October 27, 2006

Game of the Week: No. 5 Florida vs. Georgia

"I feel somewhat confident, but would feel a whole lot more had UF escaped AU with a victory. I wish they were coming in as overly confident as possible. I still think they might be though and if our guys have anything left to stand up and make sure this season doesn't turn back into a Donnan/Goff type year, this is it."
-- kckd on the The Dawg Vent message board on UGASports.com.

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Though the Georgia-Florida football game is no longer officially known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," more than a few spirits likely will flow Saturday at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

A Florida victory will likely result in Gators fans prematurely toasting another SEC East championship.

With a loss, Georgia fans - already unnerved by an inconsistent and uncharacteristic season - may feel in need of a stiff drink.

Although No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1) is coming off a loss and Georgia (6-2, 3-2) won its last game, the momentum is clearly with the Gators. Florida hopes to complete a treacherous four-game stretch that also included games with Alabama, LSU and Auburn with three victories.

If that is accomplished, the Gators will only need to defeat Vanderbilt (3-5) in Nashville and South Carolina (5-2) in The Swamp - where the Gators are 11-0 under coach Urban Meyer - to return to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2000.

Georgia, which narrowly avoided a three-game losing streak by eking past Mississippi State 27-24 last week, is a two touchdown underdog. The Bulldogs view the Florida clash as an opportunity to restore order in a chaotic season.

"This is a highly-anticipated game for us because this game could change the outcome of the whole season and answer some of the critics we have out there," Bulldogs safety Tra Battle said.

More importantly, the Bulldogs are going to have to find an answer for Florida quarterback Chris Leak. He has led the Gators to two previous victories over Georgia while completing 50 of 77 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions in his career against the Bulldogs.

"He's had success in this game," Florida coach Urban Meyer said of Leak. "He knows this game. We expect him to play very well in this game."

The Bulldogs probably do, too.

"The law of averages say he's due to throw a pick, so maybe it will be in this game," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's had a good time with us. We haven't pressured him enough to make it uncomfortable for him. Even in the game we won (in 2004) he kept his composure and never got in position to throw many bad balls. To think he would throw a bad ball unless pressured is highly unlikely."

Georgia has players capable of pressuring the quarterback, but they haven't done so with the frequency that was anticipated when the season started.

The Bulldogs have managed 19 sacks, but defensive end Quentin Moses - who had 11˝ sacks last season - has only three this year. Charles Johnson, the end on the other side, has 4˝.

Georgia has more issues than failing to mount an overpowering pass rush. The Bulldogs have lost 17 turnovers while creating 14. Florida hasn't fared much better, losing 15 turnovers while getting 14.

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However, the Gators defense has allowed just five touchdowns all season. Georgia gave up that many in its 51-33 loss to Tennessee, then gave up three in a shocking loss to Vanderbilt and three more to Mississippi State.

"If we have mistakes here and there, that won't do it against Florida," Johnson said. "We have to be hitting on all cylinders for this one. I don't mind being the underdog going into this game, but mistakes can cost either team. Missed field goals, mistakes on special teams … we cannot have those this week. The key for us will be to not let them get in an offensive rhythm. We have to put a lot of pressure on them and cannot let them run."

Florida hasn't run well this season. DeShawn Wynn, who was slowed by a sprained knee three weeks ago, is the Gators' leading rusher with just 400 yards. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow is next with 246.

The passing game is clearly Florida's greatest weapon, with Leak having thrown for 1,503 yards and 15 touchdowns. Receivers Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell have combined to catch nine touchdown passes.

Georgia has allowed five touchdown passes in the last five games.

But Meyer referenced Florida's 27-17 loss to Auburn two weeks ago and said the Gators will not be overconfident.

"We're not very good ourselves right now," he said. "We played our worst game of the year two weeks ago, so we have a lot of work to do ourselves. So, if you're asking me if we're overconfident …there's no chance of that at this point."

History shows the Gators shouldn't be overconfident. Georgia upset then-No. 1 Florida in 1985, and prevailed in 1997 despite being 19-point underdogs.

Optimistic Georgia faithful, who drink from a half-full glass, would say those are prime examples why the Bulldogs can pull off another upset.

Of course, cynics might say that's just the booze talking.

