Chomp: Gators big underdogs vs top-ranked ‘Dawgs in Jacksonville

FILE - A general view of TIAA Bank Field during a game between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs on Nov. 2, 2019, in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) (ME, 2019 Getty Images)

This story first appeared in Chomp, our Gators football newsletter. Subscribe here.

Hello, Gators fans!

This is usually a week that we’ve all been waiting for, but I must admit my excitement and expectations for this year’s Florida-Georgia game are relatively low.

But we’re still previewing the big annual rivalry matchup and going over everything you need to know if you’re heading to TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville to watch the Gators take on the Bulldogs this weekend.

(Note: It’s technically called “Georgia-Florida” this year, but we’re Gators fans so we’ll be sticking with Florida-Georgia. Plus, it sounds way better. 😉)

😬 Georgia huge favorite against Florida

It’ll be no easy task if unranked Florida defeats No. 1 Georgia on Saturday.

It’s the 100th time these two programs are facing off and their 90th meeting in Jacksonville. Georgia leads the series 53-44-2 and has a 47-41-1 record in Jacksonville.

Per usual, both Florida (4-3, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) and defending national champion Georgia (7-0, 4-0) will be rested after a bye week. In the Bulldogs’ last matchup, they got a 55-0 home win over Vanderbilt. And the Gators lost 45-35 to LSU at The Swamp in their previous game.

“It’s certainly been a good open date, good to give the staff and players a little bit of a break over the weekend. With Saturday off, able to get a little bit of prep last week to get out in front of a very important week this week, but certainly, just mentally I think really good for everybody,” Florida coach Billy Napier said at his Monday news conference. “But players worked extremely hard last week. I think you’re kind of at that midpoint, and I think this time of year in the second half of the year really challenges all the self-discipline of each individual, each part of the organization, and I think the key here is that we continue to stay focused on what we know winning football looks like.

“I think that’s what the open date uncovered for us, is that we understand where we’re at, why we have the results that we have, and what we need to do to improve there.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Gators are a 22 ½-point underdog against the undefeated ‘Dawgs — a number that continues to grow, as the line originally opened at 17.

“That’s crazy,” Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson said of his team being a more-than-three-touchdown underdog.

This is the third time Florida has been at least a 20-point underdog in the last three decades, maybe longer.

As for the reason why, a lot of fingers are pointing to Florida’s defense, which is on track to have a historically bad season. The Gators are tied for 108th in the country and rank 12th in the SEC in total defense. They’re giving up 429.3 yards a game, mostly because they can’t stop the run, can’t get consistent pressure on quarterbacks and can’t get off the field often enough on third downs.

“I think statistically there are a lot of areas where we need to improve,” Napier said when asked about his defense. “There’s nobody that’s ignoring the problem. I think we’ve got a group of people that really care about doing their job better, and that’s what they’re going to try to do.”

As for Georgia’s defense, it will be without safety Dan Jackson, who is tied for sixth on the team in tackles. Jackson won’t be available Saturday because he’s facing foot surgery that could end his season.

Even though this will be Napier’s first time at the neutral site matchup between the SEC East rivals, there is some familiarity surrounding this game. Napier said there are a lot of players on rival Georgia that they’re familiar with, and Napier has a history with Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

“I wouldn’t have been at Alabama if it wasn’t for Kirby. Our dads were high school coaches in Georgia. There was some familiarity there and certainly his influence on that with coach [Nick] Saban. He had a lot to do with me being there,” Napier said. “I will always be thankful for that.”

With the game airing on CBS, Saturday’s kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.

In the latest Gators Breakdown episode, host David Waters previews the big game with Palmer Thombs, with On3′s Dawgs HQ, and David gives his prediction on the showdown.

In a separate episode of Gators Breakdown, David is joined by Will Miles, with Read and Reaction, and Gators great Ben Troupe to talk Florida-Georgia and more.

😒 Talk continues about moving rivalry game out of Jax

Can we stop talking about moving Florida-Georgia out of Jacksonville already? But it’s inevitable that it was going to come up this week.

On Monday, Florida and Georgia released a joint statement on the rivalry game in Jacksonville.

