1. Don’t give it away to Gators
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray tossed three interceptions in the Bulldogs’ 34-31 loss to Florida last year. The Gators haven’t been getting takeaways recently. Florida’s defense has zero turnovers during its three game losing streak. The Gators are minus-7 on the year and rank last in the SEC and 109 th in the nation in turnover margin.
“We have to create some positive momentum for our team, whether it’s on special teams or on defense,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We need to continue to eliminate turnovers offensively, and get some turnovers on defense.”
2. Keep Wildcat in check.
Florida’s speed with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey has the Bulldogs’ attention.
Georgia has to be ready for multiple Gators quarterback (John Brantley, Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel) but also Trey Burton in the Wildcat, too.
“If they put Trey back there and ask him to do some stuff, that’s nothing that we haven’t seen already or experienced,” Georgia inside linebacker Christian Robinson said.
Burton has rushed for 94 yards and three touchdowns this season, but set career highs with 17 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns last year against Georgia.
3. Put pressure on QB
How mobile will John Brantley be in his return from a high right ankle sprain? Georgia may want to bring the heat to find out. Brantley was sacked twice in the first half against Alabama before his injury, but the Gators have given up only 11 sacks all season.
Gerogia can unleash pass rusher Cornelius Washington, who returns from a two-game DUI suspension. Butkus Award semifinalists Jarvis Jones leads the team with four sacks. The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC in sacks.
4. Win the mind game
If things take a turn for the worse, Georgia needs to treat it like every game and make the adjustments and simply execute. Forget the venue. Forget the history. Don’t think about being snakebit against the Gators.
“Half of the guys don’t even know those stats that we’ve lost 18 to them of the past 21, we just know we haven’t won the past couple years.,” Murray said. “We feel confident about our team this year and we’re just going out there to get a W.”
5. Start fast, play smart
Georgia fell behind 21-7 in the second quarter to Florida last year and had to fight back to force overtime in what became a 34-31 loss.
“Hopefully we’ll get a better start this time and not have to work our way back in tying the game up,” Murray said. “Start strong and finish strong.”
If Georgia and Vanderbilt got chippy, there’s reason to think that the Bulldogs and Gators can. Georgia needs to avoid costly penalties that come from personal fouls after having 11 penalties for 89 yards in its last game.
Offense Edge: Georgia
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis told reporters after practice Tuesday that he was “cautiously optimistic that quarterback John Brantley would start and that he had a “pretty productive week so far.” Freshman Jacoby Brissett would be next in line to play.
The speed of running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps could be a threat to a Georgia defense that has been vulnerable at times to gadget plays.
“They’ve got skill guys that can run,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
“People have to resort to trick plays on us,” inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. “If they start doing double reverses, I feel like they’re not confident in what they can do. They feel like they have to confuse you. They just can’t straight up play you.”
Brantley threw for 190 yards in the first half against Alabama in his last game.
Rainey leads the team in rushing ((71.4 yards per game, two touchdowns) and receiving (18 for 275 with two touchdowns). Andre Debose has nine catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia coach Mark Richt called Rainey and Demps “Warrick Dunn-like” referring to the Florida State tailback he had when he was Seminoles’ offensive coordinator. Demps has four rushing touchdowns with a long of 84.
Georgia is third in the SEC in total offense (411.1) and passing offense (248.7)
Tailback Isaiah Crowell should be fresh after two weeks between games, giving his wrist and elbow injuries time to mend. Crowell is fourth in the SEC with 608 yards but had season lows with 35 yards and 10 carries against Vanderbilt when Richt didn’t play him in the first quarter.
Tight end Orson Charles had six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown last year against Florida.
Defense Edge: Even
Georgia will be without nose guard Kwame Geathers and safety Shawn Williams due to first half SEC suspensions for their actions against Vanderbilt.
John Jenkins remains the starting nose and DeAngelo Tyson could see snaps at the position in Geathers’ absence. Sanders Commings is expected to start at safety for Williams.
With Alec Ogletree returning from a broken bone in his foot, he is expected to start alongside Mike Gillard at inside linebacker for a Georgia defense that is sixth in the nation in total defense at 272.9.
Florida is 11 th , allowing 289.1 yards per game. The Gators’ 6-3, 303-pound nose tackle Jaye Howard has 33 tackles, 1 ½ sacks, three quarterback hurries and two pass breakups.
Defensive tackle Dominique Easley has six and a half tackles for loss. Linebacker Jonathan Bostic leads with 51 tackles.
“Speed, speed, speed,” Richt said. “Linebackers like DBs. DBS extremely fast. Safeties can run like corners.”
Florida ranks fourth in the SEC in run defense at 120.7 yards per game and is 16 th in scoring defense at 18.9 yards per gme.
Bobo sees similarities with Muschamp’s scheme at Texas.
“It’s probably not phase three or phase four of some defenses he’s had in the past,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “My guess would be because of the youth that they have, but you see where they’re doing more and more every week.”
Special Teams Edge: Even
Georgia could sure use a bounce-back showing from its special teams after a shoddy showing at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs had a punt blocked, a kickoff returned 96 yards for a touchdown and a fake punt run against them.
Florida and Rainey had its own troubles against Auburn simply fielding punts. The Gators had four muffed punts and fumbling the ball once at its own 32.
Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis leads the SEC with a 93.8 field goal percentage (15 of 16). Georgia’s Blair Walsh is hitting only 60 percent (12 of 20). Freshman Kyle Christy averages 46.1 yards per punt for Florida. Georgia’s Drew Butler is eighth in the nation in average at 46.1, but the Bulldogs rank 101 st in the nation in net punting at 34.2.
