Georgia Bulldogs: Tavarres King
Georgia has won three in a row against the Gators (3-3, 2-3), matching its longest winning streak in the series since its six-game streak from 1978-83.
Can they extend the streak and perhaps put the final nail in Will Muschamp’s coffin as Florida’s coach? Here are four key factors and storylines as we approach kickoff:
Florida coach Ron Zook was fired during the week of the 2004 Florida-Georgia game and nearly led his team to an upset win against No. 7 Georgia. The Bulldogs led 24-7 early before Florida rallied to make it 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. Georgia had to recover a late onside kick and run out the clock to seal a 31-24 win.
On the Georgia side, who knows whether Mark Richt and his staff would still be in place were it not for their 2011 win in Jacksonville. To that point, Richt was 2-8 against the Gators and had nearly lost the fan base after starting that season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina.
Some program insiders thought the Richt regime would not survive another loss to Florida, but it never came to that. The Bulldogs connected on fourth-down touchdown passes to Michael Bennett and Tavarres King, took the lead on a Richard Samuel touchdown run in the fourth quarter and built momentum that carried UGA to its first SEC East title since 2005.
Maybe Georgia covers the double-digit spread on Saturday, but remember that teams with coaches on the hotseat typically refuse to roll over in this series.
Turning to Treon: Freshman quarterback Treon Harris will make his first career start against Georgia -- mostly because Jeff Driskel (97-183, 928 yards, 6 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) has been atrocious and partially because Harris has injected some much-needed life into the Gators’ stagnant offense when he has come off the bench.
Harris (12-18, 263 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception) generated instant buzz when he went 2-for-2 for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators’ opening rout of Eastern Michigan, but has played only intermittently since then. He split time with Driskel in Florida’s last game, a 42-13 loss to Missouri, and led the Gators to two late scores. It seems to be his job now, so Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has surely designed schemes to confuse the rookie.
The Bulldogs frequently blitz opposing quarterbacks, with defensive back Damian Swann (two sacks, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles) and linebacker Amarlo Herrera (three sacks, five hurries) making several big plays as extra rushers.
Florida versus the run: Harris versus Georgia’s defense is certainly the key matchup, but a close second is Florida’s rushing defense against Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ backfield.
The Gators likely believe this is their saving grace since they rank 12th nationally in total defense (317.3 ypg) and No. 22 against the run (117.7 ypg), but those numbers are somewhat deceptive. Florida has faced two offenses that rank in the nation’s top 50 in rushing offense -- Alabama and LSU -- and both ran effectively against the Gators. Alabama had 52 carries for 223 yards in a blowout win over Florida and LSU ran 50 times for 195 yards and three scores in a 30-27 win.
Even with this week’s news that Todd Gurley will not play for Georgia, the Bulldogs still figure to pound the run with Chubb and Brendan Douglas. Since Gurley was suspended prior to the Missouri game, Chubb is averaging 34 carries per game and 172.5 rushing yards per game.
If Florida devises a way to slow down the UGA freshman, it has a chance to win. So far, nobody has done that.
Turnover battle: If quarterback Hutson Mason (10 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) and Georgia continue to protect the football the way they have thus far, it’s difficult to envision Florida pulling the upset.
No team has committed fewer turnovers (four) than Georgia or surrendered fewer points off turnovers (three). Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have scored 55 points off 17 takeaways and rank sixth nationally with a plus-52 points-off-turnovers margin.
Driskel was a turnover dispenser, so it will be interesting to see whether Harris fares any better in his first college start. The Gators have turned it over 16 times (five fumbles and 11 interceptions) and are tied for 75th nationally with a minus-6 points-off-turnover margin (they’ve scored 48 points after turnovers and given up 54).
That trend looks like a huge advantage for Georgia, but the Bulldogs have to force mistakes from the freshman and continue to capitalize like they have in the past. Georgia has scored a defensive touchdown in three of the last four games. Another play like that might bury the Gators.
Today, we'll look at No. 5: The 2008 class that produced a couple of All-Americans and perhaps the greatest wide receiver in school history.
The contributors: Several players from this class made a major impact at Georgia. In addition to the previously mentioned players, offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, kicker Blair Walsh, receiver Tavarres King, cornerback Sanders Commings and defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Cornelius Washington all performed well enough to become NFL draft picks. Walsh slumped as a senior, but had two of the best seasons by a UGA place-kicker during his sophomore and junior seasons. King didn't generate the attention that Green did, but his career totals of 2,602 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches are fourth and third in school history.
The letdowns: About half of this class failed to contribute much of anything. Running back/linebacker Richard Samuel played a minor role for most of his career although he was the No. 35 overall prospect on the ESPN 150. For a variety of reasons, several members of the class either never enrolled at Georgia (Xavier Avery, Toby Jackson), transferred (A.J. Harmon, Marcus Dowtin, Dontavius Jackson, Makiri Pugh, Nick Williams) or struggled with health issues (Bryce Ros, Jonathan Owens) that prevented them from completing their careers in Athens.
The results: The talent in this class was impressive -- 11 players from the group made it onto an NFL roster -- but there were enough flameouts that we won't rank it higher on the list. Nonetheless, many of these players helped the Bulldogs win back-to-back SEC East titles as upperclassmen after a disappointing 6-7 result in 2010. With Green, who looks like a potential Hall of Famer at this point, headlining the group, Georgia's 2008 class definitely belongs on our list.
The Cornhuskers boasted the nation's top-rated pass defense, allowing 148.2 yards per game, into the game before Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray eviscerated the Nebraska secondary in last season's 45-31 win at the Capital One Bowl. Even if a knee injury will prevent Murray from appearing in the rematch, many of Georgia's major offensive players from that game are still around.
The announcement of the Gator Bowl matchup earned a lukewarm reception on both sides since the two teams met just a year ago, concluding more successful seasons for each club. They're both 8-4 this time following injury-riddled falls, so the decreased stakes make it a necessity for the coaching staffs to guard against complacency during bowl practices.
There is also the matter of starting off 2014 on a positive note.
“It's just another game, just another win that we hope to get,” said tailback Todd Gurley, who rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Cornhuskers last season. “It starts off the next year just right, just going into next season with a win.”
The good news on both sides is that preparation -- often an obstacle during bowl season since the teams are typically total strangers -- is a bit easier this time around.
Eight of Georgia's offensive starters in last season's Capital One Bowl -- all but Murray, injured tailback Keith Marshall and 2012 senior receiver Tavarres King -- should play an active role for the Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl. And Nebraska returns six starters from that game, including four starters -- safeties Corey Cooper and Andrew Green and cornerbacks Josh Mitchell and first-team All-Big Ten pick Ciante Evans -- in the secondary.
“There are not a lot of changes with either team, quite frankly, so I’m sure last year’s game is going to be very valuable for both coaching staffs to try to decide how to attack this year,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said at his Monday press conference.
The Cornhuskers haven't been as effective at defending the pass this season -- they rank 22nd nationally, allowing 205.8 yards per game through the air -- but they are still more than formidable in that department.
Georgia's passing game, meanwhile, remained just as effective. The Bulldogs average 313.8 passing yards per game, good for 16th nationally, and still have players who combined for three of Murray's five passing touchdowns against Nebraska.
One of them stands as perhaps the most memorable play of Chris Conley's career: when he took a tunnel screen 87 yards to give Georgia a two-touchdown lead and essentially seal the Bulldogs' win.
“I was definitely out of breath when I finished that run. It was fun,” Conley said. “Anyone could have scored right there. There was no one within 20 yards of me. If I would have gotten caught there, I would have been ragged on by all the guys.”
Certainly that play -- and the others that helped Murray torch Nebraska for 427 passing yards -- formed a bitter memory for the Cornhuskers who will get a rare second crack against their last bowl opponent. As Mason mentioned, the Bulldogs realize they'll need to be sharp on offense in the rematch since Nebraska's typically proud defense has something to prove after last season's lackluster performance.
