Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC) vs. Florida (7-0, 5-0 SEC)
Where: Jacksonville, FL
When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Last meeting: Florida 49, Georgia 10, Oct. 30, 2008
Georgia: The Bulldogs finally mustered some production on the ground in their last outing against Vanderbilt, but that came mostly in the second half against a worn-down defense. Georgia still ranks 103rd nationally in rushing offense, and the task gets tougher this week. Quarterback Joe Cox makes his first start in a UGA-Florida game, but he was responsible for the Bulldogs’ only touchdown a year ago.
Florida: The Gators’ offense is known for big plays, tons of speed and blowout wins. So far this year, that hasn’t happened. Quarterback Tim Tebow has just three TDs and four INTs in SEC play, while Florida ranks 80th nationally in passing offense. Still, Florida has three running backs averaging at least 6.9 yards per carry, and Tebow is just one rushing touchdown away from breaking Herschel Walker’s SEC record.
Georgia: The defense had its best performance of the season two weeks ago at Vanderbilt, and Florida’s struggles with the deep ball could provide a reprieve for Georgia’s beleaguered secondary. Justin Houston has been a key cog in jumpstarting the Bulldogs’ pass rush, and Rennie Curran remains a star at linebacker. The Bulldogs will have revenge on their minds after allowing 49 points to the Gators a year ago.
Florida: The Gators’ defense may not be just the best defense in the country this year, but the unit has a chance to be one of the best in SEC history. Playing essentially the same lineup for the third straight year, Florida is in the top 12 nationally in pass defense, run defense, total defense and scoring defense. This week, they’ll also get back several injured starters, including All-SEC linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Georgia: Kicker Blair Walsh has been suburb this season, leading the SEC in touchbacks and connecting on all but one of his field-goal attempts, including three of more than 50 yards. Brandon Boykin has two 100-yard kick returns for touchdowns, punter Drew Butler leads the nation in punting average. Even punt return man Prince Miller looked sharp two weeks ago, picking up 95 yards on two returns.
Florida: The Gators are solid throughout on special teams, ranking third in the SEC in kickoff return defense, second in kickoff returns and kicker Caleb Sturgis has connected on 13-of-16 field goals. The real highlight, however, is Florida’s punting, where the Gators have yet to allow a single return yard all season.
Georgia: Mark Richt has had more success against Florida than his two predecessors, but he is still just 2-6 in his career against Georgia’s archrival. This season, he enters the game amid much criticism of his staff with the Bulldogs unranked and the odds stacked against him. Despite the lack of victories, however, Georgia has played Florida close in all but one game under Richt, and only once in the past eight meetings have the Gators topped their season average in total yards against the Bulldogs.
Florida: Georgia celebrated on the field in 2007, and Urban Meyer used the slight as the springboard to a national championship season in 2008, his second in three years. He has his Gators atop the polls yet again and, despite a couple of close calls, has led his team to 17 straight wins. Moreover, he’s not letting his team get comfortable, as the Gators are once again talking up the celebration and in search of even more retribution.
Offense: A.J. Green vs. Joe Haden
Green is clearly Georgia’s best offensive weapon, and with the ground game struggling, he’ll be expected to make at least a few plays to jumpstart the Bulldogs’ offense. That won’t be an easy task this week, however, as Green gets matched up against All-SEC corner Haden. The Gators will occasionally roll a safety over to double Green, but there will be plenty of one-on-one matchups between the two throughout the game.
Defense: Georgia’s linebackers vs. Aaron Hernandez
Tight ends have pestered Georgia’s defense all season, with the Bulldogs allowing opposing tight ends to pick up, on average, more than three times the yardage they do against other teams. That’s a problem against Hernandez, who is Florida’s leading receiver and one of QB Tim Tebow’s only reliable targets in the passing game. The Bulldogs get linebackers Marcus Dowtin and Akeem Dent back from injury for this game, however, which will help their cause.
Prediction: Florida 27, Georgia 17