Game of the Week: Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: CBS, 3:30 ET

Last Week: Georgia beat LSU, Florida defeated Kentucky

     There are two big games this week. The headliner is another battle of unbeatens in the Texas-Texas Tech game. The other game used to be officially referred to as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and features two one-loss divisional rivals in Florida and Georgia. I decided to write about the other game.

     Why, you might ask, in a million years, would you choose to not write about what appears to be the last regular season game between two undefeated teams this year? Although the Texas-Texas Tech game is monumental in shaping the Big 12 and national championship picture, I have my reasons for choosing to write about the Cocktail Party, as always, I will share them with my loyal reader(s) in order to justify my decision.

     I have three reasons for choosing this match-up. First of all and most importantly, this game has conference and national championship implications as well. The winner of this game pretty much locks up the SEC East title, and if the winner wins out, including the SEC championship game, that team will have a legitimate shot to play in the national championship game (depending on the results of the rest of the nation, of course). It is necessary to mention, however, that running the table will still be difficult, with non-conference rivalries (Georgia vs. a new look Georgia Tech and Florida vs. a re-energized Florida State) and the SEC title game, looming large.

     Secondly, not only does Florida want revenge for losing the game last year, but also, the Gators remember the stunt coach Mark Richt and Georgia pulled on them last year. Now, in my last column, I mentioned that “we’re too deep in the season…for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases).” It would appear that I’m contradicting myself here, but because of my wily usage of parenthesis, I can claim that this is one of those few cases that deviates from the norm (although in retrospect, I probably should have used the term external instead of abstract). But back to the “stunt.” Last year, after scoring their first touchdown, Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered his entire team to celebrate in the field and told them he would be disappointed if they did not receive a penalty. You can watch a video of that at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJAQjqZg_zI. Since then, Richt has apologized and has claimed to regret his decision. Still, that unsportsmanlike action remains center stage in the minds of Gator nation and of course, the actual football team.

     Lastly, this is one of the most competitive and fun rivalries in college football. Florida and Georgia, along with Tennessee, have been the class of the SEC East throughout the 90s and 2000s. This almost always means something. Plus, it’s just plain fun. With the cocktail party and all, I always try to tune in to this game, and I’m not a fan of either team. Yes, the Texas Tech – Texas game will be fun as well, but come on, this is the cocktail party.

     Well now that the explanation is finally done, I can actually discuss the game itself. On paper this game could at least sniff the offensive numbers that are bound to be put up by the Texas-Texas Tech game. We all know the players: the cult-hero, dual threat, “system,” Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and the shifty, versatile, and fast WR/RB Percy Harvin for Florida; the incredibly accurate, precision passer, pro-style quarterback Matthew Stafford and flashy, strong, and athletic running back Knowshon Moreno. With an additional group of playmakers on each team – for Florida an improved running game with backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, for Georgia a talented group of wide-receivers with AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi – and respectable offensive line units, both offenses are bound to put up gaudy numbers, especially for the defensive-minded SEC.

Because of the potent of each offense, I believe that the team who can make a few more defensive plays as far as forcing turnovers, outplaying the other team’s offensive line or just get a few lucky breaks will be in the best position to win. Now it is possible for one defense to dominate the game (like Alabama did against Georgia for most of the game), but I believe the progress each team’s offense has made throughout the season will make that scenario unlikely. Still, the defense that can create the most opportunities, in my opinion, will win the game. Statistically, that does not bode well for the Bulldogs. The Gators are ahead of the Bulldogs in all defensive statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, sacks by, rushing defense, passing defense, and of course turnover margin (Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin and Georgia ranks 6th). Regardless, Georgia has some good playmakers on their defense, especially at linebacker, and should still be able to make this game competitive.

