JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Will Muschamp has been on the losing end of the Florida-Georgia series his entire career.
He went 0-4 against the Gators as a defensive back for the Bulldogs in the 1990s, and he’s winless in three games against Georgia as Florida’s head coach.
His eighth try, without question, is the biggest of them all.
Muschamp likely needs a victory against No. 9 Georgia on Saturday to have any chance of saving his job.
He knows it. His players know it. Anyone who has seen the Gators fall from Southeastern Conference and national prominence the last two years knows it, too.
”We need to get a win. That’s the first thing,” Muschamp said when asked what the rivalry means to him. ”The importance of the game to both universities is very special. So it’s obviously very important.”
Florida (3-3, 2-3 SEC) has lost 10 of its last 13 games, including an embarrassing, turnover-filled, 42-13 drubbing against Missouri at home and on homecoming.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley could have made the move after that loss, but decided to give Muschamp a final chance to turn things around.
Another loss to Georgia (6-1, 4-1) probably would seal Muschamp’s fate.
”We’ve got to go play our best for him,” running back Kelvin Taylor said. ”Coach will be fine. We’re just worried about winning this game and everything else will be fine.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt seemingly saved his job in Jacksonville in 2011. Coming off consecutive disappointing seasons, including a losing record in 2010, the Bulldogs dropped their first two games of the year, and given that Florida had won eight of 10 meetings against the Richt-led Bulldogs, there was strong belief that his job would be in jeopardy without a victory against the Gators.
Georgia won 24-20, and Richt said afterward: ”I know it was just a ballgame, but it seemed like a lot more than that.”
Florida has had chances to win the last three in the series.
The Gators were driving in a four-point game in 2011 before getting sacked on a fourth-down play. They kept it close the following year despite six turnovers and had a chance to tie the game when Jordan Reed fumbled on the Georgia 5-yard line. Florida rallied from a 20-0 deficit last year and made it a three-point game in the fourth, but the Bulldogs sealed the win with an eight-plus minute drive that was aided by a personal foul penalty that negated a third-down stop.
”We’ve had three games that have come down to the last drive, and we need to coach and play better in those situations,” Muschamp said. ”Credit their team and what they’ve been able to do. We certainly had our opportunities.”
Here are things to know about Florida and Georgia heading into Saturday’s game:
NO GURLEY: Georgia star running back Todd Gurley won’t play after the NCAA denied the appeal of his four-game suspension. Gurley will be eligible to return Nov. 15 against Auburn, missing four games for allegedly accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over a two-year period. Freshman Nick Chubb will make his third consecutive start. Chubb has 346 yards rushing and three touchdowns in wins at Missouri and Arkansas.
HARRIS STARTS: Florida freshman quarterback Treon Harris will make his first career start, replacing ineffective junior Jeff Driskel. Driskel had 12 turnovers in the last four games. Harris has completed 12 of 18 passes for 263 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception this season. Florida’s message to Harris: Don’t turn the ball over.
UNIQUE UNIFORMS: Florida and Georgia will both wear dark jerseys, with the Gators in blue and the Bulldogs in red. It will mark the first time both teams wore dark uniforms in the rivalry game since 1970. ”We all felt it was enough of a contrast,” Richt said. ”I’m hoping our guys don’t think blue is red, and the QB starts throwing to their guys. I don’t think it will be an issue.”
STOUT DEFENSES: Florida and Georgia are among the top defenses in the conference and the country. The Gators rank third in the league and 12th nationally, allowing 317 yards a game. The Bulldogs are fifth and 16th, respectively, giving up 321 yards a game.
BYE SUCCESS: This is only the third time in series history that both teams had a bye week before the annual game in Jacksonville. Georgia won both previous meetings (2011, 2013).