Georgia vs. Florida: Prediction and preview
Halloween is almost here, which means it’s time for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville.
In many recent years, Florida and Georgia’s annual meeting by the St. Johns River has decided the SEC East. That won’t be the case, however, on Saturday.
The Bulldogs have a 7-0 record and No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. The Gators have to worry about bowl eligibility after conference losses to Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU. If Florida somehow pulled off a shocking upset, Georgia would still control its own destiny in the SEC East with remaining games against UK and UT.
First-year Florida head coach Billy Napier is about to get his first taste of the annual split-stadium rivalry clash. Under Kirby Smart, UGA has taken 4 of the last 5 games in the series. The Dawgs enter Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) as the game’s biggest favorites since 1995.
Georgia vs. Florida preview
Georgia arrives in Jacksonville looking every bit the part of the No. 1 team in the nation. While many of the stars from the 2021 national championship team are now playing on Sundays, the Bulldogs are still the most dominant team on Saturdays.
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UGA enters Saturday averaging 41.7 points per game on offense with a defense that gives up just 9.1 points per game. In the 8 major traditional team stat categories (total offense/defense, scoring offense/defense, rushing offense/defense, passing offense/defense) Georgia bests Florida in every area but one. The Gators average 213.14 rushing yards per game, while Georgia posts 196.71 yards on the ground per contest.
The Gators’ ground game, though, is about to face the best rushing defense in the SEC. The Bulldogs give up just 83.29 rushing yards per game. Something’s got to give in this strength-against-strength matchup, and one would expect it will go to the top defense in the conference.
Co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney is Florida’s defensive play-caller. His unit is coming off of a historically bad performance in UF’s Week 7 loss to LSU. The Tigers scored touchdowns on each of their first 6 possessions.
Out of 131 FBS teams, the Gators are No. 130 on 3rd downs, with opponents converting 52.58% of the time. Whether it’s on Toney or the personnel is up for debate, but there have been plenty of “Third-and-Toney” tweets flying on Saturdays.
In scoring defense, Florida is No. 11 in the SEC at 28.1 points per game. UF has the conference’s No. 13 rushing defense, allowing 185 yards per game. The Gator passing defense allows 244.3 yards per game through the air, which ranks No. 11 in the SEC.
The Bulldog offense should feast on the Gators in Jacksonville. UGA is already scoring on an FBS-leading 64.2% of its possessions. That number will likely go up after Saturday.
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Returning starting Georgia QB Stetson Bennett is completing 70.6% of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7-to-1. Bennett has spread the ball around in the passing game.
Twenty-one Georgia players have recorded a reception so far this season. Only TE Brock Bowers (26 catches, 393 yards, 2 TD) and WR Dillon Bell (13 catches, 131 yards, 2 TD) have multiple receiving scores so far. With Bennett’s ability to scramble and extend plays, he should have no problem finding the open man against a Florida defense far removed from claiming “DBU.”
UGA is similarly deep in its rushing attack. No Bulldog ball carrier averages more than 10 rushes per game. Through 7 games, Daijun Edwards leads with 59 rushes (8.43 per game) for 334 yards and 5 touchdowns. Familiar faces Kendall Milton (46 carries, 284 yards, 4 TD) and Kenny McIntosh (53 carries, 242 yards, 4 TD) are back in the rotation, along with standout freshman Branson Robinson (34 carries, 199 yards, TD). Milton has dealt with an injury but practiced this week.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson returns to Jacksonville looking for a better outing against Georgia than his disastrous first-career start a year ago. In 2022, Richardson has been up-and-down, to put it mildly.
When Richardson is at his bet, his arm strength, athleticism, speed and running ability give the Gators a chance to score every time they snap the ball. Richardson, though, struggles mightily with accuracy (56.5% completion percentage, 6 TD, 7 INT), touch and timing as a traditional pocket passer. If the QB run is taken away and Richardson is forced to throw from the pocket, Florida’s drives are in danger of ending in punts and interceptions.
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Florida’s receiving corps is lacking in speed, but Justin Shorter (18 catches, 405 yards, 2 TD) has shown he can use his size and hands to make a big catch on a deep ball.
UF’s running back rotation is led by a pair of newcomers. Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson Jr. averages 7.2 yards per carry on 8.43 carries per game, logging 425 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns through 7 games. True freshman Trevor Etienne has carried the ball 53 times for 334 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 3 TDs.
Georgia vs. Florida prediction
Florida’s defense has been historically bad. Whether the primary issue is scheme or personnel or a mix of both, it’s hard to believe the defense could be magically fixed in 2 weeks since the LSU game.
The Bulldogs should be able to name their score on offense. A rested, focused Georgia defense that excels in all areas will keep the Gators from being able to hang close for long.
UGA makes it 5-of-6 and gets a cover, because great teams cover.
Prediction: Georgia 48, Florida 17