“The annual game between our two universities is an important tradition. At this time, both programs are focused on our current seasons. Typically both schools begin conversations regarding future games in the series as the last contracted game nears. We anticipate following that timeline. When those discussions take place, we will consider a multitude of factors, including tradition, finances, future SEC scheduling models with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, and what is best for both schools’ football programs overall,” the statement reads.

RELATED ARTICLE: Forget Kirby Smart. The Florida-Georgia game should never leave Jacksonville

Smart has called for the game to instead be played on the universities’ campuses. His argument for wanting to do away with one of the only neutral-site rivalry games in college football (the other prominent one amongst Power Five teams being the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas at the State Fair of Texas) is that it’s a recruiting disadvantage.

NCAA rules forbid schools from hosting recruits at neutral sites, but as the home team in Saturday’s neutral site game, Georgia can leave tickets at the gate for recruits. But Smart does not believe that’s enough, as they won’t be able to converse with them.

“We’re allowed to use tickets, but we can’t host them,” Smart said Monday. “We can’t do anything. So I never understood — I never understand — what would we do with them? We can’t legally see them. We can’t talk to them, we can’t host them. Visit with them.”

PREVIOUS STORY: Kirby Smart complains about Jacksonville location of Florida-Georgia game — again

Napier was asked Monday if the neutral site game poses any recruiting concerns for him down the road.

“So this environment, this experience for a player, can have a significant impact on a player’s decision. So, I mean, I completely understand what Kirby is saying. Every other year he’s missing out on what he knows will be a fantastic venue and game day experience,” Napier said. “It being right down the road, it’s really, for both teams to some degree, there is some advantages and disadvantages here.

“But I think we’ll continue to put our heads together, not only the coaching staff, but the administrations. But I think 1933 the game has been played in Jacksonville, so a lot of history and tradition there.”

Last year, the Jacksonville City Council voted unanimously to approve a contract that would keep the Florida-Georgia game, which has had an economic impact of millions of dollars each year, in the city through at least 2023. The agreement with the city, the University Athletic Association and the University of Georgia Athletic Association includes a two-year extension option for the 2024 and 2025 games.

The game, which has also been referred to as “the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” or “the War for the Oar,” has been played in Jacksonville since 1933 except for 1994 and 1995 when the contest was held at Florida’s and Georgia’s campuses, respectively, as the stadium in downtown Jacksonville was undergoing construction due to the Jaguars entering the NFL as an expansion team.

And it’s a moneymaker for the teams. The payout for each team from Jacksonville is approximately $2.9 million for each school in 2022 and 2023, which includes a guaranteed $1.25 million and a split of gate revenue. Georgia also receives $350,000 each year for its charter flight, buses and lodging while Florida receives $60,000, with no flights required. The guaranteed money for each school would be increased to $1.5 million in 2024 and 2025. With gate revenue included, each school’s payout under the option would increase to more than $3 million. Each school generates about $3 million for selling out a game on its campus, minus about $500,000 in expenses.

📺 ‘SEC Nation’ & other programs traveling to Jacksonville

The show will air live from Lot P outside TIAA Bank Field

SEC Network’s weekly traveling show " SEC Nation” will be making its way to Jacksonville to broadcast from the site of the Florida-Georgia game.

“SEC Nation” — featuring Gators great Tim Tebow, alongside Roman Harper, Jordan Rodgers and Paul Finebaum — will air live from Lot P outside TIAA Bank Field from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday on SEC Network. Regular SEC Nation contributor Marty Smith will serve as the guest host since longtime host and Gator alum Laura Rutledge will be reporting on the game between the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

In addition, “Marty & McGee” will also make the trip to Jacksonville. The program, hosted by Smith and Ryan McGee, airs from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday.

That’s not all. “The Paul Finebaum Show” will be live from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday in Lot P.

🎉 Festivities surrounding rivalry game

The first of the festivities began Tuesday morning with the opening of RV City.

Gates officially opened at 8 a.m., but Florida and Georgia fans began lining up outside Lot E as early as Monday.

On Friday, former Florida standouts Trey Burton and Andre Caldwell will be inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame. The duo will join Georgia’s Champ Bailey and John Little as this year’s inductees to the Hall of Fame, which honors and recognizes the memorable players, coaches and administrators involved in the long-standing rivalry.

FLORIDA-GEORGIA COVERAGE: Florida & Georgia fans roll out their RVs as RV City opens Tuesday | Parking, traffic & safety details released ahead of Saturday’s rivalry game | Avoid gameday traffic with St. Johns River Taxi

Big crowds are expected in downtown Jacksonville this weekend.

Luke Bryan is set to perform at 7 p.m. on Friday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Also on Friday night, the Florida and Georgia baseball teams will face off in an exhibition game at 121 Financial Ballpark, with first pitch happening at 6:30 p.m. A fireworks show will be held afterward.

And if you are going to the game on Saturday, the big thing that the city wants you to know is get there early. With construction and huge crowds, traffic will be slow. Parking lots will open at 8 a.m.

Football weather forecast

As for the weather, The Weather Authority will be watching two systems that could stay away just enough to make for good football weather. Game day will be sandwiched between a cold front nearing the Florida Panhandle and a potentially developing subtropical storm well east of the state.

FULL FORECAST: 2 areas of rain should hold off for Florida-Georgia game

The breezy northeast flow Saturday will be coming off that coastal low pressure far offshore. It will likely draw in low clouds off the ocean with only a slight chance of showers at the coast. Areas around the stadium should remain dry. The forecast is calling for a kickoff temperature at 81 degrees with a 20% chance of showers and mostly cloudy skies with winds from the northeast between 10 and 15 mph.

📝 Grading Florida so far this season

As the Gators sit slightly above .500 heading into the game against Georgia, they have plenty to fix if any late-season runs are to happen.

In another Gators Breakdown episode, David and Will grade Florida so far this season and take questions from listeners.

🥳 Florida flips local offensive lineman

There was reason to celebrate earlier this week when Florida flipped Orange Park offensive tackle Roderick Kearney from rival Florida State.

Both the 247 Sports Composite and the On3 Consensus have Kearney as a four-star lineman.

Kearney became the first player from Orange Park High School to be named to the Under Armour All-America team. It’s a rare honor. Since 2006, only two players from Clay County high schools had earned a spot in the game, Oakleaf’s Shaq Quarterman, now with the Jaguars, and Fleming Island’s Ian Silberman, who spent five years in the NFL.

READ MORE: Orange Park tackle Roderick Kearney earns spot in Under Armour All-America game

With the addition of Kearney, Florida’s 2023 recruiting class now has 22 verbal commitments. Both the 247 Sports Composite and the On3 Consensus still have the Gators at No. 8 in the recruiting team rankings.

In a different Gators Breakdown episode, David talks recruiting with Corey Bender, of On3′s Gators Online. In one of the podcast episodes, David and Will also discuss Kearney’s big decision

🏆 Torrence named to Lombardi Award Watch List

Florida offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence was named to the midseason Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List this year.

The award is given out annually to the college football offensive or defensive lineman who, in addition to outstanding performance and ability, best exemplifies the character and discipline of NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi.

Torrence has started six games this season and is the highest-graded guard in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. Prior to the start of the season, the transfer from Louisiana who followed Napier to Gainesville was named to the first-team offense of the 2022 Preseason Media Days All-SEC Teams.

🕛 Kickoff time announced for Texas A&M game

The Gators will have another tough test against an SEC team after the game versus Georgia.

Florida will take on Texas A&M at noon on Nov. 5 in College Station. The game will air on ESPN.

Florida last traveled to Texas A&M in 2020 and lost to the Aggies 41-38. This will be the fourth meeting between the two programs since Texas A&M joined the SEC. The overall series favors the Aggies at 2-3, but the series is tied 1-1 both in College Station and The Swamp.

✉️ Send us your Gators thoughts & questions

David and I want to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts or questions about the Gators football program? Agree or disagree with something we’ve said? Let us know here, and we’ll share our responses to your questions.

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About the Author:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.