Published October 25, 2012 - 11:20am
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Saturday marks Georgia’s most important game in several years against Florida. After all, the winner of this game will win the SEC East and play for a shot to win the SEC Championship. The Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Gators in back-to-back years since 1988-89.
And outside of Athens and normal Georgia homerism, all the talk heading into the Florida-Georgia game revolves around the #2 ranked Gators. Florida has taken the SEC by storm so far with a stingy defense, crazy special teams play and a hard-nosed running game even LSU is envious of and Alabama is taking note of. Florida has been the better team than Georgia through eight weeks. There’s no mistaking that.
However, #10 Georgia still controls their own destiny, a position many thought they would be in before the start of the season, as the Bulldogs were picked by most to win the division.
Georgia boasts an explosive offense, led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, two flashy freshmen running backs and a receiving cast that is collectively as good as anyone in the SEC. Georgia is third in the conference in scoring, averaging right at 40 points per game, fueled mostly by explosive plays from scrimmage. The Bulldogs’ offense leads the SEC in plays over 20, 30 and 40 yards. Murray is tied for third in the SEC with 1,914 yards passing and 16 touchdowns and is fresh off his career game of 427 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Let’s not forget the players Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are either. Both can house one on any given play, but more production from the running game is needed against the Gators.
However, the Bulldogs’ biggest problem has been with its defense. Georgia finished 2011 with the country’s 5th best defense that just so happened to return nine of 11 starters. Georgia hasn’t gelled as a unit yet; it’s obvious. After giving up back-to-back games of over 200 yards on the ground, they face one of the top rushing offenses in the SEC in Florida, led by running back Mike Gillislee. Georgia is currently the 8th best defense in the conference behind teams like Missouri and Vanderbilt. However, this unit has to put a complete game together sometime, right? They do have the best outside linebacker in the country in Jarvis Jones, along with several other big defensive studs. You have to believe this group will play their best game against Florida. The question becomes – will that be enough?
The defensive frustration of this season led safety Shawn Williams to call out his teammates for being ‘too soft’ Monday night after practice. Some liked it while others did not, and some were openly disappointed that the comments were made publicly. We’ll see what effect – if any – it will have on the defense Saturday.
This game is important for Georgia as a program, but it means so much more for Mark Richt. Furthermore, it will shape the remainder of his tenure at Georgia. Not that a 10-2 season would get Richt fired by any means, but the outlook on his career as the head man for the Bulldogs could be cut shorter, based not on 10-win seasons but the crucial games he’s lost. Fans are beginning to wonder if 10-2 seasons and a Capital One Bowl or an Outback Bowl berth is the ceiling for Richt under Georgia. He has a chance to put this to bed Saturday with a win over the Gators. Georgia hasn’t beaten a top 10 program since 2009’s win over Georgia Tech.
It’s important for Georgia to jump out to an early lead and make the Gators play from behind. Even a two-possession lead will be tough to overcome if Florida is forced to put the ball in the air. Gaining early momentum and allowing the defense to play with a lead will be a big key for the Bulldogs, because Florida generally takes over the second half of games.
If Georgia, with its veteran quarterback, nasty defense and easier schedule, can’t win the SEC in 2012, what Georgia team can?
And as with any rivalry game, you can throw all those stats out the window. You have to believe that Georgia will give Florida its best performance Saturday in all facets of the game.