What do the Dogs have to do to notch a third straight win over the Gators?

The return of Todd Gurley could be the single most important key to a Georgia win over Florida. (Associated Press)

The return of Todd Gurley could be the single most important key to a Georgia win over Florida. (Associated Press)

It’s been a crazy year in the SEC. You could field a pretty potent all-star team with players who are out for the season or are missing multiple games with injuries. Actually, you could do it just with the injured players from Georgia and Florida.

And so it is that two teams that were expected to be among the nation’s best limp into their annual grudge match at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, where only one will emerge with even an outside chance of being a contender in the SEC East.

Shorthand on this game goes like this: Georgia is bad on defense (ranking 58th nationally in total defense, 101st in scoring defense) but Florida is even worse on offense (outside the Top 100 in total offense, scoring offense and red zone scoring percentage). Meanwhile, Georgia used to be really good on offense, before injuries took out a bunch of its key playmakers, but the Dogs expect to get two of those playmakers back for this game. They’ll be going up against a defense that, even after losing star defensive lineman Dominique Easley for the season to a knee injury, is one of the nation’s five best, though it didn’t do so well last game against Missouri (something else the two teams have in common).

Florida, which has lost its starting quarterback, running back and a couple of starters off an offensive line that’s been giving up a lot of sacks and quarterback hurries lately, will have a backup QB with a lingering shoulder injury (Tyler Murphy) and a recently promoted freshman as starting tailback (Kelvin Taylor) going up against a young Georgia defense that, despite its dismal numbers and tendency to give up big plays, has improved incrementally this season, getting good pressure on quarterbacks and doing a decent job against the run.

No wonder beleaguered Gators coach (and erstwhile Bulldog) Will Muschamp called his staff in off the recruiting trail during the bye week to concentrate on getting things fixed. “We’re inept offensively right now,” he said on his weekly TV show, “and we need to make some changes as we move forward.”

Mark Richt agrees Georgia should have thrown the long ball more against Vandy. (Associated Press)

Mark Richt agrees Georgia should have thrown the long ball more against Vandy. (Associated Press)

For Georgia’s offense, the return of Todd Gurley and the running game should be big for the Bulldogs, whose decimated receiving corps (even with Michael Bennett returning) will be challenged by the Gators’ close-marking, opportunistic secondary, led by remarkable freshman Vernon Hargreaves. As Mark Richt noted this week, “Florida’s cover guys are ones that can stick with anybody when it comes to speed, agility and change of direction. For us, it will be a tremendous challenge to find a way to create a little space and some separation from those guys. They’re not afraid to try to lock you down man-to-man. … We’ve got to find a way to get open or make the tough catch in tight coverage.”

Still, after his boss and everyone else in the Bulldog Nation called him out for his overly conservative playcalling against Vanderbilt, where Georgia never tried to utilize its vertical passing game, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has told QB Aaron Murray this week to “let it rip” in the passing game. It’ll help that, with Gurley toting the rock, the Gators will have to devote more attention up front rather than sitting back in lockdown coverage like the Commodores did much of the time against the Dogs.

So here are the keys to the game for Georgia, in my view:

1. Gurley and Bennett, especially Gurley. If they’re at anything approaching full-strength, I feel pretty good about the offense, even against one of the nation’s best defenses. Still, we may need to see Murray utilizing the tight ends and backs more in the passing game.

Will Muschamp has called his own offense "inept." (Associated Press)

Will Muschamp has called his own offense "inept." (Associated Press)

2. Third down. Georgia’s had problems with making them and stopping them, but especially the latter. With the Gators being more of a one-dimensional offense, the key is going to be putting them in third-and-long situations and then not giving up the big play. This is the aspect of the game that worries me the most after …

3. Special teams. The key here for Georgia is basically not screwing up and giving Florida cheap points off blocked punts and the like.

4. Turnovers. This is where the Dogs have won the game the past couple of years. Last year, a Georgia defense that had been labeled “soft” by one of its own kicked it up several notches and got six takeaways, which made up for Murray’s own problems maintaining possession in the first half. It’s pretty safe to say that whoever wins the turnover battle Saturday probably wins the game.

5. Motivation. Florida may have the edge here, as they’ve lost the past two years and Gators defensive end Dante Fowler said the score of last year’s game is posted in the weight room as a reminder. But Georgia has a chance to take back control of this rivalry as well as salvage a season that once looked so promising. Let’s face it, even if they don’t win the SEC East, having wins over South Carolina, LSU and Florida in the same year would be pretty great.

