Game Day Headquarters: Florida vs. Georgia

Rivalries matter to Jim McElwain. While some coaches will use the old cliché ‘it’s just the next game’, this one is far from it and Florida’s head coach wants his team to take it all in.

#11 Florida Gators (6-1, 4-1) vs. #23 Georgia Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2)

Saturday October 31, 2015; 3:30 P.M.

Jacksonville, Florida; EverBank Field

TV: CBS

Florida and Georgia have squared off in the annual series 92 times with the Bulldogs holding a 49-41-2 edge in the series. While the Bulldogs used to own a more commanding lead in the series, Florida has made up significant ground in the series since 1990. It has turned into one of those events that people watch from all over the country.

“It’s why you get into college football,” McElwain said by teleconference on Wednesday. “This is fun stuff. The fact they opened up RV City (on Wednesday), there are a lot of people to get in there. This is a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it.

“I am one of those guys that thinks you have to embrace the moment. It doesn’t matter what ballgame the University of Florida is playing in, it should be a huge game. That’s what makes it fun and why people come here. The game is going to take care of itself based on what you do in the now. As I tell our guys, ‘there is a pretty good chance Saturday is going to get here, so we’re going to have to go play it, so let’s have fun doing it’.”

McElwain coached at Alabama and knows very well about huge rivalries like the one between the Crimson Tide and Auburn. This one is a little different and he understands that.

“I’ve heard from (former Gator players) and talked to people that were involved in it,” he said of this rivalry. “The fortunate thing is we’ve been in all kinds of rivalries over the years. I’m excited about the neutral site game. We’ve been involved in some of them as well. Growing up this is one you could set your calendar and knew it would be on national TV. Sitting back in Montana you could count on this Florida – Georgia game as one you look forward to every year. I am just lucky to be a part of it.

Strange things also seem to happen in the contest. Last year Florida came in as a big underdog, had been playing horribly, and ran all over the Bulldogs to the tune of 400+ yards and 38 points. Expect the unexpected.

“I think you can say that darn near about any kind of rivalry game,” McElwain said. “When they say you throw out all the records, I think there is a lot of truth to that. I’ve been on both ends of it in different places. I am excited to drive over the Hart Bridge and see for myself… I am fired up to go see it.”

Despite all of the talk, and he has gotten plenty from former players about the importance of this game, McElwain understands the most important thing is for the team to focus on themselves and what they can do to win the game.

“Absolutely, there have been a lot of help in that regard,” he said about former players talking up the game. “You know one thing we can’t lose focus on is at the end of the day it’s about our preparation. I know this, it doesn’t matter where you’re at, rivalries are great. The fact that the city of Jacksonville embraces it the way they do and the event that is surrounded around the game, it’s a lot of fun. I tell our guys, ‘let’s go enjoy it’.

This matchup has a little bit of a twist as well now that McElwain is the head coach. From his days at Alabama he has friendships with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and a few others on the Georgia staff which creates a bit of uneasiness.

“In Jeremy’s case, he’s not only a good friend but one heck of a ball coach,” McElwain said. “He has Kevin Sherrer with him and they brought in Rob Sale, one of the finest young offensive line coaches in the country. I was kind of angry they picked him up to be honest with you.  They hired Mark Hocke, the strength coach that comes (Alabama).”

That Florida comes in as the favorite in this game is something that would have been a huge surprise in the preseason. The Gators at 6-1 haven’t played too many games that have people convinced they are world beaters, but they seem to play every series tough and have shown the ability to bounce back. Expectations were much lower for this team both locally and nationally. But McElwain approaches game eight like these guys are where they are supposed to be.

“There isn’t a coach in America that whatever they go into they don’t expect to be successful,” McElwain said. “I really like these guys. They ‘ve done what we’ve asked and they keep getting a little bit better and that is what you hope for as a coach. There isn’t a contest or anything anyone in this line goes into expecting to come in second. That is just the kind of way most people are built.

“I know they are a lot of fun to be around. They work hard. They enjoy competing. Every Saturday is a new opportunity to go out and see what you’re all about. This is another opportunity.”

THE MATCHUP

The Florida defense will be heading into the game with a few questions about what to expect from Georgia. When star tailback Nick Chubb went down for the Bulldogs, the offense lost its bell cow and the guy they leaned on to get things done. Quarterback Greyson Lambert has struggled this season really getting anything going. After a poor performance in the 9-6 win against Missouri, there has been an outcry for change. Although nothing has been made official reports are swirling that junior Faton Bauta will get the nod on Saturday.

