As Michael Corleone told us in The Godfather Part II, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
In part two of our “know your foe” series, we take a look at the Georgia Bulldogs offense and how Florida’s defense stacks up against them in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. (Yes, Jacksonville, everyone still calls it that no matter what you say or do.)
While there’s no sense in crying over spilt milk, Florida’s six turnovers in last year’s showdown left Gator fans with a bitter taste in their mouth. Even with five turnovers, Florida came up just two yards short and a goalline fumble away from forcing overtime.
For all the struggles that Florida had on offense, namely in the passing game, the defense made up for that and was the driving force behind Florida’s 11-2 season. The Gators defense was no joke in 2013, holding all but two teams to 20 points or less in 13 games. Florida finished the season with the No. 2 ranked scoring defense in the SEC (14.5 ppg.), the No. 2 rushing defense (94.54 ypg.) No. 4 passing defense (192.2 ypg.) and No. 2 in total defense (286.7 ypg.).
Despite losing Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter, Lerentee McCray, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Matt Elam and Josh Evans from that defense, the Gators have recruited well, developed those players and should have another talented, stingy defense this season.
While the Gators lost a lot on defense, it pales in comparison to what the Bulldogs lost on their defense. Georgia had a school record eight players taken, including seven from the defensive side of the football. While Gator fans won’t miss Jarvis Jones, the Bulldogs certainly will.
For as much as they lost on defense, the Dawgs bring back virtually their entire offense (minus Tavares King) and will once again have the most explosive offense in the conference. Well, except for when that Johnny Football kid starts running around and doing things.
Let’s take a look at Georgia’s offense and how the new-look Gator defense stacks up against them.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Georgia scored 529 points last year with two freshmen running backs and a rebuilt offensive line. Much of that can be credited to the veteran leadership of Aaron Murray.
Murray would have likely been the first quarterback off of the board this past NFL Draft, but he elected to stay in school for his senior season. Murray and his aforementioned running backs (more on both of them later) make up one of the most talented backfields in the entire country. Murray already holds the SEC passing touchdown record (95) and with just 1,483 passing yards this year, will become the all-time leader in that category as well.
Murray completed 64.5% of his pass attempts a year ago for 3,893 yards, 36 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. His 174.82 quarterback rating trailed only A.J. McCarron (by just .46) for second best in the country.
Murray struggled last season against Florida completing just 50% of his passes (2nd lowest of the season) for 150 yards (2nd lowest total of the season) while throwing three interceptions to just one touchdown. In fact, Murray has never played well against the Gators. In three starts against Florida, Murray has completed just 47.3% of his pass attempts and has more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6).
The East will likely be decided when Florida and Georgia play this season, no offense to the ‘Ole Ball Coach and his Gamecocks, how the Gators limit what Murray does on the field will determine the outcome of the game.
Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall, Running Back
With a nickname like “Gurshall” you just have to mention both of these players in the same breath.
Todd Gurley jumped onto the scene last season rushing for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman. While he wasn’t a one-man show, Gurley has the talent to be a feature back on just about any other team in the country.
Keith Marshall battled a hamstring injury all season but still managed to run for 759 yards on 117 carries and 8 touchdowns.
Gurshall combined for 2,352 all-purpose yards and 25 touchdowns and should provide Georgia with a dangerous one-two punch out of the backfield.
Georgia’s offensive line allowed 27 sacks a year ago and struggled to get a consistent push in short yardage situations. All five starters return from a year ago, so there should be a good chemistry built between the linemen, an intangible that is often overlooked but essential for an offensive line to be successful.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
This is the only unit that lost a consistent starter. While Georgia will miss the aforementioned King, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley should be able to replace him.
It was Mitchell’s 45-yard touchdown catch against the Gators that all but sealed Florida’s fate. Mitchell underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus this spring but is expected back at full speed by the fall.
While he started as primarily a blocking tight end, Arthur Lynch is rounding out his game and becoming a more complete tight end. Lynch caught 24 passes for 431 yards and three touchdowns as a junior in 2012.
Gator fans might not think very highly of Aaron Murray. As we mentioned before, Murray has had some of the worst games of his career against the Gators, but trust me, he is one of the best signal callers in the entire country. His play against the Gators is more of a testament to Florida’s defense than a denouncement of Murray’s overall skill.
With the entire offensive line back, Murray’s sack total should drop and with more time in the pocket, Murray should see his interception total drop as well.
The Gurley/Marshall tandem in the backfield is a scary prospect for any opposing team to face. The two put together unbelievable freshmen campaigns and that was with Marshall essentially running on one leg for most of the season.
Georgia doesn’t have a player, tight end or receiver, that will keep Will Muschamp or D.J. Durkin up at night and Florida’s secondary should be able to win most of their matchups one-on-one.
That is key for Florida.
If the Gators can trust their cornerbacks and safeties in man coverage, it will allow them to play more men in the box to stop the run. Stopping the run will be the key against Georgia.
While the Gators are stacked with talented pass rushers, they lost a lot of their size on the interior of the line. Look for Dominique Easley to slide over and play both defensive tackle and nose tackle this season with Damien Jacobs, Darious Cummings, Jarran Reed, Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick filling in to give the Gators depth inside.
While the Gators have had Murray’s number for the past three seasons, this may be the most complete offense Murray has had in his four years at Georgia.
So, are the Gators up to the task? Can the defense lead Florida to their first win over their hated rival from up north in three years? Will Muschamp believes so.
When asked about going 0-2 in his first two attempts at beating his alma mater, Muschamp’s response was sharp, confident and concise.
“It’s not going to be a long winning steak, I can assure you that.”