Officially, The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party next weekend will hold the highest stakes the annual rivalry game has seen in years. Provided Georgia can hold off hapless Kentucky, of course.
And, if there was any lingering doubt, Will Muschamp‘s Florida Gators are the real deal.
The latest evidence the No. 3 team in the country is in the national title race for the season-long haul came in The Swamp Saturday afternoon. Facing a No.9 South Carolina Gamecocks squad still licking its collective wounds from the first lost of the season last weekend, the Gators deepened the open Gamecocks’ gash with a 44-11 thumping that was the dictionary-definition of a beatdown.
UF’s defense held USC to under 100 yards of total offense through the first three quarters, allowing just three field goals to go along with a blocked point after that wasn’t of its doing.
The offense “struggled” — UF scored 21 points on just 29 yards of first-half offense — but was deadly efficient where it counted — on the scoreboard. And there was no more of a microcosm of that deadly efficiency than Jeff Driskel. The Gators’ starting quarterback completed just 10 passes, but four of them went for touchdowns.
The Gators didn’t have 100-plus yards passing, didn’t rush for more than 1oo yards… and it didn’t matter thanks to a defense that caused the Gamecocks’ offense to melt play after play, series after series, holding USC to 1.4 yards per carry and forcing three turnovers.
With the loss, the Gamecocks essentially removed themselves from the SEC East, dropping to 4-2 in conference play with just two games remaining and all but eliminating any chance of an appearance in the SEC title game. The Gators, on the other hand, improved to 6-0 and are firmly entrenched in the divisional driver’s seat.
With a win over Georgia next weekend, the Gators will clinch the SEC East regardless of what happens in their conference finale against Missouri the following weekend. It would mark UF’s first divisional title since 2009.
However, if the Bulldogs were to pull off the neutral-site upset, UGA would control its own destiny, with games against SEC West cellar dwellers Auburn and Ole Miss serving as the lone remaining “obstacles” standing between the Bulldogs and their second early-December trip to Atlanta since 2005.
So, yeah, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the 90th edition — or 91st — of the WLOCP.