Florida Gators 2014 Football Game Previews: Game Eight, Georgia Bulldogs

I hope you guys enjoyed my history of the Florida-Georgia rivalry piece that I reposted on here yesterday as a refresher (after it was originally posted on Alligator Army). Hopefully now you guys either understand, or are reminded why this game means so much to Florida. It’s an SEC East game, but it’s more than that.

Florida comes into this game, according to my predictions, at 5-2. So far, they’ve avoided the kind of albatross defeat that would run Will Muschamp out of town. While Georgia isn’t a bad team at all, losing to them might be the final nail in Muschamp’s coffin because of the devastating effect it would have on Gator fans.

After reading that first piece, you know why this game means so much. The border war between two teams that have fought it out on the gridiron for a century now has a strange feature it- each team takes turns bludgeoning the other one for two decades at a time. From 1990-2010, Florida won 18 out of 21 games. But since Muschamp took over, Florida is 0-3 against its biggest rival- yes, its biggest rival, and I’m not the only one who thinks so– which suggests the start of a 20 year Georgia run. Curses and hexes aside, a loss to Georgia in 2014 would put Muschamp at 0-4 against Georgia, which would righteously send him for the hills. But a win, and suddenly Muschamp’s a genius and all is forgiven, especially if it puts Florida at 6-2.

So without further ado…

Game One: Florida 45, Idaho 3

Game Two: Florida 52, Eastern Michigan 7

Game Three: Florida 35, Kentucky 6

Game Four: Alabama 31, Florida 14

Game Five: Florida 20, Tennessee 17

Game Six: LSU 14, Florida 10

Game Seven: Florida 38, Missouri 16

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

2013: 8-5 (5-3 SEC), Lost Gator Bowl to Nebraska

Last Meeting (2013): Georgia 23, Florida 20

All Time Series: Georgia 49, Florida 40

Coach: Mark Richt, 14th year (126-45)

Who Are You?

Georgia is, without flinching, looking away or mumbling under my breath, Florida’s biggest rival. Oh, don’t get me started on FSU: I love beating them, and I hate losing to them more than most Gator fans, because I have Noles in my family an I have to deal with them whenever I visit them in Tallahassee. But for the reasons NWB explained a couple weeks (linked above) and more, Georgia is a bigger rival to Florida. The implications of state bragging rights and in state recruiting comes close, but can’t match, the implications within the SEC and SEC East (and personally, that little Dunce Dunce Revolution in 2007 sealed it for me).

The good news for Gator fans is that Florida appears to finally be able to match up with Georgia on the field. The bad news is that before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, they appeared to be able to match up with them well on the field too. But turnovers and injuries doomed them in 2012 and 2013, respectively (a sign of the Curse, no?).

Georgia loses some very important players here and there, but they do return enough to field a respectable, 9-3 area team. An incredibly easy schedule could skew how good this team really is, but they’re not bad, either. It should make for a nice mano-a-mano war in Jacksonville between two teams who really need to win in order to get their records to where they want to be.

OFFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Returning Starters: 6

Four year starting QB Aaron Murray is finally gone, and even though he was responsible for nine turnovers in four games against Florida, he’s also the only Georgia QB to beat the Gators more than once since John Lastinger did it in 1982-83. In steps Hutson Mason, a fairly highly talented QB from Lassiter, GA, and after finishing last season when Murray went down, he came back to Athens with plenty of confidence. A fantastic showing in Georgia’s spring game boosted his confidence even more. Can he translate that into success in his maiden voyage as the full time starter?

But the offense won’t solely rely on Mason, nor should it. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall both return to anchor the Georgia backfield, and they figure to get a ton of carries. When they’re tired, Brendan Douglas will come in and punish defenses some more. Then there’s incoming freshman Sony Michel, one of the highest ranked running backs in the country who figures to clean up some. Yes, Georgia has a deep pool of talent at its running back position, and should they not fall victim to the injury bug, this might be among the best stable of backs in the country.

The passing game should be strong as well. Even though Georgia does lose Rantavious Wooten, Rhett McGowan and Arthur Lynch, there’s still plenty of playmakers to choose from. Between Michael Bennett, Chris Conley, Reggie Davis, Malcolm Mitchell, and Justin Scott-Wesley… this offense could be scary if everybody stays healthy. The line does have to replace two starters, but overall, with Kolton Houston and John Theus anchoring this unit, they should be OK up front.

Offensive Grade: A-

The only question mark I have about this offense is Mason. He’s talented, yes, and he does have some experience. If he meets expectations, this offense could blow some teams away.

DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Returning Starters: 9

I take the same approach with Georgia’s defense this year that I take with Florida’s offense: it’s got to be better because it can’t get any worse. After all, they do return nine starters, and they did import former FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to fix it. And let’s not forget how a similarly young but talented 2007 Florida defense matured and grew into a ferocious defense in 2008. The question is whether or not they can undergo a quick enough transformation to compete for the SEC Championship right away.

