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GOTW Preview: Florida vs Georgia

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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B.J. Bennett previews the Southern Pigskin Game of the Week: Florida vs Georgia.

Game: Florida vs Georgia (Jacksonville)

Overview -- The top ranking in the national polls follows Georgia into this annual rivalry showdown. Leading the country in scoring and total defense, the Bulldogs enter with a defense considered to be one of college football's best in years. No team has scored multiple touchdowns on the UGA defense and only three teams have scored touchdowns period. It's been a disappointing season to date for Florida, with three losses already. Averaging 249.29 yards per game, the Gators do have a top five rushing offense nationally. Georgia and Florida alike enter with some quarterback questions as both may play two signal callers, Stetson Bennett and J.T. Daniels for the Bulldogs and Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson for the Gators. Not only is Georgia a considerable favorite, Florida head coach Dan Mullen enters the weekend with some mounting pressure.

Why to Watch -- Georgia's historic defense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Davis at defensive tackle, is must-see-TV. And Florida's offensive line, paving the way for a team rushing attack leading all of college football with 6.33 yards per carry, and having only allowed five sacks, has been one of the best in the game. The Gators currently have 20 runs of 20 yards or more, while the Bulldogs have allowed just one. That matchup at the line of scrimmage will be compelling and constant. Georgia, overall, continues to play in the spotlight as college football's number one team. Every performance comes with extra evaluation. This series has a history of surprises; the lower-ranked team has won the last two meetings and 2014, 2012, 2007, 2005, 2003 and 2002 were all notable upsets. The setting, a neutral site contest in Jacksonville, is a fun and original scene.

Keys for Florida
1. Compete in The Trenches -- The challenge for Florida's offensive line is immense; so, too, is the opportunity. With the best rushing attack Georgia has seen this season, the Gators will look to do what nobody else has really even come close to doing: running the football against UGA. That ability starts at the line of scrimmage and Florida must get the absolute best out of a much-improved front five. The Bulldogs gave up just 174 total rushing yards against Clemson, Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky, all of whom were ranked teams at the time. Additionally, Georgia compiled 29 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in those four outings. Pressure, on the Gators at the point of attack, will be relentless. Limiting the impact of All-American tackle Jordan Davis must be the number one priority. Tackles will have to be ready for timely blitzes from Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith off the edge and interior linemen must be aware of linebacker Nakobe Dean. This will be a massive test for talented center Kingsley Eguakun, who will be helping with double-teams and blocking at the next level all game. Defensively, end Zachary Carter leads the SEC East with six sacks. He and former Georgia-transfer Brenton Cox have to be disruptive.

2. Offensive Unpredictability -- Simply put, Florida must keep Georgia's defense guessing. Sometimes the best offensive gameplan can be an inconsistent one if it keeps the opponent reacting and responding. Can the Gators actually dictate tempo? Quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson are both dual-threat playmakers. Run-pass-options and read-options should be a focal point of Florida's attack. Plays that can cause even the slightest bit of defensive hesitation just might be the difference in a conversion or long gain. In addition to Jones and Richardson, running backs Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce have big play ability. Wide receiver Jacob Copeland ranks in the top three in the SEC with 18.39 yards per reception. With no team likely to have long, sustained drives against Georgia's defense, his home run potential could be a real difference maker. Pre-snap shifts and formation variations just might help keep the Bulldogs on their toes. Dan Mullen's play-calling  and ability to adjust will certainly be put to the test.  

3. Limit Receiving Production from Backs and Tight Ends -- Part of Georgia's offensive success is that the Bulldogs have proven playmakers all over the field. Running backs and tight ends are featured options in the passing game and successfully so. Georgia freshman Brock Bowers leads all Power Five tight ends in receiving yards, with 426, and receiving touchdowns, with six. Now healthy, Darnell Washington is also getting involved. Running back James Cook has 51 career receptions. Throws to the aforementioned players help boost the proficiency of whoever plays quarterback for the Bulldogs, especially given those players' run-after-the-catch ability. Limiting easier, shorter completions will put extra pressure on either Bennett or Daniels to look to the perimeter or look further downfield. It will force passes the way of Kaiir Elam, arguably Florida's best player. In Georgia's last game, Bowers went over 100 yards, Washington had two catches and Cook caught a touchdown pass. Trey Dean's play will be key.

Keys for Georgia
1. Continue to Attack Defensively -- Beyond just leading the nation in scoring and total defense, Georgia ranks 8th nationally with 3.43 sacks per game. The pressure has come from all over the field as Jalen Carter, Nakobe Dean, Adam Anderson, Nolan Smith, Devonte Wyatt, Travon Walker and Jordan Davis all have at least three tackles for loss. All of that consistent disruption has allowed the Bulldogs to completely control games from the trenches. Against one of the nation's top rushing offenses, and an offensive line that has not allowed much pressure, that chaos will be especially important. The spotlight on Georgia's defensive front will only get brighter. By compartmentalizing games at the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs have given up almost no big plays; Georgia leads the nation with just 14 plays of 20 yards or more allowed, four fewer than the second place team. The Bulldogs just have not allowed opposing playmakers to get to the second level. A big reason for that is because of the attention the defensive front demands right at the snap of the ball. If Georgia consistently beats Florida at the point of attack, the game likely won't be close. 

2. Establish an Early Passing Rhythm -- Regardless of who starts or who plays, Georgia will want to get the quarterback in a groove right away. Relatively quietly, consistent efficiency has been quite key to the Bulldogs' success; Georgia has a team passer rating of 180.66, good for fourth in college football. Stetson Bennett's mark is 210.93. More of the same proficiency will be needed against a Florida defense that leads the SEC in allowing just a 54.9% completion percentage. J.T. Daniels has a season rate of 76.1%. The Bulldogs want balance and finding production through the air, given the defensive strengths of the Gators, may be more challenging. Look for offensive coordinator Todd Monken to call for some timing-based throws on Georgia's first few drives to stabilize the offense and maybe even move forward from some of the rotational questions that are already being asked. Expect tight end Brock Bowers to be moved around in an attempt to find favorable matchups and then continue to be a focal point once they are found.

3. First Quarter Statement -- Georgia is a notable favorite for Saturday. All of college football knows that. A quick start only affirms it. From there, the Bulldogs will able to control the tempo of the game and, furthermore, some doubt may start to emerge for somewhat-struggling Florida. Clearly, Georgia has the top defense in the country; playing against that group while trying to play catch-up would be almost impossible as the Bulldogs pressure would only become more impactful and immense. The goal, for the Gators, is to run the football, a gameplan they likely won't be able to stick to if dealing with an early deficit. Momentum is an amazing thing in sports and Georgia can't allow Florida to find any right away. The first few minutes of the afternoon could prove to be defining. A boring game, essentially, would be good for the Bulldogs.          

Players to Watch
Florida: Trey Dean III, S -- Dean, the Gators' second-leading tackler, has been a really active defender the past few weeks. He is tied for fourth in the SEC with six pass breakups. Coordinator Todd Grantham will likely move Dean all over the field as he will be heavily involved in rush defense and pass coverage. Expect Dean to be matched up with Georgia tight end Brock Bowers frequently.

Georgia: Jordan Davis, DT -- Pay attention to just how much Davis completely controls the line of scrimmage. He makes plays and creates opportunities for others. The goal, for Davis, will be stop Florida's ground game before it gets going. Another spotlight performance could add to the growing momentum of his Heisman Trophy candidacy. Expect to see him multiple with multiple linemen all game.

Conclusion 
This Game Will Come Down to ..... whether or not Georgia's defensive front overwhelms Florida's offensive front at the line of scrimmage and if the Gators can find the couple of big plays needed to be the first team this season to score multiple touchdowns against the Bulldogs.

Prediction
Georgia -- 30, Florida -- 19

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports