe Award’s national player of the week. But LeCounte was involved in a serious motorcycle crash barely an hour after the Bulldogs returned to Athens from their win over Kentucky and is out for this game and possibly more. Junior Christopher Smith will his career start as LeCounte’s replacement.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs expect to get back wide receiver George Pickens, who has been out the past two weeks with a shoulder injury.

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