The battle for supremacy in the SEC East will take a decisive turn on Saturday afternoon when the sixth-ranked Gators take on the eighth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. The annual rivalry game has been a key cog in deciding the Eastern division of college football’s toughest conference many times throughout its rich history and this year’s version could also hold CFP implications.
For the Gators, this weekend is an opportunity to cement their claim that they are a legitimate threat in the SEC and a contender in the hunt for the national championship. In order to get there though, they will have to get past Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, who have won the previous two meetings. Although many analysts had penciled Georgia in as the favorites to win the East, the national perception has taken a massive swing over the last three weeks. Dan Mullen will have his team primed and ready to capitalize on the changing of the wind.
In order to have a chance at toppling the Bulldogs, Florida will need to limit D’Andre Swift and the Georgia running game. The junior running back is averaging 6.8 yards per carry this season and he is the cog that drives the machine of the Bulldogs offense which has otherwise been relatively bland this season. In Georgia’s only loss, South Carolina managed to limit Swift to just 113 yards and 4.9 YPC. Both of those are still really good numbers on the average running back’s stat line but it was a substantial limitation in his average production.
If the Gators can have similar results — which, with the return of Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, they stand a good chance — then they can force the game into the hands of Jake Fromm and an underperforming corps of wideouts. When looking at that matchup, I like Florida’s chances. But what about the other side of the ball?
The Bulldogs haven’t faced a passing attack that is as good as Florida’s up to now. In fact, only Notre Dame ranked in the top 25 in pass efficiency. Their other opponents? Tennessee — who has recently been heating up offensively — is currently ranked #67, South Carolina ranked #111, Kentucky #124, and Vanderbilt came in # 125, Tennessee came in at #67. Three of these teams faced Georgia with either a backup or a true freshman playing quarterback and one of those backups was actually a wide receiver.
Notre Dame is the only Power Five team Georgia has faced who ranks in the top 25 in passing efficiency. As good as the Bulldogs look on the defensive side of passing statistics, they haven’t really been tested up to this point outside of the Fighting Irish who posted 275 yards through the air in Athens. This isn’t to say that the Georgia defense isn’t talented, because they are.
The entire Georgia football team is loaded with blue-chip talent and Kirby Smart is a gifted defensive mind. So make no mistake, a win isn’t guaranteed. However, Dan Mullen has proven his ability to get maximum effort out of his teams, time and again throughout his career. When looking at the coaching matchup, I take Mullen every time. Sure, Kirby has beaten Mullen but he has done so purely by riding the backs of his team’s talent. With a healthy roster and a battle-tested team, Mullen will win the X’s and O’s battle.
I believe that this is the year Florida topples Kirby’s house of cards. I said the Gators would win this matchup in my preseason predictions and I am standing by that prediction now. The Gators will win in Jacksonville on Saturday, 34-17.
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party kicks off at 3:30 p.m. EST on Saturday. The game will be televised on CBS and will play host to the SEC Network’s SEC Nation. As always, you can follow along with the action via the @ChompTalk and @MikeyPfeffer Twitter accounts and be sure to join me and @WillMilesSEC for the Own The Fourth Quarter live talk show during the fourth quarter.