Bauta is a different quarterback than we have ever seen at Georgia. A true dual threat guy, he is still untested. He has career statistics in the seven games he has played quarterback of 0 starts, 4-for-5passing for 48 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, and also has 10 carries for 46 yards and 2 TDs. No doubt if this change comes to pass Georgia head coach Mark Richt is really searching, if not scrambling to find something that will work against certainly one of the top two defenses he will face all year.

No doubt a change like this would be based on the way that Florida played against Tennessee and dual threat quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs had a Heisman Trophy type performance that day; however it wasn’t enough to pull off the win.

It is also hard to believe we won’t see some of Lambert who has been the guy all year and although he doesn’t pose much of a deep ball threat, he has had games where he can pick a defense apart in the shallow game.

And while Chubb is out for the year, Sony Michel is no slouch at running back. He may not be as durable as Chubb in terms of number of carries in a game, but he has rushed for 508 yards and a healthy 5.7 yards per carry to go along with four touchdowns.

The Bulldogs have a nice set of receivers as well. But with the quarterback quandary they haven’t been totally effective.

Florida will counter with one of the top defensive back units in the country that should allow the Gators to play man a dedicate more to the box in the run game. The linebackers had the one bad game against Tennessee, but that hasn’t been an issue since. Florida will also bring maybe the deepest defensive line the Bulldogs will see all year and aren’t afraid to play ten or more up front.

I’m not sure going run heavy is the best idea.

Georgia’s defense is actually ranked ahead of Florida nationally coming in at 15th overall while the Gators come in at 17thin total defense. They are ranked 25th nationally in both run and pass defense.  While they don’t seem to have a real weakness on defense, they don’t get a lot of push in the middle of the line and rely a great deal on pressure from their ends and the linebackers.

Florida will counter with an offensive line that is still finding its way and also doesn’t get much push up front. That is something they have really worked hard on trying to get better at, but it comes as no surprise with the youth and inexperience Florida has had to thrust into playing time up front.

Junior running back Kelvin Taylor rushed for 197 yards against the Bulldogs a year ago when the team amassed over 400 on the ground in the big win. The Gators would love to start fast in the running game and allow the two freshmen backs Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite to help with the load. If it turns into a passing game for Florida, Taylor will be out there more often than not because of his pass protection skills.

Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris had to throw only six passes a year ago in the big win, two of his three completions went to running backs. Harris is really not a controlled passing game guy, he makes big plays in the passing game and a lot of them come when he moves out of the pocket and finds guys down field. He will have to sweat that pass rush a bit, especially on the edge, so watch him to run up the middle a bit to slow that outside rush down a bit.

If Antonio Callaway is slowed much from injury, that isn’t going to help Florida. Demarcus Robinson needs to step up regardless. I want to see Robinson move around a bit and get some opportunities in the slot position where he did his most damage a year ago. Florida’s tight ends will play a huge role not only in the passing game but the running game in this one. Redshirt freshman Cyontai Lewis returns and he is the best blocker at the position. Look for them to use that in the game plan.

Both kickers aren’t doing well, and in the case of Austin Hardin at Florida, nobody knows really where his head is at. I think the game will likely be won by the team that actually makes a field goal, but that is a scary thought.  The return game at Georgia is really good and a worry, Florida needs Callaway to be available to help out there.

Finally… This game is going to be a hard hitting one, but is usually clean.  I think it is going to be very tight. I think Florida has played together as a team more and believes in themselves and that is why they get a slight edge. However, don’t sit back and believe this isn’t a really talented Georgia team. The Florida coaching staff has proven themselves to be able to overcome all kinds of adversity this season including a season long issue on the offensive line where they have coached around all the youth and inexperience. Because of that, I am going with the Gators 24-21.

Here is our coverage from the rest of the week.

Gators' Opponent Preview: Georgia

Brandon Powell discusses Florida-Georgia

Gators announce 2016 schedule

Gators unsure about Georgia offense

Callaway questionable for Georgia

Gators optimistic about run game

Who will win the 'Cocktail party'?

Kelvin Taylor looking to redeem himself

Gators aware of what's at stake Saturday

Harris not overwhelmed by big games

Quincy Wilson: "We're exactly where we're supposed to be"

McElwain wants Gators to embrace success

McElwain enjoying Gators' walk0on kicking competition

Fightin' Gators Rapid Recap 10/26/15

Rivalries are different for McElwain

 


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