ATHENS – Georgia’s Greg Pyke has tasted the thrill of victory against Florida. That makes him a rare breed among the Bulldogs who occupy their current roster.
Pyke is one of only nine scholarship seniors who were around for Georgia’s last win over the Gators in 2013 and one of only six who would have played something approaching a significant role in that contest. Pyke, now a senior and starting right tackle, was a redshirt freshman guard in the Bulldogs’ 23-20 victory.
Pyke didn’t get a lot of action in that one. However, he was a starter the last two years as Georgia suffered blowout losses. So he can tell you about the agony of defeat in this series, too.
“This year as a senior you want to go out on a good note and win that game,” Pyke said as the Bulldogs prepared this week for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. “Because there’s no better feeling than that. There’s no better than coming over that bridge and seeing all those people tailgating and knowing how big of a game that is.”
That’s going to take a special effort from the Bulldogs this season. The 14th-ranked Gators (5-1, 3-1 SEC) opened as 7.5-point favorites to win their third straight in the series. They beat Missouri 40-14 in their last outing. Georgia is coming off a humiliating home loss at the hands of 4-4 Vanderbilt.
Both teams had a bye week to address whatever shortcomings they may have. For the Bulldogs, that’s a lot.
“Just trying to get better,” Pyke said of the Bulldogs’ off-week objective. “It’s a big week. It’s Florida Hate Week. … As a senior you want to leave your legacy as a team that beat Florida down in Jacksonville.”
Pyke sat down to answer some questions for DawgNation as the subject of this week’s “Five Questions With …”
Q: Have you noticed any kind of difference in coach Kirby Smart’s disposition as you guys prepared for Florida?
Pyke: “He treats every game the same. He comes in there for meetings and treats every opponent the same. They’re another team we have this week and an SEC opponent. But it is Florida, so it is different. You don’t try to make things personal out there, but I definitely want to beat them and get a win in Jacksonville.”
Q: Being from Maryland, when did you figure the magnitude and intensity of the Florida rivalry, and what would you say makes it so?
Pyke: “I figured it out the first time I played in it as a redshirt sophomore. … I knew we don’t like Tech, but the Georgia-Florida game is a big one. I noticed it right away. It’s always a very chippy game and it’s always a physical one.
“Both teams have things to prove, that they’re one of the better teams in the conference. Going forward, we definitely want to get a win out of Jacksonville. … These are the games you come down here to play for, Georgia-Florida. You go and play in the Jags’ stadium down there. I love it. The best moment is coming over that bridge and you see all the people tailgating outside the stadium. That’s when you get the goosebumps and know you’ve got a big game to play.”
Q: You guys have struggled in the run game in several games this year, including last time out against Vanderbilt, and the offense has been inconsistent overall. What have you guys done to work on and improve the rushing attack, and what’s the offensive goal against the defensive-minded Gators?
Pyke: “During the off week we just worked on getting better. We did a lot of good-on-good. We didn’t shy away from full pads at all. I think we got better during the bye … We just want to put everything together, passing it, running it, being able to do everything. We’re going to keep practicing hard and keep doing a lot of good-on-good and get ready for a very physical game.
Q: Certainly nobody in your locker room expected you guys to be coming in here at 4-3 and with a losing SEC record. Is there almost a feeling of desperation for the Bulldogs going into this game? And can that be a good thing?
Pyke: “Not at all. I don’t think so. When you say desperation, I think of our backs being against the wall and needing to do this, this and this. I think we’re just going to come out and have another good game. It is Florida, so it is a little different. But I think the guys are ready after having a nice bye week and getting our legs back and healthy. We know it’s going to be a fight up front. It’s always a very chippy game. Everybody wants to impose their will on each other and that starts up front with the offensive lines and the defensive lines.
Q: What are your thoughts on that Florida defense? Statistically it has been one of the best in the SEC.
Pyke: “You look at them and they’re very physical. They’re number one in all the stats in the SEC. So we know they’re a very, very good defense. As an offensive line you know it’s going to be a tough job, but you like that challenge. You know you have to bring you’re a game. It starts in practice. The guys on the scout squad, the look squad, have to give you a good look so you kind of get the feeling of those guys coming down and being able to block them. Our scout team does a very good job of that. It starts with practices, watching film on these guys and coming out and trying to impose your will.”