GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida heads into its annual matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs this week with at least one bit of history on their side: The Gators are on a three-game win streak in the series.
But when the game kicks off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS, that streak is definitely in jeopardy. The Gators (3-3, 3-2 SEC) are coming off back-to-back close home losses. Their chances of winning the SEC East for a third-straight season are essentially hanging on the game at Everbank Field on Saturday.
Georgia, meanwhile, is the No. 3 team in the country, an undefeated 7-0 and is in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Florida coach Jim McElwain has had a big win each of his first two years in Gainesville. There was the 38-10 win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss in 2015 and the 16-10 road win over then-No. 16 LSU in 2016.
Could Georgia be the big win he’s been waiting for this season?
That will be determined on Saturday. In the meantime, here’s a look back at those past three matchups at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville that ended in Florida’s favor.
2014: ‘We weren’t going to be denied’
The end of the Will Muschamp era was looking bleaker by the week. After finishing 4-8 the year before, Muschamp’s Gators were already 3-3 halfway into the 2014 season and coming off back-to-back conference losses heading into the Georgia game.
Florida had lost the past three games in the series by an average of 5 points, and it seemed all but certain that a loss against the Dawgs would end in a Florida firing.
Instead, the Gators’ run game took off and carried the Gators into the sunset.
The duo of Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor ran for 389 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Gators downed the No. 8 Bulldogs 38-20. It marked the first time ever that Florida had two players rush for at least 120 yards each in a game.
“We knew we were going to pound them and pound them, and were going to keep pounding them,” Taylor said after the game. “We weren’t going to be denied.”
The momentum shift started in the second quarter. Down 7-0 early, Florida tied the game when walk-on wide receiver Michael McNeely ran 21 yards for a touchdown on a fake field goal. That started a run of 31 unanswered Florida points, the last of which was a 1-yard score from Jones early in the fourth quarter for a 31-7 lead. The Gators never looked back.
The win gave the Gators some much-needed confidence, but only delayed the inevitable. Florida lost to a Steve Spurrier-led South Carolina team at home two weeks later. Muschamp was fired the next day.
2015: ‘I don’t expect to lose’
In Jim McElwain’s first season in Gainesville, the Florida Gators looked like the same team from the past few years, but the record did not.
Heading into the game against Georgia, the Gators sat at 6-1 on the year, with the lone loss coming in a 35-28 loss at LSU right before the bye week. Florida was also dealing with a quarterback change, with Treon Harris assuming the starting role against LSU after Will Grier was handed a one-year suspension by the NCAA for violating its substance abuse policy.
But against the Bulldogs, Florida once again prevailed. Four interceptions by the defense and timely plays by the offense lifted the No. 11 Gators to a 27-3 win that put them one win away from clinching the SEC East for the first time since 2009.
“I don’t expect to lose,” McElwain said. “We should never go into an event thinking we’re going to come in second. The one thing you learn quickly in this business is there’s no participation ribbons in this business. It doesn’t matter who we play, we go in with a mindset that we’re going to put a plan together to do what it takes to win the football game.”
Florida did just that against the Bulldogs on that Saturday. The defense did the heavy lifting, holding the Bulldogs to just 223 total yards and only 2 third-down conversions.
The offense, meanwhile, once again relied heavily on the run game. Kelvin Taylor had 121 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns and then-freshman Jordan Scarlett added 96 yards on 10 carries.
The Gators clinched the SEC East the next week with a 9-7 victory over Vanderbilt.
2016: ‘A feeding frenzy’
It was all Florida defense in the latest rendition of the rivalry.
The No. 14 Gators held the Bulldogs to just 164 yards of offense and kept then-freshman quarterback Jacob Eason uncomfortable all game en route to a 24-10 win.
The numbers really tell it all about the defense’s dominance:
- 16 quarterback hurries
- 8 tackles for loss (including 2 sacks)
- Just 2 first downs allowed on the Bulldogs’ final 10 drives.
“We dominated, as you can see,” Florida cornerback Duke Dawson said. “[It was] a feeding frenzy.”
And it gave the offense more than enough opportunities to take advantage.
After Georgia took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, Florida closed out the game with 17 unanswered points on a 2-yard Jordan Scarlett touchdown run, a 4-yard Antonio Callaway touchdown run on a jet sweep and a 38-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro.
“This never gets old, this one,” McElwain said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
2017: Can the streak continue?
The streak will be put to the test on Saturday.
Georgia has looked like a well-oiled machine eight weeks into the season. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and wide receivers Terry Godwin and Javon Wims pace the offense that ranks 37th nationally in yards per game (454.3) and 22nd in points per game (37.6).
Veterans Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Dominick Sanders lead a stingy defense that is giving up an average of 252.3 yards per game — the third-best mark in the country.
Florida, meanwhile, has only scored more than 30 points and put up more than 400 yards once this season — both coming at home against a Vanderbilt team that has yet to win a conference game.
The offense has been stagnant and the quarterback issues that have plagued the Gators for almost a decade are still there.
Fresh off a bye, Florida has a chance to show that it has worked out the kinks in the offense and had a week to get healthy.
An upset could turn the season around. A loss could just signify the beginning of the end for the 2017 season.