In response to Kyle’s “How to address the Florida problem” thread, I’ve decided to take my shot at it (nowhere in here is a mention of moving the game…my thoughts on that are well documented and being that we are in a contract with the City of Jacksonville, we have to play the hand we’ve been dealt). The problem we face with Florida is not going to be easily solved. The solution isn’t as simple as “punch the bully in the nose” in that Florida isn’t your typical bully: they can seriously fight back when challenged. That said, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that part of our problem is that Florida has simply bullied us around for the past 20 years; not only on the field--but in the press, in the offseason, pregame, in-game, postgame, and any other chance they get. In short, Florida is the kid from high school that was a jerk, but that could legitimately back up his bravado, thus deterring anyone from standing up to him. That guy always gets his comeuppance, though not always when and where his enemies would like.
The situation with Florida hasn’t gotten to its current state overnight. No question, the team itself bears the blunt of the responsibility, but macro-level decisions by the athletic department, university, and fan base have also put the team in a bind repeatedly. As such, my list of suggestions for addressing Florida, both from a macro(AD level) and micro(Richt) level:
1. Scheduling-Nothing to say that hasn’t already been said: the bye week situation has killed us. Impossible to prove of course, but any rational person has to acknowledge at the 1992, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2010 byes were HUGE advantages for UF in very close games (yeah, I know 2000 was an eleven point game, whatever. Florida fans know how close that game was). Fix this problem immediately. I don’t care who we have to lobby in the SEC offices, but either both teams get a bye before this game, or neither do. And if the SEC could somehow refrain from sending us to Baton Rouge the week before, or scheduling a road game prior and then two road games following during our “home” years, that would be great too.
2. De-emphasize the party/No more Fall Vacation-This one falls directly on the fans. The game in Jacksonville is dangerously close to being less important to some of our fans than the party, the golf, and the beach. Just one fan’s opinion, but I think we would be much better off if we would stop treating this game like a mini Bowl game and start treating it like the most important conference game we play all year. What you tolerate, you encourage. And tolerating UGA bedwetting down there because the party is just so dang fun is just asking for more of the same.
3. Connect with South Georgia fans more than once a year-As someone that grew up below the gnat line, I’ve always thought the “Jacksonville is for our South Georgia fans” line was the biggest load of crap ever. But l’ll play along and assume there’s something to that. So we value those South Georgia fans SO much, that we play one game in football in Jacksonville (which last time I checked, isn’t in the state of GA) a year? If we really want to reach out to those fans, the athletic department needs to find a way to get a presence down there other than just the Florida game (you know, like maybe something that we could have some success at). BTW, what does Florida do to reach out the to the South Florida fans? How are they able to recruit down there without a yearly presence? It’s a miracle!
4. Call media out on Florida love-I started following college football in 1992, so maybe it was always this way, but for the past 20 years, ESPN and CBS have been the unofficial marketing arm of Florida football. It’s not quite as bad as the free advertising they provide Duke and UNC basketball, but it’s not far off. It is time for someone in the athletic department to acknowledge this and call the media out on this. If the roles were reversed in 1990, how long do you think it would have taken Spurrier to say something about it? I know it probably won’t change anything, but it couldn’t hurt to let our team and our fans know that higher ups in BM are sickened by this as well.
1. Attitude/Identity-Probably the biggest single factor. Not only does our team have negative attitude down there more often than not, but there also seems to be no identity to our team when we play Florida. The teams that have any amount of success against UF the past 2 decades all had and identity when they played Florida that wasn’t going to change from year to year, ie. FSU in the 90’s was going to kill Spurrier’s QB every year, Auburn (01, 06, 07) was going to run the ball and the control the clock against Florida no matter what, Bama the last two years was going to dominate the LOS. I don’t know that Richt and Co. have an identity that they can hang their hat on every year against Florida. We seem to go down there and just throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks.
2. Secondary-I tend to think the talent differential isn’t THAT big between us and Florida, but where it does show up is in the perimeter. I don’t know how much of that is because of how aggressive their DB’s play(see below), or if it is truly just superior talent, but UF has lapped us in quality of DB play as of late. Gus Scott, Will Hill, Reggie Nelson, Keiwan Reitleff, Lito Shepard, even that white safety from Spurrier’s last teams have had MONSTER days against UGA. UGA needs to upgrade its recruiting across the board, but I’d love to see a focused effort on getting some serious defense playmakers back in the secondary.
3. Hyper aggressive--“They can’t call them all”-ie., the Pat Riley school of thought, or more appropriately: the Florida school of thought against UGA. Year in and year out, I never see an opponent we play push, pull, tug, yank jerseys, jump routes, or take chances against us like Florida does. Riley Cooper, Carl Moore, and Joe Haden could have had a flag thrown on them for offensive/defensive pass interference every single play in 2008 and 2009. But….the officials can’t call all of them. And if they’re going to let Florida play, they have to let Georgia play too. I’d love for us to go in to that game with the attitude of DARING the officials to call the game differently for them than us. Not saying that Penn Wagers and Co. won’t do it, but I’d rather MAKE them do it than unilaterally disarm while another gator receiver pushes off.
4. Don’t play from behind-No team or fans front run like Florida. Scoring first should be a gigantic part of the game plan. UGA scored first in 02, 04, and 07. 2-1 in those, versus 0-7 when Florida jumps out. Meyer’s strategy is to jump out, then be ridiculously aggressive on D and ST and play on a short field the whole game.
5. Strength and conditioning-Much has been made of the S&C program, and I don’t know how far behind we really are, if at all. But I do know that no one ever questions Florida’s S&C. And I do know that McGarity was around that problem for a long time, so he should know what it is supposed to look like. This one is on McGarity going forward. Either address it immediately, or state that it’s not a problem.
6. Leave the Field Goal Jesus moniker at home- Unless he’s kicking off, I don’t even want to know that we brought a kicker to the game against Florida. We are not going to beat them kicking field goals. Every drive should be thought of as 4 down territory or punt them deep. The ultimate example of ballslessness: 2003, late in the fourth quarter, we’re down by 3, 1st and goal from the 8. Up to that point, we had run for 200 yards. The 4 plays prior to that, from the UF 41 were runs of 9, 10, 2, and 12 yards. 1st down, we run for 4 yards, 2nd and goal from the 4. Stuffed on 2nd down, 3rd and goal from the 4. We call a timeout, presumably to tell our troops that this is 4 down territory, we’re going for win right now and to man up, right? Nope, we come out and on 3rd and goal, from the 4, after running the ball down Florida’s throat the entire second half, and call a pass to Jeremy Thomas, whose hands made Martrez Milner look like Larry Fitzgerald. Then we kick a FG, kick off to Florida, and watch Chris Leak drive down for the FG that beats us, instead of the TD he would have had to get if we had gone for the jugular. And that’s not even mentioning the misses in 03, 05, and 08. Seriously, we need to count by 7’s, not 3’s.
7. Embrace the absurdity of the situation-Play up the fact that no one wants us to win this game. That the programmers at ESPN and CBS would cry themselves to sleep if we won. That they wouldn’t know how to market this game without the 3-18 mantra. That UF’s fans basically treat this as an official homecoming. That it’s right down the road from UF. Teams seem to thrive on the “Us against the world” thing, so maybe that’s we need to develop for this game. Acknowledge that the deck is stacked against us, and then go out and play loose and fast and in the word of former Indian’s manager Lou Brown, “give them all a big [crap]burger to eat”.