With a flipped script, Gators must change the trajectory of the Florida-Georgia rivalry

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Everything seemed so perfect for Georgia as November 1st, 2014, approached.

The Bulldogs controlled their own destiny to win the SEC East thanks to an easy win at Missouri, and came into Jacksonville with not only a #11 ranking, but the knowledge that a win over Florida would all but wrap up the SEC East for them. And why not feel good about their chances to do so? Georgia had beaten Florida three straight times. Todd Gurley’s injury hurt, but the Dawgs had a great backup in Nick Chubb. And Florida, it seemed, couldn’t do anything other than beat themselves in particularly frustrating and (for rival fans) hilarious fashion.

Yet as the calendar turned, so did Georgia’s fate. Will Muschamp didn’t win many big games as Florida’s head coach, but he did win win this one. It wasn’t hard, really. All he had to do was watch his running backs (plus holder Michael McNeely) run for a ridiculous 418 yards and his defense make enough stops to keep the Bulldogs out of the game. Or actually, maybe Georgia should have known better; six years earlier to the day, Florida had administered an unprecedented 49-10 spanking that was, believe it or not, worse than the score indicated, and was capped off by then-Florida coach Urban Meyer using up all his remaining timeouts. Maybe Georgia should have known that November 1st is cursed for them.

Sound silly? Maybe. But take a look at the Florida-Georgia series history. Curses are all too real in this rivalry. There’s a scary pattern of the two schools swapping turns owning each other for 20 year periods of time. The runs of dominance go like this: Georgia 23-5-1, Florida 13-5-1, Georgia 15-5, Florida 18-3 and now Georgia has apparently started a new period, which they lead 3-1. It’s both blessing and curse, blessing when it’s your turn to dominate the rivalry and curse when… well, you get the idea. But the larger point is this: Florida’s 34-31 overtime win over Georgia in 2010 meant that Florida had won 18 of the last 21 games… and since then, Georgia has won three out of four. Sure, go ahead and blame some of that on Muschamp (he deserves it) but remember that the Gators blew a huge lead in the 2011 loss and then lost the 2012 game despite clearly being the better team. And if you read the series history piece, that should sound familiar, because that’s exactly how games have been lost through the decades by the team that’s on the bottom of the Florida-Georgia see-saw. This all suggests that it may be Georgia’s turn to dominate the rivalry for the next 15 years or so.

And then on top of all of that, the script for this year’s game is the exact inverse of a year ago. Florida’s the team with the #11 ranking, not Georgia. Florida’s the team that can take a huge step toward clinching the SEC East, not Georgia. Georgia’s the team that’s one loss away from their season turning into a complete disaster, not Florida. And Georgia’s the team that’s got major question marks littering its depth chart, not Florida.

In other words, Florida appears to be in great shape to win on paper. They appear to be favored in every possible matchup other than their offensive line vs. Georgia’s defensive line. But remember that Georgia appeared to be in great shape to win this game last year, too, yet the Gators stomped them 38-13 (I refuse to credit Georgia for a touchdown they scored with three seconds left for the purpose of fully conveying how thorough the Florida beat down was). So with the script completely reversed, there’s a form of logic that suggests that Georgia should win.

Now, let’s make this simple: Florida’s got to beat Georgia on Saturday the way they’re supposed to. They’ve just got to. Because if they do, they will smash the stigma of the 20 year curse.

I’m a big believer in schematics determining the outcomes of games, as opposed to all this superstitious stuff. But if you ever question whether this 20 year curse is real, I again invite you to check out the game results, and those runs of dominance. Yet if Florida wins… maybe it isn’t another Georgia run after all, because then the Bulldogs will have only won three out of the first five in the 20 year period starting in 2011. That’s not too dominant. And on the other hand, Florida will have won 20 of the last 26 dating back to 1990. How any team could claim any sort of dominance in a rivalry in which they’ve won six games out of the last 26 is a question that I’d love answered next week and beyond.

Yet if Georgia springs the upset… well, now they’ve won four out of the last five, two of them being major upsets with the first of the five featuring a tremendous comeback and the ensuing year featuring an endless parade of self inflicted wounds by their opponent, all of which are trademarks of the losing team in this rivalry. Florida fans could still say 19-7, I suppose, but the novelty of that is fading fast; Steve Spurrier’s yearly bludgeonings of the 90’s and even the glory of the Tebow days hold less and less water with each passing year if those memories of beating Georgia aren’t replaced with new ones.

So the task at hand for Jim McElwain and his team is simple. Play the type of football that got you to a 6-0 start. A few adjustments need to be made in terms of tightening up the secondary, and the offensive play calling with Treon Harris being a more dangerous running threat and a less dangerous passing threat than Will Grier, but it was smart, fundamental and mistake-free football that got the Gators where they are now. And if they continue to play smart, fundamental and mistake free football on Saturday, they’ll not only win, but snap the 20 year curse- and prove that this is now, recently was and should be in the foreseeable future- a Gator dominated rivalry.

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