October 27, 2011

Game Week: Georgia Breakdown



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This weekend, coming off a three game losing streak, Florida has a chance to make amends when the Gators take on Georgia in Jacksonville. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down the Bulldogs with his answers to
five burning questions as well previewing five UGA players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these
five burning questions
1) Will Mark Richt choke again in a Florida-Georgia game?

All the ingredients are there for another Heimlich maneuver from Richt, who is 2-8 against Florida. On the hot seat after an 0-2 start to the season, he is one win away from being in the driver's seat for the SEC East title. Beat floundering Florida, and the Bulldogs become the clear favorites even though they lost to South Carolina earlier this year. The Gamecocks almost certainly will lose at Arkansas, and the Gators are the Bulldogs' toughest remaining hurdle. Georgia closes its SEC schedule with home games against mediocre Auburn and inept Kentucky. Throw in the return of John Brantley, who gives the Gators a fighting chance, and the pulled hamstring that likely will sideline Georgia's best wide receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, and Richt figures to use a conservative, play-not-to-lose game plan. That strategy has backfired for him in the past, particularly against Ron Zook, who beat him two out of three times even though Georgia had the better team all three years.

2) Why will the first quarter be pivotal?

Because Georgia has been awesome in the first quarter, outscoring opponents 61-10, and Florida needs a confidence boost after losing three in a row in ugly fashion. If Brantley leads an early touchdown drive, Richt will get even tighter. The Bulldogs have not trailed during their five-game winning streak (victims: Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt). Florida has not led since late in the first quarter against Alabama during its three-game losing streak. A reversal of form for both teams could set the tone for the day and make the red-clan fans in Jacksonville awfully nervous.

3) What does Georgia do best?

Since struggling offensively (six sacks allowed) against Boise State and defensively (45 points allowed) against South Carolina, the Bulldogs have been solid almost everywhere. Quarterback Aaron Murray likely is headed for first-team All-SEC honors, completing 60.6 percent of his throws with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging 236.1 passing yards per game. Aside from a clunker against Mississippi State (three interceptions), he has not tossed more than one pick in any game. Running back Isaiah Crowell has rushed for 608 yards. The defense is good against the run, (3.2-yard average per carry), ranking third in the league behind Alabama and LSU, and the pass, holding opponents to 53.2 percent completions with 11 interceptions and six touchdown passes. The Bulldogs are second in the league in third-down conversion defense (27.1 percent), a favorable match up against Florida, which is third worst at converting third downs (34.1 percent). Opponents have reached the red zone only six times in the last five games and have scored only five offensive touchdowns.

4) Where are they most vulnerable?

The probable loss of Mitchell can't be understated. Georgia has been playing without starter Rantavious Wooten (concussion) almost all year, but Mitchell, a talented true freshman, emerged as their best big-play threat. He leads the team in catches (25) and yards (438) while averaging an impressive 17.5 yards per reception. He hurt his hamstring during a 71-yard catch and run against Tennessee, missed the Vanderbilt game and barely practiced through Wednesday this week. Tight end Orson Charles and wide outs Tavarres King and Michael Bennett (Nos 2, 3 and 4 in catches) don't strike the same fear into opponents. Split end Marlon Brown had a 75-yarder against Vanderbilt but has only nine catches for the season.

Georgia also is suspect on the offensive line. Only two starters returned from 2010, and Crowell's rushing totals dropped precipitously in the last two games. He had 58 yards on 19 carries against Tennessee and 35 yards on 10 carries against Vanderbilt.

5) Who might be the X-factor?

Try sophomore linebacker Alec Ogletree. Expected to be a key contributor, he broke a bone in a foot on the second defensive series of Georgia's opener against Boise State, missing the next six games. He has been cleared to play against Florida and will start, giving the Bulldogs another force to be reckoned with defensively. Fellow linebacker Michael Gilliard was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after the Tennessee game, making 12 tackles, registering a sack and forcing a fumble. If Ogletree is not too rusty, they could be quite the tandem Saturday.

FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Bulldog players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
1) Aaron Murray, 6-foot-1, 211-pound sophomore quarterback
Smith Says: The Tampa Plant product has been heady and steady. In a down year for SEC quarterbacks, he ranks him right at the top, slightly ahead of the more inconsistent Tyler Wilson.
2) Isaiah Crowell, 5-foot-11, 215-pound freshman running back
Smith Says: Deceptively elusive, he is hard to get a clean hit on, but where's that touted big-play potential he exhibited in high school? His longest run in 128 carries is 29 yards.
3) Brandon Boykin, 5-10, 183-pound senior cornerback
Smith Says: The Bulldogs tout him as a three-way star, but his offensive contributions began and ended with an 80-yard TD run in the first quarter against Boise State. Since then, he has four carries for 15 yards and two catches for 14 yards. He's the real deal on kickoff returns (four career TDs) and a solid DB (two interceptions).
4) Jarvis Jones, 6-foot-3, 241-pound sophomore outside linebacker
Smith Says: Excelling in the 3-4 scheme of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Jones trails Gilliard by five for the team lead in tackles (he has 39). He also paces the Bulldogs with 10 stops for loss and four sacks.
5) Bacarri Rambo, 6-foot, 218-pound junior free safety
Smith Says: Nice name, nice game. Rambo is tied for second nationally with five interceptions, making four of them in SEC play. He also has 32 tackles.

1) Georgia has lost to Florida all kinds of ways under Richt, but last year's wild overtime affair excepted, the usually formula is a lack of points. Richt has lost by scores of 21-14, 14-10, 16-13, 20-13 and 24-10. His trademark play-call: a swing pass on third-and-goal from the 10. The Bulldogs have beaten the Gators only three times in the last 21 years.
2) Florida coach Will Muschamp was a safety for Georgia from 1991 to 1994, going 0-4 against the Gators. He is 2-3 against Georgia as a coach (not counting his graduate assistant days), winning twice as defensive coordinator at LSU in 2003, losing in 2004 while at LSU and going 0-2 as defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2006-07.
3) Georgia is ranked and Florida is unranked entering the game for the first time since 2004, when the Bulldogs held on to beat Zook 31-24 in his first game as a lame-duck coach after being fired. The Bulldogs are coming off a bye for only the seventh time in series history and the first time since 2007, when they stunned the Gators 42-30. They are 3-3 after byes overall.
4) If Georgia wins, Richt will have a better winning percentage in SEC games than Florida since he took the job in 2001. The Bulldogs are 101-36, while Florida is 103-36, so a victory would make it 102-36 versus 103-37. Both teams have won two SEC titles in that span, with Georgia doing it in 2002 and 2004 and Florida doing it in 2006 and 2008.
5) Georgia's special teams have been surprisingly poor this year. The Bulldogs gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return to Vandy, a punt return for a score against Ole Miss and have zero return TDs of their own. Also, kicker Blair Walsh has been mired in a senior slump. After connecting on 40 of 45 field goals in 2009 and 2010, he is 12 of 20 this year. Leg strength is not the issue. He banged in a 56-yarder against Coastal Carolina.

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