“That will be fun because you know they'll definitely remember what happened last game and they'll definitely be eyeing us and keying in on us and ready for what we're going to throw at them,” Conley said. “So if they know it's coming, we still have to be able to execute it and be able to get those plays off.”
Now Murray is in position to join a select group of Georgia quarterbacks who defeated Florida three times in their careers -- a win that would be even sweeter since Murray is a Florida native who developed into a record-setting prospect at Tampa's Plant High School.
“Being from Florida, it always adds a little bit more -- always a lot of trash talking between me and friends from back home, which makes it a little bit more fun.”
College Football Hall of Famer Johnny Rauch led the Bulldogs to wins over Florida in all four seasons of his career (1945-48), while Buck Belue piloted Georgia to three wins between 1979 and 1981 -- including the legendary 1980 win, when he connected with Lindsay Scott on the game-winning 93-yard touchdown pass in the game's closing seconds.
According to Georgia's sports communications office, no other Bulldogs starting quarterback has more than two wins against the Gators dating to the 1940s, but Murray could join Rauch and Belue on Saturday.
He actually nearly has three wins against the Gators already. He led a furious second-half rally to force overtime as a freshman in 2010, but he tossed a costly interception that helped Florida escape with a 34-31 victory.
His stat line was not particularly impressive in Georgia's 24-20 win in 2011 (15-for-34 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and one interception), but he connected with Michael Bennett and Tavarres King on fourth-down touchdown passes to help claim the victory.
Then last year, Murray bounced back from one of the worst halves of his career -- he tossed three interceptions -- by going 8-for-16 for 116 yards and hitting Mitchell with the winning 45-yard touchdown pass with just over seven minutes to play.
Pushing the Bulldogs' winning streak in the series would be huge, Murray said, not just because Georgia hasn't beaten the Gators three straight times since 1987-89, but because Georgia needs a win of any sort.
“It would be awesome to win three in a row versus those guys. Yeah, it would be big,” Murray said. “It's just we need a win right now. We need to feel good about ourselves, need a win, get back on track and keep moving.”
Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC) and Florida (4-3, 3-2) both got a lift on Saturday night when South Carolina rallied to an overtime win against Missouri, handing the Tigers their first loss of the season. That helped the two-loss Bulldogs, Gators and Gamecocks all remain in the thick of the Eastern Division race, when a Mizzou win would have all but secured a division title for the Tigers.
“I think there's plenty of motivation going into this game, there's no doubt about that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said on his Sunday teleconference. “Anytime Georgia and Florida play in Jacksonville, it's a big event, it's a big deal, for sure. But knowing that we're still trying to win the East and we're needing help and all that kind of thing, [Missouri's loss] certainly provided some motivation for me, so I would imagine it'll provide motivation for the players, as well.”
The story of the season for both teams has been the long list of injuries that sunk their championship hopes, with eight season-ending injuries to Gators and a series of short- and long-term ailments to key offensive players taking the punch out of the Bulldogs' high-scoring offense.
But Richt said the chance to stay alive in the division race is more than enough reason for Saturday's game to be something besides a pity party.
“We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. I doubt Florida's feeling sorry for themselves,” Richt said. “I think both teams know if we win, we stay in the race for the East. So that's nothing to be feeling pitiful about.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Our first play is Murray’s 75-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tavarres King in the first quarter, which gave Georgia a 16-14 lead.
Here’s the breakdown:
The score: Nebraska 14, Georgia 9
The situation: Georgia has first-and-10 at its own 25 with about four minutes left in the first quarter
“It just ended up being a couple of yards underthrown and he did a great job of pretty much just boxing the guy out and making the catch and then finishing off the last, I think, 20 or 25 yards to get in the end zone,” Murray said.
Why it mattered: Nebraska had rallied from an early 9-0 deficit and took the lead on the previous play from scrimmage, when Cornhuskers linebacker Will Compton intercepted a Murray pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown to erase all of Georgia’s early momentum.
Murray got off to a bit of a shaky start with interceptions on two of Georgia’s first three drives, but he rallied in a big way to finish with 427 yards and five touchdowns. King’s touchdown helped kickstart that record-setting performance.
“They took the lead and over on the sideline, [offensive coordinator Mike] Bobo got on the headsets to me and said, ‘You good?’ I was like, ‘I’m fine.’ He said, ‘Do you want to run it or do you want to throw it?’ and I said, ‘Let’s just air it out. Let’s go for it,’ ” Murray said. “The next play, right after the kickoff return first play, he calls a deep post for Tavarres. They played the coverage we knew they would, he beat the corner over the top and I just threw it as far as I could and he caught it and touchdown.
“It was big. Not only was it a big play, great play, but also just the feeling was the momentum was shifted after the pick six and to get the momentum right back after that was huge for us to start the game off.
Playing it forward: Nebraska entered the game with the nation’s top pass defense, and Murray absolutely torched the Cornhuskers, continuing his turnaround against strong defenses that started in the second half against Florida.
After earning his first bowl win as a starting quarterback, Murray believes that win impacted Georgia’s offseason and built confidence that will carry over into this fall.
“Definitely it was a great game -- our first bowl win in three years,” Murray said. “It was a great feeling to get a bowl win, to head into an offseason with some momentum. ... Guys are confident, guys are feeling great after the season, especially after a tough loss against Alabama [in the SEC championship game]. To come back and win that game has really propelled us into a, like I said, a great offseason.”
2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, SEC East)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2
Top returners: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OL Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, ILB Amarlo Herrera
Key losses: OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, S Shawn Williams, S Bacarri Rambo, NG John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, WR Tavarres King
2012 statistical leaders (* - returner)
Rushing: Gurley * (1,385 yards)
Passing: Murray * (3,893 yards)
Receiving: King (950 yards)
Tackles: Alec Ogletree (111)
Sacks: Jones (14.5)
Interceptions: Swann * (4)
1. Safety starters: With 2011 All-Americans Rambo and Williams completing their college careers, the Bulldogs entered the spring with two big holes at safety. It appears sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and January enrollee Tray Matthews have all but claimed the starting positions, however. Harvey-Clemons was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of spring practice, and Matthews generated the most buzz of anyone this spring with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Georgia’s inexperience along the back end of the defense is not ideal, but the two youngsters could become a pleasant surprise.
A defense that lost 12 significant players will be a focal point well into the fall, and it was in our post-spring recaps. Let’s take a look at the defensive positions first:
Last year the Bulldogs nearly tied the previous program record, eight in 2002, by having seven players selected. They reached the record this year when safety Bacarri Rambo went to the Washington Redskins in the sixth round -- although several players who hoped to hear their names called Saturday went undrafted, including nose guard Kwame Geathers, who opted to skip his senior season in college to enter the draft.
Georgia players halted a conspicuous trend Thursday when outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (17th overall to Pittsburgh) and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (30th to St. Louis) were both picked in the first round. It had been eight years since Georgia had a defensive player picked in the first round, dating to when David Pollack and Thomas Davis were both first-rounders in 2005.
Defensive players dominated this draft class for Georgia, with seven of the eight picks having played under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham last season. Along with Jones, Ogletree and Rambo, nose guard John Jenkins (third round, New Orleans), safety Shawn Williams (third round, Cincinnati), cornerback Sanders Commings (fifth round, Arizona) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (sixth round, Chicago) were picked this year.
Receiver Tavarres King (fifth round, Denver) was Georgia's only offensive draft pick.
Shortly after the draft concluded, defensive end Abry Jones tweeted that he had signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Meanwhile, several other former Georgia players became available to sign with teams as undrafted free agents. In the next few days, Geathers, receiver Marlon Brown, cornerback Branden Smith and linebackers Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard could sign with teams via free agency.
