Florida Gators: Shawn Williams
Florida's running game vs. Georgia's front seven: This is perhaps the most important matchup on this side of the ball. Florida's offensive identity is built around pounding the run and controlling the clock, and it made hay in that department with Mike Gillislee toting the rock an SEC-high 244 times for 1,152 yards last season. The results have been highly uneven this year with quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones sidelined by season-ending injuries. Georgia native Mack Brown (99-359, 3 TDs) is Florida's leading rusher, but he is not the Gators' scariest ball carrier. That honor goes to freshman Kelvin Taylor (28-172, TD), the son of Gator great Fred Taylor. Kelvin has played more recently. The problem is that, like most freshman, he is a liability in pass protection. Until he becomes a more consistent blocker, defenses know what Florida likely intends to do when he lines up in the backfield.
Georgia pass rushers vs. depleted Florida line: The Bulldogs' defense hasn't had much to brag about this season, but they have actually applied fairly consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Georgia is tied for third in the SEC with 19 sacks -- many of which have come from the revitalized defensive line. Defensive end Ray Drew leads the team and is tied for fourth in the SEC with five sacks. Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd (four) and Jordan Jenkins (three) are just behind him. Florida has struggled with its pass protection this season, and it could be an even bigger issue on Saturday now that left tackle D.J. Humphries is out of the picture for the next few games. The Gators have allowed 17 sacks this season -- only Ole Miss and Vanderbilt (19 apiece) have allowed more among SEC teams -- so their injury-depleted line needs to raise its level of play or Florida's offense might have difficulty moving the ball on Saturday. Jarvis Jones, who wreaked havoc against Florida in each of the last two meetings, is no longer on the roster, but Drew, Jenkins and Floyd are good enough to give the Gators problems.
Tyler Murphy on the edge: Driskel's replacement under center, Murphy, started out well enough, leading the Gators to wins against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas in his first three games. But Murphy took a pounding in the last two games, both losses, and Florida's offense was barely able to generate any scoring punch. He is most effective as a run-pass threat -- Murphy ran 10 times for 84 yards after taking over against Tennessee -- but his Total QBR numbers have fallen off a cliff since his strong start. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Murphy posted an outstanding Total QBR of 93.8 in the first three games, completing 72 percent of his passes, but he averaged an 8.9 QBR against LSU and Missouri -- including a 3.0 against Missouri, the lowest QBR by a Florida starter in the last decade. He'll have to make some things happen with his legs for Florida's offense to be effective Saturday, as he leaves a lot to be desired as a pure drop-back passer.
Containing Florida's receivers: The Gators have pretty much stunk in the passing game over the past few seasons, and 2013 has been no different (12th in the SEC in passing at 175.4 ypg). The speedy Solomon Patton (28-426, 4 TDs) -- whom Georgia safety Shawn Williams bulldog tackled just before he reached the first-down marker on a run last season, knocking Patton out of the game -- has been one of the Gators' only consistent receiving weapons. Otherwise, Florida's receiving corps has been a train wreck this season. Andre Debose is out for the year with an injury. Trey Burton (29-336, TD) has the most catches on the team, but hasn't been particularly consistent. Quinton Dunbar (22-301) is the only other Gator with more than 46 receiving yards. Georgia's secondary has been subpar this season -- the Bulldogs rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense (253.4 ypg) -- so the matchup between its defensive backs and Florida's mediocre wideouts pits two weaknesses against one another.
Burton as wild card: Think back to Florida's 2010 win in Jacksonville. Florida utility man Burton might have been the most effective quarterback on the field that day. Operating out of Florida's Wildcat package, Burton ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, led the team with five receptions and completed two passes for 26 yards. He still operates out of the Wildcat at times, so keep an eye on the versatile senior, who is capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways.
The Gators might have another first-round pick in today’s group and two other players who might not get drafted. S Matt Elam has been projected to go late in the first round -- most often to New England with the 29th pick -- after a junior season in which he was named an All-American. S Josh Evans and K Caleb Sturgis might very well not get drafted in April. Sturgis is one of the nation’s top kickers, but some teams are reluctant to draft kickers even in the later rounds if they have other needs. Then again, there are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted a punter in the third round.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Well after Aaron Murray’s final kneel-down and Florida fans had cleared their side of EverBank Field, Mark Richt tried to absorb every moment he could before such a special night had to end.
He spent nearly 15 minutes on the field, clapping and cheering as he hiked from midfield to both end zones to acknowledge the handful of Georgia fans who stuck around to celebrate into the night.
He was ready to put them on his back and carry them to The Landing, but he would have had to make room for his defense first. The unit deserved a real victory lap.
After hearing the word “soft” basically become synonymous with Georgia’s defense, the Bulldog defenders put Georgia directly into the SEC Eastern Division driver’s seat with a dominating performance against a Florida team that had prided itself on pounding opponents with its running game.
