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Can the Bulldogs make it three in a row over the Gators?
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party could be the final hope for Georgia and Florida’s SEC East title hopes.
South Carolina’s win over Missouri last Saturday changed the outlook of the East Division title picture. The Tigers were on the verge of taking a commanding lead in the East Division, and with a game against Kentucky remaining, the race to win the SEC East was essentially over.
The Gamecocks' victory opened the door for Georgia and Florida, but the loser of Saturday’s game in Jacksonville is likely out of the mix for the East Division title.
Florida and Georgia were considered two of the top-15 teams in the nation this preseason, but both teams have been hit hard by injuries. The Bulldogs lost running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley for the season due to injuries, leaving the offense shorthanded with proven playmakers. The Gators lost quarterback Jeff Driskel with a leg injury against Tennessee, forcing unproven backup Tyler Murphy into the starting role. Defensive tackle (and likely All-American) Dominique Easley is also done for the year, while running back Matt Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury against LSU.
Florida owns a 48-40-2 series edge against Georgia. The Gators have won five out of the last eight meetings against the Bulldogs, but coach Mark Richt’s team has claimed the last two games in this series.
Florida vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Georgia – 3
Three Things to Watch
Georgia’s Wide Receivers vs. Florida’s Secondary
The Gators have been the toughest team in the SEC against the pass. Opponents are averaging just 178 yards per game in SEC play, and Florida has allowed just two touchdown passes. With a depleted receiving corps, can Georgia move the ball through the air? Quarterback Aaron Murray has completed 45 of 95 passes for 632 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions in his career against Florida. But Murray is facing perhaps his biggest task against the Gators, as the Bulldogs are thin on proven bodies at receiver. Junior Michael Bennett is slated to return after missing two games due to a knee injury. However, Chris Conley is likely out, which leaves Rhett McGowan and Rantavious Wooten (combined 75 career catches) as the top options. Is Bennett ready to handle a full snap count this week? Considering the options at receiver, Georgia would be wise to get tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome more involved in the offense. With a secondary featuring three standout cornerbacks in Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and freshman standout Vernon Hargreaves III, Murray has to be precise with his passes, especially with an opportunistic defensive backfield ready to pounce.
Florida QB Tyler Murphy and RB Kelvin Taylor
Florida’s offense has struggled mightily this season. The Gators rank 13th in SEC-only games in total offense and yards per play, averaging just 306 yards per game and 4.6 yards per touch. This unit has not scored more than 17 points in its last two games and its 31 points scored against Tennessee was the high mark of 2013. Much like Georgia, injuries hindered the development of the offense for the Gators, but the offensive line remains a huge concern. Florida has allowed 13 sacks in SEC play and averages just 3.5 yards per rush. Quarterback Tyler Murphy has not passed for a touchdown in the Gators’ last two games, but the junior will have an opportunity to make plays against a Georgia secondary that is allowing opponents to complete 62.3 percent of its throws. Murphy has to play better, but he also needs more help from the supporting cast. Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor has provided a spark for the ground attack in the last two weeks, rushing for 126 yards and one touchdown on 22 attempts. After playing well in limited action, expect Taylor to see more opportunities on Saturday. For Florida to beat Georgia, Murphy and Taylor need to have one of their best games of the season.
The offensive lines
This position doesn’t have the glamour of the quarterback or skill position concerns in this game, but both Florida and Georgia’s offensive lines will be under fire on Saturday afternoon. As mentioned above, the Gators have experienced plenty of issues from their offensive line this season, but the Bulldogs front seven is a work in progress. With only three returning starters, Georgia ranks ninth in the SEC in total defense and if you include non-conference games from 2013 in the stat sheet, the Bulldogs rank last in the SEC in points allowed. While the overall production hasn’t been particularly impressive, Georgia has recorded 16 sacks in five SEC games. With the troubles of Florida’s offensive line, Bulldogs’ linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins (eight sacks, 28 quarterback hurries) could have a huge game. The Gators’ defensive line isn’t quite as intimidating without tackle Dominique Easley, but ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler are active off the edge.
Key Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Gurley has missed Georgia’s last three games with an ankle injury suffered against LSU. When healthy, the sophomore is arguably the top running back in the nation. Gurley has 450 yards and 71 carries this season, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. Florida leads the SEC against the run, holding opponents to just 100.7 yards per game on the ground. With Gurley back in the lineup, he should give the Bulldogs much-needed balance and will help to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Aaron Murray.
Considering all of the injuries accumulated by both teams, a close, low-scoring game should be expected. Florida has the better defense, and the bye week should help quarterback Tyler Murphy get closer to full strength after a shoulder injury suffered against LSU. However, even with the Gators’ edge on defense, Georgia will find a way to win this game on the strength of senior quarterback Aaron Murray.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Florida 20