Georgia vs. Florida: 5 Biggest X-Factors in SEC East Rivalry Game
The No. 2 Florida Gators and No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs face off this weekend for the 89th time in their storied rivalry this Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.
The game once known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" will be as intense as ever this year as both teams come in with SEC Championship aspirations. The winner of this game will undoubtedly have the inside track toward winning the SEC East.
The Gators enter the weekend unbeaten at 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings for the second week in a row. They will be playing for much more than pride as a victory will keep them in contention for the BCS Championship.
While the Bulldogs come into the weekend boasting a 24-20 win last year and a 47-40-2 lead in the rivalry overall, Florida still has an impressive 18-4 record (7-3 in the past 10 meetings) against the Dawgs dating back to 1990.
Both teams have a lot at stake in this game.
Here is a look at five X-factors that may have a huge impact on this game.
Don't expect Georgia's sensational freshmen running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to dominate against the Florida defense.
If the Bulldogs want to win, they'll have to do so riding the shoulders of junior quarterback Aaron Murray.
Murray has played well for much of the season and ranks third among all SEC quarterbacks in passing yards and first in QB rating (seventh overall in the nation).
Unfortunately, he has played a very small sample size of elite defenses—meaning, he has only played against one. And he didn't do well.
Against South Carolina, which ranks ninth nationally in total defense, Murray had the worst outing of his career.
He only managed a 58.6 QB rating, throwing for only 11 completions on just 35 percent of his pass attempts for a meager 109 yards and one interception.
This week, Murray faces a Gators defense that ranks seventh nationally—even better than South Carolina.
He has been sacked 12 times this season, and while the Gators only have 16 total sacks on the season, that is due—in large part—to injuries. Florida comes into the game healthier than it has been all season, as it had its most dominating performance—one in which it had four sacks against a much more mobile QB in Connor Shaw.
Murray will need to bring his A-game if UGA hopes to win.
Florida's offense is not overwhelming. The Gators will not put up astronomical passing numbers like Geno Smith and West Virginia.
They run a more methodical, ground and pound style of offensive play. And they're good at it.
Florida ranks 25th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging a cool 212 yards per outing. Starting tailback Mike Gillislee has contributed 652 yards this season while averaging a productive 4.7 yards per carry.
Unfortunately for the Dawgs, they rank 72nd in rushing defense, giving up nearly 168 rushing yards per game.
The Gators don't turn the ball over much, having only four giveaways on the year (three fumbles, one interceptions). They have played four games (all in conference) in which they had zero turnovers: Texas A&M, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, the latter two being (statistically) much better defenses than the Bulldogs.
Georgia is going to have to find a way to control the line of scrimmage, particularly against the run, to limit the productivity of Gillislee and the other UF backs.
Having a base 3-4 defense, the linebacking corp (comprised of outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Chase Vasser, as well as inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Alec Ogletree) will bear the brunt of the load.
They will need to be disciplined, making sure to maintain their gap assignments, if they intend to stop the Florida rushing attack.
The Florida Gators offense is not the most dominating force that has ever set foot on green grass. While they rarely turn the ball over—first in the SEC, second in the nation with only four turnovers this season—the Gators are not getting into the end zone very often.
This means that they are punting a lot.
Actually, they have punted a total of 37 times this year. That's more than five per game.
That they punt as often as they do and are still undefeated means their special teams unit is doing something right, and it is. The Gators are the best in the nation at punting, managing a net of 44.24 yards per punt.
This helps tremendously, as it keeps opposing teams from having good starting field position.
Sophomore punter Kyle Christy should definitely be in the running for the 2012 Guy Award. He is averaging 47.9 per punt, second in the nation.
If the Florida offense should fail or falter in the early going, much as it has most of this season, look for Christy to play a big role in whether the Bulldogs can manage to score by forcing them to play for a much greater distance against the Gators defense.
Once upon a time, Florida junior tight end Jordan Reed was a quarterback.
Then last season under offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss, he made the full-time move to tight end. He's been having success ever since.
Last season, in only nine games played, Reed was second on the team in total receptions (28) and receiving touchdowns (two) and third in receiving yards (307).
This year, he has proven to be sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel's most reliable target. He leads the team in receptions (25), receiving yards (283) and touchdowns (three).
He will need a stellar game on Saturday, getting out into the open where Driskel can deliver the ball to him safely. He has proven to be the young quarterback's favorite target in the red zone, having caught two short-yardage touchdowns last week against South Carolina alone.
Expect Driskel to continue to look for his tight end this week.
Can the Gators defense put up yet another impressive performance this week against the Georgia Bulldogs?
Georgia comes into this weekend ranked 17th in the nation in scoring, averaging just under 40 points per game.
The Gators defense, in contrast, walks into EverBank Field in Jacksonville with the fourth best scoring defense, having given up an average of only 12 points per game.
The Gators have been excellent at finding creative ways to apply pressure to the quarterback, whether using linebacker and corner blitzes while dropping their defensive tackles into coverage or the old-fashioned way, by simply bull-rushing the QB with their four down linemen.
Florida has proven to be very stout, ranking seventh nationally in total yards allowed, 10th overall in rushing yards allowed.
Expect a big game from the front seven, anchored by Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic.
Additionally, look for key contributions from star safety Matt Elam.
This Florida squad has the strength to dominate this game.