How much does Smart value the Gator Game 

Posted: 7:21 am Friday, October 28th, 2016

By Jay Black

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s strange feeling isn’t it?

It’s Florida week. It’s the “we can’t call it the World Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party so we’re going to try something really boring” week (anything to sell a T-Shirt). And it feels so very weird.

Georgia has only one role in this game. Spoiler.

The Dawgs have no realistic chance to go to the SEC championship. Making a great bowl game is out the window. So all that’s left is to make sure Florida can’t have nice things either.

This is what happens when you lose to Vanderbilt.

For the first time since 1996 Georgia has lost three SEC games before arriving in Jacksonville. That was Jim Donnan’s first season. It was also the last time Georgia had a losing record and didn’t make a bowl game (that was an 11 game schedule, I’m sure Donnan could have beaten Eastern-Western Random State College to qualify).

Repeating if you’re just joining us, these are the things to happen when you lose to Vanderbilt (at least Donnan beat the Commodores that year).

The wind is certainly out of the Bulldogs balloon and Kirby Smart’s honeymoon is akin to the hotel giving you a twin bed instead of the fancy suite and Sharknado hit the beach.

The Gators crushed Kirby Smart as a player in 1995. He only beat Florida once as a player.

But this is Florida, the game that means more than all the others, right?

“This game is big, and they are all big,” says Smart. “Not to say that is one is bigger than the other.”

Wait, what? So you won’t say this is Georgia’s biggest rival in the SEC?

“Absolutely not,” said Kirby Smart. “There’s five states contiguous with Georgia. So they are all huge rivalries. To say one is more important to the other, I think is unfair.”

Umm hmm.

Now you can debate whether that’s the best position to take. The last guy certainly didn’t.

Mark Richt never exactly screamed from Stone Mountain that “I want to beat Florida at all costs,” but he sure coached like it. For better or worse.

You have the 2011 game where Richt was almost reckless in his want to go for it on fourth down. The Dawgs converted three of those fourth downs and won the game, perhaps saving Richt’s job for a few more years.

The 2007 Gator Stomp win over Florida was one of the biggest in Mark Richt’s career

And of course there was the infamous Gator Stomp in 2007.

“This was planned,” said CBS analyst Gary Danielson during the broadcast. “Mark Richt decided that he’s going to fire his team up. He’s tired of Florida having the psychological advantage.”

Georgia had only won twice in the 17 meetings before 2007. It worked. Dawgs pulled one of the most memorable upsets in the series (and then Urban Meyer called his timeouts the next year, but that doesn’t matter).

Of course for all the tricks Richt had up his sleeve for the Gators, he also pulled a few dead rabbits out of his hat.

Like the Black Helmet, Black Britches game in 2009. Georgia lost 41-17.

Poor Faton Bauta

Or whatever the *(!&#)! happened last year when Faton Bauta was thrown to into the water and Gators ate him up. That was desperate and it might have been the move that sealed Mark’s fate.

Richt went 5-10 against the Gators. So perhaps there’s something to Smart’s “Florida is just another SEC opponent” strategy.

I’ve always taken the position that Georgia Tech is Georgia’s biggest rival because you have to beat your little brother first. But the Florida game is more important. The SEC East champion – more often than not – must survive this game and it matters so much in recruiting. The Dawgs and the Gators are fighting over the same players. Paul Johnson can’t get a seat at that table.

It might be a stretch to call Kirby Smart’s season a disaster, a disappointment is fair. Again, the things that happen when you lose to Vanderbilt.

But if Kirby wins this game — and keeps Florida out of the SEC championship game – I feel all (well, maybe not all) will be forgiven.

Because whether Kirby likes it or not, this is Georgia’s most important game of the season. The one he must win over all others.