2013 wasn’t supposed to be like this for Florida. 2013 wasn’t supposed to be like this for Georgia. Florida had the play makers for a clear shot at winning the SEC East and getting back to a BCS Bowl. Georgia could have won the SEC Championship this year even if they didn’t have a defense. But something scarier than Michael Meyers happened to both these teams this season. Something no team wishes on anyone: they got bit by the injury bug. And bit badly. Both teams have seen roughly 20 starters lost for either the season or an extended period of time. Now, both teams come into the World’s Largest Outdoor Rehabilitation Session sitting 4-3, unranked, and riding a two-game losing streak. Winner of Saturday’s game stays barely alive in the SEC East race. Loser limps through the rest of their season just hoping to get to a bowl game. So let’s see who’ll be the first to break in this sure to be ugly, frustrating, and probably down to the wire matchup.
Key Injuries for Saturday
Florida has seen 8 players go down to season-ending injuries this season, 5 of them being starters. Most notably those include quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones, and defensive lineman Dominique Easley. Florida got more bad news this week as Will Muschamp announced left tackle D.J. Humphries is out 2-4 weeks to an MCL sprain. Taking his spot will be redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore, who struggled significantly at his usual right tackle spot against Missouri two weeks ago, especially when he was matched up with Tigers defensive end Michael Sam. Junior transfer Trenton Brown will be at right tackle this week, while Max Garcia might also see action at left tackle. Quarterback Tyler Murphy who’s been playing through an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder is fine and has practiced all week.
Linebacker Ronald Powell, who missed the Missouri game after injuring his ankle at LSU will be good to go along with defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who suffered a head injury. Having Jacobs back is big for Florida’s run defense this week.
Georgia saw some of their most valuable offensive weapons go down to ACL injuries early in the year, including wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, as well as running back Keith Marshall. Luckily, they have the luxury of tailback Todd Gurley to make up for Marshall’s loss. Gurley missed the last three games to an ankle injury, but Mark Richt has confirmed that he is expected to play Saturday. If Gurley is in fact 100% that doesn’t bode well for Florida. Last season Gurley was the only running back all year that was able to rush for over 100 yards against Florida’s defense. Wide receiver Chris Conley is doubtful for Saturday and safety Tray Matthews is listed as questionable. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is cleared to play after injuring his foot two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
Which Aaron Murray Will We Get?
If there’s any team that has Aaron Murray’s number, it’s Florida. He has struggled mightily against Florida year after year, and has played some of his worst games of his career against each Gator defense he’s faced. In 2010 he had his lowest completion percentage (48.6) of the year, and threw three picks in a 34-31 OT loss. In 2011 he completed just 44% of his passes and threw for just 169 yards. Last season he threw three picks—all of them thrown in the first half. Overall, Murray has more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6) in the series.
2013 had high expectations for Murray. His entire offensive line returned from 2012, and he had an arsenal of talented wide receivers to throw to. He was even voted 1st Team All-SEC by the coaches, ahead of both A.J. McCarron and reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. But Murray has been relatively inconsistent throughout the season. He was brilliant against South Carolina in Week 2 throwing four touchdowns with no interceptions. He led the Dawgs to a big win over LSU while throwing four touchdowns. But in his last two games he has been sub par, throwing a combined three interceptions and throwing them at inopportune times. One of those against Missouri came at the first play of the would-be game tying drive with 4:25 left in the fourth. Two weeks ago against Vandy, he threw one with less than 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, sealing a 31-27 upset Commodore victory.
If Gurley can’t run the ball against Florida’s defense, the pressure will be on Murray to open up the passing attack. With an already depleted receiving corps and having to face the country’s third ranked pass efficiency defense, throwing the ball may be easier said than done. Not to mention the Gator secondary leads the SEC in interceptions with 7.
Will the Real Florida Defense Please Stand Up
Florida’s rush defense lost some of its swagger in its last two games. Before facing LSU and Missouri, Florida was allowing just 65 yards on the ground per game. But they gave up a combined 380 yards the last two games. A healthy Gurley sees these numbers and smiles.
If Florida can contain Georgia’s rushing attack, it’s Murray’s job to put points on the board. His receivers are already banged up, and his offensive line ranks third in the SEC in sacks allowed. Florida is grateful to have Powell back this week, as he leads the team in quarterback hurries even after sitting out against Missouri. Sophomore defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. will provide plenty of pressure on Murray—he leads the defense with three sacks and eight tackles for a loss.
