On November 1, 2014 Georgia and Florida will meet once again for their annual Cocktail party. By this time, each team will have already put in place their new defense and offense, respectively. For Georgia, this will mean returning the defense to its winning ways and taking some pressure back off their offense. For Florida, this will mean returning the offense to its winning ways and taking pressure off their defense.
There is extra intrigue added to this coming season's rivalry. Who will take the step forward and who will get up and running first?
When it was resolved that Jeremy Pruitt would be taking over Todd Grantham's position as Defensive Coordinator in Athens, the fan reactions revealed something meaningful. Florida State fans were upset over their loss and Georgia fans were very happy for their gain. After all, Florida State had a top-rated defense last year, while Georgia's defense was often underwhelming.
Conversely, Duke enjoyed an historically excellent offense last year, while Florida suffered an altogether historically-bad season. Georgia and Florida both endured many injuries last year which severely altered their chances, including the loss of starters, stars, and Quarterbacks.
The silver lining for both teams lies with the fact that Pruitt and Roper will be inheriting some good ingredients. So with all the mirrored issues for the Dogs and Gators, let's begin by parsing the unique problems they each face.
Everyone agrees that Coach Will Muschamp must win, and must win now. This directly translates to heating up Coach Roper's seat as well. Some Georgia fans feel like Richt's retirement clock is ticking, but it's extremely unlikely that he will need to make the type of desperation moves Florida will consider. Georgia's offense proved last year that it can win some games on its own, while Florida's defense demonstrated that it cannot hold on forever. Bottom line, Roper is facing way more pressure than Pruitt.
Georgia's returning starters on defense will have more experience and would likely have shown improvement this year anyway. Meanwhile,. they can conveniently look to Pruitt as a guy who knows how to win. Florida is also getting a new reason for hope. However, Muschamp is commonly seen as a defensive guru who will force his Offensive Coordinator to rely on the run for clock management. On paper, it seems like Georgia players have higher morale if for no other reason than the fact that they have consistently beaten their rivals even in times of trouble.
A huge advantage for Georgia, is the fact that they are keeping the familiar 3-4 defensive scheme while also paring down the overly complex playbook. Add to this fact, Pruitt knows how to teach back to front meaning Georgia can expect to do much better in the secondary this time out.
Roper knows his stuff, too, but developing a Quarterback is much different skill than figuring out where to move your players around on the field. Couple this with the fact that Roper will likely dumb down his play calling toward run plays, and Florida offense is likely to look vanilla early in the season. Without conjecture, we can definitely say Pruitt has faced stiff competition in Clemson, Florida, and Auburn last year, having beaten them all at Florida State. Compare this to Roper who faced inferior competition while at Duke, and lost his last two games to the best teams he faced.
Both Pruitt and Roper can make an immediate impact on day one. Pruitt owns more hardware having won a Championship ring in each of the last 3 years, however Roper has more years of experience in his position. Georgia has a tough early schedule while Florida has a much easier start. One encouraging note about the schedule, though, is that Pruitt will have already seen Florida play Alabama so he can make adjustments to his game plan.
Pruitt is known to be the superior recruiter, however recruiting is not a big concern for Florida at the moment. If you had to put them in a box, Pruitt is the "Johnny and Joe's"-guy who has a talent for one-on-one teaching versus Roper who is an "x's and o's" guy. Roper is inheriting a Quarterback with plenty of experience in Driskell, should he chose to play him. Circumstances maybe be very different now, but it's worth considering that Roper's offense only put up seven points against Pruitt's defense last year when they were at their old schools.
Both Georgia and Florida's records will improve next year. Although, it won't take as much for Florida to show dramatic improvement. Over the Spring and Summer, Pruitt's style of defense will be introduced in toto, while Roper will likely need to simplify his plays. The point is certainly debatable, but it seems that Georgia has less work to do to in order to make strides.
Finally, there is some anecdotal evidence that suggest that Georgia will show immediate success while Florida will have some growing pains. First, in Pruitt's first meeting with the Georgia Defense he claimed that he wanted to make opposing offenses "earn what they get against Georgia." I take this to mean that the dogs will be able to bend and not break.
Unlike Grantham who liked to try and out think the offense like a chess match, using counter moves, Pruitt will force opposing offenses to make plays. They will have to throw on third down. They will have to make their back shoulder catches. They won't be able to simply toss it down-field at will.
As for Florida offense the problem is two-fold. I saw Roper's offense in person during Duke's Chik-Fil-A bowl game and they seemed to excel when scheming mismatches on pass plays. I feel like this will prove difficult without a preexisting relationship to his players and without the experience of the teams he is facing.
In the end, there are good reasons to believe Georgia will have the advantage over Florida in both their head to head game, as well as for the SEC East title.