Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. Oklahoma State

It’s finally arrived. That day of days that seemingly takes longer to come than Christmas morning, the last day of school, or the announcement of the next Paula Abdul vehicle, post-American Idol. College football is here, and Georgia tops the list of a number of big, or at least intriguing match-ups slated for week one. The Dawgs travel to the Sooner State to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Despite being devoid of Tim Tebow, the game holds a prime spot on national television, and should receive plenty of media attention. So, let’s take a look and see what we’ve got.

(editor’s note: There will be no “I’m a man, I’m forty!” comments henceforth)

Although the Cowboys have a losing record overall, they’ve made some strides of late, appearing in a bowl game 6 times in 7 years – a first for the school. Thanks to the backing of oil baron (some call him a tycoon, or perhaps a mogul) T. Boone Pickens, and the leadership of Les Miles (now with LSU) and current head coach Mike Gundy, the Cowpokes have undergone upgrades in facilities, talent, and exposure. While they’ll never truly step out of the shadow of Oklahoma, OSU is anything but an also-ran in the Big 12 these days. Finishing with a 9-4 record in ’08, the Cowboys return virtually every key contributor from a year ago.

Oil Baron T. Boone Pickens has predicted the final score. 387-24, OSU.

The Cowboys are led by senior QB Zac Robinson. While many ‘dual-threat’ quarterbacks are just running backs playing the QB position, Robinson truly fits the bill. An extremely accurate passer, he’ll also have several designed runs, and will tuck it and run if he’s unable to spot an open receiver (Robinson had ½ as many rush attempts as pass attempts). One thing to keep an eye on will be finding out just how mobile Robinson is to start the season. Reports indicate that he's battled some minor leg problems, and they may be worse than the team has let on.

Robinson’s primary target will be WR Dez Bryant. Outside of maybe AJ Green, you will not find a finer receiver in all of college football. Accounting for ~50% of OSU’s receiving yards a year ago, the junior is a rock-solid 6’2, 220lbs, and is both sure-handed and fast. The Cowboys did lose TE Brandon Pettigrew, who was the 20th overall pick and the first TE taken in the NFL draft. As such, the ‘Pokes are extremely inexperienced aside from Bryant, with no WR or TE in the line-up with more than 3 career receptions, but he's the type of player that can take over a game. It was also just released that starting TE Jamal Mosley has left the team for personal reasons, making the position even more unsettled.

At running back, Kendall Hunter will get the lion’s share of the carries. At 5’8, 197lbs, Hunter has been surprisingly durable, and his elusiveness and speed make him a threat to take it the distance at any moment. He’s averaged 6.5 ypc each of his first two seasons, and is utilized in the passing game from time to time.

The Cowboys will start 4 seniors and a junior on the offensive line. OT Russell Okung leads the group, and might be the best lineman in the country. The line may not be quite as formidable in the middle, but they are big and well-coached.

Overall on offense, OSU is talented, experienced, and balanced. The ‘Pokes finished third in total offense in the Big 12 a year ago, and averaged a gaudy 40.8 points per game, good for 9th nationally. Although there’s no shortage of talent or big play ability on offense, the Cowboys’ real strength is their balance. They totaled an almost identical amount of yards on the ground as through the air a season ago.

For the Bulldogs defensively, I’ll not rehash last year’s miseries, but suffice it to say the unit was a major disappointment. Strategically speaking for this game, the first thing is to keep an eye on WR Dez Bryant. He’s going to catch his share of passes, but Georgia’s corners need to be on the same page as the safeties on any deeper routes. It would also be a bad idea to blitz QB Zac Robinson too frequently. He’s too good a runner to allow him to get past the first wave of defenders. Beyond that, the Dawgs need to play good, hard-nosed football at the line of scrimmage. With Jeff Owens back alongside Geno Atkins in the middle, and the ability to rotate in Kade Weston and DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia should be able to remain fresh and get a good push up the middle. If they’re able to get some pressure off the edge from their DE’s, it becomes that much more important to keep things messy in the middle, or else Robinson will be 8 yards downfield before they know what happened.

The OSU defense has been much maligned over the years, and had one of their worst editions ever in 2008. The Cowboys’ defense yielded 405 yds and 28 pts per game, and amassed just 12 sacks for the whole year. Enter new defensive coordinator and OSU alum Bill Young. Young has served as DC for some of the biggest programs in all of college football, including Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, and Miami. He brings 40 years of experience to a defense looking for some semblance of direction.

