I previewed the Florida game before the season started and little that has happened since Labor Day weekend has made me feel more inclined to take a second look at Saturday's Eastern Division showdown by the St. John's River.
Still, I am contractually obligated to analyze this game, so let's get down to business. Even though I'd like to do a shoddy job and just get it over with, I will do my best to give you what I always try to provide; namely, Too Much Information!
I'm going to take a somewhat different approach this time. Instead of separating the passing game from the running game, I have elected instead to look first at the offense as a whole, then at the defense in a subsequent posting. I'm just doing what I can to mix it up heading into Jacksonville.
I'm breaking tendencies here at Dawg Sports, Urban, just to mess with your head. (Photograph from Scout.com.)
It is well known that the Gators' offense is vastly superior to that of the Bulldogs. The 17 touchdown passes thrown and caught by the Orange and Blue are the most tallied by any team in the league. The 394.1 yards per game gained by the Gator O rank Florida third in the conference in total offense. Urban Meyer's squad gains 6.5 yards per play, a full three feet more than the 5.5 yards per snap averaged by the 'Dawgs.
Florida ranks second in the S.E.C. in pass efficiency and senior quarterback Chris Leak is among the league's top five signal-callers in passing yardage (214.7 yards per game) and in total offense (210.7 yards per game). Dallas Baker hauls in five passes per game and ranks third in the conference in receiving yards per contest (79.4).
Face it . . . offensively, the Gators are just plain better.
Or are they?
DeShawn Wynn has scored three rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 57.1 yards per game on the ground, yet Kregg Lumpkin has an equal number of T.D.s and slightly better averages per carry (5.5 yards) and per outing (59.4 yards). Dallas Baker has scored six touchdowns this year, but Brannan Southerland has scored seven.
You can keep your fancy, new-fangled "forward pass"; here in Bulldog Nation, we believe in keeping it old school . . . like letting our fullback be our leading scorer!
The Bulldogs have made more trips into the red zone (28) than have the Gators (25). Once inside the opposition's 20 yard line, the Red and Black have more scores (23) than do the Orange and Blue (18). In the shadow of the other team's goalposts, the 'Dawgs have scored nearly as many touchdowns (16) as the Big Lizards have tallied (17).
Overall, Florida has scored 27 touchdowns in 2006, just barely ahead of the 25 T.D.s credited to the Classic City Canines. In five conference games this autumn, the Gators have scored a total of 115 points. In five S.E.C. contests this fall, Georgia has scored a total of 114 points.
That's right, sports fans . . . if Andy Bailey hadn't missed that extra point against Mississippi State, this Saturday's combatants in the Gateway City would have scored exactly the same number of points against Southeastern Conference competition this season. As it stands, the Gators' overall average of 27.3 points per game only slightly exceeds the Bulldogs' sixth-place scoring offense with 26.2 points per game.
Chris Leak's 158.24 quarterback rating has him standing at third in the S.E.C. in passer efficiency, yet Matthew Stafford has crept into the top 10 in the league in that category with a 107.37 rating. Stafford is better with his feet than Leak, as well; while the Florida senior has lost 28 yards on rushes this season, the Georgia freshman has advanced the ball 70 yards.
Given Urban Meyer's devotion to the spread option and Mark Richt's questionable commitment to the running game, the divergent rushing numbers put up by the two teams' starting Q.B.s are somewhat ironic. So, too, are the facts that the Bulldogs have scored 12 rushing touchdowns to the Gators' nine and that Georgia has gained more first downs on running plays (59) than Florida (57).
Four Gators have gathered in 10 or more receptions, yet seven Bulldogs have caught 10 or more passes. Seven Florida players average 13 or more yards per catch, while 11 Georgia players have managed 13 or more yards per reception. The porous makeshift offensive line fielded by the Red and Black has yielded nine sacks for 64 yards, while the mighty point-scoring engine of the Orange and Blue has surrendered 13 sacks for 109 yards.
Don't get me wrong . . . I know that Urban Meyer's offense has been more successful this season than Mark Richt's has. However, the numbers suggest that what we have seen from the Gators has been greater consistency rather than some innate superiority.
Obviously, the 'Dawgs will have to execute more effectively if they are to stay within striking distance of the efficient Gators, but the Red and Black would do well to take a few more chances in this game.
A gutsy fourth-down call likely saved the day against Mississippi State and a similar willingness to run risks will be warranted in Jacksonville . . . not just because circumstances call for it, but because the percentages are with the Bulldogs: Georgia ranks second in the S.E.C. in fourth-down conversion percentage (66.7%), whereas Florida ranks last in that same category (25.0%).
In short, while the Orange and Blue have the edge offensively, it is far from a complete mismatch when it comes to moving the ball and scoring points. That raises the crucial question, "Which team will better be able to stop the other?"
To be continued. . . .