GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida linebacker Jeremiah Moon knows the challenge he and the rest of the defense will be up against Saturday.
When the Gators (3-3, 3-2 SEC) face the third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 SEC) in Jacksonville, Florida’s biggest challenge will be containing Georgia’s senior running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
“They’re both seniors, they’re going to get paid,” Moon said Tuesday. “We’ve just got to stop them. That’s it.”
That’s going to be easier said than done.
Chubb and Michel are the only running backs from the same school ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in rushing yards per game. Chubb ranks third (98.29 yards/game), while Michel ranks eighth (82 yards/game). They form the backbone of a Bulldogs rushing attack that ranks 10th nationally and second in the SEC.
“They just do a good job of complementing each other,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “I see the unselfish nature in which those guys are playing. I think that speaks a lot about where their team is right now.”
The Gators, meanwhile, have held their own as of late against top running backs in the league.
Florida has held each of the last three big-name backs it has faced — Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb, LSU’s Derrius Guice and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams — to less than 50 rushing yards. Overall, the Gators have held three of their last four opponents to no more than 120 rushing yards. The exception in that group was LSU, which racked up 216 yards on the ground thanks to a bevy of first-half jet sweeps.
“I feel like this is going to be a running game, something I’m very excited about,” linebacker David Reese said. “It’s something I put pride in. A lot of guys, big-name guys, haven’t had the best run games against us throughout the season. I’m excited about that. I just want to see what they have to offer.”
Florida against SEC running backs this season
|Texas A&M||Trayveon Williams||10||18||1.8||0|
Reese added the defense’s goal is to shut down the run first and then force Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm beat them with his arm. Fromm hasn’t been relied on to do that too much this year. All told, Fromm has only attempted more than 20 passes in a game twice this year: The Bulldogs’ 20-19 win over Notre Dame and 53-28 blowout of Missouri two weeks ago.
“If we get their run game slowed down, that’s best; that’s their main strength,” Reese said. “If they beat us through the air, so be it. We’ve got to live and die by it, but we’ve got to try to stop that run. That’s the emphasis.”
It worked last season.
In the 2016 matchup, Florida held Georgia to just 21 yards on 19 carries and forced then-freshman Jacob Eason to carry the Bulldogs. Instead, he was stymied by a Florida’s pass rush that had 16 quarterback hurries and limited Eason to 143 passing yards on 15 of 33 passing. He had 1 touchdown early and was sacked twice. Florida won 24-10.
“We put a lot of pressure on them,” Reese said of the 2016 matchup. “We’re looking to do the same thing this year.”
That means winning on first and second down to force Georgia into tough spots on third down.
That means staying disciplined and not letting the Bulldogs get an edge on stupid mistakes.
And that means playing four quarters and not letting games slip out of their grasp like they have the past few weeks.
“It’s going to be a slugfest,” Reese said. “These are the types of game I live for, a team that comes out with the attitude that they’re going to pound the rock against us and hit us in the mouth. We play SEC football just like they do. We’re excited about that. We’re coming with a chip on our shoulder and we’re excited to show the world what we can do.”