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Florida Gators Key Matchups To Contend With Georgia in Jacksonville

The Gators have the odds stacked against them for their annual matchup with Georgia. What are three key matchups they must win to contend with the Bulldogs?

Spooky season continues for the Florida Gators on Halloween weekend.

Florida is slated to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in their annual SEC East bout on Saturday with the odds stacked against them. Sitting at 4-3 with five games remaining on their schedule, UF has endured a scary amount of letdown thus far this season. 

And, more is on the horizon.

Florida has quickly gone from a top ten team in the country to a severely underperforming unit in Dan Mullen's fourth year as head coach.

Trending in the wrong direction just one year removed from an SEC Championship appearance, Florida enters Jacksonville — the location that usually decides the East crown — with the fear of dropping to .500.

They will have to take down the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs to avoid that reality.

To contend with the best team the NCAA has to offer in 2021, the Gators must produce their best game of the season. Here are three key matchups for Florida to accomplish the improbable feat of putting a black mark on Georgia's flawless resume on Saturday.

Florida's Trenches vs. Georgia's Trenches

Last season, the Florida Gators fell six points short of taking down the eventual college football playoff-winning Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship.

"We got to get a little better up front on both sides of the ball," Mullen said in his postgame press conference. 

Less than one year later, Florida enters another contest with a presumable championship contender notably outmatched in the trenches, yet again.

Defensively, the veteran pieces of Zach Carter and Brenton Cox will have to create pressure off the edge against the strengths of an elite offensive line in tackles Jamaree Sayler and Warren McClendon. Simultaneously, Gervon Dexter, Daqaun Newkirk and Antonio Valentino are tasked with building a wall for a strong interior run stop.

However, the real battle comes for the Gators' offensive line against the Bulldogs front four. 

Comprised of the likes of Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter in the heart of the defense, Georgia has been a stout group all season long.

Allowing just 63.4 rushing yards and 114.9 passing yards per game, the Bulldogs boast a fast and physical defense that is the top-ranked unit in college football in yards allowed. 

The men in the trenches are the catalyst.

As a result, the weight on the offensive line's shoulders is immense. They will be tasked with channeling the group that created significant push off the ball against Alabama while simultaneously avoiding the crucial mental mistakes that have set the offense behind the chains in early down situations.

The offensive line will have to be as perfect as possible in all facets. Even then, it still won't be enough to stop Davis, Carter and Co outright.

Florida may not be able to dominate Georgia's talent upfront or win a majority of their reps on either side of the ball with consistency. 

Still, they must prove to be formidable challengers against the Bulldogs trench monsters.

Dan Mullen vs. Kirby Smart

It's a battle of offensive versus defensive-minded coaches.

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In 2020, Mullen knocked off Georgia head coach Kirby Smart for the first time in their head-to-head series. Getting over the hump to bring his record to 1-2 against Smart, Mullen utilized a well-versed offensive gameplan to hoist 44 points on a talented Bulldogs defense.

Winning with various renditions of the wheel route to running backs – both out of the backfield and in the slot – and tight ends, Mullen exploited the evident weakness of the Bulldogs defense.

To garner a repeat, it will require similar excellence.

While he has been scrutinized for conservativeness, lack of drive and playing down to his opponents this season, many still expect a well-designed game plan that makes it easy on his quarterbacks against their current biggest rival.

The question is: Can he deliver?

Mullen has established himself as one of the best coaches in college football when drawing up play designs and game plans for meetings with heavyweight competitions.

If he can find a way to exploit a Bulldogs defense that has shown no signs of weakness through seven games of the season, Florida could keep the door open for a dramatic finish.

Anthony Richarson/Emory Jones vs. JT Daniels/Stetson Bennett

Both teams have a big decision to make at the most important spot on the field. One dilemma arose due to inconsistency, the other because of injury.

For Florida, Mullen has to make what is shaping up to be a career-defining decision between Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.

Jones, who has been groomed to be the starter since his arrival at UF, has struggled mightily in the starting spot this season.

Culminating in a sloppy contest against LSU, Jones was pulled in favor of Richardson, who would make the most of his opportunity — utilizing his sheer playmaking ability to score four total touchdowns against the Tigers — and officially stake his claim to take over the Gators offense full-time.

On the other sideline, the Dawgs also have questions marks at QB.

At the beginning of the season, JT Daniels was slated to take over as the unrivaled starter for the Bulldogs offense. As a pro-style quarterback, Daniels can push the ball downfield from the pocket and elevate the offense with a more than complementary air attack.

However, dealing with an injury, he has been sidelined.

In relief of Daniels due to injury this season, Stetson Bennett has asserted himself as a serviceable option at Georgia's helm.

He has been consistent in all games played this season — developing well from last season — to account for 996 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions on nearly 70% completion.

Bringing an athleticism when scrambling out of the pocket that Daniels doesn’t have, Bennett adds another dimension to the strong Dawgs rushing game headlined by Zamir White.

However, with Daniels returning to health, Smart — who knows about the ramifications of choosing one quarterback over another — and the offensive stuff has a crucial decision to make going forward.

No matter which way either quarterback controversy is decided, one thing remains true. 

The team with better quarterback play has the power to be a deciding factor in this contest.

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