5 reasons Florida will beat Georgia
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Fresh off its second bye week of October, Florida enters the second half of its season on top of the SEC East but facing a conference slate that will surely be more difficult than the first four games. It all starts with the Georgia game on Saturday.
Here’s five reasons the Gators will leave the Cocktail Party with a win:
1. Luke Del Rio’s homecoming
Luke Del Rio will be back in his old stomping grounds on Saturday when he leads Florida against Georgia in Jacksonville. The Gators’ quarterback is arguably more familiar than any of his teammates with EverBank Field since his father, Jack, coached the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-11.
“Yeah, yeah, a lot of very good memories,” Del Rio said of the site for Saturday’s game. “The stadium is so different now. They improved it in every way, the screens, the stands, the club level. Everything they’ve kind of enhanced. Growing up there for eight-and-a-half, nine years, being able to play with my dad and watch his team compete on that field is really special. We still have a game to win, but it will be fun to be back there.”
Jack’s Oakland Raiders won at EverBank Field over the Jacksonville Jaguars this past Sunday. Now it’s up to Luke for the sweep.
“Hopefully, the Del Rio family can go 2-0, you know, back-to-back weeks.”
2. Tyrie Cleveland
Georgia knows all about Florida WR Antonio Callaway. The top Gators wideout was hitting his stride last October when he hauled in 3 passes for 110 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown play. The UGA secondary will be ready to cover Callaway.
Who they won’t be ready for is Tyrie Cleveland. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound freshman was the No. 2 wideout of the 2016 recruiting class. His college career got off to a slow start because of a campus BB gun incident and hamstring issues. He made his first start against Missouri and provided an instant boost to the downfield passing game, one that could have led to more highlights had it not been for Del Rio’s poor throwing performance.
Del Rio sees the receiving corps turning the corner, particularly Cleveland.
“They’re younger, and like me, just getting more experience and more comfortable, more acclimated in the offense and just taking it to that next level,” Del Rio said. “Like I said, Tyrie has really emerged as approaching it from the mental side of the game. They’re all athletic, they’re all good, so how can you gain that edge?”
3. Freshman hazing
Jacob Eason is a very talented quarterback. Those following recruiting knew that the five-star talent was ready to start as a freshman. Florida coaches wanted him to be a Gator, and the current players respect his ability.
“He’s a diverse quarterback,” Nick Washington said. “He’s tall, he can get it out there to his receivers. We’ve been preparing very well for him, and we’re ready to go.”
In his first Florida-Georgia game, the freshman will be asked to throw the ball against a secondary that includes Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, both potential first-round draft picks.
SEC QBs probably shouldn't throw into Florida CB Quincy Wilson's coverage. He's given up a QB rating of just 0.4 this year. pic.twitter.com/mHAImoQLEm
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 25, 2016
Eason could very well be a Cocktail Party hero before he leaves Georgia, but it won’t be Saturday.
4. Florida’s advantage on special teams
Issues on special teams played a big factor in Georgia’s Week 7 loss to Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs allowed a 95-yard kickoff return, and then struggled in the punting game, recording only 38 yards per kick.
Florida, on the other hand, should dominate the field position game with Johnny Townsend, who averages an SEC-leading 47.5 yards per punt. The Gators have been weak in the punt return game, but facing a coverage unit that’s had trouble containing returners might be just what Antonio Callaway needs to get going. With an extra week to get things figured out, keep an eye on Callaway.
UF also appears to have the edge if the game comes down to a field goal. UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is 4-of-5 on the year but with a long of only 45 yards. Florida kicker Eddy Piñeiro is 9-of-12 on the season, including made field goals from 53 and 54 yards.
5. The Gators have something to play for
Not to say Georgia won’t be playing for pride and to salvage the season, but there’s obviously a lot more on the line for Florida. With the top spot in the SEC East switching back to UF after Tennessee’s loss to Alabama, it sure looks like the bye week came at the perfect time for the Gators.
While Florida’s leaders will certainly embrace a one-game season mindset for the next five weeks, it’s important for the team to be motivated by the fact that winning out guarantees another trip to Atlanta. With two weeks to get the right mindset, expect the Gators’ motivational edge to show on Saturday.