When it comes to what John Jenkins has dubbed the “Cocktail Bowl,” it’s not just the likely return of John Brantley or the speed of Chris Rainey that the Dogs have to worry about.
It’s this mental hang-up that’s apparently developed in the players’ heads about the Gators tending to win this thing even when they’re not the better team. As Aron White noted this week, “People get a little tight during Florida week.”
Actually, on that front the most encouraging thing I’ve heard this week is all the talk from Florida players and coaches (even the ones who just arrived) about Georgia’s end zone dance … four years ago. Sounds like a team in need of motivation, which is never a good thing for one of the participants in this annual grudge match. (Hence fans’ dismay at Mark Richt’s “fake juice” attempt with the black helmets and pants a couple of years ago.)
Georgia should win this year against a Gators team that’s lost three in a row. But the Jacksonville factor can’t be ignored. On paper, Georgia should have won last year against a Gators team that had lost three in a row, and yet just look at how overamped Aaron Murray came out in that game.
Still, it’s not any perceived Jacksonville jinx that worries me the most. It’s that Georgia has yet to play a complete game this season and continues to have red zone problems. The special teams meltdowns don’t help, either.
As for the Florida QB situation, I don’t think the uncertainty over who the Dogs will face is any big deal. Todd Grantham’s defense may have to play whack-a-mole with Florida’s three quarterbacks plus Trey Burton in the wildcat, but they’ve known that all along. As Richt said this week, “We’re preparing for their offense not the quarterback.”
If Brantley is in, the Dogs will have to think more about the passing game, whereas if it’s one of the true freshmen, they’ll likely load the box to stop Rainey and Jeff Demps. And no matter who’s in the game, Cornelius Washington and company will be trying to apply as much pressure as possible. That’s where Brantley’s mobility coming back from an ankle injury could come into play.
But the Dogs have to be concerned about Rainey and Demps’ speed, especially if they get to the outside. The Gators no doubt will be throwing to the backs to try to get them the ball with some space to run. The Dogs also have to control Burton, who gashed them for 110 yards and two touchdowns last year running out of the wildcat.
On defense for Georgia, it won’t help that Kwame Geathers and Shawn Williams have to sit out the first half, but getting Washington and Alec Ogletree back is a big plus.
Assuming Brantley isn’t hobbled, the two teams are fairly closely matched, so mistakes will probably be a big key. Georgia gave away a game against South Carolina that way, but Florida hasn’t forced any turnovers in the past three games, muffed four punts and turned the ball over three times last week and leads the SEC in penalties, so if the Dogs can manage to hold on to the ball and avoid late hits and such, the Gators might self-destruct.
This will be the best defense Georgia has faced since the first two games of the season, but the Gators have had trouble stopping the run lately so keeping Isaiah Crowell on the field should be a major objective for the Dogs. And if Crowell is successful early on, that’ll open up the play-action for Murray and his receivers (even without Malcolm Mitchell) against a young Florida secondary that hasn’t been tested much this year (because opponents have been able to move on the ground).
Both teams have had some shaky special teams play, but while Blair Walsh has missed quite a few field goal attempts this season, the Gators’ Caleb Sturgis has made 15 of 16. So let’s hope it doesn’t come down to a kicking duel.
Bottom line: If Georgia avoids turnovers, gets pressure on the quarterback (whoever it is) and does a decent job against the Gators’ running game, the Dogs should come out the victor.
But it’s Jacksonville. So the biggest thing Georgia needs to do is win its own mind game.
Feel free to share your own views of this year’s Georgia-Florida showdown and the Jacksonville jinx.
Got a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find me on Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter.