Richt’s Biggest Problem

Playing in his home state for the first time in college, Aaron Murray came out remarkably flat early in last year’s rendition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. He finally turned it on nearing halftime, and Georgia put up enough total points to push a motivated and well-prepared Urban Meyer coached Gators team coming off a bye week into overtime. In overtime, Murray forced a pass to Georgia great A.J. Green which was tipped and picked off and led to the game-winning Gator field goal. Florida’s third win in as many contests followed two ugly routes by the Gators, which followed the game where Georgia danced on the field and won.

When the dust settled and the hangovers set in, the stats revealed Murray had a big day in defeat. Murray’s high school mate Orson Charles and wideout Tavarres King had big yardage days for UGA, as the Gators consistently rolled coverage to Green. Speed merchants Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were all over the field for Florida and benefitted from an inventive game plan designed by Meyer to get them into space. It worked as Georgia looked outmatched on defense and then finished below .500 for the season, while Florida rebounded from three straight losses and was in position to challenge South Carolina for the SEC East title before dropping a late season game to the Gamecocks in the Swamp. Similarly, Florida has lost three straight this year.

With three losses to Carolina and Georgia’s one each in division, Florida appears to be a long shot for the SEC East title this season but still has a glimmer of hope. That glimmer must be distinguished by the Dawgs this weekend. After starting 0-2 overall, UGA is 5-2  (4-1 SEC) and #23 in the BCS (#22 AP Poll, #21 Coaches Poll) and tied with battered South Carolina for first in the SEC East. Georgia has conference games remaining with Florida, Kentucky and Auburn; none of those are SEC road games. Carolina plays at Tennessee, at Arkansas and then gets Florida in Columbia. Were Florida to beat Georgia and Carolina, and Georgia to then lose to defending national champion Auburn while Carolina lost to heavily-favored Arkansas, Florida would win the SEC East by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreakers. So, the Gators still have a legitimate shot to at least get back in the hunt for an SEC East title, if they can take out our beloved Dawgs. Georgia probably needs to win out in conference to take the division. It is hard to imagine Carolina going unscathed through those three games without the services of injured running back Marcus Lattimore.

The East winner will face the round-robbin winner of Bama-LSU-Arkansas, with the first game going to Bama over Arkansas. Last year, Arkansas lost to Bama, LSU beat Bama, Arkansas beat LSU, and Arkansas was the highest remaining of the three at the start of bowl season. The nation is sleeping on Arkansas due to the hype of LSU-Bama, but if number #1 LSU wins that huge game, then Arkansas has a chance when they face LSU in what is often an unpredictable affair. Georgia’s best bet for the SEC Championship would probably be to face Arkansas under that scenario and somehow outscore them. LSU and Bama both look too formidable and physical for our young squad to match up very well against. At the beginning of the season we said our goal was simply to win the SEC East this year, which remains quite doable. Another less stated goal had to be to beat Florida this year, which is a must.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and his nationally sixth-ranked defense will be without physical safety Shawn Williams and mammoth nose-guard Jonathan Jenkins for the first half of the Georgia-Florida game starting at 3:30 Saturday in Jacksonville. Over the past twenty-one seasons – ten of those orchestrated by Mark Richt – UGA has only beaten UF three total times. Goff had zero wins; Donnan had one win with now offensive coordinator Mike Bobo as quarterback; Richt won once each with Greene/Pollack and Moreno/Stafford. In season eleven, Richt will have been there for half of the Gators’ run of dominance, after Georgia dominated Florida similarly throughout a long period. In reality, Florida is Richt’s biggest problem. Must-win.