Returning players/stats: Malcolm Mitchell, Jr. (nine starts, 40 catches, 572 yards, 4 TDs); Michael Bennett, Jr. (three starts, 24-345, 4 TDs); Chris Conley, Jr. (three starts, 20-342, 6 TDs); Rantavious Wooten, Sr. (15-187, 2 TDs); Rhett McGowan, Sr. (one start, 12-150, 1 TD); Justin Scott-Wesley, So. (6-135, 1 TD); Blake Tibbs, RFr. (redshirted in 2012)
Newcomers: Tramel Terry, Fr. (ESPN No. 89 overall prospect, No. 9 athlete, enrolled in January); Jonathon Rumph, Jr. (ESPN No. 7 junior college prospect, No. 1 juco wide receiver, enrolled in January); Reggie Davis, Fr. (ESPN No. 294 overall prospect, No. 45 wide receiver, expected to enroll this summer); Uriah LeMay, Fr. (No. 48 wide receiver, expected to enroll this summer); Rico Johnson, Fr. (No. 122 wide receiver, expected to enroll this summer)
“When I left there, I was just looking to have a good, fun college career and be able to play,” said Richt, who redshirted as a freshman in 2008 at Clemson before opting to spend his next four seasons at the NCAA Division II Baptist college.
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“I thought they looked great,” Richt said. “I don’t know what kind of times guys ran and all that kind of thing, but if you just look at their body types, how hard they’ve worked and just watched them do the drillwork and how smooth they looked, you could tell there’s going to be a bunch of Bulldogs out of this class make it in the league, and we’re excited about that for them.”
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia has had three players picked in the first round of the NFL draft in the last four years. None of them were defensive players, extending a strange streak of seven straight years in which the Bulldogs have not had a defender become a first-round pick.
That will almost certainly change on April 25, when the league opens its three-day draft at New York’s Radio City Music Hall -- Bulldogs defenders Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and John Jenkins are all first-rounders in ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft, while Ogletree and Jones are first-round picks in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock -- but Thursday’s pro day workouts at Georgia’s practice facility could greatly impact those projections.
It’s obviously a big day for Jones, who did not work out at the NFL combine in February, but that’s also the case for several of his former teammates who will participate in Georgia’s pro day. The Bulldogs are tied with Alabama and Florida State for the most players -- six -- ranked on ESPN Scouts Inc.’s list of the top 115 prospects in the draft -- Ogletree (No. 12), Jones (No. 16), Jenkins (No. 25), Bacarri Rambo (No. 86), Shawn Williams (No. 92) and Tavarres King (No. 115). Thursday’s pro day will surely be well attended by NFL scouts and personnel execs. It’s a perfect opportunity for ex-Bulldogs who don’t have the draft profile of an Ogletree or Jones to catch somebody’s eye.
Let’s take a look at three players who can each help his own cause at Thursday’s pro day workouts:
1thatguy: Who will be the surprise player of the season next year? Last year nobody at all talked about Todd Gurley before the season but he ended up being amazing. What players do you think have the potential to impress like that next year and have been under the radar?
Radi Nabulsi: That depends on what you mean by “under the radar.” Can a four-star recruit be considered a sleeper? Last fall we wrote extensively about Gurley and while few, if any, predicted he would lead all running backs in the SEC in total yards, it should not have been surprising that he started, considering how Gurley’s coaches and teammates raved about him. So let’s limit the scope to new signees, not in the ESPN 300, who could start next year. Those signees in the ESPN 300 are expected to contribute early so they would not really be a surprise.
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ATHENS, Ga. -- No Georgia offense has ever scored more frequently than the 2012 bunch that averaged 37.8 points per game and ranked among the nation’s most explosive units.
That sets the bar awfully high for a 2013 offense that returns 10 starters, but they know they must be even more ambitious this offseason if they are to match that production, much less exceed it.
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Here are five players worth watching between now and the G-Day game on April 6:
1. Josh Harvey-Clemons: The rising sophomore will essentially be a rookie when he jumps into the competition at both outside linebacker and safety this spring. He’ll play both positions this fall based on matchups according to coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Harvey-Clemons -- ESPN’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2012 signing class -- played almost exclusively in a nickelback role last season, so he has a lot to learn. His athleticism will give him the opportunity to become one of the Bulldogs’ most dynamic playmakers at his new spots.
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Top five SEC football players in 2015
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