Secondly, not only does Florida want revenge for losing the game last year, but also, the Gators remember the stunt coach Mark Richt and Georgia pulled on them last year. Now, in my last column, I mentioned that “we’re too deep in the season…for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases).” It would appear that I’m contradicting myself here, but because of my wily usage of parenthesis, I can claim that this is one of those few cases that deviates from the norm (although in retrospect, I probably should have used the term external instead of abstract). But back to the “stunt.” Last year, after scoring their first touchdown, Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered his entire team to celebrate in the field and told them he would be disappointed if they did not receive a penalty. You can watch a video of that at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJAQjqZg_zI. Since then, Richt has apologized and has claimed to regret his decision. Still, that unsportsmanlike action remains center stage in the minds of Gator nation and of course, the actual football team.

Lastly, this is one of the most competitive and fun rivalries in college football. Florida and Georgia, along with Tennessee, have been the class of the SEC East throughout the 90s and 2000s. This almost always means something. Plus, it’s just plain fun. With the cocktail party and all, I always try to tune in to this game, and I’m not a fan of either team. Yes, the Texas Tech – Texas game will be fun as well, but come on, this is the cocktail party.

Well now that the explanation is finally done, I can actually discuss the game itself. On paper this game could at least sniff the offensive numbers that are bound to be put up by the Texas-Texas Tech game. We all know the players: the cult-hero, dual threat, “system,” Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and the shifty, versatile, and fast WR/RB Percy Harvin for Florida; the incredibly accurate, precision passer, pro-style quarterback Matthew Stafford and flashy, strong, and athletic running back Knowshon Moreno. With an additional group of playmakers on each team – for Florida an improved running game with backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, for Georgia a talented group of wide-receivers with AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi – and respectable offensive line units, both offenses are bound to put up gaudy numbers, especially for the defensive-minded SEC.

Because of the potent of each offense, I believe that the team who can make a few more defensive plays as far as forcing turnovers, outplaying the other team’s offensive line or just get a few lucky breaks will be in the best position to win. Now it is possible for one defense to dominate the game (like Alabama did against Georgia for most of the game), but I believe the progress each team’s offense has made throughout the season will make that scenario unlikely. Still, the defense that can create the most opportunities, in my opinion, will win the game. Statistically, that does not bode well for the Bulldogs. The Gators are ahead of the Bulldogs in all defensive statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, sacks by, rushing defense, passing defense, and of course turnover margin (Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin and Georgia ranks 6th). Regardless, Georgia has some good playmakers on their defense, especially at linebacker, and should still be able to make this game competitive.

Special teams wise, both teams offset each other for the most part. Florida has an excellent punt return game but Georgia leads the SEC in punting. Both Florida and Georgia have good kick return games, but both also have mediocre kickoff coverage units. However, it is important to note that Florida features one of the SEC leaders in the return game with the electrifying speedster Brandon James, and he could be a formidable foe for the Georgia special teams units.

As far as intangibles go, I think Florida has an advantage. The Gators obviously want revenge from last year and are extremely motivated to beat the Bulldogs. Georgia also is the most penalized team in the SEC (Florida ranks 2nd). However, intangibles are just intangibles and what really matters is the plays the players make.

Prediction: This, as usual, is an extremely tough game to call. I think Georgia has had too many issues and injuries this year, and Tebow is a lot healthier than he was at this point last year. I say Florida 41-38. If you were betting, though, you should probably bet against me because I have been wrong for the past several weeks in my predictions.

Look Back: Well, we can be thankful that Ohio State is officially eliminated from the national championship picture (knock on wood). But now, we could have a whole different problem on our hands. Penn State won in a defensive, traditional Big-10 battle and remained undefeated. But if they remained undefeated and more than 1 other team remains undefeated, we will, once again, have chaos. Thank you, BCS.

