Let’s look at this week’s SEC football statistics package, in search of hard, numerical proof that 3-3 Florida could be anything more than a nuisance to 7-0 Georgia Saturday in Jacksonville.
Honestly, the Gators, two-touchdown underdogs, look to be mere irritations, along the lines of a sales call at dinner time or the slow driver who homesteads the passing lane.
We’ll sample 30 team statistical categories – while throwing out superfluous entries like opponent penalties and on-side kick results. Georgia is atop Florida in 25 of those. And only a couple should cause a Bulldog brow to furrow even slightly – average sacks per conference game (Florida leads 2 to .75) and opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (Florida’s better at 29 percent to Georgia’s 33.3 percent).
In all the others, including all the biggies on both sides of the ball, Georgia is demonstrably superior.
There is virtually nothing this Florida team does better than Georgia. In personality and performance, there are two teams trending in completely different directions. One a train wreck. The other a runaway train, with an average SEC margin of victory of 31 points.
Kirby Smart performed his coachly duties Monday by pointing out how Florida is always a tough team to run on (Georgia’s rushing defense is better) and how the Gators possess big-play threats at wide receiver and a quarterback in Feleipe Franks with an arm of Thor (Georgia’s Jake Fromm has nearly twice the number of passing touchdowns and his efficiency rating is nearly 40 percent higher).
Florida can always run the ball, warned Bulldogs defensive back Aaron Davis. Remember, he said, when the Gators had two backs rush for nearly 200 yards – 2014. But this is now: The Bulldogs rushing offense in conference has averaged 122 yards a game more than Florida.
Which leaves, as always when Georgia goes to Jacksonville, only the vague fear that somehow, some way, Florida will find a way to send the Bulldogs season skidding sideways. Losses the last three years and a 6-21 record since 1990 tend to foster such dark thoughts.
This, however, is not the year to entertain those kinds of doubts. That’s not enough reason to be anything but confident this is the season Georgia throws off the yoke of tyranny that is Florida.
This is the year, if you are a Bulldog person, to travel to the border town with confidence and swagger. Live in the now, not in all the musty basement of old defeats.
Of course, to a coach, that kind of talk is rat poison (a Nick Saban-ism).
Smart produced his own brand of antidote at a team meeting Sunday when he asked all the players who had beaten Florida to stand up. What followed was a lot of uncomfortable squirming in seats.
“It shocked me,” nose tackle John Atkins said.
“It was sobering,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “With so much praise going on the outside, (Smart was saying) guys, this is where we’re at. Nobody’s beaten these guys. It was a call to action to get back to work coming off the bye week.”
If Smart conducts the same poll a year from now and still no one rises, then there is reason to believe in forces not of this world. Because there is not a single concrete reason Georgia should not have its way Saturday.