When No. 7 Goergia and No. 7 Florida meet Saturday, it will be for more than just bragging rights. Both the Bulldogs and the Gators have just one SEC loss but another defeat will all but eliminate the losing team from the national title race.
The Bulldogs licked their wounds last weekend after getting shellacked two weeks ago in Baton Rouge by LSU. Quarterback Jake Fromm had one of his worst days as a starter in that loss, but needs to get over it because the Gators lead the conference in pass defense at 160.1 yards per game. The Gators were off last week as well, one week after storming back against Vanderbilt to post a 10-point win in Nashville. The running game features Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and quarterback Feleipe Franks, and is the centerpiece of the Gators offense.
What should you expect Saturday afternoon on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville?
Georgia: Fromm took a lot of the heat after the LSU loss, but the real problem that afternoon was coach Kirby Smart. Georgia has a full package of plays in for true freshman quarterback Justin Fields that the staff didn't get to, instead opting for Fromm to try to throw himself out of his funk. Expect to see a more accurate depiction of the quarterback "partnership" this weekend as long as Smart learned his lesson. If that happens, it will open up the offense in a variety of ways -- most notably for the stable of running backs led by D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield.
The run defense has been porous of late (which might be too much of a compliment), and is giving up 5.16 yards per carry in October. But the Gators don't pose much of a downfield threat in the passing game. Because of that, expect Georgia to load the box, leave its secondary -- the strength of the defense -- in one-on-one coverage and dare Franks to beat them with his arm.
Florida: Scarlett and Perine seem to get better as games go on, which means it's imperative for Florida to have some success early on the ground, work off play-action and then let the duo serve as closers late in the game if the Gators can build a lead. If the running game does open up passing lanes, the versatile group of receivers that includes Josh Hammond, Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain are fully capable of taking advantage of the situation.
Defensively, Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga are terrors up front, and need to play up to their potential against the stout Georgia offensive line. Fromm got rattled last time out by LSU's front seven, and there isn't a big difference between that group and Florida's. If Florida is able to pressure Fromm, he might return to his LSU form and get happy feet in the pocket.
Game prediction, picks
It's always tough to gauge rivalry games, but this one will come down to which offense can find the most offensive balance. Both defenses will load up to stop the run, so expect enough defenders in the box to fill a room. Because of that, it comes down to who you trust more in the passing game: Fromm or Franks? I'll side with the guy who led his team to the national title game in a pinch, and really only has one bad game on his resume over the last year-and-a-half. It will be a fist fight throughout, and the Dawgs will pull away late for a big win and cover. Pick: Georgia -7.5
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