Three teams in the SEC Eastern Division should be thanking those in charge of scheduling this year.
Saturday, Florida (4-3, 1-3), Georgia (5-2, 4-1) and No. 14 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) are all off, and their bye weeks couldn’t come at a better time.
Major injuries may have altered the direction of Florida and South Carolina’s seasons, while Georgia is looking to get mentally right before the home stretch. With the easiest second-half stretch of any East team, Georgia might have the best chance to win out going forward.
South Carolina, who is without star running back Marcus Lattimore for the remainder of the year, still has games at Tennessee, Arkansas and hosts Florida.
For Florida, the bye comes before its annual meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., with Georgia. The Gators then host Vanderbilt before taking on South Carolina. Florida is hoping quarterback John Brantley can come back as soon as next Saturday, but coach Will Muschamp isn’t sure if that will happen.
So, this bye week will be extremely critical for all three of these teams.
“We gotta learn how to block a little bit better, throw and catch,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
It’s also the time to find a quality attack to help soften the blow of losing Lattimore. This extra time should be used to coach up new starter Brandon Wilds and get receiver Bruce Ellington more reps in the Wildcat. Wilds went from possible redshirt to starter and while he isn’t near the player Lattimore is, Spurrier said he’s been impressed by his work ethic and athleticism.
Wilds can’t be consumed with trying to be Lattimore. He isn't and can’t be Lattimore. This is the time for him to concentrate on doing what he does best and improve upon that.
Getting Ellington more prepared in the backfield should help, too. Spurrier said the concern with running so much Wildcat is teams will load the box to disrupt it, but with Ellington, who was a high school quarterback, he’s a throwing threat. He’s attempted three passes thus far, but making him a more active thrower could benefit the Gamecocks’ offense.
“We’ll try to replace Marcus the best way we can,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, some of the other offensive players can step up a bit more.”
Expect a more active Connor Shaw in the pocket as well.
Georgia is actually getting healthier with linebacker Alec Ogletree set to return for the Florida game, and the possibility of receiver Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring) coming back, too.
Georgia can also focus on cleaning up some of its fundamental issues, coach Mark Richt said. The first part of the bye was light and used to tighten up technique, whole Florida preparation begins Thursday.
“I would say by Monday we’ll have 90 percent of the plan in,” Richt said.
What could disrupt that plan is not knowing Florida’s starting quarterback. Florida could throw three quarterbacks out in Jacksonville. Richt said he’s seen enough film of each to know what they can do, but not knowing the starter is a concern.
“It’s hard to get a plan for three guys and it sure would be nice to know who’s going to play,” Richt said, “but I doubt we’ll know that until the last moment.”
And the Gators? They are two games out of first and are on a three-game slide. Not having Brantley has hurt, but Florida is banged up on both sides of the ball. Florida might need the bye more than any team.
“We just need to take care of Florida and as we work into the weekend here, start on Georgia,” Muschamp said.
Florida stumbled into the bye, but now is the time for this coaching staff to sit back and figure out what is truly working and what isn’t. Right now, a lot isn’t, so making adjustments across the board is a must.
Muschamp doesn’t talk much about the future, but he said his players know where they stand and how important a win fresh out of the bye is.
“It’s pretty obvious that we need some help at this point,” Muschamp said. “They understand where they are and what’s at stake in the situation to get to Atlanta.”