Florida Football: Breaking Down the Key Matchups vs. Georgia
For Florida, their entire season comes down to just one game.
Win, and you can punch your ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. Lose, and you no longer control your own fate and instead will be rooting for Auburn and Ole Miss to knock off the Dawgs later in the year.
For Georgia, it's win or go home. Georgia needs to win this game and then beat both Auburn and Ole Miss in order to win the East and play for the SEC Championship.
This is the biggest game in the SEC so far this season, and the rivalry between the two schools and fanbases only adds to the drama.
Georgia won the matchup in 2011 on the arm of Aaron Murray's two fourth-down touchdown passes. Florida can still feel the sting of letting the game slip away last season and they are coming into this season's matchup with revenge on their minds.
How do the two teams stack up? Who has the advantage going into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party? Let's find out.
When Florida Runs...
In a rivalry that is already heated as it is, both coaching staffs will warn their teams about providing the opponent with bulletin board material.
Well, Mark Richt might want to tell his players to watch what they say about their own teammates.
Senior Shawn Williams called out his defense for playing "soft" this season. His quotes created headlines on Monday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We’re playing too soft as a defense,” said Williams, talking to reporters after Monday night’s practice. “That goes for the D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties, everybody. We’re just not playing with the same attitude we were last year. I don’t know what it is.”
Yes, the comments are candid and probably should have stayed in-house, but Williams is right. Georgia returned nine starters on defense and were projected to be one of the best defenses in the country. Instead, the Dawgs have been a middle-of-the-pack defense in the SEC.
Florida plays a physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth style of offense. The Gators will run the ball up the gut, out of the shotgun, with seven linemen on the field and even in the wildcat. The Gators are going to come out and establish the running game and punch Georgia in the mouth on their first offensive drive.
Will Georgia step up to the challenge of their defensive leader?
Not in this game.
When Georgia Runs...
Many thought when Georgia released Isaiah Crowell that the Dawgs would struggle to run the ball this season. Instead, Georgia has enjoyed the emergence of two freshmen, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Georgia started the season off strong, averaging 248 yards on the ground through the first five games. Georgia was able to use Aaron Murray and the threat of the passing game to set up the run, and not many teams were running the ball as well as Georgia.
Then they struggled in a blowout loss to South Carolina and only managed 77 rushing yards against Kentucky the following week.
Florida comes in with the SEC's third-ranked rushing defense and is coming off of a week where they held South Carolina to just 36 rushing yards.
Georgia has struggled running between the tackles, and Florida's defense is too physical and too fast to let Georgia run effectively outside the tackles.
When Florida Throws...
Florida has thrown for less than 100 yards in three straight games for the first time since the late '80s. Florida has the worst passing offense in the SEC, averaging just 137.7 yards per game.
Part of the reason is that Jeff Driskel hasn't been asked to throw the ball to win the game. Florida has relied on a power running game and have thrown the ball more to keep defenses honest than to try to attack a defense with their passing game.
Jeff Driskel is coming off of one of his best passing games of his career. Although he didn't eclipse the 100-yard mark, Driskel threw for four touchdowns, matching his previous season total.
Georgia has the seventh-ranked passing defense in the country, allowing just under 200 yards a game. Georgia will be without defensive end Abry Jones, but should have outside linebacker Jarvis Jones active for the game.
Even though Georgia has just 11 sacks and five interceptions on the year, they will have a slight advantage here.
When Georgia Throws...
Florida has played well against some of the SEC's top passers this season. The Gators have gone against five of the top 10 passers in the conference and are allowing just 184.7 passing yards a game, good enough for fifth in the SEC.
Florida has yet to allow more than 257 yards passing, and their eight interceptions through seven games has already matched their total from 2011.
Georgia goes as Aaron Murray goes. Murray is tied with Tyler Bray as the third-ranked passer in the SEC, averaging 273.4 passing yards a game. Murray has been efficient this season, throwing 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions while completing 65.3 percent of his passing attempts.
Murray struggled against Florida last season. Murray completed just 44.1 percent of his passing attempts for 169 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Both of Murray's touchdowns came on fourth-down plays where the Florida secondary had a breakdown in coverage.
We can all agree than Florida's defense is playing much better this season, especially when it comes to pressuring the quarterback and creating turnovers. Florida will do both of those come Saturday.
Florida is moving back to the kind of special teams play that helped them win national championships in 2006 and 2008.
