It’s almost here! That game that every Georgia and Florida fan circles right around Halloween each year signifying the renewal of one of college football’s most heated rivalries. But as we approach this year’s matchup in Jacksonville, one thing is clear: Georgia-Florida 2014 is not your typical “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”.
To start, the Bulldogs and Gators are moving in completely different directions. On one end, the Dawgs are starting to play as one cohesive unit on both offense and defense, leading to two extremely impressive wins on the road without suspended tailback Todd Gurley that inspires a ton of confidence in a fan base that has trouble feeling good about even the best Georgia teams. In fact, Georgia is a couple missed field goals away from being undefeated, and likely one of the top 3 teams in the country. On the other end, there is nothing about this Gator team that has its fans feeling good – not the team, not the coach, not even the opportunity for a little smack talk during what is coined in Gainesville as “Georgia Hate Week”. Think about this: the Gators are a missed delay of game call on fourth-and-7 against Kentucky and an uninspiring one-point victory over Tennessee away from being 1-5. That’s right: the Florida Gators could VERY easily be 1-5 instead of 3-3. After a 65-0 beatdown of Eastern Michigan in its first game, most fans thought Florida would be one of the biggest surprises in the country. Those fans got their wish – Florida is surprisingly much WORSE than anticipated.
Take a look at the season averages for Georgia compared to Florida:
- 171.3 passing yards per game (112th overall)
- 265.9 rushing yards per game (15th overall)
- 43.4 points per game (9th overall)
- 20.0 points against per game (19th overall)
- 198.5 passing yards per game (94th overall)
- 169.5 rushing yards per game (61st overall)
- 28.7 points per game (76th overall)
- 25.5 points against per game (59th overall)
Florida fans should be panicking after looking at those stats. Though the Gators hold the edge in passing yards per game, Georgia has shown over the past couple games it can pass the ball effectively if it must. Look at the first drive Hutson Mason had against Arkansas as proof. After Georgia went on defense to start the game, Arkansas quickly went down the field and scored. The Dawgs responded quickly – in 1:28 to be exact – with two straight passes covering 68 yards to set up the 1-yard TD run by Mason. Has Georgia been forced to pass the ball in order to win late in the game? No, not yet. But it’s unlikely they will face that conundrum if its stable of running backs continues to pound out 265.9 rushing yards per game and its defense continues to force turnovers. Georgia’s defense currently boasts a +13 turnover margin – tops in the country – forcing 17 turnovers while only turning it over four times. Florida has forced 16 turnovers this season, but has also turned it over 16 times.
On paper, it’s pretty clear that Georgia has the edge over the struggling Gators. But there is one wild card: Treon Harris. The freshman quarterback will start over Jeff Driskel, who has been dismal this season, accounting for 12 turnovers and just eight touchdowns. In his limited duty as the Florida signal caller, Treon Harris has seen some success with a 233.29 QB efficiency rating thanks to being 12 for 18 with three touchdowns and one interception. He also is more elusive in the pocket than Jeff Driskel and has shown more accuracy and play-making skills. Harris did lead the fourth quarter comeback at Tennessee. But Harris is still young and does not have a full grasp on the Gators offense (who really does?). With the onslaught of pressure that is sure to come from UGA’s Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera, coupled with the deceptive defensive looks that Pruitt has masterfully implemented, Harris is bound to make a mistake or two that will cost his team.
But that’s not all… it’s time address the big elephant in the room. Todd Gurley. Georgia requested Gurley’s reinstatement last week and expects to hear from the NCAA any second now. Most people believe Gurley will be back against Florida, which would just add to the Gators’ troubles. Even if Gurley does not return to face Florida, the Dawgs have proven they can be a dominating running team behind Nick Chubb. Todd Gurley’s return from suspension and Sony Michel’s questionable return from injury would just be icing on the cake for a Georgia offense that is already dangerous.
There’s a lot to be said about even bad teams stepping up its game during rivalry week, but this year’s “Outdoor Cocktail Party” has all the makings of a blowout in favor of the Dawgs. If Georgia can continue to protect the ball like it has the entire season, Florida doesn’t stand a chance at winning this game. This weekend could be the final nail in the coffin for Will Muschamp, who is 0-3 in this rivalry as a coach at Florida (and coincidentally 0-4 in the rivalry as a player at Georgia).
Enjoy the party, Georgia fans. It should be a fun one! Georgia wins big 42-17.
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