ATHENS — A week ago a Florida writer dubbed the game “The world’s largest outdoor pity party.” The name is perfect. Georgia’s season has been derailed by injuries to key players. Florida has been hit even harder, losing seven starters to season-ending injuries. Not surprisingly, both teams are unranked.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt laughed out loud (literally) when told of the “pity party” moniker. But he didn’t embrace it fully.
“We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. I doubt Florida is feeling sorry for themselves,” Richt said. “I think both teams know if they win, we stay in the race for the (SEC) East. So that’s nothing to feel pitiful about.”
Indeed, while both Florida and Georgia had the weekend off, their fleeting division hopes got new life. Missouri could have essentially clinched the division by finishing off South Carolina but instead blew a 17-0 lead and lost in overtime.
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Richt and his players found themselves in the unusual position of rooting for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.
“I watched it early. It was really painful, so I quit watching it,” Richt said. “And then I picked it back up when it was 17-7. And from that point on, it was very painful, as well. But in the very end it came out good.”
This week’s Georgia-Florida game now amounts to an elimination game in the division. Both teams are 3-2 in the SEC and lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to Missouri.
Even if Georgia wins Saturday, its path to a third straight division title is uphill. Missouri would almost certainly have to lose twice while Georgia also would have to win its final two SEC games (including a trip to Auburn, now ranked eighth in the AP poll).
Georgia opened up as a slight favorite (2.5 points, per Vegasinsider.com) over Florida. The difference might be that the Bulldogs are only slightly less injured.
In fact, the Bulldogs are getting healthier. Star tailback Todd Gurley, who has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle (with Georgia going 1-2), practiced last week. He appears certain to play in Jacksonville, barring a setback.
Wide receiver Michael Bennett and safety Tray Matthews also are hoping to return; they ran on the side in practice last week, and the hope is they can ramp it up to practicing with the team this week.
But receiver Chris Conley is doubtful to play against Florida, according to Richt. So Bennett would essentially be sliding into Conley’s role, albeit with Bennett probably still not at 100 percent.
Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who sprained his foot at Vanderbilt, appears questionable. He did not practice last week. Freshman inside linebacker Reggie Carter sustained a knee injury last week, and Richt was still awaiting firm word on his status.
“I think we’re expecting a pretty good result,” Richt said. “We’re hoping it’s not a season-ending injury.”
Add in the three season-ending knee injuries (receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall), and it’s a very long list.
But there will be no sympathy from Florida.
Florida has lost three key players for the season: Dominique Easley, a preseason first-team All-SEC selection defensive lineman, starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones, the team’s leading rusher before he got hurt.
Three starters went out in the preseason: receiver Andre Dubose, outside linebacker Matt Rolin and offensive tackle Chaz Green. Then cornerback Nick Washington went down the second week of the season.
Hence the pity party all around in Jacksonville. But that also means the loser can’t really use injuries as an excuse.
“When you get a little turmoil, a little adversity, it reveals what you’ve got,” Richt said. “So I think we’ve done a very nice job of that, and I think we’ll continue to do that.”