A Pic from the Game

November 3, 2008

There’s 10:24 to go on the clock, and this says it all. You can tell where the Georgia players’ families sit.

Link to the full size image.


49-10

November 2, 2008

I fired up my DVR to take a look at the game on TV this evening (Sunday) after finally getting home to Charlotte from Jacksonville, and I saw… Miami. And Virginia. And not Florida and Georgia.

You see, the local CBS affiliate in the Queen City is the ACC Raycom affiliate, and Miami and Virginia went long. The Florida game picked up about six minutes into the game, just in time to see the drive that led to Georgia’s first missed field goal. Overall I’m not happy about it because I don’t like to miss any part of games I record, but it ultimately doesn’t matter since no points were scored during that time I missed.

A lot of things went right at the beginning for Florida, and they just pulled away in the second half as mistakes by Georgia mounted. Of course it had nothing to do with the players, but it was totally the refs handing Florida the game. That’s what the Georgia fan in the halftime concession stand line said, and he’s not alone in asserting that. It’s just completely about how SEC refs hate Georgia.

So back in reality, I have watched just enough to see the Gators’ second touchdown. It is the one where it was initially called a TD, then reversed, then Tebow plunged it in on fourth down. It reminded me of Georgia’s first touchdown last season where Moreno’s run had to be reviewed. It’s a perfect example of why telling your team to get a penalty after a touchdown is a bad idea: it can always be reversed by review.

I don’t know if I’ll do an in depth analysis of this one since it would be a catalog of UGA mistakes and the ways Florida capitalized on them. The longest second-half drive the Gator starters had was just 56 yards, and they scored four touchdowns before ceding to Brantley and the backups for their 66-yard scoring drive.

Georgia moved the ball well, and there was never a time where I felt confident that the Gators could keep the Bulldogs from crossing the 50 yard line. Still though, they always had to cross the 50-yard line; their best starting field position was at their own 40 after a kickoff went out of bounds. Florida decidedly won the field position game, and it made the big plays when they needed to be made.

Florida basically did nearly everything right and Georgia did about everything wrong they could have done wrong. It really doesn’t get simpler than that. That has been the final analysis for each of the past four Florida games, so I’m beginning to think it’s not all a coincidence.


Weekend Gator Bites

October 31, 2008

Over at Team Speed Kills I did a debate with T. Kyle King from DawgSports.com. It’s a little long, but it was a lot of fun to do.

The newest Gators inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame are Willie Jackson and Fred Taylor. Congrats to both, and both were great players in their day. The Georgia inductees are Gene Washington and Eric Zeier.

Be sure to get to the stadium early if you’re going because there will be a Jacksonville edition of the Gator Walk.
It is starting at 1:30 and will be at Gate 1 in the southwest corner of the stadium.


Florida-Georgia: The Serious Preview

October 31, 2008

Well, I had my fun yesterday, but it’s time to do this for real.

A lot of people have gone through the numbers of the teams so far, as well as what is on the line. That much everyone knows, so I’m going to skip that if that’s all right with everyone.

I have been attending Florida football games since I was four years old in 1989, and I’ve been to a good number of Georgia games along the way. I am very fortunate to have a father who’s had season tickets since 1978.

I spoke to him last night, and I could tell in his voice that he wants this weekend’s game badly. But then, he always wants Georgia games badly.

He went to college at UF in the ’70s and as I mentioned has had season tickets all throughout the ’80s. He can remember the way Vince Dooley had tremendous success against Florida year in and year out, the Buck Belue/Lindsay Scott play, and the way Herschel Walker ran all over the Gators.

Well, Vince Dooley coached just three seasons in my lifetime. Herschel left school before my older brother was born. Belue found Scott before my parents even found each other. In other words, the greatest moments for Georgia in the series all happened before my time.

Don’t confuse me for those Gator fans who think that nothing occurred in the rivalry before 1990 though. I have read up a lot on the history of the series, and I am well aware of the way that Georgia has dominated it for long stretches. I’ve read the tales, heard the stories, and seen the scores.

That said, there’s a difference between head knowledge and experience. I simply had not experienced any of it, so I knew about it, but didn’t know it. The couple times that Florida lost to Georgia in 1997 and 2004, I was upset like after any loss. They were right after Florida won national championships though, and the 2004 game was during week that Ron Zook got fired, so that softened it a bit. And since Georgia wasn’t in the habit of beating Florida that often, they didn’t feel that different from losses to LSU or Auburn.

I could remember FSU and Tennessee both taking home national titles and winning games that prevented UF from doing so. Georgia had years when it had better teams than Florida, 2002 immediately jumps to mind, but Florida just kept on winning. You even had the 2005 season where the Gators almost certainly would have lost had D.J. Shockley not missed the game with injury. It was the only game he missed that year.

Florida’s winning trend under three different coaches definitely had an effect on the Bulldog side from what I could tell. I mean, after the 2005 game a Georgia fan came up to the section of the Gator Band I was in as we left the stadium and said, “What’s the matter? How come you didn’t win by more?”

Granted the guy was probably plastered beyond belief, but those aren’t the words of a confident fanbase. That was supposed to be the year that the very streaky series would turn, but the extremely unfortunate timing of Shockley’s injury kept that from happening.

I bring all of that up because last season changed everything. It wasn’t just that Georgia won; that had happened twice before in my memory. It was the first time that I can remember where the Bulldogs were the aggressor, and where Florida wasn’t the bully. It’s not just related to the celebration incident, though that was a huge part of it, but the way the Bulldogs carried themselves in general throughout.

Georgia reignited things and made it a real rivalry again. The entire generation of Gator fans who were born from about 1980 on got to actually experience what used to happen. We knew that Steve Spurrier hated Georgia for a number of reasons, and we actually got to feel where that came from. But it wasn’t just Gator fans of Generation Y that the game was significant for.

When Urban Meyer came to UF, he did everything possible to embrace the school. He instituted the Gator Walk, started having the players sing the alma mater and fight song with the band after games, and even began referring to FSU solely as “The School out West.” He tried his best to talk the talk and walk the walk.

However, he hadn’t fully lived the Gator experience in the way that Spurrier did or any of the fans do. How could he? He spent all of his life in the upper Midwest except for brief coaching stints at Colorado State and Utah. He heard that Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU were the big rivals so he talked about them and prepared for them as such. But did they have extra meaning? Probably some as time went on, but likely not to a significant degree.

The celebration last season changed that. Meyer now has a reason to hate Georgia like Spurrier did. Whether he can parlay that into an amazing streak of success is anyone’s guess. However, anecdotal reports from people who say they know players indicate that he’s not just been his normal intense self at practice this week. He’s angry, and that could make all the difference.

Most folks are predicting a shootout tomorrow. Those prognostications bring to my mind the stat that the 72 combined points of last year’s game are the highest total ever in the series. These two teams aren’t exactly known for producing shootouts.

In fact, ever notice how when two highly-ranked teams come together with good offenses and everyone predicts a high-scoring shootout it usually doesn’t materialize? It happens quite a lot outside of this year’s Big 12 (see: Texas 45 – Oklahoma 35, etc.). I just get the feeling that we’re about to see that effect happen.

I expect to see a close game throughout, with neither team taking more than about a 10-point lead and certainly no more than 14. I would also be surprised to see both teams break 30. They each have good offenses sure, but they each have good defenses too. As long as Florida keeps getting production from its defensive line and Georgia fixes the bad tackling from the LSU game, these two won’t have much trouble keeping the score from getting out of hand.

I’m driving down to the game from Charlotte and staying Saturday night in a place up in Nassau County that doesn’t have reliable cell phone signal, much less a good Internet connection. I’m driving back up on Sunday, so this will be my last transmission for the weekend. No matter who wins or loses it’s always a great time in Jacksonville, so I hope the game remains there for a long time into the future.

