Gator Country and Dawg Post have combined forces to provide you a complete in-depth look at how the Gators and Dogs match-up on the football field. First out of three in a series, we take a look at the Florida Defense vs. the Georgia Offense.
FLORIDA DEFENSE IN-DEPTH
By: Mark McLeod
The Florida secondary has given up 218.2 yards per conference game. Furthermore, the Gators have allowed a league high 141 completions. Those numbers would seemingly bring a jubilant wag to the tail of a struggling Bulldog. However, despite facing the top five quarterbacks (passing) and the top six receivers (yards per game) in the Southeastern Conference- the Gators have yielded just four touchdowns through the air.
Only Mississippi State (3) and Ole Miss (5) have thrown fewer touchdowns passes than Georgia, who ranks 75th in the NCAA Pass Offense statistics.
True freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford will be making his fourth start for the Bulldogs. He hit 20 of 32 for 267 yards and a pair of touchdowns against lowly Mississippi State (2-6). Stafford also threw three interceptions. This week he’ll face a squad that boasts the distinction of having double digits interceptions (11), something only 21 of 119 Division I schools have accomplished. Georgia has committed 17 turnovers this season.
The Big Uglies
Florida has a wealth of experience, speed, and athleticism throughout their defense. That fact has not been lost on opposing offensive coordinators who have adjusted by shortening their passing game. The two and three step drops by quarterbacks hitting receivers who run a bevy of quick slants, screens, and skinny posts have cut into the Gators ability to sack the quarterback. They have been able to get pressure on the quarterback though.
This group is nasty against the run. Florida ranks fifth nationally having allowed just 67.7 yards per game.
Senior noseguard Marcus Thomas (6-3 296) returned in big fashion last weekend against LSU. The Jacksonville native has amassed 25 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. He is second on the squad with four sacks. Thomas has an explosive first step, tremendous quickness, speed, and athleticism that is certain to help the Gators. Thomas led the Gators in tackles against both LSU (8) and Auburn (10).
Florida co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that he should have played true freshman reserve noseguard Brandon Antwine (6-0 271) more in the Auburn game. He felt that he could have helped keep Thomas fresh and that Antwine has progressed well enough to warrant additional playing time. Expect to see him more often, especially if the time of possession is clearly in the Bulldogs favor.
Playing alongside Thomas, senior tackle Joe Cohen (6-2 290) has racked up 15 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, including ½ a sack, a forced fumble, and has forced a fumble. He has also broken up a pass. Signed as a running back out of Palm Bay High School, Cohen struggled to find his niche at Florida. He has seen time at fullback, defensive end, and finally, at defensive tackle where he said that he is most comfortable. Cohen has played well all season. Reserve Steven Harris (6-5 285) is a former starter at defensive tackle. He has six tackles, including a tackle for loss. He has also been credited with half a sack. Harris has also played well. Both Cohen and Harris possess great strength, athleticism, and speed.
The Gators are set at defensive end. Experience coupled with strength, speed, and good quickness on one side. There is also tremendous speed and athleticism on the opposite side and with the reserves.
Ray McDonald (6-3 280) has really begun to turn the corner after returning from having both knees surgically repaired. McDonald has 22 tackles, including three sacks among his four tackles for a loss. He is one of Florida’s leaders.
You can’t begin talking about tremendous quickness, speed, and potential without mentioning the name of defensive end Jarvis Moss (6-6 255). His first step off the ball is unreal. Moss’ quickness is reminiscent of Georgia’s Quinton Moses. Obviously, Moss hasn’t yet produced to the level of Moses. Furthermore, the junior bulked up over the off-season and plays against the run very well too. Moss has 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, which includes 2.5 sacks, and eight quarterback hurries.
Redshirt sophomore Derrick Harvey (6-5 252) was singled out by Mattison as a guy that is practicing extremely hard and gives the Gators flexibility by playing rush end, as well as, strongside end. Harvey might as well be labeled a starter. He is known for his speed and quickness, yet his intensity is one thing that appears to be his most significant improvement. He doesn’t have Moss’ first step, but he is quick. Harvey leads the team with six sacks. He has notched 14 tackles and six quarterback hurries.
