After spending the last two weeks falling and then slightly rising up the national rankings following their first loss of the season, the No. 11 Florida Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC) hope to maintain first place in the SEC East against the rival Georgia Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) Saturday afternoon at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
The Gators endured a difficult 35-28 loss to then-No. 6 LSU two weeks ago, succumbing to 221 rushing yards and a fake field-goal attempt that led to a 16-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter, and subsequently dropped five spots in the top 25 but regained two spots in their midseason bye.
Gators head coach Jim McElwain sorely missed freshman sensation quarterback Will Grier (suspended for the rest of season for testing positive for a banned substance) against the Tigers, but they can regain their momentum against the Bulldogs.
The Gators turned to sophomore Treon Harris after Grier’s suspension, and he responded to the new duties with 271 passing yards and two touchdowns while going 17-for-32 from the pocket, but Florida went 6-for-16 on third down versus LSU and generated only 55 rushing yards.
Florida’s defense surrendered 28 points in the second quarter, forcing Harris to throw more and limiting electric running back Kelvin Taylor to 25 yards and one score off 15 attempts. Previously the junior Taylor was on a tear with 284 yards and four touchdowns in the previous three games.
Largely due to the absence of injured running back Heisman Trophy candidate Nick Chubb, Georgia completely fell out of the top 25 after suffering two straight losses to then-No. 13 Alabama and at unranked Tennessee, and barely escaped Missouri with only three field goals in a 9-6 victory last week.
The sophomore Chubb went down with a serious left knee injury during the first play from scrimmage against the Volunteers, and he’s expected to miss the rest of season after undergoing surgery to repair damaged ligaments and cartilage.
When Chubbs was hurt, sophomore Sony Michel stepped up with 145 rushing yards and quarterback Greyson Lambert tossed two touchdowns, but the Bulldogs could muster only seven points in the final two quarters and Tennessee prevailed.
Georgia recovered by beating Missouri, but the offense withered and now head coach Mark Richt is expected to start junior Faton Bauta over Lambert this week, according to reports.
Richt and his staff evidently believe Bauta can kickstart the offense by taking advantage of Florida’s troubles against elusive quarterbacks. Bauta hasn’t appeared in a game since last season, and he completed four of his five attempts for 48 yards in 2014, but he could open things up for Michel as a rushing threat.
Betting Odds: Florida -2 points
Over/Under: 46 points
Start Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Online: CBS Sports Online
Predicted Score: Florida over Georgia, 27-24