Guerry Clegg

Georgia needs to take wing to get past Florida on make its way to playoffs

Well, this is familiar, isn’t it? When Georgia and Florida meet Saturday in Jacksonville, the stakes are high.

The winner will establish itself as a serious College Football Playoff contender. The loser would need a lot of help to get there.

As Larry Munson said a few hundred thousand times, “You don’t think this is BIG?”

For much of the first half of the season, there were many analysts who included the Bulldogs among their top four. Some had them No. 1. Then came those back-to-back clunkers, both at home — a 20-17 overtime loss to South Carolina, and a 21-0 victory over Kentucky, a game that was scoreless at halftime.

If the College Football Playoff rankings were to come out this week, the Bulldogs would be no more than an afterthought. But they don’t. A win over the Gators would prove that the South Carolina loss was an aberration.

The beauty of college football is that just when we think we have it all figured out, something changes. The latest example came Saturday when Oklahoma lost to Kansas State.

When the very first College Football Playoff rankings were released five years ago, the top four included three teams from the SEC West. Alabama was not among them.

Ohio State was ranked No. 16, five spots behind Georgia. Three weeks later, Alabama, Oregon and Florida State held the top three spots, while the Buckeyes had surged to sixth. Those four teams would comprise the field of the first playoff. Ohio State was still something of an afterthought until drilling Wisconsin 59-0. The Buckeyes ended up winning it all.

The substandard performances against South Carolina and Kentucky exposed the Bulldogs’ shortcoming, which is mainly their passing game. They did not, however, wreck their season. It’s fairly straight forward. If the Bulldogs win out, that means they will have beaten Notre Dame, Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M and either Alabama or LSU. That’s a lock to make the playoffs.

To accomplish this, however, brings to mind the words of Zig Ziglar:

“You cannot become what you need to be by remaining what you are.”

It’s not just about quarterback Jake Fromm throwing the ball better or the receivers catching better, although both need to happen. It’s not even about adding a few wrinkles to spring some receivers open, which would be helpful.

More than anything, it’s about the coaches trusting the players more. It’s an attitude that needs to begin at the top with head coach Kirby Smart. They can’t play to not lose.

With D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and Zamir White running the ball behind an offensive line that’s massive and athletic, it’s understandable that Smart would prefer to grind out four yards every play and limit the chances for the passing game to make mistakes. That was especially true against Kentucky with the constant rain and wind gusts.

To be fair, the last time Georgia’s aired it out was … the South Carolina game. Fromm attempted 51 passes against the Gamecocks. Three other designed pass plays resulted in two sacks and one run by Fromm.

Of the many surprising stats from that game, perhaps none is more surprising than this one. Georgia’s offense had 43 first-down snaps. (That stat alone is staggering.) They called pass plays on 26 of those snaps.

So they were throwing the football, and not just on third down. But many of those passes were dinks and dunks.

The Bulldogs beat the Gators by 35 points two years ago and by 19 last year. Florida has closed the talent gap even more this year. But Georgia is still the better team and now playing with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

That’s usually when a team is the most dangerous.