The whole day through
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind
Great song made famous by the late, great Ray Charles. Lately, though, Georgia’s been on my mind as well. Why? Well for starters it’s Georgia week. The annual clash in Jacksonville between my beloved Florida Gators and the hated Georgia Bulldogs. But mostly because that’s where the SEC Championship Game is played. And if the Gators get by the Bulldogs this weekend they will clinch the SEC East and will compete against the West winner in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on December 1st for the SEC Title. This would be their first trip to Atlanta since 2009 when the previous number 15 (not name Loucheiz Purifoy) was leading the Gators.
This week’s game has the makings of a classic. Georgia’s high octane offense versus Florida’s stout defense. Georgia’s talented defense against Florida’s tough grind it out offense. Last year the two teams played a 24-20 thriller won by Georgia on the strength of two fourth down TD passes and a final drive that ended with Georgia taking a knee on the Gator 1 yard line as time ran out. Florida had plenty of chances to win that one but could not get a play or a stop when they absolutely needed it. Make no mistake the Florida players remember that game well and are not expecting a repeat this year.
All season the M.O. for the Gators on offense has been to open with a tough grind it out inside running game complemented with minimal safe pass plays, some zone read, and some jet sweeps. Then at halftime they make adjustments based on what the defense is doing going with what’s working and running fakes and misdirection off what isn’t working. I don’t see that changing much this week. Running the traps and counters with Gillislee is the basis of what they do and sets up the rest of their offense. INSERT JOKE HERE. I know what your are thinking. What rest of their offense?
While it’s true we haven’t seen much from the passing game this year other than some good YAC plays against TAMU, Tennessee, and Kentucky, it’s not because they can’t pass. With a young quarterback and a solid senior running back this staff is not going to pass just to pass. If they can run the ball effectively, move the chains, and score then that’s what they are going to do. It controls the clock shortening the game for the opponent, it keeps the defense rested, and it wears the opposing defensive line down so that the pass rush is less effective late when games are won and lost. The running game is like a body blow in boxing. A good boxer knows you don’t just come out swinging wildly trying to get the early knockout (pass, pass, pass) because you leave yourself open to tough punches and knockouts as well (turnovers, easy opponent scores). A wiser plan is to take your shots when they are there but continue to work the body wearing your opponent down for later rounds and increasing the likelihood of getting the knockout late in the fight. The Gators have executed this plan effectively in every game this season dominating the second half of games outscoring opponents 121-28, and holding a 61-13 advantage in the 4th quarter.
While I do expect another 75-25 percent ratio of run to pass this week, I suspect we will need to see some effective passing from the Gators this week to win the game. The Gators have been one of the better teams running the football this season but lately opposing teams have seemed to catch up to them. Since they pounded the ball down the throat of the LSU defense, much has been written about the Florida running schemes and defensive coordinators have been better at devising ways to stop those plays. This is where the focus on the running game helps the passing game become more effective and efficient. While last week the Gators were set up on short fields which didn’t allow them to build strong offensive stats, the focus by Carolina on stopping the short game allowed them to use play action to knock the Gamecocks out early with some quick scores. Expect to see more play action this week.
Once again the Gators face another future NFL pass rusher in Jarvis Jones who had a monster game last year against the Gators where it seemed like he broke the huddle with them on every snap. It’s crazy how many great defensive lines the Gators face week in and week out. Be that as it may, one of the best way’s to slow that pass rush down is with the running game. Florida’s run game does that effectively because on every snap they have an option of handing inside to Gillislee, running the quarterback keeper, or hitting the jet sweep with Soloman Patton as well as dropping back to pass. That forces pass rushers to have to think and recognize where the ball is actually going rather than just taking off upfield after the quarterback. Running at the pass rusher forces him to play a strength game where he is being pushed backwards rather than a speed game where he’s moving forward which wears him down for the second half. Most importantly, it draws the defense down into the box which of course opens up the play action.
If ever there were a week to go over the top with play action this is it. Georgia’s defense has been susceptible all season, they can’t seem to defend both the run and the pass successfully. If Florida is able to run early Georgia might be doomed, but even if the Bulldogs shut it down we’ll likely see some play action shots leading to some big plays for the Gators. Last week the Gators used play action to throw downfield a few times completing one which was called back on a penalty and should have hit another to Purifoy but he was interfered with and didn’t get the call. Expect three to four play action deep shots this week with at least one going to Purifoy one of the fastest straight line runners on the team.
Defensively, this team has been one of the best in the nation but has been playing better and better each week. They’ve consistently shut down the running game making teams one dimensional forcing them to pass where the defensive lineman have been able to tee off on the quarterback for drive killing sacks and the defensive backs and linebackers have been able to create some game changing turnovers. This week they should be licking their chops.
Georgia presents the best quarterback play they’ve seen all season and overall the best passing game. Aaron Murray is the 2nd rated passer in the SEC this season with a rating of 168.6 completing 65% of his passes for 1914 yards and 16 touchdowns. Remarkably, he’s only been sacked 12 times all season, due mostly to the fact that he is a mobile quarterback who moves around well in the pocket. This facet is where he is most dangerous. While he is quick and can scramble effectively, he can slide in the pocket away from the pass rush while continuing to look downfield and can find options when receivers break containment or defensive backs step up to stop the quarterback scramble. The Gators must continue to do what they did against Connor Shaw and use a controlled pass rush with good gap and end containment and use their hands to bat down balls which he has been very susceptible to due to his height, listed at 6’1″ but probably a short 6′. Defensive backs must continue their strong play of tight man coverage with good deep rotating safety action.
In the running game, Georgia presents a couple of good freshman running backs in Todd Gurley who has 622 yards on the season and Keith Marshall who has tallied 488 yards this year. Both backs are big and strong and have the speed to get to the edges. They present a tough matchup for the defensive ends and outside linebackers who must be sound in sealing the edges forcing plays back inside. The Gators must continue their success at stopping the inside game early as that opens up their play action to tight ends in the seams and wide receivers deep.
Finally, special teams is where I feel the Gators have the biggest advantage in this game. Georgia’s specialists will not be on any All-American lists nor will their returners. Their punter Collin Barber is averaging under 40 yards per punt this season and their return game has done nothing special this year. Their kicker has been effective hitting 5-6 field goals with a 52 yarder and can be counted on if they are needing a game-winning field goal but his kickoffs are returnable and that is one area Florida has shown promise in the return game this year. Of course, by now everyone has heard about how special the Gators special teams have been this season with Kyle Christy leading the nation averaging over 47 yards per punt and Caleb Sturgis has been Mr. Automatic with only two misses on the season both of which were partially blocked and setting a Gator record with 7 field goals in his career over 50 yards. The coverage team led by by budding superstar Loucheiz Purifoy has shut down every return game they’ve faced this season including the Gamecock’s last week featuring Mr. Electric Ace Sanders.
Overall, I feel this one may be closer than many Gator fans expect. A lot of college football analysts are actually calling for the Georgia upset. I’m not one of them, of course I am biased. Realistically, I think the maturity of the Georgia passing game along with their strong inside/outside running game is going to present some problems for this Gator defense. I don’t see them holding Georgia to field goals like they did against LSU and South Carolina. I do see the Gator offense, however, matching up well against the Georgia defense and having a major edge in special teams and field position. I think the Gators will run the ball better than they have the last two games and will open up the passing game more than they have all season. Ultimately, I see turnovers and special teams being the difference in this one with Murray making some mistakes, the Gators getting a few turnovers, and Florida making some big plays on special teams.
While I have Georgia on my Mind, I see the Gators having Atlanta in their sights, and they take this one 31-24.