ATHENS, Ga. — Four weeks ago, the Georgia football team was where Florida is now: Reeling from unexpected losses, under fire from critics and ready to shake things up.
Georgia made changes, and hasn’t lost since. Now it can only hope that Florida’s mid-season re-evaluation doesn’t bear similar fruit.
The latest installment of the Georgia-Florida rivalry will not have national implications, unlike most recent years. But it still has an impact on the SEC East race: The loser is probably out.
The fact that Georgia is still alive is startling, considering where it was after a 1-4 start. At that point coach Mark Richt made some changes, and now the Bulldogs are on a three-game win streak following Sunday’s 44-31 win at Kentucky.
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Florida (4-3) has lost three in a row. Coach Urban Meyer, with a bye week before Georgia, has said he would be “knee deep” in evaluation of the offense, which ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring and yardage.
Richt, speaking a day after the Kentucky win, drew the parallel between Florida’s potential makeover and his own team’s. He said he expects to see some “interesting twists” from the Gators given the open date.
“I’m sure they’re doing some soul-searching and trying to find some answers, too,” Richt said. “They have time to change their course a little bit. I’m sure that’s what they’re focusing on right now.”
One change that Richt instituted before the win streak is gaining notice. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Georgia was “one of the most physical teams we have played,” after the Bulldogs collected three sacks.
“That’s music to my ears, quite frankly,” Richt said of Phillips’ comment. “Because those are some of the very things that people wanted to fear about us. We wanted to earn people’s respect, and it sounded like we earned their respect.”
Georgia now leads the SEC in run defense, and is 12th nationally, yielding 99.2 rushing yards per game. Opponents are averaging 2.9 yards per attempt.
But the Bulldogs also rank last in third-down conversion defense, and second-to-last in the SEC in pass defense efficiency. The Bulldogs rank fourth in total defense.
“We’re just a better team than we were a month ago,” Richt said. “And thankfully we’re getting some wins to go along with it.”
The Bulldogs are back to having a number of options at tailback. Washaun Ealey, who had a school-record five rushing touchdowns at Kentucky, said after the game he “tweaked” his knee a couple times.
But Richt said athletic trainer Ron Courson’s postgame injury report didn’t include Ealey.
“The way he finished I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Richt said. “I’m sure he’s a little sore.”
Caleb King, who was the team’s starter, is set to come off a two-game suspension, which followed an arrest for failing to appear for a traffic charge.
Richt said King was “in good standing” and would get as many snaps as he deserved in practice.
“I don’t think there’s any reason he won’t get back into the mix,” Richt said. “I think he’s played pretty well this season. I think he’s improved in a lot of areas throughout the year. We’re confident in his ability to play, so I’m sure he’ll get right back in there.”
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Cornerback Branden Smith’s status remains uncertain. Smith has missed the past three games with a concussion.
“That’ll be one of the first things I’ll ask Ron as far as where do we think he’s at,” Richt said.
Linebacker and special teamer Mike Gilliard injured his hamstring at Kentucky. His status is also uncertain. Receiver Logan Gray also appeared to hurt his hamstring, but Richt said Gray played after the injury.
“He may be in better shape than we think,” Richt said.