Starting with Kyle Christy. Christy is the top-ranked punter in the country, averaging 47.94 yards per punt. Christy has been a game-changer for the Gators this season. His ability to turn the field around has kept Florida's opponents from starting with good field position and the hang time he gets is keeping opponents from returning many kicks.
When people do try to return punts and kicks, Loucheiz Purifoy has been meeting them head-on. The sophomore cornerback has quickly become one of the best special teams players on the team. Purifoy has forced fumbles and blown people up on special teams this season.
Georgia has struggled in their punting game. Collin Barber is averaging just 39.72 yards per punt and the Dawgs are giving up 13.44 yards per return. That is 112th in the country.
With Andre Debose coming off of his best game of the season as far as returns go, and with how good Florida has been on special teams this season, this is a pretty easy call.
Mark Richt is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC. Will Muschamp is in his second season as a head coach.
With that being said, Will Muschamp and his coaching staff have to take an advantage here. Florida has come out slow this season, but the coaching staff's ability to react to what is happening in-game and make adjustments is the reason Florida is 7-0 rather than 4-3 or worse.
Dominique Easley has developed a routine. Before going to sleep every night, Easley watches one of the Gators' losses from 2011. Reliving the pain of those six losses from 2011 has fueled not only Easley, but also the entire Gator defense.
Florida has played like a team with a chip on their shoulder, and played their best against the teams who had gotten the best of them a season ago. Florida held LSU to just 200 yards and kept South Carolina to just 191 total yards a week ago. Next up on the list for Easley and Co. is the Georgia Bulldogs. Florida felt like they could have won the game last season, and the defense will undoubtedly play with that extra level of intensity this week.
For the first time this season, Brent Pease will be familiar with his opponent this week. Pease was the offensive coordinator for Boise State when the Broncos beat Georgia last season 35-21. With Georgia returning nine starters on defense, Pease should notice a lot of similar schemes and players as he prepares the offense this week.
Finally, the last intangible that is going in Florida's favor is history. Florida hasn't lost back-to-back games against Georgia since 1988-89.
In Georgia's favor is Will Muschamp's record in the rivalry. In four years as a player for the University of Georgia, Muschamp was 0-4 against the Florida Gators. As a coach, Muschamp is 0-1 against Georgia. That's 0-5 all-time for Muschamp in the rivalry.
Key Matchup for Florida...
Florida's secondary vs. Aaron Murray
The Gators secondary has been stingy this season. Despite losing Cody Riggs, the defense has been keeping opposing quarterbacks to under 200 passing yards a game. Matt Elam is having his best season as a Gator and Josh Evans is leading the team in tackles. Of Florida's eight interceptions, six have come from the secondary.
Aaron Murray is the unquestioned leader of the Georgia offense. The Dawgs will go as far as Murray's right shoulder will take them. Murray is coming off of his best performance of the season against Kentucky. The signal-caller threw for 427 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and completed 78.9 percent of his pass attempts.
Murray will have to fit the ball into some tight windows on Saturday and he won't have much time in the pocket to work with, but if Murray can bring his A-game, Georgia has a shot to upset Florida.
In the end, Florida's secondary has the advantage here. Murray is a great quarterback, but he struggled last season in the face of pressure and Florida will trust their corners to play man-to-man and let the front seven get after the quarterback.
Key Matchup for Georgia...
Georgia's front seven vs. Florida's offensive line
Florida hasn't tried to hide what they are. Florida is running the ball on 70 percent of their offensive plays.
Shawn Williams called his defense out for being "soft" and unfortunately for Georgia, he is spot on in his comments.
Florida is going to come out and punch Georgia in the mouth; how will the Dawgs handle Florida's physicality? If we see the Georgia defense that we did against South Carolina, it will be a long day for Georgia fans.
The Gators are not lighting up box scores or winning with style points, but they have found a formula for success and are sticking to it. Florida is coming off of their second-biggest win of the season and have a hit list of teams they want to seek revenge on. Georgia is next up on that list.
The Dawgs are coming off of a tough game against Kentucky. Aaron Murray was able to pass for a season-high 427 yards and four touchdowns, but Georgia barely beat Kentucky 29-24, giving up 209 rushing yards in the process.
Florida is fired up and motivated, but can Georgia match the Gators' intensity? They haven't shown that they will be able to this season, but could find inspiration in their teammate calling them out.
In the end, Florida is a much better team than they were in 2011 and Georgia hasn't shown that they are. The game was close last season but won't be as close this season.
Prediction: Florida wins 27-17