Position-by-position edge: Georgia vs. No. 11 Florida
A trip to Atlanta can’t be mathematically guaranteed, but the winner of the border war in Jacksonville will control its own destiny to play for a conference title. Taking a position-by-position look at Georgia vs. Florida, here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s showdown between the Bulldogs and the No. 11 Gators:
QUARTERBACK – Push: Florida is probably more confident in Treon Harris right now than Georgia is in Greyson Lambert, but this is fairly even in terms of positives and negatives. Lambert won the offseason battle for the starting job, but his job security right now is shaky at best, having been benched mid-game more than once. Harris is starting due to Will Grier’s suspension, but has familiarity with playing in big games and gives his coaches a known skill set to plan around.
RUNNING BACKS – Georgia: UGA is without star RB Nick Chubb, but still has the advantage. Sony Michel is a top-10 SEC rusher even in a No. 2 role (until recently) in the Georgia offense. Michel was a five-star recruit, and with his combination of size and speed against a Florida defense that struggles to bring down ball carriers, he could have a breakout game for a national audience. Keep an eye on fourth-year player Keith Marshall, another once sought-after recruit who has battled injuries and sat on the bench behind Chubb, Michel and Todd Gurley during most of his time in Athens.
UF’s Kelvin Taylor had a career game in Jacksonville a year ago (25 carries, 197 yards, 2 TD), but hasn’t been able to replicate it since. The Florida coaches trust Taylor the most to get tough yards, and he can break off the occasional long run, but highlight-rich games are rare for the junior ball carrier. Behind Taylor, the Gators have yet to find a No. 2 ball carrier, an issue that was possibly addressed in the bye week.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT END – Push: Georgia will have the top wide receiver on the field, but Florida has a more capable and consistent receiving corps.
UGA’s Malcolm Mitchell is one of the best wideouts in the conference (35 receptions, 505 yards, 4 TD), but he’ll have a tough matchup with Florida’s secondary. Reggie Davis had a big day against Tennessee (3 catches, 101 yards), but has hardly been a factor the rest of the season. Terry Godwin had his best game of the year against Missouri (6 catches, 78 yards).
Florida’s leading statistical receiver is junior Demarcus Robinson (36 receptions, 371 yards, 2 TD), but he’s never quite had the on-field chemistry with Harris as he did with other quarterbacks like Grier or Jeff Driskel. Freshman playmaker Antonio Callaway (16 receptions, 308 yards, 2 TD) doesn’t mind going for jump balls if Harris wants to lob them up. Slot receiver Brandon Powell (20 receptions, 294 yards, 3 TD) has the speed to get behind the coverage for a deep ball.
Tight ends Jake McGee (23 receptions, 200 yards, 3 TD) and the finally healthy C’yontai Lewis can be weapons in the Florida passing game, but Harris’ delivery on shorter/mid-range passes has been inconsistent.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Georgia: Lambert enters Saturday as one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the SEC as opposing defenses have brought him down only five times. Georgia’s big uglies also seem to be better with run blocking, but it helps that they’re working with better ballcarriers.
Florida is taking its lumps this year with an inexperienced offensive line. LSU DE Lewis Neal spent far more time in the UF backfield than the Gators would have liked. The line can occasionally give Taylor enough space to convert a third-and-short, but it’s not regularly opening up the necessary holes. Harris’ mobility and the speed of freshman RB Jordan Scarlett could be ways to mask some blocking issues, but the coaches have reservations about each one carrying the ball.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Florida: UF has one of the best pass rushes in the SEC with 15 sacks from DT/DE Jonathan Bullard, DE Alex McCalister, DT Joey Ivie and DT Caleb Brantley, but was held sackless by LSU and mobile QB Brandon Harris. The big question will be if a defensive line that feasts on pocket passers can switch gears and bring down Michel near the line of scrimmage.
Georgia’s defensive linemen are buried deep on most SEC stat sheets for tackles and sacks, but could benefit from going against the UF offensive line. Senior Sterling Bailey recorded nine tackles against Alabama and has 24 on the season.
LINEBACKERS – Georgia: UGA’s depth of contributors gives it the edge at linebacker over a talented UF group.
The Bulldogs linebackers take care of most of the team’s tackles. UGA rotates OLB Jordan Jenkins (11 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss against Vanderbilt), LB Leonard Floyd (5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, sack vs. Missouri), OLB Davin Bellamy (6 tackles, sack vs. MU), ILB Tim Kimbrough (46 tackles this season) and UAB transfer Jake Ganus (team-leading 50 tackles).
Florida is heavily reliant on senior leader Antonio Morrison and rising junior Jarrad Davis who each have 46 tackles on the season. Morrison and Davis are athletic and can deliver big hits, but a lot is being asked of them. The Gators continue to be without starter Alex Anzalone, but did recently get back Jeremi Powell. S Marcus Maye has been asked to play linebacker on some snaps due to lack of depth.
SECONDARY – Florida: Even after a disastrous night in Death Valley, reputation and talent favors UF’s defensive backs. UF has had two weeks to fix communication breakdowns and coverage mistakes that were on display against LSU, and expect cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson to be extra motivated to shutdown Mitchell and the Georgia passing attack. S Keanu Neal is one to watch for big hits.
UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt specializes in coaching the secondary, and his group will certainly be prepared for Florida’s passing game. The unit had problems against Alabama and Tennessee, but showed improvement against Missouri. S Dominick Sanders had interceptions against Vanderbilt and South Carolina.