by: MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer Updated:
The Gators made it clear Monday that they're the ones to beat in the rivalry known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." They have won three in a row in the series and 21 of the last 27, the main reason players seemed unfazed to hear they are two touchdown underdogs against the undefeated Bulldogs.
"We haven't lost to Georgia in the last three years; our seniors have never lost to Georgia," Florida receiver Josh Hammond said. "That brings a lot of confidence to us, just knowing that Georgia isn't a team that we lose to. So I think that's the message in the locker room right now.
"They might be the No. (3) team in the country, but they can't beat Florida. That's our mentality going forward, and we'll come out and be ready to play."
According to online gaming site Bovada, Florida (3-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) hasn't been as big of an underdog against Georgia (7-0, 4-0) since at least 1985. That's as far back as the site's records stretch.
Since then, Florida has been a double-digit dog just once against Georgia. The Bulldogs were favored by 11 ½ points in 2014 and lost 38-20.
Georgia opened as 14 ½-point favorites for Saturday's game in nearby Jacksonville.
"It's motivational," Gators linebacker Kylan Johnson said. "It's very motivational to be the underdog in a game. (We) kind of like being like that, too. Going in as the underdog, people just expect you not to win. They think you don't have a chance.
"But when you come in and you play ball and you end up on top, it's a little bit of respect factor."
The Gators have dropped two straight by a combined three points, losing to LSU and Texas A&M at home, and are on the brink of elimination in the SEC's Eastern Division.
Coach Jim McElwain also is getting plenty of heat for a third consecutive year of lackluster offense. The Gators rank 102nd in the country in total yards, partly because they've been down more than 20 scholarship players due to recent injuries and season-long suspensions . McElwain refuses to use those as excuses.
Nonetheless, Florida still can salvage the season. But only with another victory - a huge upset this time - against the Bulldogs.
"I feel like we've been the underdog for the past 10 years," safety Chauncey Gardner said. "Everybody wants to see us lose every game, 'Oh Florida this, Florida that.' We've been the underdog since the first game of the season, whole season, 'Can these guys get back to Atlanta?'
"We've been shocking everybody wrong, proving everybody wrong. ... If you're better than us, prove it."
Georgia has been better than everyone on its schedule so far.
The Bulldogs edged Notre Dame early in the season and then dominated four SEC opponents by a combined score of 170-45. Freshman Jake Fromm ranks second in the league in pass efficiency. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel form the conference's top running back tandem. And Georgia is second in the SEC in every major defensive category, behind only perennial power Alabama.
Gardner didn't want to hear all the hype.
"You say they have a great quarterback. I get it," he said. "He's throwing simple passes. I get it. Anybody can throw a slant. I get it. But like I said, we're just playing football. If you call him the best quarterback, so be it, but he has to play Saturday. We're going to see what his best attribute is."
Call it smack talk or bulletin-board material. Either way, Gardner and the Gators are taking their chances with an "us-against-the-world" approach.
"This game feels like a championship game to us," Gardner said. "If they are the best team, so be it. But they have to play Saturday. We're going to see them Saturday. If y'all feel like they're the best team, pick 'em. Do what you got to do.
"But we're going to go out there with our defense, with our offense and play this game and win the game."
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