UGA vs. Florida Preview and Prediction – October 28, 2023
UGA VS. FLORIDA PREVIEW AND PREDICTION – OCTOBER 28, 2023 – This is one of those games that makes me anxious no matter how much the point spread may favor Georgia. It’s a bitter, hateful rivalry between the Bulldogs and Gators. The Dawgs have controlled the contests with one exception since Kirby Smart took over as head coach, UGA fans have enjoyed recent success against the gators.
Billy Napier is trying to change that narrative.
(7-0 SU, 1-6 ATS)
(5-2 SU, 3-4 ATS)
When: Saturday, October 28th at 12:30 EDT
Where: EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, FL
Public Bets: Florida, 56%
Public Money: Florida, 67%
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of October 27th, 2023
The Opposition (Florida)
Sunbelt Billy is in year 3 of coaching the Gators. His tenure hasn’t exactly gone smoothly thus far, but this year he has things looking up. Recruiting is taking a big upswing, and the Gators just beat out UGA for a coveted defensive lineman in LJ McCray. The Gators also just overcame a 10 point deficit in the 4th quarter against South Carolina, sending Shane Beamer to the hospital.
Florida’s season has been a roller coaster of emotions. After dropping the opener to Utah, they crushed McNeese and then manhandled Tennessee. All of sudden, Florida looked legit. Then they struggled against Charlotte, and were run roughshod by Kentucky. After bouncing back against Vandy they had their comeback against Carolina last week. Even within games, Florida has moments where they look competitive and as dangerous as anyone in the country. Other times, they look unmotivated and poorly coached. Inconsistency is this team’s biggest issue.
UF has the talent to be a good team. Graham Mertz is closing in on 2000 yards for the year with 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. His skill position players are exceptional as well. Trevor Etienne is a dangerous back that splits time with Montrell Johnson. They are about as good of a 1-2 punch at RB as you can find in the nation. Both guys can make you pay. Etienne went for 172 yards against UT, and Johnson easily cleared the century mark in rushing against Vandy. The problem is, again, inconsistency. Some games these dudes can go. Other games Florida has zero running game, like the 69 yards they put up against UK or the 13 rushing yards against Utah. If Georgia can stop these two backs, Florida is in for a long day.
Mertz has two dynamic receivers you need to keep your eye on. Ricky Pearsall is having a breakout year as a 6’1 senior. They’ll move him all over the field to create mismatches with the defense. He hauled in what may be the catch of the year against Charlotte on a remarkable reaching one-handed catch that he held onto through contact. Over 70% of his receptions are for first downs, as his average catch gains just over 14 yards. Shutting down Pearsall is difficult to do when defenses are also having to worry about freshman Eugene Wilson. Wilson has been limited with injuries this year, but his best performances have come when it mattered most. He just ate up Carolina for 6 catches and 83 yards plus 2 carries for 21 yards. UF will use him in motion to make the defense declare what they’re doing, and Wilson’s speed and agility will stress defenders.
Offensively, Florida likes to bunch receivers and run out of the pistol formation. They bunch receivers to create confusion and space. At their best, they can run the ball effectively, then punish you with play action explosive plays. At their worst, they become entirely one-dimensional because they can’t run the ball.
Florida has an opportunity to display the most balanced offense UGA has faced this year, with a running game that uses all kinds of misdirections. Offensive line play has not been great for Florida, and they have allowed Mertz to get pressured far too often this year. UGA may be able to take advantage of an opportunity when Mertz will turn his back to the defense in a play action pass, only to find Tykee Smith or Jamon Dumas-Johnson thumping him for a sack he never sees coming.
Spider Man Meme (Florida’s Defense)
Georgia fans will already know their DC, Austin Armstrong as he desperately seeks to be like Kirby Smart. They have worked together previously. After Florida shut down the Vol’s offense, it seemed like Armstrong had a good thing going.
Then they surrendered 33 points to UK and 39 to South Carolina and reality began to set in for the Gators. The defense is led by LB Shemar James, a sophomore UGA recruited hard. He and Scooby Williams will be flying around the field to make plays. Unfortunately, they are — what’s the word — inconsistent.
UGA fans may be familiar with Florida’s version of Jordan Davis. His name is Cam Jackson, who measures in at 6’6 360 lbs. Jackson eats a ton of blocks and does a decent job of getting tackles too. Despite having a behemoth in the middle, Florida isn’t always good at run fits defensively. UK used power runs to gash them over and over to the point that players looked disinterested in making tackles anymore. UF’s defensive backs also have performed inconsistently this year, and their secondary is susceptible to explosive plays.
In terms of scheme, Florida’s defense is quite similar to what Georgia runs. They like to present a variety of looks to QB’s from the secondary in order to create confusion. They’ll play zone-match on 3rd down one drive, then show zone defense again, only to play man-to-man with the hopes of forcing a QB into a mistake. They take the same approach with their front 7, again proving a variety of looks for the offense. They aren’t very good at forcing turnovers, but when they can stop you they are able to suffocate you. They have plenty of talent, but are still young and sometimes that youth can show itself in mistakes and miscommunication.
