The key to Mark Richt’s Bulldogs pulling an upset in Jacksonville Saturday is starkly illustrated by some halftime numbers from last week’s Florida-South Carolina game.
After two quarters of play, the Gators had a grand total of just 29 yards of offense, 13 of those in the running game, and just two first downs. They also had already been flagged by the officials five times for 64 yards.
And yet Florida led the Gamecocks 21-6 thanks to the scores resulting from three turnovers.
As one sage sports observer I know put it this week, anytime a team has more points than yards, there’s something wrong.
But what’s wrong with the 2012 Florida Gators has been more than countered by what’s right: an aggressive, effective defense that likes to take away the ball and, best of all, superb, opportunistic special teams play. As a result, Florida has become the nation’s No. 2 team despite having merely an adequate offense that is most effective grinding it out on the ground to wear opponents down as the game goes on.
The Gators’ best and most effective player is punter Kyle Christy, the NCAA leader whose 50-plus-yard boomers often flip the field and keep opponents bottled up deep in their own territory.
So, what are the keys to a Georgia win over Florida?
No. 1 definitely is protecting the ball (especially on punt and kickoff returns) because, as Richt noted this week, winning the turnover margin has been Florida’s “formula for success,” and the Gators have only turned the ball over four times this season.
The other key for the Dogs was nicely summed up this week by a friend who’s a Gamecock fan: “Georgia needs to make Florida play from behind.”
In other words, the Dogs need to get an early lead so that Florida’s run-oriented offense is taken out of its comfort zone and Gators QB Jeff Driskel has to try throwing it more in catch-up mode. Mike Bobo needs to come out fast and furious, running his entire playbook: Mix the run and pass and don’t be afraid to test the Gators secondary deep early.
Basically, if Georgia is going to win this game, it’s going to be with the arm of Aaron Murray, who almost single-handedly beat Kentucky last week.
But even that probably won’t be enough if Todd Grantham’s defense doesn’t turn it around and play its best game since Mizzou. The Georgia front seven that has underperformed all season needs to contain Gators running back Mike Gillislee and, more importantly, Driskel, who is one of those running quarterbacks the Dogs tend to have trouble handling. If Grantham’s first-half game plan doesn’t include keeping a spy on Driskel to control those zone-read keepers, any second-half adjustments might be too little too late.
The hope here is that, having had their collective manhood challenged this week by their own Shawn Williams, who’s played the Pat Dye/Sheldon Richardson role in Georgia’s pregame motivation, Grantham’s troops finally will play like last year’s Top 5 defense rather than the “too soft” bunch we’ve seen most of this season.
Williams gigged the Georgia defense for its lack of emotion; if they come out breathing fire at EverBank Field Saturday, perhaps he’ll have earned himself a game ball before the first kickoff.
What do you think of Georgia’s chances in Jacksonville this year? Can the Dogs finally make it two in a row?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg