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Florida-Georgia history shows how early 2000’s set stage for 2018

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pick a period from the Florida-Georgia history books: Which games have the closest connection to the 2018 Cocktail Party? One person’s answer: 2002 through 2005.

Those four years stand out as the sequence which can illuminate and instruct the 2018 Gators as they prepare for their biggest game of the year.

Let’s start by saying that Florida is not expected to win this game — not at all. Georgia did look bad against LSU, but UGA played very poorly at Auburn in 2017. The Bulldogs played their one really bad game of the year on the road against a powerful SEC West team which was solid at the very least, and really good at times during the regular season. LSU might not be able to throw the ball well, but it can do just about everything else.

The Tigers overwhelmed Georgia, but let’s not be too sure that the Dawgs’ stinker of a performance in Baton Rouge is representative of what they are. This is still Georgia’s game to lose. More will be written about the tactics and tension points of Saturday’s game later in the week here at Florida Football Insiders.

This piece today is about the history of the Cocktail Party, and what it might have to offer as a reference point for Saturday’s latest iteration of a cherished and colorful rivalry which is the SEC’s answer to Texas-Oklahoma at the Texas State Fair in Dallas.

This is one of the two neutral-site rivalries college football fans love. While most college football writers can’t stand the neutral-site kickoff games on Labor Day weekend and would much rather prefer teams to play home-and-homes on campus, Florida-Georgia and Texas-Oklahoma are college football treasures.

When half the stadium in Jacksonville is red and black, the other half is orange and blue, and the tailgating scene near the St. John’s River bursts into uproarious exuberance, there are few sweeter sights in the sport. A late-afternoon game usually bathed in dramatic, slanting sunshine gives way to a nighttime finish under the lights, in a manner akin to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Few visuals in college football are more perfect than the Cocktail Party. It is tradition. It is hatred. It is a helluva good time.

That doesn’t even refer to the actual game on the field.

The football games played in Florida-Georgia over the past three decades have not normally been close. Steve Spurrier’s arrival at Florida in 1990 led to a series of beatdowns against Georgia, and Urban Meyer got his licks in as well. The last four Cocktail Parties have been decided by an average of 22.75 points (Florida winning three and losing one), and the smallest margin of victory in the last four games was 14 points.

Yet, if the games haven’t often been close over the past 30 years, the results have still been unpredictable. Recall Will Muschamp’s not-very-good 2014 team stunning Mark Richt by 18 points. Georgia fans will point to the 42-30 “Dawg Stomp” game in 2007 or the even more lopsided 37-17 win from 1997. Older Georgia fans will note that the Dawgs pulled off other upsets in the 1960s and 1970s, including an upset of a quarterback named Spurrier in 1966. Spurrier filed away those memories and nurtured a fierce hatred of Georgia which he poured out in vengeance once he became the Gators’ coach in 1990.

Of all the twists and turns in the Cocktail Party’s wild history, which segment from the past has the most to say or suggest about how the Gators could come out on top in 2018? As noted at the start of the piece, I think 2002 through 2005 is the most salient comparison.

In those four years, Florida was trying to reinvent itself after the departure of an iconic and richly successful coach. Right now, Florida is still trying to rediscover Urban Meyer’s magic. From 2002 through 2005, Georgia awakened under a coach who restored lost glories. Back then it was Mark Richt who snapped what had been a 20-year SEC championship drought, the previous one coming in 1982. Last year, Kirby Smart ended what had been a 12-year SEC title drought dating back to 2005.

From 2002 through 2005, Georgia always entered the Cocktail Party with no more than one loss. It was ranked in the top 10 — No. 5 in 2002, No. 4 in 2003, No. 10 in 2004, No. 4 in 2005 — all four years. Georgia is ranked seventh this year after being ranked third heading into last year’s game. Georgia has one loss in 2018. It was unbeaten when it played the 2017 Cocktail Party.

It is true that Florida has only one loss this year, but it is hard to look at Feleipe Franks at quarterback and not recall how limited the Florida offense was from 2003 through 2005 under Chris Leak. After being spoiled rotten by Spurrier, who went 11-1 against Georgia and usually rang up big numbers against the Bulldogs, Florida fans entered a new and uncertain period in which they could not count on scoring more than 20 points against Georgia, let alone 30.

In those four years — 2002 through 2005 — Florida averaged under 19 points per game against Georgia (74 in four contests, for an 18.5 per-game average).

This is where the unpredictability of the Cocktail Party emerged in full view.

In three of those four years — again, with Georgia being in the top 10 for all of them — the Gators’ offense didn’t do much yet STILL outscored the Bulldogs.

Florida’s defense played great in those years. Georgia kickers — Billy Bennett and Brandon Coutu, come on down! — missed at least once if not twice. Terrence Edwards dropped the pass in 2002. Georgia did manage to win once in 2004, but in the three years it lost during that four-year stretch — 2002, 2003, 2005 — it never scored more than 13 points against Florida. Game pressure, shaky quarterbacking, and special teams lapses doomed the Dawgs.

In one of those games — 2005 — guess who was part of Florida’s coaching staff?