Week 9 Game of the Week: No. 9 Florida vs Georgia
Florida run offense vs. Georgia run defense: Backup quarterback Tim Tebow seemingly always provides a big running play, and the Gators don't mind handing off to receivers on reverses and even moving Percy Harvin to running back. However, overall the Gators' running game is rather pedestrian. They did have a solid rushing performance against Auburn (171 yards), but struggled on the ground against Tennessee, LSU and Alabama. Leading rusher DeShawn Wynn, who missed the LSU game with an injury, has only 400 yards to rank 94th nationally. At first glance, Georgia appears great against the run, but the Bulldogs haven't often been tested by solid running teams. Colorado rushed for 173 yards and Ole Miss rushed for 156, and neither of those teams' running games will be confused for West Virginia's. The Bulldogs have allowed eight rushing touchdowns in the last three games. Linebacker Tony Taylor is having a fine season with a team-leading 56 tackles, and defensive end Charles Johnson has 12 tackles for losses.
Edge: Florida.
Florida pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense: Quarterback Chris Leak is no longer a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he has still had an excellent year despite passing for fewer than 175 yards in each of the last three games. Leak still ranks 14th nationally in passing efficiency, and has completed 63.5 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Florida has excellent receivers, the best being Dallas Baker - who has six touchdown passes and averages 15.9 yards per catch. Florida quarterbacks have been sacked 13 times. Georgia has allowed an average of just 169.8 passing yards a game this season. But in the last three games that number swells to 230.6. The Bulldogs have a solid pass rush that has produced 19 sacks, but defensive end Quentin Moses surprisingly has only three. Linebacker Tony Taylor leads the team with three interceptions.
Edge: Florida
Georgia run offense vs. Florida run defense: Kregg Lumpkin has managed Georgia's only 100-yard rushing effort this season, which could be explained by the fact the Bulldogs have used so many backs this season. More likely, though, it's a result of offensive line issues and passing game failures - which have allowed opponents to concentrate on stopping the run. They have. Georgia ranks 68th nationally in rushing and has managed more than 150 yards on the ground just once this season. On the other hand, Florida's run defense is allowing 67.7 yards per game to rank fifth nationally and has not allowed an individual 100-yard game this season. Linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett both have more than 40 tackles, and the Gators got a boost with the return of defensive tackle Marcus Thomas - who sat out a two-game suspension. Despite that missed time he has 25 tackles, including 5˝ for losses. However, Florida did suffer a setback with the loss of defensive lineman Javier Estopinan, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Edge: Florida
Georgia pass offense vs. Florida pass defense: Georgia averages 187.1 yards passing, but the Bulldogs are coming off consecutive outings in which they posted 237 and 267 yards. Of course, those games were against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Freshman Matthew Stafford had a solid showing against Mississippi State, completing 20 of 32 attempts for tossing two touchdown passes. But he also has three of 10 interceptions Georgia has allowed this year. That doesn't bode well facing Florida, which has claimed 11 interceptions thus far. Cornerback Ryan Smith and safety Reggie Nelson each have four. The Gators have a solid pass rush led by Derrick Harvey, who has six sacks.
Edge: Florida
Florida kicking game vs. Georgia kicking game: Georgia's Mikey Henderson averages 17.4 yards on punt returns and has two touchdowns, but also has been slowed by hamstring injuries. Kicker Brandon Coutu was lost to injury for the year and Andy Bailey has converted 5 of 6 in his place. Florida's Chris Hetland has converted just one of five field goal attempts.
Edge: Georgia
Florida coaches vs. Georgia coaches: Florida's Urban Meyer has used his quarterbacks masterfully. Chris Leak has had an excellent season passing and Meyer seems to instinctively know the right time to bring in running threat Tim Tebow for a change of pace. Georgia coach Mark Richt hasn't been as fortunate in his handling of Joe Tereshinski, Matthew Stafford and Joe Cox.
Edge: Florida
X-Factor: Florida was defeated by Auburn on Oct 14, its most recent game. But Urban Meyer's teams are 10-1 in games following a loss. Also, Meyer's all-time teams are 19-2 when having more than one week to prepare for the next opponent.
Florida will win if: Chris Leak can consistently get the football to receivers Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell. Georgia has given up big pass plays, and if Leak has time to wait for receivers to break open he will likely have a big day.
Georgia will win if: The Bulldogs can avoid turnovers and mount the pass rush they were expecting to have all season. Georgia, which has committed 17 turnovers this season, must capitalize on every scoring opportunity and cannot afford to give Florida's offense advantageous field position.
Notes: Chris Leak has completed 64.9 percent of his career passes against Georgia and has thrown no interceptions. … Florida has had 41 plays (13 runs, 28 receptions) gain at least 20 yards. …Florida is the most penalized team in Division I with an average of 9.14 infractions per game. … Georgia has 17 turnovers this season. The first seven resulted in just three points for opponents, but the last 10 have been parlayed in 45 points. … The Bulldogs are 3-0 in games started by freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford. … The Georgia defense ranks 12th nationally allowing 267.4 yards per game.
Buchanan's pick: Florida, 31-20
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Florida, 24-7
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Florida, 24-21
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Florida, 28-10
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