As long as Florida’s offensive line gives Tim Tebow time and the running backs holes, I would expect a Florida win. That scenario would ensure the Gators could keep up when the Bulldogs score and take advantage of the times when they don’t. The six sacks that Georgia got last season jump out the most of any defensive stats for the game.

If you press me for a prediction, I’ll say Florida takes it 31-26. By no means am I discounting Georgia though; its a great team that has earned its top ten ranking. I’ve just seen Florida make far more improvements than Georgia has made since last season, and it was a just a five-point game for much of the fourth quarter.

Go Gators!


Florida-Georgia: The Smack Talk Preview

October 30, 2008

Florida and Georgia play this weekend in Jacksonville in one of the most unique environments in college football. Half of the stadium is red, half is blue, and there’s a distinct line between them.

This game has almost always been played at a neutral site, though some talk has arisen every now and then about moving it back to the campuses. There hasn’t been much discussion along those lines in recent years though. Why you ask?

Well, the Jaguars coming to Jacksonville in the 1990s allowed the teams to play on the schools’ campuses for the first time since the 1930s. The reason is because the old Gator Bowl had to be renovated into an NFL-caliber stadium. The results?

1994, in Gainesville: Florida 52 – Georgia 14

1995, in Athens: Florida 52 – Georgia 17

So much for that talk. Florida becoming the first team ever to score 50 in Athens put a real quick end to the discussion from the northern side of the rivalry. So, it will be played on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville instead.

By the way, do you know why the St. Johns River flows north? Because Georgia sucks.

Bulldogs like to talk history in the series. Usually that history they tell has a big gap between Herschel and Knowshon, but whatever. Let’s talk history. They’re very proud of the fact that Georgia has the lead in the all-time series of 46-37-2.

That’s nice, but they don’t tell you that a good chunk of those wins came in the leather helmet days. In college football’s modern era, which began in 1946, Florida owns the lead 33-28-1. If you’re counting along at home, that means 18 of Georgia’s wins came before the game as we know it fully crystallized.

Despite the UGA win last season, Florida has still won 15 of the last 18 in the series, a dominating streak by any standards. Bulldogs usually retort “but it’s 2-2 in the last four,” completely ignoring the fact the first of those wins came against a team whose coach was fired the week of the game. Nope, no extenuating circumstances there.

They probably do this out of a love of their current coach, Mark Richt. He’s a stand up guy and I really can’t complain about much he’s done. He wasn’t even the mastermind of last year’s celebration incident; that honor goes to his dopey players who somehow took a simple directive about acting excited after the first touchdown way off the deep end.

You see, Mark Richt is the only head coach in Georgia history to have a losing record against three different Florida head coaches. He was 0-1 against Steve Spurrier, 1-2 against Ron Zook, and he’s 1-2 against Urban Meyer. He also lost out on a chance for a national title in 2002 by taking his only loss to Florida and watching undefeated Miami and Ohio State play for it all. In other words, he was far more of a thorn in Florida’s side as an assistant at FSU than he’s been as Georgia’s head coach.

When this weekend comes and the two schools’ faithful descend on Duval County, I will be there among them. I will be consciously avoiding anything red and/or black because there’s only so much inane barking by human beings I can stand without losing my faith in humanity. That, and relentless talk of Gators wearing jeans shorts, despite the fact I will be wearing long pants and it’s a tired old line from over a decade ago that they have yet to muster up the creativity to replace.

I expect to see a great game from way, way up there (row CC of the upper deck), and who knows? Maybe the listening and comprehension skills of Georgia’s players will have advanced far enough that they won’t again do something flagrant that is in no way what their coaches intended for them to do.