Yep — Dan Mullen. He coached Chris Leak to a 14-10 win over Georgia, playing it safe and trusting that the UF defense could win the game. It is true that in 2005, Georgia was a much better team under quarterback D.J. Shockley than under backup Joe Tereshinski.

Nevertheless, even with Tereshinski and his limitations, Georgia certainly figured it could do enough to score at least 16 or 17 points… but two missed field goals and other miscues hounded the Bulldogs in the game which kept them from playing for the national championship that season. Similarly, the 2002 game wound up knocking Georgia out of national title contention as well. Florida was the author of UGA’s misery.

That’s how this series rolls.

Guess what? In 2018, Georgia is still in the national title hunt but would be gone, gone, GONE should it lose to the Gators.

Back to 2002 through 2005: Florida — between the end of the Spurrier dynasty in 2001 and the true beginning of the Meyer empire in 2006 — encountered four Cocktail Parties in which it could not rely on great offense against Georgia and had to play a relatively ugly game against an opponent which had every reason to think that its own run of dominance was beginning to emerge. From 2002 through 2005, the Spurrier swagger did not exist. Florida had to scratch and claw and elbow its way to imperfect and inelegant wins… games much like the victory over LSU a few weeks ago.

Though this series has featured a lot of blowouts over the years, those four UF-UGA games from 2002 through 2005 were all close. If Florida does win this game, rest assured it will be close — UF does not have the horses to ring up a big number on the Bulldogs’ defense.

2002 through 2005 marked a very uncertain time in Florida football history.. and yet the Gators still went 3-1 against Georgia. If Dan Mullen wants to explain to his players what it is like to upset a favored Georgia side, he can point to 2005 on a personal level.

He can also point to a four-year period when the Cocktail Party usually began and ended under a sun which was Orange and a sky which was Blue.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

Florida Gators

Gators announced home and home series with Cal Friday

Florida Football Insiders

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Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators continued their philosophy of striking “home-and-home” deals with Power 5 opposition, when they announced on Friday that they will be doing so with the Cal-Berkley Bears out of the Pac-12 coming later in this decade.

The Gators made the announcement through their website and social media mid-day Friday that they will play Cal at home first and then travel to Berkeley the following year:

A.D. Scott Stricklin has broken up the long tradition that Florida would only play two home out of conference games in September and usually, against much lesser competition before entering SEC play. Stricklin has been very outspoken that in the age of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is emphasized and the selection committee holds schools responsible for not playing top-notch out of conference opponents, at least some of the time.

With that in mind, the Gators opened the 2019 season in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes and won a sloppy game. And, they already have other Power 5 schools laid out to play home and away.

As we previously wrote, Florida will be playing the Texas Longhorns first in Gainesville in 2030 and then. return the game the following year in Austin.

Florida had previously announced last year that they will also play the Colorado Buffaloes out of the Pac-12, again with the first game in Gainesville in 2028 and then, returning it to Boulder the following season.

It’s interesting with Friday’s announcement that Stricklin and the football program are working backwards with the schedule. And, they will now play Cal before Colorado in September of 2026, and then will be opening on the Berkeley campus the following season.

Florida and Cal have only met two times, having played first in Gainesville in 1974 as the Gators wo 21 – 17 and then, they also met in Tampa to open the 1980 season with a Florida 41-13 blowout victory.

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Florida Gators

Second National Signing Day recap for top state schools

Jamil King

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day 2020 has come and gone, and several in state schools were able to improve their classes heading into spring ball. The University of Florida watched rival Georgia secure the number one overall class, but the Gators were still able to land the best class in the state with the number eight class overall.

The Gators officially signed former five-star receiver Justin Shorter from Penn State, and Florida stayed in the family today as well, Xzavier Henderson officially joined the Gators. He’s the ounger brother of  former DB C.J. Henderson.

Dan Mullen also able to dip into the state of Texas inking four-star DE Princely Umanmielen. It wasn’t all great news for the Gators, as they missed out on a few key guys, including losing out on arguably top state safety Avantae Williams to in state rival Miami. Overall it was a good cycle for the Gators both recruiting and in the transfer portal.

The Miami Hurricanes continued an impressive offseason on National Signing Day. The Canes made arguably the biggest move in the state by landing Williams and keeping him Florida. Williams became the highest rated Hurricane in the class and propelled the U to the number 13 spot.

Miami has the second-best class in the ACC behind Clemson. With an impressive offseason in the books, once again excitement will be in the air in Coral Gables. The question is: will they live up to it in year two for Manny Diaz?

Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have been working hard to get this class rolling last minute. After a good early National Signing Day Norvell looked to keep the momentum going. The Noles took a big hit Wednesday though, with the loss of Venice four star WR, Malachi Wideman, who flipped to Tennessee.

The Noles came back from that by landing a handful of other recruits. They got the number six Juco running back La’Damian Webb, ass well as, Robert Scott, an offensive lineman and Corey Wren, an athlete/running back.

Replacing Cam Akers will be tough for Norvell and building the offensive line is a top priority. The former Memphis coach came in late like he did, yet he finishes with a decent class sitting at 22 on 24/7.

Now the work begins turning around the former powerhouse.

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