This is it. This season basically comes down to this weekend as #3 Florida takes on #12 Georgia in Jacksonville with the SEC East Title on the line. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down UGA with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five Bulldogs players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.
BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these
five burning questions
1) Is Georgia mentally or physically tough enough to beat Florida?
No. Listen to the words of quarterback Aaron Murray: "We know we have to play an unbelievable game offensively, defensively and on special teams if we want to have a chance to win that game." Can you imagine a Florida player saying anything close to that? Neither can I. Georgia is very talented--far better on offense than South Carolina or LSU--but also very fragile. Since the start of 2008, Mark Richt's guys are 1-9 against top 10 opponents. Florida is 2 for 2 in that category in its last three games. After Georgia struggled to beat lowly Kentucky last week, safety Shawn Williams said inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Alec Ogletree should never leave the field, drawing the ire of backup Michael Gilliard, who is fifth on the team in tackles. The Bulldogs collapsed quickly when they fell behind South Carolina. The same fate could be in store if they face adversity early against Florida.
2) What is Georgia's only hope?
Other than good fortune in the form of some fluky bounces, it's a monster game from Murray. When he is on, he is a heck of a quarterback. Take away the 35-7 debacle against South Carolina, and he has 11 touchdowns with two interceptions with 1,205 passing yards in four SEC games, completing 63 percent of his passes against Missouri, 75 percent vs. Vanderbilt, 77 percent vs. Tennessee and 79 percent vs. Kentucky. Florida has started slowly several times this year, and Murray can put the Gators in a sizable hole if they are sluggish on Saturday. Even without wide receiver Michael Bennett, Georgia's leading receiver before he tore an ACL in practice the week of the South Carolina game, Murray has plenty of talented targets. Still, it's hard to get past his 11-for-31 performance against South Carolina or the fact he has been sacked five times in the last two games. This is not a team that inspires confidence.
3) What is the Bulldogs' biggest concern?
If linebacker Jarvis Jones is less than 100 percent healthy, they can forget about beating Florida. Jones, who missed the Kentucky game with a sprained right ankle, can be a one-man wrecking crew. Despite tweaking a groin early against Missouri in the Bulldogs' SEC opener, he helped them turn around a 17-9 second-half deficit with an interception return to the 1 and a forced fumble that Georgia recovered on the 5 on consecutive possessions. Jones led the SEC in sacks last year and has 5.5 this season despite missing two games. He may need to separate Jeff Driskel from the ball a couple of times to give Georgia a fighting chance. Georgia has several good players on defense, but no one who can impact a game like Jones.
4) Is Georgia one-dimension on offense against good defenses?
Absolutely. Early in the year, the Bulldogs did not miss troubled tailback Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed in June. The freshman tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall wowed observers, with Gurley supplying the powerful inside-the-tackles running and Marshall the breakaway threat. They still have pretty good numbers, with Gurley rushing for 622 yards and averaging 6.7 yards and Marshall gaining 488 yards and averaging 7.0 yards. But they excelled against weak defenses like Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. With little help from the offensive line, they combined for only 76 yards on 25 carries against South Carolina and even struggled against lowly Kentucky last week, picking up a pedestrian 70 yards on 18 attempts. Marshall, in particular, has failed to rush for 40 yards in three of Georgia's five SEC games. If the Gators stuff the Bulldogs' running game, they can tee off on Murray.
5) When have the Bulldogs been great this year?
Two times. They were terrific in the second half at Missouri, outscoring the Tigers 32-3 to end the game, and outstanding for all four quarters against Vanderbilt, winning 48-3. They have been shaky in every other game, starting with the season opener against awful Buffalo when they led only 24-16 at the half. Tennessee hung 44 points on Georgia in a 51-44 loss. Kentucky led Georgia 17-16 midway through the third quarter last Saturday before losing 29-24. That's not good. Even worse, the Bulldogs have forgotten how to stop the run, which bodes well for Mike Gillislee. Tennessee ran for 197 yards, and South Carolina and Kentucky followed with more than 200 rushing yards. Georgia's underachieving 3-4 defense is giving up 5 and 6 yards a pop.
FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Bulldogs players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
Smith Says: Murray can do it all. He has touch, power and good pocket sense. He just needs more teammates like him.
2) Jarvis Jones, a 6-foot-3, 241-pound junior outside linebacker
Smith Says: Jones can do it all. He's a ferocious playmaker who can harass the quarterback, knock down passes and clobber running backs. Xavier Nixon is likely still having nightmares about last year's game.
Smith Says: King did most of his damage against Kentucky's sorry defense (9 catches, 188 yards), but he is fast with excellent acceleration, averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. The Gators need to keep him from the big play.
Smith Says: After beginning the year primarily at cornerback, the versatile Mitchell has become a full-time receiver. He caught nine passes for 103 yards against Kentucky.
FIVE FAST FACTS
1) Georgia has not beaten Florida in back-to-back years since 1988-89 but will try to duplicate that feat on Saturday, having won 24-20 last season, when they beat the Gators AND played in the SEC Championship Game for the first time since the league split into two divisions in 1992. The only other times they beat Florida (1997, 2004, 2007), Tennessee won the East. The Bulldogs have a shot to do it again because Ole Miss (home) and Auburn (away) will present little opposition in their final two league games. Florida has won 18 of the last 22 games in the series but still trails overall, 47-40-2.
2) If the transitive property applied to college football, Florida would be favored by 61 points (actual spread: 6.5 points). Georgia lost to South Carolina 35-7 on Oct. 6. Florida beat South Carolina 44-11 last Saturday. Do the math. Of course, the Bulldogs faced the Gamecocks on the road while the Gators got them at home. Still, the South Carolina result provides a stark contrast between the two teams.
3) If the Gators win, they will clinch the SEC East in October for the second time in four years. They never did it under Steve Spurrier, but they did it under Urban Meyer in 2009, beating Georgia on Oct. 31 to improve to 6-0 in the league and earning the trip to Atlanta when South Carolina lost to Tennessee later that evening. This is the first time they can clinch the division championship outright in October.
4) The Bulldogs probably will be without defensive end Abry Jones, who sprained an ankle against Kentucky. His replacement, Ray Drew, did not make a tackle against the Wildcats and has only five stops for the season.
5) Georgia has 11 players from Florida, including three starters. Murray, from Tampa Plant High, was the third-highest rated quarterback prospect by Rivals.com in 2009. The others starters are redshirt freshman right offensive tackle John Theus of Jacksonville and freshman placekicker Marshall Morgan of Fort Lauderdale. Sophomore wide receiver Rantavious Wooten of Belle Glade has 10 catches. Florida has seven players from Georgia, including starting senior nose tackle Omar Hunter, top reserve linebacker Michael Taylor, a sophomore, and sophomore backup linebacker Neiron Ball.