Thursday, October 29, 2009

Georgia vs. Florida: Preview

Despite Florida's dominance of the series over the past couple of decades, the annual border war between the Gators and the Dawgs remains one of the best rivalries in college football.

The two squads enter the contest in vastly different situations. The Bulldogs, already in the throes of a disappointing season, are coming off a much-needed bye week after putting together their most complete game of the season, albeit against a very weak Vanderbilt team. Meanwhile, the Gators come in as perhaps the most embattled #1 ranked undefeated team we've seen in quite some time.

Florida struggled mightily during the past two weeks against a couple of mediocre teams in Arkansas and Mississippi State. While the defense remains outstanding (they are "the superb defense" in the SEC in both scoring and total defense), the offense has been largely ineffective, and has been turning the ball over like mad.

QB Tim Tebow is obviously the Alpha and the Omega of the Gator offense. Although still one of the best players in all of college football and on the verge of setting the SEC's all-time rushing TD record, the phenomenal senior has seen his production dip since his Heisman-winning sophomore campaign. ESPN correspondents and sportscasters around the country are on suicide watch as we speak. He's already equaled his interception total from last year in fewer than half the pass attempts, and has seen his passer rating drop by more than 20 pts from his previous two seasons. The culmination of this, if there can be a "culmination" half-way through the season, came last week against the MSU Bulldogs, when he threw for just 127 yds w/ 0 TDs and 2 INTs. All that being said, it would be fool-hearty to even suggest that he's no longer capable of putting the team on his shoulders the rest of the way.

The Tim Tebow Collectible Figurine

For all the disgruntlement with the UF offense, the Gators still lead the SEC in total offense, due predominately to the potent rushing attack. While Tebow has been keeping the ball on the read-option a bit more than in the past, Florida still spreads the wealth on the ground as well as ever. Speed is the name of the game with tailbacks Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Both are in the 5'9, 180 lbs. range, and both can take it the distance at any time. They'll also utilize USC transfer Emmanuel Moody as a more traditional running back (6', 210lbs). Demps, Rainey, and Moody are averaging an obnoxious 7.9, 6.9, and 8.4 ypc respectively.

The passing game has been a bit less explosive this year for the Gators. With WRs Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy gone to the NFL, Florida has been unable to find a consistent deep threat to replace them and loosen up defenses. Riley Cooper has been fine, but far from dominant. TE Aaron Hernandez, who is also used on some inside shovel passes, is outstanding at his position, but averages just 11.9 yards per catch. David Nelson just hasn't improved upon a nice junior year, and Deonte Thompson, while considered a deep threat, seems to disappear during games.

The Gator offensive line, as always, is big and athletic. They've done a marvelous job controlling things in the running game, but have come under fire of late in their pass protection. Led by the Pouncey brothers in the middle (two of those players who seem to have been at Florida for 8 years already, but still only juniors), and the mammoth Carl Johnson at left tackle, they are very experienced, and know coach Urban Meyer's system to a tee.

For Georgia defensively, it's sadly become a running joke that the Georgia D is a career day waiting to happen for opposing QBs. Three of the five SEC QBs the Dawgs have faced this year have had their best days against Georgia. With the Gators out of sync in the passing game lately, the Bulldogs absolutely cannot afford to allow them to dink and dunk their way down the field all day. Pressure is always a key, but the Dawgs will need to play more press coverage than they have in the past. Tebow has not thrown the deep ball particularly well this season, so if Georgia takes away the underneath stuff and gets beat deep, so be it. The Florida QB is as good as there's ever been at picking up 3rd and 4th and less than 2 yds, so forcing 3rd and 4+ yds will be a must. Turnovers were also the main reason why both Arkansas and Miss. St. were able to make things close, so the Dawgs will need to be on the lookout for errant passes and loose balls (mind out of the gutter, folks), and not miss takeaway opportunities.

The Gator defense led the SEC in scoring defense last season, and is even better in 2009. They're able to get pressure off the edges with DEs Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap, and will rotate DTs in and out with no drop-off.

LB Brandon Spikes is an All-American, and while he's been hobbled the past couple of weeks, he's expected to be back at full-speed this Saturday. While there's no single linebacker that just racks up tackles, they can all run and defend the underneath passing game as well as any corps in the country.

As good as Florida's front seven is, what makes the defense so exceptional is really the secondary. CBs Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins represent the best cornerback tandem in the country. They're both decently sized at 5'11, 190lbs, but their quickness, hips, and ball awareness are second to none. Florida is able to play man coverage whenever they choose, which is a huge advantage for the linebackers and safeties to play the running game and short underneath passes. The Gators will also leave S Will Hill or Major Wright about as deep as you will see, often positioning one 15+ yds down field, making it difficult for opposing offenses to throw deep.

For Georgia offensively, just get #8 the damn ball. You can bet Florida will be doing what they can to limit that, but AJ Green is so good that it often doesn't matter. Florida is 12th in the nation in rushing defense, and the Bulldogs haven't run the ball with any consistency anyway (103rd in the nation), so while you still have to try to run the ball a bit, it would be foolish to expect to have success on the ground. The Dawgs have done a nice job protecting Joe Cox in the pocket (10th in the nation in sacks allowed, w/ just 6), so they'll need to take their chances through the air. This will be especially true when looking at 3rd and longs, which Georgia often finds itself in. No team this year has really had any sustained 70-80 yd drives against Florida, so the Dawgs' best shot will be hooking up for some big plays, and AJ Green has shown that he can make plays that basically no other receiver can.

Overall, it would be silly for me to sit here and actually predict that Georgia will win. That being said, a lot of things have set up nicely for the Dawgs to potentially pull off the upset.

First, the bye week is no joke. In the UF-UGA series, the last 8 times one team had a bye when the other didn't, the team with the bye is 8-0 (UGA is 2-0, UF is 6-0). Meanwhile, the Gators were just involved in two slug-fests, with last week's being a late game on the road. The rest and the added time to prepare gives the Dawgs a decided edge.

Second, Florida has been struggling, at least offensively. Since Georgia will most likely have trouble putting together long scoring drives, turnovers and short fields will be a must if the Bulldogs are to have any shot. Florida has obliged opposing teams in this regard lately, so hopefully that will continue.

Last, there really should be a "nothing to lose" attitude for Georgia. Typically, this game goes a long way toward determining Georgia's fate in the SEC East. This year, though, they lost the ability to control their own destiny with the loss to Tennessee. Where Georgia often shows signs of being tight and even nervous, this year they can go in knowing that a loss doesn't really have an effect on their SEC championship hopes. Just let it all hang out and see what happens.

Again, a win by the Dawgs would be a long shot, but ruining the Gators' season would sure take some of the sting out of an otherwise disappointing year. I think that if Georgia gets a few breaks and makes a few big plays, they could pull this one out on the order of, say, 23-20. Here's hoping...

No comments:

Post a Comment