Florida has shown drastic changes in their performances between home and away games. They look like world beaters against UT at home, but look like an FCS school against UK away. Again, they’re just strangely inconsistent. We’ll see what a neutral site does.
The Dawgs: Dawg Gone
The one story that will be told endlessly about this game is the absence of Brock Bowers. What will UGA’s offense, which already has started games slowly for most of the year, look like without their best weapon? Vandy was able to keep UGA from being explosive offensively, allowing plenty of yards but keeping the Dawgs to field goals.
Florida needs to do the same. In fact, red zone efficiency will be another huge key to this game. Florida can score against this team, so UGA will need to match points against them with touchdowns. How they do it without Bowers remains to be seen.
Next Man Up
Who fills the void? Oscar Delp is the tight end who will surely see more targets in Bowers’ absence. Yet, he’s nowhere near the blocker Bowers is, nor as dynamic after the catch.
I think the best possible player to step up for Georgia is RaRa Thomas. If Thomas can prove to be a threat on the outside, Georgia’s offense will move just fine. If Thomas and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint cannot win one-on-ones on the perimeter, UGA will surely struggle to move the ball consistently.
Dom Lovett/Ladd McConkey is your next best option to take the next step in their game. Lovett has been used mainly as an extension of the run game this year. It’s time to make him the intermediate passing threat he was at Missouri.
And it’s, hopefully, time to unleash a fully healthy Ladd McConkey for some explosive gains down the field. With Arian Smith unable to catch a pass, Georgia needs that deep threat that McConkey has the speed to provide to open up defenses.
The good news for Georgia is that Florida is a cover 3 defense on many downs. So was Kentucky. And TCU. You get the idea. UGA knows how to use the seams and flats to shred cover 3 defenses. Dom and Ladd are the guys to do just that.
The Trouble at Right Tackle
Will Amarius Mims be ready? The starting right tackle and future first round player has been out with a high ankle sprain. Last game, reserve tackle Xavier Truss hurt his knee, forcing true freshman Monroe Freeling into the game.
While he played admirably, I really don’t like the idea of playing a R. Fs. in Earnest Green at LT and a true freshman in Freeling at right tackle with the upcoming schedule. Once Mims returns to action, Truss will be left in a predicament. UGA’s guard play, where Truss began the year, has improved drastically since he moved to tackle. Where he fits in the scheme is unknown.
Lost in Translation
UGA’s defense has been stout most of this year. They have stifled opponents for the most part, and are one of the best teams in the nation at keeping opponents out of the red zone. The problem is that once they reach the red zone, they score touchdowns far too often.
In fact, UGA is one of the worst teams in the nation in red zone defense. So, you likely can’t really move the ball on the Dawgs, but when you do you’ll put up points. Georgia also has a tendency to give up explosive plays, mostly due to a lack of communication in the passing game.
Georgia isn’t often fooled, but they do fail to execute properly at times. They have run more zone this year than the last couple, and for whatever reason, the secondary isn’t communicating well each drive. Easily fixable, but it has led to key mistakes that UGA will want to stop.
Keys to the Game
This game likely will be decided by the way it always is: the ground game. Historically if you rush for more yards, you win this game. If UGA can move the ball on the ground, they will feast against the Florida defense.
Florida’s inability to match run fits means Daijun Edwards could go to town in this game if UF can’t straighten things out. It doesn’t matter that Brock Bowers is gone if you can run for 6 yards per carry. Georgia will want to do so.
Similarly, so will Florida. The best thing they can do to help Mertz move the offense is get Etienne and Co. moving the sticks with the run. Georgia has been susceptible to big run gains on the edge, and I think Florida should attack it repeatedly.
The other biggest factor I think in this game will be who starts faster. If UGA gets an early lead like it did against UK, I think this game could get ugly. If Florida can take a lead or even just keep it close, they’ll be able to establish their run game enough to trouble the Dawgs defense.
The trend this year is that UGA will not cover the spread as they only have once so far this season. That was before UGA lost their best offensive weapon. The problem I have picking this game is that so much of what’s on paper tells me UGA should surpass that scoring line.
UGA is top 10 in both offense and defense. Florida’s best win was at home against UT, but giving them a lot of credit for a late comeback against a sorry South Carolina team doesn’t make sense. If you compare results against the same opponent, UGA seems to be head and shoulders better than Florida.
I see this game either being a blowout for UGA or a close contest that Georgia wins out in the end. I’m sticking with the trend from Georgia, guessing they don’t start fast and need some time to shake off the bye week rust. Florida comes out swinging, landing a few punches and scoring early.
This game stay close through the first half before Georgia makes some adjustments at half time and pulls it out in the second half.
Dawgs Win: 35-21