Do you know who will be playing for Florida this weekend, after half their time is out due to injury? No? Well then, we're here to help. Or more importantly, Andy Hutchins over with Alligator Army is here to help answer our questions about who Georgia will be lined up against come Saturday at 3:30, and what else we can expect to see out of Florida at this year's World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. My questions are in bold, with his answers italicized.
Both our teams have been decimated by injuries, including Florida losing LT D.J. Humphries earlier this week. With missing players forcing so many changes in the depth chart, who will Georgia be lining up against Saturday?
A skeleton crew that vaguely resembles the Florida Gators, really. Florida's offense has been reaped by some cruel football god for its finest players — Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, and Chaz Green are all among the offense's top seven or eight talents — and it lost Dominique Easley, by far the best player on a defense with a number of future NFL players, in September.
Florida's offense made do without Driskel against the dregs of the SEC (thanks, Tennessee, for starting Nathan Peterman!), but sputtered after losing Jones at LSU and Missouri, and the only thing anyone looks at as a reliable option is Kelvin Taylor, who has 28 career carries — and that offensive line, without Humphries, may be moving beleaguered right tackle Tyler Moore to left tackle, and bringing on Trenton Brown, who is about as fast as evolution, to play right tackle. Florida's defense got run over and aerated by both sets of Tigers, too, and has had significant trouble stopping the run without Easley around to disrupt things up front. And there aren't really reinforcements available for either side of the ball.
So, basically, it'll be fun. Todd Gurley is out, right? Right?
The impression of several outsiders has been the injury to Driskel at QB actually improved Florida's offense. Does that sentiment extend to Florida fans who more closely follow their team, and what is OC Brent Pease doing differently now that Tyler Murphy is taking snaps?
That sentiment extended to Florida fans through Murphy's stellar relief appearance against Tennessee and in his wins over Kentucky and Arkansas, but it's been diminished by his lackluster play in the last two games, and I was never really among the fans who thought Florida's offense was better without Driskel. Murphy was more efficient and steadier against bad teams in those first three games — steadiness was something that Driskel's struggles against better teams made Gators covet — but he lacks the experience to run a passing offense if pressure comes, doesn't have Driskel's ability to burn elite SEC defenders on the hoof, and isn't the threat to throw deep that Driskel is, thanks to a deficit in arm strength.
Pease talked a lot early on about tailoring the offense to Murphy's strengths, and did it well against Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas, but the offense was a bit more open against LSU and Missouri (thanks in part to Jones's injury, which robbed Florida of its only reliable pass-blocking back), and Murphy was ineffective. Florida is likely to strip out some of the things that Murphy didn't do well in his last two games and try to win this game with simpler planning, and a heavy dose of Taylor.
Florida's offense is statistically among the worst in the SEC. Aside from injuries, what has been the biggest problem scoring? And in general, why does it seem like Florida has struggled so badly with QBs and WRs over the last couple seasons?
Red zone woes were the killer early on (Florida scored on just six of 12 red zone possessions against Toledo and Miami, and scored just four touchdowns on those trips), but the Gators have had problems just moving the ball of late, getting a whopping six red zone possessions in their last three games. Florida's scored on five of those, but managed just two touchdowns, and the only impressive possession among them was the one Taylor limited to one play with a 20-yard touchdown run at Mizzou.
To your second question, Driskel was a first-year starter last year, and Murphy's a first-year starter this year. First-year starters struggle all over. Florida's wide receivers, nearly nonexistent in 2012 under the tutelage of Aubrey Hill until his August resignation and graduate assistant Bush Hamdan, no longer in Florida, have actually improved significantly this year under Joker Phillips.
But that it's hard to tell that the receivers have improved has something to do with the other main reason Florida's struggled at QB and WR over the last few years: A shaky offensive line. Driskel often didn't have a lot of time in the pocket last year or this year, and Murphy's had even less. (The much-reviled John Brantley would probably have been worlds better with a competent line in front of him.) When he did have time, Driskel missed a fair few open receivers deep this season — but nearly every deep ball Driskel threw in 2012 was scuttled not by inaccuracy or drops, but a line that had an uncanny ability to get called for holding or illegal blocks when Florida went deep.
Contrasted against that offense, the Florida defense is once again among the best in the (second in PPG allowed, first in rushing D and passing D). How has the defensive side overcome the injuries it's faced, and who should Georgia be most concerned about shutting Murray, Gurley, and friends down?
Florida's defense is deep at certain positions (especially the secondary) and disciplined by one of the more brilliant defensive coordinators in recent history in Muschamp. (D.J. Durkin's the defensive coordinator in name, and is a very good coach in his own right, but this is unquestionably Muschamp's baby.) Florida doesn't do a lot of blitzing, and doesn't do a lot of fancy things in coverage, playing mostly man, but the players are so good and so well-coached that the vanilla has often been better than different flavors would be.
But Florida's defense hasn't really overcome the injuries it's faced; instead, it's been significantly weakened by them. No defensive tackle's approximated Easley for more than a play here or there since his injury, Florida suffered without Marcus Roberson when he was out, and the Gators dearly missed Damien Jacobs, Ronald Powell and Darrin Kitchens in their rush defense against Missouri. Roberson, Jacobs, Powell, and Kitchens are all good to go against Georgia, so I would expect better play than we saw against Missouri, but Georgia's offense also has Todd Gurley, who is significantly better than any of Missouri's running backs, even at 85 percent.
Considering how well the Gators have stopped the run, any concern about Todd Gurley finally retaking the field?
The Gators are the most penalized team in the conference. Aggressive play, undisciplined play, adjusting to new faces due to injury, or a combination of the three?
Yes. Florida's been flagged repeatedly for offsides and pass interference on defense, and I believe it has the ignoble distinction of being the first school to have two players ejected for targeting. (Brian Poole was shown the door against Tennessee before Cody Riggs got the day off against Missouri.) Florida also does a really good job of timing its false starts to mangle drives.
And, additionally, Florida's pass rush can be a bit mean when it comes to contact with the quarterback. Poor Brandon Allen was ragdolled for basically the entirety of a quarter, and Maty Mauk took a couple of shots that should probably have been flagged, but weren't. That aggressive play is part of what makes Dante Fowler, Jr., Jonathan Bullard, and Ronald Powell good, but it can backfire.
Georgia's kick coverage units have been a repeated disaster all season. What are the odds Solomon Patton or Loucheiz Purifoy take one to the house?
Decent. Florida knew what it was doing when it caught Missouri for Patton's touchdown return, and it knew what it was doing when it smothered a Miami punt despite a three-man shield up front, so I think the special teams dropoff this year for Florida has more to do with people who kick balls not being as good as they were in 2012, and I have faith in the rest of the special teams.
And against Georgia's calamitous coverage units? I like Florida's chances.
Expectations and a score prediction?
I think and hope this will be a wild game that Florida wins by doing things on defense and special teams, with Taylor doing a Knowshon Moreno impression and flipping the script from 2007. (I've said consistently this year that this Georgia team reminds me of that Florida team.) But I could also see it being a mudders' race, especially given the looming prospect of terrible weather, and I would give the edge to Georgia there, with Gurley being able to churn out tough yards in slop.
And while I'm hoping I'm wrong, I think Aaron Murray's going to need to screw up, maybe massively, for Florida to win this game. Give me Georgia 21, Florida 20.
Thanks to Andy for his excellent responses, and as always...