The No. 12 Bulldogs will have to string together four complete quarters of football in order to beat the No. 3 Gators.
1. Stay strong for four quarters
Georgia hasn’t usually started games strong on defense, but has been tougher in the second half. Florida has worn down teams after halftime. The Gators have comeback to win in four of their six SEC games.
“They’ve done a good job of playing for four quarters and they’ve won the fourth quarter this year,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
Florida has outscored opponents 121-28 in the second half. Georgia has outscored its foes 143-61 after halftime
2. Come together
Safety Shawn Williams unloaded on teammates early in the week, labeling Georgia’s defense as “soft” and saying players weren’t bringing enough emotion to the field. That didn’t go over well with some teammates, but it may have lit a fire under a defense that has plenty of talent, but hasn’t produced the expected results. Georgia can’t afford finger-pointing and dissension during the game if things go against them.
3. Be physical
Georgia needs to get tougher on both lines of scrimmage. To that end, the Bulldogs first-team offense went up against the first-team defense for some scrimmage work on Tuesday, something that doesn’t happen much during the regular season.
The Bulldogs need to bring some big-htting to the game.
“We definitely have to come out and play more physical and play harder,” cornerback Sanders Commings said.
4. Win the turnover battle
Turnovers are big in any game, but have loomed particularly large in this series.
Aaron Murray tied his career-high with three interceptions against Florida in 2010 in a 34-31 loss, but had only one last year in a 24-20 victory.
“We definitely want to take care of the ball,” Murray said.
Georgia has 20 turnovers in the last six games against Florida compared to seven for the Gators.
Florida’s has just four turnovers all season. The Gators are +11 in turnover margin. Georgia is even.
5. Establish the run game
Georgia’s running game, led by freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, has been stalled the last two weeks. The Bulldogs managed just 77 rushing yards last week after running for 115 against South Carolina.
The Bulldogs can’t count on Murray throwing for 400-plus yards again against the Gators like he did last week Florida is 10th in the nation in run defense (97.3) and held South Carolina to 36 yards rushing last week.
“We know we need to establish the run,” Murray said. “We’ve got to do it.”
Who has the edge?
Florida’s offense looks pedestrian on paper. The Gators are 114th nationally in passing (137.7 yards per game), 100th in total offense (350.4) and 54th in scoring (30.14), but they have avoided big mistakes on a team that is strong on defense and special teams.
Florida only had 29 total yards in the first half against South Carolina, but led 21-6.
The last three games, the Gators beat LSU 14-6 with 61 passing yards, defeated Vanderbilt 31-17 with 77 and walloped the Gamecocks with only 94.
Florida ranks third in the nation in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 34 minutes per game. Quarterback Jeff Driskel has completed 67 percent of his passes.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is coming off a career-high 427 yard passing game against Kentucky. Murray has completed 65.3 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. He will try to build on his program-record 75 career touchdown passes.
Tavarres King now leads Georgia in receiving with 26 catches for 511 yards and five touchdowns. Malcolm Mitchell, who has focused on offense again, is still looking for his first touchdown of the season, but had nine catches for 103 yards against Kentucky.
The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in scoring 39.6 points per game, but have scored seven and 29 the past two games after topping 40 the first five. Georgia is averaging 486.9 yards per game, which trails only Texas A&M in the conference.
Georgia’s defense has been gashed up front in recent weeks. It doesn’t help that Abry Jones is out after ankle surgery.
Florida hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points in a game this season. Tennessee reached that number in a 37-20 Gators win on Sept. 15.
The Gators are fourth in the nation in scoring defense at 12.1 points per game, which ranks second in the SEC. Georgia is giving up 24.1 points per game, eighth in the conference.
Gators cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy had two forced fumbles and three tackles against South Carolina last week. The Gators have allowed just three touchdown passes this season. Florida is second in the SEC in third down defense at 27.4. Georgia is 11th at 36.4
Linebacker Jon Bostic leads Florida with three sacks and has 38 tackles. He has 206 in his career.
Bulldogs safety Shawn Williams, who created a brushfire this week in Athens with his critique of Georgia’s defense as soft, is 16th in the SEC in tackles at 7.3 per game.
“Anytime you’re not maybe as successful as you want to be, effort and physicalness are the first things you look at,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think there’s a lot of reasons those things can happen. I think these guys will be ready to play.”
Star outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who sat out the Kentucky game, is returning. He had four sacks against the Gators last season.
Florida punter Kyle Christy leads the nation with a 47.49 average. Florida leads the nation in net punting at 44.24. The sophomore from Brownsburg, Ind., averaged 54.3 yards on seven punts against South Carolina. Six of his punts were for more than 50 yards, including a season-long 62-yarder.
Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis is 14 of 16, including 4 of 4 from 40 yards and beyond. He’s 58 of 74 (78.4 percent) for his career.
The Gators have blocked two field goals in the last two games and forced fumbles against South Carolina last week on punt and kickoff coverage.
Florida’s Andre Debose is sixth in the SEC in kickoff returns at 25.2 with a long of 60. Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell is seventh in the SEC in kick returns at 23.3 with a long of 48.
Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan is 5 of 6 on field goals and one of only two players in the SEC to miss four point afters this season.
Mark Richt is 112-39 overall in 12 seasons, including 3-8 against Florida. Will Muschamp is 14-6 in his second season at Florida, 0-1 against Georgia. The former Bulldogs safety is 9-5 in SEC games. Florida is 3-0 this year against ranked teams. Georgia is 0-1. Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease goes up against Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham for the second straight year. Pease was in the same position last year at Boise State when the Broncos won 35-21.
Florida is coming off an emotional win over South Carolina. The Bulldogs are do-or-die in getting back to Atlanta for the SEC East title. A loss sends the Gators to Atlanta. Georgia defensive players could be extra jacked up and motivated to start living up to expectations after a teammate called them out this week to the media.
Georgia hasn’t won back-to-back games against the Gators since 1987-89. A month ago it was easier to envision that happening, but Georgia has played uninspired the last two games in a blowout loss to South Carolina and a five-point win against Kentucky. Will a rivalry game and Shawn Williams’ critical comments be enough to get the Bulldogs over the hump or will the Gators take advantage of the same issues that plagued Georgia in recent games? Florida seems the safer pick here.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia front seven vs. Florida running game
Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky have together averaged 211 yards rushing against Georgia the past three games.
Here comes Florida, which is averaging right at about that number at 212.7 and running the ball on 70.4 percent of its plays.
“They’re physical, we’ve just got to play physical with them,” Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “We’re going to have to stop the run and make them do what they don’t do a lot and that’s pass the ball.”
Tailback Mike Gillislee is fifth in the SEC in rushing with 652 yards and seven touchdowns.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel has rushed for 321 yards and three touchdowns
Georgia wants to get Florida out of its comfort zone of power running and high percentage passes.
“Can we effectively slow down their run game to the point where we can get them into some third-and-medium and third-and-longs — and then at that point get off the field?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I think if they can comfortably stick to their game plan of pounding and grinding and taking the clock away and playing great specials and playing great defense, that’s hard to beat obviously. No one’s been able to beat them yet. So we’ve got to find a way to try to slow that down.”
Against LSU, Florida went 77 yards in 5:55, running the ball on all 11 plays of the drive and ran the ball the last 25 plays of the game.
“You have to get off the field on third downs because they’re going to extend drives, they’re going to pound the ball,” linebacker Christian Robinson said.
Florida has an experienced offensive line, anchored by left tackle Xavier Nixon, with a combined 79 career starts at the beginning of the season, the second-highest number since 2006.
“They’re big and they’re physical and they get after you and they play it the way you should,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
Florida also has a package for Trey Burton, who can line up at multiple positions including quarterback. He had an 80-yard touchdown run off a direct snap against Tennessee.
“They can run it inside, outside,” Grantham said. “As much as they run it, they’re going to run it all over the field. They’re going to run it inside on power-type plays, try to get it on the edge on perimeter plays whether it be just stretches or some type of angle blocks, pulling guys and then they’ll have some misdirection type stuff whether it be with a runner or with Burton.”
Georgia players have talked about needing to play tougher this week.
“We’ve got to make sure we play sound, we play physical,” Grantham said. “We need to match their intensity because I know they’re going to be ready to play and we’ve got to match that.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray is tied with former Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen on the SEC career touchdown passing list for ninth place with 75. He needs two touchdown passes to tie former Gators quarterback Rex Grossman with 77.
This hasn’t been brought up that much this week, but Georgia is 4-18 against the Gators since Steve Spurrier’s first season as Florida’s coach in 1990. The lopsided nature is usually a big conversation piece, but the implications of this game have loomed much larger.
The Gators are 7-0 for just the sixth time in program history. The other years were 2009, 1996, 1995, 1966 and 1928. Florida and Notre Dame are the only schools with three wins over ranked opponents.
The Gators have 11 of their 16 sacks in the last three games. That’s tied for the second-most during that stretch behind LSU’s 12.
“I think we’re in a good place. I think the guys are really looking forward to this weekend’s game. It’s a great, traditional rivaly. The uniqueness of the stadium being divided right down the middle. You can tell very easily who’s cheerng for who. …It’s an electric atmosphere you don’t get at a home game or someone else’s home.” — Georgia coach Mark Richt.
“It’s a rivalry that goes way back. A lot of us watched it since we were kids and said we want to play in the game. A lot of people are getting a chance to play for the first time and some people it’s the last time they’ll get to play in this rivalry. …You don’t want to lose a game like this.” — Florida linebacker Jon Bositc.
“We’re 6-1 but we’re not satisfied. (Shawn Williams) wants us to be that top defense, shutting people out and smashing people in the mouth. That’s what we all want as a defense, but we haven’t really done it this year.” — Cornerback Sanders Commings on Shawn Williams’ critical comments.
“It comes down to winning games. Forty-four points with our defense is going to win every week.” — Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel on an offense that may not be explosive but is part of an unbeaten team.