Georgia beat Florida 17-9 last season. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s early November in northeastern Florida, and the World’s Largest Outdoor Diet Coke Party is upon us. Though I did not grow up in either participating state, if anyone asks me about this game and its history, I always go back to the same play. Every rivalry has its plays (“Wide Right”, for example), but every fan — on both sides — knows the meaning of Lindsay Scott.
The festivities in Jacksonville highlight an otherwise “down” weekend (to some, anyway) around the Southeastern Conference before next week’s gigantic tilt in Tuscaloosa between LSU and Alabama. With our focus on Jacksonville this week, Tuscaloosa next week and Atlanta in the weeks shortly thereafter, things are really starting to heat up in the SEC. We’ll look at the calm before the proverbial storm, but first, our trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 10 (answer at the end of the column): The Georgia-Florida game each year is played for a trophy. What is the name of that trophy, and in what year did it originate?
Top of the Ratings
Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC) vs. Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC), 3:30pm ET, CBS
Program guide: There are few more tired cliches than “throw out the records”, but it is this cliche on which we rely in this game. Both of these teams are ravaged by injury, with a number of key playmakers missing for each side. The Gators and Bulldogs enter the game unranked, something that has happened just one other time in 33 years. Florida won that 2010 game 34-31 in overtime.
The Gators’ offensive struggles have been well-chronicled throughout the year, and injuries and ineffectiveness have amplified those concerns. Florida ranks 110th in the FBS in total offense, averaging just 336.9 yards per game. The Gators are 12th in the SEC in points per game (21.1). Florida has been outscored 53-23 in their last two games, gaining just 391 total yards in those games.
Florida’s usually reliable defense also let them down against Missouri. The Tigers gained 500 yards of offense against Florida. This outing came on the heels of a 327-yard game by LSU in a 17-6 victory. Will Muschamp’s defense still leads the conference, but their once-considerable lead has shrunk to just under eight yards per game.
Georgia’s offense has also experienced its share of misery without many of Aaron Murray’s weapons. Murray compiled the third-lowest passing total of his career in the Bulldogs’ last game against Vanderbilt, throwing for just 114 yards. Georgia’s 221 yards of offense was by far their lowest total of the year. The Bulldogs are 4-1 when scoring greater than 30 points this season, and they have scored 26 and 27 in their last two losses. Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett are expected back for Mark Richt’s team, which will surely provide a much-needed boost.
Georgia owns victories in the last two games against Florida — two of only five victories by the Bulldogs in the series since 1990. A number of one-sided games in the 1990s have given way to a series with a slightly different complexion. The last two games (17-9 and 24-20) are likely a good place to set expectations for Saturday’s installment of the rivalry. Despite the records and injuries, expect these two to produce their usual compelling matchup.
Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 SEC) at South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
Mirror images: Despite the difference in the teams’ records, their numbers are remarkably similar. The two give up the exact same number of points per game (22.9), while scoring nearly the same amount (USC 31.9, MSU 30.1). South Carolina outranks State in yards per game by fewer than twenty (475.1-456), but rushes for almost the same yardage, beating State 205.9-205.4. The Gamecocks enjoy slight edges in each defensive category.
Williams-Brice is nice: South Carolina holds the second-longest string of home victories in the FBS, having won 14 straight games in the capital of the Palmetto State. Only Michigan has more consecutive home victories, with 19. South Carolina owns three straight home victories over the Bulldogs, having emerged victorious in 2000, 2002 and 2007.
Ball security: Mississippi State defeated Kentucky 28-22 last week, and did not turn the ball over in doing so. The Bulldogs have turned the ball over just six times this season, tying them with the Wildcats for the best total in the conference. Dan Mullen’s club is third in the SEC in turnover margin, trailing only Missouri and Alabama.
Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC) at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4 SEC), 6:00pm ET, ESPN2
Fighting off the field: The two teams haven’t even left the locker rooms, and we have a controversy. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema accused Auburn of omitting portions of their playbook — intentionally or not — from the game film they shared with the school. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn responded by defending his team, suggesting that there was no intended impropriety, and that the SEC was aware of the situation.
