The three Presidential Debates are over and done with, but the back and forth bickering hasn't ended. Not along the campaign trail and certainly not here at Inside the Gators. With a tip of our cap to USA Today political pundits Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, staffers Bryan Holt and Jesse Simonton go back and forth trading barbs, insults and observations about this weekend's Florida vs. Georgia match-up.
Holt: It's almost Florida-Georgia time -- or Georgia-Florida, as the Athenians and Pawwl Finebaum callers would say -- and there's a little bit more on the line this weekend than this game has had in a few years. That is of course assuming that, unlike Dominique Easley, an SEC East title is something you'll admit excitement about. At the start of the season, this felt like a potential upset opportunity for the then-No. 23 Gators. Things have changed a little bit. Florida is the nation's No. 3 team, No. 2 if you listen to computers. No. 12 Georgia is reeling a bit, having looked unimpressive in its last three games. With the recent modifications, this feels like a blowout UF victory in the making. Mr. Simonton, tell me why I'm wrong.
Simonton: I can't. This game has all the makings of the '08 romp, where again the Bulldogs came in stumbling a bit despite their lofty ranking. But simply playing devil's advocate, don't color me shocked if UGA pulls off the upset. Why? Unpopular opinion alert: I think the Bulldogs are the most talented team Florida has played to date. The best team? No, but the most talented group of individuals, yes. Few schools in the country rival Georgia's assemblage of quarterback, running backs and wide receivers. Defensively, the 'Dawgs are in shambles, but they have six or seven guys that will go in the first few rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. They're not particularly well coached, and again, I don't think Georgia is the best team the Gators have faced, but discernible talent always gives a team a chance. What say you?
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Holt: Someone took his daily dose of Kiper and McShay this morning. The game of competitive agreement continues. You're right. Georgia is loaded with top-tier talent, especially on defense. This is why it is so strange to watch what is happening to the 'Dawgs this season. It only has shown up on the win-loss as one bad mark so far but it feels much worse. It probably sounds contentious to most of the country to talk about firing a coach when a team is sitting at one loss, but this year is a perfect example of why Georgia fans aren't crazy at all for the thought. As for upset chances, they're there. The Bulldogs just have too many weapons to say there's absolutely no chance of success for them in this game. However, they seem to be bad at all the areas
the Gators like to expose. They can't stop the run and just came off a Saturday of getting pushed around up front by KENTUCKY. I wrote that in all caps because KENTUCKY is really bad at football. And remember what happened the last time Florida faced a pocket passer? Zach Mettenberger might not either.
Simonton: On his way down to Jacksonville, Aaron Murray just puked on a chick in Valdosta for even having his name in the same sentence as Mr. Mettenberger. Fortunately for him, not so much for her, that's no crime. But alas, there's no defense for Georgia's defense. I'm not so sure that's on Mark Richt as much as it is on coordinator Todd Grantham. It's baffling that pretty much the same group that didn't allow LSU to convert a first down until the second half of the SEC Championship Game cannot stop anybody in 2012. The Bulldogs have struggled slowing down running quarterbacks in recent years (see: Shaw, Connor) -- with Mizzou's James Franklin and Vandy's Jordan Rodgers exceptions -- so we could see lots of Pistol zone-reads by Jeff Driskel. But the biggest factor in deciding Saturday's outcome? Turnovers. Georgia hasn't played a turnover-free game in my lifetime. Florida has recorded at least one takeaway in the World's Largest [In the name of political correctness, and at the behest of our beloved school President, we'll insert Hurricane in place of Cocktail] Party since 1987. Despite a colorless offensive performance, the Gators stormed to a 21-3 lead over South Carolina thanks to three gifts. Last year, the Bulldogs won the game because of takeaways, so it's all about who's feeling more generous this weekend.
Holt: This game could very well be a microcosm of Florida's changes from 2011 to 2012. If it's about turnovers, forget it -- Florida is No. 10 in the nation right now in turnover margin and simply won't make the same mistakes it made a season ago. Chris Rainey isn't carrying the ball anymore and Frankie Hammond Jr. ... well, I don't really know how that sentence ends. The interesting wild card in all of this is the weather you briefly alluded to. Last I checked, Jeremy Foley is still too cheap to build a practice facility that simulates the outer bands of a tropical storm, so there's no telling how well all this ball security talk will hold up on a wet field. I'll go ahead and single UGA tailback Keith Marshall out. Florida is going to be ripping at both freshman backs early, Loucheiz Purifoy has already hinted that both of them are "violators" and I wouldn't be surprised if Marshall makes an early mistake or two that gives the Gators a jump start on their lead.
Simonton: If that holds true, then Florida likely wraps up the East quite easily. While the Bulldogs can score in a hurry, the Gators are a terrible team to fall behind on. Dynamite kickers + a steady run game + a stout defense is hardly the desired recipe for a comeback. But if Georgia does avoid silly turnovers, how successful its offense is on first down could be a huge indicator in the game's outcome. The Bulldogs lead the nation in standard down offense (i.e. 1st-and-10 or less, 2nd-and-seven or less & 3rd-and-4 or less). If the Bulldogs can sustain drives, then suddenly it'll be a dogfight. The onus then fall's on Florida's some-what pedestrian offense to respond. Can it? In the end, I think we're both leaning the same way, but who ya' got?
Holt: I don't think this will come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has read up to this point. I don't expect Georgia to be in this game for long. That's tough to say in a rivalry of this magnitude, but not that tough to say when you look at these two teams and their respective bodies of work. Florida will dominate this game up front and revert back to the Mike Gillislee-heavy load that won games against Texas A&M and LSU. The Bulldogs simply won't have an answer. The Gators take this one 34-10, and the Landing will be a little louder than "Frat Beach" come Saturday night.
Simonton: How dare you slander St. Simons! Jim Brown was born there! But alas, he ain't suiting up in the red and black on Saturday. I actually think the game will be much closer, only with the same eventual outcome. Florida can't throttle anyone without serious turnover help. If the 'Dawgs drop the ball all afternoon then yeah, the Gators could roll big. But since I'm not in the business of making assumptions, I'll go with what I know. Florida possesses the superior defense, special teams and offensive line. Gators win 21-13.