Saturday’s clash with No. 8 Georgia couldn’t be much bigger for the No. 6 Gators. It’s a chance to secure their second victory over a top-10 opponent this season. The SEC East title is likely at stake. The winner will find themselves an upset of Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship Game away from a spot in the College Football Playoff. It’s an opportunity for UF (7-1, 4-1 SEC) to beat a heated rival for the first time in three years. A win would almost certainly gain the national respect that the Gators and their fans have wanted all year.
Exiting TIAA Bank Field with a victory will be anything but easy, however. The Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1) are one of the most talented teams in the country on paper and are hungry to prove that the East still runs through Athens.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness and three players to watch for from Georgia.
Three Positions of Strength
The good news for the Gators: the Bulldogs’ offense has become a bit one-dimensional in recent weeks. The bad news: that one dimension is extremely good. They lead the conference and are 16th in the country in rushing at 236.9 yards-per-game. D’Andre Swift could be the first running back taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s carried the ball 110 times for 754 yards (second in the conference) and seven touchdowns. His 6.8 yards-per-carry average is tops in the league among rushers with at least 100 carries. The Bulldogs also have quality depth behind Swift. Brian Herrien has added 311 yards and five scores on 53 carries, while Zamir White has tallied 245 yards and a pair of scores on 39 carries. UF’s defense has surrendered 435 yards on the ground over the past two games, so this should be an important matchup to watch.
This unit is absolutely gigantic, as all but one player on the two-deep weighs 315 pounds or more. Conversely, at 304 pounds, Kyree Campbell is UF’s only starting defensive lineman that weighs more than 275 pounds. The Bulldogs’ line has paved the way for a league-leading rushing attack and allowed quarterback Jake Fromm to be sacked just four times, fewest in the conference among quarterbacks who have started all season. They do have one apparent flaw, however. Despite their size, they couldn’t score on six attempts inside UF’s 1-yard line in last year’s game, and they’ve been stopped a couple of times in short-yardage situations over the past couple of weeks. The Gators need to get consistent pressure on Fromm, but doing so will be a difficult challenge.
Thanks in large part to the tackle rotation of Tyler Clark, Devonte Wyatt, Michael Barnett and Jordan Davis, Georgia ranks first in the SEC and fifth in the country in rushing defense at 85.8 yards-per-game. They’re allowing just three yards-per-carry and have yet to concede a rushing touchdown this season. Florida’s struggling offensive line has made big strides over the past few games, but it’s going to take a lot for them to have success running the ball against this defensive front.
Three Positions of Weakness
For as good as the tackles have been, the ends haven’t produced much. The Bulldogs rank just 10th in the league with 16 sacks and tied for 11th with 39 tackles-for-loss, continuing a problem that they also experienced last season. Travon Walker is the only player listed on the depth chart as an end with a sack, and he has only half of one. The Bulldogs have to blitz their linebackers and defensive backs to generate pressure, which could hurt them in coverage against the Gators’ deep receiving corps.
Georgia likes to use their tight ends as extra blockers in the running game and doesn’t involve them that much as receivers. Starter Charlie Woerner has caught just four passes for 15 yards, while top reserve Eli Wolf has contributed nine receptions for 116 yards. John FitzPatrick has one catch for 22 yards. None of them have caught a touchdown this season. For a comparison, UF tight end Kyle Pitts has nearly tripled the production of all three of them combined with 35 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns. The Bulldogs exploited UF’s linebackers in coverage in last season’s game with tight end Isaac Nauta. Without him, the Bulldogs don’t have the same capability.
For as much as UGA has dominated the recruiting trail, wide receiver is the one position where they haven’t done a great job of stockpiling talent. As a result, they’re relying almost entirely on freshmen and transfers. Their receivers aren’t bad by any means, but they don’t have those one or two game-changing players that strike fear into defenses. Freshman George Pickens leads the way with 23 catches for 318 yards and two scores. Miami transfer Lawrence Cager has made 19 receptions for 245 yards and three touchdowns. California transfer Demetris Robertson and freshman Dominick Blaylock are the only other wideouts with touchdowns.
Three Players to Watch
Running Back D’Andre Swift
UF coach Dan Mullen said Swift is one of, if not the best, running backs in the country. UGA is going to lean on him heavily. In their last game against Kentucky, he accounted for 179 of their 270 total yards. In last year’s matchup, he helped the Bulldogs break open a close game late by rushing for 104 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. Expect him to receive at least double the amount of carries on Saturday. He’s an explosive runner who has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field and break off a long touchdown on any given play. All he needs is a little crease, and he’s gone. Mullen said the key for his defense is having multiple players swarm to the ball because it’s unlikely that one person is going to bring him down.
Quarterback Jake Fromm
Fromm entered this season with some experts predicting him to be a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Instead, he’s put together a very pedestrian season, at least statistically. He’s completed 70.7 percent of his passes for 1,406 yards and nine touchdowns. UF’s Kyle Trask has thrown for 15 fewer yards and five more touchdowns in 2 ¾ less games. Against South Carolina, Fromm threw his only three interceptions of the season. The following week, he threw for only 35 yards amid heavy rainfall. Will he bounce back against Florida?
Linebacker Azeez Ojulari
On a defense that has struggled to make impact plays, Ojulari is their biggest playmaker. He leads them with 3.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. He’s registered 24 quarterback hurries, which is more than double the next closest on the team. He ranks sixth on the Bulldogs with 20 tackles. UF’s had a problem with turnovers this season; if that continues against UGA, there’s a good chance Ojulari will be in the middle of it.