Weakside linebacker Earl Everett (6-2 231) is one of the centerpieces to this extremely talented defense. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his monster play against Tennessee. He led the Gators with 11 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Everett can run, hit, and has a nose for the football as evidenced by his 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, and three quarterback hurries. Everett is third on the squad in tackles. He should garner plenty of votes for the all conference team after the season.
Brandon Siler (6-2 235) is one of the Gators tremendously experienced linebackers. Describing Siler is rather easy. The All-SEC selection is simply a great football player who seemingly plays his best football in big games. He had terrific game against the Volunteers with seven tackles, two for a loss, and a sack. He finished with nine stops against Auburn, second best in the game. He is currently second on the team with 43 tackles, including five tackles for loss, including a sack, two quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery, and a forced fumble..
Fifth year senior Brian Crum (6-3 235) mans the strongside linebacker position as a first year starter. Crum has seen significant action on special teams throughout his career, while playing as a reserve at tight end moved to linebacker in ’03 where he saw very little action. Crum has 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, which includes .5 sacks. He also has a quarterback hurry.
There is plenty of talent playing behind the starting linebackers. They are getting limited experience in the games and several snaps on special teams. True freshmen Brandon Spikes (6-3 240) (six tackles) and Dustin Doe (6-0 215) (13 tackles) will be key challengers for starting jobs next season.
Overview: The Florida interior defensive front ran into their toughest offensive front last weekend. Auburn singled out Marcus Thomas and Ray McDonald blocking down on them, while stretching the running game wide for Kenny Irons and Brad Lester to find the seam. The Tigers ran for 133 yards. It marked the first time the Gators had given up more than 100 yards rushing this season.
Still, opponents are averaging just 2.51 yards per carry and 67.7 yards per game rushing against the Gators. That is tops in the conference and fifth best in the nation. Florida has 19 sacks on the season, which is tied with Georgia and Arkansas as the third best in the conference. However, Florida recorded five sacks against the Tigers two weeks ago, their best effort to date.
The Florida/Georgia game will feature a pair of defensive ends with tremendous quickness, speed and athleticism. Georgia has Quentin Moses, while Florida has junior Jarvis Moss. Both are similar in size and most importantly, productivity.
Florida has been pretty good defending the red zone, allowing just four touchdowns and six field goals in 17 opportunities. The Gators had allowed far too many third down conversions against quality opponents. Tennessee (6 of 13), Alabama (8 of 15), and LSU (7 of 13) had a much higher success rate (51.2%) over the other teams on Florida’s schedule. However, Auburn was only able to convert 6 of 16 (37.5%).
Coach Mattison expressed concern about the Georgia running game. The Bulldogs ran effectively against Tennessee averaging 5.4 yards per carry. However, since losing the multi-talented Thomas Brown, the Bulldogs have run for only 133 yards (3.9 ypc) against Vanderbilt and 103 yards (3.7 ypc) against Mississippi State. Can Kregg Lumpkin carry the load against a stingy Florida run defense?
The Florida secondary will not face one of Georgia’s better groups of wide receivers. Sophomores Mohammed Massaquoi, Demiko Goodman, Kenneth Harris have been the Bulldogs threats thus far, alongside junior A.J. Bryant. There is only one touchdown among them though and that belongs to Massaquoi. None have more than 15 receptions.
The Bulldogs always seem to have a quality tight end and this year that honor belongs to Martrez Milner who has 15 receptions for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
Florida received a tremendous boost when cover corner Ryan Smith (5-10 165) graduated and transferred to Florida from Utah this summer. He has been a blessing in the wake of the Avery Atkins departure. There was no learning curve, as he has a fine understanding of the defense from his days at Utah. Smith has 24 tackles. He has intercepted four passes in Southeastern Conference action with two each against Alabama and LSU. If there is one area that Smith needs to shore up it’s his hands- he has dropped two sure interceptions. Smith would have taken his third pick against the Crimson Tide to the house if not for getting a little too excited when he realized that nothing lay ahead of him but green grass.
