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Florida vs. Georgia: Do the Gators stand a chance against the formidable Dawgs?

Florida is a massive underdog against the defending national champions. How could they angle for an upset?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 LSU at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

An open week is always a great time to reset, make some improvements, and prepare for the rest of the season. But while I’m sure Florida took full advantage of the off week, the Gators unfortunately come out of it facing their toughest opponent of the season.

The Georgia Bulldogs are the number one team in the country in both major polls. They are second only to Alabama in team talent. And, despite what rival fan bases may say, they are well-coached.

Winning this game, or even keeping it close, is going to take a great effort from the Gators. As of the time of this writing, Florida is a 22.5 point underdog. When you look at the numbers, you can see why.

Florida vs. Georgia Statistical Comparison

Team Florida Gators Georgia Bulldogs
Team Florida Gators Georgia Bulldogs
Category Number Rank Number Rank
YPP Offense 7.2 5 7.26 4
YPP Defense 5.96 105 4.43 8
Available Yards % O 56.00% 28 70.30% 4
Available Yards % D 61.90% 125 29.20% 5
Third Downs O 42.50% 49 52.38% 8
Third Downs D 52.58% 130 29.47% 12
Explosive Plays O 42 31 46 19
Explosive Plays D 35 77 16 2
Turnover Margin 1 60 3 43
Average Starting Field Postion Own 26 120 29 46
Player Average Rank Player Average Rank
Team Talent Composite 89.86 12 93.35 2

Georgia bests Florida in every statistical category. The Bulldogs have a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense in most major metrics. The Florida offense has been pretty good this year, even with a couple of clunkers thrown in there. Unfortunately, the Gators defense has been quite poor.

The turnover margin will be a big key if Florida is to have a chance in this game. While Georgia is sitting at +3 for the entire season, they did have some issues in their closest games. Against both Kent State and Missouri, Georgia was -2 in the turnover margin. That margin allowed those teams to keep it close. Georgia’s average margin of victory in games in which it lost the turnover battle is 10.5; in the five games in which the Bulldogs won or tied the turnover battle, their average margin of victory is a staggering 41.1 points.

Scheme Thing We Might See

There is a fine line to walk in year one of a coaching tenure between getting your schemes in and winning football games. You can adopt a long-term approach, say “This is the scheme I run, that’s why I was successful and got this job, and that’s what I’m going to run regardless of results,” and install everything even if being painstaking is painful.

You could also say “My scheme doesn’t quite fit the personnel here, I’m going to have to tweak it to maximize my chances of winning this season, and I will sacrifice some groundwork for some good wins,” and hope that pragmatism pays off.

I think that Florida lies somewhere in the middle of those approaches in 2022, and on both sides of the ball. While this is not something we will know for sure until a few years down the line, I believe the coaching staff is trying to have the best of both worlds.

They are obviously installing their schemes and systems. Florida is doing different things than Florida did last season, using different personnel groupings and different schemes. That is probably most obvious on offense, where Billy Napier’s stuff doesn’t really look all that much like Dan Mullen’s.

One thing that hasn’t made its way over from previous stops, though, especially on defense, is aggressiveness. While Florida does blitz and play man coverage more than you think, it doesn’t seem to be as aggressive as the defenses we saw at Louisiana.

Florida looks more like Louisiana on offense, but the Gators also brought in some key players on that side of the ball in the offseason. The defense is relatively the same as last year from a personnel standpoint.

I believe — and I could be totally wrong — that Florida’s plan this year was to play a little more conservatively on defense. While you look for players that better fit your system, you have to maximize your chance to win with the ones you have now. I think the in-house focus was on limiting explosive plays, making teams drive the field to beat Florida, and — if and when they do drive the field — putting an emphasis on winning in the red zone. This is a low-variance approach, aiming for something like a Publix-brand version of Kentucky’s defense. (Ironic, given where the Wildcats play.) Unfortunately, when you miss tackles or bust coverages, you end up giving up those explosive plays anyway — and Florida has, uh, missed a couple tackles and busted a few coverages.

There are other new staffs that have decided to play their first years a different way. USC under Lincoln Riley has gone for a high-variance defensive approach. The Trojans are looking to generate negative plays and turnovers, even if it means getting smoked if they fail. They also have the luxury to play this way because they have one of the most talented offenses in the country.

And in some senses, it has worked out: USC leads the country in turnovers generated. The Trojans also allowed 43 points to a Utah offense that was without one of their top weapons in Brant Kuithe — the same offense that, with Kuithe not just playing but dominating, only scored 26 against Florida, and did so largely via long drives with few explosive plays.

I wonder if we see Florida flip the script a little in this game. Napier showed against Tennessee that he is not afraid of playing to win against a superior foe: The Gators went for a lot of fourth downs, and hitting on a lot of those decisions allowed Florida to stay in the game ... but had they failed and short-circuited those drives, they may have been blown out.

This game may call for a similar risk appetite. Stetson Bennett has struggled at times against pressure. Will Florida play an aggressive, high-variance style on defense? It may give you your best shot to win the game, but it also increases your chances of getting waxed.

Offensively, teams have tried to engineer matchups in the passing game for their running backs and No. 3 receivers against Georgia this year. I wonder if we see Ricky Pearsall line up as a No. 3 and try to get him matched up on a safety or a backer. Similarly, this may be a game where we see Florida’s backs get more involved in the passing game.

I also wouldn’t be shocked if we saw some new personnel groupings from Florida. Having two backs on the field would be an interesting change-up — not to mention a way to maximize returns from the Gators’ best skill position group — and Florida has shown some pre-snap split back looks this year before motioning out of them.

Georgia is a really good team on both sides of the ball. I take a closer look at them, and Florida’s chances of keeping it close, in the video below.