Here we go. The Cocktail Party is here, and if you know your Florida-Georgia history, you know that this is the biggest Cocktail Party since 2012, a year in which Georgia won the SEC East but Florida finished 11-1 in the regular season and earned a Sugar Bowl berth. That was a year in which Georgia alumnus Will Muschamp coached the Gators… and lost his only regular-season game to the Bulldogs.
By Matt Zemek
Georgia prevented Florida from playing in the 2012 season’s national championship game. Ten years earlier, in the 2002 season, Florida denied Georgia a shot at the national championship game, dealing the Dawgs their only loss of the year. UGA finished 13-1, but Ohio State and Miami played in the Fiesta Bowl for the BCS championship.
Now, as we enter 2019, both Georgia and Florida are still in the national title hunt. No one expects the winner of this game to beat Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship Game, but both the Dawgs and Gators want to get the chance to do just that. The winner of this game is almost certain to go to Atlanta. The loser will be miserable. This is high-stakes poker. Let’s saddle up and see how Florida can find its way to the SEC title game:
1 – Don’t overthink this
Saturday’s game in Jacksonville figures to be dominated by the defenses, for all the obvious reasons. Georgia’s offense is painfully bad right now, and Florida is getting back Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, two of its best defensive players. The Gators don’t figure to light up Georgia’s defense, though: Kyle Trask has done a very commendable job of leading UF’s offense, but he is still a player going through an evolutionary process. He should not be expected to display total mastery of the situations he will face against a strong Georgia defense.
In a game which figures to be controlled by defenses, let’s not overthink the matter: The team which suffers big lapses; gives up huge special teams plays; and commits backbreaking red-zone or pick-six-style turnovers is the team which will lose. The team which can pounce on those opportunities will win. Don’t overthink the game keys here. We can bundle a lot of them in this one primary note.
Now, let’s move to the tactics:
2 – First and 10
Florida is unlikely to push the ball down the field for 30- or 45-yard gains. That isn’t what Kyle Trask does well. It is not the kind of offense this Florida unit is designed to play. Florida has to use short passes – maybe a few intermediate throws as well – to move the ball and set up the running game. This is why first and 10 is so important on Saturday. Can Florida stay on schedule and not put Trask in must-pass situations on second or third down?
I think the Gators need to throw a lot of short passes on first down. Get a lot of second and fours or threes. Pass efficiently and successfully on first down so that Trask doesn’t have to throw against a snarling bunch of Dawgs on third and nine. This will set up so much of the game when Florida has the ball.
3 – Take away the run
If Florida’s defensive line can stuff Georgia’s rushing attack, will UGA offensive coordinator James Coley be able to find ways to move the ball consistently? I am skeptical. Kirby Smart wants his offenses to play physical downhill football. Take that away. It’s as simple as that. See what Georgia does if it doesn’t have a run game to rely on.