JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida defensive end Dominique Easley has been holding some late-night study sessions this week.
At home. All alone. And with the TV on.
The subject? Georgia. Specifically, the Bulldogs’ 24-20 victory over the Gators last season in Jacksonville. Georgia converted three fourth downs, including two for touchdowns, and held the ball for the final 5 minutes, 32 seconds of the close game.
Easley has watched every painful second repeatedly this week – for preparation and motivation.
“It’s like you’re going to watch a video clip of you getting punched in your face over and over again,” Easley said. “You’re going to get mad every time you watch it.”
That could be good for No. 3 Florida. The Gators have been at their best when trying to avenge last year’s losses. First, to Louisiana State University. Then, to South Carolina.
No. 12 Georgia could be next.
And Florida has way more at stake in this one.
The Gators can clinch the SEC’s Eastern Division with a win and earn a spot in the league title game in December.
“This is everything this week,” Florida guard James Wilson said.
The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1), meanwhile, would take command in the East with a victory. Georgia likely would need to win remaining conference games against Mississippi and Auburn to wrap up the division and a trip to Atlanta.
“We’re excited for this opportunity,” said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
Georgia enjoyed a victory in the series last year, but has lost 18 of the past 22 meetings in a heated rivalry.
Hurricane Sandy could take center stage today.
As the storm makes its way up the East Coast, forecasters are calling for a 40 percent chance of rain in Jacksonville, 25 mph wind and gusts reaching nearly 40 mph.
That would seemingly favor Florida, which has had the more effective rushing attack this season and has a decided advantage in the kicking game.
But trying to predict the outcome this series usually backfires.
Georgia has spoiled things for Florida countless times, and the Gators have ruined the party for the Bulldogs equally as often.
“You feel it,” Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “You hate them and they hate you. You want to beat them and they want to beat you. You just can’t let them beat you.”
Florida blew a 17-3 lead last year. The Gators fumbled twice deep in their own territory, and Georgia turned them into touchdowns — with two fourth-down TD passes that may have saved coach Mark Richt’s job.
Those plays still haunt the Gators.
“We had a lot of regrets last year,” cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. “We remember the feelings in the locker room we had last year. We don’t want to be at that point this year.”
The loss to Georgia capped a 0-for-October losing streak that nearly led to the program’s first losing season since 1979. Those setbacks carried players though the offseason and have made it easy for them to get up for rematches.
Florida already avenged losses to LSU and South Carolina with stout defense, a bullish run game and nearly flawless special teams.
“The main difference in the attitude now is we’ve been in those locker rooms and had those tears and had the pain,” Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “We felt all of that, and I guess all that builds up and it’s a product of where we’re at today. We’re smarter. We have experience. I guess all that plays a role.”
It certainly helped that coach Will Muschamp called his team soft last November, a characterization no one wants to relive. The Gators have won eight consecutive games since then.
Georgia would love to get similar results following safety Shawn Williams’ rant this week. Williams accused defensive teammates of playing soft and added that inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Amarlo Herrera should never come out of the game. His harsh words irritated several teammates.
But in this series, motivation matters.
Just ask Easley.
“We got our butts kicked and it still hurts,” Easley said. “We were one of the first teams to almost have a losing season in Florida’s history, so that takes a toll on us. ... I just try to let the other team feel my pain, my hurt.”