After another off week (this one actually on the schedule), it’s time to get back to work for the Gators, starting with the annual trip to Jacksonville to play Georgia. The second half of the season should prove to be very difficult, and a strong start is needed beginning this Saturday.
While most of the attention has been on the Florida offense (and it’s recent struggles), this is the time of year for the defense to take the lead to see how good this season can be. There should be some good news with the return of Jordan Sherit, Joey Ivie, and Bryan Cox, Jr., even in limited capacity. All have been missed along the defensive front and will only add to the depth of the strongest unit on the team. These guys must continue to be disruptive at the LOS and slow down Georgia’s running game, led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The Puppies are starting true freshman Jacob Eason at QB – while he has shown flashes of promise and has a strong arm, he’s not ready to beat a defense as good as Florida’s with an ineffective running game to take pressure off of him. Georgia’s O-Line is not as strong as in the past few years and has experienced some serious struggles recently, but this is still the strength of their team. If the Gators can limit their effectiveness, it will be a long day for Eason and his receivers to try and win. The Puppies lack any serious threat at WR – their most dangerous playmakers are Isaiah McKenzie as a slot WR/hybrid RB and Isaac Nauta at TE. The Gator LBs will be busy focusing on slowing the running game – here’s hoping Jarrad Davis has recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury to contribute and help Alex Anzalone out. If Florida can take Nauta out of the game with solid coverage from either one of the LBs or with a nickel CB, DBU should be able to prevent or at least limit any explosive plays from McKenzie, and give the offense it’s best chance at winning this game.
Speaking of which……once again the Gator offense in under the microscope. Despite rolling up impressive stats against a poor Missouri defense, there are still many questions that require answers, starting now. Luke Del Rio played poorly 2 weeks ago – he was late on the timing of his throws, made some very bad throws into double coverage, and wasn’t as quick and decisive in his decision-making as early in the season. Perhaps he is still favoring his knee after the injury, but it’s time to raise the level of his play and lead. The O-Line improved it’s run blocking, but still is allowing a free rusher or blitzer too often – the communication has to improve. The RB corps has been very good all season – Jordan Scarlett and Lemical Perine have separated themselves from Mark Thompson and Jordan Cronkrite in the rotation, and will be relied on keep the offense on schedule and allow LDR to manage the game. Georgia is led on defense by LBs Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, and Natrez Patrick, and DL Trenton Thompson. How well the Florida OL and running game does in controlling that group will determine the success of the offense. LDR is not ready yet to consistently lead the offense down the field relying solely on throwing the ball. Other WRs must become consistent contributors along with Antonio Callaway, and the TEs more of a threat in the passing game. Despite the inconsistency in the Gator passing game, Georgia’s secondary has really struggled this season and should be exploited in some capacity.
Florida’s special teams have played well to date, but they can certainly help the team in the big games coming up. McKenzie is a dangerous return man and must be contained. Johnny Townsend will need to continue his effective punting in regards to both hang time and placement, and the coverage units must break down and tackle well. Eddy Pineiro has been solid with his FGs so far, but the pressure will be ratcheted up going forward – we will see how he handles it. The Florida return game has been woeful this season, and perhaps the off week will yield some changes to help. Brandon Powell simply doesn’t break tackles on KO returns and should be replaced, and for some reason Callaway has really struggled with punt returns – both in his field judgement and also in breaking any big runbacks. A big play by this unit would really help.
It’s put up or shut up time starting now for Florida. Have they simply benefitted from a soft schedule to date, or are they really a very good team that could be elite by season’s end? A convincing win this Saturday could be the start of some real momentum pointing toward a successful year, while a close call or upset could derail the confidence and mental makeup of the team, starting a spiral down to a middling finish. Time to be aggressive and reach out and take something, not shrink away from the challenge.
Prediction: Florida 27 Georgia 17