On a slide: The Razorbacks’ current five-game losing streak has seen them outscored 207-74. Arkansas is last in the conference in turnover margin, and compiled a minus-7 turnover margin in three October contests. SEC opponents average 486.8 yards per game against the Razorbacks, up from just over 289 per game against non-conference foes. Arkansas has allowed greater than 500 yards in three of their last four games, with Florida (355) the only exception.
Chewing up yards: Auburn enjoys a 90-plus yard lead per game in rushing yards among SEC teams. The Tigers rush for just over 315 yards per game, though that total is down slightly (249 yards per game) against conference opponents. Gus Malzahn’s team has found the end zone ten times in SEC games. Arkansas has allowed remarkably similar numbers during the conference portion of their schedule, surrendering 251.5 rushing yards per game and ten scores.
Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC) at Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC), 7:00pm ET, ESPN
Coming off a classic: These two schools played one of the more entertaining games of the 2012 season, taking four overtimes to determine a 51-48 victory for Missouri in the first SEC meeting between the teams. The teams combined for 1039 yards of offense, with Tyler Bray and James Franklin each throwing for four touchdowns. Mizzou won the game on a 35-yard Andrew Baggett field goal after Tennessee turned the ball over on downs.
We’re not Worley: Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley will miss this game after an injury to and surgery on his right thumb. True freshman Josh Dobbs will guide the Vols in Columbia on Saturday night. Dobbs is 5-of-12 passing for 75 yards on the season, with no touchdowns or interceptions.
30 is the magic number: Last week marked the first time all season that Missouri failed to reach 30 points in a game. The Tigers rank second in the conference in scoring offense (41.8 PPG), trailing only Texas A&M (48 PPG). The Tigers’ 7-0 record when scoring greater than 30 points comes on the heels of a 3-0 mark in such games for Gary Pinkel’s team in 2012.
Alabama State (6-2) at Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC), 7:30pm ET, CSS
A familiar face: Many Kentucky and SEC fans will recognize the name of Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell played at Georgia as a freshman in 2011, racking up 850 yards and five touchdowns. He finished sixth in the conference in rushing during his lone year in Athens. Now starring at Alabama State, Crowell has rushed for 833 yards and 12 touchdowns on 123 carries.
An unfamiliar face: Kentucky has never faced any team from the FCS-level SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference). The conference was founded in 1920, while Kentucky began playing football in 1881. The Wildcats’ last victory over an FCS club came against Samford of the Southern Conference on November 17, 2012. Kentucky won the game 34-3.
That’s called a winning streak: Alabama State has won six straight games, giving the Hornets a 6-1 record in the SWAC. ASU has scored greater than 30 points in all six of those games, breaking the 40-point plateau in four of the games.
UTEP (1-6) at Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC), 9:00pm ET, ESPN2
No Showers in the forecast: UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the Miners’ most recent game against Rice, and will not be on the field in College Station. This is important not only because the Miners will start backup quarterback Blaire Sullivan, but because Showers was the man beaten out by Johnny Manziel for the A&M starting quarterback role before last season. Showers transferred to UTEP after Manziel won the job.
No Miner success: UTEP has played the Aggies just twice, in 1984 and 2000. A&M won both games. UTEP has won just once in 31 tries away from El Paso against ranked opponents, with that win coming against Arizona State in 1974. UTEP’s last victory over a ranked opponent came against current Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin, when he was Houston’s head coach in October of 2009.
The irresistible force and the easily-movable object: The Aggies have recorded 40 or greater points in 11 consecutive contests. They have also gained greater than 500 yards in their last seven games. UTEP ranks 117th in the FBS in scoring defense, allowing 38.7 points per game. The Miners have allowed 32 or greater points in five straight games. UTEP’s defense has allowed no fewer than 385 yards in any game during the 2013 season.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: The Georgia-Florida game each year is played for a trophy. What is the name of that trophy, and in what year did it originate?
The Okefenokee Oar is the trophy presented each year to the winner of the Florida-Georgia game. The oar came from a 1,000-year-old cypress tree taken from the Okefenokee Swamp, according to legend. The trophy was created in 2009.