JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Last season the Florida Gators came into the Georgia game in control of their own destiny in the SEC East. With Tennessee’s losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, Florida is in the same situation now, albeit with a tougher road ahead of it.
It must get by Georgia. While UGA has struggled this season, it could have a much better record with better luck. The Hail Mary it surrendered versus Tennessee came with a 99.9 percent win expectancy.
The Bulldogs also lost to Vanderbilt, 17-16. In that game, they outgained Vandy, 421-171, and didn’t turn the ball over. I’d wager it is rare for a team to lose after more than doubling its opponent’s yardage without a single turnover.
Flip those two games and Georgia is 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC, which would have them on top of the East Division. Of course, Georgia also got blown out by Ole Miss at Oxford and nearly lost to Nicholls at home. Good teams don’t barely beat FCS teams.
So, which is it? Is Georgia good or bad? Lucky or unlucky? Most importantly, is there something Florida can exploit?
I believe the answer is yes, and here are the five main reasons.
1. The Florida and Georgia offenses both struggle.
Florida’s biggest weakness is its offense. The Gators make up for it with an outstanding defense and a pair of effective kickers in Johnny Townsend and Eddy Pineiro.
While you might point to progress through the season with freshman QB Jacob Eason, the reality is that Georgia hasn’t been efficient on offense either. Also, Florida makes up for its offensive shortcomings in areas that are significant weaknesses for Georgia.
Above are the rankings of both Florida and Georgia in defensive, offensive, special teams and overall efficiency. These numbers are designed to filter out garbage time statistics and factor in strength of schedule.
Florida outperforms Georgia in all areas except for offense, where the teams are basically equivalent. The surprise to me was the advantage on special teams, where even with the poor punt and kickoff returns for Florida, Georgia is apparently much worse.
Taken in aggregate, these efficiency rankings indicate that Georgia is an inferior team to Florida and that its losses in close games are probably indicative of their shortcomings rather than luck.
2. Jacob Eason is really bad outside of the state of Georgia.
Georgia true freshman QB Jacob Eason has a cannon and is going to be very good. But despite his raw tools, he’s not that good yet. His QB rating of 119.0 through seven games ranks him 101st, ahead of only 20 percent of the starting quarterbacks in the country.
This can be somewhat confusing because I have seen plenty of highlights of Eason hitting big plays. But what this doesn’t take into account is that he is only hitting those plays in Athens (and in Atlanta for the opening game against North Carolina).
If you look at Eason’s QB rating at home, it is that of a top-tier QB (150.4). But if you look at his rating on the road, it is a putrid 95.9. This isn’t because of one bad game. In his three games on the road, he has ratings of 114.1, 70.9 and 51.4.
It appears as though crowd noise may affect Eason at this point in his career. And while Jacksonville is not the Swamp, it still will be half-filled with screaming Florida fans.
3. Nick Chubb is not Nick Chubb.
Georgia RB Nick Chubb was one of the best running backs in the nation in both 2014 and 2015 before he seriously injured his knee against Tennessee. Chubb is back playing for the Bulldogs, but he is not as effective as he has been the previous two years.
In 2014, Chubb rushed for more than 1,500 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Through six games in 2015, he was even better, averaging 8.1 yards per rush. But in 2016, Chubb is only averaging 5.1 yards per carry, which ranks 143rd in FBS. He hasn’t exceeded 8 yards per rush in any game this season. For a frame of reference, Florida RB Jordan Scarlett is averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
So, Chubb isn’t terrible. He’s an effective runner. But he isn’t the weapon that he has been the previous two years, and that’s bad news for a Georgia team that has turned over the offense to a true freshman QB.
4. Florida’s defense is built to frustrate Eason.
Jim McElwain brought in defensive coordinator Geoff Collins from Mississippi State to maintain continuity with the scheme employed by former Gators head coach Will Muschamp.
Gators fans may recoil at the mention of Muschamp, but he was able to coach the defense. Three weeks ago, Muschamp’s South Carolina team held Eason to 5-of-17 passing for 29 yards. This was Eason’s lowest QB rating of the season at 51.4.
Muschamp’s scheme (and Florida’s) relies on extensive use of 1-on-1 coverage. Looking at the tape on Eason, it becomes clear that this is where he struggles.
Eason has the arm strength to fit the ball into tight spaces, key for defeating zone coverage. In the play below, Eason hits wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie for a first down. The ball gets there so fast that McKenzie is able to make a move before the defensive backs can converge.
Eason locks on to McKenzie right away, double clutches and still the ball gets there early.
His arm strength actually appears to be a disadvantage against 1-on-1 coverage, as he’s struggled with his accuracy. Eason may hit a long one every once in a while, but more often, he overthrows the receiver.
The above clip shows this against Tennessee. Georgia’s receiver has trouble beating the 1-on-1 coverage and Eason — trying to be perfect — misses by at least 5 yards.
Tennessee’s corners are decent, but they are not Quincy Wilson or Jalen Tabor. Just as South Carolina did, Florida should be able to exploit this weakness of the Georgia offense.
5. Florida has been the better team.
Finally, we get to the aggregate of all of these issues for Georgia. Florida is the better team. Through six games this season, Florida has outscored its opponents 182-72. In contrast, Georgia has been outscored by its opponents 188-176.
Based on this, Georgia is extremely lucky to be 4-3. Based on their scoring differential, the Bulldogs are just as likely to be under .500. Florida’s scoring differential suggests it should have won 5.2 games, and so 5-1 is right in line with who it is.
Georgia has played a slightly more difficult schedule, but Ole Miss is not Alabama and South Carolina’s defense is not the steel curtain.
Eason should be a great QB someday, but he’s not there yet. Florida’s lock-down defense seems to have proved that the second half against Tennessee was an outlier. Chubb is a good player, but does not appear to be great right now. And Florida’s corners can exploit the weaknesses of Georgia’s offense.
Florida should win this game easily, 42-21.