What was going to be a short post about one point turned into a long one about two points. Here I look at the “curse” of playing the Gators in Jacksonville and the key for a Bulldog’s victory Saturday.
The Curse is Overblown: Forget about 3-18 versus Florida. It is terribly skewed. For many of those years you had UGA sending Ray Goff out there against Steve Spurrier. Like sending a blind, over weight turkey in a room with a hungry lion.
Let’s look at the Richt era. 2-8. Now in fairness, Florida has been pretty darn good in some of those years, but instead of focusing on 3-18, let’s focus on the 2-8.
In 2001, UGA was going up against Spurrier in Richt’s first year. Florida had a good team that year and UGA lost. 2002 and 2003, Georgia should have run Florida off the field. In 2002 that was Zook’s first year, and in 2003 the Gators were breaking in a freshman QB named Chris Leak. It shouldn’t have been close. The Dawgs finally did beat a lame duck Zook in 2004. So far, 3 games the Dawgs should have won, one game it shouldn’t have.
Now enter the Urban Meyer era. 2005 was a year when not having the bye week really hurt us. I’ll call 2005 a push because, yes, Georgia was the better team but losing Shockley sure did hurt. JT3 filled in admirably, but his TD catch just wasn’t enough. 3-1-1. In 2006, we lost 21-14 to the eventual National Champs, and they had a really good team. That is 3-2-1. In 2007 we should have won and did. 4-2-1. 2008 both teams were in the top 10. It shouldn’t have been a blow out, but both teams were good teams. But Florida was the better team and eventual National Champion. Even Alabama couldn’t stop the Gators. 4-3-1. 2009 they were clearly the better team. 4-4-1. In 2010 both teams were about the same, so let’s call last year a push also.
So in the last decade, there have been 4 times when Georgia had the better team, 4 times when definitely Florida had the better team, and twice when both teams were about even. Due to a variety of miscues and not being able to take advantage of situations, Georgia is 2-8 this decade instead of a more respectable 4-6 or 5-5.
But the two most crushing losses were those 2002 and 2003 games. For all the talk about Florida being in our head, those are the two definitive years you could say that the Dawgs were far and away the superior team losing to a far and away inferior teams. Most times since then, the Gators have been the superior team or it has been equal.
Aaron Murray was 12 years old when UGA lost to Florida in 2002. Isaiah Crowell would be, 9 or 10? The two years where UGA was truly a head case, and a case could be made for a “curse”, these guys were playing pee wee ball on Saturday morning.
Add the curse to my earlier “99 problems” post. There are a lot of reasons why Georgia could lose. I think special teams miscues are at the top of the list. Add to the list the questionable status of Malcolm Mitchell. And maybe Georgia comes out flat and unprepared just like Boise, UCF, and Tennessee (2007 and 2009). Perhaps the Dogs lose because the turn it over a lot like they did against South Carolina this year. Perhaps two equally mediocre teams play a close game, like the Cocktail Party a year ago. But the supposed curse has just about as much to do with the players going to the pool last week in the outcome of the game.
But I don’t think the ‘curse’ of Jacksonville has any bearing on the current game. the fact that D.J. Shockley threw a pick 6 and Terrence Edwards dropped a wide open pass in 2002 or the offense’s inability to score points in 2003 will have anything to do with the outcome of the 2011. When Aaron Murray drops back to pass on 3rd and 7 (hopefully we are throwing on 3rd and 7), he isn’t thinking “Gosh, I hope I don’t throw a Pick 6 just like D.J. Shockley did 9 years ago.”
Will this be the return of low scoring games? The last three years are the ones that really sting. From 2001-2006, the UGA defense did quite well against the Gators. In those years (2001-2006), Florida scored 24, 20, 16, 24, 14, and 21 points respectively (some off special teams and offensive miscues). To save you getting out the calculator, that is 119 points in six games for 19.8 ppg.
From 2007-2010, the games have been more of a shoot-out. Florida has scored 30, 49, 41 and 34 in those games. In those 4 games, that is 154 points scored by the Gators, for scoring average of 38.5 ppg. The Gators have won by an average of 22 points per game from 2008-2010.
In Georgia’s two victories under Mark Richt, UGA has had to score 30+ points. Every year since 2007 the winner has scored 30+ points.
People may look at the recent history that I outlined above and think the defense is the key to turning around the woes in Jacksonville. To some extent, yes, but the offense has to not screw up when it gets opportunities.
To be overly simplistic (this is a duh! statement), the Dawgs have got to score points and keep Florida from scoring. The defense can do its job, I think. But what got UGA in trouble in 2006 was a Kregg Lumpkin fumble recovery for a TD. The Dawgs would have beaten the Gators 42-23 in 2007 had Stafford not thrown a pick 6. The close game at the half in 2008 turned into a blowout loss because of turnovers. Last year Aaron Murray was a turnover machine.
Even against Meyer and when we had Martinez, the Georgia defense has done its job in Jacksonville by and large. At the the bloodletting in 2008, most folks will tell you that game was not on the defense. If the offense can show up, and not even score a heap of points but just don’t make any mistakes, it will be a good day Saturday.
What killed Georgia in its three most damning losses-2002-2003 and 2008-was the inability to find the end zone and having to settle for field goals. Blair Walsh has shown he is no longer dependable as a kicker.
The defense is good enough now, like it was from 2001-2006, to keep the Gators’ offense in check. The recipe for Bulldogs’ success on Saturday-just like every other game-is really simple: don’t make any mistakes on offense, and when you get to the red zone, come away with 7 and not 3. Bad news is Georgia has sturggled in that area this season, only scoring TDs 57% of the time it gets in the red zone, which ranks 8th in the SEC. Good news is Florida ranks next to last only scoring TDs 45% of time they are in the red zone. If UGA can scome away with 6 instead of 3, like it did in 2007 (6 TD, no FG), Dawgs win.