Then again, Georgia could also write a real fight song instead of ripping off an old folk song. Which is to say, don’t hold your breath on it. The smart ones have already got out…


Florida-Georgia Preview: Common Opponents

October 28, 2008

Despite playing in the same division of the same conference, Florida and Georgia have played just two common opponents thus far in the season: Tennessee and LSU. That is mostly because Georgia always plays South Carolina and Vandy at the beginning of the season, while Florida always plays them at the end.

The games against those common opponents for both UF and UGA were played under different circumstances, but I am going to try to pull some insight out of them to help preview this weekend’s game.

Tennessee

The biggest difference between the games Florida and Georgia had with the Vols is that UF got them in Neyland while UGA got them in Athens. Plus, Florida faced Jonathan Crompton at quarterback instead of Nick Stephens, for whatever that’s worth. About the only other thing to mention is that Florida played Tennessee before the collapse of UT football was fully evident, while Georgia caught them reeling at 2-4.

You may recall that the Florida-Tennessee game sparked a lot of debates about the new clock rules. Both teams were intent on controlling the ball and slowing down the game, with a result that neither team reached 60 total offensive plays in the contest.

The 30-6 final score was more indicative of the pace than the way the game actually went. Florida jumped out to a 20-0 first half lead and pushed it to 27-0 before finally settling in to the 30-6 end score. However, Florida punted only once before garbage time, and the Gators had one final drive to run out the clock where they could have scored if they wanted to. If the game had been played at a normal pace with a normal amount of plays, UF could have scored a lot more.

The 26-14 final of the Georgia-Tennessee game was not really indicative of the distance between the teams, but it was indicative of the fact that the Bulldogs never fully put the Vols away until late in the fourth quarter when a field goal pushed the score to its final amount. Tennessee pulled to within six late in the third quarter, and an early fourth quarter field goal for the Bulldogs didn’t completely put the game out of reach mathematically. A nine-point lead with 14:00 to go isn’t that big in college football.

Georgia was a lot more impressive on the stat sheet, and it was Matthew Stafford’s first 300-yard passing game of his career. However penalties, dropped passes, and missed opportunities on defense kept the game from ever getting out of hand. Tennessee was never out of it far enough to lose hope, but if you watched the game you know they weren’t fully in it the whole time either.

We’ve seen two Georgia teams this year: Good Georgia, which mimics the team of the second half of 2007, and Sloppy Georgia, which mimics the team of the first half of 2007. This was definitely Sloppy Georgia.

LSU

As with Tennessee, LSU met the two teams under differing circumstances. This time it was Florida’s turn to be at home with Georgia going on the road to see the Tigers. Florida was the first team to really unmask the LSU defense, putting up 51 points, but Georgia did them one better by putting up 52 after everyone knew the Tiger D was shaky.

Florida’s defense was the big factor in allowing UF to jump out to an early lead. A tipped ball allowed Percy Harvin to score a 70-yard TD of course, a play that kind of knocked the wind out of the Tigers, but it was stuffing the run and forcing punts that made 17 first quarter points possible. Les Miles would say after the game that Florida had gone up by 17 before the Tigers could catch their breaths, indicating that the outburst effectively KO’d LSU for the rest of the game. LSU would pull to within 20-14, but a quick TD drive after that put LSU away for good.

Florida eventually gave up 321 yards in the game and held LSU to 3.1 yards per rush. The Tigers’ third touchdown came after a fumble on a passing play that really shouldn’t have been called given the Gators’ 41-14 fourth quarter lead at the time. This one easily could have been 54-14 or worse.

I didn’t get to see much of the Georgia-LSU game I must confess. After the Florida-Kentucky game I went to a friend’s house to watch more games and, me living in Charlotte and all, the house was full of Hokies watching VT-FSU. I did see a bits of it, and it seemed like every time I flipped over to it, Georgia had the ball and was driving.

I trust the DawgSports review of the game, because the folks over there do a great job of covering the “Classic City Canines” as they are wont to call them. The major concern of the game was some missed tackles, and that bears out in the box score.

