THE HOT TOPIC: The story of the week is the absence of D.J. Shockley from the Georgia offense due to injury. The Dogs are 33rd in the country in total offense and Shockley leads the SEC in both passing and total offense. Shockley has had some great moments this season against Boise State and Tennessee. With him running the show the Dogs can scheme up quarterback runs that put him in the open field. He is very tough to defend in the red zone where the run-pass option is the big weapon for the Dogs. But he is expected to miss the game and the one thing Florida will not have to prepare for is his elusiveness. Joe Tereshinski steps in as a third generation Bulldog who can run but won't make you miss like Shockley. Florida can not let its guard down against the new Dog signal caller or they may look bad. Florida's defense should be confident that it can get a handle on Joe T and the Dog offense but cannot get complacent in there preparation. The coaches have preached all week long to stay focused on the plan and bottle up the Dog ground game.
SHOCKLEY EFFECT: The Gator defense will run blitz more this week than they would have with Shockley in the game. Shockley's ability to make you miss causes aggressive defenses to back off the blitz and cover. Tereshinksi will not have that luxury this week as I expect to see plenty of linebacker stunts early in the down and distance sequence. UF will try to get Georgia "off schedule" to set up their corner and safety blitzes in long yardage pass situations. Ray McDonald will provide a much needed lift at tackle and I would not be surprised to see Ray Mac start next to Marcus Thomas. Ray could see a lot of single blocks and should be able to take advantage of those match-ups.
Georgia likes to run the ball out of the I-formation and play action out of that formation. The Dog offensive line is good and can open running lanes against any defense. Tight end Leonard Pope will be a luxury for the new quarterback and be a tough match-up for UF. Todd McCullough will need to do a good job of slowing Pope down at the line of scrimmage to get him out of the route. Georgia is a sound running team that does plays ball control, field position and rarely turns the ball over.
DOG DEFENSE BIGGEST SURPRISE THIS SEASON: Georgia's defense has been banged up, especially in the heart of the unit. Kedric Golston has been one of their best front men but Coach Mark Richt says he's out Saturday due to injury. Greg Blue is their leading tackler with has two interceptions on the season. New defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has kept the same scheme that Brian Van Gorder had in place which features the free safety as a "free lance" defender. Blue will move around the field playing the run very quickly on the snap. The Dog defensive front does feature pretty good depth at the tackle spot with Darrius Swain, Ray Gant and Gerald Anderson. On the edge keep an eye on Quentin Moses who has seven sacks. Martinez likes to get four guys with their hands on the ground and look for UF to run away from the nose tackle which should be Anderson or Gant. The Dogs have only used the same starting linebacking corps three times this season due to injuries. Jarvis Jackson still leads the group from the weakside in tackles. Georgia is a physical fast unit that has playmakers at each level of the defense. What surprises me the most is that this team has improved its turnover margin and scoring defense after the loss of great players like David Pollack, Thomas Davis and Odell Thurman.
LEAK LOOKS TO REGAIN FORM AGAINST TOP FLIGHT DEFENSE: Chris Leak once again must have a turnover free game for UF to win. Sometimes when you throw the ball more than 30 times you expect to have at least one interception but you hope that it is not on your half of the field. That sets up easy scores that can change the momentum of a game (Alabama game for example). Chris will need to have success early to regain some of his confidence and to put fear in Georgia that he is the same quarterback that has played well against them the last two years. Georgia has 11 interceptions by eight different players this season. They will blitz Leak in long yardages situations so the offense needs to limit the number of long yardage situations. UF is only nine for it's last 45 attempts on third down and must get that percentage in the 40 percent range this week. Look for UF to run the ball from under center and set up some play action plays this week. Chris has always been a very good play action passer and this element will help give Leak more protection. Georgia is an opportunistic team that has scored 63 points off turnovers this season. Eliminate that avenue of opportunity for Georgia and you will limit there chance to win.
KEEP AN EYE ON SPECIAL TEAMS: This year's game has the feel of a close low-scoring game. Special teams could come up big for both teams. Both kickers are solid and so are both punt units. The difference could be the punt return game. Thomas Flowers leads the SEC and had a touchdown clincher versus Tennessee in Knoxville. Urban Meyer's special teams have been very good and they limited LSU's Skyler Green to one return for one yard in Baton Rouge two weeks ago. I look for Meyer to continue the directional punt and take the ball out of Flowers hands. If the punt return is an advantage for Georgia the punt block is on the side of the Gators. UF has blocked a punt for a touchdown. UF has been very close a bunch of times and Meyer always seems to have the blockers lined up in the right spot each week.
