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Nolan Smith’s development as a pass rusher highlights what we learned before Georgia football plays Florida
Jake Fromm knows what it’s like to come into the Florida game not playing your best football. He went through it last year, as he was coming off a loss to LSU and rumors were swirling about the competition between him and Justin Fields.
And Fromm responded by playing his best game to date. He threw for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Gators, doing some of his best work on third down.
Fromm has faced similar questions this year after how the offense looked in games against South Carolina and Kentucky. But having the bye week to reset and prepare for the No. 6 Gators, Fromm is ready to get back on the field and show that those performances aren’t indicative of his talents.
“I’m ready to go. Let’s go play football,” Fromm said. “I’m ready to go out and show what I’ve been working on, show what this team has been working on and ready to play football and play at a high level.”
As a starter, Fromm is 2-0 against the Gators.
Prior to the Kentucky game, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift laid out a very clear explanation as to how to improve the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs needed to get the ball to their explosive playmakers on the outside.
But the weather against Kentucky prevented Georgia from throwing the ball much, as Georgia attempted just one pass in the second half.
Swift was asked again about the Georgia offense and specifically what the group worked on.
“We worked on a lot of things. We worked on third-down situations, being more explosive, winning the one-on-one match-ups,” Swift said. “Everyone improved. Running backs, linebackers, wide receivers did a good job on getting open.”
It’ll be worth seeing how Georgia’s playmakers do on Saturday. Last year, Swift finished with 100 rushing yards against the Gators, hitting triple digits for the first time in his Georgia career.
It does seem like senior Lawrence Cager is going to give it a go against the Gators on Saturday. He did not play against Kentucky as he was dealing with rib and shoulder injuries.
Cager did allude to a return of sorts on Monday by using a very famous wrestling gif.
— Lawrence Cager (@lawrencecager3) October 28, 2019
As for what that might mean, Fromm did not hold back on the kind of impact Cager could have on the Georgia offense.
“It would be huge for the offense. Lawrence is a big target to be there on the outside, he brings a lot of juice to the offense and makes big-time plays,” Fromm said. “Me and Cager have put in a lot of work together and for him to be out there will be another guy who can go out there and make plays.”
Florida has two strong cornerbacks in Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson, so having a guy like Cager who has shown he can win on the outside is rather large for the Bulldogs. Cager’s presence will also free up someone like George Pickens, making the freshman’s life easier given that Florida won’t be able to double him.
We wrote a lengthy profile on offensive tackle Andrew Thomas on Thursday, detailing what makes him great and why he’ll be important in slowing down Florida’s talented pass rush. You can check out our entire interview with Thomas below.
As you know by now, the team that has won the rushing battle has won the game the last 13 times these teams have met. If that is going to be true for a 14th straight time, the numbers do favor Georgia in that regard.
The Bulldogs are first in both rushing offense and rush defense in the SEC. Florida meanwhile ranks 11th and fourth in those two categories. The Gators have improved as of late in the rush offense category, as they’ve averaged 150 rushing yards in the last two games.
Georgia is still the only team in the country that has not given up a rushing touchdown. And the group is expected to get back defensive end Travon Walker, who missed the last two games following wrist surgery.
“Yeah, he’s back out today practicing,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Supposed to be full go, ready to go. We’re expecting to get him back.”
Walker will help primarily on passing downs, as the freshman has served as a key member of Georgia’s pass-rushing unit.
This was brought up in one of DawgNation’s Cover 4s, but Georgia needs to have a strong effort from both Nolan Smith and Azeez Ojulari. The Georgia pass rush has been the one weak-link on the Bulldogs’ defense, as they rank 10th in the SEC in sacks.
In their last four games, Georgia has only 4.0 sacks and all of those games are against Power Five opponents. Some of that can be chalked up to Georgia playing against more mobile quarterbacks, who the Bulldogs have decided to try and keep inside the pocket and force them to beat the Bulldogs with their arms.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask isn’t that type of player and is someone who has been comfortable from the pocket. That’s why Smith and Ojulari have to harass him.
Smith has gotten close a number of times — he was the one who got his hands on Notre Dame’s Ian Book to force an errant final pass — but he has yet to register a sack in an SEC game.
But that didn’t stop Smart from giving a positive update on how Smith is progressing in his first season of college football.
“Nolan’s development has been great. He’s very intelligent,” Smart said of the talented freshman. “He’s one of the kids who comes in and meets extra. You can tell it matters to him. He wants to play well. He studies his opponent. He’s a very bright kid with an extremely high motor, and he’s continuing to get better every game.”
This game will likely carry some extra weight for Smith, given he is from the Savannah area.
Georgia struggled earlier this year against Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet. He finished with 9 catches and 108 yards in the game. The Georgia linebackers will have to do a much better job against Florida’s Kyle Pitts, who is even bigger and possibly better than Kmet.
Pitts leads Florida in receptions with 39, receiving yards with 395 and is tied for the team-high in touchdown catches with 4.
And Georgia inside linebacker Monty Rice didn’t hesitate to praise the 6-foot-6 pass-catcher.
“He’s a great player. He makes a lot of plays. I think he has the most targets probably in the nation for a tight end. In order for Florida to win, they’re going to have to get him the ball for him to make plays,” Rice said. “We’ve just got to play our coverage and do what we’re supposed to.”
Pitts was high school teammates with Georgia defensive back Mark Webb, who will likely also take some responsibility in covering Pitts. If there’s one inside linebacker that might best matchup with Pitts, it would be Quay Walker. He’s the best athlete of the group and his 6-foot-4 frame will allow to at least contest passes to Pitts.
By now you’ve heard that Kyle Trask hadn’t started a football game since his freshman year of high school prior to stepping in for the injured Feleipe franks. But since taking over, he’s shown why he was good enough to earn a scholarship offer from Florida.
He’s thrown 14 touchdown passes — more than Fromm — to just 4 interceptions. He’s also completing 67 percent of his passes as well. And the Georgia secondary isn’t treating Trask like a second-string quarterback this week.
“He’s definitely not a backup type of guy. He’s a big player and can play strong,” senior safety J.R. Reed said. “He’s not as athletic as Florida’s previous quarterback, but he’s a great player— you can see that on the field. He knows how to run the offense and can spread the ball around. [Dan] Mullen is doing a great job and letting [Trask] use his arm.”
Trask has thrown interceptions in each of his last two games. And with Georgia expecting to get Tyson Campbell back from injury, Trask will have to be careful about throwing into the Georgia secondary.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Georgia football recruiting: What do the remaining battles look like with Florida for 2020?
- Georgia football podcast: Florida sends odd Halloween-themed message to recruit
- Cover 4 on Georgia football: Who will be a key supporting character that helps take down Florida?
- 3 keys to Georgia beating Florida, staying on SEC title track
- 5 questions with Florida beat writer Edgar Thompson
Dawgs on Twitter
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Halloween Thriller ☑️
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Ticket Punched to Orange Beach ☑️
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