Both the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs had a bye week to help them get ready for their annual rivalry game in Jacksonville, Fla. While it is always good for a team to get a week of rest, Georgia is probably more anxious to return to the gridiron considering what happened the last time it played.
Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs lost 17-16 at home to Vanderbilt. While quarterback Jacob Eason threw for 346 yards and a touchdown, Georgia finished with just 75 rushing yards. So the Bulldogs will likely be fired up to play their SEC East rival at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ EverBank Field in a matchup that is now called the “River City Showdown.”
While Florida stomped Missouri 40-14 in its last game, the Gators’ offense was mediocre, to say the least. Florida threw three interceptions and lost a fumble as the defense was nearly as productive (two touchdowns) as the offense against the Tigers.
This is a huge game for Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC), who currently sits in first place in the East following back-to-back losses by Tennessee (to Texas A&M and Alabama). The Volunteers hold the tiebreaker over the Gators because of their 38-28 victory in Knoxville earlier this season.
Georgia leads the all-time series with Florida at 44-39-2, but the Gators have won the past two meetings. Last season, Florida won 27-3 behind 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns from former Gator running back Kelvin Taylor.
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Florida -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia’s running game
In their last game against Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs couldn’t get anything going on the ground. While freshman quarterback Jacob Eason can make plays when he has to, the Bulldogs’ offense is better when both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are involved and doing the heavy lifting. Both Chubb and Michel were held to 68 combined yards and zero touchdowns against Vanderbilt.
Florida’s defense is even better than Vanderbilt’s as the Gators are ranked 20th against the run (119.2 ypg), compared to the Commodores (62nd). To slow down Florida’s strong pass rush and keep an opportunistic secondary honest, Georgia will need more production from Chubb and Michel.
2. Luke Del Rio
In his first game back from a sprained knee, Del Rio was less than stellar at quarterback against Missouri. He completed less than half (18 of 38) of his passes for 236 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
Because of Del Rio’s struggles, the Gators had to rely on their defense to ensure victory over the Tigers. Georgia has been one of the stingiest teams against the run this season, allowing just 111.1 rushing yards per game. At some point Del Rio will have to throw the ball and make some plays with his arm. In order to accomplish this Del Rio needs to focus on his accuracy and making sure his target his open and wearing the same jersey he is.
3. Isaiah McKenzie
He may not be the biggest (5-8, 175) guy on the field, but McKenzie’s presence is huge for Georgia. The junior is the Bulldogs’ most dynamic and versatile weapon, which is why the coaching staff looks to get him the ball every chance it gets.
In Georgia’s first three games, McKenzie averaged 152 all-purpose yards per contest. His production has since dropped, but he could be an x-factor against a Florida defense that doesn’t typically allow a lot of big plays. McKenzie only has 12 receptions (one for a TD) in his last four games, but he should get his fair share of opportunities on Saturday. He’s also a threat on special team as a punt returner and is fourth on the team with 15 carries.
The offenses for both teams have gone stagnant in recent weeks. With an extra week to prepare, expect both teams to show something new on that side of the ball.
The last two Florida-Georgia games ended in Gator blowouts, as the Bulldogs didn’t look ready to play. Those outcomes probably played a role in Georgia firing longtime head coach Mark Richt after 15 seasons. Now it’s Kirby Smart’s team and don’t expect the Georgia alumnus to run on to the field at EverBank Stadium with a flat, listless group of Bulldogs.
This will likely be a seesaw affair, as most rivalry games are, but Florida’s No. 2-ranked defense will be the difference. Look for the Gators to make a few more plays in the fourth quarter and that will be enough to pull out the close victory and allow them to maintain their spot atop the SEC East.
Prediction: Florida 24, Georgia 21
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.