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Florida vs. Georgia, Game Thread: Can the Gators make some magic?

Florida’s best chance of winning and its best chance of not getting embarrassed probably require different approaches. Which will Billy Napier pick?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 LSU at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I think you might know where to find Florida-Georgia — which, for now, is in Jacksonville — on your TV set, but the Sling sidebar is here to help you on the off chance you don’t have an antenna or cable or access to watch this one streaming for free via CBS Sports and want to sign up for a Sling account within the next, uh, 15 minutes.

And, hey, the DVR storage might be helpful to you on the off chance that Florida stages one of the great upsets of the college football season and you want to rewatch this game.

That’s probably not going to happen, of course.

That unlikelihood of an upset — which doubles as the likelihood of three-TD favorite Georgia romping to victory — seems unlikely to prevent Florida from trying to engineer it. The Gators have played aggressively more often than not under Billy Napier, and even if they might need to go even more high-risk to produce the high rewards they might need to put down the Bulldogs. Should Florida get off to a start like, say, the one it did last year in Jacksonville — a game in which Florida was down 3-0 but had the ball late in the first half, before turnovers triggered a Georgia avalanche — we have little reason to believe Napier won’t mash the gas in hopes of putting pressure on Kirby Smart’s squad.

But this game being a likely blowout has me wondering whether Florida might actually be better off taking its cues from Lane Kiffin — the 1.1 version that coached at Tennessee, not the 4.20 bro at Ole Miss.

Fans who remember past last week, few and dwindling though they may be, likely remember that this game’s setup was once kind of like one that Florida had as the upper-handed team when Tennessee came to visit back in 2009. Kiffin had been his brash, boyish self that offseason, taking potshots at Florida and Urban Meyer, and of the 90,000 or so fans at The Swamp on the Saturday the Vols arrived, probably something like 85,000 were hungry for a 50-0 score.

Instead, Tennessee frustrated a far superior Florida team all day in some sweltering heat, never trailing by more than 17 points in what would be a 23-13 Gators win. And the Vols did it, to my eye, by trying to lose small, rather than trying to win: They had a 15-play field goal drive that took up half a quarter, held Florida to a field goal on another five-minute drive before halftime, and forced the theoretically explosive Gators to churn out 69 yards on 13 plays on the seven-minute third quarter drive to go up 17.

Tennessee’s lone touchdown drive covered 98 yards in less time than you’d reckon, based on the previous paragraph — just over three minutes and only seven plays — but it came in the fourth quarter, with the Gators’ three-possession edge making it clear that Tennessee would need a real miracle to come back. The Vols didn’t get one — their last drive covered 27 yards in over four minutes, and ended with a pick — but they might not have needed one had they just played to win for the first 45 minutes, instead of trying to limit the damage Meyer’s motivated Gators could do.

Florida could, in theory, play like that on Saturday. Their beleaguered defense has been doing a lot of breaking in addition to its bending, but the Gators could certainly try to limit explosive plays and make Georgia beat them underneath, on the ground, and slowly. Florida’s offense could also sit on the ball and grind out long drives that would minimize the number of possessions available to Georgia — an approach the Gators’ ground-based attack and Napier’s appetite might actually lend themselves to.

If Florida can play a game with 12 or 13 combined possessions, it probably has a better chance of avoiding the sort of lopsided margin that could damage perceptions — y’know, like Kiffin did. But if Florida gets into a 18-possession game with the Dawgs, giving up six touchdowns or half a hundred points starts seeming not just possible but probable, given the sorry state of its sieve that stands in for a defense.

The choice is Billy Napier’s. I won’t fault him — much — for trying to win the game.

But if Florida wanted to pester Georgia and perturb a bunch of folks who bark at other human beings, I don’t know how much I’d mind it.

Go Gators.