Don’t think for one second that Urban Meyer is buying into all the talk that this is a down year for the Georgia Bulldogs. He sees the talent on the roster that his Florida Gators will be facing and sees plenty of faces that he tried to recruit to Florida. He knows while Georgia may have struggled in some phases of the game it’s only a matter of time before the Bulldogs put it all together.
“The bottom line is that they have very good players,” said Meyer, whose 6-1 Gators (4-1 SEC) can solidify their grip on the SEC East Division with a win over Georgia (6-2 overall, 3-2 SEC), which needs a win desperately to cling to whatever hopes the Bulldogs have of making the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs have had moments when all phases of their game have been brilliant. The problem is getting all three phases — offense, defense, special teams — clicking at the same time.
“In all three phases there are times they are as good as anybody in the country,” said Meyer. “Their punt return game is as good as anybody. Defense, first they shut out South Carolina and they did a couple of other teams. At other times their offense looks dynamic.”
The Georgia defense is the area of chief concern for Meyer. The Bulldogs are ranked second in the SEC in total defense and it all starts with the play of their outstanding defensive ends, Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson. Both Moses and Johnson have the ability to beat opposing tackles with quickness but they are both physical enough to go through an opponent, too.
“They’re just awful fast off the edge,” said Meyer.
The Gators struggled at times with Auburn’s very fast defensive ends so making sure his own offensive tackles — Phil Trautwein and Carlton Medder — have some help from a fullback, tight end or a running back is very important.
“We’ll do as much as we can to help them,” said Meyer. “I think Tennessee had good ends, I think obviously Alabama had good ends. It’s the year of the end in this conference so we’re going to do as much as we can to help them. That’s a concern. That’s probably the biggest concern on offense for us.”
The concern with the Georgia offense is that by placing freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford in the shotgun and spreading the field — something that he did in high school last year — there will be a level of comfort that will allow the strong-armed kid to get into a rhythm. The spread formation from the shotgun is a departure from the norm for Georgia, which has shown a preference to run from the I-formation with two wide receivers and a tight end in Coach Mark Richt’s previous five seasons.
“Georgia did a little bit of spread formation that they hadn’t shown, so I think that’s maybe his [Stafford’s] comfort zone,” said Meyer. “You do what that quarterback is comfortable doing. In high school he was a shotgun, throw it around guy so we’re preparing for that.”
One thing Meyer does not expect from Georgia is for the Bulldogs to put the playmaking burden on Stafford’s shoulders.
“You would not want to put him in bad position,” said Meyer. “You would not ask him to win the game for you. You would ask him to manage the game. You protect him and you don’t put him in situations.”
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Meyer said the Gators seem rejuvenated in practice this week after a light practices during the off week. When Florida played Auburn, it was the Gators’ fifth straight SEC game without a break and Meyer noticed a bit of fatigue setting in prior to the game.
“The wear and tear against the teams we played was noticeable going into that last game,” said Meyer. “Going into that last game I didn’t feel the same way at practice; I didn’t felt the same way at the hotel. It felt like a tired team. I think it’s a much more energized team right now so I think it [open week] came at the right time.”
He’s also hoping the time off has given his offense a chance to regroup a bit and put some points on the scoreboard. The Gators haven’t scored more than three offensive touchdowns in a Southeastern Conference game this year.
Much of the lack of point production can be attributed to the level of defense played in the SEC.
“If three touchdowns means we’re beating Tennessee 21-20 then three touchdowns are enough,” said Meyer. “I love to score points as much as the next guy but I understand the teams that we’re playing. I think Tennessee put a bunch of points on this team [Georgia] but other than that there’s not a bunch of high scoring. We haven’t scored more than three touchdowns but we have to be a little more productive and how you do that is the guys that can score touchdowns, put it in their hands.”
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Tailback DeShawn Wynn is running with very little pain this week. He’s the leading rusher on the team (400 yards, 75 carries) but he’s fought through a knee problem since early in the second half against Alabama. He’s had numerous injuries in his career but this was the first time with a knee problem.
“I never had any problems with my knee,” he said. “It was really a shock when I hurt my knee. The trainers did a good job of helping me back and I was in treatment 10 times a day. They got me back pretty good.”
Wynn missed the entire LSU game and played against Auburn, although it was evident he didn’t have near the speed or endurance that he had shown prior to the injury. He played the Auburn game in a good bit of pain, too, although the excitement of the game dulled the ache.
“Adrenaline helps take a little bit of the pain away,” he said. “That’s what got me through the Auburn game.”
The week off prior to the Georgia game was exactly what Wynn needed to prep for the final stretch of five games that will conclude the season.
“I needed it a lot,” he said. “I got to rest a little bit in practice and I got a lot of rest and I think that helped my knee.”