<
>

Florida might be Georgia's last call for turnaround

Last call apparently has come and gone on the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

Oops, we're not supposed to call it that anymore, are we?

At the urging of both school presidents, television broadcasters have agreed not to refer to this Saturday's annual Florida-Georgia showdown in Jacksonville, Fla., as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

The hope is that getting away from the "cocktail" references will help cut down on the excessive drinking that has surrounded this game for as long as anybody can remember.

Of course, the number of people who really believe the way a game is billed will keep Gary Gator and Buddy Bulldog from chugging away on one too many beers probably rivals the number of people who think Georgia has a chance in this game.

The Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2) are hurting -- mentally, physically and emotionally. It's the kind of funk this program hasn't experienced since Mark Richt showed up in Athens in 2001 as head coach.

Georgia needed a forced fumble by Charles Johnson in the final seconds last week at Sanford Stadium to keep Mississippi State from lining up and kicking a field goal that would have sent that game into overtime. That's after losing to Vanderbilt at home for the first time in 11 years the week before and getting torched for 51 points at home two weeks earlier in a loss to Tennessee.

The Bulldogs' last three wins have been by an average margin of three points over teams (Mississippi State, Mississippi and Colorado) with a combined 5-19 record this season.

"I can't think of a place where we have an advantage. I'm not going to lie to you. We're tired. We're banged up, but that's the way the schedule is set. It's just what we have to play. We have to find a way to prepare our team without wearing them down."
-- Georgia coach Mark Richt

The revolving door at quarterback has been a big reason for the Bulldogs' struggles. They've turned the ball over 12 times in their last five games while trying to settle on a quarterback. It was senior Joe Tereshinski's job until he was injured against South Carolina in the second game. Then it was true freshman Matthew Stafford's turn, followed by redshirt freshman Joe Cox after he bailed out Georgia against Colorado, then back to Tereshinski and now back to Stafford.

Clearly, all is not well Between the Hedges, and Richt is the first to admit it.

The last time Georgia was a two-touchdown underdog or worse was, as fate would have it, against Florida in 2001.

"I can't think of a place where we have an advantage," said Richt, certainly not shying away from the underdog role. "I'm not going to lie to you. We're tired. We're banged up, but that's the way the schedule is set. It's just what we have to play. We have to find a way to prepare our team without wearing them down."

This will be Georgia's ninth straight game without a break, another reason to believe the Bulldogs could be in big trouble.

The Gators, meanwhile, are coming off an open date, and several key players who had been injured -- notably running back DeShawn Wynn -- should be able to play.

More importantly, Florida head coach Urban Meyer has been money during his career any time he's had extra time to prepare for an opponent. He's 19-2 when he's had more than a week to get ready.

Throw in Florida's dominance in this series, and you wonder why Georgia even bothers to show up this weekend at Alltel Stadium. The Gators (6-1, 4-1) have won seven of the last eight games and 14 of the last 16.

But anybody thinking Florida waltzes into this game expecting a breather had better think again, Meyer said.

Well aware that strange things tend to happen in rivalry games, Meyer promised that overconfidence won't be a problem for his club, which remains in control of its own destiny in the Eastern Division race.

"I don't worry about the players," Meyer said. "I worry about what is being said when they are away from us. We aren't very good ourselves, and we played our worst game of the year two weeks ago. So we've got a lot of work to do ourselves.

"We were blown out, beat up, and we didn't play very well [in a 27-17 loss to Auburn]. So you are asking me if we are overconfident. There is no chance at this point."

Georgia's only chance to turn this season around is to upset the Gators. It's been anything but business as usual this year in Athens, where perhaps winning was taken for granted by the fans.

The Bulldogs are the defending SEC champions and have finished in the Top 10 in the polls each of the past four years.

"I don't worry about the players. I worry about what is being said when they are away from us. We aren't very good ourselves, and we played our worst game of the year two weeks ago. So we've got a lot of work to do ourselves."
-- Florida coach Urban Meyer

But Richt is hearing it from the fans like never before, and his defensive coordinator, Willie Martinez, has caught the brunt of the heat.

Richt's advice to his coaches and players has been simple: Lean on each other.

"I don't know how much our guys pay attention to what's happening around them," Richt said. "I know there are things going on out there, but I'm not sitting here harping on them.

"The best chance for us to have success is for [the players] to focus on their job, not what's going on around them."

Like, say, a cocktail party.

Chris Low covers the SEC for The (Nashville) Tennessean.