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: Alabama at Georgia

BY: BRENNAN MARKS, SZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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TV: ESPN, 7:45 PM ET

Last Week: Georgia defeated Arizona State, Alabama beat Arkansas

     Ray Charles once had Georgia on his mind. This week, the entire scope of the college football nation will have Georgia on their mind because of a top 10 conference match-up between traditional college football powerhouses (so-to-speak), Alabama and Georgia. For the two people who actually read this column: yes, I did say that I would probably write about an SEC game for consecutive weeks, and yes, I already wrote about Alabama in their first game versus Clemson in an unpublished column (which obviously doesn’t mean anything to the readers because it was never published, but I have alluded to it in my previous columns). Also, I must now admit that I actually am an Alabama football fan. Despite my biases, however, it is clear that this is THE game of the week. For example, CBSSports.com has a countdown clock to the game on its college football section of the website (http://www.sportsline.com/collegefootball ), and the game is not even on CBS. Of course, it is necessary to mention that the program which can arguably claim to be the primary indicator for magnitudes of games will be in Athens on Saturday, ESPN’s College Gameday.

     Now that I have established that this game does indeed merit “game of the week” status, it is important to note why this game is so big. Well for starters, it is a match-up between the # 3 (Georgia) and # 8 (Alabama) ranked teams in the country (who are both undefeated, by the way) and a conference game. But, beyond that, both teams can make a statement by winning this game. Georgia began the season ranked # 1 in the preseason polls but fell to # 3 from a combination of lackluster game performances (despite winning all of their games) and impressive victories by the current # 1 -2 teams, USC and Oklahoma. If Georgia wins an a monumental fashion, it strengthens their case for a chance to move up in the polls, which has a direct effect on whether or not they will play in the BCS title game and will obviously keep the Bulldogs undefeated, which is even more important for Georgia’s ability to play for the championship.

     If Alabama wins, they obviously will be able to realistically continue to compete to play in the national championship, but perhaps more profoundly, they will reveal how good of a team they truly are at this point in the season. No one is truly sure what to make of them right now. They began the season at the bottom of the top 25, destroyed preseason top 10 team Clemson in the first game and have essentially dominated the other opponents on the schedule. Theoretically, it can be argued that Alabama deserves its current # 8 AP ranking based on their performance in their first four games. However, observers might question the strength of each opponent on the schedule, even Clemson, especially in comparison to Georgia and other SEC competition. Georgia figures to be the Crimson Tide’s first true test on the schedule, and the outcome of this game will say a lot about the progress Alabama is making under second year head coach Nick Saban.

     The game itself has many interesting storylines as well in addition to the underlying importance of the outcome of the game to each team. Alabama’s defense has surprised many football fans so far. It has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season and has allowed 3 touchdowns total (all, coincidentally, on 4th down attempts). Many believed the defense was too young and inexperienced to pose a serious threat to top tier SEC teams, but perhaps they underestimated the newcomers in the secondary, the speed of the defense overall, and undeniable impact of 365 pound JC transfer nose tackle, Terrence Cody, affectionately called Mt. Cody by many Alabama fans. In the previous games, Cody has been able to consistently take on two blockers which has allowed other players on the defense to pressure the quarterback and make plays, and he has clogged the middle which has hurt the opponents inside running game. Of course, it is unfair to say that Cody has been solely responsible for the reemergence of the Tide’s defense this season. The 10 other men on the field have made big plays when needed (four timely interceptions by the secondary against Arkansas was crucial to the victory), and Cody cannot play on every play for conditioning reasons. Still, his impact has been profound, and this week, he will be lined up against a freshman center (Ben Jones).

     Perhaps that will be the most intriguing battle within the game: Will Alabama’s defensive line be able to beat Georgia’s young but talented offensive line? Of course, the line of scrimmage battle always has an effect on the outcome of the game, and if, hypothetically, Alabama’s defensive line can get pass the offensive line, can Georgia’s skill players find a way to win the game? It will depend on just how well Alabama’s d-line plays. For instance, if their performance can be described as “dominating,” then Georgia’s skill players will likely have had a rough day. But if not, even if Alabama “wins” the battle, Georgia’s offensive skill players are among the best in the country and can make plays in open and sometimes closed space.

