7 Georgia football players to watch against Florida: D’Andre Swift heads list
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Georgia football offense is predicated on matchups, the objective to play to the Bulldogs’ strengths while manipulating perceived opponents weaknesses.
UGA fans don’t want to hear it, but if there’s a spot Florida is softer than others, against the run and that likely means more handoffs to D’Andre Swift between the tackles.
Swift, of course, is at the top of the list of players to watch when the No. 8-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1 SEC) take on the No 6-ranked Gators (7-1, 4-1) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at TIAA Bank Field.
Smart doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that he feels the team’s strength is the offensive line and the running backs.
That strength came into question in a rain-soaked win over Kentucky, when the Bulldogs’ offense wasn’t able to cross midfield in the first half of their 21-0 win.
Georgia’s likely plan to rely on the run also factors in that Florida leads the SEC in sacks (29) and interceptions (12).
Here are the seven Georgia players to watch against the Gators:
RB D’Andre Swift
Swift starred for the Bulldogs in their 36-17 win last season, rushing for a then-career-high of 104 yards on 12 carries, including a game-clinching 33-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Smart has sent Swift out to talk with the media the past two weeks, as the junior tailback has taken ownership of the team in what is most likely his final season in Athens.
Florida will be keying on Swift, providing him with an opportunity to showcase future-NFL feature back potential. Swift’s current 6.83 yards per carry is on pace to set the school mark (Todd Gurley, 6.44), but he’ll be challenged to maintain that pace against a tough November schedule.
Worth noting, Swift’s longest run this season is only 40 yards.
OT Andrew Thomas
The Georgia left tackle has yet to give up a sack this season, and has surrendered just one in his UGA career (last season, LSU). Florida provides a test with its talented edge rushers and multiple-pressure package.
It’s all about winning for Thomas, but the junior has a lot more at stake with his status as an Outland Trophy favorite and projected Top 5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
It’s all on the line for Thomas in Jacksonville.
QB Jake Fromm
Of course the Bulldogs’ quarterback is on the list, as his decision-making and ability to play call at the line of scrimmage remains a factor, even if he has probably seen the last 50-pass attempt day of his collegiate career.
Fromm’s three-interception performance against South Carolina has lingered, as the pouring rain at Kentucky prevented him from immediate redemption, and the bye week has kept the sour taste in his mouth.
The reality is that Fromm can only do so much if receivers aren’t able to get separation, but he’s likely learned and put stock in the fact that some targets are more reliable than others.
TE Eli Wolf
A tight end? Yes, it’s Wolf, because a look back at last year’s game reflects Isaac Nauta with a team-high five catches against the Florida defensive scheme.
Fromm will be reluctant to throw into coverage against a Gators’ defense that leads the league in interceptions, even with dynamic targets like George Pickens and potentially Lawrence Cager (injury status pending).
Wolf is an experienced route runner with a knack for finding open space and the hands to make catches in traffic. Other than dump-offs to running backs, tight ends are ideal for the type of controlled passing game Smart feels secure with.
MLB Monty Rice
Smart has invested a lot of time and trust in Rice, the Bulldogs’ starting middle linebacker, and production will be a must.
It was interesting to see former UGA coordinator Jim Chaney attack Rice with his Tennessee tight end earlier this season, and Florida might be inclined to do the same with All-SEC shoo-in Kyle Pitts.
Rice is regarded as a tough guy on the Georgia defense, and while he has been productive when healthy, he’s yet to have a signature game or moment. The Gators’ offense will provide that sort of opportunity.
OLB Nolan Smith
Smart says he doesn’t consider freshmen rookies anymore, so it’s fair to say it’s time for this Savannah product to live up to his billing as the No. 1-ranked 2019 signee.
Smith’s production has been modest, to say the least, with just 8 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks through six games.
Part of it is the ultra-deep rotation UGA likes to roll with, but with the season on the line, it might be time for Georgia to keep its best players on the field more often even at the expense of hurting some feelings.
Freshman All-American candidate Azeez Ojulari is a must-start and should be one of the 11 players on the field on every down, but surely there’s a way to get Smith more snaps and opportunities to apply his impressive talents.
FS J.R. Reed
It’s another game the Bulldogs need Reed to produce, like he did at Kentucky with his fumble-inducing hit that set up Georgia’s second score in a 21-0 victory.
Florida has seven plays of more than 60 yards this season (UGA has two), and Reed and fellow safety Richard LeCounte are often the last line of defense.
Reed and LeCounte are also the most likely to secure interceptions, but they’ve each dropped at least two. For all the offseason talk of “havoc,” the Bulldogs rank last in SEC games with just one interception in league play that had zero return yardage.