ATHENS — Just arrived in Happy Town, where the football team has won three straight, the basketball team is considered a conference dark horse and the outside of Stegeman Coliseum is almost completely encircled by glass panels. (OK. Still looks like an old barn with a new shine. But not bad.)
It’s Mark Richt news conference day and I’m planning on writing something about Georgia-Florida later. The focus will be on what I believe is the key to not only this game but the key to affirming that the Bulldogs really are headed in the right direction this season and beyond.
The answer is . . . well, you’ll just have to wait. I know. I’m such a tease.
If you haven’t heard, the Dogs actually are favored in this game for the first time since 2004, according to Todd Fuhrman of the Caesars Place Race and Sportsbook in Las Vegas. That year, they were 6½ point favorites and won (and covered) 31-24.
This year Georgia is favored by three. Sounds strange, doesn’t it, given that the Dogs have lost 17 of the last 20 meetings and the last two by a combined score of 90-27? But a winning streak (even over the soft competition of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky) has altered some perceptions in Athens and, maybe more importantly, the Gators are a train wreck. They’ve lost three straight regular season games for the first time since 1988 and coach Urban Meyer’s vaunted offense is ranked 89th in the nation.
So here’s the question of the day, until I post the column later: What is the biggest key to beating Florida? I’ve put up a poll, but here are the choices. You can only pick one.
♦ QUARTERBACK: Aaron Murray (12 touchdowns, three interceptions, 1,766 yards) has been great for Georgia. John Brantley (six touchdowns, five interceptions, 1,266 yards) has been mediocre for the Florida. Is it as simple as Murray outplaying Brantley?
♦ RUNNING GAME: The formerly suspended Washaun Ealey, starting the last two games for the suspended Caleb King, rushed for 280 yards and six touchdowns against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Florida has struggled to run the ball. Is it as simple as the Dogs controlling the ball with the running game and winning?
♦ DEFENSE: What to think? Florida is struggling (they scored seven points in a loss to Mississippi State and six in a loss at Alabama) and there’s no question Georgia has made some progress. But how worrisome is it that Kentucky rolled up 31 points and 423 yards (353 passing) last week? Clearly there are still some holes.
♦ SPECIAL TEAMS: Rivalry games often turn on freakish plays like a long return or a blocked punt.
♦ TURNOVERS: See special teams.
So those are your choices. I know which way I’m going. Until then, what do you think? I’ll check back shortly.