Coaching Edge: Georgia
Jacksonville hasn’t been kind to Mark Richt just like it wasn’t for Jim Donnan and Ray Goff before him. Richt is 2-8 against the Gators, but 31-11 against the rest of the SEC East. Will Muschamp is 4-3 in his first season as a head coach and 1-3 in the SEC. Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis’s offense ranks 90 th nationally, but has been without Brantley for two and a half games. Former Seattle Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn is the Gators’ defensive coordinator.
Intangibles Edge: Florida
There figures to be a couple of psychological boosts for Florida with the return of Brantley at quarterback and the venue. The Gators know they came to Everbank Field last year on a three-game winning streak and left with a win. Georgia is on a roll, with a five game winning streak, but there’s pressure to stay in the thick of the SEC East race and to win for the first time since 2007 in the series.
Overall Edge: Georgia
Georgia players and coaches have talked about focusing squarely on the gameplan and not making it as much about the opponent or the history of the series of losing 18 of the last 21. Just like it’s done during its climb out of an 0-2 hole. Florida has been ineffective on offense recently and gave up 38 and 41 points to powerhouse teams Alabama and LSU this month. Can it turn on the switch and have everything click? Maybe. The thinking here is Georgia’s momentum continues and the Bulldogs come away with a rare win—perhaps just barely– over the Gators.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia passing game vs. Florida secondary
Quarterback Aaron Murray is coming off a career-best 326 yards passing against Vanderbilt and that came with Malcolm Mitchell sidelined with a pulled hamstring.
Georgia again won’t have Mitchell availabile for Florida after he came out of practice early in Monday’s practice and did not go the rest of the week. The school said Friday evening that he did not make the trip with the team to Jacksonville.
Florida is young but talented on the back end.
At cornerback, Marcus Roberson is a true freshman and Cody Riggs is a sophomore. The safeties are redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw and junior Josh Evans and the nickel back is sophomore Matt Elam.
The 5-foot-9 Shaw lost a jump ball for a touchdown against Auburn, which also beat 6-0 Jaylen Watkins on a 42-yard completion.
“We’ve really challenged our guys after that game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “Some opportunities that we had, we had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t finish some things down the field. Against this football team that we’re playing this Saturday that is something that we’re going to need to do.”
Florida lost its best defensive back before the season when Janoris Jenkins was dismissed. The Gators were flagged five times for pass interference against Tennessee.
“From everything I’ve seen they’re going to lock up and play man out there, which is scary and at the same time you’re excited because it gives you opportunities to make plays one-on-one,” Georgia offensive coordiantor Mike Bobo said. “It’s a challenge for our guys, our receivers getting off the jam and the quarterback putting it in a good spot throwing accurate balls. It’s a challenge for our guys up front to pass (protect).”
Bulldogs redshirt freshman receiver Michael Bennett, who had seven catches for 89 yards against Vanderbilt, said “ “I feel like we can throw definitely. We have a good gameplan going in and we’re just going to try to execute it. I feel like we can definitely stretch them vertically because we’ve got some pretty fast, athletic guys at receiver, too so we can matchup with them pretty well, too.”
Said Muschamp: “You’re going to get 10-12 shots in the game where they’re going to stretch the field vertically, and you have to defend those balls. There’s no question that this game will be a little different from the ones we’ve seen in the last two weeks especially, as far as what people are trying to down the field, vertically. They have some guys that are talented outside.”
Florida ’s four interceptions are second lowest in the SEC, but the Gators are third in the conference in pass defense at 168.4 yards per game.
“Vandy was supposed to have a really good secondary last week and we thrashed them pretty good,” Bennett said. “I don’t think we’re going to step down from anybody.”
The Bulldogs are the only team in the SEC to score first in all of their games this season. Georgia has outscored opponents 61-10 in the first quarter. Florida has outscored its opponents 64-34 in the opening quarter.
Mark Richt is 53-13 at home, 37-10 on the road, but 11-13 in neutral site games including the 2-8 mark against Florida in Jacksonville. Richt is 12-4 after a bye week including 1-1 before the game against the Gators. This is the first time in the series both teams have a bye before the game.
The Gators lead the SEC in penalties with 61 for 146 (65.9 average). They have allowed 17 first downs by penalty this season. Georgia ranks eighth with 48 penalties for 389 yards.
The Gators defense limited Auburn to 1 of 13 on third down in the Tigers’ 17-6 win on Oct. 15. Florida ranks third in the SEC in third down defense at 27.5 percent. Georgia is second at 27.1.
“Florida does have great players. We have great players as well. When it comes down to making plays when we need it, I think Florida has done a better job up until then. I don’t think it’s anything coaching, it’s people making a play when they have an opportunity, making a pick, making a run.—Georgia inside linebacker Christian Robinson on Florida winning 18 of 21 including the past three.
“I know they’ve lost the last three, but they’ve played three ranked teams, and two of them are dominating everybody that they play. I think there is a perception that Georgia is on a roll and Florida is struggling, but if you flip those schedules I’m not sure it wouldn’t be a whole lot different story for us and for them as far as winning.” Georgia coach Mark Richt.
“There is no question that he certainly gives us a psychological boost for our football team, on offense and defense too because that affects how the defense plays at times. That’s where we have to grow stronger mentally as a football team from that. You can’t let one thing affect you so much to where it affects how you play. That’s what I’ve really challenged the players, don’t let the circumstances around you control how you are. You control who you are.” Florida coach Will Muschamp on the expected return of John Brantley at quarterback.
“We’ve got to play good solid offense, defense and special teams, but there will be a moment of truth or two in there where somebody has got to make a play. Most big plays are relatively ordinary plays that are done at a spectacular time so to speak or a time where it has got to be made.” Richt on what it takes to win a rivalry game.