That’s my take on this year’s Cocktail Party. Feel free to share your own.

And now, let’s get to some Junkyard Mail. …

OkieDawg writes: Hi Bill, The “Dream Team” have reached their junior year. Did you ever think the Dream Team would lose to Vandy in their 3rd year? The Dream Team are the leaders of this team. I know, Sanders, Seay, Harrow, Marshall, Crowell etc. are gone. But they were replaced by quality players. How do you grade this heralded team? What should we expect next year? Why did this team not meet our expectations … coaching, player development, talent evaluation or something else? I’m a true Dawg … but I am confused as to how we lose to Vandy and I have no confidence in our ability to win again … even as I head to the WLOCP.

It's taken a while, but Dream Team member Ray Drew finally has come into his own as a UGA player. (Jason Getz / AJC)

It's taken a while, but Dream Team member Ray Drew finally has come into his own as a UGA player. (Jason Getz / AJC)

The recruiting class known as the Dream Team had its busts, no doubt, with several besides Isaiah Crowell dismissed because of disciplinary problems (including the obviously very talented Nick Marshall, who was set to be a defensive star at UGA and now is the quarterback of the suddenly revived Auburn Tigers). And Lonnie Outlaw and Kent Turene were unable to qualify. But that class also produced very productive players like Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley, David Andrews, Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson and Justin Scott-Wesley (though several have had injury problems) and a few other players that have slowly developed into solid performers (Ray Drew, Chris Mayes, Sterling Bailey and Jay Rome) or have had highs and lows (Damian Swann). And for some, like Corey Moore, Devin Bowman and Christian LeMay, the lightbulb just hasn’t seemed to flick on yet. Overall, aside from the rash of dismissals, it probably shakes out about like most classes. Maybe not a Dream Team, but not a nightmare, either.

Rick Page writes: Bill, Love your blog; very honest commentary on the state of the Dawgs. I have been a loyal Dawg fan since my freshman year in 1970. Maybe my memory fails me, but I don’t remember our special teams failing so frequently and with such disastrous results. I also can’t remember ever having less confidence in a Dawg defense being able to make a stop at a critical juncture. Most times they seem lost, particularly in pass coverage on 3rd and 4th down and rarely pressure the quarterback. I watched FSU demolish Clemson in Death Valley, Alabama do the same to Tennessee, Texas A&M offense move at will against the same Vandy defense that shut us down and, finally, South Carolina coming alive in the 4th quarter and overtime to beat Missouri. Do we really hang our hats on injuries being the only reason we are unable to post similar results? Please help me understand, as I am a confused but loyal Dawg in Hawaii!

I tend to let the periods when the Dogs have been awful recede into the mists of the past, but off the top of my head I can’t recall a time when I was more concerned every time Georgia punts the ball or receives a punt. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure just designating a special teams coordinator would solve the problem. I think Richt and his staff need to rethink their entire approach to special teams play and how they prepare and practice for it. As for the defense, I think we’ve seen some progress this season, particularly up front, but the inability of Georgia’s defenders to get off the field on third down has been every bit as much a problem as the injuries, though those injuries (particularly to Tray Matthews) are a factor. But as for coming back late in the game, the Dogs did that several times this season, including against South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee. So they’re certainly capable of it. Their failure to do so against Missouri and Vandy is, I think directly a result of the loss of so many key players on offense.

Chris McAndrew writes: Hi Bill, Call me a homer, or call me insane, but I think Georgia will still win the SEC East this year and get a shot a Bama for SEC Champion. I don’t think this feeling is too crazy. For one thing, if Gurley was healthy for all the Clemson game, I think Georgia wins that game. If he was healthy for all of the season so far, then I don’t think Georgia would have lost a game yet. He’s healthy again, so Georgia should be able to win out, especially with some other players getting healthy as well. Of course, winning out doesn’t get Georgia to the game without some help. I think they’ll get that help. … I could easily see Mizzou losing two more games this year. What are your thoughts? Are you as confident as I am that Georgia will be back at the Dome in December?

Chris, I’m not as confident as you are that Mizzou will lose twice more. But I’m certainly rooting for it (with apologies to my Missouri grad friends). Where it gets really crazy is if they lose just once more and Georgia and South Carolina both win out. Figuring out the tiebreaker in that case could give you a headache, but Mark Bradley did a good job earlier this week of explaining it. Check his column out.

