Florida football meets Georgia on Saturday in Jacksonville. Here are your three keys to a Gators victory.
By Matt Zemek
Here we go again. Florida enters the Cocktail Party thinking it has a real chance against Georgia. Florida didn’t really have much of a chance in 2018 – that UF team wasn’t remotely ready to handle the Dawgs – but last year, there was a sense the Gators could limit Jake Fromm and a scuffling Georgia offense. However, Georgia’s offense was excellent on third downs, establishing a ball-control formula which prevented Florida from dictating the tempo of the game. This year, Florida’s offense is noticeably more potent than it was last season, but the Gators’ defense is clearly worse than it was in 2019. Georgia has a new quarterback after Fromm’s departure to the NFL. This is a very intriguing matchup, but for Florida, intrigue matters a lot less than crossing the threshold and finally beating Kirby Smart, something the Gators have not yet been able to do under Dan Mullen.
1 – Third downs
We all remember last year. Georgia kept Florida’s offense off the field. Yes, Florida’s offense wasn’t especially potent in 2019 (though the Gators had their moments, such as the LSU shootout against Joe Burrow), but it wasn’t able to develop a rhythm since Georgia was able to possess the ball. This year, with Florida having an in-form Kyle Trask and a legitimately dangerous passing attack, it becomes even more paramount for embattled defensive coordinator (and former Georgia assistant) Todd Grantham to find solutions on third down. If Florida can’t significantly improve its third-down defense against Georgia, it becomes very difficult to imagine a path to victory for Dan Mullen and Company. Florida has a quick-strike offense which – should it trail by multiple touchdowns – would give the Gators a fighting chance to mount a comeback, but knowing the recent history of this series, Florida needs the confidence boost of a strong start. Third-down defense figures to be a constant key as long as this game is close.
2 – Hit home runs
When Alabama beat Georgia, it did so not with the long ball-control drive, but with long pass plays. Mac Jones hit Jaylen Waddle before Waddle got injured later in the season against Tennessee. You’re not going to beat a Kirby Smart defense with 12-play, 80-yard drives. Hitting home runs and getting chunk plays in the passing game offer the winning formula. Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney need to be at the forefront of the attack for Florida, and play their best games of the season.
3 – Hands up
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is talented, but he is not tall. Bennett has had a very hard time getting the ball over an opposing defensive line this season – opponents have batted down a lot of his passes. Florida might not have an especially strong pass rush, but the Gators’ defensive linemen can get their hands up and bat down passes. Tipped balls could lead to game-changing interceptions or at least third-down stops which get the ball back to Trask and the offense. Let’s see if Florida can either get a game-long total of four batted balls, or create one interception off a tipped ball.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 2:30 PM CT (3:30 PM ET). You can watch this Florida football game on the CBS Network.