As we head into the week of preparation for the annual Florida Georgia game in Jacksonville, there are a multitude of distractions that could possibly be hindering the unproven Florida Gators. From the head coaching mess to the possible reinstatement of Todd Gurley (Georgia has appealed the date of reinstatement), the team has a lot on their minds as their pride and dignity hangs in the balance before taking Everbank Field this Saturday.
With all of these distractions, however, it is imperative that the team, now led by true freshman Treon Harris, stays focused on the game itself. Having said that, Harris isn’t going to determine the game’s outcome by himself. With both teams so heavily reliant on their run games, the battle in the trenches will go a long way towards deciding the outcome of the game this Saturday.
As of right now, the starting running back for Georgia is still freshman Nick Chubb, who has more than filled the shoes of Heisman hopeful Todd Gurley during his suspension. Between the rout of Missouri and the similarly impressive blowout over Arkansas, Chubb has produced some significant numbers. Averaging almost 5.2 yards per carry in his last two games, the Florida defensive front has a tall order this weekend.
But here’s where it gets interesting. By merely looking at the score of the Missouri game, it seems as if Florida’s defense has gone downhill. However, upon closer investigation you can actually see that 28 of Missouri’s 42 points weren’t scored against the defense, and the other points put up on the starters were due in part to the outstanding field position that Jeff Driskel & co. decided to put on a silver platter for the Tigers. The defense only gave up 119 yards and seven first downs in that 42-13 loss. These facts show that Saturday’s game against Georgia is the offense’s game to lose. The defense has done their part for most of the season despite what the final scores say.
Led by junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., the defense MUST stop or at least slow down Georgia’s running game or things could get ugly. We already know that Georgia isn’t going to want to pass the ball; why should they? A sub-par passing game (112th in the FBS) along with Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor prowling in the backfield ready to pounce on Hutson Mason’s slightest error is not an encouraging combination for Georgia.
This is exactly why the performance of the defensive line is going to be the key to the game. Georgia’s offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s play calling has been successfully running the ball all over defenses this year. With an arsenal including the speed and strength of Nick Chubb, Bobo is known for calling off tackle runs for big yardage. The simplest way to contain Georgia’s running game is to keep Chubb in between the tackles. Defensive tackle Leon Orr and nose tackle Darious Cummings have both done exceptionally well in protecting the middle of the field from long runs all season. With that in mind, Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard both must contain the edges of the field in order to turn Chubb towards the center, where Orr and Cummings can finish him off. If the defensive front can manhandle Georgia’s O-line like they’ve been doing for much of the season, this game may be closer than everyone expects. Unless, of course, the offense and special teams find a way to mess things up again.
On the other side of the ball, Florida’s offensive line has some serious work to do this week. After a season of dismal play, allowing the quarterback to be sacked and hurried a little too often, the O-line is still a sore spot for the Gators. However, Treon Harris has shown the ability to break out of a collapsing pocket, and with Harris FINALLY starting against Georgia, we may be able to see his talent flesh itself out a little bit.
At the same time, though, we know not to rely on the passing game, between dropped passes and missed assignments. The first half of the season has taught us that. Harris’s scrambling and ability to throw on the run may give Florida a few nice gains here and there, but once again, it is going to come down to how successfully the Gators run the ball on plays that are designed to run the ball (meaning not counting QB scrambles on designed pass plays).
Matt Jones has been the primary running back throughout the season, showing his power by charging over potential tacklers to gain more yardage. That may not happen so much against Georgia, however, as the Bulldog’s run defense is ranked 11th in the country. Hopefully we’ll get to see a little bit of Kelvin Taylor, too. Taylor has proven to be quite useful this season with his breakout speed, vision, and sharp cuts. The different styles of running from Jones and Taylor may be just enough to throw off the Bulldog’s defense and pick up yardage in chunks. That is, if the offensive line can block well enough…
Simply put, the war in the trenches is everything. On both sides of the ball.
With two teams so heavily reliant on the run game, this weekend’s battle in Jacksonville will be won on the ground. As long as the Florida defense can do what they have been doing for much of the season- eliminate the opponent’s offense- it will be up to Treon Harris and the Gator offense to not screw things up in order to win the game. If the offense can prevent turnovers and the special teams can find a way to actually tackle the guy with the ball, the game will be a lot closer than many expect.
But, with that being said, this is Florida. Florida turns the ball over. Florida shoots itself in the foot. Florida beats Florida (particularly against Georgia; see 2012). If the Gators go into the game determined not to beat themselves, and dominate the line of scrimmage, they are a legitimate threat to wreck Georgia’s season by pulling the upset.