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Athlon previews the showdown between Florida and Georgia.
The annual matchup between Florida and Georgia at the The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville is usually one of the most-anticipated SEC games every season. This season is no different, as both teams enter with a combined 13-1 record and a division title on the line.
Most division titles aren’t decided until the month of November but that’s not the case in the SEC this Saturday. With a 6-0 conference record and a win over South Carolina already, Florida can clinch the SEC East title with a victory over Georgia. After Saturday’s meeting with the Bulldogs in Jacksonville, the Gators play three home games (Missouri, UL Lafayette and Jacksonville State), along with a road date against Florida State.
While Georgia’ SEC title hopes took a hit with the loss to South Carolina, the Bulldogs can jump back into the race with a win over Florida. Mark Richt’s team still has to play Ole Miss and Auburn but will be heavily favored to win both games. The Bulldogs have one of the SEC’s top offenses, but the defense has yet to find its form from last season.
This series has been dominated by Florida since 1990. The Gators have won 18 out of the last 22 matchups but lost last season’s game 24-20. The last two games in this rivalry have been decided by four points or less.
Storylines to watch in Florida vs. Georgia
Can Georgia stop Florida’s rushing attack?
The Bulldogs’ defense has been one of the SEC’s most underachieving units in 2012. After allowing just 101.2 yards per game last season, Georgia ranks 72nd nationally in rush defense and is giving up 167.9 yards per game this year. The Bulldogs front seven suffered a setback this week, as end Abry Jones could miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Losing Jones is another setback for a Georgia defense that has allowed rushing seven touchdowns over the last three games and faces a tough test against a Florida offense that is averaging 212.7 rushing yards per game. Mike Gillislee is the lead back for the Gators but has been held under 100 yards in each of his last two contests. While Gillislee should see 20-25 carries, the Bulldogs have to be wary of Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. The sophomore has 321 yards on this season, and his mobility only adds another dimension to the Gators’ much-improved rushing attack. Considering Georgia’s struggles against the run and the loss of Jones, coordinator Todd Grantham will have his hands full trying to stop Gillislee and Driskel.
Will Aaron Murray find success against Florida’s secondary?
After a dismal performance against South Carolina, Murray rebounded with 427 yards and four touchdowns in the 29-24 win over Kentucky. The junior quarterback has been sharp most of the season, completing 65.3 percent of his throws and tossing only four picks. Although Murray seemed to find rhythm last week, Florida’s defense represents the toughest challenge the Bulldogs have seen this year. The Gators are allowing less than 200 passing yards per game and have given up only three passing scores in seven contests. Another key to the success of Florida’s secondary has been a pass rush averaging two sacks a game. Murray didn’t have much time to throw against South Carolina, which didn’t allow the offense to take any shots downfield. For the Bulldogs to win, they have to provide Murray with more protection, along with establishing freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall on the ground.
Will Jeff Driskel throw for more than 100 yards?
The formula for Florida’s turnaround this year is pretty simple. The Gators are winning the battle in the trenches and the turnover battle. With a shutdown defense and a stout running game, quarterback Jeff Driskel hasn’t been asked to do much over the last three games. The sophomore quarterback has not topped 100 passing yards over the last three contests but ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Vanderbilt. Although Driskel hasn’t been much of a factor in recent weeks, he will be needed more against Georgia. The Bulldogs rank 28th nationally against the pass and with a lack of proven playmakers for Georgia on the outside, the Bulldogs should own an edge in pass defense. Driskel has been careful with the ball (only one interception on 127 attempts) but this will be a huge test after three games where he didn’t need to do much through the air. Georgia's pass rush is expected to get a boost this week, as linebacker Jarvis Jones is expected to return to the lineup after missing last Saturday's game against Kentucky.
Even though Georgia was handled by South Carolina, this team is capable of winning this game. The battle in the trenches will be critical, especially for a Bulldogs’ offensive line that struggled to block the Gamecocks’ defensive front. Florida doesn’t have a difference maker off the edge like Jadeveon Clowney, but what the Gators lack in star power is made up in quality depth. If Georgia can protect quarterback Aaron Murray and open up some holes for running back Todd Gurley, this will be a close game until the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs’ defense has to step up after underachieving this year, which could have a hard time slowing down the Florida rushing attack. Georgia should be motivated to win this one, but the Gators are on a roll and should once again find a way to win.
Final Prediction: Florida 24, Georgia 20
by Steven Lassan
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