Georgia football: 5 reasons Bulldogs make it 4 straight over Florida in the Cocktail Party
Georgia vs. Florida. Florida vs. Georgia.
Which team comes first? That probably depends on whether you ask a Bulldogs or a Gators fans. (For what it’s worth, the official logo for the game lists Georgia first.)
On the field, things have tilted toward the Dawgs, as they’ve won the past 3 meetings. This year, though, I think there’s more confidence in the Florida camp than there has been in recent years that they can turn the tables.
Can they make it 4 straight against their rival? Here are 5 reasons why I think the Bulldogs will get the better of the Gators again, keeping themselves in the driver’s seat in the division while maintaining their College Football Playoff hopes:
1. Stetson Bennett plays within himself and doesn’t try to force things
I doubt Bennett reads this. If he does, I have one bit of advice for him: Be yourself. You’re not Kyle Trask or Mac Jones.
I, personally, feel that Bennett still has a lot to prove, and barring a dazzling performance against the Gators, he’ll still have a lot to prove. He can’t let his willingness to make a mark and show people that they’ve been wrong force him into foolish mistakes on the field. Overall, he has to find a way to get the ball to his playmakers.
Bennett understands the importance of this game, and as a result, I feel he’ll come out poised, relaxed, confident and ready to attack.
2. They’ll keep a good offense off the field, and make the most of their opportunities
Forty-nine-point-2 percent. That’s the percentage of 3rd downs Florida’s opponents have converted. If teams are converting nearly 50 percent of their 3rd downs against you, that’s a problem. (Georgia is at 35.6 percent, for reference.)
So the longer you can keep Trask and guys like Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney off the field, the better. If you’re not turning those longer possessions into points, well, it’s not much use if the other team’s able to march down the field and cash in on their own chances.
Georgia has averaged 15.4 points in the 1st half this year, while Florida has averaged 23.2, the 9th-best mark in FBS. If the Dawgs can rectify that, they’ll be in good shape.
3. They’ll make headway against an okay, but far from great, run defense
Florida did very well against the run in Saturday’s win over Missouri, allowing just 40 yards on 23 carries. That was 3 weeks after they yielded 205 ground yards to Texas A&M as the Aggies ran it 38 times.
I have confidence that the Dawgs will be able to run the ball effectively, as they did against Kentucky. This part of the Gators defense is certainly an area they’ll be able to exploit. With the offensive line showing pretty well thus far under Matt Luke, and with good depth behind Zamir White in James Cook, Kendall Milton and (if healthy) Kenny McIntosh, it’s possible.
4. They’ll keep generating takeaways
One area where the Dawgs defense has improved over last year? Takeaways. It has forced at least 1 turnover in all 5 games — including 2 contests with 3 takeaways — while totaling 9 for the season.
The breakdown is 6 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries through 5 games. It had 16 across 14 games last season, and only 1 game with 3 takeaways: the Sugar Bowl against Baylor.
Here are a couple of caveats, though: Trask has thrown only 2 picks all year, and the Georgia defense will be banged up, the absence of Richard LeCounte being just one of its concerns. But it’s clear that generating takeaways has been a focus for this group, and I think it’ll be able to add to that total on Saturday.
5. Kirby Smart has just had Dan Mullen’s number over the years
Needless to say, Smart has flipped the script in this series. He lost in 2016, but that was before he truly began to put his imprint on the team in the recruiting ranks. Since then, the Dawgs have had the edge.
And it seems that Smart has just had Mullen’s number overall. His only blemish came in 2008 as the Tide’s defensive backs coach in the SEC Championship Game, where Mullen, the Gators’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, had a guy named Tim Tebow on the sideline. After that, Smart was 7-0 against Mullen-led Mississippi State between 2009-15 as Alabama’s defensive coordinator before leaving for Georgia, where he has beaten Mullen all 3 times they have gone against each other as head coaches.
Overall, Florida has better weapons than Georgia. But I think when taking both sides of the ball into account, Georgia has the edge, and I think Smart will get the better of Mullen again.