Florida and Georgia are closer to reflections than they are to rivals coming into this season's showdown.
The two teams enter EverBank Field with 4-3 overall records, sitting at 3-2 in SEC competition. With South Carolina's upset over Missouri last week, the Dawgs and Gators are back in the race for the East —hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Both UF and UGA's depth charts have been plagued with injuries to top playmakers this year, resulting in inconsistencies, upsets and plenty of frustrations. However, Florida and Georgia enter the game somewhat fresh due to their bye weeks.
The "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" will be a mourning for one team, as the loss is likely a sure boot from the journey to Atlanta. Bottoms up.
When: Saturday, Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Radio: Sirius 91, XM 91
Spread: Georgia (-2.5) via SportsBetting.ag
Nothing Fancy on Offense
With injuries shaking up the depth chart, Florida has shown its troubles adjusting via its poor pass protection, lack of explosive plays and miscommunications on the offensive line.
Because of this, Florida needs to make things easy by keeping things simple stupid. UF must do what it's good at by running the pass patterns the Gators know they can excel in and not confusing players by sprinkling in new schemes.
Tuesday, WR Trey Burton told the media that the implementation of new items "could be a problem for the whole offense," highlighting the importance of sticking to what they know instead of testing the waters, according to GatorVision. The annual game versus Georgia is no time for experimentation.
Turn Toward Taylor
Following the loss to Missouri, Florida's coaching staff admitted they may have made a mistake not giving freshman running back Kelvin Taylor more touches. As GatorZone.com's Scott Carter wrote, offensive coordinator Brent Pease addressed Taylor's Mizzou play Tuesday saying:
Looking back on it, when Kelvin came on, he kind of got in a flow. We were still using him. Sometimes he wasn’t in there and he probably should have [been]. He has made plays with the ball in his hand.
Against the Tigers, Taylor rushed for 74 yards with 12 carries. His 20-yard TD run in the third quarter squeezed the score to a close 23-17. So, quite simply, this newbie is showing he can produce for UF, so let him. Give him opportunities and watch him perform.
Special Teams, Buck Up
Yeah, this is difficult due to the lack of a special teams coach (lack meaning non-existent). UGA's third-phase struggles have been one of the major blemishes for the Bulldogs this year. In Georgia's closely decided games, kicking woes proved to be haunting.
Whether it's an overthrown snap, a missed field goal or a blocked kick, the Bulldogs can't afford such special teams miscues against the Gators. The Dawgs have let up four TDs on special teams this season. With so much at stake in the SEC East race Saturday and a mere 2.5-point favoring, Georgia can't afford the mistakes in this phase of the game.
Defense Must Force Turnovers
Turnovers are one of UF offense's most prevalent Achilles' heels. Of course, they were a key factor in Florida's loss to Georgia last year as the Dawgs forced six. As of late, Florida has showed its struggles on the offense with protecting the football, evident in QB Tyler Murphy getting sacked six times against Missouri.
A less-than-confident offensive unit is something UGA's young defense can target to create those turnovers once again. UF head coach Will Muschamp honed in on the weakness during his press conference Monday, according to GatorZone.com:
Our last two trips to Jacksonville were minus four in the turnover margin, so you can cut it up however you want to, but we need to take care of the football. Two years ago we had two turnovers inside our 20 yard line that led to 14 points and last year we turned it over six times. It’s hard to win any games doing that. So we need to take better care of the football.
Kelvin Taylor (RB, Fr.)
Finally, the freshman is getting his well-deserved, increased role for this Florida team. Kelvin Taylor is expected to start at running back on Saturday after proving he is one positive for UF's struggling offense.
In the past two games, Taylor has posted six of UF's nine explosive plays and made his first career touchdown in Columbia. At Missouri, the frosh lead Florida with career highs in carries (12) and rushing yards (74).
Taylor's rising role couldn't come at a more crucial time for the Gators. This weekend holds plenty of weight for both sides in the SEC East race, and Taylor could be the player who can make the difference for Florida.
Tyler Murphy (QB, Redshirt Jr.)
So, Tyler Murphy threw for the first time since the Missouri game, on Monday, due to a shoulder injury. In other words, UF's starting quarterback didn't take any reps during the bye week. Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease told reporters that Murphy looked a "little off" on Monday and needed to get back into his rhythm, per GatorVision.
Murphy still has time to get his groove back, but the clock is ticking. A week of rest could mean a freshness for Murphy fans haven't seen since his impressive first performances of the season. On the other hand, it could mean he won't be able to get his arm back for one of the most touted games in college football.
Aaron Murray (QB, Sr.)
Georgia's quarterback already made SEC history this season, surpassing former Tim Tebow's record as the conference's all-time offensive leader. It's against Tebow's former team that Aaron Murray can make more marks in the books for the Bulldogs.
If UGA emerges from Jacksonville with the win, Murray will become the first Dawgs QB since the '80s to direct them to three straight victories over the Gators. The senior also enters the showdown at 112 career TD passes which is just two shy of other Florida Gators star Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.
Todd Gurley (RB, So.)
An ankle injury has previously plagued Todd Gurley, keeping him from playing since the LSU game, but the dynamic tailback is expected to return Saturday. He's a key factor to UGA's success against UF.
Gurley is a proven game-changer on the Dawgs offense, creating key opportunities for the backfield and flashing an explosive run game. Though he's only played in four games this season, the sophomore leads Georgia in rushing with an average of 112.5 yards per game along with four touchdowns.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp at his Monday press conference (GatorZone.com):
I think we’re judged on game day. The last two times out we haven’t played as well as we need to play here at Florida, so that falls on my shoulders – it’s a reflection of me and this football team and where we are, but I still feel good about this football team. I feel good about the guys in the room, and we just need to go execute and play better. And coach better.
Gators QB Tyler Murphy at his Monday press conference (GatorVision):
I'm kind of anxious to just get back out there and throw the ball. I mean I haven't thrown the ball in a week, so it kind of stinks... It'll be a fun game. Both teams are in the same boat. We're both 4-3. Both teams probably expected to be undefeated or have a better record coming into this game...It's kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season is kind of done or down in the dumps.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt Tuesday at the Bulldogs' weekly press luncheon (GeorgiaDogs.com):
If you can't get excited about playing Florida in that venue, you shouldn't be a Bulldog. Period. I think we all understand that. I think everybody is going to get their blood pumping for that...Obviously we have to do our part, and I know Florida's thinking the very same thing. I think both of us, like I said early on, are just fighting like mad to stay in the race.
Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray Tuesday at Georgia's weekly press luncheon (GeorgiaDogs.com):
We can't lose anymore. We have to go in each week really focused, determined and ready for a battle... We just have to go out there and play ball and have fun. You can't be worried about whether you've lost this many in a row, or won this many in a row, because every year is different.
The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will serve up one nasty hangover to Florida. Both teams are driven by the spark of the SEC East race, but motivation can't fix talent. The two have plenty of inconsistencies to mend, and they won't be solved by Saturday (or likely even this season).
However, UGA QB Aaron Murray will continue to shine, ultimately securing his additional spots in SEC record books. Jacksonville's weather Saturday is projected to be windy and rainy, making an expected close game even tighter, and it'll be ugly.
Georgia 21, Florida 20