When Georgia began its study for Florida, it saw something it knew all too well.
The deep ball.
With nine seconds remaining in regulation against Tennessee, Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks unleashed a 63-yard strike to the end zone, and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland hauled it in to give Florida a 26-20 buzzer-beating win over its conference foe.
Georgia saw the scene last season as Tennessee claimed a last-second victory at Sanford Stadium, and it doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of a victorious mob once more.
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But the Bulldogs know it’s possible, especially with a former four-star quarterback directing the offense with playmakers around him.
“They've probably got the best wideout group we've faced combined with the fact that their quarterback has one of the strongest arms I've ever seen,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who tries to claim his first win over Florida as the Bulldogs’ boss. “We know what we're in for. We have to do a good job covering those guys. It's going to be a task.”
The Bulldogs just got a glimpse of the difficulties of defending the deep pass. In their most recent contest against Missouri, in which Tigers receiver Emmanuel Hall caught two 63-yard tosses — which led to allowing a season-high 28 points.
Despite the victory, Georgia said the issues were based on a “lack of communication,” and it became a focus during its bye week. With another conference test looming, the Bulldogs hope those issues are remedied.
“We definitely feel confident,” Georgia sophomore defensive back J.R Reed said. “We definitely got beat on a couple of plays, but we’ve fixed those things.”
Franks has been the latest to emerge from Florida’s revolving door of quarterbacks. Malik Zaire, Luke Del Rio and Franks each has seen significant playing time at the position — yet Franks has played in each of Florida’s six games.
A solidified role for Franks as the Gators starter came when Del Rio was sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury, and the sophomore led Florida to a 38-24 win over Vanderbilt — completing 10-of-14 passes for 185 yards.
Fo the season, Franks has thrown for 794 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s got a big arm and is a sneaky runner,” Reed said. “He’s a very good athlete, and is a pretty good quarterback.”
Both Georgia and Florida could have a valuable asset return for the border rivalry after their respective bye week. Cleveland has been sidelined since Sept. 30 with a high ankle sprain, but Gators head coach Jim McElwain indicated that the big-play target could return.
The Bulldogs will welcome back a top producer on the defensive line. Trenton Thompson suffered a sprained MCL against Tennessee and should return Saturday, according to Smart.
Thompson brings a bolster to Georgia’s chances to affect Franks’ passing success with his pressuring abilities — an area in which Smart sees concern.
“His disruption will make it real good to have him back with us,” Georgia nose tackle John Atkins said.