This isn’t exactly a revelation, given that I made the prediction nearly five months ago, but here, for late tuners-in, it is: I like Georgia over Florida. Believe it or not, I’m not alone.
The many men of Scouts Inc. — Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl – have declared on ESPN Insider (link requires registration) that the Bulldogs will beat the Gators 26-23. Their reasoning, conveniently enough, dovetails with what I’m now thinking. Back in May, I was thinking Georgia would simply be the better team. It hasn’t been to date, which doesn’t mean it can’t be Saturday.
From the Scouts Inc. preview:
Signs can’t always be trusted, especially in rivalry games. So don’t be surprised when Georgia turns in its most emotionally charged effort of the year. For 60 minutes, all the elite individual talent on Georgia’s defense will work together as a unit, and it will be enough to hand the Gators their first loss of the season.
I just watched Georgia barely beat one of the worst Kentucky teams in my memory. (And I’m a Kentucky grad, and I have a long memory.) I also caught a goodly portion of the Gators’ thrashing of South Carolina. If last Saturday is the measure, the Bulldogs don’t have a chance. But no two games, I’ve learned over my now-lengthy life, are alike. Just because the Gamecocks kept giving Florida the ball doesn’t mean Georgia will.
Florida scored 21 first-half points against South Carolina while gaining 29 yards. The Gators’ three touchdown drives spanned a total of 32 yards. The Gamecocks fumbled a punt and a kickoff return, and the game was gone. If Georgia does the same, the Bulldogs could well lose by 33 points, too. But what if they don’t do the same?
Florida is seventh nationally in total defense. Georgia is 47th. That’s a big spread, but not as big as this: Georgia is 18th in total offense to Florida’s 100th. What if the Bulldogs hold the ball — which won’t be easy; the Gators are ninth-best in turnover margin — and make Florida drive 70 yards to score? (For the record, Florida’s 44 points against South Carolina came on a day when the Gators managed 183 yards.) What if the Gators, whose 114th-ranked passing offense sits three spots below Georgia Tech’s, fall behind and have to throw?
There’s no question Georgia’s defense has underperformed. That doesn’t mean this unit is without talent. These are mostly the same defenders who enabled Georgia to finish fifth nationally in total defense last season. They’re capable of a big game in a big setting.
Yes, I’ve thought as much before about Georgia, often in a game involving Florida, and been wrong more times than right. But the dynamics of this installment have changed so quickly that the Bulldogs, who were the preseason pick to rule the SEC East, will arrive being given little chance to win by most observers, many Bulldog fans among them. That’s not the worst place to be. Coaches love it when they’ve got a good team that’s being utterly dismissed.
Has Florida been impressive? Absolutely. Have the Gators had the better season? They have by far. But LSU had a better 2011 season than Alabama — heck, LSU even beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa — and that mattered not one whit when the two met again in the BCS title game.
If Georgia can win Saturday, it will override the memory of the bitter loss at South Carolina and position itself to play again for the SEC championship. So far we’ve seen only snippets, but I’m convinced there’s a complete game in these Bulldogs. I’m encouraged to know someone else agrees..
By Mark Bradley