Playing the opposite corner is senior Reggie Lewis (5-10 196), who is best remembered for making the play of the game, which sealed the Gators victory over Vanderbilt a year ago. Lewis has good speed, has improved his cover skills dramatically, and solid hands. Lewis is a former wide receiver who started several games in place of the injured Vernell Brown last year. He has an interception, which he returned for 35 yards. Lewis has 14 tackles and has also knocked down three passes.
Strong safety Tony Joiner (6-0 208) leads the team with 45 tackles. He also has 4.5 tackles for loss, has broken up three passes, two interceptions, and added a safety to his credit. The junior packs a wallop. Joiner is a first year starter, who has seen quite a bit of time on special teams and as a reserve.
The most feared member of the Florida secondary is free safety Reggie Nelson (6-1 195). The junior is a fantastic football player who brings speed, quickness, football savvy, and hits like a brick. Furthermore, Nelson can do it all- play cover corner, strong, free, or nickel equally well. He was the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Alabama and followed up with another outstanding performance a week later against LSU. He returned a John Parker Wilson (Alabama) interception 70 yards for a touchdown. Nelson, Smith, and LSU’s Craig Steletz trail Alabama’s Simeon Castille for the Southeastern Conference lead with four interceptions.
Overview: The Florida secondary gave up some valuable real estate to Brandon Cox and the Auburn Tigers, but once more did not give a touchdown. Two third down conversions were especially costly though. Just before the half the Gators allowed a 16 yard completion to Courtney Taylor in the flat on a 3rd and 6. The play moved Auburn from their own 31 yard line to midfield. Kicker John Vaught added a 34 yard field goal to cut the Gators lead to 17-11.
In the fourth quarter, with Auburn clinging to an 18-17 lead Cox found Robert Dunn open with Tre McCollum in coverage on the sideline for 14 yards on a 3rd and 4 play. Once again, the line of scrimmage was moved near midfield. Florida later got the ball back deep in their own territory and Leak threw the ball to defensive back Eric Brock on first down.
Florida will have to deny Stafford and his receivers any such momentum. That momentum shouldn’t happen to a solid group of Florida defenders. The Bulldogs don’t have a receiving corps to compare with that of Tennessee, Alabama, or LSU. The Florida secondary has faced better, much better.
Injuries: Sophomore defensive tackle Javier Estopinan (6-1 282) has been lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Analysis: The Gators have allowed just 32 second half points all season. Comparatively, the Georgia defense has allowed 37 third quarter and 48 fourth quarter points. Tough defense.
Inexperience and injuries are a huge factor in this game. Georgia is minus Thomas Brown, while the Gators come in (pretty) healthy and rested. Nobody doubts true freshman Matt Stafford’s physical tools. Florida co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison even noted that it appears Stafford (at times) is throwing the football right through receivers. A definite display of inexperience. However, the fact that he has thrown just 125 passes on the season has to concern the Georgia staff. Stafford has tossed an interception every 17.8 attempts and will be throwing against a Florida secondary that has picked off 11 interceptions on the season. Comparatively, Chris Leak has thrown an interception every 28.8 attempts.
The Bulldogs have allowed only nine sacks on the season. Alabama- Birmingham, Colorado, and Vanderbilt have two sacks apiece against Georgia. I’m thinking that the Gators will be able to get more pressure on Stafford. The Florida front seven has more quickness and speed than any opponent the Bulldogs have faced.
I’m not that impressed with Georgia’s wide receivers either. This is just not a tremendous pitch and catch combination. Stafford looks to be very good, but not yet.
Florida has one of the best run defenses in the country. In fact, it will be the best that Georgia has faced to date. The Gators have given up just one rushing touchdown this season. They also have the fifth best scoring defense in the nation at 12 points per game. It’s not often that Florida can boast such lofty numbers, but this is one of those years.
Florida will probably work to stop the run and see if Thomas, Cohen, McDonald, and Moss can get pressure. They’ll dare Stafford to beat them. If they’re successful- it will be a long day for Stafford. If Florida has to come with additional personnel to consistently get pressure on Georgia.
