Hate the Gators! Hate! Hate! HATE!
What I said at the time: A bit of substantive football discussion, some of it actually favorable toward the Dawgs . . .
. . . I’m optimistic about the fact that Florida returns only two starters on defense, giving them the one defense in the SEC that may actually be greener than Georgia's. Only three guys on Florida's '07 defense have ever sacked anybody at the college level; only one (Tony Joiner) has ever intercepted a pass. . . . On the other side of the ball, Florida is without a real backfield rushing threat for what seems like the bajillionth year in a row, unless you count Tim Tebow, of course.
Man, everything sets up so beautifully for this game. Georgia's offense should be clicking by this point, whereas Florida's defense might still be working through some growing pains, meaning the Dawgs could be in a position to put some real points on the board for the first time in ages; history's on our side, too, as the last Florida team to face Georgia as defending national champions received a 37-17 bitchslapping in Jacksonville. If ever there were a year to say "We're gonna beat Florida this year" and mean it, this is the one.
. . . but all negated by a minor technicality known as Fifteen and Two:
We all know what the most ominous aspect of this game is for Bulldog Nation, and it's the fact that over the last 17 years, Georgia has barely been able to buy a win, much less a streak of any kind. It's at a point now where Mark Richt could dress up the New England Patriots in red-and-black uniforms, send them up against a Florida squad composed entirely of special-ed kids and Medicare recipients, and you'd still be standing there stroking your chin and going, "I don't know . . . " If the mental block was too much to overcome for a senior-laden 2002 Georgia squad that was probably the best team we've fielded since Herschel Walker, you really have to be downing some happy pills to think a sophomore QB, a rebuilt offensive line and an experience-deprived defense are going to be able to get over that hump.
For Georgia victory, take one. On second thought, take two.
What's happened since then: Both teams have put together records of 5-2, 3-2 in the SEC, but they've taken very different paths to get there. Georgia looked great against Oklahoma State, discombobulated against South Carolina, strong against Alabama, and sub-comatose against Tennessee; Florida started off dominating, then went through a month-long stretch that included a sleepwalky win over Ole Miss, a shocker of an upset by Auburn, and a valiant loss to LSU on the road, but appeared to be pushing the needle back toward "dominating" with a 45-37 win over then-eighth-ranked Kentucky last week.
Care to amend your initial statement, sir?: Superficially, yes. I doubted whether Tim Tebow would look nearly as impressive as an every-down starter as he did as a glorified change-of-pace back, but if there have been any "times this year when the kid does something stupid enough to remind Gator fans just how valuable Chris Leak's experience as a four-year starter was," I must've missed them. As for the defense, the Gators are actually doing a little better than I expected, particularly against the run, where they're 15th in the nation (94.4 yards per game). Granted, the picture gets a lot less pretty when you move back to the secondary -- at 256.6 yards allowed per game, they're a surprising 95th in the nation against the pass. But I have to think at least a little of that is due to the fact that they've frequently been blowing opponents out to the extent that those opponents had to go pass-nutty late in the game just to try and make the score look respectable.
These are two teams that seem surprisingly equal on paper -- same records, both have lots of talent at the offensive skill positions, both are trying to bring a whole bunch of young guys through the system on defense -- and yet it's hard, for this Bulldog at least, to think of the two squads as being on the same level right now; a 21-point humbling in Knoxville and a last-play-of-the-game escape against Vandy will do that to a guy. As much raw talent as there is on our offense, our passing game has been intermittent at best, sometimes because Stafford isn't throwing balls accurately, other times because our receivers still aren't catching them; the running game has been terrific so far, maybe the most solid it's been since Richt arrived in Athens, but the depth we were so juiced about in the preseason has evaporated and we're down to Knowshon Moreno and a bunch of bench players. Our defense is good at a lot of things but not really great at any of them, and has displayed a disturbing propensity for breaking-as-opposed-to-bending at some of the most critical junctures -- or, as in the case of the Tennessee game, every conceivable juncture. Our punting and kicking have been top-notch, and we've dramatically cut down on turnovers, but other than that it's hard to find any one matchup in which Georgia really seems to have Florida dead to rights.
So at the risk of pissing off Michael Elkon, why don't we discuss some intangibles? Oh, yes, let's. Actually, let's start off with a semi-tangible: injuries. The one getting the most press on the Florida side is Tim Tebow's elbow injury -- specifically, his non-throwing elbow, which automatically leads me to believe that it's not nearly as serious as some have advertised, but supposedly it's going to make Urban Meyer a little more circumspect in his playcalling. That I can see, because at last count, Tebow was accounting for 73 percent of UF's 3,124 total yards on the season -- his 578 yards on the ground still make him the Gators' leading rusher by a fair margin -- and Meyer is going to be loath to subject the Rosetta Stone of his offense to any more injury risk than he absolutely has to.
