Pity Tim Tebow. Florida is averaging just 24 PPG in SEC games, so “what’s wrong with the Gators?” has become a popular topic this week. The offense has put up around 23 points (give or take an extra point) in each of the past two games. The new offensive coordinator is ridiculed, and even the star quarterback seems to be showing frustration.
But while everyone is pouring out concern for Tebow, his corch, and the Florida offense in general (words of encouragement from Dr. Lou seems to be all that’s missing), does it matter? Those measly 23 points would have been enough to beat Georgia in all but 6 of the past 20 games against Florida. Under Mark Richt the Dawgs haven’t even managed more than 14 points in 6 of the 8 games. Not coincidently, they won the other two games.
We know that the Florida defense is good. How good? Forget yardage and efficiency – since last year’s loss to Ole Miss, Florida hasn’t allowed more than 21 points to anyone – even in the SEC and national championship wins last year. The 20-point score posted by Arkansas represents the most damage done by a Florida opponent so far in 2009.
You’d read that about the Florida defense and conclude that this game is on Georgia’s defense to keep things close enough for the Dawgs to have a fighting chance, ala Arkansas or Mississippi State. Make no mistake, defending the Florida offense is still important. Even a brilliant performance by the offense isn’t going to overcome another Knoxville-like outing by the Bulldog defense. This can’t be the week that Florida solves its red zone woes and discovers a potent downfield passing game. There are several key things that Georgia defense must do, starting with strong defensive line play stuffing the dive play and getting to Tebow, in order to put Florida into the positions from which they’ve made most of their mistakes.
Last year’s team-wide meltdown notwithstanding, this Georgia defensive staff has generally done a decent job of holding Florida in the mid-20s or so. A result along those lines should be good enough to set up a competitive game, and sure enough we’ve seen plenty of those in Jacksonville in the Richt era (unfortunately with most going Florida’s way). Florida’s offense is doing a decent enough job of being inconsistent on its own to make another such game a realistic possibility. That’s not to say they can’t break out against Georgia (again, going back to the Tennessee or even South Carolina games), but if you had to put money on one side of the Florida team shooting itself in the foot it would be the offense.
The harder job then seems to belong to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The Florida defense has been consistently good. Arkansas might have caught them a few times, but the Gator defense hasn’t had enough bad moments for anyone to count on an off day, and that’s especially true if Brandon Spikes and other injured defenders are back in good health. Even if the Florida offense can be held near its season averages, it’s going to be a tall task for Georgia to keep up.
So what does Bobo do? How do the Bulldogs scratch their way towards the 24+ points they’ll likely need to win?
- A silver bullet isn’t likely to come from the running game.
- Paul would like to see a healthy dose of screens and has some solid reasoning behind that suggestion.
- You might look for points from special teams, but they’re not likely to come from the punt return team. Boykin is always a threat, but hopefully Florida isn’t kicking off that much. When they do kick off they’re the second-best coverage unit in the SEC.
- Mississippi State’s Johnathan Banks returned two interceptions for touchdowns against the Gators last week. Is there a Darryl Gamble moment in store for Georgia again this year? The Dawgs have only six takeaways through seven games.
- You might consider it more of an experiment than a solution, but there’s a possibility of some shuffling on the offensive line. Beyond the points that Hale makes, I think the idea of moving Boling to left tackle is important for one big reason: Cox’s propensity to take some pretty big hits from the blind side. Florida has 20 sacks on the year, good enough for third in the SEC. Reducing the chance of Cox taking another shot and fumbling again and/or getting injured is worth the move.
- We’d rather have touchdowns than field goals, but can the Dawgs count on the kicker to come through with 3 points in a low-scoring game? Last year Blair Walsh went 1-for-3 on field goals with both misses coming from inside 40 yards. The first miss cost Georgia a chance to grab an early lead. In fact, the Jacksonville game has been a dismal place for otherwise-reliable Bulldog kickers. Billy Bennett was a career 6-for-11 (55%) against Florida and Coutu was a miserable 1-for-4 (25%). During the Richt era, Georgia kickers are only 5-for-12 (42%) on field goal attempts inside of 40 yards. Getting 3 instead of 7 is bad enough, but coming up empty altogether is devastating especially when points have come at such a premium for the Dawgs in this series.
Blutarsky lays out what the numbers say Georgia needs to do:
All Bobo has to do is come up with a game plan that allows the offense to move the ball at more than five yards a crack, stays out of third down situations a fair amount of the time and helps to contribute more than 26 points on the scoreboard.