Florida faces Georgia in Jacksonville in a rivalry that hits close to home for me. I grew up in Jacksonville and have seen the pain and frustration of Gator fans for many years in the 70’s and 80’s. I was privileged to be on the 1990 Florida Football team which helped begin this dominant run that has reached 14 wins in 16 seasons.
Steve Spurrier made sure that preparation and focus were the keys to victory. He never overlooked Georgia and always emphasized the history to the players. I really believe the bye week has been a big advantage for the Gators through the years. From 1993-2003 and last year Florida has had a bye week before Georgia and the Gators are 11-1. Urban Meyer has also emphasized preparation and focus for the Gators in this year’s matchup.They are healthier and ready for the Dogs this weekend.
STATISTIC: Florida is 13-4 all-time following a bye week vs. Georgia
Being from Jacksonville I am obviously biased with regards to keeping the game in my hometown. I do think if these teams played home and home it would make it easier for Florida and Miami to play every year. But I can live without Miami because the SEC is tough enough to navigate as it is and there is so much history and tradition in with this game on the First Coast. I remember going over the Hart Bridge on the team buses in 1990 and as soon as you come over the peak you see the thousands of RV’s and fans. It was an awesome experience, and one that I will never forget. I won my last two games as a player (90-91) and the only game (1993) that I was a graduate assistant coach and they were special. The contract with Jacksonville is through 2010 and it brings $25-30 million to the economy every year. I hope they keep the game in the River City forever.
STATISTIC: Mark Richt is 1-4 versus Florida. The last four meetings have been decided by 7 points or less.
Georgia comes into this game struggling to find consistency and big plays on offense. Under Mark Richt the Dogs have always been a pro style/deliberate offense that sets the pass up with the run. This season Georgia had some good running days prior to the Thomas Brown injury. They still have strong threats in Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware, who could have a break out game. Georgia ran for 198 yards on South Carolina in a win and 145 yards on just 27 carries in the blowout loss to Tennessee. The threat is there for the Dogs to try to run the ball and shorten the game. Auburn did have some success on the ground which may give Richt something to work with as far as game planning for the Gators. Mathew Stafford is young, highly recruited quarterback who is coming off his best performance as a Bulldog. He is 3-0 as the starting quarterback and has a big arm. The last two freshman quarterbacks to start in this game for Georgia both lost. (Quincy Carter and Eric Zeir). Stafford may have the pressure off him now that he knows he is the guy. The receiving corps has been very pedestrian. Richt continues to shuffle the lineup looking for playmakers on the edge. Demiko Goodman has taken Mohammed Massaquoi’s job while Kenneth Harris stepped up last week versus Mississippi State. Georgia will try to get the run started and hit play action over the top. With the injury to Martez Milner the tight end it will be interesting to see if the Dogs try to change up their plan this week.
KEY PLAYER FOR GEORGIA: Mathew Stafford
PLAYER THAT MUST STEP UP FOR UF: Brandon Siler
STATISTIC: Georgia has had 11 different players contribute to their impressive sack total of 19 this season.
Defensively the Dogs are still very good but they are trending downwards. The Tennessee game may be a bit misleading in regards to total offense as the Vols took contol due to turnovers and field position. Georgia is still second in the conference in total yards but they are not turning teams over. Charles Johnson has been very good at one defensive end while Quentin Moses has underachieved expectations this season but is still a force. This may be the best one-two combo (behind LSU) from the edge that Florida will face all season. Tony Taylor anchors the linebacking corps and leads the team in interceptions. The Bulldogs have only given up five runs over 20 yards all season long. They are very solid in the front seven. The secondary is the weak link on defense, although Tra Battle is a very good rover back. Teams are completing 62 percent of their passes on first down against Georgia. Keep an eye on the Gator attack on first down and see if they attack the Dog secondary.
KEY PLAYER FOR GEORGIA: Quentin Moses
PLAYER THAT MUST STEP UP FOR UF: Jemalle Cornelius
STATISTIC: Florida has thrown 97 passes in the first half this season and 90 in the second half. This balance is even more evident with 39 first downs passing in the first half and 39 first downs via the pass in the second half.
Florida will look to take the good and leave the bad on offense after the Auburn game. Dan Mullen will look to get more plays by emphasizing the beginning of each half. I expect Mullen will script with the idea of attacking early and creating an offensive tempo. Chris Leak has never thrown an interception against Georgia and there is no reason not to let him attack early. In conference play Leak has only one 200-yard game and that was against the worst defense in the SEC, Kentucky. He needs 25 attempts to get the maximum out of his talent. In games this season when Chris Leak throws the ball more than 25 times he is completing 64.5 percent of his passes which is above his seasonal average. I do think the role of Tim Tebow will increase this week to the point where he may get first quarter snaps. Tebow is a weapon just like Baker, Harvin and Caldwell, so it should be no surprise if Mullen gets him 20 quality snaps in this game. Florida’s running game at Auburn came mostly from the receivers which is actually a good thing. If you think about the run defenses in this league, it is almost impossible to line up and run over teams. Arkansas has the best one-two combo in the conference, but UF has diversity and its run game compliments it’s passing package The Gator ground game is fourth in the SEC, but trails Auburn by just two yards. I think you will see 30 rushing attempts between Harvin, Wynn, Caldwell, Moore, Tebow, Fayson and even Leak. The Gator passing attack should get more looks this week with good balance they may get 30 attempts. I think Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius can have big games against this secondary down the field. It is also time for the Chris-Bow backfield to add some more plays to their package.
