South Carolina Review / Georgia Preview

It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.  Florida completely shut down South Carolina with it’s usual tough defense and a great special teams effort, hammering the Lamecocks and ending any thoughts of a special season for the Pariah.  Coach Spurrier can go home after essentially quitting by benching his starting quarterback the entire second half, sending a message many Gators received even during his best years at Florida – that he’ll panic as soon as even a few small things go wrong, and he’s done after that.  Enjoy the Piedmont, loser.

The Gator offense struggled mightily to generate any running game in the first half, as Carolina sold out against the run.  This staff, however, doesn’t panic, and bided it’s time and allowed the defense and special teams to play opportunistic football to set up 3 easy scores.  Despite not being able to contain Jadaveon Clowney, Driskel found enough time to complete 3 clutch TD passes to cash in for Florida, and cash out the Lamecocks.  The O-Line performance was only adequate at best, partly due to guys playing through injuries, but there are still some troubling blown assignments allowing rushers to sometimes come unblocked into the backfield.  There’s still work to be done and improvement to be made for Coach Davis and this unit.

The Gator defense was sensational – again – not allowing Carolina any sustained drives (except with a LOT of help from the referees), and stuffed the running game.  Spurrier simply doesn’t have a quality QB that can pass consistently and effectively against quality defenses, and their WR corps does not scare anyone.  Floyd anchored the D-Line, Bostic and Jenkins played well in coverage at LB, and the secondary continued to make plays and, in this case, perhaps the biggest play of the game, Purifoy’s fumble-inducing tackle of Shaw on the first play of the game.  He is a stud on special teams, and his play at CB has improved significantly as the season has progressed.

Kyle Christy has to be the all-SEC punter at this point, and could be 1st team A-A if he continues his tremendous punting.  Coach Muschamp trusts him to flip the filed even when the offense is struggling – the best compliment he could receive.  Sturgis continues to excel as the PK, and the coverage units have been dynamite all year.  The 2 straight fumbles they caused in the second quarter essentially won the game.

Now it’s on to Jacksonville, and to a SEC East title game against the Puppies.  Even with zero running game and crappy QB play last season, Florida still was in position to win, and the staff will have a solid plan ready to prevent a repeat of that debacle.

Georgia comes in as it’s usual enigmatic self.  Great numbers, but a complete implosion in it’s only big game to date, at Carolina.  Their SEC schedule is ridiculously weak, and is the only real reason they have a chance to win the East……but it is what it is, and they can back in to a title with one decent performance.

I thought Carolina would be the most balanced opponent for the Florida to date, but it appears as if the Puppies have enough talent at the skill positions to make this the biggest challenge of the season for the Gator defense.  Florida needs to stick to following it’s coaching and simply making one play after the next, and not let the hype and excitement of the stakes of this game take their minds off the task at hand.  They will be challenged for 60 minutes, and need to keep their focus and not let emotions erase all the good work to date.

Georgia has shown an effective running game with its 2 freshmen RBs, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, but they seem to have stalled a little the past 2 games, and the Gator D-Line should have the edge over the Puppy O-Line.  It will be interesting to see how Aaron Murray performs, especially if Florida can force the Puppies into a passing game……we’ll see if he can withstand the pressure, as it took not 1, but 2 garbage 4th down TD throws to beat the Gators last year.  Florida’s CBs will still be challenged by a solid group of WRs, despite Michael Bennett being lost for the season to a knee injury.  Tavarres King, Malcolm Mitchell, and Marlin Brown have good speed, and I expect Georgia to go deep more often that usual to try and get the big plays instead of trying to grind out long drives against a tough Gator defense.

The Florida offense was bailed out against Carolina, and must find a way to get started early.  There’s a lot on the line, and will Coach Pease break tendency and throw often on first down, or will the offense stay with it’s conservative play even if they fall behind?  The O-Line has to gut out another game at less than 100% health, and the early load Gillislee has had to carry seems to be taking it’s toll a little.  However, I love the fact that there are plays that haven’t been seen all season that will probably be unveiled this week, as evidenced by the jailbreak middle screen to Reed, and the reverse handoff and sweep out of the Wild Gator formation.

Georgia still has enough quality playmakers in defense to make this difficult challenge.  John Jenkins is a load at NT, Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are solid LBs. and Bacarri Rambo is an experienced leader at safety.  Can Florida continue to do what it’s done all year and impose it’s will on opposing defenses in the second half?  The Gators need to be close if they don’t have the lead in the second half, because they are simply not built to throw the ball in a come-from-behind mode, and have not really been asked to go no-huddle to hurry to get a late score.

It’s been a great run so far, but now there’s a ton of pressure with a title within reach.  Florida has been given only grudging praise due to the style of play, and will the players be too anxious to prove themselves now and make uncharacteristic mistakes?  In a perfect world (which doesn’t exist in SEC football), if Florida performs at the level it has so far, it probably has enough to get the win.  Coach Muschamp and the entire staff have done a tremendous job of developing these players and making in-game adjustments, but poor execution and silly mistakes can undo all the good work.

It will be a tense, emotional atmosphere Saturday, and another challenge for a team that has risen to the occasion all season.  I might be ready to finally drink the kool-aid, but just to be disappointed?

Prediction:  Florida 24    Georgia 23

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