Injuries could hurt Georgia against Gators

Updated: October 31, 2003, 3:49 PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe it's fate, maybe it's karma, maybe it's some other intangible that explains why Georgia simply can't beat Florida.

This year, the bad vibes for Georgia come in the form of injuries -- a whole slew of them -- that leave the 'Dawgs far less than healthy for Saturday's game, known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

"We're hanging on for dear life in ballgames. We haven't been very impressive. We're a little tired and a little emotionally drained," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "So far, we've found a way to get to the end. If we make it to the end this week, we've done pretty well."

The stakes, as usual, are high. With a victory, No. 4 Georgia (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) can take a stranglehold on the SEC East lead, with a good chance to play for its second straight conference title. Meanwhile, No. 23 Florida (5-3, 3-2) can pull into a tie for first by winning.

Georgia, loser of 12 of the last 13 meetings with Florida, is a 2-point favorite after last week's 16-13 win over UAB. The UAB game was supposed to be a warmup for this week, but instead turned into a huge scare.

Thus far this season, 11 players who have started, plus nine reserves, have missed at least one game. Five other starters have been knocked out of games with injuries. Key on the list this week are Fred Gibson (who should play), Reggie Brown and Michael Johnson, three of seven receivers who have landed on the injury list at some point.

Sophomore cornerback Tim Jennings will start in place of Decory Bryant, who broke a bone in his neck last week.

Backup fullback Des Williams moved from defense to offense a week ago. Starter Jeremy Thomas missed last week because of a concussion.

"Because of the injuries, we're really scrambling around," Richt said. "Last week, we were trying to run things we haven't run all year. We were trying to be creative. But as you can see, we weren't that successful."

Florida, meanwhile, doesn't have a single significant injury to report -- an amazing feat this deep into the season. The Gators do, however, have one key personnel issue: Coach Ron Zook suspended the team's leading sacker, Bobby McCray, for violating the school's class attendance policy. McCray has eight sacks this season, and is only five away from AlexBrown's team record for a season.

"I feel bad for Bobby," Zook said. "Unfortunately, it's at a bad time, but that's the way it is."

Despite its struggles, Georgia comes into the game on a four-game winning streak, two more than Florida's current streak.

Although the SEC has yet to figure out every single possibility, a loss by the Gators almost certainly would knock them out of contention in the SEC. It would be significant, not only because it would come at the hands of Georgia, but because it would set the Gators up to play their first truly meaningless SEC game in 12 years, next week against Vanderbilt.

If Florida wins and vaults into a tie for the lead it would set up a scenario in which if the Gators, Georgia and Tennessee all win the remainder of their conference games, they would tie at 6-2 and the tiebreaker would come down to a vote of SEC athletic directors.

Zook has brushed aside such speculation as meaningless until the Gators take care of business.

Richt said: "To think that it could come down to a vote is probably not the best way to end it up, but it is what it is, and if it turns out to finish in a tie, I hope we win the vote."

Meanwhile, SEC commissioner Mike Slive believes the tiebreaking procedure should be reconsidered at the league's next round of meetings.

"I think anytime, when possibilities occur, whether it ever comes to pass or not, that we certainly would probably talk about it again to make sure that this is the way our folks want to continue to do it," Slive told Florida Today.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index