I’m leaving later today to join the caravan on I-95, so I’m getting my say in a day earlier this week.
First, let’s get the obligatory picture out of the way:
Urban Meyer still wishes he'd have thought of this first.
OK, now we can move on to this year. For the most part, anyway. Here’s what I see as the keys to this year’s game.
- Withstand the early burst. I don’t think the Gators want to answer the Celebration with some sort of stunt of their own. I think what Meyer and the boys want to do instead is to come out and overwhelm Georgia from the opening kick with offensive speed, special teams and the unfortunate early turnover – something akin to what they were able to accomplish in Knoxville earlier this year. Georgia can’t be looking up at the short end of a 21-0 score at the end of the first quarter and expect to make that up.
- The long drive is your friend. I’m going to say something sacrilegious here: as much as I love the 68 yard touchdown runs and the long bombs to Green, I’m going to love the fourteen-play, eight plus-minute drives even more this Saturday. The more Stafford stays on the field, the less Tebow does. That’s a win-win in my book.
- Make the freakin’ tackles. By far the most troubling thing from the LSU game was the shoddy tackling we saw from the defense. Reshad Jones – I hope – has been frequently reminded this week that kill shots are only fine if they actually bring the ball carrier down.
- Sweat the small stuff. Special teams and turnovers. Florida blocks punts. Brandon James is the best punt returner Georgia will see this season. The Gators are +10 in turnover margin. Georgia needs to avoid losing any of these battles to win this game.
- Make Tebow throw the ball to beat you. I suspect the Gator offensive plan is to show the GPOOE™ the runner to open up the run for Demps and Rainey and to sell that funky bend-the-knee play action pass he does well. The Dawg defense can’t bite on this; job #1 is to get a handle on the Gator running game and dictate when Florida has to throw. The tackles have to do much better this week than they did against LSU’s Scott.
- Take advantage of the Florida secondary. I’m still not convinced they’re world beaters back there. They haven’t really been tested much this season by an offense that can run and throw, since LSU got run out of the Swamp early and couldn’t stick to a balanced offensive game plan. Bobo needs to follow up his brilliant game last week with another jewel.
As for the psychology of this game, I think it’s a little overblown, although, in a way, I hope it’s not. If Florida comes out too geeked up as a result of having the Celebration pushed in its face all week (hell, all year), that could backfire on it. But the real reason I don’t think it will matter too much is because of an excellent point Paul Westerdawg made here after last year’s WLOCP – by pulling that, Richt essentially wrote a check for this year’s game that this team is going to have to cash. He’s raised the stakes for his players and I can only hope that he’s using that to get the team ready. Given the fact that he’s been pushing most of the right buttons this year (except for the Blackout, ugh), I feel pretty good about that.
My bottom line for this week is the same as last week’s. If both teams show up to play, I think Stafford makes the difference and walks away with his second win in Jacksonville. And when’s the last time we could say that about a Georgia quarterback?