Florida, Georgia looking to work out kinks

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
12:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

If you didn’t know better, you’d think Florida and Georgia went out and handpicked each other for this weekend’s game.

 
 Rick Dole/Getty Images
 Urban Meyer says the Gators are working on their red zone offense.
That is, Florida’s offense and Georgia’s defense.

The Gators haven’t been able to throw the ball this season, and the Bulldogs haven’t been able to stop anybody from throwing the ball this season.

It’s a match made in football heaven, or more precisely, perhaps a chance for both Florida’s offense and Georgia’s defense to get healthy at just the right time.

Who’s going to flinch first?

The Gators are 80th nationally in passing offense. Tim Tebow is ninth in the SEC in passing average and is coming off one of the worst games of his career. He threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the 29-19 win over Mississippi State.

As much as anything, it appears Tebow only has confidence in a few guys, namely tight end Aaron Hernandez and receiver Riley Cooper. He's also getting a lot more pressure than he did a year ago and has been sacked nine times in his last two games.

Compounding the problem has been Florida’s woes in the red zone. In SEC games this season, the Gators have scored just seven touchdowns in 25 attempts in the red zone. They’ve scored touchdowns on just two of their last 15 trips inside the 20-yard line.

“I’m not going to lie to you and say it's not frustrating because we want to score every time we’re in the red zone, and turnovers are frustrating,” Tebow said. “It’s just things we’re not used to doing. That’s frustrating. We’re working on it. It could be a good thing because it could give us a little bit of an edge.

“We haven't arrived. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Despite Florida’s lack of a downfield passing game, Georgia coach Mark Richt scoffs at the notion that the Gators are somehow hurting on that side of the ball.

“I’ll say this: Florida is undefeated. Florida hasn’t lost a game in 17 games. They’re No. 1 in the country. I think they’re doing pretty darn good,” Richt said. “They’re playing extremely good defense. They’re spreading people out offensively. They’re pounding the ball. They’re hammering the ball with their backs and with their quarterback, and they have basically taken control of every game and handled everybody with that strategy.

“So I don’t know if they feel like they’ve had to take a lot of chances downfield quite frankly. Whatever strategy they’re using right now, I think it’s working extremely well.”

Florida coach Urban Meyer sounded a similar tune about Georgia’s defense, which has given up an SEC-high 15 touchdown passes this season and ranks 90th nationally against the pass.

 
 Christian Petersen/Getty Images
 Mark Richt's defense has only six takeaways this season.
The Bulldogs have been better against the run, ranking fifth in the league in that department. But they’ve also give up 12 touchdowns in 25 red zone chances.

“I’m flipping on Georgia (on tape), and statistically, I know everybody is like, 'What about this and what about that?' " Meyer said. “All I know is what I see, and that’s as good a defensive personnel as there is in college football.”

The key for the Bulldogs, who’ve had an extra week to prepare, is playing to that talent level this Saturday.

They’ve only done it in spots the last two seasons. In fact, in their last 16 games, they’ve given up 37 or more points eight times.

It hasn’t been the best of times for Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, but Richt said the ball also hasn’t bounced the Bulldogs’ way at times this season on defense, either.

“We need to tackle well, play fast, play disciplined and find a way to not only force a turnover or force a fumble, but to get on it,” Richt said. “We’ve had nine fumbles and only gotten on one. We’ve had balls hit our hands that could have been picks. So we’ve been in position to make some turnovers. We just haven’t followed it through to the end. That’s very crucial.”

The Bulldogs are last in the SEC with six takeaways. Everybody else in the league has at least 11.

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SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12