Florida, No. 3 Georgia appear headed in opposite directions
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Jim McElwain and Georgia’s Kirby Smart took detailed notes during their time at Alabama.
Organizational structure. Recruiting tactics. Practice techniques. Leadership qualities. Game management.
It was basically How to Build a Successful Program 101.
Or How to Become Alabama 2.0.
One of Nick Saban’s former assistants sure seems like he has a better grasp on the subject matter than the other.
McElwain and Smart appear headed in opposite directions as unranked Florida and unbeaten Georgia prepare to play their annual rivalry game Saturday at EverBank Field, a Southeastern Conference matchup better known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”
The Gators (3-3, 3-2 SEC) have lost two in a row, are two-touchdown underdogs and are coming off a bizarre week. McElwain said Monday that Florida players and families received death threats amid the team’s struggles. He did not contact police and declined to say whether he personally received threats.
School administrators, including athletic director Scott Stricklin, met with McElwain in hopes of gathering more information and helping alleviate any safety concerns. McElwain rebuffed their efforts, prompting a statement from the athletic department that essentially criticized McElwain for being uncooperative.
McElwain backtracked a bit Wednesday, but stopped short of apologizing and again refused to provide details about the threats.
Couple that strange situation with McElwain’s inability to develop a quarterback or improve a woeful offense, and it hardly would be a surprise to learn that the administrators are growing weary of McElwain even though he led the team to consecutive Eastern Division titles.
“I know a lot of people are doubting us right now, so it’s up to us to prove everybody wrong,” Florida linebacker Jeremiah Moon said.
The third-ranked Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0) have way more believers .
Freshman Jake Fromm ranks second in the conference in pass efficiency. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are one of the best running back tandems in the country. Georgia’s offense is averaging 43 points a game in league play, and its defense is fourth nationally in scoring.
Throw in Smart’s recent recruiting run, and there’s plenty of hope beyond 2017.
“He’s got things going,” McElwain said.
Keeping them going is the challenge. The Gators have won three in a row and 21 of 27 in the series, which has had its share of upsets over the years.
The Bulldogs don’t want to be on the losing end again, something Smart made clear during a team meeting Sunday night. Smart asked players to stand up if they had beaten Florida.
“No one stood up,” Georgia nose tackle John Atkins said. “The road to win in the East goes through Florida, so you have to be able to beat them. It’s a big rivalry. You don’t want to lose to a big rival.”
Here are some other things to know about Georgia and Florida:
RETURNING GATORS: Florida expects to have big-play receivers Tyrie Cleveland (ankle) and Kadarius Toney (shoulder) back from injuries along with defensive end Jabari Zuniga (ankle). Receiver Josh Hammond (back) is considered “very questionable.”
TRAVELING DOGS: Georgia fans have gobbled up tickets for road games this season and even had a noticeable presence at Notre Dame. They had equally impressive turnouts at Tennessee and at Auburn, raising speculation that they could outnumber Florida fans in the neutral-site game. “Whatever the magic potion has been, it’s been good for our players,” Smart said. “We certainly hope it continues in Jacksonville.”
TRASH TALK: The Gators made headlines early in the week with choice words for their rivals. Hammond was the most outspoken, saying “They might be the No. (3) team in the country, but they can’t beat Florida.” McElwain responded by saying he “would hope they’re confident.” He also expects Smart to take advantage of the bulletin-board material . “I’m sure he’s got it all up. No doubt.”
RED-ZONE SCORING: The game features two of five Football Bowl Subdivision teams that are perfect in the red zone this season. Georgia is 29 of 29, with 20 touchdowns; Florida is 15 of 15, including 11 touchdowns. “We’ve done a decent job once we get down there,” McElwain said. “The key is getting down there more often.”
HALL OF FAME: Quarterback Tim Tebow (Florida), cornerback Lito Sheppard (Florida), running back Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and linebacker Randall Godfrey (Georgia) headline the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame for 2017.