Thursday, October 30, 2008

Game of the Week: Georgia vs. Florida

THERE’LL BE NO love lost between these two bitter rivals this Saturday, as Florida will try to avenge a humiliating defeat to the Bulldogs last year in which several Gators took exception to what they considered to be a contentious touchdown celebration on the part of Georgia. If that weren’t enough to spice up this SEC showdown, this game will also likely decide the winner of the conference’s Eastern Division while also having national championship implications.

When the Gators Have the Ball

COMING OFF YET another stellar performance in Florida’s whitewash of Kentucky last week, quarterback Tim Tebow is tailor made for coach Urban Meyer’s offense. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner orchestrates the spread-option like a true maestro, giving defenses fits with his ability to score both with his arm and his feet. Tebow’s 6’3” frame belies his elusiveness as a runner. The junior has a good arm, but doesn’t always throw the most catchable ball. Florida’s cadre of talented receivers is also the source of quite a few sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators, starting with Percy Harvin. Despite being hampered by a heel injury during the past two seasons, the 5’11” speedster is a home run threat every time he touches the ball at both the running back and wide out positions. This open-field dynamo combines 4.3 speed with a dose of wiggle ability that makes many defenders miss. Louis Murphy is no slouch either, in fact, after a slow start to his collegiate career, the 6’2” playmaker has developed into a force that is toasting cornerbacks on downfield routes. Murphy’s 18 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns this season would be significantly higher across the board in a more pass-oriented attack. Florida’s running backs are weapons in their own right. The undersized, but speedy Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey are cut from the same cloth. Rainey can start and stop on a dime, and then explode as he runs downfield with exceptional balance and vision. Demps’ unmatched pure speed makes him a dangerous chess piece that can be used in a variety of ways. The freshman will become even better once he improves his patience and change-of-direction tendencies. Tight end Aaron Hernandez has filled in admirably for the injured Cornelius Ingram. Left tackle Phil Trautwein is a strong run blocker with excellent technique.

GEORGIA OPERATES A DEFENSE that’s strong versus the run despite the absence of standout defensive tackle Jeff Owens, who’s recovering from a season-ending ACL injury. This linebacker-driven unit has a plethora of difference makers at the position, including Darryl Gamble, who filled in for Dannell Ellerbe last week and played a key role in his team’s dismantling of LSU. Gamble returned two interceptions for touchdowns and recorded a career-high 13 tackles. Outside linebacker Rennie Curran is another key component who uses his remarkable lateral quickness to close in on opposing ball carriers and thwarts any hopes of a big running play. This sideline-to-sideline enforcer leads the Bulldogs with 69 tackles and three sacks. Justin Houston and Demarcus Dobbs are a pair of promising defensive ends who both chipped in with one sack each last Saturday. Dobbs in particular, has displayed flashes of greatness, with the mobility and all-out intensity that makes him an invaluable member of this defense. Corey Irvin and Geno Atkins do all the run-stuffing dirty work at defensive tackle. Irvin is second on the team with six tackles for a loss. Georgia’s secondary isn’t quite up to par, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve allowed 13 touchdowns passes and have only eight pickoffs even though they haven’t faced any top-level quarterbacks to date. In last week’s game, the Bulldogs allowed four passes of 20 yards or more. Cornerback Asher Allen is the headliner of this defensive backfield. The 5’10” junior is a complete player adept at forcing fumbles, blitzing quarterbacks, and also providing tight coverage.

When the Dawgs Have the Ball

BLESSED WITH AN immense throwing arm, quarterback Matthew Stafford is perhaps the best pure passer in the nation, but his production hasn’t always been at the same level as his skill set. Stafford’s pedestrian statistics are due in large part to coach Mark Richt’s conservative game planning. But against Florida this week, the future pro will probably be called upon to throw quite a few deep outs to keep pace with Florida’s high-octane scoring machine. What’s been most notable about Stafford lately is how he’s improved as a pocket passer by keeping his eyes downfield despite being surrounded by a chaotic mass of pass rushers. The reason for that hellacious pass rush is due to Georgia’s young offensive line that’s been plagued by injury. In the past two games, however, this makeshift unit has come together, allowing only one sack of Stafford. In the past two weeks, that same offensive line, led by true freshman center Ben Jones, has paved the way for the spectacular exploits of Knowshon Moreno. The sophomore has gained 335 yards on only 44 carries during that stretch. The New Jersey native’s 4.4 speed, vision, instincts and relentlessness have made him an unstoppable weapon that continues to get better as the season wears on. At wide receiver, A.J. Green has provided the Bulldog attack with a playmaking component they’ve lacked at the position in recent years. The 6’4” freshman may still be undisciplined in his route running at times. He more than makes up for that with his one-of-a-kind agility and body control, which along with his excellent hands, allow him to come down with a number of long receptions along the sidelines. Mohamed Massaquoi is more of the possession type with at least one catch in 29 straight games. Tight end Aron White has loads of potential and finally showed signs of his physical gifts by making a 48-yard grab last week.

THE UNQUESTIONED LEADER of Florida’s defense is middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who sets the tone with his toughness and instincts, which allow him to quickly flow to the ball carrier and drop back in coverage. While he may not be as fast as some other top players at his position, Spikes has a knack of always putting himself in the best position to make a play. His partner in crime, A.J. Jones, is an aggressive outside linebacker who makes plays all over the field and is one superb hitter. Jones is physical at the point of attack and has good feet and agility to get around blockers. The real star of this defense, however, is Florida’s intense defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. His quick first step and feline quickness off the edge make him a load to contain as a pass rusher. But for all his skill in pressuring quarterbacks, the junior must improve in playing the run. Fellow end Carlos Dunlap is a freakish 6’7”, 290-pound defender with 4.7 speed. Dunlap’s long arms help him disengage from blockers and his noteworthy quickness enables him to run down plays from the backside. Talented cornerback Janoris Jenkins remains probable to start in this week’s contest. The Gator coaching staff hopes to have his unique anticipatory skills and exceptional closing speed at its disposal as they try to contain Matthew Stafford and company. Heat seeking missile Major Wright excels at knocking down passes and laying the wood from his safety position.

Final Analysis

LOOK FOR FLORIDA to put up some quick points in this ball game and force the Bulldogs to play catch up. Georgia’s 80th ranked offense will put up a valiant effort, but won’t be able to muster enough points to have a chance in this SEC battle. Tim Tebow is primed for yet another masterful performance.

Prediction: Florida 41 Georgia 27

Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media