Posted: 1:00 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5, 2013
By Neil Shulman
The trap game of all trap games?
2012 season: 10-4 (FCS)
Coach: Jeff Monken, fourth season (31-12)
Last result vs. Florida: Florida 62, Georgia Southern 14 (1996)
Series record vs. Florida: Florida, 2-0
Game date: Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
Game location: Gainesville, FL
The Georgia Southern Eagles are a team in transition. They will be moving up to play in the FBS (Sun Belt) in 2014, meaning they have to add scholarship players to their roster, but because of this, they have more than the FCS limit. Thus, the FCS has declared them ineligible to win their conference or national championship. Since GSU cannot win the real national championship, the Eagles are undoubtedly making the Gators, their lone FBS opponent, their own personal makeshift national championship game.
Add the fact that they would likely be a top-10 or maybe even top-five FCS team if they were eligible. Now throw in their always dangerous triple option. All this put together gives me the ability to be the first to issue the following statement, flashing in bright colors: WARNING! THIS IS THE BIGGEST TRAP GAME IN WILL MUSCHAMP'S COACHING CAREER.
While the Eagles don't have quite the same talent running the triple option as Florida did a few years ago, it's still enough to make Florida have to be at their best to stop it. It all starts with QB Jerick McKinnon, who has the responsibility of knowing when to keep it and when to pitch it off. Two of his targets in the option game are slot back Jonathan Bryant and All-Southern Conference tailback Dominique Swope. Their fullbacks, Irving Huggins and William Banks, will also get their share of touches. The Eagles also have the offensive line needed to run their triple option against most teams they play, FBS and FCS alike.
As you may have heard by now, the Eagles have a very tricky offense to defend, and it has worked against the best: In the last two years, the Eagles' offense has given Georgia (302 rushing yards in 2012) and Alabama (302 rushing yards in 2011, the highest yield of the Saban era) fits. They're going to try to frustrate the Gators by keeping their defense on the field for long periods of time with slow, methodical drives. However, they're also going to try to get the Gators with a play-action pass a few times during the game to see if they can steal a huge chunk of yardage.
Defending the triple option is all about assignments. One guy is assigned the QB, one guy is assigned the outside pitch tailback, one guy is assigned the inside pitch man, and one guy is assigned the fullback, no matter where they go. Of course, that's easier said than done, or the Eagles wouldn't have amassed 35 points against Georgia and Alabama over the past two years.
Florida has to stay patient, play it safe early on, grab for carelessly carried footballs when they can, make sure they don't run themselves out of the play and save the heroics — the big hits, jumped routes, and strip attempts — for when they've got some numbers on the scoreboard to fall back on.
GSU has a strong defensive backfield. Pittsburgh transfer Steve Williams and 2012 All-Southern Conference DB Lavelle Westbrooks anchor the secondary. But the rest of the defense is shaky at best. They have a propensity for missing tackles against the better (read: FBS) teams, and defensive coordinator Jack Curtis has to find a way to eliminate that if his defense wants to compete against Florida's run-heavy offensive attack.
It's simple. I've said it in previous game previews, and I'll say it again. Turnovers are always the shortcut to winning, especially for an underdog. I cannot remember the last time the Gators were upset by a team that did not force turnovers. Florida's defense is simply better conditioned to stay on the field longer than Georgia Southern's. GSU is going to break first and resort to the gang tackle and strip technique in an attempt to win the time of possession battle.
If Georgia Southern is going for turnovers, then the Gators have to keep them guessing as to where the ball is going. The perfect way to beat a team desperate to force turnovers is the screen pass. So watch for Jeff Driskel to try to set up several different types of screen passes, between the flare out to Matt Jones or Kelvin Taylor, or the bubble screen to Quinton Dunbar or Andre Debose with blockers in front of them. We may even see a jail break screen if Brent Pease wants to really pick up some yardage in a sneaky way. Of course, all of this comes second, after the Gators have set up the running game to start their day.
Florida's front seven vs. Georgia Southern's triple option. If the Gators can defend Georgia Southern's offense from kickoff, they can save themselves from getting burned and suffering from the embarrassment of a frighteningly close score. Ask Georgia or Alabama, this offense is no joke. How quickly the Gators figure it out is key to their success.
The Gators do not do very well against FCS teams under Will Muschsmp. They've won their two games against FCS teams thus far by a total of 45 points. By comparison, Urban Meyer's Gators beat FCS teams individually by more than that in all four of their matchups, sledgehammering FCS programs by 62, 46, 51 and 59 points. But if you thought Florida's last two FCS teams were tough, get ready for an even tougher challenge.
This Georgia Southern team has been to Sanford Stadium and Bryant-Denny Stadium, and is unlikely to buckle under the pressure of being in the Swamp. In addition, remember that this game is GSU's postseason, so expect them to have plenty of motivation.
But, at some point, superior talent and conditioning wins. Florida will get the job done, but only after Georgia Southern gives the Gators the scare of their lives.
Florida 38, Georgia Southern 20.