Everyone gets it – there are no easy ways to beat Florida. But the Gators are not what they were last season, and that makes things a little simpler for Georgia to upset the top-ranked Gators in Jacksonville this weekend. Here are Dean Legge’s three easy steps to upsetting the Gators (at least as easy as possible considering the matchup).
1. Win the Turnover Battle – If there is one problem Georgia has had this season – particularly earlier this season – it has been with turnovers. Guess who else is struggling holding on to the ball? Florida. Georgia is -11 in turnover ratio – worst in the SEC. Mighty Florida is tied for 7th with a -1. That’s the major difference between this season’s Gators and last’s – the reptiles are not getting a hold of the ball nearly the way they did in 2008, and it has shown. The easy scores Florida was used to (at least scores that were made easier by the help of the turnovers) last year are now gone. The Gators have to work for points harder this season, and that’s been a source of strife for Florida in 2009. As for the Bulldogs, who perfected the art of shooting themselves in the foot earlier this season, turnovers are “more” under control. The Vanderbilt game was the second of the season where the Dawgs didn’t lose the turnover fight – the other was the LSU game. Those are two of the best games the defense has had all year long. The Dawgs’ defense is allowed to force turnovers, too, and seem to be getting the hang of that more now. Win the turnover fight and the game is within reach.
2. Pressure Tim Tebow – The Gators have lost five games since Tebow took over as quarterback in 2007. In all five games the opposition has pressured Tebow. Ole Miss (2008 – 3), Georgia (2007 – 6), LSU (2007 – 2), (Auburn – 2) and Michigan (2007 – 1) all sacked Tebow – but Georgia punished him in 2007. The Bulldogs were in Tebow’s face in all day in 2007 – not so much in 2008. The Dawgs left the field with only one sack of Tebow, and the Gators ran wild. The fact is this: Florida signal caller had had an un-Superman-like season. Tebow has been good, but and the Gator offense have yet to go Jonathon Crompton on someone. The Gators, who scored 30 points or more against BCS conference foes ten times last season, have only scored over 30 once against BCS foes this season. That happened aginast Kentucky when Tebow got hurt. The Gators, and Tebow specifically, are missing Percy Harvin in a big way. Earlier this season Tebow had to deal with the concussion that came against the Cats and also the silliness of the media circus that surrounded that situation. A few weeks later the Gators struggled, and needed a little “official” help, to beat Arkansas 23-20 in Gainesville. The lack of execution seems to be getting to the former Heisman Trophy winner as he ducked the media that loves him so much after the Mississippi State game because… well no one really knows why, but Tebow says he was visiting with State head coach Dan Mullen after the game. Whatever. His head coach says that he’s trying to do too much. Whatever. The Gators are not getting their Crompton on. Whatever. Look, Tebow is a stud – we get that. The Dawgs need to hit him as much as possible and be in his face as often as possible. It is not about injuring Tebow – but he’s on the field (in the arena if you will), and that means he’s healthy; that also means he needs to be hit. This is Tebow’s last game as a Gator in his hometown. Put the pressure on him – maybe he can take it… maybe he can’t.
3. Win special teams – Urban Meyer is a coaching genius – got it and noted. That doesn’t mean his special teams can’t be outplayed. If the Dawgs want to win this important aspect of the game they are going to have to perform on kickoff coverage. Other than that aspect of the game they have been steady to outstanding in special teams play. I must emphasize once more that the Dawgs kickoff coverage unit, and really it’s punt unit, too, must cover Florida’s explosive players well – Drew Butler needs to hang that ball up there forever. If they don’t cover well the Gators’ train may leave the track too fast for the Dawgs to catch up – some of those lizards can roll. Blair Walsh cannot miss a kick – points against a great Florida defense will be at a premium, and Georgia’s offense is not good… so make those kicks Walsh. Other than that the Dawgs need to outplay the Gators on fourth down situations – no fake punts for first downs or anything like that. Georgia’s special teams are the one unit that can win their side of the ball against the Gators without a little luck, and they must take advantage of that.
If Georgia figured out how to run the ball in off week now would be a great time to use that, but don’t hold your breath. That sort of stuff doesn’t happen in an off week. Either you can run the ball or you can’t – Georgia can’t. Mike Bobo’s offense is going to need some big plays and Willie Martinez’s defense is going to have to make the Gators earn every point – no freebie. If the Dawgs’ special teams can set up or score ten points Georgia will have a chance. If Georgia turns the ball over more than once they will lose. If they turn it over three times they will be smoked. Like Georgia, Florida is not in a great place right now – except where it counts. The Gators are struggling to score the way they once did, but they are #1. The Gators are not getting turnovers the way they once did, but they are 7-0. The Gators are not thumping people the way they did in 2008, but they control their own destiny – something Georgia can’t say in the least.
The only thing the Dawgs can control is themselves. They will need to make plays and force Florida problems. If Georgia can do the three things motioned above they will have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. If they don’t do those things the story will remain the same.