Florida renews it’s rivalry with Georgia in Jacksonville this week, and comes in as a prohibitive 22.5 point underdog. While it’s sad to see, it’s not a surprise, given the wretched defensive play and inconsistent passing game so far in 2022.
Georgia’s offense has done an about-face, now moving the ball far more through the air than on the ground. While they still are rushing for almost 200 yards per game, they are averaging over 300 yards passing. There is no true number one receiver, but QB Stetson Bennett is spreading the catches around to multiple players. TEs Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are likely the best TE combo in the country, and given Florida’s struggles covering TEs and the middle zones this season, they will likely be featured targets again unless the Gators can prove they can cover them. Their leading WR is Ladd McConkey, who is more of a possession threat in the slot. Their running attack is also a multi-player affair, with most of the carries spread among Daijin Edwards, Kendall Milton, and Kenny McIntosh. McIntosh is also a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, which will test another Gator defensive weakness.
Florida’s defense needs to play strong early, as Georgia likely comes out fast to try and jump to an early lead and force the Gators to press. I wonder if DC Patrick Toney will finally take some big swings at personnel and scheme changes. One that could be effective would be to play Chris McClellan alongside Gervon Dexter and Des Watson on the D-line to try and strengthen the interior. The smaller DEs and OLBs other than Brenton Cox have not held up against the run nor shown any consistent pass rush. Also, I expect some new starters in the secondary, like Kamari Wilson at safety and perhaps Jalen Kimber at CB. Of course, unless the secondary is allowed to play close to the receivers to be more physical to disrupt their timing, it may not matter. Even if Toney has revamped the entire scheme over the past 2 weeks, there is simply not enough talent and playmaking ability present to shut down Georgia’s offense. Generating some turnovers would be a huge help, but Georgia has been very good at protecting the football.
Georgia’s defense is solid, but nothing like last season’s generational one. They are still well-coached and rarely out of position, but have had some weak moments with lack of consistency and big-play capability compared to previous seasons. They also have only 7 sacks and 6 interceptions in 7 games, so Florida could have some success moving the ball IF……if AR can force them to defend the entire field with a balanced passing attack. He has to be more accurate, and has to give his receivers the chance to make plays after the catch. He’ll also have to take the run whenever it presents itself – either by design or when a play breaks down. Let’s be real – it’s going to take a monumental performance by AR and the O-line to score enough points to give the Gators any real chance of winning, as I just don’t see the defense holding the Puppies to less than 30 points. The Gator running game has to find success and be a consistent threat, or else it will be a long afternoon. Getting O’Cyrus Torrence back at OG should be a huge help.
Florida’s special teams must have a big day. They have shown some juice recently returning kickoffs and punts, but Adam Mihalek has struggled kicking FGs outside of 40 yards. Any scoring chance has to be taken advantage of, with practically no room for error.
This will be Billy Napiers’ first taste of the rivalry, and over time I hope he embraces it and understands that this game is special and historically a springboard for bigger team accomplishments. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer focused on this game, with great success. Napier doesn’t have the luxury they did with inherited talent, but hopefully over time amasses enough to win his share of these games in the future. I don’t believe this one will be his first win in the series, but rivalry games always have the opportunity for a big surprise.
Prediction: Georgia 38 Florida 17