Updated: Nov 10
Florida felt good about its 2020 chances before the season began: A
veteran preseason All-SEC QB, a nice home slate and the Georgia
Bulldogs playing (and losing to) Alabama. But now, with each team at
one loss apiece, this upcoming Cocktail Party is a chance for the
Gators to finally make good on their promise to become elite -- a task
Georgia has blocked every step of the way since Dan Mullen took the
Florida has experienced a meteoric rise back to relevancy following
Dan Mullen's hiring in December of 2017, but losses to Georgia in both
2018 and 2019 have kept the Gators from any shot at a berth in not
only the SEC Championship Game, but also the College Football Playoff.
One could argue that Mullen went into both of those games as the
underdog due to the talent gap. Kirby Smart has been out-recruiting
Florida since the tail end of the Jim McElwain era, and the Dawgs have
had three straight top-three classes dating back to 2018.
This year though, the talent gap can't be used as an excuse. In year
three of any coach’s tenure, the narrative changes. The coach becomes
much more responsible for the personnel he puts on the field. The jury
is still out on whether Mullen can become an ace recruiter on top of
being an ace developer of talent. However, the Gators still enter
Saturday as members of the CFP conversation due to the on-field
Florida's offense has been exceptional this season, ranking 15th in
total offense and 5th in yards per play. Georgia will be by far the
best defense Florida has faced, but the Dawgs will enter pretty banged
up after Saturday's 14-3 win vs Kentucky. At this time, there are
multiple starters expected to be out on Georgia's D, including safety
Richard LeCounte and defensive tackle Jordan Davis.
Georgia’s offense, on the other hand, ranks outside the top 50 in
total offense (51). It's an offense in which quarterback Stetson
Bennett IV hasn't shown an ability to go vertical in the passing game.
The Bulldog running game trifecta of James Cook (yes, Dalvin’s
brother), Zamir “Zeus” White and true freshman Kendall Milton,
however, has been excellent, showing an ability to control the clock
and keep opposing offenses off the field - a place the Gators don't
want Kyle Trask in this game.
On the field, signs point to this being a game Florida can win.
Quarterback play is unequivocally in favor of Florida based on
performances to date this year. Georgia has weapons on the outside but
is just not the same when compared to Florida's high-octane offense.
The defense will need to perform closer to the caliber it did against
Missouri than in College Station. The Gators are a much healthier team
than Georgia right now, and seem to have gotten defensive tackle Kyree
Campbell back at the perfect time to clog up the middle in what is
sure to be a run-heavy Georgia attack.
Saturday is a game that Florida needs to win for reasons beyond just
this season. A comparison? 2019’s historically great LSU team finally
broke its losing streak against an Alabama team that was in a “down
year” by its own standards. In a rivalry where there is a clear second
fiddle for several years, that second fiddle must capitalize on the
misfortune of its opponent to clear the hurdle for a gain.
The Florida football program's momentum of the past few years will
take a hit with a loss, and regardless of how the rest of the season
goes, the narrative will change to question Florida’s ability to ever
beat Georgia with Dan Mullen and Kirby Smart at each respective team’s
helm. Plus, no SEC Championship Game appearance. Forget the College
Football Playoff. An eight-win win season and potential NY6 bowl would
still be on the table, but after getting there the past two years,
this program wants more.
A win this weekend heavily ups Florida’s chances to get to Atlanta,
where the team will likely feel much better about its chances to win
than the Gators’ last SECCG appearance in 2016.
At this moment, November 7th is the entire 2020 football season for
Florida. We can talk about the remaining schedule after it's over.
This team is good enough. It's time to beat Georgia. No excuses.
Photo Credit: Jordan Herald/@JordanHerald5/UF Football