So how did our Manic-Depressive Previewing pair spend Georgia's bye week? Exactly like you'd expect: Manic Doug spent the entire time planning for this weekend's trip to Jacksonville, though his idea of "planning" basically means "yakking for five days straight about how Georgia's going to kick Florida's ass and how drunk he's going to get afterward, then waiting until the very last minute to cram a whole bunch of stuff in a suitcase and go." Depressive Doug, of course, had packed and made arrangements for the pets weeks in advance, so he was able to spend his time hunched over a computer screen in a desperate search for any sort of statistic or trend that would point to a Georgia victory this weekend. You will not be stunned to learn he didn't find anything to his liking. So now that we've got a sort of mood established, let's talk about The Game To End All Games (Until The Next One) as we hurtle down I-10:
Manic Doug: Thirty to sixteen.
Depressive Doug: What's that?
MD: The final score of the game this weekend. 30-16. I know we usually save exact score predictions for the very end, but I can't this time. I'm too amped. That's what the score's gonna be, and I don't want to hear any crap about it.
DD: Of our game?
MD: Yes, of our game, what'd you think we were here to talk about? The Falcons?
DD: No, because the Falcons don't play this weekend, but they still have a better chance of posting a victory by that score than the Bulldogs do. Here's another pair of numbers for you: 3 and 18.
MD: Kind of a low-scoring game, but hey, a victory in a defensive struggle counts just as much as one in a shootout --
DD: That's not a score prediction, numbnuts, it's a record. As in our record against Florida over the past 21 years. And it's why I can't in good conscience predict a win for the Dawgs this Saturday, as much as I'd like to.
MD: Why not? We've got the better quarterback, no matter who takes the field for the Gators. We've got better receivers, even if Malcolm Mitchell doesn't take the field for us. I'll take our front seven over theirs, and yeah, our special teams too, even after that debacle a couple weeks ago in Nashville. I don't think anyone can look at the two teams right now and say Georgia isn't better.
DD: Yeah, but since when has that mattered? We've come into Jacksonville numerous times in the past two decades with the better team, and we've only got three wins to show for it.
MD: Not so fast, buddy. Michael Elkon from Braves and Birds went back over the scores and records from the last 20-plus seasons and found that that whole "Georgia having a better team and still losing" thing isn't nearly as pervasive as we've been led to believe. This isn't a case of Georgia being a juggernaut that always has some sort of mental meltdown in Jacksonville; for a good part of the last two decades, Florida has had the better team, not just some nebulous intangible advantage in terms of "mindset."
DD: So, uh -- is that supposed to make me feel better?
MD: Yes, dumbass, when Georgia's got the better team! Are you even listening?
DD: OK. So let's go out on a very shaky, rotten limb and assume everything you say is true -- that this whole "Georgia has a mental block in Jacksonville" is just as big a myth as Bigfoot, trickle-down economics and a light beer that tastes great despite having fewer calories. What makes you so confident Georgia has the better team?
MD: I'll start with the obvious: better QB. Before John Brantley got hurt, he was averaging fewer than 15 completions and 190 yards per game. So even if he is back for the Cocktail Party, it's obvious Charlie Weis isn't going to use him to do too much. Aaron Murray, meanwhile, is currently third in the conference in passing efficiency and just set a career high in passing yardage against a pretty decent Vanderbilt pass defense. Basically, there's going to be only one offense on the field Saturday that's remotely two-dimensional, and that's ours, which is important: More than any other single factor, getting the offense going is critical to a Georgia win in Jacksonville. In our three wins since 1990, we've scored an average of 37 points. In the 18 losses, we've averaged only 15.
DD: Yeah, but we scored 31 last year and still lost.
MD: Mainly because our defense was in the first year of a wholesale switch to the 3-4 alignment and the front seven had no idea what they were supposed to be doing in most situations, never mind when they were facing a mobile QB. This year they're 18th in rushing defense and have already completely neutralized one rush-oriented spread attack, Mississippi State's, that ran all over them in 2010.
DD: On the other hand, they went from shutting out Vanderbilt last year to allowing nearly 200 yards to them on the ground two weeks ago and barely surviving. Both Vanderbilt and South Carolina have fricking murdered us on the outside this season -- surely you don't think that's escaped Charlie Weis's attention?
MD: I wouldn't think so, but so what? Who are they going to hit us with out there? Their only real option at that point is Chris Rainey, who's basically built his fearsome reputation on one monster game -- hell, one monster reception -- against Tennessee. Other than that, he's been averaging fewer than 70 yards from scrimmage per game, and that's including pass receptions. I'm telling you, this might be the weakest Florida offense Georgia's had to go up against since the pre-Spurrier era.