Auburn didn’t score a touchdown on the Florida defense two weeks ago. Georgia is not as good as Auburn.
GEORGIA OFFENSE IN-DEPTH
By Dean Legge
Georgia’s offense never really hit the mark hit has in the recent past. The Bulldogs have started three different quarterbacks in eight contests – hardly stable. But there have been times, when the Dawgs are not busy shooting themselves in the foot, that the offense has looked smooth. Georgia needs to be able to run the ball some – that’s not going to be easy to do against Florida.
There have been times when Georgia’s offensive line has looked good, but it’s been an up-an-down year for this unit. Coming into the contest with Florida, two starters – Nick Jones and Chester Adams – are banged up. Those injuries, plus the two-game suspension of Daniel Inman earlier this season has meant that a lot of inexperienced players have played significant downs for the Bulldogs this season.
Jones is the best lineman of the bunch, but he is still recovering from a MCL injury. He will start on Saturday. Daniel Inman has three false start penalties on Saturday and will have to play one of his better games to keep Florida’s ends off Matthew Stafford. Georgia’s other tackle, Ken Shackleford has been serviceable this season.
The Dawgs’ guards, Adams and Fernando Velasco, have also been up and down this season, but they are the best option in the depth chart. Do-it-all Michael Turner can fill in at tackle or guard, while Seth Watts can spell Adams and Velasco at guard.
Injuries: Nick Jones (knee-probable); Chester Adams (ankle-probable)
Analysis: Georgia had better figure out a way to run the ball – they will be in trouble otherwise. But it looks like the Dawgs want to throw it as much as possible on Florida this week, so pass protection will be key.
Georgia’s receivers are young and inexperienced, and have provided few big plays this season. Georgia’s receivers need to pick it up for sure down the stretch. Florida’s weakness appears to be its pass defense – the Dawgs are going to try to take advantage of it, too.
Even if the Bulldogs get past Gator defenders in the secondary, there is no great reason for fans in orange and blue to panic because Georgia’s receivers have made a habit of dropping catchable balls. Still, the young, inexperienced bunch of pass catchers have shown flashes of brilliance this season – A.J. Bryant against Tennessee; Demiko Goodman against Ole Miss; and Kenneth Harris against Mississippi State. But none of the receivers have put together a great game with the only possible exception coming in the first half against the Vols, but that was only for one half.
If the Georgia game plan is to make Florida pay in the air (about Georgia’s only hope) then the Bulldog receivers had better come ready to play (and catch).
Injuries: Milner (toe-questionable)
Analysis: Georgia’s receivers have the capability to be very dangerous if they can catch the ball. Making plays is not out of the question for this group – they have just struggled to get the job done consistently.
At the start of the season Joe Tereshinski, Thomas Brown and Brannon Southerland were starting for the Bulldogs – only Southerland has survived. Matthew Stafford has now fully replaced Tereshinski as the starter, and Brown was lost for the season with a torn ACL during the Vanderbilt game.
Stafford has every physical tool needed to be a great quarterback at Georgia – harnessing those skills in his first season has proved rather difficult, however. Stafford is still learning the ropes in Athens, but he continues to develop. This may be the game Mark Richt allows Stafford to toss the ball around a lot.
Danny Ware has run well against Florida in his previous two games against the Gators. Ware is a passionate player, but has struggled holding onto the ball. Kregg Lumpkin will start against Florida, and he could have a breakout game against the orange and blue if he is given the ball enough times to prove himself. However, no back at Georgia has come close to smelling 20 carries this season, so don’t expect that to start against one of the better run defenses in the country. Southerland is the best fullback in the SEC. Expect him to get the ball in goal line situations and on some screens. He has proven to be a valuable weapon for the Dawgs.
Injuries: (Thomas Brown – ACL – out for season)
Analysis: This may or may not be a coming out party for Matthew Stafford. He’s played better on the road (Columbia and Oxford) than at home. Expect his arm to be very sore after the game.