Hello, is there anybody in there? . . .
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida.
Last season: Won a bunch of games, lost to Ole Miss, Tebow's pledge, won a bunch more games (including Georgia), won the SEC title, won the national title, blah blah we're done here.
The season so far: Haven't lost yet, but haven't looked great either; failed to cover in three of their five SEC games to date, including back-to-back nailbiters against Arkansas (at home) and Mississippi State. After reclaiming the top spot in the AP poll this week, they sit at #1 in both major polls and the BCS standings.
Hate index, 1 being fried pork chops, 10 being fried swine flu: Nine, which is high, but not even as high as, say, other rivals of ours such as Tennessee or Georgia Tech. I mean, I'm tired of them beating us all the time, and I can't stand Urban Meyer (at least Spurrier did us the courtesy of having a personality, assface), but it's possible that the Gators (and Tebow in particular) have become such a constant fixture in the media that I don't even bother thinking about them that much on my own anymore. It's almost as if they're this semi-pro team that we've somehow bad-lucked our way into having to play every year, so I'll grit my teeth and grimace through this one week a year I have to worry about them on a personal level but just not spend a lot of energy on them otherwise. (God, reading back over that now, it's even more depressing on the page than it was when I was typing it.)
Associated hottie: UF alumna Jenn Brown, a former correspondent for "Inside the NFL" who now hosts "The Superstars" on ABC and "ESPN Road Trip" on ESPNU, is being touted as "the next Erin Andrews." But Florida is also the alma mater of the current Erin Andrews. Does this mean the Gators are building a monopoly on ridiculously hot, blond, sports-oriented TV personalities? OK, that's enough to get me actively pissed off. How much can one rival fan base be expected to endure, anyway?
What excites me: The Gators may hold the most recent national title and be headed at top speed toward the next one, but something about them has looked . . . off lately. They didn't score any more points against LSU than we did, for example, and whereas we quickly shrugged off a first-quarter barrage from Arkansas to hang 52 points on them, Florida needed a furious (and ref-assisted) fourth-quarter comeback just to squeak by the Hogs 23-20. Last week, the ordinarily reliable Tim Tebow, who'd only thrown two picks all season, managed to toss up two pick-sixes to a Mississippi State pass defense that came into the game ranked 76th in the country. Maybe we all underestimated how much the Gators would be affected by the departure of Percy Harvin to the NFL, maybe we underestimated how much they'd be affected by their switch in offensive coordinators, but either way, there's something wrong with the passing game -- it's ranked 80th in the country in terms of yardage, a good 31 spots behind Georgia -- and it hasn't shown any signs of getting solved over the past few weeks.
This may or may not mean anything at all to a Georgia team that looked unremittingly godawful in nearly every phase of the game against Tennessee, but there were some signs of life against Vanderbilt -- and even if it was only Vanderbilt, we beat them considerably worse than anyone else has managed to this season. Not only that, but we spent last weekend on a bye, which we also enjoyed before our win in Jacksonville two years ago. Finally, the Bulldogs are 7-1 since 1965 against defending national champions, which includes the Gators in both 1997 and '07. We may be 16-point underdogs to the Gators this week, but as I mentioned in my post for Dr. Saturday on this year's Cocktail Party, the 1997 was a twenty-point underdog to UF. So nothing's impossible, as big a mismatch as this game might look like on paper.
I prefer this paper, anyway.
What worries me: Other than punting, protecting the QB, and (occasionally) passing, Georgia just isn't very good at much of anything at the moment. We're second from the bottom in the SEC in both total offense and total defense, next-to-worst in pass defense (in terms of both efficiency and total yardage), and dead last in rushing offense. Florida's passing game may be struggling, but nobody whose secondary recently got lit up by Jonathan Crompton should be feeling too smug about that. And the one phase in which our defense has generally been competent (against the run) is poised to get severely tested by the Gators, who are averaging nearly 260 yards per game on the ground.
Even if we do succeed in corralling the Gator offense into a fourth straight mediocre performance, we're going to have to put some points on the board somehow. The common thread running through all three of our wins over Florida in the last 19 years is that our offense managed to crack the 30-point barrier each time; in the sixteen losses, our highest scoring output was 26 points, and we've averaged only 14. But points are incredibly hard to come by against this Florida defense. They're second in the nation with only 10 points allowed per game, and only one team they've faced (Arkansas) has even managed to make it to 20 against them. If Georgia even manages to make it to double digits in offensive points on Saturday -- which only one opponent, Tennessee of all teams, has managed to do all season -- that's almost a moral victory right there.
Player who needs to have a big game: QB Joe Cox. Our struggles with the running game are a secret to precisely no one at this point, so the game is going to be on the Ginger Ninja's shoulders, at least in the beginning -- and he's going to be up against the nation's best pass defense. So good luck with that, Joe. I know you've taken your lumps this season, but you want to go down in history as a Georgia legend, here's your chance. Hey, you were the one who threw the pass that scored our lone touchdown against the Gators last year! Just do that four or five more times on Saturday and we'll be golden.
What does it all mean?: Given that the last time I actually got to see Georgia in action was three weeks ago, when they got their asses handed to them in Knoxville, I've been strangely at peace about our impending march into the Valley of Death otherwise known as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. Precisely nobody is picking us to win this game, so unlike, say, last year, it will be very difficult for us to substantially disappoint anyone with our performance. As bad as we've looked for a good part of this season, Florida is the team that's been the subject of the "What's the Matter With . . . ?" editorials of late, and there's a case to be made that they don't even look as good right now as they did in the first part of last season, when they half-assed it against so-so opposition right up to the point where they needed Tebow's now-infamous "pledge" to turn things around. They're no more invincible now than they were then, and there's a part of me that thinks Georgia might just be capable of playing the Ole Miss spoiler role this time around. No, we're not a particularly good team right now, but neither was Ole Miss at the time -- their win in Gainesville was sandwiched between home losses to mediocre Vanderbilt and South Carolina teams -- so between the bye week and our excellent record against defending champs, it's almost enough to make a guy think we've got a shot.
But that's all intangible, hunchy, gut-feeling stuff, of course. The reality is that there are certain things a Georgia team has to do to beat Florida, if the last two decades are any indication, and there's not much reason to think this year's Dawgs are capable of doing them. For one thing, it's anyone's guess as to how we make it to the critical 30-point line. If you throw out the running game -- which I think you can pretty much do, given that the Gators have allowed only two teams to go over 100 yards on the ground against them this year, never mind individual rushers -- the burden shifts to Joe Cox, and more specifically offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who's going to have to throw some new wrinkles into the passing game. Three weeks ago, Tennessee almost completely neutralized A.J. Green as a deep threat without even double-covering him all that much, yet in spite of that, we barely even looked in the direction of Orson Charles or Aron White in the short passing game. Bobo's going to have to get them more involved, as well as continuing the involvement of guys like Caleb King out of the backfield like we did in the Vandy game, to present a worthwhile threat to the Florida defense. And then maybe, maybe, we can establish some kind of running game underneath that.
If we can accomplish that, then we can probably keep the game somewhat close, at least, in light of the struggles that the Gators have been experiencing on offense. Part of the reason for those struggles, obviously, is Florida's lack of a deep threat in the passing game, but looking at their stats over their last three games, it seems that another part of that is a lack of imagination on offensive coordinator Steve Addazio's part. Obviously Tebow can be counted on to dominate the stat sheets in most of the games in which he plays, but lately he's been dominating in terms of the plays that are called to begin with:
Even on designed running plays, there's a nearly 50-percent chance that Tebow's number is going to be called. Why the play-calling would be so single-minded when the Gators have a wealth of lightning-fast quarkbacks such as Jeff Demps, Brandon James, and Chris Rainey in the backfield, I have no idea, but Addazio's reluctance to rely on any of them does simplify things somewhat for our defense. Of course, as frustrated as Florida fans might be with Addazio's playcalling, I still have to assume he was smart enough to have watched some tape from the Tennessee-Georgia game, in which case he's discovered that Willie Martinez has no idea how to defend a well-executed play-action strategy. If the Gators decide to do that to us, then the game will be over in a hurry no matter how much of it ends up resting on Tebow's shoulders. But I'm going to try not to think about that right now.
The thing I can't just summarily block out of my mind is turnovers. Last year, in spite of the final score, we actually managed to stay pretty close to Florida on the stat sheet (and finished with more total yards than the Gators); what killed us was a -4 turnover margin, including three picks from Matt Stafford. I don't need to remind anyone just how much we've struggled with turnovers this year. We've had at least three turnovers, and finished behind in the final margin, against everyone except LSU and Vandy this year; Joe Cox has thrown at least one interception in every game. Even if we manage to keep things close in the early going, turnovers are going to be our undoing eventually. Florida actually hasn't been great in that category either -- they're -1 on the year after coughing up four fumbles to Arkansas -- but they've picked off 10 passes this year and are a virtual lock to snatch one or two from Cox on Saturday.
I can see the first half of this game unfolding in a fashion similar to the LSU game: Minimal production from the Georgia offense, yet we manage to stay in the game due to the Gators playing conservatively and settling for field goals where they should be scoring touchdowns. But I think they'll pull away in the second half due to a turnover on our part or a big Tebow play, and that's all she wrote. If I had to put money on it one way or the other, I'd bet on us covering the 16-point spread, but the Gators will still conclude the second decade of their awful, miserable, and inexplicable hex over us with a 17-3 record.
Is it bad that I'm barely even worked up over it at this point? That I'll settle for a close, valiantly played loss so that we can get on to other, winnable games? It is? Oh, well. Play me off, Pink Floyd.
If you're trash-talking: Then you're either very brave, very dumb, very drunk, or some combination of the three. Either way, there is no useful help I can offer you, other than to say go with God, son.
I will run up and down the street in front of my house wearing nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions if: Georgia wins, period. Ask me nicely and I might even do it without the flag. I think a victory on Saturday might merit something like that.