DD: Probably would've said that about last year's, too, right up until they dumped 31 points on us.
MD: You have to think we'll be able to outscore them this year, though, considering that we've got our first consistent rushing threat since Knowshon was on the roster.
DD: Isaiah Crowell's only had 93 total rushing yards in his last two games, though. Against Florida's front seven, I don't like that number.
MD: Cut the kid some slack, though, he was all gimped up and he's had two weeks to heal.
DD: Look, it's not that I don't like what you're telling me here. I'd believe every word of it if I hadn't been subjected to two decades of misery already. But when you tell me that there aren't mental issues at work here. Last year, Florida had a miserable offense and Aaron Murray was looking like a superstar; by the end of the game, though, the Gators had scored 34 points and Murray had thrown three picks, one of them that terrible throw in OT that effectively killed any shot at winning. In '02 and '03, a team that went on to win the SEC East couldn't get it done against frickin' Ron Zook. I'm in complete agreement with you that Georgia's the better team this year, and demonstrably so, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. If we can find a way to lose, we'll do it.
MD: God, it must be so painful being you.
DD: This is news to you? I've been trying to tell you that for 33 years.
MD: So all right, you think we're gonna find a way to lose. What way is that? And don't give me any pulled-straight-out-of-your-rear-end stuff like "Aaron Murray is gonna throw three picks again" or "the defense is gonna let John Brantley throw for 400 yards" or something like that.
DD: You say that as if those things couldn't happen, but OK, let's deal strictly in what we know. How could Georgia lose this game? SImple. Crowell gets bottled up by the Florida front seven. Aaron Murray doesn't throw a ton of picks, but he could get shackled by dropped passes -- if we can't put Malcolm Mitchell in the game, then the next two WRs, Tavarres King and Michael Bennett, have hardly been sure-handed this season. Like I said earlier, the defense could get burned on the outside by Chris Rainey. And then there's special teams: Blair Walsh has gone from "money" to "inconsistent at best" on field goals, and this is a game where every point's gonna count. Our kickoff coverage is next-to-last in the SEC, which is what happens when you've let two mediocre teams return KOs for touchdowns already -- not good when we've got Andre Debose staring at us from the opposite end of the field. Oh, and our punt coverage has stunk, too -- we're dead last in the SEC in punt return yards allowed, which is why we can have the best punter in the SEC and still be only 101st in the nation in net punting. Mark my words, we're going to give up a special-teams score on Saturday, the only question is whether it's gonna be Debose, Rainey or Solomon Patton.
MD: Man, you've dreamed up quite the perfect storm of suck there, haven't you? If all those things happen, we'll be lucky if we only lose by 30.
DD: I'm not saying all those things are gonna happen, but it'll be bad enough if only a few of them do. Rainey breaks a few runs, our receivers drop a couple passes in the red zone, we give up a score on a punt or KO return . . . Georgia's gonna be in the game all afternoon long, may even lead for most of it, but we give up a big play in the fourth quarter and end up losing 26-23.
MD: Terrible, just terrible. You've been hurt by somebody in the past, haven't you?
DD: Spurrier, Zook, Meyer . . . and that's just the people connected to this game.
MD: Well, whatever, even you can't bring me down this weekend. I'm standing by the prediction I made at the very beginning -- no, I'm adding to it: Georgia wins thirty-three to sixteen, because I'm giving Blair Walsh another field goal just for the hell of it. Aaron Murray has a fantastic game, Isaiah Crowell keeps the chains moving, and Georgia gets set up with at least one short drive that begins with an interception or fumble in Florida territory (the Gators are -7 in turnover margin in the past three weeks alone). This is where the tide turns, buddy, and you're gonna be there to witness it.
DD: Oh, God, it was bad enough when you were just predicting us to win this game. Now you're predicting a complete sea change in the entire rivalry? I'm not sure I even want to go to the game now, because you've jinxed us to the point where a satellite is going to re-enter the earth's atmosphere and land on Georgia's sideline, killing or maiming our entire roster.
MD: Oh, stop it. You need me to pull over at the next rest area so you can take a few deep breaths, go pee, calm down a bit?
DD: Don't treat me like a toddler, you're the one who's operating outside the bounds of reality here. To the point where our two predictions average out to a 28-21 Georgia win, which would be only our fourth win in Jax since the eighties. You happy about spitting in karma's face like that?
MD: Hey, I've had to sit and watch a proud football program go down to Jacksonville and lose to a team they used to own, 18 times in the last 21 years. Karma owes me, big-time.