Pressure up front will help out the Florida secondary this week. The unit gave up a good chunk of yardage in the last two times out, and they only managed one interception in Columbia. If Murray makes some poor decisions under pressure, Saturday could turn into the World’s Largest Outdoor Interception Party. If history teaches us anything, a Gator secondary is usually not kind to Murray.
Florida’s Offense: The Walking Dead
Florida’s offense looked nothing short of putrid against Missouri two weeks ago. From poor offensive line play to questionable play-calling, it was an outing that made you want to pull your hair out. If you want some perspective, take a looksee at this graphic from the Missouri game. But be warned, it’ll make any progress you made of moving on from that offensive performance go down the tubes.
In the last eight quarters, Florida has had just two touchdowns—and one of those came from a kickoff return. That’s uh, not good folks.
If the offensive line doesn’t get better this week, the offense could look just as frustrating as it did in Columbia. Georgia’s front seven has 16 sacks on the year, right behind Mizzou who leads the SEC in sacks. The injury to D.J. Humphries reshuffles things along the o-line, but hopefully the bye week helped resolve some issues up front.
If line play doesn’t improve, Murphy could have some real trouble facilitating the offense. He looked comfortable and poised in his first two starts this season, but lacked the time to stand in the pocket and make things happen down the field against the LSU and Missouri fronts. Wide receiver Solomon Patton has emerged as a big time play maker, and he’s looking to enjoy his Cocktail Party a little more than last year’s where he suffered a broken arm, ending his 2012 season. Against Mizzou he had a career-high 221 all-purpose yards, including a 100-yard kickoff return. He’s currently averaging 15 yards per reception, too. Trey Burton had a silent last two outings with just three catches for less than 30 yards in each.
The run game will rely heavily on true freshman Kelvin Taylor this week. Muschamp confirmed Thursday evening on the Gator Hotline that Taylor would get the start Saturday. He racked up 74 yards and a touchdown against Missouri, and that was with Taylor at the reserve spot behind Mack Brown. Against LSU he rushed for 52 yards on 10 carries. With Taylor as the starting back and an offensive line that struggles with pass protection, this could be the most run heavy offensive scheme we’ve seen all season from Florida. Georgia’s defense allows 151 yards on the ground per game.
SEC East Implications
The SEC East race reached a new level of chaos last Saturday with a wild 27-24 South Carolina victory over Missouri in double overtime. With the loss, Missouri now has a one-game lead in the East, with games against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M remaining on their schedule. South Carolina is in second, with games against Mississippi State and Florida still looming. The Florida Georgia game still surprisingly has some implications for the SEC East. They are both currently tied for third in the East. Along with Georgia, Florida still has Vanderbilt and South Carolina remaining. Georgia’s last two conference games include Auburn and Kentucky.
All four of these teams have an opportunity to go to Atlanta in December, but there are a number of things that need to happen. Here are the following scenarios for each teams:
Missouri: If Missouri wins its final four SEC games, the Tigers would clinch the East. If they finish a tie with Georgia or Florida, they will make it to Atlanta. But a tie with South Carolina would not.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks go to Atlanta if they win their final SEC games, and Missouri loses once. They also need a Florida win over Georgia Saturday.
Florida: Florida wins the East if they win all three of their last SEC games, and they need Missouri to lose two more games.
Georgia: Georgia goes if they win their final three games, and Missouri loses two more times
This pretty much covers most of the possibilities for the SEC East race, but there is a chance that all four teams could finish with three conference losses. If that happens, it might as well be the modern day apocalypse.
Both teams may be 4-3. Both teams may be unranked and barely within grasp of the East. But it’s Florida Georgia. A rivalry that will always have that spark of intensity regardless of circumstances. Muschamp is hungry for his first ever win in the series. He’s currently a combined 0-6, as a Georgia safety and Florida head coach. Is this the year he gets it done?
Kickoff for the 91st Florida-Georgia game is set for 3:30. And I now leave you with this awesome hype video. And if you’ll be in Jacksonville for the game, maybe you’ll get to meet yours truly, your favorite Our Two Bits blogger! Follow me on twitter for updates from Jax all weekend @Morgan_Moriarty
Morgan Moriarty is a third year Telecommunications major at the University of Florida, and covers college football and recruiting for Florida Sports Talk Radio. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter here @Morgan_Moriarty