What the No. 9 Gators may lead the country in is opponents humiliated. That’s not an official statistic, of course, but, whether it’s quarterback Tim Tebow running over a linebacker or wide receiver Percy Harvin leaving a cornerback looking at cleat marks, the Gators can demoralize a defense.
Florida (5-2, 3-2) is averaging 40.4 points and 452.6 yards per game. No. 20 Georgia (5-2, 3-2) will try to weather that assault when the teams face off at 3:30 p.m. today in Jacksonville, Fla.
“There are so many motions and shifts, you have to really make sure you don’t get confused and you don’t get (out of position) and you don’t give up big plays,” Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said.
Everything for Florida starts with Tebow, a sophomore who leads his team in rushing and passing. He is averaging 17.9 rushes per game, which causes a huge problem for opposing defenses, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.
In most offenses, the quarterback does not need to be defended in the running game. He simply hands off the ball and gets out of the way, but the Gators’ system allows them to have an extra blocker when Tebow runs the ball.
“That’s kind of beauty of their whole offense,” Richt said. “It is simple, but the reason why it’s a problem is they’ve simply got you outnumbered every play.”
Most defenses respond by playing at least one safety, and sometimes both, near the line ofscrimmage to defend the run. That, in turn, causes problems covering wide receivers.
“The only way you can stop an offense like this on any given play is somebody has got to whip a block, somebody has got to whip a block and make a tackle,” Richt said. “You can’t always guarantee that’s going to happen.”
Particularly the tackling part. Georgia defenders have watched plenty of game film in which the 235-pound Tebow bulls over linebackers and safeties to turn a 1-yard gain into a 6-yard gain.
“Just watching it, you say, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t let this happen to me,’” safety CJ Byrd said.
“You don’t want to come back and study film and see you got run over by a quarterback, regardless of it’s Tim Tebow or anybody else,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “We have to run (our) feet and make sure he goes backward and not forward.”
The next biggest problem is Harvin, a 187-pound sophomore who averages 16.6 yards per catch and 7 yards per rush, and Georgia fans remember wide receiver Bubba Caldwell not so fondly. Caldwell had eight catches for 88 yards and a touchdown last year against Georgia.
Sound tackling is the key to stopping the offense, Garner said.
“A missed tackle turns into a very big play,” he said. “Harvin breaks a tackle and turns a 1-yard loss into a 25-yard gain. Same thing with Tebow, you have him stopped for a no-gainer or 1 or 2 yards and then he comes out of the pile, and suddenly it’s a big play and it gets the crowd going.”
Georgia’s defenders have focused all week on wrapping up on tackles, which has been a problem at times throughout the season, senior safety Kelin Johnson said.
“I don’t care what you have to do, scratch, claw, wrap them up,” he said. “Those guys are fast; those guys are shifty. We have to gang tackle. We have to be like a pack of wild dogs.”
The Gators have scored on an SEC-best 53.8 percent of their drives, but Johnson thinks they can be slowed down by a defense that limits big plays.
“That’s all they’ve really had, big plays,” he said. “That’s Florida offense, Florida offense is not made to drive down the field, grinding the clock. It’s a (hit) them now, touchdown, get off the field, let the defense go play.”