Anyone breaking down the Florida schedule in the preseason probably would have listed the Georgia game as a high probability of a loss for the Gators. The perception back then was that UGA was simply a better football team and would run away from UF and everyone else in the SEC East.
Well, that perception has been changed by the reality of the season.
Georgia, coming off two consecutive subpar performances, including a home loss to South Carolina two weeks ago, suddenly doesn’t look like the clear-cut king of the East at the moment.
Florida, sitting at 7-1 and ranked ahead of Georgia in the polls, is now viewed as a legitimate contender in the division race. The Gators just beat the team that beat Georgia, and they did it on the road, in a hostile environment, scoring 38 points and winning by 11.
So, as the HBC would say, the Gators have got a chance Saturday in Jacksonville.
Their chances of pulling out a victory will be enhanced if they can do the following three things:
Follow the USC blueprint
The Gamecocks came up with a plan to beat the Bulldogs, and they followed it to near perfection. First, they slowed down UGA’s powerful and potent running game and put the Bulldogs in a lot of obvious passing situations, putting the game in the hands of quarterback Jake Fromm. Then they brought steady pressure on Fromm, forcing him out of his comfort zone — and forcing him into making critical mistakes, including a pick-six late in the first half that set the tone for the rest of the game.
Uncharacteristically, Fromm ended up throwing 52 passes (way over his average for a game), three that were intercepted. And the Georgia offense, missing its usual balance, sputtered and stalled, scoring only 17 points.
The Gators need to follow the USC blueprint.
UF’s defense, which has been gashed on the ground at times in the past two games, is not going to stuff D’Andre Swift and the UGA rushing attack. But the Gators need to limit Swift’s explosive plays to one or two and slow down the overall ground game, putting the Bulldogs in obvious passing situations and forcing Fromm to beat them with his arm.
In the past two games with Georgia, both losses, the Bulldogs had success on the ground and took all the pressure off Fromm, who combined to throw only 31 passes. The Gators have to be strong enough against the run to force Fromm to throw more passes than he ideally would want to. If his total goes beyond 30, it enhances UF’s chances because Florida’s secondary appears to have a considerable edge against a UGA receiver group that has struggled to get open and make plays.
Protect Trask, don’t give up on the run
The big guys up front have not been able to generate much push in the running game, but they’ve been solid in pass protection. The line needs to keep Trask on his feet Saturday and give him enough time to go through his progressions and find the open receiver. If Trask is adequately protected, Florida’s talented receivers, including tight end Kyle Pitts, will have a chance to make a bunch of plays and keep the chains moving — and the UGA offense on the bench.
And the Gators need to stick to the running game even if it’s not there in the first half, or even the first three-plus quarters. That approach eventually paid off with long touchdown runs (88 and 75 yards) in the second half in the victories over Auburn and South Carolina.
So, throughout the game, keep the ground game activated — and maybe something will eventually pop. Just the threat of that could take some of the pressure off Trask and the passing game.
Take care of the football
This is a must. In the past two games in the rivalry, both one-sided UGA wins, the Bulldogs were big winners in the turnover margin battle, going a combined plus-four.
The Gators killed any chance they had of sticking with the Bulldogs last year with three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — to Georgia’s none. In the past two losses, UF committed five turnovers to UGA’s one.
In a contest like this, the team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.
The Gators have been pretty good taking care of the ball this season and are plus-3 in turnover margin. They have to be better than just pretty good Saturday. They may need to be perfect.
Who: No. 6 Florida (7-1, 4-1 SEC) vs. No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 3-1)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850