The Florida-Georgia game is one of the biggest and most storied rivalries in all of the SEC. Florida has played Georgia more than any other opponent. Georgia had years of dominance in this series, until Steve Spurrier returned to Gainesville and established a run of dominance over the Bulldogs, that has now been passed through the Zook era and onto Urban Meyer.
As I said in a previous article, I felt that this year's Florida-Georgia game was a mid-season BCS bowl game, and that the Gators were thoroughly whipped in last year's game.
The celebration was NOT the reason the Gators lost. Neither was Tim Tebow's injury. Maybe it had more to do with the Gators getting pushed around on both lines and physically manhandled by a better prepared opponent.
Well, both teams come in ranked in the top-10 for only the 5th time in 86 games, and the first since 1999. Plus, for all of the college football fans complaining about a playoff: This is a playoff game. The winner of this game has the inside track to the SEC East crown and an probable match up with SEC West leader Alabama, plus an outside chance at a run towards the BCS title game in Miami.
Florida wins the game if.......
1.) They get ahead early
Florida has allowed two first half touchdowns all season, and is outscoring opponents 150-20 before the half. In their six wins, they have outscored teams 162-0 before the other team scored a single point.
Plus, while under the coaching of Mark Richt, Georgia is 18-13 when the opponent scores first, 15-14 while trailing at the half, and 7-16 when trailing after the third quarter. This includes the loss to Alabama this year, where they trailed 31-0 at the half.
Under Urban Meyer, Florida is 27-1 when it scores first, and 33-3 when leading at the half.
2.) The O-line controls the line of scrimmage
The bulk of Florida's offensive success this season can be attributed to the guys in the trenches on the offensive side of the ball. In the last two games alone, the Florida has scored 114 points and ran up 921 yards of offense. Part of this is due to the widening of the splits between linemen, opening up wider running lanes for the stable of backs behind Tim Tebow.
Georgia's front seven is one of the better units Florida will face all season. Rennie Curran is an All-SEC linebacker at the very least, add in Dannell Ellerbee and Darryl Gamble to go along with a stout and underrated defensive line, and Florida's O-line has its hands full with a tough but manageable front seven.
3.) The special teams makes a big play.
When looking at the Gators special teams unit, it is enough for a coach to cause an ulcer.
The return game, led by return specialist Brandon James, is one of the best in the nation. Florida has also put Percy Harvin back there with him on occasion to give punters something else to think about. Brandon James has returned two punts for touchdowns this season and is always a huge threat to score anytime he touches the football.
Florida has started 17 drives in opponent territory this season and scored on 13 of those drives. They also are averaging 20.1 yards per punt return.
Oh yeah, they also block kicks too. Florida has blocked five kicks so far this season, including the first two against Kentucky and Florida is undefeated (11-0) under Urban Meyer when they block a punt.
Florida loses the game if.....
1.) The defense doesn't play fundamental football.
In the only game Florida has lost this season, it was burned by poor coverage and lackadaisical tackling. Ole Miss shredded the Gator defense, and Georgia can do the same. Knowshon Moreno is a legit NFL-caliber running back who has ran over, through, and around opposing defenses since he got the starting spot midway through last season.
The defense needs to wrap up and tackle soundly, with more than one guy around Moreno. He can be held under 100 yards, if the defense plays together. If not, its a long day for the Gators.
Florida's defense is much improved in 2008. They are 13th nationally in total defense, and 15th nationally in rushing defense. They had one of the worst defenses in school history last season when Moreno ran for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Matthew Stafford and A.J. Green are a deadly combination in the passing game and Mo Massaquoi gives the Bulldogs a passing game deadly enough to open up the run for Moreno. Florida is 17th nationally in pass defense, and is better than most people thought of at the beginning of the season.
2.) Georgia scores touchdowns quickly
Two points for this one:
A. It's a psychological blow to the defense for an opposing offense to score quickly. Last week's LSU game was an example. Knowshon Moreno took the life out of Tiger Stadium with a 68-yard touchdown run on a one play drive.
B. Georgia scores less touchdowns the longer they hold onto the football. Georgia has scored 24 of its 30 offensive touchdowns in four minutes or less, including four in under a minute.
The X-factor will be....
Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.
The unquestioned leader of the Gator defense has grown into one of the best linebackers in the nation, if not the best. Last season, he went through some growing pains with the defense as they were terrible against the run. Jacob Hester, Knowshon Moreno, and especially Mike Hart caught Spikes over-running plays and were able to cut back and run past the middle of the Gator defense.
This season he has shut down opposing running games, and is the Gators' leading tackler, despite missing the Hawaii game with an injury. He has also stepped up in the passing game, picking off two passes against LSU, taking one back for a touchdown.
The defense feeds off of his play and it has grown as Spikes has grown. Brandon Spikes is the reason the Gators defense will shut down the Georgia offense.
Final score prediction:
Florida 45 - Georgia 17
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