The personnel is there, at least in the front seven. Ray Drew, James DeLoach, Sterling Bailey and Chris Mays all return to anchor the defensive line. The linebacker position could be an even bigger strength. Leonard Floyd, Ramik Wilson (the lone bright spot last year defensively, an All-SEC pick), Amarlo Herrera and Jordan Jenkins all reclaim their starting positions at strong side, middle, weak side and JACK (a sort of hybrid linebacker role) roles. Wilson and Herrera particularly scare me. Both could wreak havoc like Jarvis Jones once did.

The one thing that could hold this defense back is the secondary. The losses are heavy: CB Shaq Wilson, FS Tray Matthews and SS Josh Harvey Clemons are all gone. Damian Swann is among the top cornerbacks in the SEC, but who’s going to help him back there other than safety Corey Moore? Lucky for Georgia, they recruit well enough to be able to plug somebody else in… or in this case, switch running back JJ Green to a defensive back.

Defensive Grade: B

This defense was horrible last year, and even though they’re older, stronger and have a better coordinator, there’s only so much I can see them improving in one year. Don’t get me wrong, this will certainly be a good defense, but I’m not quite sure it can be a championship level defense.

Florida Key: Offense

Once again, it’s up to Chris Leak’s receivers to get the job done. The secondary is the only part of this defense I’d actually say is weak, or at least “needs improvement”. The line has to block, yes, and Driskel has to make throws. But Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar, Jake McGee… somebody… has to break through for a huge gain early to make Georgia’s defense respect the passing game, because otherwise Pruitt’s going to stuff the box with seven or eight guys on every play. And then Florida’s offense will go nowhere.

Florida Key: Defense

Georgia’s going to score some points and gain some yards. That’s a given. But remember how badly turnovers hurt the Gators two years ago? They can do the same to Georgia, too, even if DJ Durkin’s squad doesn’t get six of them. All they need is three. BANG! That’s the sound of my money being slammed down on the table: three turnovers by Florida’s defense wins this game. Even if Florida can’t score on all of them, it will give the Gators’ defense some rest. And against an offense like this, they’re going to need it.

Key Matchup: Special Teams

Under Mark Richt, the Bulldogs have been terrible in the category typically listed third in the hierarchy of “Offense, defense and special teams”. Last year, Georgia got two punts blocked for touchdowns and allowed a kickoff return for a TD. Historically, they’re at their worst against Florida. If the Gators can block a punt or a field goal and turn it into a touchdown, or take a kick or a punt all the way back, they make their offense have to do that much less. And with all the history of Georgia special teams blunders against Florida, it seems more realistic to expect one in this game than in most others.

What Does This Game Mean?

For Will Muschamp, it’s this simple. Win and your job is far until 2015. Lose and you’re going to be coaching 2015 elsewhere. That ultimatum is voided if Florida comes into this game undefeated, but with a road trip to Alabama and a tough home game against LSU, how likely is that? Losing to Georgia four times in a row is completely unacceptable, and in this case it would all but eliminate the Gators from contention in the SEC East race. I’ve got a funny feeling that I won’t be the only Gator fan calling for Muschamp’s head if he’s 100% responsible for the first four game losing streak to the Dawgs since 1980-1983 and 80% responsible for what would be tied for the Gators’ longest Atlanta drought since the SEC Championship Game’s inception. If you disagree with that, that’s fine, but I do ask you to remember all you read about the rivalry before disagreeing.

But on the other hand, a win puts Muschamp back into the good graces of Gator Nation. In this section of the Tennessee game preview, I mentioned that beating the Vols would make Gator fans forget about the embarrassing losses in 2013 from the previous year, and that Muschamp’s job would be safe for the time being. Up the ante for that same fork in the road here: beat Georgia, and Muschamp’s golden.

Of course, that’s only half the implications of a win. Beat Georgia, and Muschamp’s job security is replaced by the chase to Atlanta as the simmering topic among Gator fans. Florida will have already beaten one of the main teams they’re competing against, thus taking the head to head tiebreaker. With a little help from either Auburn or South Carolina, Florida has only South Carolina to fight with for the SEC East crown. Considering that the Gamecocks also draw Auburn from the West, and that the Gators get ole Cocky at home, Florida’s dreams of an SEC Championship appearance suddenly become real.

Overview:

Florida needs this one as badly and for as many reasons as any game (not for a championship) I can ever remember. Muschamp’s job security, the SEC East race, the potential four game losing streak to Georgia, and worst of all, the final and most concrete clue that this 20 year Curse thing is real and that maybe we as Gator fans need to lock ourselves in frozen carbonite for the next 15 years (the sad thing is, I’m only sort of joking).

