ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his staff have looked at the Florida matchup from every imaginable angle, and the game plan is in the books.
Jake Fromm revealed Wednesday night it won’t look a whole lot different than what he’s done the past three seasons in running up a 30-6 record as UGA’s quarterback.
The No. 8-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1 SEC) are favored over the No. 6-ranked Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC) in the 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday.
It’s a familiar rivalry, but both teams will have plenty of fresh faces that will have a direct effect on the outcome.
Georgia has a completely made-over receiving corps and added some premier edge rushers, while Florida will have a new quarterback under center.
Just as Fromm said the Bulldogs will remain true to their identity, Smart said Florida coach Dan Mullen will make good use of his personnel within the framework of his football ideology.
“It’s a chess match every time you go against somebody, but it boils down a lot more to players than it does Xs and Os,” Smart said. “They always seem like they have downhill, low-center-of-gravity backs. Very similar to what he has now he had at Mississippi State. Big, physical offensive line. He never abandons the run.
“He always has a quarterback that can run the ball especially whether it’s short yardages or packages with Emory [Jones] coming in for them,” he said. “I don’t know how to better say it than to say that he has a complete offensive package.”
Georgia’s top weapons on offense are in the backfield, and that’s where this week’s keys to the game begin.
Establish the run
Georgia leads the SEC in rushing, and D’Andre Swift averages nearly 8 yards per carry on first downs (7.9). Those are numbers that will win most every game (barring a 4-turnover deficiency.
The power run game is the cornerstone to UGA’s offense, setting up manageable down-and-distance situations and play-action passes.
The Bulldogs’ ability to run the football also neutralizes Florida’s ability and likelihood of pressuring Fromm.
“We have certain things we have to do to keep play action involved, to keep balance in our offense,” Smart said. “The outside zone the other night (against Kentucky) was most effective later in the game, and you have to ask yourself if the outside zone was most effective later in the game because you chopped wood early in the game?
“You’re always trying to keep the defense off balance. It loosens you up when you have to go against our offensive line repeatedly for four quarters.”
Pressure Kyle Trask
Florida has yielded 16 sacks this season — seventh in the SEC, 67th in the nation — even with Trask possessing decent mobility.
Smart said the Gators’ offensive line, however, has gained experience as the season progressed.
“You would say the offensive line is probably younger than it was last year … but those guys aren’t rookies anymore,” Smart said. “I look at it and say those guys have played almost a complete season now, and they’re playing at a high level because their quarterback has been able to protect him and throw the ball.
“I mean when you got the wideouts they got out there sometimes, doesn’t matter how long you protect because they get open pretty quick and they beat some man-to-man situations against good teams.”
Georgia pass rushers Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson are coming.
Nail in coffin
Georgia was able to pull away from the Gators in the fourth quarter last season, scoring two touchdowns in the final 9 minutes to break open what had been a 23-17 football game.
But that was a different Georgia team from a pass-catching standpoint, with five of the seven players who caught passes in last year’s game no longer with the team, including tight end Isaac Nauta (5-73) and receiver J.J. Holloman (4-48, 2 TDs).
Smart has looked to his run game to wear out opponents, as mentioned above, but the results have not always been so convincing.
Most notably, the Bulldogs had a 23-17 win earlier this season against Notre Dame that required the defense to fend off a last-minute Fighting Irish drive that reached the UGA 38.
Smart and his staff are surely aware that in 6 of 17 of Dan Mullen’s wins at Florida, the Gators trailed in fourth quarter.
Georgia will need to put the hammer down to secure a win in this year’s rivalry game, because this Florida offense is capable of last-minute heroics.