Georgia football: Why this Cocktail Party date with Florida feels a little bit different, a little more dangerous
The year 2020 has been full of twists and turns. But there’s one thing that has stayed true to form: Georgia and Florida, No. 1 and No. 2 in the SEC East.
And right now, I’d have to put Florida at No. 1 and Georgia at No. 2. That, of course, could change Saturday in Jacksonville.
As it’s been over the past several years, the annual Cocktail Party showdown — albeit with a smaller crowd and much less “party” than usual — is The Game within the division. The winner has a clear runway to Atlanta and a potential date with Alabama in the SEC Championship in a College Football Playoff play-in game. The loser will be left on the outside looking in.
So where do the Dawgs stand? Considering how things have gone, fans should be a little worried.
It’s clear the Gators have better offensive weapons. Kyle Trask is probably the best quarterback in the SEC not named Mac Jones. Kyle Pitts, while not reaching the same heights he did against Ole Miss, is still a lethal target. Kadarius Toney is an explosive all-purpose option, mainly in the receiving game.
Meanwhile, Georgia still has an identity crisis at quarterback, the question being whether Stetson Bennett IV is capable of carrying the team where it wants to go. The Dawgs have Kearis Jackson, but what good is he if Bennett can’t get the ball to him? On Sunday, I wondered if the Dawgs should lean a bit more on the run to keep the ball out of the hands of Trask. That would mean counting on Zamir White, James Cook and Kendall Milton against a defensive front that has shown its flaws outside of Saturday’s win against Missouri.
As a whole, though, that’s my biggest fear and one I’ve mentioned recently. If the staff feels that Bennett is the best option, that’s their decision. But I still wonder if someone else is needed to give the offense a spark. To that same point, though, the risk is sending Bennett a message that they don’t trust him in big games, but at the end of the day, it’s not a popularity contest: Kirby Smart’s paid to make tough calls like this.
And that’s just mentioning the offense.
Defensively, Georgia will be without star Richard LeCounte III after he sustained multiple injuries in a Saturday night accident. That’s not only a great deal of production lost out of the secondary but a big emotional blow and an area of the field Trask will ty to exploit. Jordan Davis (elbow) and Julian Rochester (torn ACL) were injured in the Kentucky game. Rochester is out, but Smart said Monday that Davis will be re-evaluated.
Simply put, it’s a unit that needs to be at full strength against the best offense in the division. Considering the way Georgia’s defense looked against Alabama, even given the fact that Alabama is on a totally different planet offensively, it’s fair to wonder whether this group can come through in the most significant game left on the schedule.
The road to victory will be the same for Georgia: It will lean on its defense, potentially banged-up and all, to win its game. This is a Florida team that’s not bashful about putting points up on the board, and I’m not confident that the Dawgs have the firepower to turn this into a shootout. They have to make the Gators conform to their style of play.
And there’s zero question that the Gators have closed the gap in recent years. But Dan Mullen historically has never gotten over that “hump” to truly push his teams over the top, as evidenced by his time at Mississippi State, although part of it might have stemmed from facing Alabama every year. Smart hopes that his team can once again put down that roadblock that keeps the Gator bus from making it to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and perhaps beyond.
But if you’re a Georgia fan thinking of all the ways things could go belly-side-up on Saturday, you probably aren’t alone.