Big things were expected out of DE Ugo Chinasa, but he has yet to truly assert himself. Other than him, the D-Line is not particularly big, and not especially talented. They’ve played the run okay, but were completely stonewalled last year in the pass rush.

The linebacking corps is led by seniors Andre Sexton and Patrick Levine, and is the strength of the defense. They are fast and athletic, and make plays when the D-Line is able to hold its own. It's safe to say that DC Bill Young will look for ways to get these guys out in space, and rushing off the edge.

The secondary was absolutely murdered last year. CB Perrish Cox has NFL talent, but he can’t do it all on his own. He’s also one of the most dangerous return men in college football, so the Dawgs will have to be wary when he gets his hands on the ball. Obviously, the lack of a consistent pass rush meant that the defensive backs were forced to cover receivers longer. It should be noted that Perrish Cox was just arrested for driving with a suspended license. There’s been no official word from the school, and while this is not generally something that warrants a suspension, it would certainly hurt what is already a suspect defense.

When Georgia has the ball, there won’t be much of a change from what we saw last season in terms of game plan, save one thing. The Dawgs should have a bit more flexibility with (and reliance on) TEs in the passing game. RB Richard Samuel, who has reportedly really come on during fall camp, will definitely try to set the tone for the offense and take a little pressure off of Joe Cox, but every good offensive coordinator knows that you have to attack the weakness of the defense. That comes in the passing game. When going up against a high-octane offense, you’ll often hear people say that a team should try to play more of a ball-control style in an attempt to bleed the clock and shorten the game. With OSU’s suspect defense, I don’t see the Bulldogs going that route here. If Bobo and Richt have spotted ways to get a quick score here or there, they’re going to go for it, and take their chances with stopping the Cowboys’ offense. Look for Cox to connect on at least one deep post to AJ Green, and keep an eye out for either Carlton Thomas or Rantavious Wooten (or both) to get a couple of big gains on a screen or bubble screen. Also, backup QB Logan Gray is almost assured of some playing time. This could be in some designed run packages, or he may even get a series or two to actually run the show. This is a good idea, but Richt needs to make sure he chooses a time where it won’t throw off any kind of rhythm the Dawgs may have established with Cox behind center.

So, what will happen?

Georgia can win this game by turning it into a slobber-knocker battle in the trenches. OSU thrives on momentum, and keeping the opposing defense on their heels. The Dawgs will be aiming to hit everybody (hopefully in a legal fashion) and take them out of their routine. They won’t need to sack Robinson every time he drops back, but they do need to get the pocket collapsed, and they do need to hit him. If they can get his head on a swivel, so to speak, and make him get rid of the ball quicker than he’d like, they’ll be successful (think Hawaii a couple of years back).

There’ll be plenty of opportunities offensively for the Dawgs, either through their own well-planned play calling, or through the Cowboys’ ineptitude. Georgia needs to make sure they don’t miss out on any easy scores, as this could be a shootout.

In the end, I feel that Georgia’s D-Line will rise to the challenge, and resemble some of the defenses we saw a few years back. The offense makes plenty of big plays, and the Dawgs take this one, 37-24.

Offensive Player of the Game: AJ Green should be able to put up some impressive numbers, but QB Joe Cox will need to be on point for Georgia's offense to thrive. I think he is, and I think it does.

Defensive Player of the Game: LB Darryl Gamble was a bit inconsistent last season, but he really showed up in some huge games with a penchant for the big play. I think that he comes up with one in the first half that really sends the Dawgs on their way.

Thought for the Game: Every season's different, but when you combine Richt's record in opponents' stadiums (30-4) with the fact that the Dawgs have pounded every "upstart" team that was poised to upset the Dawgs (OSU is actually a favorite here), it engenders a certain degree of confidence. The Cowboys will also be christening a brand new stadium, and entering the season with expectations they've not known for 25 years, so the pressure lies squarely on their shoulders.

Well, that's what I've got for you this week. Any season opener is exciting, but this one will be even more so. Enjoy the game, enjoy the season, and welcome back, college football! Go Dawgs!!

1 comment:

  1. You got the 24 right. And if Bobo had read your analysis, and we had called "slug it out in the trenches" kinds of plays, you might have gotten it all right. Half a loaf, I guess.