For the past two games, Georgia’s leading pass catcher hasn’t been a wide receiver or tight end. It’s been James Cook who has emerged as the top passing weapon for the Bulldogs.
He’s caught eight passes for 164 yards in the games against Alabama and Kentucky. He’s also been able to create some of those explosive plays that every offense craves.
Georgia has been looking for ways to get Cook in one-on-one situations, such as it did against Alabama. The junior running back feels better and better about his game as a result of the strong performance.
“It’s just all about winning,” Cook said. “I know if I can beat the man across from me, I’ll have all the confidence in the world. I know I’m athletic and I have versatility, so I can beat him.”
Cook has also contributed in the ground game, as he gained 39 yards on six carries against Kentucky. If the Bulldogs are to win on Saturday, it will need a strong day running the ball. Georgia did have its best rushing performance of the season against Kentucky as it rolled up 215 rushing yards.
Winning the rushing battle has been a key in the rivalry game against Florida, as the team with the most rushing yards in the previous 14 games has emerged as the winner.
“That has been a big thing over the past year, whoever leads in rushing will win the game,” Cook said. “We’re just looking to come in, dominate and do what we do.”
Quarterback: Stetson Bennett has not been at his best in the past two games. He’s thrown five interceptions compared to seven touchdowns.
The interceptions are the most concerning part of Bennett’s game. But it’s not the only part that he can stand to improve on.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart spelled out what those other areas are for the Georgia quarterback.
“We can improve by protecting the ball, sliding once you make a good decision to run and when you get near contact you can get down,” Smart said. “Making good decisions with the ball, in terms of if you’re going to throw it out of bounds, throw it out of bounds and if you’re going to hit the check down, hit the check down.”
Related: Georgia coach Kirby Smart voices concerns with Stetson Bennett, reloaded offense
Bennett is still expected to get the start on Saturday. It will be worth watching how long of a leash Bennett might have if the turnovers become an issue once again. D’Wan Mathis continues to work in practice with the second team and JT Daniels on the third team.
Wide receiver: The Bulldogs were without their most talented wide receiver against Kentucky, as George Pickens did not travel with the team due to an upper-extremity injury.
But there is the expectation that he will play on Saturday. Smart said the key for Pickens will be pain tolerance.
“We are hopeful he is going to get to play,” Smart said. “We need him to be at his best for us to be where we need to be offensively. That is what we are hoping to do the second half of the season.”
Without Pickens, wide receivers only had four catches against Kentucky. Kearis Jackson had three of them while Jermaine Burton had another. Those numbers will need to improve if Georgia is to beat Florida.
Related: Kirby Smart updates injury status of Georgia stars George Pickens,
Having Pickens would no doubt help improve those numbers.
Smart spent time this week talking about the ways the wide receivers can help the offense as well.
“We can improve with our route-running, route-communication, our ability to finish blocks on the perimeter when we get the ball on the perimeter,” Smart said. “There’s tons of places we can improve.”
Offensive line: This week’s game against Florida means a little bit more to the parents of Georgia offensive lineman Warren Ericson.
That’s because both of Ericson’s parents went to the University of Florida.
“Both my parents went to Florida and I’ve been growing up watching this game for as long as I can remember,” Ericson said. “It’s a special place in my heart because I grew up watching it and now I get to be a part of it.”
But rest assured, Ericson’s parents will be pulling for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
“Since I’ve been at Georgia, my parents have been extremely supportive of me,” Ericson said. “They want to ride for the Dawgs every single Saturday and that’s what they’re going to continue to do.”
Ericson came off the bench to fill-in for an injured Ben Cleveland against Kentucky. Cleveland is expected to be healthy and start against Florida on Saturday. In the event that he isn’t though, Ericson will be ready to once again see the field.
Defensive line: Georgia was without star defensive lineman Jordan Davis for most of the Kentucky game as he left the game with an elbow injury.
Not having Davis would be a blow against the Gators, as there’s an argument that Davis is more important to the Georgia defense than safety Richard LeCounte. But unlike LeCounte, Smart is optimistic Davis can play some sort of role on Saturday.
“Jordan [Davis] is still day-to-day. We are hoping he will be good to go. Obviously, yesterday we did not practice so there’s not a lot there. We are trying to get him back, even if it’s just a role. I think he can play a role in the game. I am hopeful he is able to do that.”
In the event that Davis can’t go, expect Devonte Wyatt to slide over into the nose tackle role. Georgia will ask for more from the likes of freshmen Jalen Carter and Nazir Stackhouse as well on Saturday.
Florida has not been as strong a rushing team compared to the likes of Alabama and Kentucky, but not having a full healthy Davis will make things difficult for Georgia.
Linebackers: Monty Rice is one of the senior leaders on the Georgia team.
And this week in he showed why that was the case, as Nakobe Dean detailed.
“He addressed the team about how guys have to step up and definitely play well with guys being out and everything,” Dean said. “Being at the midpoint of the season, and how we have to start elevating our game.”
Rice has been battling a foot injury which has limited him somewhat against Alabama and Kentucky. But he’s still played through the injury in both of those games. He even forced a fumble against Kentucky.
With Quay Walker also battling an injury, Rice will be asked to do a little bit more this week. Georgia will also likely look to Channing Tindall as well to pair with Dean.
As for his speech, Dean made it clear Rice resonated with his teammates.
“Of course it had an effect, hopefully, hit a lot of the younger guys and knowing that they have to step up, and we are going to need them more this season than they probably thought we would,” Dean said.
Defensive backs: No one knows more about Florida tight end Kyle Pitts than Mark Webb. That’s because the two were high school teammates at Archbishop Wood just outside of Philadelphia.
“I knew him pretty well growing up. We trained together for a long period of time, it’s crazy to see the improvement he has made,” Weeb said. “I remember when he couldn’t catch a soul and now, he’s catching everything that comes to him. It’s been great to see him blossom.”
Now Pitts is perhaps the top tight end in the country, as he’s caught seven touchdown passes in just four games. He has a total of 22 catches for 355 receiving yards on the season and will be a top target for Florida quarterback Kyle Trask on Saturday.
Georgia knows it will have its hands full with Pitts on Saturday and will throw a number of bodies at the tight end. Look for defensive back Tyrique Stevenson to get the first crack at Pitts, though it will take more than one player to slow down the talented tight end.
“They are going to determine where he is going to be at. So, there’s some things we can match up on and there’s some things we can’t,” Smart said. “If we have a chance to get a player we think matches up better against him then we try to do that, but you can’t do that for all calls.”
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