Georgia football: 5 reasons Dawgs will win Cocktail Party
Georgia is set to face one of the stiffest tests to its vaunted defense on Saturday when Florida rolls into Jacksonville with an offense that has traits that are better than previous Georgia opponents this season.
Florida is 2nd in the SEC in total offense with 501.9 yards per game, 2nd in the SEC in rushing yards per game at 254.4 and have only allowed 5 sacks this season. All those categories are better than any previous Georgia opponent.
And it may be the last great test for the No. 1 Dawgs. Georgia plays Florida on Saturday as the first of 3 consecutive games against SEC East teams that currently have losing conference records.
It has begged the question about the SEC East being down, and if Georgia has an easier path than in years past.
“When I sit back and watch games on Saturday, there are some really tough games in the SEC whether it’s East-West, West-East,” Kirby Smart said Monday. “It’s a tough conference. A lot of games are decided really close, typically. Florida has been in a couple of those that they ended up on the short side of, but they have a really good football team.”
So what does Georgia need to do to neutralize Florida?
Here are 5 reasons the Dawgs will win the Cocktail Party:
Last year’s game still has a bad taste in the mouths of Georgia players and coaches, and it adds some extra spice to the already chilly relationship between Smart and Dan Mullen. Georgia has circled this one almost since the final horn last year, and while Georgia is coming out of a bye, there is no chance of a let down, mostly because a Georgia win and a Kentucky loss to Mississippi State clinches the East. How sweet would that be in Jacksonville? It’s not quite to 2007 proportions, but there’s plenty of motivation built up for the red and black.
Stetson Bennett/JT Daniels will limit mistakes
While the quarterback situation remains unresolved, what both Georgia quarterbacks have done this season is avoid mistakes. Stetson Bennett has 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, while JT Daniels has 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Overall, Georgia is plus-3 in turnover margin, which is tied for 3rd in the SEC. Bennett hasn’t completed more than 14 passes in any start this season, but that’s largely because the Bulldogs haven’t needed more. The QB decision is difficult for Smart and Todd Monken because both players have taken care of the ball pretty well so far.
Georgia will neutralize Florida’s running game
The Gators began the season as a bona fide rushing power with 4 games of at least 244 rushing yards.
However, since then, against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and LSU, the Gators have mustered no more than 181 yards. That’s far below the season average of 254 yards. Last season snapped a 14-game streak of the team with the most rushing yards also being the winner in the game.
Neutralizing Florida’s rushing attack will put more pressure on the uncertainty at quarterback, as Florida has only 1 receiver among the top 34 pass catchers in the SEC this season.
James Cook busts some big plays
Recall last season’s Georgia-Alabama game when James Cook had 4 catches for 101 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown. That’s the kind of game he is capable of this week. He also chipped in 16 yards rushing, but Cook is most dangerous in the passing game. These are the safe throws that can refer to that earlier point about avoiding turnovers. Give Cook a short swing pass, or even a wheel route, and let him run for days.
Cook is due for a breakout game this season, as he only has 3 games with more than 1 catch. Look back at 2 of Florida’s losses: Alabama running backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Jase McClellan combined for 5 catches for 48 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson, though a receiver, but still undersized who has plenty in common with Cook in terms of versatility to run and catch, had 4 catches for 65 yards and a TD.
Kirby Smart outcoaches Dan Mullen
Smart holds a 2-1 edge in his series against Mullen, but their history goes back a ways. The first meeting came in the 2008 SEC Championship game while both were coordinators, when Florida beat Alabama 31-20 as the Gators rang up 358 yards of offense and no turnovers.
They met 7 more times with Smart at Alabama, and Mullen then the head coach at Mississippi State. Alabama won every matchup and beat the Bulldogs by a combined score of 190-66. In 6 of those 7 games, Smart’s defense held Mullen’s offense to 10 or fewer points. However, Mullen’s offense did pile up the yards, including the 2014 game, a 25-20 decision, when MSU had 428 yards.
As head coaches, before the current setup, in Mullen’s last year at Mississippi State in 2017, Smart’s Bulldogs crushed State 31-3.