JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Looking for someone to motivate his team before facing two-time defending national champion and top-ranked Georgia in one of the Southeastern Conference’s most heated rivalries, Florida’s Billy Napier turned to a guy who knows a thing or two about beating the Bulldogs:
The Head Ball Coach.
Steve Spurrier, who went 11-1 in “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” as Florida’s coach from 1990-2001, spoke to the Gators this week before they attempt to become the first team in nearly two years to knock off Georgia.
“You’d be foolish not to take full advantage of having such an accomplished coach (around),” Napier said. “Coach has got conviction about the University of Florida. He cares about this place. It’s important to him.”
It might mean little when the neutral-site game kicks off Saturday at EverBank Stadium. Georgia (7-0, 4-0 SEC), has the nation’s longest winning streak at 24. The team has won five of the last six meetings against Florida (5-2, 3-1) and is a 14 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, to win its third straight in the series.
“It’s huge,” Georgia offensive lineman Tate Ratledge said. “It’s the one growing up that you always hear about no matter what fan you are. If you’re a football fan down south, it’s one of the bigger games of the year. … It’s something we pride ourselves on and take really seriously.”
Spurrier has cared deeply about beating Georgia since his college days. He lost to the Bulldogs twice — as a sophomore in 1964 and as a senior and eventual Heisman Trophy winner in 1966 — in three years with the Gators. He made the Cocktail Priority a priority when he returned to Gainesville as coach in 1990.
“He’s beat these guys,” Florida left tackle Austin Barber said. “He’s played these guys, and it’s just great having that wisdom back. It’s going to really boost us up.”
Added linebacker Shemar James: “Coach Spurrier came in and gave us some words of wisdom, I can tell you that.”
Spurrier probably didn’t have to tell anyone wearing orange and blue that while Georgia’s record is impeccable, the Bulldogs have looked vulnerable at times this season. They trailed South Carolina, Auburn and Vanderbilt — teams with a combined 1-12 record in league play — by at least a touchdown before rallying.
And now Georgia is without its best player, tight end Brock Bowers. The 2022 Mackey Award winner who leads the team with 41 catches for 567 yards and four touchdowns is expected to miss a month because of a badly sprained ankle.
“Brock is a big piece of our team, but we all said that we’re going to go 5 percent harder to make up for the loss,” receiver Dominic Lovett said. “Football isn’t played by one person at the end of the day, and Brock is a big piece.
“But with him out it just means that everyone has to step up for the team.”
Georgia quarterback Carson Beck will make his first collegiate start in his hometown. Beck was a four-star recruit who impressed Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart while leading Mandarin High to its first state championship in 2018.
“It’s super-cool, growing up there my entire life," Beck said. "To go back in my hometown, Florida-Georgia, it’s big-time.”
The junior has thrived as Stetson Bennett's successor. He has topped 300 yards passing in three of his last four games and has 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Beck ranks sixth in the nation while completing 73.6% of his passes (173 of 235) for 2,147 yards. He is on pace to top Bennett’s school record of 68.28% set last year. Even so, Beck is not the most accurate passer in Saturday’s game. Florida’s Graham Mertz ranks third in the nation while completing 76.23% of his passes (170 of 223) for 1,887 yards.
The Georgia-Florida game begins a daunting stretch run for both teams. The Bulldogs follow with games against No. 16 Missouri, No. 12 Mississippi and at No. 21 Tennessee, a three-week span that likely will determine whether the 'Dawgs make the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive season.
The Gators get struggling Arkansas next week before closing out the regular season against No. 15 LSU, Missouri and No. 4 Florida State.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll