ATHENS- Cocktail anyone? None for Georgia football players please. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has a new look this season but is still a critical matchup to decide who might represent the SEC east in the conference title game. For the first time in 31 years neither team is ranked in the top 25. Not only is neither team ranked, but also neither team has a winning record in the SEC (Florida 2-3, Georgia 3-3). This year’s annual Georgia-Florida game may not carry the same national prestige as it has in years past but there is no doubt that it carries huge weight in the race for the SEC east crown.
As I was called out as being non-committal as to my thoughts on this very game in an earlier post, it is now the time to state my claim. Georgia will beat the all-powerful Urban Meyer and the mighty Gators this weekend.
I stated two weeks ago that with Georgia’s luck they would beat Florida in a game that meant nothing. Of all the matchup’s that could have propelled the Bulldogs to an SEC title or even a national title shot, that Georgia would win this season. I made these thoughts public 14 days ago when Georgia was just 2-4.
This season is different then the last several years, because Georgia fans actually believe the Bulldogs have a great chance to win. In 2007, Georgia’s most recent victory over Florida, many fans were optimistic but did not expect Georgia to win. This is a generalization; I understand that there are always people that go against the norm. My friends and I travel to Jacksonville annually for the game and in 2007 our “motto” was said, “What if we win?”
After three straight Georgia victories and three straight Florida losses, fans are buzzing with the idea that Georgia not only could but also should win in Jacksonville. As we were working out ticket arrangements for the game, one of my good friends said for the first time in many years that he feels Georgia should win. Fans are not only excited about the tailgating this season, but that Georgia has a chance to beat the Gators.
As I take my Georgia hat off and talk about the game as objectively as I possibly can, I honestly believe that the Bulldogs will win this game. Lets look at the stats:
– Passing Offense: Florida (186.9 YPG, 83rd), Georgia (228.4 YPG, 55th)
– Rushing Offense: Florida (142.1 YPG, 74th), Georgia (153.8 YPG, 58th)
– Points For: Florida (27.6 PPG, 62nd), Georgia (31.5 PPG, 39th)
– Points Against: Florida (18.7 PPG, 26th), Georgia (19.1 PPG, 30th)
– John Brantley- 62.0% Comp. , 6 TD, 5 INT, 1266 YDS
– Aaron Murray- 62.7% Comp., 12 TD, 3 INT 1766 YDS
– Jeffery Demps- 6.5 YPC, 2 TD, 450 YDS, 69 Attempts
– Mike Gillislee- 5.5 YPC, 4 TD, 202 YDS, 37 Attempts
– Emmanuel Moody- 3.4 YPC, 0 TD, 162 YDS, 48 Attempts
– Trey Burton- 4.3 YPC, 8 TD, 138 YDS, 32 Attempts
– Washaun Ealey- 5.0 YPC, 7 TD, 526 YDS, 105 Attempts
– Caleb King- 5.2 YPC, 1 TD, 228 YDS, 44 Attempts
– Carlton Thomas- 3.9 YPC, 2 TD, 177 YDS, 45 Attempts
I would note the receiving stats, but Georgia’s big three (Green, King, Durham) has much better numbers then Florida’s receiving core because they spread the ball around much more then Georgia.
When you look at past trends and numbers in the Georgia-Florida game, the Gators have consistently held the edge. But, this year Georgia enters the cocktail party with the better offense. Aside from the offensive line, I would take Georgia’s personnel over Florida. However the Bulldog offensive line has shown some promise over the last few weeks so even that would be a tough pick.
Aaron Murray is redshirt freshman but he has shown great poise and growth this season. Each week Murray continues to get better and make smarter decisions. His raw talent to elude pressure and continue to look down field for receivers makes me believe that he is the better quarterback in this game. And, Murray takes care of the football much better then Brantley, which gives him the nod in my book.
Aside from the early season struggles, the Bulldog running game has improved greatly each week. Washaun Ealey’s break out 157 yards and 5 TD game makes me believe that he is getting into mid-season form. The reduction in carries coupled with King’s suspension appears to have set a fire in Washaun Ealey and has led him to rush for 280 yards and six touchdowns. The dynamics of Ealey and King in the backfield this week could show glimpses of what fans saw against Georgia Tech. Florida’s defense is much better then the Jackets but if the Bulldogs backs can hang on to the football I like them over Florida’s. The Gators backfield has been plagued with injuries (Demps’ foot, Gillislee’s hamstring, and Moody’s thigh) and Meyer is toying with the idea of using former running back Chris Rainey. Rainey was recently reinstated after being suspended from the team after he was arrested on allegations of sending threatening text messages to a former girl friend. Due to the uncertainty amongst Gator running backs, I think Georgia has the edge in the running game.
Like I previously stated, Georgia’s receiving core is one of the best in the nation. A.J. Green is a physical specimen that will most certainly be a top NFL draft pick at the conclusion of this season. Kris Durham has crept under the radar with last year’s injury and has emerged as one of Aaron Murray’s favorite targets. Florida does not have a single dominant receiver because their offense spreads the ball around to different receivers to keep the defense off balance. Georgia’s offense as a whole is thriving and is much hotter then Florida’s at this point in the season.
Defense is the key! I believe Florida gets the nod in this category, but not by much. The Gators struggles have not been on the defensive side of the football. But, this season their defense is not the dominant squad that has been there in years past. Overall the defense is a little above average. Georgia on the other hand is constantly learning how to run the new 3-4 system. Each week the Bulldogs defense is getting better and better. While the offenses they have been facing have not been extremely challenging, the Dawgs have been ferocious the past few weeks. The defense is going to be where the game is won or lost for Georgia. Can they look past the logo on the side of the helmet across the line of scrimmage?
Florida has had an extra week to prepare for Georgia and will certainly have some wrinkles to throw into their game plan. Urban Meyer will attempt to fix the inept offense that Florida has trotted out on the field the past few weeks.
The second challenge the Bulldogs will face is handing Florida their fourth straight loss. The last team to beat the Gators for their fourth straight loss was the Georgia Bulldogs in 1988. The Gators have not lost four straight games in 22 years, but it has happened before and it can happen again.
The Bulldogs are clicking and they believe that they can win the SEC. Can they? Only time will tell, but for right now the Bulldogs have to beat Florida. All the story lines aside, the cocktail party always provides one of the nations greatest college football atmospheres. The Georgia-Florida game is undoubtedly going to be a battle and I like Georgia’s chances in this fight.