No. 20 Georgia (5-2, 3-2 SEC) vs. No. 9 Florida (5-2, 3-2 SEC)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (TV: CBS, Radio: 940-AM)
Stadium: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (82,917)
Kickoff weather: High of 77, low of 64; cloudy; 10 percent chance of rain
Series: Georgia leads 46-37-2
Last meeting: Florida won 21-14 in Jacksonville in 2006
Odds: Florida favored by 9
Injuries: Georgia: Out: RB Thomas Brown (collarbone), RB Kregg Lumpkin (knee); Questionable: WR A.J. Bryant (knee); Probable: LB Marcus Washington (shoulder), LB Brandon Miller (calf); WR Mikey Henderson (hamstring).
Florida: Out: DT Brandon Antwine (back); Doubtful: S Major Wright (thumb); Questionable: WR Riley Cooper (finger), OL Carlton Medder (heel); Probable: QB Tim Tebow (shoulder), DT Clint McMillan (shoulder), CB Wondy Pierre-Louis (shoulder).
Georgia’s rushing game will be Knowshon Moreno and then hope for the best. Former walk-on Jason Johnson is listed as the No. 2 back, but true freshman Caleb King may end up filling that role if Georgia decides to end his redshirt season. The biggest question, though, will be can the Bulldogs’ block well enough for whoever runs the ball. The Gators are second in the SEC and 15th in the nation in rushing defense (94.4 yards allowed per game). Moreno can earn a spot in Georgia lore with a breakout performance against the Gators. Or King could. Florida’s rushing game revolves around quarterback Tim Tebow, who leads the Gators with 2.6 yards per game. Starting tailback Kestahn Moore has 74 carries this year compared to Tebow’s 125. Every opponent knows Tebow will be carrying the ball more than 15 times most weeks but no one can seem to stop it effectively.
Matthew Stafford will have chances to make plays against Florida’s porous secondary, but there have been chances to make plays in the passing game all season that have not been made. Even considering the protection issues Georgia has face, Stafford’s completion percentage should be higher than it is (55.3 percent). Of the top 10 quarterbacks in the SEC, only Arkansas’ Casey Dick completes a lower percentage. And the wide receivers could step things up as well. Only one, Sean Bailey, has had a game with more than four catches and none have hit the 100-yard mark. Tebow completes more than 66 percent of his passes, mostly to the shifty and speedy Percy Harvin. Georgia’s cornerbacks must make sure that Harvin is on the ground soon after he catches the ball since most of his damage is done after he makes his man miss. The Gators’ passing game is helped by how much attention the running game because opponents use at least one safety to defend the run.
Head coach Mark Richt has insisted all season that Georgia is not missing many tackles, and he’s right. What the Bulldogs are doing, which Richt freely admits, is allowing ball-carriers to gain another 3 or 4 yards after contact on a regular basis. That could be a killer against Tebow who can turn a no-yardage play into a 5-yard gain with consistency. If the Bulldogs allow him to move forward after contact, they won’t be able to stop the Gators’ offense. Cornerbacks Asher Allen and Prince Miller have been lauded for their play-making ability all season but neither has an interception this season. If that changes, Georgia may have a chance. The ranking of Florida’s run defense has benefited from how bad the Gators’ pass defense is. Florida is 95th in the nation in passing defense, allowing 256.6 yards per game. The Gators cornerbacks can be beaten, and it will be up to Stafford to make plays when they are. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes is a playmaker, and Florida has been able to generate pressure on the passer.
Kentucky returned two punts for 14 yards last week against Florida, and those are the only punt return yards the Gators have given up all season. Mikey Henderson is expected to be back returning punts for Georgia after missing the Vanderbilt game due to a hamstring injury, and he will have to show some courage and try to take a few back against the Gators because that could give the Bulldogs a spark they likely will need. On the other side of the coin, Georgia is worried mightily about 5-foot-6 Florida kick returner Brandon James. James returns both punts and kickoffs for the Gators and is top 10 nationally in both categories. He averages 18.9 yards per punt return, the fifth-best total in the nation. The Gators don’t scare anybody with place-kicker Joey Ijjas or punter Chas Henry, a freshman. Georgia’s Brian Mimbs has moved to the nation’s top 20 in punting (43.8 yards per kick) and could play a large role in today’s game.