Published September 12, 2015
Will Muschamp has been on both sidelines of the Florida-Georgia rivalry. He's only experienced one side of it, though: the losing end.
Florida's head coach went 0-4 as a player at Georgia, dropping all four meetings between 1991 and 1994. He's 0-2 with the Gators, losing both games in similar, turnover-filled fashion.
His next chance at a victory comes Saturday, when the Gators (4-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) and Bulldogs (4-3, 3-2) meet in nearby Jacksonville for the 78th time in the last 81 years.
Muschamp made it clear this week that being winless in the series these days carries far more weight than going 0-for-ever two decades ago.
"None of it is fun, but certainly being here at the University of Florida and understanding the importance of this game to us and our people, we need to get a win," he said.
Muschamp could use a victory to stave off growing criticism. Although athletic director Jeremy Foley said recently that Muschamp's not going anywhere, questions have increased as to how long Muschamp will get to turn things around in Gainesville.
The Gators have three losses by November for the second time in three years.
Injuries have played a significant role in this year's struggles. Florida has eight players out for the season, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, disruptive defensive tackle Dominique Easley, running back Matt Jones, right tackle Chaz Green and dynamic kick returner Andre Debose.
The Gators also were without three defensive starters — Ronald Powell, Damien Jacobs and Darrin Kitchens — in a 36-17 loss at Missouri two weeks ago. And they will be without starting left tackle D.J. Humphries, who sprained a knee ligament in practice Monday, against the Bulldogs.
"Anybody with a shred of intelligence can see the situation," Muschamp said.
Maybe so, but Florida ranks in triple digits in total offense for the third consecutive year. And Muschamp's defense is coming off a 500-yard performance against No. 10 Missouri, the program's worst outing since 2007.
"That's a one-time thing," linebacker Michael Taylor said. "I can guarantee you that won't happen again."
No one is guaranteeing a victory Saturday.
Florida hasn't dropped three in a row in the storied series since 1989, the year before Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater. Spurrier put extra emphasis on the border-state rivalry — and the results showed.
The Gators went 11-1 against Georgia under Spurrier, and little changed after his departure.
Former coaches Ron Zook (2-1) and Urban Meyer (5-1) posted winning records against the Bulldogs.
Muschamp, though, is off to a shaky start.
His team couldn't overcome six sacks, two turnovers and two huge, fourth-down conversions in 2011, and lost 24-20. Last year was even worse for Florida, which allowed five sacks and turned the ball over six times in a 17-9 setback. The loss marked the first time since 1988 that Florida failed to score a touchdown against Georgia.
"You can't be worried about whether you've lost this many in a row or won this many in a row because every year is different," said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. "It's a new team, new players and new circumstances when it comes to injuries or how the season is going for each team. So we just have to go out there, play ball and have fun."
The Gators had no fun in last year's game. The loss kept them from winning the East and possibly playing for the national title. Florida still has the final score posted in its weight room for players to see every day.
"That was the one loss that separated us from going to SEC championship, getting to play in the national championship," Taylor said. "That's the one thing that stood between us and all those goals, so we owe them some payback."
Muschamp sidestepped questions about needing a win personally. He is 22-11 in three seasons, not much better than Zook's record (20-13) when he was fired in 2004. Spurrier was 28-5 through 33 games, and Meyer was 27-6.
Maybe more telling about the state of Muschamp's program is he's a combined 4-4 against Florida's rivals: Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State and Miami. Meyer was an impressive 17-2 against those teams.
"I hate to give you the boring answer, but I don't approach this one any different than the other ones," Muschamp said. "It's a critical game for us, obviously being a great rival with the University of Florida and a great rivalry game. It's one of the best college football games year-in, year-out to be a part of. It's exciting to be a part of it.
"It's a great game for us."