5 things to know ahead of the Georgia-Florida game

11/7/20 - Jacksonville - Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (81) was injured on this touchdown reception during a NCAA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators in Jacksonville, FL.   (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

11/7/20 - Jacksonville - Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (81) was injured on this touchdown reception during a NCAA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators in Jacksonville, FL. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thursday didn’t go like the Jacksonville City Council would have drawn it up. A cool, steady rain swept over this area of northeast Florida and Georgia’s Golden Isles to the north and just sat there.

But to the city’s delight, the Georgia-Florida game is back to be played in its stadium on the St. Johns River for the 85th time in 88 years. And it’s here to stay -- at least until 2023.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry erroneously tweeted Tuesday night that the city council had approved a deal to keep the annual game once known as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville through 2025. But the actual contract that was approved in Tuesday’s meeting included only an option to be extended two more years. The two schools have until May to decide whether that’s something they want to do.

With Texas and Oklahoma coming to the SEC soon and Power 5 football in a state of relative chaos, there’s no predicting what might happen in the next few years. Georgia coach Kirby Smart, for one, continues to espouse the advantages of playing all conference games as home-and-home series. But he remains diplomatic, if not rehearsed, when it comes to playing in Jacksonville this year.

“We are excited to head down to Jacksonville, Fla., for our traditional rivalry in the Georgia-Florida game,” Smart said. “Our kids are excited forward to the opportunity. They enjoy playing in that environment. It’s one-of-a-kind in college football. Our guys are looking forward to the challenge of playing a really talented Florida football team.”

Meanwhile, the cold front that brought Thursday’s precipitation will move on before Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m., CBS). It will leave behind sunny skies but cooler than normal temperatures. The hope is that a high of 71 degrees will be reached by kickoff.

Here are some more Georgia-Florida storylines:

Quarterbacks galore

For once, all the pregame discussion won’t be just about Georgia’s quarterback situation. The Gators are expected to play both junior Emory Jones and redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson for the sixth time in eight games this season. Jones, who is from LaGrange, should get his eighth consecutive start.

What the Bulldogs will do is anybody’s guess. Senior Stetson Bennett has started the past three games and played off-the-charts well in four overall starts this season. His quarterback-efficiency rating of 210.93 would be No. 2 in FBS if he met NCAA-required minimums.

But junior JT Daniels started ahead of Bennett for a reason. And while he has missed four games this season because of back-muscle issues, he returned to full participation during Georgia’s bye week and was pronounced fully fit to play Saturday. Whether that’s as a starter or backup won’t be known until Saturday.

Getting well

Daniels was not the only Bulldog to get well over the past two weeks. Several key players are expected to be available.

Senior safety Christopher Smith is back after being sidelined since the first quarter of the Oct. 9 Auburn game with a shoulder sprain. Senior cornerback Ameer Speed (ankle), a one-time starter and special-teams stalwart, is doubtful, however.

On offense, Jermaine Burton (groin) and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle), previous starters at wide receiver, as well as fleet-footed flanker Arian Smith (lower-leg contusion), are expected to play Saturday. The hope is that running back Kenny McIntosh will be back at full strength as well. McIntosh missed the Kentucky game and most of Auburn with a pulled hamstring.

McIntosh’s healthy return Saturday became critical after the Bulldogs last week lost third-string back Kendall Milton to what’s thought to be a season-ending MCL sprain. Georgia shares its backfield load among at least four backs every week. Leading rushers Zamir White (83 carries, 400 yards, 7 TDs) and James Cook (47-296-4) remain healthy. McIntosh also is the Bulldogs’ primary returner on kickoff.

Revenge by the river?

Having a healthy roster could be key for the Bulldogs. While Florida hit them with a dominating offensive performance (80 plays, 571 yards) to win 44-28 last year, Georgia arrived with an injury-ravaged depth chart that would incur more damage during the game.

The Bulldogs had to play without star safety Richard LeCounte, who was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident a week earlier, and nose guard Jordan Davis, who sprained his elbow in the previous game. They also were without star wideout George Pickens because of a shoulder injury.

Still, the Bulldogs built an early 14-0 lead. But on the same 32-yard touchdown pass that gave them a two-score lead, Georgia lost both Rosemy-Jacksaint – Pickens’ replacement – to a broken leg and Bennett to a shoulder subluxation. Later, as the Gators rallied in the second quarter, safety Lewis Cine was ejected for a targeting foul.

Georgia players insist revenge won’t be a motivating factor.

“We use every game as motivation,” defensive back Latavious Brini said. “We never hone into one game we need to win. Every day that we play is motivation.”

East hangs in balance

The Eastern Division championship should serve as some incentive.

Georgia (7-0, 5-0), which was posted early as a two-touchdown favorite, officially would eliminate the Gators (4-3, 2-3) with a victory. The Bulldogs currently have a one-game lead over Kentucky (6-1, 4-1) and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Wildcats play on the road at Mississippi State on Saturday.

Georgia’s remaining SEC games are at home against Missouri (3-4, 0-3) and on the road at Tennessee (4-4, 2-3). The Volunteers are off Saturday, then face Kentucky in Lexington. The Tigers are at Vanderbilt. Any losses by those teams would clinch the title for the Bulldogs.

“We feel like the East is always on the line, especially playing any team in the East,” Georgia’s Kearis Jackson said. “We just feel like we have to go out and compete. Everybody’s coming after us. So, we want to go out there and put our best game on film to be able to show what Georgia football is.”

Grantham under fire

Saturday’s game is important to all the Gators, but perhaps no one more than Todd Grantham.

Mullen’s defensive coordinator since 2017, when they were at Mississippi State, Grantham finds himself on shaky ground. He entered 2021 in the final year of his contract, and things haven’t gone particularly well since.

Grantham’s reputation for a high-risk, high-reward defense has been tainted this season. The Gators have recorded only six takeaways in their past eight games. That’s after a 2020 season that saw them allow an average of 30.8 points, the most at Florida since World War II.

Florida went into its game against LSU on Saturday ranked second in SEC in scoring defense (16.5 ppg) and had 20 sacks. Then it gave up 42 points in a 49-42 loss to the Tigers. LSU gashed them with wide-zone run to the tune of 321 yards. Junior tailback Tyrion Davis-Price, whose previous career-best performance was 135 yards, had 287 on 36 carries and three touchdowns.

“We’ve worked on it,” Grantham said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to play those plays as we move forward through the season because we’ll see them again.”