Chad writes: Our Dawgs have been dealt a tough hand this year and, despite all that, we very easily could have been 7-0 going into the Florida game this weekend. Seriously, sit down and count how few plays would have been the difference in the games we’ve won and lost. … Our Dawgs need us to be behind them 110% for the rest of the season. I’m sure the players and coaches hear all the negative and I’m just as sure our unwavering support could give them the boost they need to “finish the drill” and end the season the way we all want them to. So I plead to all “REAL” Dawg fans out there to show our team what they mean to us and be the 12th man that they can count on in good times and bad, it just might make the difference. God Bless, Go Dawgs !

Fan support certainly is a big factor, Chad. It’s just too bad that a quirk of the schedule has Georgia traveling to Auburn again this year instead of playing host to the Tigers at home (though, come to think of it, the visiting team often triumphs in that series). Still, the Dawgs need a lot more than fan support to win out this season. Improved execution in all aspects of the game (but especially special teams and third-down offense and defense) would go a long way toward getting Georgia back on track. And a bit of good luck wouldn’t hurt, either.

Keith Miller writes: Bill, I hate to be this guy, but when you look at the body of work that (Todd Grantham) has had while at UGA, it isn’t very impressive to say the least. I watched closely other games and you see a much more disciplined defense and more constant in year in and out. I know the defense is young and the game has changed from when (Brian Van Gorder) was here, but the points allowed has changed as well! Also if the game is changing why is Bama is a time warp then? Do they really get the best defensive players on Earth and are there only 85 players that are the top level in the nation? Look at Ellis Johnson, everywhere he goes the defense is improved, look around other guys have that same record of coaching them up. The game always changes and the players, but tackling and getting after the ball never change. Someone has the ball and someone has to bring them down and try to take the ball away! Some things you can’t coach, some players are just better, but tackling shouldn’t be one of them. Also knowing where you should be and your role, should never require a time out. When I see guys moving slow on defense and not playing with aggression, I hate to see anyone wearing red try and say GATA!!

I agree that there’ve been times this season when Georgia’s defense has looked not only tentative and confused, but has shown poor fundamentals, especially in tackling. Whether that’s a product of the players currently on the team or is a chronic problem indicative of some flaw in Grantham’s approach is tough to say. But I’m beginning to lean toward the latter.

That’s it for this week.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at  junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

Find me on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter.

— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

174 comments Add your comment

Masivatack

November 1st, 2013
9:40 am

Hang on to the damn ball!

Masivatack

November 1st, 2013
9:41 am

Oh and Go Dawgs!

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
9:58 am

Fire Grantham and promote Chris Wilson,

Fire will friend.

Kill the curse that is injuring our players.

Let Russ attack will muschamp at half time

Let Katherine Richt give the half time speech.

Never mind I got carried away…we are doomed.

Art Farkman

November 1st, 2013
10:01 am

“What must UGA do?” Easy question, Since it’s Fla just have proper execution of plays, everything else should fall in line.

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:08 am

The biggest reason we lose is…fla had 2 weeks off to prepare…look at record vs UGA when they have that extra week. I know we had an extra week off…..but we didn’t do anything with it. Vandy had an extra week off and look at what they did. Any team that has an extra week off when facing this coaching staff,,,I got to go with them. Fla 35 UGA 14.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:15 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) ….. with “friends” like you the Dawgs don’t need enemies…… congrats on having the most whining, crying and bellyaching of an y blogger in the history of this blog. You win hands down.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:17 am

What do the Dawgs need to do the beat the Reps three years in a row?

#1 EXECUTE !!!
#2 Get the refs Lasik vision correction
#3 EXECUTE !!!

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:19 am

I watched Memphis tigers Wednesday night…and I have to say…even they have an better defense than UGA. True story.

Fat Pie

November 1st, 2013
10:21 am

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:23 am

Flo- ri- duh….

Hey bro….we have no weapons left on offense! Gurley isn’t enough! Bennett will just get double teamed! While the other WR’s won’t get any separation. Hell they couldn’t even get open against vandy. Fla 35 UGA 14. These WR’s are below average. Sad but true!