All that soft talk quickly vanished after the Bulldogs repeatedly left the Gators’ offense in reverse and forced six turnovers in Georgia’s 17-9 victory. The defense felt disrespected this week and was out to prove that it was ready to do all the pushing Saturday.
“As a man, you’re going to take the personally,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said of Georgia’s defense being labeled as soft. “I took it personally, they took it personally. We came out here to show everybody that we have a great defense and we can execute and be one of those teams leading the nation in defense.”
This all started with senior safety Shawn Williams calling the defense’s play soft after that lackluster win over Kentucky. He was right, and every talking head on just about every sports platform backed him up and expanded on Georgia’s softness.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This has always been a special rivalry, but it will be even more exciting with the SEC Eastern Division at stake.
You already know the storyline: Florida wins and it is headed to Atlanta. Georgia wins and the Bulldogs control the East.
Many thought Georgia would be in position to take the East, but few thought the Gators would be in this position. Something about second-year coaches at Florida.
I'm curious to see how Georgia's defense comes out today. Senior safety Shawn Williams called the defense's play soft this week, then named which players should be playing more at linebacker. I know the coaches hope it motivates players, but some guys were really upset with Williams airing out his issues publicly.
Was he right about this unit being soft? Yeah, but he probably should have said his piece in the locker room.
These teams really don't like each other. When the Gators ran out onto the field, some of the Georgia players started jawing with some Florida players. There was some pushing and shoving, and it looked like one of Florida's assistants was yelling at a Georgia assistant.
The stadium is split and kickoff is here. Should be good one!
1. Taking the East: It'll be quite the party in Jacksonville on Saturday, as this game will essentially decide the SEC East. If Florida wins, the Gators are headed back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. A Georgia win gives the Bulldogs the edge in the East race from here on out. The Gators haven't dealt with success like this lately, so it'll be interesting to see how this team comes out against a Bulldogs team that has its back against the wall, just like last season. One thing playing in Georgia's favor is this team has been here before and fought its way out of a corner ... all the way to the SEC championship game.
3. Arkansas' revival: Remember when the Razorbacks were basically dead in the water? Well, Arkansas has won two straight and things are starting to click for the Hogs. Their last two wins have come against Auburn and Kentucky, but wins are wins in this league, and Arkansas' confidence is flowing right now. Saturday's game with Ole Miss is crucial as far as Arkansas' bowl hopes go. The Hogs need three more wins and one of them has to come Saturday with the gauntlet that is November coming up. Players said the bye week helped clean up some of the little things, and that defense will have to be at its best against Ole Miss' high-powered offense.
4. Slowing down the run: Going back to the Hogs' defense, if Arkansas is going to control Ole Miss' offense, it has to stop the Rebels on the ground. Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 211.4 yards per game. Arkansas has stopped the run well in its past two games, but neither of those running games were on par with Ole Miss' rush game. Tennessee and Georgia also have to control the opposing run games. Florida is third in the league in rushing and its offense has gone the way of its rushing attack for most of the year. If the Bulldogs can force Florida into more passing situations, it could benefit Georgia. The same goes for Tennessee, as the Gamecocks will look to run Marcus Lattimore as much as possible. Connor Shaw struggled throwing the ball last week, so the Vols will try to make him beat them Saturday.
5. Georgia's defensive toughness: Senior safety Shawn Williams created a stir when he called the play of his defense "soft" and then proceeded to name which linebackers should be playing more. Some feelings were hurt, but Mark Richt hopes it motivates his players. Williams' words very well could, but the pressure is now on him to play one of his best games. But this defense has to toughen up as a whole. It hasn't played well in the past three games, and that has to change against Florida's tough running game. Giving up big plays have really hurt this defense lately, and Georgia can't afford that Saturday.
David Ching writes: Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes the way his players have closed out games, but he wants to see the unit start better.
Ching: Tuesday evening, Bulldogs teammates had their opportunity to respond to safety Shawn Williams having called the Bulldogs’ defense soft a day earlier.
Radi Nabulsi writes : Georgia is already targeting some of the top 2014 defensive backs.
David Ching writes : Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes the way his players are closing out games, but he wants the unit to start quicker.
Ching writes: Georgia safety Shawn Williams said his piece following Monday’s practice. On Tuesday evening, his teammates had their opportunity to respond to Williams calling the Bulldogs’ defense soft.
Radi Nabulsi writes : The Bulldogs are already targeting some of the top defensive backs in the 2014 class.
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Here are our top 10 SEC safeties:
2. Bacarri Rambo, Sr., Georgia: He had a true breakout season last year and could have easily left for the NFL draft. The first-team All-American led the SEC and ranked second nationally with eight interceptions and was second in the SEC with 16 pass breakups. He takes the deep pass away, but is also very solid in defending the run and shorter passes.
3. Matt Elam, Jr., Florida: The headliner of Florida's defense, Elam found himself playing all over the field in 2011. He was second on the team with 78 tackles, but led the Gators with 11 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He loves contact, but also has improved his coverage skills and can line up at the nickel if needed.
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