The Georgia Bulldogs’ hopes of winning the SEC East are still alive but are currently hanging by a thread, and this thread will be in danger of snapping this Saturday when the team travels to Jacksonville to face off with the Florida Gators at 3:30 p.m. on CBS in the annual meeting of “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”.
The 2013 season has been eerily similar for both the Bulldogs and the Gators, as both currently sit at 4-3 on the season with 3-2 records in SEC play and rosters that have been absolutely mangled by injuries. For Georgia, the last two ballgames have consisted of sixty minutes of struggle, which resulted in a devastating 41-26 loss at home to the #25 Missouri Tigers and then an embarrassing 31-27 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores that gave Vandy its first win over Georgia in Nashville since 1991. Meanwhile, the Gators have fallen off their normal pace due in part to a struggling offensive unit, losing to #10 LSU 17-6 in what will be forever remembered as “The Hammer and the Nail” game and then, like Georgia, a tough loss to Mizzou by the final score of 36-17.
While both teams have had seasons that they would like to forget (this is only the second time since 1979 that both teams enter this matchup unranked), it is apparent to all parties involved that a victory at EverBank Field will make all the pain go away, at least temporarily. In order for the Bulldogs to beat the Gators for the third straight season, the Bulldogs have to utilize running back Todd Gurley in his first game since injuring his ankle in the Bulldogs’ victory over LSU. Ever since Gurley and Keith Marshall were sidelined due to injuries, Georgia’s offense has been incredibly one-dimensional, which allowed opposing defenses to pick apart Aaron Murray and a passing game that has also had its fair share of injuries this year. Although freshmen backs JJ Green and Brendan Douglas have done what they could to help keep the ball rolling for the Bulldogs, the two’s talents combined at this point in their careers are simply not even close to the explosiveness that Gurley brings to the table. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo may elect to work Gurley in slowly considering the amount of time he has missed, but if Gurley is not capable of carrying the load through the trenches in the fourth quarter of this one, it would appear as if the Gators will make the Bulldogs’ streak a thing of the past.
Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s unit has been much maligned throughout the year (there were rumors going around last week that Grantham had been relieved of his duties), but they have a chance to put the past behind them with a good showing against Florida this Saturday. In order for Georgia to contain Florida’s offense, they must frustrate junior quarterback Tyler Murphy and pressure him early and often. Although some Florida fans were optimistic when Murphy was forced to step up in the absence of Jeff Driskel, the Gators’ passing game has simply been a struggle, as Murphy has only surpassed 200 yards through the air on one occasion–Florida’s 30-10 win over Arkansas–and has failed to throw a touchdown in the Gators’ last two losses. Florida has shown some potential in the running game thanks to the emergence of freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of longtime Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, which will undoubtedly be a major part of offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s gameplan. That’s why a strong start by both the offense and defense will be of the utmost importance for Georgia: if the Dawgs can defend properly early and allow Aaron Murray and the offense to make plays and take a significant lead, it will force the Gators to abandon the running game and make them turn to their weakest aspect on offense.
Game Prediction: Although both fanbases are praying for a blowout victory, these fans will instead be treated to a game that will not be decided until late in the fourth quarter. Still trying to establish his playmakers, Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray overcomes a slow start and helps Georgia’s chances with a game consisting of 329 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, the Gators keep up the pace thanks to good games from Taylor and fellow running back Mack Brown, who combine for 204 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bulldogs keep Florida in the contest thanks to a weakened defense and yet another poor play on special teams: Georgia punter Colin Barber gets another punt blocked midway through the third quarter, which leads to a 7-yard touchdown run by Brown.
The key moment in this contest comes with a little under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, as Georgia gets the ball on its own 20 following a Gators’ score that ties the game 28-28. Needing big plays in order to seal a victory, Murray delivers just like he did in the win over Tennessee, completing six of his next eight pass attempts and running for a new set of downs on a do-or-die third down on the Bulldogs’ thirty-five. The Bulldogs ultimately take the lead with 3:41 left on the clock on a 12-yard run by Gurley, who is quiet for the most part in this game before reaching the end zone at this point. Now needing to respond rather quickly, the Gators reach the Bulldogs’ forty yard line with time still on their side, but a Tyler Murphy pass on third and eight gets tipped and intercepted by Joshua Harvey-Clemons, who like Gurley is returning from missing time due to injury. Georgia wins the game and extends its winning streak over Florida to three, the longest such streak for the Dawgs in the series since 1989. Final Score Georgia Bulldogs 35, Florida Gators 28
What will be the key to the Bulldogs prevailing over the Gators? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard!