King eager to face Gators
Senior receiver has been productive against Florida in his Bulldogs career
ATHENS, Ga. -- The last time Tavarres King had a game like this, he had to wait eight whole months before taking the field again. Now the Georgia receiver has only a week between one of the top performances of his career and his team's season-defining showdown with an opponent against which he has a memorable history.
If only the Georgia program's history against Florida -- which the Bulldogs will face Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. -- were as positive. King's Bulldogs are decided underdogs as they seek the program's first back-to-back wins against the Gators since 1988-89, before 22-year-old King was even born.
If King plays anything like he did in Georgia's 29-24 win against Kentucky -- or like he has in his last two games against the Gators -- the Bulldogs might just have a shot. King scored Georgia's first two touchdowns against the Wildcats and finished with a career-high nine catches for a whopping 188 yards.
"I felt pretty in the zone today, I ain't gonna lie," he joked.
Perhaps the surprising part to casual observers is that the 188 yards are not a career high for the senior wideout. He set a new single-game school record in the final game of Georgia's 2011 season with 205 receiving yards on six catches against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, then had to wait until September before his six catches for 117 yards against Buffalo in the Bulldogs' 2012 season opener gave him the first back-to-back 100-yard games of his career.
King had been fairly quiet since then -- his single-game receiving high since the Buffalo game had been 58 yards against Vanderbilt -- but he doesn't think he was in a rut. And even if he was, he certainly broke out of it against Kentucky by attacking the Wildcats' young defensive backs for one of the best receiving performances in school history.
"Obviously that's something we knew we were going to do early in the week is go after those guys," King said of the Wildcats' freshman-filled secondary. "Hats off to them for being bold enough to sit on some of our routes and things of that sort. Hats off to them for doing that. I feel like they're going to be a pretty good bunch of guys once it's all said and done."
But King exposed their youth, particularly on a hook-and-go route in the second quarter where he sped under an Aaron Murray bomb for a 66-yard touchdown catch.
"Tavarres played exceptionally well," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "That first touchdown that he caught, I really thought Murray had overthrown him when he let it go. But he just hit the afterburners and got it, caught it on the dead run. Beautiful play."
King also made one of the most beautiful plays during Georgia's run to the 2011 SEC East title when he leaped over Florida safety Jaylen Watkins for a 14-yard, fourth-down touchdown catch that helped the Bulldogs tie the score at 17-17. That came on the heels of a Michael Bennett touchdown catch in the second quarter that also came on fourth down.
The year before that against the Gators, King totaled 104 receiving yards and was one of the ringleaders as Georgia nearly notched a comeback win before falling in overtime. He caught a 63-yard touchdown pass and made two key catches on second-half touchdown drives that helped the Bulldogs force overtime.
Those Gators teams were nowhere near the same caliber as the unbeaten Florida bunch that will take the field Saturday in Jacksonville, however. This Florida defense ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense and seventh in total defense, so King knows his Georgia offense that has sputtered occasionally in the last two games will need its best performance of the season to notch a win that would put the Bulldogs in first place in the SEC East.
"Just execute," King replied when asked what the Bulldogs must do differently against Florida. "Get in the lab and correct our mistakes from this game and try to get better every day next week and just go after it."
That's what King has done against Florida throughout a career that will place him among Georgia's most productive receivers.
His two touchdown catches against Kentucky gave him 17 in his career -- a total that ranks fifth all-time at Georgia. His 511 receiving yards this season (he's fifth in the SEC with 73 yards per game) give him 2,163 in his career. King's big game against Kentucky helped him pass Lindsay Scott for sixth on the UGA receiving yardage list, and he could surpass fifth-place Mohamed Massaquoi (2,282) and fourth-place Brice Hunter (2,373) before the season ends.
But King has insisted previously that he will consider his place in Georgia's record books once his career is complete. For now he wants to focus on Florida -- how the underdog Bulldogs can turn series history back in their program's favor in order to defend their Eastern Division title.
"We know what lies ahead, and we're very excited about it," King said. "We're very excited about the opportunity that we have and just going to try to take it to Florida in Jacksonville and do what we do. That's first downs and touchdowns on offense."