I caught up with ESPN.com SEC football blogger extraordinaire Chris Low on Thursday afternoon to chat Georgia football and the implications of this weekend’s Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville.
Here’s what we discussed:
Q: We all get caught up in the perception of Georgia’s football program here, but from someone who’s not in this zip code, what is the perception of Georgia’s football program regionally and nationally right now?
A: I would say it’s a program that continues to recruit at a really high level, but has not gotten the results to match its talent level for most of the last four or five years. That said, it never really completely tanked until last season. There’s something to be said for winning eight or more games for 13 straight seasons, which they had done until last year.
Q: Do you think the outcome of Saturday’s game would do anything to alter that perception?
A: It’s closer to getting back to the SEC championship game and I think that’s sort of what Georgia needs to do next. They need to get back to Atlanta and play for a championship. So yes, I think winning Saturday gets them one step closer to that. Plus it gets them out from under -- at least for a year -- that stigma of not being able to beat their biggest rival, Florida.
Q: I’ve seen people speculate that this is a must-win game for Mark Richt. Is that a fair thing to say?
A: They said that the first game was a must-win for him. They said South Carolina was a must-win for him. Let’s put it this way, it’s a big win for him if he wins. If he doesn’t win, then you’re sort of right back to where you were to start the season when everyone’s speculating about his future.
Q: What’s your take on where Florida stands with its quarterback? It’s uncertainty that certainly is going to affect what happens.
A: My sense, and I went over to Florida today to talk to [Gators coach Will] Muschamp. My sense is that [John] Brantley will play. I don’t think anybody knows how long he’ll play, how much he’ll play or how effectively he’ll play, not even the Florida staff.
Q: Is that the determining factor in this game?
A: Yeah, I think it’s right up there. If he were healthy, then I think this is a game that’s about a dead-even, pick-em-type game. But given how limited Florida has been on offense without him, if he can’t play or isn’t overly effective, then to me Georgia is a clear favorite.
Q: Is there anything else you’re looking at in this game as a big factor?
A: I think when you look at [Georgia linebacker Alec] Ogletree coming back and how rusty is he? Is he the huge player on defense that [Georgia defensive coordinator Todd] Grantham thought he was at the beginning of the season, having not played for six straight games? Grantham thought he was the centerpiece of that defense to start the season. So I think that’s something to watch -- how big of a difference-maker he is. And if [Georgia’s leading receiver] Malcolm Mitchell can’t play -- which it sounds like he’s iffy, at best -- how does that change how Florida plays? I can tell you that Florida is going to try to take more chances. They’re going to walk safeties up, they’re going to stack the line because I don’t think anybody else on Georgia’s roster really scares them downfield.