LSU put up 497 yards of offense and averaged 4.6 yards per rush. Many of those yards came after the game was already decided (take your pick – either when UGA went up 38-17 in the third or 45-24 in the fourth), just like many of the Tigers’ 38 points did. Still, it was not as dominating of a defensive performance by Georgia as Florida had against LSU. At the same time this one was a road game for Georgia, whereas Florida got LSU in front of what was by nearly every account the rowdiest Swamp atmosphere in a while.

Nevertheless, this was an appearance by Good Georgia.

Conclusion

Florida definitely had the better showing against Tennessee, and the performances by the two teams against LSU are basically equal (though I’d give Florida a slight edge). The differing circumstances keep the comparisons from being exact, but at least with these two opponents, the Gators have had more success. Georgia, to its credit, has had the good sense to lose to a currently undefeated team rather than a currently .500 team.

The game this Saturday is a completely different animal. There will be no Tigers or Vols in sight (though the random Miami Guy will probably be there). It will just be Bulldogs and Gators, and there’s more coming on that matter later this week.


Another Gag Order

October 27, 2008

After players talked some trash in public before the Miami and Tennessee games, it appears that Urban Meyer has issued a preemptive strike against it by issuing a blanket gag order on the team. Or, at least, the Associated Press thinks so.

The theory stems from a sound bite Brandon Spikes made after the Kentucky game where he said he wouldn’t comment on the celebration because he didn’t want to get in trouble. Such a gag order, if it exists and Spikes wasn’t just trying to be funny, would fit in with his prior maneuvers surrounding player comments. Meyer is one of the most paranoid coaches in the game, which is why he tries to keep his players from talking smack and why he leaves his starters in games longer than most do.

Tim Tebow only said it would fire him up and that’s it. Percy Harvin said that Florida wouldn’t try to do a similar display, something they team has said since last year and that’s never been in doubt. Brandon Hicks is the only other Gator quoted in the piece, and he basically just said they got rattled by the celebration last year and that they’ve had this game circled for a while.

On the Georgia side of things, Mark Richt is steadfastly refusing to talk about it, referring everyone to what he said during SEC media days. LB Rennie Curran just said some boilerplate material about how Florida is a good team and that the Bulldogs are going to try their best.

Meyer for his part tried to downplay it, saying that it was “old news” and had nothing to do with this year’s game. That is in direct conflict with things he said over the summer and in the book that Buddy Martin wrote about him. In those cases, he said it was a big deal and something he’d never forget. I would expect a good number of folks from the UGA commentary community to jump all over that and try to say that he’s a liar, or duplicitous, or some stuff like that.

I really just think that’s his way of trying not to answer questions about it everyday until the game. It won’t work; he’ll likely be asked about it more days than he won’t this week. I guess he figures he’d give it a shot an establish a precedent for avoiding the issue for the rest of October.

Behind closed doors though, I have no doubt that the celebration last year is being used by the Florida coaching staff. Meyer is a master motivator, and I seriously doubt that he’d forgo using something so perfect for getting the guys amped up for this game. Not that the fact the SEC East and the rest of the season are on the line isn’t enough.

Things are going well for Florida right now. They are peaking and getting healthier at the same time. They rolled up 63 points with Harvin getting only three touches for goodness sake. Meyer even hinted that he’s having trouble keeping the team from being too amped for the game saying, “I’m emphasizing with our players that we don’t play this thing until Saturday at 3:30.”

Motivation is no trouble for either side in this one. The winner is in the driver’s seat for the SEC East, with the loser needing the other to collect two improbable losses to go to Atlanta. The winner is also still in the national title race for that matter too.

What happened in the first quarter of last year’s game doesn’t need to be even discussed for both the Gators and Bulldogs to be at their best on Saturday. Yet still, I have a feeling it will be a theme all week. We’ll see.