KEY PLAYER FOR UF: Percy Harvin
PLAYER FLORIDA MUST STOP: Charles Johnson
STATISTIC: Gators are holding teams to 56 percent completion rate and opponents have complete only 66 first down completions in 252 attempts.
Defensively the Gators are very solid with only five touchdowns given up the entire season. One of those touchdowns was a trick play and you have to think Mark Richt will have at least one ready for the Gators. Meyer said earlier this week that he was very happy with his defense but I think they want to get more than one three and out against Georgia. They cannot allow the Dogs to methodically move the ball with the run game and a dink and dunk passing game. Either tighten the coverage or suffocate the run game. I think the goal for the UF defense this week is third down. Look for the Gators to get the third down percentage number down this week by attacking and making plays. Georgia’s offensive line has given up just nine sacks which is impressive although the Dogs often max protect and give their quarterbacks few options. Derrick Harvey has been the quietest superstar of any team in the SEC. While coordinators focus on Marcus Thomas and Jarvis Moss, Harvey has excelled and leads the league in sacks. Florida’s linebackers will be called upon to stop the run once again. The Gator secondary was shut out against Auburn with regards to interceptions and look for Reggie Nelson to be more involved closer to the line of scrimmage. UF is one of only two SEC teams to intercept 11 or more passes on the season.
KEY PLAYER FOR UF: Reggie Nelson
PLAYER FLORIDA MUST STOP: Kregg Lumpkin
INTANGIBLES: In the last four games Florida has faced an SEC team that has had their backs against the wall in the conference race. Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia all needed wins against Florida to stay in the conference race. UF took care of the Tide and the Tigers but Auburn escaped an early onslaught from the Gators to get the win. I don’t think that motivation will work in this particular game. Georgia has to fix its own issues and hope that Florida has developed some. Keep an eye on special teams and the effect of the punting game. Both teams have struggled with protection the last few weeks. Both teams have great returners with Mikey Henderson (he has been nursing a hamstring injury) one of the best in the country for Georgia and Brandon James is certainly talented for the Gators. A freshman quarterback at Georgia has not beaten the Gators since 1945 when Johnny Rauch got it done 34-0. The fact that the Gators control their own destiny for the first time since 2001 in this game gives the edge to Florida and Urban Meyer.
DOG STATISTIC: Georgia has had 10 turnovers in the last 3 games that has resulted in 45 points for its opponents.
GATOR STATISTIC: UF is rated in the top five in 17 out of 23 statistical categories for teams in the SEC. Ten of those top fives arein the top 3 statistically. The best is rushing defense and the worst is penalties (the Gators are 12th in the SEC in penalties).
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?: Last week the Georgia offense tried something different against Mississippi State. With Martrez Milner ailing, Mark Richt implored a shotgun three-receiver set that included senior Mario Railey. The blue print against the Gator defense is to spread them out and throw it on first down in the flats to receivers and backs. This blue print also includes misdirections in the run game as well as wide runs hoping the Gator defense over-pursues or over-runs the play. I expect UF to play under more control and with Georgia’s offense void of playmakers it should be hard for them to score more than one touchdown. The Gator offense will have to neutralize the Dog defensive ends by spreading the field and in some cases running the ball underneath them. I think Dan Mullen should script a play to get the ball in the playmakers hands once each in the first 15 plays. After that you then run your offense and do what works. This forces Mullen to not forget about weapons like Jemalle Cornelius and Cornelius Ingram. It also allows the Gator quarterback to experience success early and feel the defense out. I am concerned about the future of the running game with regards to Urban Meyer’s confidence in Wynn and Moore. Wynn has proven with enough touches he can produce 100 yards. But the games he did that get that production Percy Harvin was injured or not available.
Can Mullen balance touches in the run game between Harvin and Wynn while sticking with his game plan? These are actually good problems to have and I imagine they will have a good balanced attack. Chris Leak must be sharp this week and protection must be at its best on third down. The Gators want more plays so they must avoid turnovers and convert third downs at a 50 percent rate. I do think you will see Cornelius make a play in this game like he has in the past. Special teams will be solid not spectacular and Florida should win the game. I think Georgia may get some sort of short field score or non traditional touchdown to get them into the teens, but the Gators control the game start to finish but only win 24-17.
Check out College Kickoff on Friday Night at 7 p.m. for the latest on the rivalry and tune in to our special Gator Pre-Game Show on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. We will also continue to have Gator Post Game immediately following the game Saturday night. Join Whit Watson, Terry Norvelle, Todd Wright, Chris Doering, David Steele, Nat Moore, Steve Babik, Todd Lewis and me this weekend for all the coverage on Sun Sports.