Well, Hate Week 2008 Part I is slowly drawing to a close as the game approaches and even though there's not enough posts in me to really tell you how much I hate the University of Florida, I guess at some point I'm going to have to quit my childish behavior and act like someone who knows a little bit about football.
So, let's not waste any time talking about the rivalry and spend a little bit of time talking about the game.
When Florida has the ball:
Geez, where do you start? I mean from the top to the bottom, there's a ton of playmakers in every spot of the Gator Offense. Obviously Dawg fans feel that Tebow is beatable, but he's still a top talent and a game changer at his position. His ability to buy time in the pocket pays off in dividends because there's only so much coverage you can lay down on Harvin and Co. before they eventually get open.
Also when looking at Tebow, you have to give respect to his ability to throw the long ball. While I would say that Stafford has the stronger, more accurate arm, Tebow can still put the ball on the money and anyone who disagrees is flat out wrong.
At WR you have the all-everything in Percy Harvin. Once considered to be one of te fastest players in all of college football, he's now more known for his elusiveness as much as his speed. He's ridiculously tough to tackle and he catches the ball quite well. It's also tough to call him just a WR because he's just as likely to go into the backfield and receive the ball.
However, it's nearly as tough to defend other players in Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey. Rainey has come on the scene much like Noel Devine did for West Virginia last year and Demps is now dubbed the fastest player in college football. Those two players are doing an exceptional job in running the football as well as catching it, but have really picked up the slack left by the not-so-impressive Emmanuel Moody, the USC (the real one) transfer.
The one real weakness of the Gator Offense is actual on the Offensive Line. There's all this talk of "wider splits" to give them easier access to hit their blocks, but the truth is, they have not done a superb job of keeping Tebow upright. They haven't given up nearly the sacks of the 2003 UGA team, but you can still get pressure on Tebow if you try hard enough and go hat-on-hat with those guys.
Our key to winning here is to do three things. We need to get adequate pressure with 4-5 guys up front, keep Florida in 4th and long and we need to force Florida into field goal situations. The first is easy enough to do if we can just play the dominant football we're capable of instead of what we've seen so far. I know that's easier said than done, but we have the athletes up front to play pressure football; it just hasn't clicked yet.
On the second point, we've got to shoot for 4th and 3+. A situation like 3rd and long means nothing if it results in 4th and 1 because Meyer will go for it every time. Most likely, if he goes for it, he'll convert and that will just wear out Defense down physically and mentally. We have to find a way, whether through incompletions, proper tackling (another "easier said than done" thing) or sacks to get Florida into punting situations. We'll touch on their Special Teams later, but I'd much rather Florida kick anything than for them to run another play.
Lastly, we have to make Florida settle for 3 instead of 7. It's obvious that the Gators score points, so to think that they won't get their fair share on Saturday is ludicrous. What we have to do is limit opportunities and if they get points, make sure they're the kind that doesn't kill you. Sure, it sucks to give up any scores at all, but I'll take Florida kicking 4 field goals and have UGA get 2 touchdowns. Wouldn't you?
The real magic number here is 3 seconds. Keep that in mind because that's the amount of time Tebow has to either get rid of he football or take a sack. If he has to throw that football within 3 seconds, then the chances of a mistake GREATLY increase if we exercise proper fundamentals in coverage. However, if he has all day back there to throw the football, we're toast.
When UGA has the ball:
Well our little-baby-look-how-cute-and-injured-they-are Offensive Line grew up last game didn't they? They blocked well and protected well in route to helping us rack up 52 points on LSU in Death Valley. They made me one proud Dawg that day and we're going to need another solid performance from them in this game.
We already know what we have with Knownshon and Stafford, but we're going to need exceptional play from our Fullbacks in order to really make the running game effective. I'd still expect to see a lot of plays where Southerland is lined up as a TE because we'll stay with the toss-sweep as long as it keeps on working for us. An interesting matchup will be Southerland versus Brandon Spikes, who has turned out to be a dominating LB for the Gators.
Not to be forgotten in all this is how well Florida's Secondary has played in comparison to their effort last year. We absolutely torched them but it's going to be a little tougher this time around, even with better WR play from MoMass and A.J. Green.
Our key to success here has got to be our ability to score points on nearly every drive. Should our Defense not be able to stop Florida's Offense like we'd hope, then we're going to need superb play from every position in order to put us in good shape to score points because the Gators will probably match us score-for-score for most of the game.
