I spent part of last week in Gainesville and part in Athens putting together a show for the annual Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville. Both are great college towns and both seemed to be content that the match up between these two SEC teams won’t be coming to their stadiums anytime soon. Georgia fans do feel like it’s a bit of a road game, while Florida fans see it as a chance to see the Gators close to home.
In the Vince Dooley era, it was much different and had a more contentious feel because Georgia won 15 of 20 games while he was the head coach. Gator fans grumbled that it should be a home and home series. I haven’t heard that much from the Bulldog faithful, but after now 15 of 17 wins by Florida, I’m sure it’s getting a bit tiresome.
At the same time, moving the game to Athens probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of any of those games as evidenced by the 52-17 the Gators enjoyed there in 1995.
Dooley treated the annual Georgia/Florida game as a home contest, telling me “we just considered Jacksonville South Georgia and treated it that way.” Dooley and the ‘Dogs also recruited pretty heavily in South Georgia and in Jacksonville at the time so it helped to say you’d play close to home every year.
Steve Spurrier started his building of the Florida football team by concentrating on beating Georgia, a pivotal game on the SEC schedule and a starting point for the Gators to take some pride in the program. Florida won 11 of 12 games under Spurrier against Georgia, never letting the ‘Dogs get in the way of a run at the SEC title.
Urban Meyer is now 2-0 against Georgia, but neither game has been convincing or impressive. Last year Florida hung on for a 14-10 win and this year the defense proved to be the difference in the 21-14 victory.
I haven’t heard much about the “spread offense” that is good and even Meyer said after the Georgia game that he “hasn’t felt this way about an offense in six years as a head coach.”
Of course he feels that way. Soon he’ll figure out that he’s asking Chris Leak to do things that aren’t playing to his strengths and that defensive players in the SEC are just bigger, faster, stronger and better football players than at the two outposts he was stationed at before Gainesville. And Time Tebow isn’t going to be a magical fix for the spread either. He’s going to be a good college quarterback but not a dominating one in that offense in that conference.
Talk about Alex Smith all you want. Good player in the right situation on the right team in the right conference against the right opponents. He might not have made it through four years in that offense in the SEC considering the pounding he’d be taking every week.
This year’s Florida/Georgia contest was all about defense and most of it about the Gators defensive squad. They forced five turnovers in the game by Georgia and completely shut down the ‘Dogs offense and freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford in the first half. Head Coach mark Richt said he didn’t give Stafford a good enough plan, but the dropped passes and missed blocks didn’t help either. Stafford looked like a freshman at times, but he also made some excellent plays, only to be let down by his teammates.
As a coach you hope young players make enough positive plays in order to offset their mistakes. Stafford is moving in that direction. Georgia’s defeat was as much at their own hands as it was at the Gators’.
“That’s right,” Stafford told me post-game on Saturday night. “You can’t make mistakes like that and expect to win. And when you get chances, you have to take advantage of them. We didn’t do either.”
(By the way, Stafford is incredibly poised for a guy who just turned 18).
Georgia is going to be all right in the long run, but they’re taking their lumps right now. Florida has some high expectations, but getting out of the SEC should be their first priority. “We still have the SEC East to look at,” Meyer said after the game when asked about moving up in the polls (USC lost).
Vandy and South Carolina are up next with Spurrier coming to The Swamp on November 11th. Success there puts them in the title game the first weekend of December in Atlanta. If they want to get to the next level, Meyer is going to have to tweak his offense. This is the second week in a row the offense hasn’t scored in the second half.
And if they have National Championship hopes, he better have a couple of tricks up his sleeve.