How Malik Zaire’s transfer to Florida affects UGA in the SEC East race

UGA athletics
What game do you think is Georgia's toughest in 2017?

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, we take a look at the toughest games on UGA’s schedule, some freak athleticism from Trent Thompson and how Malik Zaire’s move to Florida affects the race for the SEC East title.

How does Malik Zaire change the SEC East title picture?

As expected with the new changes in the SEC’s graduate transfer rules, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire is transferring to Florida. For Georgia fans, the obvious questions are how will his move to Gainesville affect the Bulldogs in their annual showdown with the Gators at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and how will it affect the race for the SEC East crown.

It’s difficult to tell what Florida is getting in Zaire, simply because he didn’t play a ton of snaps during his Notre Dame career. He threw for only 800 yards and 6 touchdowns (no interceptions, though) in his career. His national name recognition comes only by virtue of being the starting QB for Notre Dame at the beginning of 2015 and performing well in the two games he started before a broken right ankle sidelined him for the season. From there, DeShone Kizer took a stranglehold of the top spot on the depth chart for the next two seasons.

Zaire’s best game at Notre Dame came in the 2015 season opener against Texas, a 38-3 win by the Irish that got his hype train rolling. In that game, Zaire went 19 for 22 for 313 yards passing and 3 touchdowns, roughly half of his career production.

One of Zaire’s greatest strengths is his legs. (Potentially, that is. At this point, he hasn’t had enough snaps to show them off.) He’s got borderline track speed. The threat he poses on the ground gives Florida’s offense a different dimension than it had with Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby under center. The Gators ranked 113th nationally in team rushing last season, so they desperately need to find a way to gain more yards on the ground. Zaire is a potential solution to that problem.

All this talk is putting the cart before the horse, though. Zaire still has to get to Gainesville, learn the system and win the job. And since we haven’t seen him much over the years, there’s no guarantee he will beat out some touted Gators who already know the offense, such as Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. (It’s also important to note he couldn’t win the job on a Notre Dame team that went 4-8. Even though Kizer was a second-round draft pick, that speaks volumes.) He does give Florida more options under center, though. And with more options, there’s a greater chance that the problems Gators have had at quarterback basically since Tim Tebow left will finally be solved.

One way those options could play in Georgia’s favor is if the Gators are still playing musical chairs at QB by the time the WLOCP is played. If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks, as the old cliché goes. A Florida offense still trying to find its identity could be red meat for what figures to be a fantastic Bulldogs defense. And even if Zaire does win the job outright, he’ll probably still be learning the finer points of the Florida offense at midseason. Any indecision or confusion by a QB is dangerous in the face of a fast and ferocious Bulldogs defense.

So, how does Zaire change Georgia’s chances in the East and against the Gators? If he plays as brilliantly as he showed in flashes at Notre Dame, it could hurt the Bulldogs severely. The Gators won the East two years running with average-at-best QBs under center. A competent QB who can maximize Florida’s strong receiving corps and can use his legs to make up for some of the deficiencies in its stable of running backs, paired with what should be a typically strong Gators defense, would spell trouble for Georgia and the rest of the division.

As always, it’ll be incumbent upon the Georgia defense to make his or any other Gators quarterback’s effect on the game negligible and to take care of business elsewhere in its SEC East slate. No one wants the whole season to ride on the result of the WLOCP.

Toughest Georgia games of 2017

Matt Fortuna of Athlon Sports ranked the toughest games of Georgia’s 2017 schedule. You should read what he says about all the matchups, but here’s a quick look at his top 5:

5. Sept. 30 at Tennessee

4. Nov. 25 at Georgia Tech

3. Sept. 9 at Notre Dame

2. Oct. 28 vs. Florida

1. Nov. 11 at Auburn

Trent Thompson’s got hops

Lots of people are expecting a big year from Trent Thompson, and then a long NFL career after, if he chooses to jump to the pros after his junior season. Part of that projection is based off how he played last season, and another based off his measurables and crazy athleticism.

Case and point: This 42-inch box jump from the 300-pounder:

If that doesn’t convince you Thompson is a freak athlete, nothing will.

ICYMI

Good dog

Problem solved.

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