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Opponent Preview: Florida Gators

I’d rather give up BBQ forever than lose to Florida.

Florida v Georgia
This handshake lasted approximately .25 nanoseconds.

Florida University In a Nutshell

Location: Gainesville, FL.
Pros: Free Rent.
Cons: Thunderstorm and sinkhole capital of the universe. It’s a Fact!

2018 Record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)

Series Record: Georgia leads 51-43-2 #DawgsOnTop

Most Significant 2018 Accomplishment: Stopping Georgia on 1st and Goal about 7 or 8 times in a 19-point loss and acting like you just won a gold-plated 1973 Ford Pinto with a broken muffler bracket.

2nd Most Significant 2018 Accomplishment: Losing to Kentucky.

Home Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, (a.k.a. “The Swamp”). Capacity - 88,548

Notable Alumni: Tom Petty’s guitar tech, Erin Andrews, Stephen Stills (o.k., this is kinda’ cool), Stokely Van Camp, and Mike Bianchi.

Rewind 2018: In 2017, Florida went 4-7 and Jim McElwain did not finish the season. In Dan Mullen’s first season as Gator head coach, Florida rebounded, finishing the regular season at 9-3 and whipping a thoroughly disinterested and depleted Michigan team in the Peach Bowl, 41-15 (sound familiar?). Florida lost for the first time to Kentucky (at home, no less) since 1986, but reeled off 5 consecutive victories - including a 27-19 win over LSU at home - before losing to the Dawgs in the closest 19-point victory in the history of football. The following week, a flat Gator team was completely thrashed by Mizzou - again in The Swamp. To Mullen’s credit, the Gators rallied to win the next 4 against ‘Sakerlina, the feared Idaho Vandals, perennial sometimes juggernaut a truly horrible Florida State Seminoles and the aforementioned Wolverines of Michigan.

Regression-to-the-Mean Alert: Florida finished the season +12 in turnover differential, despite a -3 margin vs. Georgia. Earlier in the season, a plus 5 margin at Tennessee helped inflate their overall numbers. All those turnovers were key in some very close Gator wins. Unfortunately for Florida, turnover margin is one of those quirky things that tend to flip-flop from season to season. I love flip-flops.

Why This Game Matters: There is the possibility that, come November 2, The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party might just decide the SEC East representative in Atlanta. So, yeah...that’s kind of big deal. Perhaps a bigger reason as to why this game matters, especially this year, is Dan Mullen’s big yapper.

Yeah, I’d say there’s going to be some extra spice to this year’s game.

Dan Mullen’s barbs in the wake of the Justin Fields transfer and after the G-day game haven’t aged very well. You remember, the G-Day number (39,476) that was a sort of “poor-man’s Da Vinci Code” reference as to how many days had elapsed since our 1980 Championship? Or, the jab at losing Justin Fields to the transfer portal, insinuating that perhaps some promises weren’t somehow fulfilled to a kid who, frankly, couldn’t win the job?

How’d that work out for you, Dan? The portal giveth. The portal taketh away.

Oh, and recruiting. Kirby is absolutely raiding the state of Florida, with 5 current highly ranked, blue-chip commits:

  • Marcus Rosemy (Ft. Lauderdale), WR
  • Jalen Carter (Apopka), DT
  • Carson Beck (Jacksonville), QB
  • Warren Brinson (Bradenton), DT
  • Josh Braun (Live Oak), OT

This game matters. Kids pay attention. Georgia has recruiting momentum. Florida...well, not so much. And the 2019 class has lost a lot of its luster. This game is big. Very big.

However, if you read the interwebs, and especially Twitter, “the gap is closing.”

I’ve got your gap right here...

Grand Canyon National Park
Florida is closing the gap. And the Grand Canyon is a ditch in Screven County.

I digress. Back on point...

Florida’s Offense in 2019:

It all starts with Felipe Franks (Jr.), who will be starting his 3rd season in Gainesville. There is no question that he has experience to go along with his 6’ 6”, 240 lb. frame. Franks has struggled with consistency his entire career. Does he put it all together in 2019? This is the biggest question on offense, or is it?

The offensive line had all 5 starters back a season ago. This year, only a single starter returns and the depth behind this unit is paper thin - with freshman as first line backups. Will they be able to protect Franks and block the bigger defensive fronts effectively to establish a consistent running game, or will Franks have to play out of the shotgun all season and throw? Many, many questions here. Senior center Nick Buchanan had 12 starts last season. Guards Chris Bleich (redshirt frosh) and junior Brett Heggie line up either side of center. Former Texas transfer Jean Delance, Jr. will be at right tackle, with Stone Forsythe at left tackle. Behind the projected starting 5, the experience and depth is a reflection of poor recruiting by Jim McElwain’s staff and Florida is an injury (or transfer) away from big trouble.

At running back, senior Lamical Perine returns and looks to improve upon his 826 yard/7-TD performance. Sophomore Malik Davis, coming back from consecutive years with significant injuries, could win the starting job (5’ 11”, 190) and will be backed up by sophomore Dameon Pierce. Freshman Iverson Clement (5’ 11’, 200) will get a look as well.