My hope that Tebow would be left comatose after being smothered in a freak brumski accident, sadly, have not come to fruition.
But to paraphrase Tracy Jordan, asking Tim Tebow not to run is like asking a bird not to fly, or a fish not to swim, or a tiger not to turn back into a Chinese dude at midnight. Teebs is gonna run whether anyone likes it or not; how much further injury Georgia's front seven has the capacity to inflict on him as a result of this is anyone's guess. Honestly, I think the Gator injury that will create more of an opportunity for the Dawgs is safety Major Wright's broken thumb. Wright had surgery Monday, and if he can't play, his fill-in will be Kyle Jackson; Gator fans look at Jackson the way we Dawgs look back on Jasper Sanks, if the comments I've read from Gator bloggers are any indication, which means Stafford could find some over-the-middle opportunities on Saturday.
Of the real intangibles, the one getting the most pub this week has been Georgia's bye week, their first in the week directly preceding UGA-UF since 1991. But as David Ching points out, that little nugget is more than a bit of a mirage, since Georgia got a 32-point hammering from Florida the last time we played them right after a week off; in addition, Florida is hardly worn-out or stale themselves, having had their open date just a couple weeks ago. What I'm more interested in is Kyle King's revelation that over the last half-century, Georgia is 5-1 when playing defending national champions, including a 37-17 humbling of the Gators in 1997.
Oh, I remember that day -- Robert Edwards running like a madman, "WE BELIEVED" in 100-point type on the front page of The Red & Black, everything.
So is any of this going to make any difference? Who knows. Georgia's barely been able to buy a victory in this series even when they've fielded a demonstrably better team; winning with one that's not demonstrably better is going to require at least a couple instances of pure blind luck. This season has been crazy enough all across the country that a Georgia upset this weekend would barely nudge the needle on my Surprise-O-Meter, especially given the precedent that was set just last year -- when a broken and bloodied Georgia team climbed out of a 1-4 midseason trough and turned their season around with a stunning blowout victory at #5 Auburn -- but I'm not holding my breath for that kind of lightning to strike again, at least not in Jacksonville.
What will happen depends, in large part, on Georgia's offense. In the Dawgs' last four losses to Florida, we've allowed 20, 16, 14, and 21 points, and still managed to lose by 7, 3, 4, and 7, respectively. Small margins all -- small enough that you'd think even a modicum of progress on the offensive side of the ball might be enough to turn things around for Georgia. Knowshon Moreno is awesome, and I think there's a better quarterback hidden inside Matt Stafford than the one we've seen so far this year; a bye week and a backs-to-the-wall scenario certainly worked wonders for Tennessee a few weeks ago (even though the bloom came off that particular rose in a hurry), so there's certainly a chance the Dawgs could rise up and deliver one of those pulled-straight-out-of-their-asses victories we came to enjoy so much at the end of last year. If that happens, it'll hinge on Stafford. As Senator Blutarsky describes, this game is gonna be one of those weird instances where we have to pass to set up the run, and that's gonna require both Mike Bobo having confidence in Stafford and Staff making on-target throws.
You must carry this team, young Matt. Carry it like you'd carry a keg . . . or a jeans-shorted coed.
A lot of on-target throws. Florida's averaging 35 points per SEC game in 2007, a bar Georgia has exceeded in only one conference matchup this year (hapless Ole Miss). So if you ask me how much offensive improvement is going to be needed to hang with the Gators, "a lot" seems like a pretty accurate answer. "More than we're capable of at the moment" seems even more so.
Under Richt, the Dawgs are 4-2 against the spread in the Cocktail Party (moral victory say what), so I can at least hold out reasonable hope for a game that doesn't get out-of-hand embarrassing early like the Tennessee game did. My prediction is that Florida throws a couple of scores on the board early, Georgia gimps around and puts one score, maybe two, on the board before halftime; as Tebow and his elbow get worn down and Florida's coaches start playing it closer and closer to the vest, Georgia chips away here and there at UF's lead, but a big late-game play by Teebs results in a score and puts it out of reach. Georgia loses by eight.
And in case you're scoring at home -- or even if you're alone -- yes, for the first time this season I'm coming right out and predicting a Georgia loss. Would I like to be wrong? Oh, yes, lordy, would I. But I'd also like Melissa Theuriau's phone number and a 1968 Alfa Romeo 33/2 Stradale. So . . . get back to me on that, I guess.
Hold me. Whisper some French stuff in my ear and just hold me.
I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins. Period. No "if we beat the spread" or any of that jive; legacy of failure in this series notwithstanding, I'm not baring my ass in the middle of Southside for a fuckin' moral victory.