(CBS Miami)- This Saturday sees the renewal of the game dubbed “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” when #8 Florida meets #5 Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. As usual, the game is getting the SEC Game of the Week treatment on CBS with Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and Jamie Erdahl on the call with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.
This year’s game, as with the past few years now, is likely to decide the winner of the SEC East division. In each of the last three seasons, it has been Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs taking the win and the
division. This time around, Dan Mullen’s crew is hoping to change that. As CBS Sports college football analyst Rick Neuheisel puts it, for Kirby Smart, it’s a matter of maintaining course while Mullen and his staff have to cut down on some of the mistakes that cost them last year.
“Whatever Kirby Smart has been doing since taking over at Georgia in this game needs to continue to be what he does because he’s been brilliant. Dan Mullen? Not so much,” said Neuheisel. “And, I go back to a year ago where there was confusion on the sidelines whether it was he and his assistants, who was going into the game, they couldn’t get lined up, having to use timeouts, taking illegal procedure calls. Those things can’t happen in a game of this magnitude. It needs to settle down. It needs to be calm. And, when you start thinking about what’s at stake, sometimes the emotional side of things makes that very difficult to achieve. Calm is the order of the day.”
Calm is one thing that Florida senior quarterback Kyle Trask has seemed to be this season. Through four games, he’s thrown for over 1,300 yards with 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions while completing 68.3 percent of his passes. The Florida passing game has been one of the country’s best this season, ranking seventh in yards per game at 342.8. But, he’s going up against a Bulldogs defense that has been one of the better units against the pass this year, allowing 215 yards or fewer to every opponent except for Alabama.
However, there are a couple of key injuries on the back end that has Neuheisel giving the edge to the Florida offense in this matchup.
“I’m of the mind that this at least initially was going to favor Georgia. But, my concern now is you’ve got (Richard) LeCounte out. He had that car accident. You’ve got (Louis) Cine out. He was injured earlier. Those guys are going to be missed. And you’ve also seen an explosion of Florida offense with the development of Kyle Trask and what his development level is. Trask is 18 touchdown passes in only four games, those are Joe Burrow numbers,” said Neuheisel.
The numbers have been impressive and, if they continue this week, Neuheisel says that the Florida senior will have to be in the Heisman conversation.
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“If he can continue that against this Georgia defense, I think people are going to be talking about Kyle Trask in this Heisman Trophy race as much as they’re talking about Lawrence, Fields and Jones,” said Neuheisel.
Trask also benefits from having a likely first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft in tight end Kyle Pitts. The junior has hauled in 22 catches this year for 355 yards and seven touchdowns already. Calling him a “unique” athlete, Neuheisel praises Pitts for his ability to affect the game both blocking and in the passing game.
“He can certainly handle his job on the end line as a run blocker and he can handle protections. They use him in such a
way not only to get a run game going but also as a decoy when there’s so much coverage associated with him so they can go elsewhere with the ball. But, this guy’s ability to get open whether it be a safety, corner or linebacker is uncanny,” said Neuheisel. “Kyle Trask has the luxury of not worrying about the coverage, he can throw Pitts open. He can just throw it to a big body that has the athletic ability to contort and make plays whether it be back shoulder, in front of him, or over his head. We’ve seen him do all of that in just four games. The sample size is enough to know that this will be a Top 10 draft choice when the NFL reconvenes to do that portion of its schedule in April.”
On the other side of the ball, the Georgia offense has been pounding opponents with its running game as usual. The Bulldogs average 42 rushing attempts per game and 175 yards on those attempts (4.2 YPC). But, their passing game has been spotty the last two weeks under quarterback Stetson Bennett IV. A former walk-on, Neuheisel says he’s a fan of Bennett because he knows how hard it can be for a walk-on to become a starter. But, if the recent inconsistent play and turnovers aren’t cleaned up, he sees the advantage in Florida’s favor.
“This is the side of the ball, this matchup is going to determine the game,” said Neuheisel. “In the last six quarters, the second half against Alabama and then Kentucky, they have scored a grand total of 14 points. And they’ve had five turnovers. This has to change or it’s going to be a tough day at the office for Georgia.”
With a lean towards advantages for Florida on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, it would seem Neuheisel is leaning towards the Gators ending the Bulldogs losing streak. He says that it is, but there’s a key point to consider.
“My lean is that way but I say it with very much trepidation and here’s why. Because Georgia knows how to beat Florida. This group of Florida players does not know how to beat Georgia. Kyle Trask, given all that we said about him, is still a relatively young starter at quarterback,” said Neuheisel. “And, he is going to have to play a monster game in this spot and be above the ebbs and flows of momentum. He’s going to have to just put this team on his shoulder and say ‘Follow me, I’ll get you to a win.’ If he does so, we’re going to be talking about Kyle Trask in a much different light than we are right now.”
The Bulldogs are 3.5 point favorites entering the day. Kick off is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.