ATHENS — Whether it’s in life or as a football team, it’s important to be who you are.
I was reminded of that two weeks ago after watching the Georgia Bulldogs lay an egg on the road against LSU. That’s what was most disappointing about what went down in the 36-16 loss in Baton Rouge. I didn’t recognize the Georgia team I watched that day, what with the fake field goals, shanked punts and quick-passing game.
That’s also what made it different from last year’s regular-season loss to Auburn. The Bulldogs’ at least stayed in character that day on The Plains. They lost because they couldn’t run the football against the Tigers’ stout defensive front, not because they quit running it. Sure, once Georgia got down a few scores, it had to throw the football and couldn’t because Jake Fromm was running for his life. But that was never really the case against LSU. I mean, you’re sitting there down 19-9 in the fourth quarter with the ball at the plus-38, then you go jet-sweep with the flanker, handoff to third-string back from the backup quarterback, sack, punt.
That’s showing ’em.
I know, I know, that game’s in the past. Why are you still talking about it?
Here’s why: Because in Saturday’s Top 10 matchup against the No. 9 Florida Gators, the No. 7 Bulldogs need to be who they are.
Who are they, you ask? I’m glad you did.
Georgia is a play-action, pro-style offense that currently has three running backs starting for NFL teams. Georgia is a defensive football team that may have some breakdowns now and then, bend but don’t break, if you will, but they will be danged if anybody is going to line up and run the ball down their throats.
Down in Gainesville, that’s what Florida has been saying all week — that it’s going to pound the Bulldogs on Saturday with its monster offensive line and premier backs and then hit them on the outside with its Feleipe Franks-orchestrated passing game. Really.
The Bulldogs are being challenged, folks. And they need to answer the challenge.
Hey, I’m not sitting here saying Florida is incapable of winning. Far from it. I’ve been duly impressed with what Dan Mullen has done in short order with that program, and I predict he’ll get the Gators back to where they were not so long ago.
And let’s be clear about this: Florida is coming into this contest with a significant psychological advantage, in my opinion. The Gators are playing with house money, so to speak. Nobody expected them to be in this position, an SEC East elimination game. They should be loose as a goose. They have absolutely nothing to lose. Drop this game and the Bull Gators will say, “oh well, we’re still rebuilding; we’ll get ’em next year.” Win, and they’ll be giggling all the way back on their 60-mile bus ride back to Gainesville, thinking, “Ha, we’ve still got Georgia’s number and just ruined their season.”
Conversely, the pressure’s all on the Bulldogs. They’re the ones who were the runaway SEC Eastern Division favorites and supposed Top 5 team this season. As coach Kirby Smart pronounced at the outset of the season, “pressure is a privilege.” Well, Georgia should consider itself extremely privileged this weekend because all the pressure will be entirely on its sideline Saturday.
This was one of the Bulldogs’ issues heading into that ill-fated LSU game. They hadn’t faced any adversity, hadn’t been tested, hadn’t been challenged.
Now they have. So, now we get to see how they respond.
Here’s how I think they should. Defensively, the Bulldogs should sell out like there’s no tomorrow against the Gators’ run. This stuff that Mullen is doing, Smart and his staff have seen it for years. Franks isn’t Tim Tebow and Jordan Scarlett isn’t, well, whoever Florida’s last great running back has been since then.
Offensively, run the doggone ball. And run with Elijah Holyfield mostly. The kid’s laying it on the line for you, running hard, “trucking people,” as the Gators’ pointed out with a considerable amount of scoff. Well, give Holyfield and Georgia’s highly-recruited offensive line a chance to answer that challenge.
Feed him the football and ride it out for a minute or two. If he can’t get it done, then try the other guy, but don’t get lost in that “we take what the defense gives us” mumbo-jumbo. Don’t get caught up in, “we don’t care which back is in the game because we believe in them all.” Go with the hot hand. In critical moments, make sure your best 11 are on the field.
As usual, the Gators are winning the pregame tough talk. They won it last year, too. What was the DB’s name that said of quarterback Jake Fromm, “anybody can throw a slant?” Oh, yeah, it was Chauncey Gardner.
I seem to recall a slant to D’Andre Swift out of the backfield and him trucking Gardner at midfield for another 17-yard gain in that 42-7 blowout. I seem to recall Gardner having to be helped off the field. Gardner has added a hypen and Johnson to his last name, but he’s still wearing number 23, and he’ll be on the field for the Gators again on Saturday.
Speaking of Fromm, talk about a player who has been challenged. The kid is 19-3 as Georgia’s quarterback and is fifth in the nation in pass efficiency even after having the worst game of his career last time out. And, now suddenly, he sucks. Yesterday’s news. “Bench him and start the 5-star freshman,” the lunatic fringe exclaims.
I don’t know what Fromm has been doing the last two weeks, but I’m guessing he’s studied the video of Florida’s Todd Grantham-run defense until his eyes were bleeding. He’s seen all those blitzes Grantham loves to dial up with safeties and cornerbacks blitzing from the edges and linebackers coming through the A-gap on delayed twists.
You know what’s available every time that happens? One-on-one matchups with DBs. I’d think that’s kind of exciting for Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin and Swift and Holyfield. They know it’s going to happen; they know it’s going to be there. What are they going to do when it does?
Hey, it’s just one game in a season, one game in a 114-year-old series. But I do feel Georgia is not only at a crossroads in its season, but at a crossroads in its tenure under Smart.
If the Bulldogs are all that they say they are and are heading in the direction that their recruiting rankings and self-proclamations say they are, then they win this game and they win it decisively.
And they will, if they stay in character.
Georgia has the better team with the better players. But it needs to play like it. It needs to comport itself, accordingly. Because, you know what, the Bulldogs had the better players in Baton Rouge, too. They had the better team. But they didn’t play like it, they weren’t coached like it. They let the situation and the atmosphere change who they were.
Saturday, we’ll find out just who the Bulldogs are.
Be sure to watch Towers’ Take Live on Facebook every Thursday at 12:30 p.m on the DawgNation’s Facebook Page and The Chip & Griff Show at the same place on Tuesdays at about 12:45 p.m.