Georgia Preview

After a week off to rest and work on fundamentals, the biggest game of the season so far now looms in Jacksonville, as Florida takes on Georgia.  The Puppies will be bent on revenge after getting run over all day long in last year’s beatdown loss to the Gators.  We’ll see how well the players have used the bye week, and if the coaching staff has developed an effective game plan and has the team sharp from the start.

Georgia’s strength on offense is still it’s running game, despite the loss of Nick Chubb.  Sony Michel is a threat as a runner and receiver, and the Gator defense will have to account for him every play.  The Puppies have been inconsistent all season throwing the ball, but this is a desperate time for Coach Helen Hunt, and I expect more throws on first down to break tendencies.  TE Jay Rome is a big target, WR Malcolm Mitchell is QB Greyson Lambert’s favorite target and has seemingly been in school for 6 years (probably still only a sophomore in credits earned), WR Reggie Davis isn’t a burner but has size, and Michel is a weapon on screens and wheel routes.  The best unit on this side of the ball, though, is the O-Line, one of the best run-blocking groups in the SEC.

This will another tough challenge for Florida’s D-Line, which did not distinguish itself against LSU, and needs to play the run better this week.  Jon Bullard and Caleb Brantley must be stout and hold their gaps, allowing LBs Jarrad Davis and Tank Morrison better lanes to the ball carriers.  DBU was embarrassed by breakdowns in coverage at LSU, and needs to respond with a dominant performance this week.  Georgia does not have any real game-breaker at WR, so the DBs should have an advantage.  The safeties need to account for the TE and not be overly focused on supporting the run defense.  Coach Pricht uses play-action often to exploit the seam routes and the middle of the field, and uses the screen pass extensively on 3rd and long.  These tendencies have to be known by the Gator staff, so those plays should not come as any surprise and be well-defended.

Florida has to run the ball much better than at LSU, because Treon Harris can’t be relied on to carry the day having to throw the ball exclusively.  Kelvin Taylor needs some help, as he has carried a heavy load of carries so far this season.  Hopefully Jordan Scarlett or Jordan Cronkrite are ready to step up and provide some carries to keep a fresh rotation.  Once again the TEs, starting with Jake McGee, will be relied upon to help Harris out and keep the chains moving.  Here’s hoping that WR Demarcus Robinson has another game like he did against Ole Miss, providing enough of a threat the keep the secondary honest and allowing Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway room underneath.  If the offense can’t stay on schedule on early downs, it could be a long day.

Georgia’s defense is led by DE Leonard Floyd, and LBs Jordan Jenkins and Jake Ganus.  While their front seven has been solid most of the season, their secondary has struggled in coverage, and they were shredded by both Alabama and Tennessee, two offenses that have not been especially prolific this year.  They will be primed to stop the run after last year’s debacle, but Florida has struggled to run the ball all season, so we will see if the Gators can exploit a weak pass defense often enough to move the ball and score TDs in the red zone.

Florida’s special teams are starting to gel.  Callaway has been solid on punt returns, and the kick coverage units have improved.  A big key will be the performance of PK Austin Hardin, who did well at LSU despite still not being 100% healthy.  Coach Mac has shown little confidence in Hardin making FGs, and this could become a game-changing problem soon.  With the season-ending injury to Jorge Powell, the staff actually had to have open tryouts for a walk-on kicker……something that should never have to happen at Florida.

The winner of this game essentially wins the East Division, so the stakes are high.  It’s hard to say how Harris will perform with a lot of pressure to win this game, and the Puppies will have extra motivation after last year’s big loss, getting physically manhandled the entire game.  Florida (sadly) has not been in a big game like this since 2012, and It will be interesting to see how the players react to the pressure.  A win puts the Gators in Atlanta barring a rash of key injuries or a Misschump-like implosion.  Losing this game would dampen a lot of the good feelings the team has generated through 7 games, and make the Gators rely on other teams to help them win the East.

It’s my 36th consecutive Florida-Georgia game, and this one will be interesting with all of the unique subplots surrounding it.  Here’s hoping for a Gator victory and the chance to build on a very good season to date, and keep up the positive recruiting momentum.

Prediction:  Florida 24        Georgia 20