Florida (7-0) vs. Georgia (6-1) Oct 27, 3:30, CBS
Here's The Deal: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's always a razor-thin margin between greatness and also-ran in the SEC, Outback and Sugar, but this year it really does seem to be true on a weekly basis. Last week, South Carolina was in a perfect position to take the SEC race and the national title chase by storm, but got its doors blown off by Florida and now will likely have to settle for no better than a 10-2 record and a nice handshake. This week, it's Georgia's turn up to the plate.
It's not going overboard in any way to stress just how important this game is for the SEC East, the BCS, and for the future of Georgia football. Considering the relatively easy November ahead, a win will likely lead to an 11-1 regular season and a trip to the SEC championship with a shot a potential shot at the national title, while a loss would take the BCS out of the equation and would give Florida the East.
And a loss would be yet another moment when head coach Mark Richt didn't come through.
The harsh reality of Georgia football is that it's been able to skate by on a relatively easy schedule. Richt was on the hot seat last season after an 0-2 start against the good teams on the slate – Boise State and South Carolina – and then got back into everyone's good graces as the Dawgs rolled through the rest of a slate that missed LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. Reality hit hard in the SEC title game in a loss to LSU, and later in an Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State, and this year the same thing appears to be happening. The best win so far came against … Vanderbilt? Tennessee? Georgia doesn't have to face Alabama, LSU or Mississippi State – the three killers from the West – and it has yet to beat a team that currently has a winning record. In the one big test against South Carolina a few weeks ago, Georgia failed miserably in a 35-7 loss. But none of that will matter if the team can get a win over Florida.
The Gators should probably be the No. 1 team in the country – the BCS computers certainly think so - based on a brilliant résumé of wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road and LSU and South Carolina at home. They're not pretty, but they're brutally effective with a pounding running game, a terrific defense, and the punting game and special teams that seem to come up with all the key plays at just the right times. And now, the East, the SEC and the national title are all on the table for the taking. Florida is seven wins away from a national championship, but first it has to get by the always-dangerous rivalry game that used to be called the Cocktail Party.
The Gators have won three of the last four, but Georgia won last season in a 24-20 dogfight.
Why Florida Might Win: Georgia has apparently decided that playing defense is optional. Texas holds the distinction of having the D that's doing the least with the most, but Georgia isn't far off. The overall statistics aren't miserable, and there are times when the pass rush has dominated, but star linebacker Jarvis Jones has been banged up, the NFL-caliber defensive tackles have been pushed around way too easily, and the secondary full of all-star talents hasn't quite meshed after several key players were suspended to start the season. The defensive front was flattened by South Carolina a few weeks ago and gave up 206 rushing yards to a Kentucky team can't run the ball a lick against air. Florida's offensive front is crushing and killing everything in its path, and it should be able to control the game and the clock by grinding out drives.
On the other side of the ball, the Georgia running game has picked the wrong time to take a break. Dominant at times early on in wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee, it was stuffed by the South Carolina defensive front and couldn't break free against Kentucky, finishing with just 77 yards on 32 carries. Florida is tenth in the nation against the run despite going against South Carolina – granted, without a healthy Marcus Lattimore – Texas A&M and LSU. The Gator defensive tackles aren't getting shoved around and everyone in the secondary can hit.
Why Georgia Might Win: Start throwing and start throwing the second the offense gets off the bus. Tennessee's Tyler Bray was good enough to make it interesting in the first half against the Gators, finishing with 257 yards and two scores, but he wasn't able to get enough time in the second half and he couldn't seem to develop any sort of a rhythm. Georgia is going to try to run the ball, but it isn't going to be able to do it, putting the onus on the offense completely on the shoulders of Aaron Murray, who's putting together a special season with 16 touchdown passes and four picks. He had a disastrous game against South Carolina, but he has been nearly flawless against everyone else and now has to keep his cool under pressure against the dominant Florida D. With his quick reading ability before the snap, he should be able to make the short-to-midrange passing game go.
The pressure is off the Dawgs, for the most part. Yes, if they lose badly there will be problems for Richt, and yes, there's the pressure of everything being there for the taking with a win, but this is supposed to be Florida's time. All eyes are on the Gators to see if they can rise up and really and truly look like national title contenders, and with no passing game to speak of in the one-dimensional offense, they can't make mistakes. They're overdue to have a bit of a sloppy performance, and if Georgia can take advantage of every error and every opportunity, Florida will have to start pressing.
What To Watch Out For: Florida's Jordan Reed was considered a possible starting quarterback option early in his career. Big, athletic, and tough, he ran for five touchdowns in 2010 and threw for 120 yards in a blowout win over Vanderbilt. Last year he turned into more of a receiving tight end, having one of his best games of the season with four catches for 69 yards and a score in the loss to Georgia. This season, he's turning into a go-to target and a steady producer catching a few passes every game and bailing out Jeff Driskel to keep the chains moving. Last week against South Carolina he caught four passes for 44 yards and two scores.
Will Jarvis Jones be back for the Georgia defense? Struggling through an ankle injury, He hasn't been able to do much since his breakthrough, dominant performance against Missouri, but he's practicing and he's expected to give it a try. Florida doesn't pass enough to make Jones' speed rushing ability a key factor, but he's a disruptive force for a defense that desperately needs to find something that works.
What Will Happen: Pound, pound, pound. Georgia will come out with plenty of fire and emotion on the way to a few early big plays, but once the game settles down the Gators will take control with an offense that goes on long, drawn out drives. The defense will stop the Dawg running game and will get two key picks on the way to a comfortable win and the SEC East title.
CFN Prediction: Florida 34 ... Georgia 17
Line: Florida -6.5 O/U: 49
Must Watch Rating (5 – The Girl, 1 – Don't Trust The B In Apt. 23): 5
More Than A Party - Florida vs. Georgia
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