October 26, 2012

Opportunity at hand

There's always a lot of good storylines that come out whenever Georgia and Florida tee it up in Jacksonville, but the ones being bandied about for this year's contest (3:30, CBS) have been a bit different than most.

Not that Saturday's game needed any extra hype.

Third-ranked Florida (7-0, 5-0) can cinch the SEC East crown with a victory at Everbank Field, while the Bulldogs - should they pull the upset - will put themselves in position for a return trip to Atlanta with wins over Ole Miss and Auburn.

But this hasn't been a typical week.

On Monday, safety Shawn Williams grabbed the early headlines when he claimed that Georgia's defense was "soft," echoing a claim many on Internet message boards have suggested for several weeks now in regards to the Bulldogs' 2012 D.

Williams also made some comments that angered teammates, like linebacker Mike Gilliard, although head coach Mark Richt has done his best to downplay the incident, other than to indicate practices this week have been a bit livelier than they previously have before.

"We had good practices, we had good practices" was all Richt had to say regarding any impact Williams' words may have had. "We had good practices." Don't blame Richt for trying to put the Williams situation to rest.

The way he sees it, he and his Bulldogs have plenty more to worry about, starting with how to slow down the Gators, who under second-year head coach Will Muschamp, have morphed into a smash-mouth team seemingly content to just run the ball down an opponent's throat.

Considering the issues the Bulldogs have had stopping the run (10th in the SEC, allowing 167.9 yards per game), it's obviously a legitimate concern.

"They're very much similar to LSU - pound the ball, play good special teams, be patient and in time be able to physically take over the game," Richt said. "That's how LSU's been doing it, Alabama's been doing it that way and Florida's been modeling it after that way as well."

The Gators, who are third in the league in rushing with 212.7 yards per game, feature on of the league's top running backs in Mike Gillislee (139 carries for 652 yards and seven touchdowns) and a quarterback in sophomore Jeff Driskel, whose ability to run the ball is another major concern.

"That's the biggest story of the game besides winning the turnover battle. Can we affectively slow down their run game to the point where we can get them in some 3rd-and-mediums and 3rd-and-longs and then at that point get off the field," Richt said. "If they can comfortably stick to their game plan of pounding and grinding and taking the clock away and playing great special teams and defense that's hard to beat obviously, no one's been able to beat them yet. We've got to find a way to slow that down."

Muschamp said Florida's "in-your-face" style isn't really new for him at all.

"It goes back to what your core values and beliefs in what you got to do and who you are. Just cause it doesn't work early doesn't mean you need to start changing what you're doing. That's something I credit Brent (Pease) with," Muschamp said. "A lot of offensive coordinators are impatient. When it doesn't work early, you settle into that frustration and starting changing who you are and what you are and that's the worst thing you can do. You need to stick to your game plan, regardless of the score, especially early in the game. It's a 60 minute game."

Besides slowing the Gators' rushing attack, Richt said the Bulldogs have to be extremely careful not to fall into the trap South Carolina did last week in Gainesville when early turnovers set Florida up for some quick easy scores.

Meanwhile, Florida has not turned the football over in its last 10 quarters.

"Everything gets magnified in games like this. We had some experience with it at South Carolina and didn't handle it very well," Richt said. "Hopefully we'll handle it better this time around."

The Bulldogs aren't as healthy as they would like to be.

Defensive end Abry Jones will miss Saturday's contest with an ankle injury, which means more snaps for Garrison Smith, although Richt suggested that sophomore Ray Drew could also receive extended playing time to help fill the void.

The Bulldogs will welcome back linebacker Jarvis Jones, although it's unclear exactly how healthy the junior is after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. Jones, who did not play against Kentucky, only returned to practice this week.

"He's going to play unless happens between now and the. I know he's going to be excited about getting in there and trying to help us win. I know he had a big game last year and I'm sure he'd like to have another one," Richt said. "Jarvis just wants to win. He came back to Georgia because he wanted to win, he wanted to improve and he wanted to play in a game like this."