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Friday, August 7, 2009

Opponent preview: Georgia

Now we're getting serious with these opponent previews. Today's post is about Georgia.

Be sure to read previous posts about the second day of Auburn's practice. I wrote a lengthy bullet-point recap of what happened Thursday here and linked to my newspaper story about Chris Todd's comeback from offseason shoulder surgery here.

As usual, if you missed any of the first 10 opponent previews, click on any of the following links to go back and read them: Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Ball State, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss and Furman.

And as usual, follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here for instantaneous updates throughout the season. If any news breaks, I'll put it up here first.

Georgia Bulldogs
  • Head coach: Mark Richt (9th season at Georgia, 82-22)
  • 2008 record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC, 2nd in West), beat Michigan State 24-12 in Capital One Bowl
  • Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
  • Total offense: 426.0 (2nd SEC, 22nd nationally)
  • Total defense: 312.0 (6th SEC, 22nd nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 53-51-8
  • Last meeting: Georgia won 17-13 last year in Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • Consensus prediction: Second in the SEC East
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Oct. 31: vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
  • Nov. 7: Tennessee Tech
  • Nov. 14: Auburn
  • Nov. 21: Kentucky
  • Nov. 28: at Georgia Tech
Has there ever been a more disappointing 10-win season in college football history. Yes, the Bulldogs reached double digits in wins, but for a team loaded with quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno, one that was the preseason No. 1 team in the country, a trip to the Capital One Bowl was not what it had in mind for postseason play. Georgia faces a different situation this year. Stafford and Moreno left for the NFL, so the team is definitely lacking star power. Joe Cox finally gets his shot at quarterback after serving as an understudy for years and a host of running backs will try to replace Moreno's production. Florida is the unquestionable top dog in the SEC East, so Georgia, which still has a ton of talent, is definitely flying under the radar.

To find out if the Bulldogs could still challenge in the East this year, I went to the man who inspired this whole opponent preview (he did it for Georgia following spring practice), David Hale of the Macon Telegraph. You'll definitely come away more knowledgeable if you click on the following links: his blog, his online work and his Twitter. As an added bonus, David was nice enough to provide links after each question for those of you who would like more detail on a subject than just a paragraph.

AB: We've seen teams succeed once a big-name star leaves (Tee Martin following Peyton Manning is the perfect example), but rarely does a team lose two stars the caliber of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. What can we expect from their replacements, quarterback Joe Cox and running back Caleb King?
DH: From Cox, I think Georgia fans should know just what they're getting. No, he can't make all the passes Stafford did, but he's a fifth-year senior, he knows the system, and he has the respect of all of his teammates and coaches. The kid has tons of charisma and he's going to be a great leader, on and off the field (as he's already shown this offseason).


The running back situation is a bit different. Richard Samuel and Caleb King both were five-star recruits with tons of potential, but neither really showed much last year and Samuel missed the spring with a wrist injury. Perhaps the opportunity left by Moreno's departure allows one or both of them to develop, and both certainly have the talent to be stars. But I think the more likely scenario this year is that Georgia employs more of a committee approach that also includes redshirt freshmen Carlton Thomas and Dontavius Jackson along with true freshman Washaun Ealey. Ealey is really the wild card though, as his high school credentials are impressive, and a strong fall camp could earn him enough playing time to really break out. Of course, he could also struggle early and land in a red shirt — which probably sums up why it's so tough to predict the running back spot right now.

AB: The line was the weak link of last year's offense but now becomes a strength, with four returning starters and the return of left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who missed last season with an ACL injury. Can this group be good enough to make up for the losses at quarterback and running back?
DH: I think that can definitely be the case. Richt's philosophy is that an offense can only move at the pace the O-line and QB will let it move, and for the past three seasons, Georgia has been inexperienced at one of the two positions. This year, Cox is a veteran (even if he doesn't have a lot of playing time under his belt) and the line is extremely talented, which could allow the offense to be just as dynamic (if not more so) than it was last year. Sturdivant, center Ben Jones, tackle Clint Boling and guard Cordy Glenn could all be candidates for All-SEC by season's end.

AB: A.J. Green turned in a strong freshman campaign, but now is the Bulldogs' lone returning threat at receiver. How will he cope with being the man now that Mohamed Massaquoi is gone and who will step up from the supporting cast to help him out?
DH: This will be interesting to see how it develops, because Green relied heavily on Massaquoi last year, both on and off the field. He'll definitely draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses, but he's also one of the most talented receivers in the country and he dealt with double teams much of last season as well. I would actually say, looking at the career stats, Massaquoi may have benefited more from having Green on the field than it was the other way around. Still, there are some good candidates to step up, including senior Michael Moore, who had a big game against Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, and true freshmen Marlon Brown and Orson Charles.

AB: The defense gave up 38 or more points in four of the final five games last year (the exception, of course, being in a 17-13 win against Auburn's anemic offense). How has that group gone about the offseason and is there reason to believe it will fare any better this season against top-notch offenses?
DH: I'm torn on this. On the positive side, they'll be healthier and will no doubt have a more focused approach after what transpired last season. The injuries last year caused Richt to lighten up during practice, and the result was some poor fundamentals on D. That won't be the case this season. You also have to really like the interior line, led by two future NFLers (and likely first-day picks) in Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens. Rennie Curran is one of the top linebackers in the country and a natural leader, and Prince Miller, Reshad Jones and Bryan Evans give Georgia a fairly experienced secondary. The problem this year, however, begins where it did last year, and that's the pass rush. When the Bulldogs take the field against Oklahoma State to start the season, they won't have a single active defensive end who recorded so much as half-a-sack in SEC play last year. Richt has promised to use some linebackers as stand-up rushers this season to help bolster the pass rush, but how well UGA can get to the QB will likely determine how much better the defense looks in the end.
AB: Last year's expectations as the preseason No. 1 proved to be an enormous burden on a team that still finished 10-3 but fell short of its goals. With the focus this preseason on different teams in the SEC (most notably Florida and Alabama), will Georgia be able to surprise some people this year?
DH: It's hard to say. Even Richt has called this team the hardest to predict of his time at Georgia. There are just so many new faces in key positions and so much production was lost from last year's team. But having said that, there is still a lot of talent on the roster, and virtually everyone from Richt on down has said that it has been a lot easier this offseason without the enormous expectations that come with being No. 1. Talking to the players, this offseason has been a lot more intense and a lot more focused than it was a year ago, but we really won't know how much difference it makes on game day until they actually take the field against teams like LSU and Florida this fall.
NCAA '10 on PlayStation 3 says ... Auburn 39, No. 15 Georgia 38. If ESPN was broadcasting this game, it would be an instant classic. (I would also like to re-iterate, I am in no way affecting the outcomes of these simulations.) The Tigers build a 27-7 halftime lead behind two Kodi Burns touchdown passes. They extend it to 30-7 before Georgia storms back with 31 unanswered points. Cox throws for 272 yards and four touchdowns, the last a 42-yarder to Greene that makes it 38-30 Bulldogs. But Auburn comes right back. Burns hits Montez Billings with a 28-yard touchdown pass with 2:33 to go. The two-point conversion fails, leaving the Tigers down by two. But Wes Byrum, who made his first three field goals of the day, makes a 40-yard field goal with 4 seconds to play to give Auburn the win. No reports about whether he ran down the sideline doing some sort of Bulldog hand gesture after making the kick. The wins makes Auburn 8-3 on the year and 5-2 in the SEC. The Tigers also make their first appearance in the polls at No. 20. Only one game left, and yes, it's against No. 3 Alabama, with the SEC West title on the line.

Up next: Our final installment and probably the most important in the eyes of Auburn fans: the Iron Bowl against Alabama.


Walker said...

Andy, this season summary has been fantastic. If we are 8-3 going in to play Bama, I will be stoked. Beating UGA 39-38 on a last second field goal would be amazing.

Also, was amused to learn you asked the question that pissed off Coach Rocker. Wonder why???

I hope it is because he doesn't like you, rather than being unhappy with the practice schedule.

So do you have any leader in the Todd-Caudle-Rollison-Burns affair?

KungFuPanda9 said...

Hate to be the wet blanket, but... How valid are these computer simulations if Kodi isn't the quarterback? Plus, the machine seems to have him making completions in cyberspace that he does not make on the field.

That being said, I think we have a chance to beat Georgia.

Andy Bitter said...

I'll be honest, I think NCAA '10 gives Auburn a little too much credit. Burns is having a phenomenal year, a little too good if you ask me. (Furthermore, he might not be the starting QB come Sept. 5.)

The game also thinks very highly of Montez Billings and Tim Hawthorne. They're both pushing 1,000 yards on the season. I give that a .02% chance of happening this season. So I doubt this is giving an accurate assessment of what the season is going to be like. It's just a fun thing to put at the end of these write-ups that will have no bearing on the season.

As for the QB race, it's hard to handicap right now just because we don't get to see much. I will say that I'd be shocked if Rollison plays early in the season. It just seems like too much for a freshman to handle in any situation. I will say that of the other three, Todd looks the most polished. Then again, my football evaluation skills aren't necessarily at the top of the heap.

AUsome04 said...

Glad to see the Tigers shocked the bulldogs. If you didn't know video games are based on potential. We were good last year on NCAA '09 but look how that season played out.

Andy do you watch the game or do you start it and walk away?

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid your program is in shambles. You've hire a coach that is a proven loser. Yes, he's an Auburn man, but so was Ray Goff to Georgia. Until you guys oust Louder, your program has little chance of returning to it's previous glory against the coaches that now decorate the SEC.