CAN THE GATOR OFFENSE GET GOING?: I think you will see an improved Florida offense this week against Georgia. I am sure that is an obvious statement considering how bad they looked at Baton Rouge but I think the bye week was a help. First of all UF is healthier this week with Jemalle Cornelius back close to 100 percent and Chad Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Chris Leak getting some much needed rest to there nagging injuries. This is the time of the year where you have to play with some pain and get through it to reach your goals. The bye week is such and advantage for UF and the fact that key players were able to avoid contact for a week. Secondly the week has given UF's coaches a chance to identify what weapons they do have and how to get them on the field at one time. I expect to see these five weapons on the field in this formation at some point. Chris Leak under center, Deshawn Wynn behind him with Tate Casey at tight end and the three receiver set of Cornelius, Jackson and Baker. These are UF's weapons and I have to believe UF can run its offense out this formation which will help the run game and protection. Chad Jackson needs to re-emerge in the passing game and Cornelius has had big plays consecutive years in the Georgia game. I also think Dan Mullen has one or two trick plays up his sleeve to try and get some easy points for the Gator offense. Vanderbilt is the only offense to maintain any drives against the Georgia defense so the Gators will need to look for some big plays.
WHAT FLORIDA MUST DO TO WIN: Find a big play or two on offense. Whether it's a long run by Wynn or Chad Jackson down the field, the Gators need big plays in the offense. You are not going to drive consistently on the Dog defense so you must find two touchdowns on offense from big plays. The defense must get its first defensive score of the season or certainly set one up for the offense with a very short field. Arkansas, Tennessee and South Carolina all had drives of less than four yards for a score or a defensive touchdown. These were the three closest games for Georgia so far this season and that speaks volumes on how good their defense has played. If UF sticks to Meyer's plan to win --- defense, special teams, time of possession, red zone success and turnover margin --- they can win this game. The key stat in those five categories is red zone success. UF must get three opportunities and come away with at least 17 points.
HOW IT WILL PLAY OUT: I think this game will be decided on a handful of plays. I cannot see a blowout nor do I think a prediction is easy for either side. Amazingly, the Gators are a six-point favorite this week and they are the team with two losses. I think this will work in Georgia's favor on Saturday. They have been flying under the radar all season long and have used the preseason rankings as a motivation. To re-cap my predictions in Florida's big three games this season I am 0-3 on the winners but I have been all over the point spread for whatever that's worth. I had Tennessee 16-10 (total 26) and Florida wins 16-7 (total 23). I had UF over Alabama 24-10 (total 34) and Bama rolls 31-3 (total 34). I thought UF would win a tight one at LSU 20-17 (total 37). The Tgers nipped UF 21-17 (total 38). I know I am looking for some silver lining here but like they say in coaching statistics are for assistant coaches and losers. I don't think of myself as a loser but I do like the statistics. So here is one more try at trying to get one right and if you believe in karma just follow the numbers.
I think Florida has a great opportunity to win this game with Shockley out. He is the leader of the offense and was having an All-SEC year. The Gators are good on defense and could turn Tereshinski over several times. The Gators own this series and almost won last year with a lame duck coach. Everyone could see the Dogs tightening up in the second half as the Gators caught fire in 2004. If the Gators could score first that may send a serious message to the Bulldogs. I think Chris Leak will bounce back and play better than the LSU game and I think the coaches will have a better plan for this game than the one in Baton Rouge. Urban Meyer really needs this win and the Gators don't want Georgia to win two straight and clinch the SEC East against them.
PREDICTION: Remembering to follow my trend that has gotten me to 0-3 in the big games, I will take Georgia 17-14 in a defensive slugfest.
KEY GATOR PLAYERS THIS WEEK: Offense --- Leak, Wynn, Jackson. Defense --- Thomas, Siler, Nelson.
STATISTICS: Georgia is 11-1-1 when facing the Gators as an unbeaten team. Their only loss as an unbeaten team was in 2002 when they were 8-0 and lost to UF 20-13 ... Georgia is fifth in the country in scoring defense (13.7 ppg). Florida is eleventh in the country in scoring defense (16.1 ppg) … The Gators are fifth in total defense and Georgia is 14th in the country ... Georgia is second in SEC in passing while UF ranks fourth in passing offense … Florida is +13 and first in the SEC in turnover margin while UGA ranks second at +9 ... The Gators have 13 rushing touchdowns while Georgia has 10 ... Florida is the second most penalized team in the SEC ... The Gators lead the SEC in defense on third down at 28% ... Florida has won 13 of 15 and 15 of 21 in the series.
GATOR LEGEND: Chris Doering, the SEC's all time leading touchdown reception receiver, is close to retiring from the NFL. He spent this last training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chris will be signing autographs on Friday night at the Florida-Georgia experience at the Radisson Riverwalk in Jacksonville. Other Gator Greats will be on hand as well as former Dogs from 5-8 p.m. Fred Weary from the Gators and Vince Dooley from the Dogs will be on hand for the festivities. For more information go to www.gaflaexperience.com
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Gators are the only team in the SEC that has not scored any points on an opening drive this season. UF has six punts and a turnover on its opening attempts.