Florida’s team strength is in their receiver corps. There is talent, experience and depth; perhaps the most skill talent in a decade. Seniors Van Jefferson (6 TD, 503 yards), Freddie Swain 5 TD, 265 yards), Josh Hammond (4 TD, 369 yards) who can play the slot, as well as Swain, and junior Trevon Grimes (2 TD, 364 yards) are all excellent. Tyrie Cleveland (6’ 2”, 205) can stretch the field. Slot man Kadarius Toney is a junior. Tight end Kyle Pitts has good size at 6’ 6”, 250 lbs. and will split time with Lucas Krull. There is a lot for Franks to work with, provided he has time in the pocket.

Defense is always a strength at Florida and they do return 8 starters from last season. Third and Grantham is still a thing.

Florida is always tough along their defensive front. All 3 starters return for 2019, including senior DE Jabari Zuniga, nose tackle Kyree Campbell (6’ 3”, 305), and senior DT Adam Shuler (6’ 4” 275). Florida utilizes a “buck” position which flip-flops a defensive end/linebacker body. Last year, CeCe Jefferson and Jachai Polite split duties here, but they’re gone, as is leading tackler Vosean Joseph. Senior David Reese II (not to be confused with freshman David Reese who is lost for 2019 with a torn Achilles) is very good (6’ 1”, 245) and will be flanked by the “Buck” Jonathan Greenard (Sr., 6’ 3’ 255) and “Will” Amari Burnley (6’ 2”, 224).

The “Star” position is handled by sophomore Trey Dean (6’ 3”, 195). Florida’s secondary is where the failures of the 2019 recruiting cycle, malfeasance and the transfer portal has also hit particularly hard. Cornerback C.J. Henderson is on some pre-season All-America lists (6’ 2’, 190) and Marco Wilson (So. 6’ 0”, 190) is physical. Safeties senior Jaewon Taylor (6’ 1’, 202) and Brad Stewart 6’ 1, 200) will have to hold-up this season as depth behind them is sparse. Cornerback C.J. McWilliams ruptured his Achilles tendon a few months ago and is lost for the season. Earlier, Florida lost their highest-ranked recruit to the portal earlier in the spring when Chris Steele was granted immediate eligibility at USC.

Florida also dismissed DB John Huggins. Although not formally charged, his was accused of choking a female tutor. Dan Mullen’s subsequent action to dismiss was a 3-toed sloth, eating a banana split and taking a January vacation in Kodiak.

Special Teams:

Kicker Evan McPherson, a sophomore, made 17 of 19 field goals and punter Tommy Townsend (Sr.) averaged a very respectable 45.5 ypp in 2018. Freddie Swain averaged a shade under 11 yards per punt return in ‘18. Josh Hammond will be in the mix as well; Kadarius Toney averaged about 22 yards per return. Florida will be breaking in a new long snapper, Jacob Tilghman.

Dave’s Season Outlook for 2019:

Rebuilding an offensive line ain’t no way to go through the tough SEC schedule. Florida opens on Saturday in Orlando against Miami. The strength of the ‘Canes is their linebacking corps and defensive front. This will be a good litmus test for Florida. Then, their first SEC game is on the road at Kentucky, followed by a home game against Tennessee. The Gators should win their first 5 games, but Auburn comes calling on October 5 and if Florida is having offensive line issues by then, this game could go sideways in a hurry. Florida travels to LSU and South Carolina in back-to-back weeks. The bye week prior to the Georgia game could see a team with a likely loss (LSU), possibly up to 3 if Auburn and South Carolina get a bit sassy.

After the Cocktail Party, Florida gets Vandy at home, but then has to travel to Missouri on November 16. In looking at this game through the prism of “right now,” this one is tricky. The Gators close out the season with FSU at home. Florida is just a few injuries away on the offensive line to really cause huge problems. As good as their starting secondary is, one more injury and this unit becomes significantly weaker where depth is virtually non-existent. Oh, and that turnover ratio? It evens out this season. Florida is a 9-3 team at best, but could lose 5 games if the aforementioned issues are compounded as attrition during the course of a long season takes hold.

The Cocktail Party:

Florida has this guy:

Georgia has this (NSFW) guy:

There is no comparison.

Dan ain’t wild. He’s mild.

Both teams have a bye week prior to meeting. I’m feeling fairly confident that Kirby Smart & Co. will have the team focused.

I just don’t know that there is a lot that we control by the words we say. Football so much to me is played between the lines and the physicality of the people that play it. We are going to play a brand of football at Georgia that is physical and tough. We do not really want to talk to the opponents. - Kirby Smart when asked about Dan Mullen’s comments.

Translation? This thing is personal now. Dan made it so. Kirby wouldn’t take the bait and react in the media, but woah! did Mullen provide some superb locker room material. Kirby is going to eat. His players are going to eat. The buffet is open and they’re serving gator tail.

This is the Year of the Dawg. Georgia 45 Florida 10.

And As Always, GO DAWGS!