Leading up to last year’s Florida-Georgia game, I said that 2019 matchup would be the Gators' best chance to end Kirby Smart’s stranglehold atop the SEC East.
“If it doesn’t happen Saturday,” I wrote then, “then when?”
How about this Saturday? I think Dan Mullen and the Gators will get it done.
A year ago, I thought Georgia was only going to increase its talent gap over UF. The Gators, then, needed a win to stop some of Smart’s momentum on the recruiting trail and start challenging for five-star recruits.
I was wrong. The Bulldogs are the most talented team in the nation, but the Gators have gotten better on signing day and through the transfer portal. The gap isn’t as big as it was or as large as I thought it might be.
And it will be even smaller this weekend. Georgia’s five-star quarterback, JT Daniels, hasn’t played, either because of his recovery from a knee injury or because he hasn’t been good enough. Several other Bulldogs will be out or limited Saturday, including All-America candidate Richard LeCounte.
LeCounte’s absence is massive. The safety was Georgia’s best hope of shutting down UF star tight end Kyle Pitts. Instead, the Bulldogs will have to find another option. Maybe that means double-teaming him, but that plan increases opportunities for Kadarius Toney or Trevon Grimes.
Although UF’s defense looked much better against Missouri, I still have concerns there. I just don’t think Georgia’s offense is going to be good enough to capitalize on it.
The Bulldogs can run the ball well, and the team with the most rushing yards has won this game 14 years in a row. I’m not sure the trend continues this time. And if it does, UF has been averaging more yards per rush (4.8) than Georgia (4.2).
The Gators' run defense had issues against South Carolina and Texas A&M, but in a game this close, I expect Georgia to have to make a big passing play or two to win. Can Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett do that, especially if UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham dials up some pressure? I’m not convinced.
I am, however, confident in Gators quarterback Kyle Trask. He never seems rattled, and he has completed 68 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and two interceptions. If the game comes down to one play, I trust him to make it a lot more than I do Bennett.
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When I wrote that 2019 was Dan Mullen’s best shot at knocking off Georgia, I believed it. But things have changed.
The pandemic had a bigger effect on Georgia than it did UF. Although positive coronavirus tests could change things, the Gators seem healthier heading into the weekend. And the individual matchups — UF’s receivers against Georgia’s secondary, the Bulldogs' offense against the Gators' defense — seem to favor UF.
I think the game as a whole does, too. So to answer my question from last October:
Now. This is the year Florida finally tops Georgia.