This is the big game ... really

Georgia’s season comes down to beating Florida, but some fixes need to be made

semerson@macon.comOctober 22, 2012 

The danger in declaring any game to be the most important of the season is that, a week later, someone may remember you said that. Normally, such sweeping statements prove to be wildly premature, and ultimately wrong.

But here I go:

This game will dictate whether this is considered a successful season for Georgia.

Win, and Georgia is all but certain to win the SEC East and get back to Atlanta for the conference championship game. It also probably ensures a 10-win season, unless the Bulldogs somehow trip up and lose to a very weak remaining schedule (Mississippi, at Auburn, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech).

Many, many Georgia fans considered a repeat trip to the SEC championship game the bare minimum for this to be considered a successful season. Given the Bulldogs’ schedule, that wasn’t an unreasonable feeling then, and it isn’t an unreasonable feeling now.

So lose this game, and Georgia can forget about Atlanta, unless you mean Chick-fil-A Bowl. The 10-win mark is still on the table, in fact still probable. But it would be 10 wins against no ranked teams.

It wouldn’t be a disaster. Let’s make that clear. The amount of other SEC fans that would take a 10-win season stretches longer than the “Fire Mark Richt” club, which probably isn’t as long a line as its members think.

Georgia fans are a pessimistic lot these days. Even before the Kentucky game was over, Georgia fans were talking ruefully about their team’s chances of beating Florida. The results of Saturday’s games -- Georgia barely beating a bad Kentucky team, Florida walloping South Carolina -- contributed to that.

The line has Florida favored by six. But Las Vegas has more confidence in Georgia than actual Bulldogs fans. If you went by the sentiments expressed online and over the water cooler, the line would be Florida by 20 or more.

But never mind the fans. From a player standpoint, the intangibles would seem to favor Florida. The Gators have the momentum.

Georgia won this game last year, so Florida not only has the revenge factor, but the vast majority of its players remember losing this game last year and shouldn’t be overconfident.

But from speaking to Georgia players Monday, I can report that they’re planning on playing in this game anyway. And if the Bulldogs are going to pull off the upset, or at least make it a lot closer than the Calamity in Columbia, there are some major concerns to address:

1. Defense. Defense. Defense.

Much like the presidential election revolving around Ohio, the fortunes of the Bulldogs now revolve around the struggling defense, which now ranks 49th nationally. There isn’t one facet going right: Pass rush, run defense and stopping big plays. They’re all problems. That’s actually the good news: Fix one of those problems, and the Bulldogs are a bit better, and solve two of them, and they’re much better. It would also help to have Jarvis Jones back, and it looks as if that will probably happen.

2. Offensive line

This, on the other hand, doesn’t have a readily obvious fix. It’s just not a great collection of talent, other than right tackle John Theus, and he’s a freshman still prone to mistakes. All that the Bulldogs can do is go back to what worked the first five games, namely game-planning around it by spreading out the field and letting Aaron Murray work quickly. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is committed to staying balanced, and that’s good, but when the offense is rolling it’s using the pass to set up the run.

3. Special teams

Who knows what you do with Marshall Morgan on extra points and chip-shot field goals. But those are beside the point: The real issue is silly mistakes, whether it be not fielding punts right or muffing snaps. Georgia also needs to get its game-breakers on returns, especially for punts. Georgia needs its own Honey Badger or Ace Sanders-style game-changer.

4. Emotion

Three weeks ago, the Bulldogs seemed to have a level-headed, laser-like focus entering South Carolina. It didn’t work. Perhaps it will this week, especially since this will be a neutral site rather than 80,000 hanky-waving Gamecocks fans. But the Bulldogs have tended to have success in Jacksonville when they had a little extra emotion, most notably in 2007. The question is who fuels it this year: Richt is, well, Richt. And the two best players -- Jarvis Jones and Murray -- aren’t prone to fiery speeches. Senior safety Shawn Williams tried to light a fire under the defense with his pointed comments this week, so maybe that’s a start.

The one time this year Georgia used emotion was against Missouri, after the infamous “old man football” statement. Unless the Gators have loose lips this week, the Bulldogs need to create the energy for themselves.

Contact Seth Emerson at

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