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:24 am

by execute I mean:

#1 no DUMB penalties
#2 no DUMB turnovers
#3 Catch the ball
#4 tackle
#5 block

*** you know – stuff like that***

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:25 am

The real UGA team is rehabbing at st Mary’s and in the UGA training room. Sad but true.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:26 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – Bro?

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:27 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – Not your Bro – least hope not!

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:27 am

Rick page is right….even when we are healthy our best is still not as good as the elite teams in the nation like Texas a&m and Bama. Auburn is going to beat us down.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:28 am

Are you kin to Justin Beaver?

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:28 am

Looks like garner and Marshall will get their sweet revenge against us…..thanks Richt.

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:30 am

Richt needs to start recruiting better WR’s…seems like he is only been recruiting for depth…that’s ok but not good enough.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:31 am

Oh – I don’t know. A&M’s defense really SUX big time and their offense is pretty good. Aubarn vs Bummer for the SEC West…. who you got there?

**** Nick Marshall better watch his back before and after the whistle if the game is close in the 3rd. Saban will take out a contract on him ala Quniton Diahl.

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:31 am

Flo- ri- duh

Are u kin to Elton John?

The Horseless Headsman

November 1st, 2013
10:32 am

I must admit, I don’t have a feel for this game. Both teams are 4-3. One team is poor on offense, the other poor on defense. It just may go down to who makes the mistakes and who doesn’t

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:34 am

I can’t wait to see how cheap the app state and Kentucky tickets will be…maybe me and my wife can get 2 tickets for 5 dollars…..woo hoo. I have a car that’s good on gas….I live about an hour and 45 min’s from the stadium…wow going to be cheap baby…woo hoo!

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:35 am

The horse less

Find your horse and ride on out….fla wins this slop fest.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:36 am

Dawgs recruited the #1 WR in the country in A.J. Green and followed him up with the #2 the next year in Malcolm Brown and then went after Marquis North (top 3) but lost him to the Vowels and are now after another big time WR (top 5) – it’s not like they aren’t recruiting these guys – guess you mean they need to sign them? YES… they need to sign them. They recruit most of the top players nationwide every year but some pay better – like Aubarn.

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:37 am

After this loss…Richt is really going to be back on that hot seat. Oh the horrid questions of when u going to beat the lizards will reek it’s ugly head again.

Bulldawg35

November 1st, 2013
10:41 am

Flo- ri- duh…

It’s Marlon brown by the way…..we missed out on north and that WR playing for the Minnesota Vikings….as a rookie this year….can’t think of his name? We have had several WR’s decomit in this 2014 class.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:43 am

“Is Flo-Ri-Duh kin to Elton John”? Not sure but I will check in to it. Saw him in concert earlier this year. One of the greatest musicians of modern history and he’s still great on stage. Unbelievable band behind him and has a non stop concert for three hours.

**** Please don’t compare your cuz Justin Beaver Bieber to Elton John.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
10:45 am

Florida is MUCH better than Georgia in turnover margin, 3rd down offense, 3rd down defense, defensive scoring, and special teams.

Florida’s defense holds almost every team below 21 points. But Georgia’s defense allows nearly every time to score 31 points.

So, Florida 34, Georgia 21.

Losing is best at this point, it’s the only way Richt will see the cause of the 3rd down issues and turnovers is Aaron Murray. Once Richt puts Hutson Mason in, the team will start winning again, until then, this team will lose to Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech if Murray stays in. Murray is not a good fit for this offense, if he was, he would be better on 3rd downs as a 5th Year Senior.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:47 am

2014 – have had one decommit but not that highly ranked – think he lacked confidence that he could cut it in the SEC and didn’t want to ride the bench… just committed to Minnesota or some awful place.

My bad – Marlon Brown. One of my fav Dawgs is now starting for the NC Ravens. Injuries plagued him but never gave up. Just love these guys that never give up – unlike YOU fair weather fans.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:48 am

RedHat – A TRUE non fan.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:50 am

You are going to get Mason in 2014…… just hope he lives up to your expectations and goes undefeated, has zero interceptions, and completes every pas for a TD. Jeeeeezzzzz.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
10:51 am

Murray has talent, it’s mainly his legs, but he’s not a fit for the Pro Style offense, he’s not accurate, not good on third down because he’s so short he has a hard time seeing over dlineman, and he turns the ball over too much instead of patiently completing high percentage short passes and letting the playmakers do their thing.

