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Georgia vs. Florida Football Prediction and Preview

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators Football Prediction and Preview

Top-ranked Bulldogs renew their rivalry with the Gators in Jacksonville

Georgia and Florida renew their annual rivalry in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville with plenty at stake for both programs on Saturday. The Gators hope to spoil the Bulldogs' No. 1 ranking and unbeaten record, while also getting back on track after a disappointing loss to LSU on Oct. 16. On the other sideline, Georgia aims to add to its impressive résumé and turn in another dominant effort against an SEC opponent. If the Bulldogs win, it's safe to assume this team will open at No. 1 when the initial CFB Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday night.

A lot can happen over the next month of the 2021 college football season, but Georgia should be in great shape for the playoff if it finishes 12-0 prior to the SEC title game. That's due to the overall level of dominance coach Kirby Smart's team has displayed this fall, winning six of its seven games by 17 or more points, including victories against Kentucky (30-13), Auburn (34-10), and Arkansas (37-0). A stingy, aggressive, and attacking defense has led the way for the Bulldogs, but the offense is averaging nearly 40 points a game (38.4).

While Georgia has experienced relatively smooth sailing this year, it's been a bumpy ride in Gainesville. After winning the SEC East last fall, Florida is unranked and sits 4-3 going into Saturday's matchup. The off week came at a good time for coach Dan Mullen's squad, as the Gators were reeling from a disappointing 49-42 loss in Baton Rouge against LSU. Earlier this year, Florida dropped a two-point game to Alabama and lost 20-13 to Kentucky — a matchup Mullen's team statistically dominated.

Georgia holds a 53-44-2 series edge over Florida. The Gators won 44-28 last year, but the Bulldogs won the previous three meetings.

Related: 5 Biggest Beatdowns in Florida vs. Georgia Rivalry History

No. 1 Georgia vs. Florida

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Spread: Georgia 14

When Georgia Has the Ball

Kirby Smart and play-caller Todd Monken have a good problem on their hands with two proven quarterbacks. JT Daniels opened the season as the starter but missed the Week 2 matchup against UAB and has been sidelined for the last three games due to a lat injury. In his place, Stetson Bennett has guided the offense to an average of 33.7 points and nearly 400 yards (6.5 per play) in that span. Although Daniels has the edge in raw talent and arm strength, Smart isn't tipping his hand on which player takes the first snap against Florida. The Bulldogs likely need a healthy Daniels to win it all this year, but Bennett brings more mobility and has showcased his potential with a strong stretch of games. It wouldn't be a surprise to see both play against the Gators.

Georgia could also get good news on the outside. The receiving corps has been dealing with a handful of injuries throughout the 2021 season, but Jermaine Burton, Arian Smith, and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint appear to be on track for bigger roles over the next couple of games. Their return adds to an already deep group of weapons, including tight end Brock Bowers (25 catches) and receivers Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell.

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Florida's defense entered '21 under the spotlight after struggling last year. This unit appeared to be on track through the first six contests by holding teams to 4.8 yards per play and 16.5 points a contest. However, the Gators played their worst game of the season in their last outing, as LSU gashed them for 454 yards (6.6 per play). The Tigers' struggling ground game churned out 328 yards against this unit, raising plenty of questions about whether or not this group is actually improved from last year. Despite that performance, Florida ranks second in SEC-only matchups in the fewest yards allowed per play (5.3) and is holding conference opponents to 22.8 points a game.

Prior to the loss against LSU, no team had rushed for more than 148 yards against Florida's defense this year. Was the game in Baton Rouge a one-time blip or a sign of things to come? Georgia's offense should provide plenty of data for the Gators' staff, as the line is among the best in the nation, with running backs Zamir White (400 yards) and James Cook (296) a tough duo to stop.

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 9

When Florida Has the Ball

Quarterback play is always under the spotlight, but this position will have even more scrutiny on Saturday. Florida has used two quarterbacks all season, with Emory Jones starting and Anthony Richardson (when healthy) playing in a change-of-pace role. But the outlook on this situation could be changing. In the loss to LSU, Jones connected on 12 of 19 throws for 161 yards and a touchdown but also tossed two picks. Richardson paced the team in rushing (37 yards and a score) and provided an overall spark too by connecting on 10 passes for 167 yards.

How will Mullen handle this situation on Saturday? Both quarterbacks are likely to play, but it's uncertain if Jones or Richardson will actually take the first snap. Jones certainly has an edge in experience, but Richardson's big-play ability (11.4 yards per snap this year) is needed for Florida to have any shot at the upset. And regardless of who takes the most snaps, limiting mistakes is essential. The Gators lost four turnovers in the game against LSU and had a couple of costly mistakes versus Kentucky. Receivers Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter headline the weapons on the outside, which have to win some one-on-one battles against a standout secondary. Against Georgia, there's no room for Florida to have the errors in the passing game that happened in Baton Rouge.

The Gators have leaned on their ground game all year, averaging 40 rushing attempts a contest and ranking second in the SEC in production (254.3 ypg). Although this offense ran relatively well in the loss to Alabama, in three defeats this year, Florida is averaging 4.7 yards a carry — compared to 7.5 in four victories. In addition to Richardson and Jones, Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce, and Nay'Quan Wright are all likely to see carries on Saturday. But while Florida's rushing attack has been one of the best in the SEC, running against the dominant Georgia front is a massive challenge. The Bulldogs have limited teams to just 2.1 yards per carry and rank first in the conference at 63.4 rushing yards per game allowed. No team has managed more than 127 rushing yards against Smart's defense, and the Gators were held under 100 in each of their last two games in this rivalry.

Mullen is one of the best play-callers in the SEC, and the two-week preparation period should allow time to throw a few wrinkles at Georgia's defense. However, despite the extra time to prep, can he find any answers to crack the best defense in college football? The Bulldogs are holding teams to 3.6 yards per play and just 6.6 points a game this year. Also, this group has allowed only two plays of 40-plus yards and are tied for first in the SEC in sacks (24).

Final Analysis

Georgia has been the best team in college football through the first eight weeks of the season. A rivalry game always brings out the best in the underdog, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Florida plays well early and keeps it close into the third quarter. But the Bulldogs are simply too tough on defense, and the offense will be just fine with either Bennett or Daniels at the controls, especially if the ground game is finding success like LSU did against the Gators two weeks ago. If Florida's defense plays inspired, Richardson delivers a few big plays, and the Bulldogs lose the turnover battle, then there's a chance this game is close until the end. However, that's a lot to ask. Georgia moves to 8-0 and bolsters its résumé as the No. 1 team in the nation.

Prediction: Georgia 31, Florida 17

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