Not much to do but think along this stretch of road…
1) Georgia’s defensive line
Florida has put its offense under the microscope during the bye week, and the offensive line has received special scrutiny. The Gators were already considering a switch at right tackle to JUCO Trenton Brown (who was a Georgia commitment before switching to the Gators.) Earlier this week Florida starting left tackle D.J. Humphries injured his knee. So the Gators will move the right tackle that was going to be benched in favor of Brown over to left tackle, and Brown will make his first start.
That’s not great news for a unit that has given up 10 sacks in the past 2 games. Georgia’s defense hasn’t put up much resistance this year, but one area that could be considered a strength is the defensive line. Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey have played well up front, and they’re anchored by the senior Garrison Smith. With active outside linebackers like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, despite its shortcomings elsewhere on defense, isn’t far behind Missouri in generating sacks. Jarvis Jones stole the show the past couple of years, but last year’s Florida game could be considered the coming out party for Jenkins.
The Dawgs are also among the top third of the conference against the run, and that will be an important battle in this game. Florida, perhaps even moreso than Georgia, will want to establish the run and reduce the workload for Tyler Murphy. If Florida is forced to lean on its passing game, Georgia’s defensive front should have some opportunities against a shaky line and a quarterback battling shoulder problems.
2) Florida’s cornerbacks
The Gator defensive backfield has been relatively (though not completely) injury-free, and it’s the strength of a very good defense. If Georgia is only swapping Bennett for Conley, they will still trot out a diminished group of receivers. If Florida finds success covering the Georgia receiving options one-on-one, that frees up a lot of bodies for the SEC’s leading rushing defense to throw at the line of scrimmage. The Gators don’t get a ton of sacks – only 11 on the season so far – but they are tops in the league on third down. Expect Florida to pay a lot of attention to Todd Gurley and force Aaron Murray to make plays against some tight coverage.
3) Murray’s performance
Can Murray make those plays to loosen up the line of scrimmage? For a guy who’s 2-1 as a starter in this game, Murray has had some shaky outings in Jacksonville. In those three games, he’s been 45-of-95. His best performance came as a freshman in 2010 where he led a frenzied comeback and finished with 313 yards. He’s only totaled 319 yards and 5.5 yards per attempt in the two games since, but he’s connected on three dramatic touchdown passes that made the difference in those wins.
Florida’s great defense could make for another messy day for even a good quarterback like Murray. If he can overcome that for another South Carolina-like performance, it will be a great day for Georgia. But more likely, considering the depleted receivers, Murray will face some struggles. While it will be necessary for him to make some big throws – whether smaller drive-sustaining passes or touchdown passes – it’s just as important for him to avoid turnovers. What we don’t want is to give a struggling Florida offense a shot in the arm with good field position after a turnover. The Dawgs overcame Murray’s three interceptions last year in large part because they forced six turnovers of their own. Georgia’s defense hasn’t been as effective at creating turnovers in 2013, so each Georgia mistake – by the offense or special teams – will be magnified. It’s fine if a drive stalls; it’s going to happen against this good of a defense. Make sure Florida has to drive and earn what points they get.
4) Matching Florida’s urgency
We know that Muschamp has circled the wagons over the past two weeks. Is he coaching for his job? Probably not, but he’s not in the clear either. Not only is Muschamp under personal pressure to win, but Florida also is in danger of seeing the series flip on them. Three Georgia wins in a row would be significant, and some longer-term trends in the series could swing Georgia’s way too. Desperation and urgency doesn’t always mean a win (Georgia was plenty desperate over the past two decades), but we should at least expect Florida to throw everything they have into this game. The Dawgs were caught off-guard by Florida’s changes in 2010. Can they be more prepared this time, and can they bring a focus and urgency of their own?