Assuming both teams are healthy, this game’s a tossup. I think the Gators do have the defense necessary to slow down this offense, and if Kurt Roper is half of what we keep hearing he will be, our offense should be able to put some points up. But after the last two years, I’m very leery of picking Florida. Heading into the last two seasons, I really believed Florida would win, but then things happened that you cannot predict (a lot of turnovers in 2012, and a lot of injuries in 2013) and Florida lost both those games.

You can’t predict what’s going to happen in Jacksonville. You can try, but as 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012 were proof of, you’re likely to look very, very foolish. Things happen in this game that you simply cannot base predictions off of, and defy logic. Should Ron Zook’s Gators have really beaten Georgia in 2002 and 2003? Should Steve Addazio’s disgusting excuse of an offense really have put 451 yards on the UGA defense? Should Florida really have committed six turnovers against Georgia in 2012?

So I’m picking Georgia, because let’s face it, they’re a good team and it’s their turn with the whole “Curse” thing. They may not be a national championship contender, but they’re good. Florida’s also a good team, and thus it should be a lot of fun to watch a really good game by both sides. But after last year, until Florida beats Georgia and ends the curse, I refuse to pick them. I’d love to be wrong about this, believe me, I would, but I’ve got a sinking feeling that we’re in for another huge disappointment in Jacksonville. A back and forth game winds down with a 23-20 Florida lead. But Georgia pulls it out on a late Todd Gurley touchdown run, knocking the Gators out of the SEC East race and putting Muschamp’s job security on life support.

Projection: Georgia 27, Florida 23

19 thoughts on “Florida Gators 2014 Football Game Previews: Game Eight, Georgia Bulldogs

  1. The piece on the history of your team was so enlightening and showed in-depth research. It brought out the historian in you. Thank you!

      1. Meaning, I will refuse to support this program until we have a new head coach. It’s for their own good. If Foley can’t figure out on his own that Muschamp’s dragging our program down, maybe he needs the heat turned up by a serious lack of attendance and support.

  2. OK, so we all know my thoughts on Muschamp. So I’m not going to share them again. But I will say that I think Florida should beat Georgia. I agree that UGA is a good team, but as you said, our defense should be able to stop them. Our offense is probably going to suck again, and turn the ball over a fuck ton of times, and thus we’ll lose something like 10-9.

    1. God damnit dude, you’re so skeptical. In All Kinds Of Weather, huh?

      I say we finally break the Jacksonville Curse and beat dem stinkin Dawgs. Florida 34, Georgia 14

      1. Yeah. In All Kinds Of Weather, we’ll all stick together… for FLORIDA. Not a Georgia Bulldg masquerading as a Gator coach.

  3. So, if Champ BEATS UGA do you now support him? Or is this going to be like LSU? The Hatter can flat out recruit and have top teams year after year but the Tiger Fans really don’t like him because he’s quirky.

    And if WM loses to the Dawgs who’s next? Do we go through yet another OC with his new system?

    1. I’ll assume you’re talking to me. And no, I won’t. It’s gonna take more than one win in four years over our biggest rival to erase home losses to Vandersexx and Georgia Southern. Tell you what. Florida wins the SEC and makes the college football playoff, and I’ll support him.

        1. Well, I WANTED Art Briles. But we fucked that up and waited too long and Baylor extended him. Then I wanted Charlie Strong, but we waited too long for him too and Texas grabbed him. Now I want Kliff Kingsbury, the guy who led A&M’s offense and developed Johnny Manziel.

          1. To be fair, Kingsbury is the guy I want to be the next Gator coach too. But let’s wait until Muschamp does something reprehensible, or Florida starts losing games, to start those calls.

  4. So for all of you, what’s it gonna take to keep Muschamp? For me, a CFB playoff appearance and an SEC Championship is his only hope of gaining my trust.

    1. I will support Muschamp for another year if we go 9-3 and beat Georgia. At 8-4, I would be fine if he leaves or stays if we beat Georgia and there are special reasons for the 4 losses.

  5. Just found this site today, I like it. Too bad I missed the first two thirds of your game previews and now I gotta go back and catch up on all of them.

    I think this is the year we finally break that nasty curse (I agree with you, it’s real and it pisses me off). Their defense should be much better, but so should our offense. I agree with most of what you said, except I think Florida wins. Gimme 31-21 Gators.

  6. We really need to beat Georgia at the point of attack, or we don’t stand a chance. I’m talking about both sides of the ball. If we can do that, I actually like our chancez

  7. I’m reserving a prediction on this one until it gets closer and we see how injuries are for both teams and I want to see this Georgia qb play some. I think he may stumble.

    I find it funny how some of you ‘fans’ post threats like ‘I will refuse to support the program’ and how foley better listen to you. I’m sure he is shaking in his boots that some $0 annual donors on an internet chat room are gonna stop cheering because he hasn’t fired the coach yet. Too funny.

    Now, I can understand if you want a coach gone who under performs but to not cheer for and support the players regardless of who the coach is- ludicrous.

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