It's imperative for this game to be won and lost through the legs of Knowson Moreno, much like we did against LSU last week, although, we were pretty balanced from the get-go as soon as we snapped the ball. If Bobo can keep the aggressive attitude and gameplan for this game, then we might be in for a good day.
Stafford's play is going to be crucial as well. I thought he played an exceptional game lat week by stepping up into the pocket and keeping his mechanics in check, especially under duress. We'll need some really poised play from him because he will feel the heat a time or two. I'm positive that Charlie Strong has some big things planned for Saturday.
Well, Florida's got themselves a version of Beamer Ball, don't they? All the way from their exceptional blocking and returning, to forcing tons of pressure on the punter or kicker to get the ball off early and high.
When it comes to punting, I trust Mimbs will get rid of the ball in plenty of time and I'm almost positive that we'll give him plenty of time to do so. We don't cover punts well, but we've had moderate success in blocking for them this year. However, what worries me is that when Mimbs tried to punt directionally, like in the Alabama game, he caught a severe case of the shanks. The chess match we're about to get in on Saturday is going to be all about who does the small things right and field position is going to play into a big part of that.
In the returning game, Florida is probably the most dangerous team we've played to date in that regard. Brandon James is a man with the ball in his hands and he has the ability to break one at any point in time if we kick it directly to him. So we either have to learn to directionally kick, or we'd better cover like our brains on fire.
Now, in regards to kicking field goals, I think Blair Walsh has the edge here. Florida opts for touchdowns instead of FGs, so their kicker has not been tested like ours has. I think if we put the game on their kicker's shoulders, then we have a great shot at winning.
In the return game for us, I'm still no sold that Prince Miller and Logan Gray should be splitting time back there since to me, I think Miller is a much better option back there. Watch me say something like that and then Logan Gray will bust one for a score this weekend. Hey, I'm fine with being proven wrong in that regard.
Usually, I don't touch on stuff like this, but for this game, it's going to be the real engine that drives the winner. We've talked about The Celebration. We've talked about our game last year, we've seen the film, we've all heard about how the Gators really feel about what happened last year and everything else you can think of.
Florida is out for revenge and UGA is out to prove it's legit. This game has national and SEC title implications. The winner is all but guaranteed a slot in Atlanta in December, whereas the loser is looking at the Capital One Bowl at best.
both teams have too much to lose in this game, which is why my blood is itching so badly for us to kick this thing off. There's too much hype in this game and even though I'm excited as hell to get going, I'm really enjoying the national attention we're getting surrounding this game.
The truth is, Florida has more to prove here than we do. We're the ones that got the best of them last year and we're the ones that left them dumbfounded after our first score. Now, does that put more pressure on Florida to perform or does it put more on UGA to match that level on intensity?
We know our fans will be in the game and this is the first time in a long time that I think the entire Dawg Nation agrees that we have a legitimate shot to win. That new mentality will keep us playing hard in Jacksonville for years to come.
The team that masters these intangibles of revenge and legitimacy is the team that will stroll out of Jacksonville with a win on Saturday. If Florida is so hell-bent on revenge that they forget their fundamentals, then they'll lose badly. However if UGA thinks that they don't have something tp prove as well and play their game based on how Florida plays, we'll get crushed. We have to do things our way again, just like last year in order to be happy on Sunday.
What I think will happen:
Florida has been playing on all cylinders for weeks now, whereas UGA finally looks like they've put it together on both sides of the ball. This game is too close to call if you just look at the paper statistics, but if you did just go off of that, then you have to say Florida will win on Saturday.
You have to look at the whole picture and see which team you think will perform well under the pressure. The team that understands and handles the pressure adequately will be the one claiming bragging rights for the next 364 days.
Look for the game to get off to either a very slow start or an extremely high paced one. For UGA to win, it MUST score early and often and force the Gators to play from behind, which is something they haven't been used to for much of this year. If I'm Mark Richt and I win the coin toss, there's no doubt in my mind that I want the ball first. If we can score, maybe we can deflate the Gator team early on.
However, what I think will happen is that we'll sputter right out of the gate and that Florida will just want the game a little more than we will. There won't be any special celebration from them or anything like that, but their response i going to be to hit us in the mouth as early as possible and as hard as possible in order to let us know they're here to play.
Florida will score first and we'll be playing catch up the rest of the game. I hate to say this, but we'll bring it close but not close enough to ever really put the future of the game in doubt. Florida gets their revenge and we stay angry until this time next year. Just like last year, however, I'm BEGGING to be proved wrong.
Until next time kids.
Be safe (and Go Dawgs!)