Behind Enemy Bylines: Previewing No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 9 Florida
Behind Enemy Bylines is a series in which The Red & Black discusses Georgia’s upcoming game with the sports editor of the student newspaper of Georgia’s opponent for that week. This week, assistant sports editor Michael Hebert talked to sports editor Morgan McMullen of The Independent Florida Alligator.
Michael Hebert: What is the sense from those that have been closing following Florida regarding Florida head coach Dan Mullen and what he’s brought to the team?
Morgan McMullen: It’s really just been an entire attitude adjustment. [The players] believe in him as a leader and as a play caller and someone who can motivate them. Mullen’s had this reprieve all year and I think it went back to the [Tim] Tebow years in 2007-2008 with this metaphor of holding onto a rope, or straining to hold on to it and not letting it go. I think he’s brought that mentality of ‘you have to strain, you can’t take anything for granted.’ That certainly showed in the Vanderbilt game a couple weeks ago. Florida went down 21-3 in the first half, and that halftime speech was all about ‘stick to the plan, hold on to the rope.’ I really just feel like it’s a mentality that he’s instilled in his players that they can accomplish things that they couldn’t last year.
Michael Hebert: Mullen is known for developing quarterbacks, and it seems like Feleipe Franks is developing a lot more from what he was last year. What have you seen from that and how much of it is due to Mullen or just Franks being more experienced?
Morgan McMullen: I think it’s a little bit of both. I’d certainly put more emphasis on Mullen as a play caller, because he’s able to play to Feleipe’s strengths. In the games that Feleipe Franks does really well in, Mullen is calling a lot of bubble screens, swing passes and wheel routes to his running backs and receivers. He’s really limiting the amount of downfield throws. I feel that Mullen is just trying to limit the mistakes, and that shows in Franks’ stats, he’s only thrown five picks as opposed to eight last year. I’d give a lot more credit to Mullen, but Franks deserves some of it too. He’s making better decisions with the football, he’s not forcing it into tight windows. Up in the press box at Ben Hill Griffin [Stadium], we like to use ‘oh, thats the old Franks, this is the new Franks.’ New Franks will take a one-or-two yard gain and get it out of bounds instead of try to force it 10 or 15 yards downfield.
Michael Hebert: It seems like junior running backs Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine are really making a difference in the offense, especially late in games. How much do they really lean on those guys in a game like this that will likely be won in between the trenches, and what impact could they have?
Morgan McMullen: Jordan Scarlett didn’t play in last year’s game due to the suspension for the credit card scandal. We got an opportunity to interview him last night about what was going through his mind when he was watching the game from home last year. He was actually watching it with current Browns receiver Antonio Callaway who was also a part of the suspension. He said they collectively felt this sense of dread and hopelessness, like ‘man, I could be out there helping my team win.’ But to answer your question, I think they are going to lean pretty heavily on the run in this game, I don’t think they want to have Franks throw on the first three throws of the game. Lamical Perine has kind of taken over as the workhorse of this backfield. Perine sets the trend of ‘okay, this is how the Florida backfield is going to play.’ Outside of Scarlett and Perine, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dameon Pierce, the freshman, gets his share of carries as well. This kid is a tough runner, he can find little creases that other people can’t. He provides a change of pace but still runs with that same kind of authoritative, forceful burst that Perine and Scarlett bring.
Michael Hebert: What do you think Florida is focused on in stopping Georgia’s offense and how much is getting to the quarterback involved into that?
Morgan McMullen: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is going to try to dictate this game on defense. He brings a lot of blitz schemes to the table. Against LSU, he brought a lot of different blitz schemes. He likes to throw his linebackers in there and likes to drop linemen like senior CeCe Jefferson and junior Jaciah Polite into coverage acting like a rover linebacker. So I think that’s where the game is going to be won and lost, Florida’s front seven vs. Georgia’s front five. I think that’s definitely going to be the biggest aspect that Florida is going to try and hone in on. They’re going to try to throw different blitz schemes at sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm. I feel like if Florida’s defense is able to get him rattled a little bit, they might be able to effectively shut down the passing game. I feel like Georgia is going to try to rely heavily on that run game and try to exploit some of the holes in Florida’s run defense, because Florida’s linebacking corps isn’t the biggest. The biggest run stuffer is freshman David Reese, but outside of him, Florida’s linebackers are just fast and athletic, they’re not going to be able to shed blocks well.
Michael Hebert: General thoughts on the game and score prediction?
Morgan McMullen: Sure, I think Mullen is going to come out with a run-heavy offense. It all kinds of depends on Florida’s offensive line. I don’t know if they’ll be able to block Georgia’s defensive line up front. If that fails, and it falls on Franks’ shoulders, it could be a long afternoon for Florida. I’m going to have to go with 23-17 Georgia. I think they do enough on the ground, the tandem of running backs in junior Elijah Holyfield and sophomore D’Andre Swift will do enough to grind out the game, shorten it, elongate their possessions. They’re going to try to put in Franks’ hands and I think he’s not going to be able to get the job done. If there’s a late drive with like 2 minutes to go to win it, I think Franks throws a late game interception.