ATLANTA — Cheering for Florida was easy for Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs when the Gators were playing South Carolina.
Now comes the hard part: It’s No. 12 Georgia’s turn to play the undefeated and No. 3 Gators in Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida’s 44-11 victory over South Carolina on Saturday made it possible for Georgia to control its fate in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
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Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) trails only Florida (7-0, 6-0) in the East after struggling to beat Kentucky 29-24 on Saturday night. Murray lifted the Bulldogs with his career-best 427 yards passing and four touchdowns.
If Georgia wins the rest of its conference games, it would finish with no worse than a tie for first with Florida in the division and would play in its second straight SEC championship game.
“We know what this game means for us and for Florida,” Georgia coach Mark Richt Sunday night. “I would say our guys are excited about the opportunity to play this game and have it mean as much as it means right now.”
Richt said he doesn’t expect defensive end Abry Jones, who hurt his left ankle in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game, to play against Florida.
“Right now at this minute I’d say there’s a good chance he’ll be out,” Richt said.
Richt said Jones will be checked by team doctors on Monday.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones missed the Kentucky game because of a sprained right ankle and is expected back this week.
“My hope is he’ll be able to practice as early as Monday,” Richt said. “… He’s definitely been making progress. I think there’s a very good chance he’ll play, but again if he’s not healthy enough to go then we’re not going to do it.”
Georgia’s defense has struggled even with Abry Jones and Jarvis Jones healthy and starting. The low point of the season came when the Bulldogs were overwhelmed in a 35-7 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 6.
South Carolina has lost back-to-back road games against LSU and Florida, opening the way for Georgia to move back into contention in the SEC East.
After the embarrassing loss to South Carolina, this will be Georgia’s second chance to prove it can beat a highly ranked team.
“We want to play better, that’s for sure,” Richt said. “It’s a big game. No one is going to be able to act like it’s not a big game.
“If Florida wins I think they’ve clinched it. If we win it we’ve still got some work to do but we’re in good shape. So it’s a big game for both teams. Both teams want to win badly.”
Murray, a junior, became Georgia’s leader with 75 career touchdown passes, passing David Greene. His 426 yards passing were the most for the Bulldogs since Eric Zeier’s 441 against Vanderbilt in 1994.
Despite Murray’s big day, Georgia barely won.
Murray said Georgia’s season will be defined by the Florida game, not the margin of victory against Kentucky.
“We’re not worried about it,” Murray said. “At the end of the day, it all depends on how we play next Saturday. We know we have to play an unbelievable game offensively, defensively and special teams if we want to have a chance to win that game, so we just have to be ready to go.”
Georgia has conference games remaining against Mississippi and Auburn after its annual trip to Jacksonville.