Three keys to Florida defeating Georgia

You don’t need me to tell you what Florida-Georgia means as a series or for the legacies of players and coaches. And this year? It’s simple: win, and all of the team’s goals are still attainable. Lose, and some fall away.

In addition to the obvious like stopping the run and getting big days from offensive players like Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney, here are three big keys to the game.

The defense MUST get off the field

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, because I keep coming back to it in 2020. It’s extra important against Georgia, though: the defense has to find a way to get stops and get the offense the ball back.

I would say that even if Florida didn’t let South Carolina and Texas A&M sit on the ball earlier this season. The reason is because UF allowed Georgia to sit on the ball much of last year’s game.

The Gators only had seven real drives last year against the Bulldogs. Seven! They scored 2.43 points per drive, more than anyone else has done on UGA since the start of 2019 besides LSU last year and Alabama this year. Yet the ’19 Gators only ended up with 17 points because they had just seven drives.

Georgia held the ball more than 35 minutes and ran 67 plays to Florida’s 54. It scored an even 3.00 points per drive in part because the Gators couldn’t force them off the field. UGA’s opening field goal drive consisted of 15 plays, only two of them longer than six yards and none longer than 17. Seven went for no gain or a loss. But four third down conversions — setting the tone for a day on which the Bulldogs converted 12-of-18 third downs — allowed them to get into field goal range.

It helps Florida that Georgia has gone into a finishing-drives funk over the last six quarters. In the second half against Alabama, UGA went punt-punt-INT-INT-missed FG. Against UK, they went TD-punt-INT-blocked FG in the first half and TD-INT-punt-downs in the second. That’s a paltry 1.31 points per drive across the whole time, and Florida will win if the defense holds the Bulldogs to that level of scoring. But it won’t do that if it can’t get off the field.

As long as I’m repeating myself in 2020, shorter drives mean shorter rotations. Florida’s best defense happens with both Tedarrell Slatin and Kyree Campbell on the field. They won’t both be in on the seventh or eighth play of a drive. Neither might be in. Keeping drives short means maximizing the number of plays with the best lineup.

Run adequately

Football is a passing game in 2020, and Florida is a passing team in 2020. Georgia is the anomalous squad in this one with its likely plan to lean heavily on the run. You may safely ignore stats this weekend about success relating to which team in this series wins the rushing battle.

UGA will probably run for more yards because it probably will run a lot more times. It will be a good sign if the Gators outrush the Bulldogs, but it won’t be because they consistently do it all game. One way it could happen is Florida sacking Stetson Bennett often, as the NCAA stupidly counts sack yardage against rushing totals. The other is that Florida has a large enough lead for enough of the second half that UGA is forced to throw to come back and UF runs a lot to kill clock.

The purpose of the UF rushing game in 2020 is to keep the defense honest against the pass. It will have a boost from injuries to the UGA front. Senior Julian Rochester is definitely out after an ACL tear last week, and it sounds like Jordan Davis is unlikely to go and won’t be 100% if he does.

Davis is the war daddy that makes everything work for the Bulldog defense. Him not being his normal self opens the possibility of inside rushing success. Getting anything up the middle would be useful, since Georgia has speed aplenty on the edges.

Again, it’s not 2003 anymore when running the ball was still a huge deal. Bama beat Georgia by more than twice as many points (17) than it won the rushing battle in yards (167-159, sacks removed). Florida needs only to run adequately to keep the ball moving and prevent the Bulldogs from dropping seven or eight on every play.

Go up early

There’s not a lot that Florida can glean from Alabama’s win over Georgia. Much of the offensive success the Tide had boiled down to either the offensive line doing its job to block everyone or a receiver just flat-out beating a defender. There wasn’t a lot of distinctive schematic wizardry, just the dudes in crimson jerseys beating the dudes in silver britches. I predict general success if Florida’s offensive line blocks well and UF’s receivers beat the defensive backs.

More helpful to point out is the value of getting up early. Georgia’s not as bad as Kentucky in this regard, but it’s not well-suited to coming back from a deficit. The Bulldogs actually had a 50% success rate with the run on the game against Bama, including 56.3% in the first half when the game was tight.

UGA ran a lot more in the third quarter than it did in the first half, and it maintained a 55.6% success rate in that frame. However passing game blunders killed the first three drives — a sack and incomplete pass, then a pressured pass too short of the line to gain, then a pick — and Bama went up 34-24 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs had to abandon the run, and things continued to go awry.

Bennett has often been fine if he can throw from clean pockets when the game is close. Georgia has plenty of tight ends who can beat the poor pass coverage from UF’s linebackers, and it has several receivers (including RB James Cook) who can take it to the house from anywhere if the secondary has a bust. However if Bennett starts pressing because of the game situation, bad things will happen for him.

I’ve seen a lot of people, fans and not, picking Florida this week. I probably give the Gators the edge, but more in a 60-40 kind of sense. Georgia still has a ton of great players and a real shot to win. However if Florida can manage to keep these three factors going its way, the Gators will get the breakthrough win they so desire.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2