Murray sees himself as a playmaker instead of a distributor to playmaker, and this will never change. That’s why he always plays so poorly against Florida, averages 2-3 turnovers, and only wins 4 of 18 games vs ranked teams. He doesn’t know how to win big games, and he’s not suited to the Pro Style Offense.

Hutson Mason is a perfect fit, with a tall guy, with loads of patience who prefers a short passing attack. He will be very good next year, or this year, whichever comes first. I actually think Hutson will go 12-0 in 2014.

dawgfan

November 1st, 2013
10:52 am

This should be a very entertaining game. I’ll give it that. I hope it goes in to 7 overtimes and there are a bunch of fights and personal foul penalties. I want it as wild and sloppy as possible. I want blocked punts, missed extra points, turnovers and blown coverages. I want to see Muschamp’s head explode. I want to see Grantham and Muschamp get in to it after the game. That would be awesome.

Anything less will be a disappointment.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:53 am

DAWG 16 – Reptiles 10….. in the rain.

Dawg fans bleed red and black.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
10:54 am

Murray talks a lot of getting better, but really, he has got worse every week in passer efficiency, he has dropped from the 240’s 6 games back, to 85 now.

Murray gets an average of 27 points worse each game he starts for the last 5 games in a row.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:56 am

REPTILES – slimey low crawling prehistoric peabrains

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
10:57 am

How many turnovers do you guys predict Murray will commit tomorrow?

4 like he did in 2010?
1 like he did in 2011?
3 like he did in 2012?

I’ll go for 2-3, his average in this game.

Flo-Ri-Duh

November 1st, 2013
10:58 am

RIGHT – like injuries to all the starting WR’s and RB’s shouldn’t have any effect o n Murray’s performance?

I get it that you don’t like Murray…. give it a rest.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:01 am

What we need is for Aaron Murray to play his worst career game, and for the special teams to fall apart.

The Richt MIGHT make a change at Qb, and MIGHT hire a Special Teams coach in the offseason.

If not, let’s hope Murray and the special teams LOSE 2 MORE to Auburn and Georgia Tech.

By the way, Florida, Auburn and GT, all in the top 25 pass defenses. Not a good situation for a team with a qb struggling like AM is.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:03 am

Don’t blame it on injuries, Murray has had problems with turnovers in 2011, 2012, and 2013, he’s been near the bottom of the SEC in interceptions. Injuries have nothing to do with it, it’s more in handling pressure, short of stature, understanding his role properly, and timing.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:05 am

Murray wins 22% of his games vs ranked teams (4 of 14).

What a stud. LOL

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:07 am

Murray was in the SEC in interceptions:
15th (LAST) in 2011
11th in 2012
10th in 2013

Injuries? LOL.

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:08 am

Really expect a 5th Year Senior to rank 94th on third down conversions like Aaron Murray does? Some of you think that’s ok or good?

SC Dog fan

November 1st, 2013
11:14 am

Georgia 24, Florida 6. Hutson Mason!

dawgfan

November 1st, 2013
11:16 am

Stafford had a problem with turnovers. Joe Cox had a problem with turnovers. Now Murray has a problem with turnovers.

Gee, ya think maybe the problem is a little deeper than just blaming the QB for everything?

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:20 am

What to Dawgs have to do to beat Florida?
1. Bench Murray, start Mason
2. Hire a Special Teams Coach
3. Fire Joe T, promote Asst S & C Coach former Penn St S & C coach, too many injuries
4. Bench Douglas, he fumbles too much
5. Bench any DB’s who get beat deep

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:23 am

No excuses for Murray losing 78% of his starts vs ranked teams (4 of 18 starts were wins, 14 were losses).

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:25 am

Hopefully, we lose to Florida, Auburn and GTECH, with Murray and the Special teams continuing their play like they have so far in 2013.

Richt deserves to lose 3 more for staying with Murray and Coach Terishinski, and not hiring a Special Teams coach.

dudemankind

November 1st, 2013
11:30 am

Dump Grantham now. The worst case scenario is that our defense will be one of the lowest ranked in the nation during the transition;…….wait a minute…..that already is the case. There is no worst scenario than Grantham!!!!!!

RedHat

November 1st, 2013
11:32 am

Grantham ain’t the problem.

His defenses have finishied in the top 25 in scoring in both 2011 & 2012.

Grantham’s defenses created more turnovers than Nick Saban in 2010, 2011, 2012.