     Which players am I talking about? Analysts consider quarterback Matthew Stafford one of the best, if not the best, NFL prospect in the country and arguably the best pure quarterback in the SEC (ranks 1st in pass efficiency within the conference and 2nd in passing yards per game). Heisman candidate Running back Knowshon Moreno leads the SEC in touchdowns and is 2nd in rushing yard per game. Freshman WR AJ Green has made a case for SEC offensive freshman of the year through the first few games. So, yeah, Georgia has some pretty skilled skill players on the offensive side of the ball.

     Alabama has some talented offensive players as well, most importantly the offensive line and running backs. The Tide currently leads the SEC in rushing. Georgia, however, appears to be the team to stop the Crimson Tide, as they lead the SEC in rushing defense. This game will be a measuring stick for the quality of Bama’s rushing offense and Georgia’s rushing defense. One might argue that Georgia has played against opponents who do not utilize the running game often or effectively, and Alabama has not played against a team who was poised to stop their power running game. If Georgia can stop Alabama’s running game, it will be interesting to see what senior quarterback John Parker Wilson can do.

     Despite breaking multiple passing records at Alabama, Wilson’s career has been defined by crucial mistakes in games and a mediocre overall record. So far this year, he has been mistake free and has won all his games, but his passing numbers are down. This, of course, is because of the emergence of the running game, but if Georgia can force Alabama to pass the ball, it’s nearly impossible to foresee what Wilson will do. Luckily, he is facing the 11th ranked pass defense in the SEC (albeit the numbers are inflated because Georgia has played pass-happy teams, just like the numbers for Georgia’s rushing defense are possibly inflated in the opposite direction) and is helped by talented receivers including two senior tight ends, and freshmen sensation Julio Jones (Julio was typically ranked # 1 by recruiting services, AJ Green was # 2). If , and a big if at that, Wilson makes the right decisions and makes accurate throws, Georgia could be in for a long day, even if they stop the run.

     As always, special teams and intangibles can have a huge impact on the game. As far as special teams goes, I don’t have much to say. Both teams have poor kickoff coverage units, but I’d give the edge to Alabama in the return game, with electrifying return man Javier Arenas fielding kickoffs and punts. As far as intangibles, basically all are in Georgia’s favor. (The only one not in their favor is penalties, as Alabama is among tops in the SEC in fewest penalties and penalty yards, whereas Georgia is a cellar-dweller in that statistical category). First of all, Georgia plays at home, which always has an effect on the game. Secondly, their legendary radio broadcaster, Larry Munson, retired earlier this week, meaning he called Georgia’s last game vs. Arizona State but abruptly decided to call it quits before the Bama game. Perhaps his retirement will lead to an even more emotionally charged Bulldog team. Lastly and most intriguingly, Georgia will don black jerseys for the third time in school history. Coach Mark Richt called for a “blackout” asking the fans to wear black while the team wears black as well. The previous occasions where Georgia has worn black include two blow-out victories versus Auburn and Hawaii last year, so theoretically, history is on their side. Now, I don’t think Alabama’s players will be extremely affected by Georgia’s fashion statements, but it is another interesting aspect of this monumental early season college football game.

 

Prediction: I really, really, really, want to pick Alabama to win this game. I do think they can because of the strength of their offensive and defensive lines. I’m not really sure how well they can play against Georgia, but I expect them to because they are playing with a ton of confidence and swagger. However, Georgia is an extremely talented team- there’s a reason they were ranked # 1 in the preseason. I’ll pick Georgia to win 24-17. Not only are they the safe pick and the home team, but also, I don’t want to be seen as an “Alabama homer,” even though I’m a fan. I still seriously considered picking them.

Look Back: Well it wasn’t the defensive struggle I projected, but it was an entertaining game and I got the winning team right. Auburn will need a lot of help to get back into the SEC championship picture, while LSU looks like they might have a quarterback.

 

BY: BRENNAN MARKS, SZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM