The weekend in the SEC was no less interesting than it was elsewhere across the nation. The two marquee games really lived up to their billing, and two upsets out of the spotlight punctuated the day.
It all reminded me how important matchups are. Every team has weaknesses – the question is whether or not you have the goods to exploit them. Everyone but Georgia has had success against Tennessee’s defense, and John Parker Wilson did what Matthew Stafford could not. Meanwhile in Columbia, a Vandy defensive front that got to Stafford only once the week before and saw Knowshon Moreno shred them in the second half stuffed the South Carolina running game and recorded seven sacks.
Every game presents its own unique matchups, and you can’t forecast on the basis of one game without considering how those matchups will change. Mouths are watering after Andre Woodson threw all over Florida, but we’re talking about a Georgia offense that struggles to break 20 points in SEC games and also struggles to hit passes longer than 25 yards.
My initial thoughts about the Florida game haven’t changed after a week, and outcome of the UF-Kentucky game only reinforced the pressure that will be on the Georgia offense. Florida will score some points; they have in nearly every game. They managed 24 on the road at LSU against the BEST DEFENSE EVAR. Georgia’s defense did a good job last year giving up only 14 points to the Florida offense, but it’s reasonable to expect Florida to score a little more this year.
I understand the obsession over Meyer and Tebow. It’s a great story, and Tebow is a unique player in a unique situation. But while I read dozens of message board posts saying, "I hope Martinez is watching this" during the Florida-Kentucky game, I have to admit that my first thought was, "can we complete the kinds of passes Kentucky is completing?" Weaknesses are no good if you can’t use them to your advantage.
Some big plays and stops from the defense will surely help – Kentucky just couldn’t get the late stops they needed. I’m more convinced than ever that Saturday’s game is much more a test for Bobo (and Stafford). If the Dawgs can come out with some efficient and productive drives to start the game, they might just have a chance, and it would be a pleasant change from recent history.
Georgia has come out strong three times against Florida since 1991 that I can remember – four if you count Frank Harvey’s long touchdown in 1992. The Dawgs grabbed the lead in 1997 and were able to answer when Florida grabbed a brief 17-14 lead. Georgia also got off to a strong start in 2000, but a backbreaking Lito Shepard interception near halftime completely erased that early momentum. A pair of gutsy fourth down conversions helped the Dawgs get out ahead in 2004 as Leonard Pope became a household name.
But recently, it’s been all Florida to start the games. The Gators had 14 points seemingly before the coin toss in 2005, and that was all they needed against an anemic Tereshinski-led Georgia offense. Florida also got 14 first half points without a Georgia answer in 2006, and a defensive score to start the second half provided just enough of a cushion before Georgia finally got going.
Against Tennessee, things went about as badly as they could on both sides of the ball. The offense had a miserable three-and-out, and the defense gave up a long scoring drive. Contrast that start with the trip to Alabama. Georgia scored on the opening drive, kept Bama off the scoreboard for a while, and as a result played with enough confidence to weather the Crimson Tide’s comeback and regroup for the win. I don’t want to say that scoring first is the absolute determining factor in this game, but Georgia has lost two of three games this year in which the opponent has scored first (Ole Miss as the exception).
Though Moreno will be a valuable weapon (particularly in a close game in the second half), this game is Matthew Stafford’s chance to show what all of the fuss was about. The Alabama win was a great moment, but there has yet to be a complete great game from the Dawgs’ heralded starting quarterback. Georgia’s best chance is to have Stafford lead a efficient passing game that takes time off the clock and keeps the Florida offense on the bench.
If that fails, the Dawgs will struggle to another 10-14 point output in Jacksonville, and Florida could have Tiny Tim under center. It won’t matter.