Outside of the Iron Bowl it’s probably the nastiest and best SEC rivalry there is. The Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators will get together for their annual classic (still called the “Cocktail Party” by some) on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville, Fl.
The Dawgs and Gators have successfully nourished a culture of hate between the two schools, and if the game is anything like last year’s, things could get ugly.
The series itself still leans in Georgia’s favor, holding a 50-40-2 lead over the Gators, and the Bulldogs have won the last three meetings, their first streak of more than two wins in the series since 1987-89.
Two things are certain when these two teams meet on the field. Throw out the records, because it doesn’t matter, and regardless of how the rest of the season turns out, a victory in the Cocktail Party can be a saving grace.
Last year, Florida lost out on all by not only dropping the game to the Dawgs, but by having a losing season and missing out on a Bowl Game for the first time since 1990.
Florida Key Departures
OFFENSE: Solomon Patton-WR, Trey Burton-WR, Jonotthan Harrison-C, Jon Halapio-OG, Kyle Koehne-OG, Tyler Murphy-QB, Ian Silberman-OG
DEFENSE: Damien Jacobs-NT, Darrin Kitchens-MLB, Jaylen Watkins-S, Loucheiz Purifoy-CB, Dominique Easley-DT, Ronald Powell-LB, Marcus Roberson-CB, Cody Riggs-S
The Gators were abysmal on offense last year, so any departures could very well be looked at as addition by subtraction. That said, they should be better at running the ball this season if nothing else, thanks to the change in offensive coordinators.
On defense, the Gators lost a lot of quality players, especially Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but they are returning 10 starters and have a bumper crop of quality defensive players joining the team, so its doubtful that Will Muschamp’s team will lose a step defensively.
Florida Key Returning Players
OFFENSE: Jeff Driskel-QB, Kelvin Taylor-RB, Matt Jones-RB, Quinton Dunbar-WR, Clay Burton-TE, Max Garcia-C, Tyler Moore-OG, Trenton Brown-OT
DEFENSE: Jonathan Bullard-DE, Leon Orr-NT, Darious Cummings-DT, Dante Fowler-DE, Neiron Ball-LB, Vernon Hargreaves-CB, Marcus Maye-S, Jabari Gorman-S
Offensively there are still a ton of questions for the Gators. No one is really sure if Jeff Driskel is the answer at quarterback, but if he can stay healthy at least he’ll provide some stability and experience. Florida has some good running backs, and (again) when healthy – which was a huge problem for the Gators last year – they can run the ball well. Two big changes to the coaching staff are new O.C. Kurt Roper and wide receivers coach, former Florida QB Chris Leak.
This isn’t going to be a record-breaking offense no matter how well they perform, but anything has to be better than last year’s abomination. Even Georgia’s question marks on defense aren’t as bad as Florida’s on offense.
Defensively the Gators are loaded for bear, and may be fielding the best defense in the SEC, and arguably in the nation. Bullard and Fowler are a vicious pair of pass-rushing ends, who will need to be game-planned for every week. The Florida secondary could be something special, and passers in the SEC had best beware what these guys can do. This will be Georgia QB Hutson Mason’s first time up against the Gator defense, and the coaches better make sure he’s playing within himself.
Florida Suspended Players
Currently there are no Gators that are under suspension that would carry them through to the Georgia game, but then again, this is Florida we’re talking about, and it’s only August. Give them time.
Florida Possible Impact Incoming Freshman
The Gators have 25 freshmen joining the team this year, and their 2014 recruiting class was ranked 9th in the nation, according to 247Sports. However, the number of impact players coming in could be limited by the number of returning starters Florida is fielding.
5-star cornerback Jalen Taylor is one guy that the Gators will utilize. He’ll slide right in and make his presence known right away in the secondary. A pair of 4-star defensive tackles – Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley – will give Florida some incredible depth on a defensive line that is already stacked. The biggest question coming out of this class is 4-star pro style quarterback Will Grier. Could he be ready to jump in and take snaps and challenge Driskel? It’s quite possible, but that will be hashed out in the Gators fall camp.
Outlook for Game
This is always a tough game to call, especially in the last several years. The teams are pretty evenly matched, with strength against strength, and weakness against weakness. Both teams have an open week before the game – Georgia having come off a trip to Arkansas and Florida having played Missouri at home – so rest shouldn’t be an issue for either team.
The key to this game is going to be quarterback play. If Hutson Mason can avoid mistakes, and not get rattled by this tough Gator defense, then Georgia should come out on top. Florida may have figured out their quarterback situation by November, but it might be worse.
This is going to be another close game that comes down to the wire. Quarterbacks and kickers will be heroes and goats. Pick’em.