- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- To get the most in-depth information on No. 10 Georgia, which plays No. 2 Florida on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET in Jacksonville, Fla., GatorNation turned to DawgNation's David Ching. We asked him five questions about the Bulldogs:
Q: After being so good on the ground early in the season, the Bulldogs haven't run the ball well in their past two games. It's understandable against South Carolina, but not against Kentucky. What's the issue?
Ching: Missed assignments were a huge deal against South Carolina. It wasn’t as glaring of an issue against Kentucky, but they still failed to impose their will on a Wildcats defense that hadn’t exactly shown much of an ability to play tough run defense beforehand. I think what frustrated Georgia fans more in that game is that they kept trying to run it for too long after it was obvious that Kentucky had no answer in defending Georgia’s passing game. They finally went pass-heavy to pull ahead, and Aaron Murray wound up with a career-high 427 passing yards, but I think they realize they can’t be that reliant on the passing attack if they’re going to have a chance against Florida.
Q: The defense still looks a bit disjointed. A big part of that is not having everyone on the field until several weeks ago, but are there other reasons and can this unit get better for the stretch run?
Ching: Aside from the suspensions keeping some of their best players off the field for the first month of the season, they’ve dealt with several injuries along the defensive front seven. One of their best defensive linemen, Abry Jones, is out this week and might miss the rest of the season. But the more important injury question is whether Jarvis Jones will be close to 100 percent on Saturday. He has the potential to be a terror as a pass rusher -- and I’m sure Florida fans already realize that after his four-sack performance against the Gators last season -- but he hasn’t been healthy entering a game since Week 2 against Missouri. Without him wreaking havoc in opponents’ backfields, Georgia’s pass rush has been almost nonexistent, and I think that has impacted the Bulldogs' general defensive effectiveness. I don’t think that’s their only issue, but it has been a big factor. If they can get Jones going, I think you’ll see the defense perform more effectively immediately.
Q: Can QB Aaron Murray put this team on his shoulders in a big game?
Ching: Sure he can. I honestly think he catches too much grief over not being a big-game player (although my Thursday story is about that very subject). You could argue that Georgia has not been a big-game team in his career, but I can’t remember a time that the Bulldogs lost a big game and Murray’s play was the reason for the loss. With that said, it seems as if they’ve put it all on his shoulders several times in big games -- like when the line wasn’t protecting well enough and the running game wasn’t accomplishing anything against South Carolina, or against LSU in last season’s SEC championship game -- and he didn’t get the job done. I’m not sure he’s the Cam Newton-type who can single-handedly carry a team to victory against a top-tier opponent. But Murray’s a very good player who has made enormous strides this season, and if he gets some help from his teammates, I expect him to play well on Saturday.
Q: Georgia's special teams have struggled this season with missed kicks and questionable decisions. Can they make enough improvements and fixes in one week so they won't get hurt against Florida, which has thrived on special teams?
Ching: Probably not. I would imagine that most Georgia fans would be ecstatic if the Bulldogs can break even in the special-teams department on Saturday. Georgia’s last two kickers, Brandon Coutu and Blair Walsh, were a combined 298-for-299 on PATs. Although he has actually been pretty good on field goals, Bulldogs kicker Marshall Morgan has already missed 4-of-34 extra points this season. Georgia has botched a decision over whether to fair catch a punt in almost every game and has been fairly inconsistent when punting, as well. It seems unlikely that a season-long trend of inconsistent special-teams play will change in a positive direction against the best special-teams club they’ve faced thus far.
Q: Forget that this is an important game in the Eastern Division race. How much pressure is Mark Richt under to just beat Florida? Did last year's victory ease some of that pressure?
Ching: For once, I don’t think the pressure on Richt stems from the simple fact that it’s Florida. After the way they stunk up the joint against South Carolina, another bed-wetting effort in ANY big game right now would be catastrophic. He followed his first losing season in 2010 by losing all four games against the best teams they played last season -- including decisive losses against Boise State and LSU and a mismanaged game in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. They’ve only played one legitimately good team this season, and South Carolina handed them another ugly loss. He needs them to come up big in a big game because they haven’t done it in a long time -- and this happens to be the next opportunity. Win or loss, it will be magnified to an even greater extent because the opponent is Florida.