That Southern gem on the St. Johns River – Jacksonville, Fla. – is well known for picturesque golf courses, mouth-watering barbecue, friendly people, Olympic gold medalists Bob Hayes, Catie Ball, and Ken Walsh, piercing sunshine and a gaggle of bridges.
But don’t forget Jacksonville’s trademark – college football, the bone-breaking and the back-slapping kind. This city eats, sleeps and, yes, drinks college football. Residing in Jacksonville are hard-core Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State football fans.
Above all, however, Jacksonville is a Gator town and a Bulldog town. Florida and Georgia share their love for the game and a little headknocking Saturday afternoon action on the green grass of football fate.
It’s not that the Bulldogs and Gators hate each other. It goes much further than that. They can’t stand the sight of each other. Yet the Dogs and the low lying reptiles need each other. Georgia and Florida desire to be in the presence of one another.
The Bulldogs and Gators demand it and expect it. They have played 93 times in football. Each meeting was a classic in some way or another. The Dogs and Gators have formed a rivalry, one with steely-eyed intensity, and some definite Red & Black and Orange & Blue hysteria.
Since 1933, Jacksonville has hosted the annual Georgia- Florida football extravaganza. The game has been played at the old steel monstrosity, the Gator Bowl, as well as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and now Ever-Bank Field.
Once again the Dogs and Gators will fill the stadium to capacity (85,000) on Saturday afternoon for the 94th meeting of this heavy duty rivalry. The Gators are favored by five points, which means nothing to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia will enter Jacksonville with a 4-3 record. The Dogs are unranked, and Florida is at No. 14. That does mean something to the 5-1 Gators, but rankings and records don’t win this annual duel on the river.
Players win this game. This game is won with muscle on the line of scrimmage. The Georgia-Florida game is also won with star power. The underdogs from Athens have some of that with junior tailback Nick Chubb (586 yards, five touchdowns), freshman quarterback Jacob Eason (1,366 yards passing, nine touchdowns), junior running back Sony Michel (358 yards rushing) and the fleet Isaiah McKenzie, the UGA wide receiver.
McKenzie has 30 catches on the year for 435 yards and five scores. Bulldog sophomore split end Terry Godwin is a Gator hater, too. Godwin could be the guy who becomes a Georgia legend on Saturday. The sophomore from Hogansville is just now starting to tap into his potential. Godwin has 16 catches this year for 215 yards.
He has game-breaking speed, the kind that has already gotten the attention of the Florida defensive coaches. The Dogs will go to Jacksonville averaging 402 yards per game.
That isn’t bad, but not quite as good as Florida’s 426 yards per game. But that’s the past. The future is Saturday afternoon with a kickoff at 3:30 p.m. in the sold out stadium on the river. Florida will roll into Jacksonville with a game plan that highlights the talents of redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio (998 yards passing, seven touchdowns), sophomore tailback Jordan Scarlett (375 yards rushing, five touchdowns), freshman tailback Lamichal Perine (48 carries, 300 yards) and sophomore sprinter and wide receiver Antonio Callaway (23 catches, 399 yards, two touchdowns).
Callaway is averaging 17 yards per catch. The Miami native is always one step away from taking the ball the distance for a touchdown. Florida also has two more weapons with junior tight end DeAndre Goolsby (25 catches) and junior split end Brandon Powell (23 catches for 206 yards). The Gators have a place kicker as well who can nail a 50-yard field goal in his sleep.
Sophomore Eddy Pineiro has made nine of 12 field goal attempts this season. Pineiro’s longest field goal of the year came from 54 yards. The Gators and the Dogs are well prepared for one more Georgia-Florida game.
This is going to be a 5050 clash. Both teams have a reasonable chance of winning. It is going to depend on who makes more tackles, blocks and touchdowns.
Jacksonville is waiting.
Chris Fernsler Sports Writer