Georgia football: First look at Bulldogs' keys to beating Florida
The bye week is behind them now, so Georgia should be refreshed and rejuvenated as it prepares for the home stretch of the season. It starts with a bang, with the annual showdown against Florida in Jacksonville.
For the first time in a while, both teams enter the game fully expecting to win and go on to take the division. We figured that all along with Georgia, which was the prohibitive favorite to win the SEC East when the season started. Florida has been a bit of a surprise under first-year coach Dan Mullen, and both teams enter the game with 6-1 records overall, and 4-1 records in the SEC. The winner Saturday will have a huge step up in the division race.
Both teams feel good about winning.
Surprisingly, it’s Florida that enters this game with the most momentum. LSU provided the perfect barometer, playing these two teams back-to-back. Sure, home-field advantage had something to do with it, but LSU pounded Georgia 36-16 on Oct. 13, just a week after losing at Florida 27-19.
Here’s a first look at the three things Georgia needs to focus on to beat the Gators:
1. Keep Feleipe Franks on the run all day
Mullen always has been known as the Quarterback Whisperer, but what he’s done with Feleipe Franks this season borders on shocking. Franks, who was horrible a year ago, has actually been making enough plays to win games this season. Florida will still win games because of its defense and special teams, but Franks is making enough things happen that he has to be a concern.
Franks’ quarterback ranking is 30 percent higher than it was a year ago. His completion percentage and yards per attempt are up slightly, but the biggest difference is that he is finishing drives. He has 15 touchdown passes and just 5 interceptions this year, compared to 9 TDs and 8 picks a year ago.
Franks is still prone to making bonehead throws when he’s under pressure, though, so it’s critical that Georgia keeps him on the run Saturday, and makes sure he’s uncomfortable — and unsure of himself — from start to finish. Georgia has only 9 sacks in seven games, which is the fewest in the SEC, but coaches will tell you that the pressure has been there, just not the sacks. That has to change Saturday.
2. Strike Florida’s thin secondary with big chunks in the passing game
Florida was already thin at cornerback, but then Marco Wilson tore his ACL in the Kentucky game in September and things really got bad. The Gators will send a lot of freshmen out there at various times Saturday, especially against Georgia’s three-receiver sets, so it’s time for Jake Fromm and the Georgia passing game to dominate.
Fromm was not good in the loss at LSU, but it was really his first bad game in his two years as Georgia’s starter. He has a chance for instant redemption Saturday, and he’ll have some willing targets to pick on.
Florida’s young group of corners — sophomores C.J. Henderson and Brian Edwards, and freshman Trey Dean and C.J. McWilliams — can be had. Georgia has gotten some big plays through the season from Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley and Jeremiah Holloman, and they need break a big one or two Saturday.
3. Shut down Florida’s run game and make them one-dimensional
Georgia’s top-10 defense took a substantial hit against LSU, where missed tackles, blown assignments and losing the battle along the line of scrimmage were ugly trends all game. That can’t happen against Florida. The Gators have capable running backs in Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine, and they can do some damage.
But shut them down and the Gators will be in trouble. Florida has success so far this year because it hasn’t had to rely on Franks to win games. Mullen has been able to mix it up well all season and keep the pressure off his oft-criticized quarterback. Georgia can change that narrative Saturday by bottling up that running game and forcing the issue.
Remember how good that LSU defense was against Georgia last week? Well, that same defense got torched for 215 rushing yards against Florida the week earlier. Stopping the run? It’s the biggest key to the outcome on Saturday, without question.