Smart, Bulldogs turn focus to Florida
ATHENS – No. 1 Georgia had a bye last week ahead of its upcoming matchup with Florida.
According to head coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs have shifted their focus toward the Gators.
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“It’s another exciting matchup with these guys in Jacksonville,” Smart said in a press conference on Monday. “I have a lot of respect for [Florida head coach] Billy [Napier]. I've known him for a long time. He’s one of the most intelligent coaches I've been around in terms of preparation and understanding what it takes to run a program or an organization. I think he does a fabulous job. I know a lot of guys on his staff and I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and being a high school coach's son in this state, we grew up very similar. So, it's on to the Gators, and we kind of started on them last week at the end of the week, and I am looking forward to a good week of practice.”
Florida (4-3, 1-3 SEC) comes into this matchup with nothing to lose, hoping to spoil Georgia’s unblemished record, despite having a rough time so far in Napier’s first season.
The Gators started out their 2022 campaign with an upset over No. 14 Utah. However, they played a couple of close matchups with No. 3 Tennessee and No. 18 LSU, although their toughest test will be on Saturday against the top-ranked Bulldogs in Jacksonville.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett knows a thing or two about this heated rivalry.
"I can tell you that it is hard to get a feel for how much the players care and feel about the [Georgia-Florida] rivalry until you play in it,” Bennett said. “You can throw the records or whatever you want to out of the window, more so than any other game on our schedule, when we go down there and play Florida. I think coach [Billy] Napier is building a good program. I loved him when he was at Louisiana [Lafayette]. They are always going to be a force to be reckoned with down there."
The Gators are led by quarterback Anthony Richardson, who’s struggled at times this season. The redshirt sophomore signal-caller has completed 96-of-170 passing attempts for 1,367 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Richardson has also totaled a team’s second-best 395 rushing yards on 56 attempts with three scores via the ground.
Smart highlighted he’s seen some progression from Richardson since the start of the year.
“He's grown a lot and he's gotten considerably better to me during this season,” Smart said. “From the start of the season, game one, you watch every game in sequence and you say, man, this guy is growing and getting better. And they don't just limit things for him. Like, they put a lot of shift motion, they put a lot of things on top of him to handle and he manages those well. The toughest thing about dealing with Anthony Richardson is how you affect him, especially because you got to be careful. Some of the runs he's had have been better than backs have across the country. He had 60 and 70-yard runs.”
Richardson’s mobility is a big reason why he’s such a threat to defenses. He’s averaging 7.1 yards per attempt and 56.3 yards per game on the ground during his 2022 campaign.
Smart added that Richardson fits well in Napier’s offensive system.
“He can take off at any point in time and you don't know who's going to have him or who can get him down,” Smart said. “He's also got an elite arm talent in terms of strength. They clean things up for him on a lot of reads and he does a really nice job of it. So, I give them a lot of credit – Billy a lot of credit for the development, what he's done from the start of the season to now in being successful both with his legs and his arm.”
Florida’s defensive unit has struggled this season. The Gators currently are tied at No. 118 nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 429.3 yards per contest. They are also ranked No. 81 out of 131 FBS teams in the country in scoring defense at 28.4 points per game.
Still, Smart thinks Florida’s defense could present the Bulldogs’ offense with some problems.
“[They are] extremely disruptive,” Smart said. “You know, the size and girth in the middle are what you want in the SEC, to control run games and control the A and B gaps.”
Cox signed with Georgia out of high school a few years ago. He spent one season as a Bulldog before being dismissed from the team. Cox then transferred to Florida in 2019.
He’s been effective for the Gators’ defensive, totaling 33 tackles so far this season as a redshirt senior, Cox has also registered 8.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks in 2022.
Smart praised Cox for his ability to set the edge and get into the backfield.
“They still got the edge guys with Brenton [Cox], being probably the most disruptive guys that we've played in terms of just violence, striking, knock-back, setting edges and affecting the quarterback,” Smart said. “He's a game-breaker at that.”
Georgia and Florida will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Here is Kirby Smart’s Monday press conference: