Earlier this week, I took you through the period of history which gives Florida the template it will need this Saturday against Georgia.
Now, let’s unpack what that template is.
It begins and ends with a simple principle filed under “easy to say, hard to do.”
The principle: Shake, rattle, and roll over Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. Florida can’t expect to win a game in which it doesn’t make Fromm’s life miserable.
Let’s explain, and touch on the history of the “Cocktail Party” before moving to 2018.
I cited 2002 through 2005 as the key years of this series’ history, relative to the Gators’ chances this upcoming weekend. If you recall, D.J. Shockley was injured as Georgia’s starting quarterback for the 2005 game, which Dan Mullen coached in as Urban Meyer’s assistant. Joe Tereshinski took Shockley’s place.
Of course, Fromm is not injured. Georgia will not be without its starter. There are no health questions surrounding Fromm. That is a basic difference between 2005 and 2018.
What remains, though: the need to shut down Georgia, drag the Bulldogs into a messy, mucky, low-scoring game, make fewer mistakes, and walk away with a win akin to that 14-10 triumph in 2005.
That project starts and ends with Fromm.
The glimmer of hope — not a huge one, but a realistic one — for Florida in this game was provided by Fromm’s performance against LSU.
The Tigers were muscular enough and active enough up front to take away Georgia’s ground game. Georgia ran for 71 yards on its second possession of the game… and ran for only 42 yards in the following three-plus quarters, finishing with a modest 113 yards. Why did Georgia not run for a lot more yards after that encouraging early drive?
First, LSU scored the game’s first touchdown after that very same Georgia drive ended with a botched field goal attempt. LSU gained the lead — as it needed to — and put scoreboard pressure on the Dawgs. That was step one. Then, armed with said lead, LSU dared Fromm to beat the Tigers with the forward pass. Fromm might not have been spectacular last year, but he played with the poise of someone more experienced than the freshman he was in 2017. He made the throws his team needed him to make against Auburn in the SEC title game, and against Oklahoma in a classic Rose Bowl. That version of Fromm held firm under intense scrutiny, thrust into the cauldron of massive tension.
That was not the player who showed up against LSU.
Fromm might have started with a few nerves in Baton Rouge, mindful of the fact that a year earlier, in another Georgia road test at Auburn (the meeting with Auburn a few weeks BEFORE the SEC Championship Game rematch), he didn’t play well. However, Fromm never pulled himself out of that rut against the Bayou Bengals. In the second half, when Georgia tried to mount a rally, Fromm became rattled.
He was skittish in the pocket. He might not have gotten a lot of help from his teammates, but he did not rise above his situation. Given how coolly he met the challenges presented to him in 2017, one might have expected him to demonstrate even more command against LSU.. but that did not happen.
Florida’s plan might be hard to execute, but the goal is simple enough: “Shake Jake.”
We know that the architecture of this plan — using LSU’s performance against Georgia as the template — depends on other pillars such as shutting down the UGA ground game and doing enough on offense in the first quarter to stay even on the scoreboard so that the Dawgs feel scoreboard pressure. Yet, the heart of a winning Gator effort in the Cocktail Party lies in the ability to get in the head of Georgia’s quarterback and establish a rent-free residence with no chance of eviction.
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