Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. Arizona St.

Georgia plays the back-end of a home-and-home series with Arizona St. in what should be an exciting, albeit soggy Saturday night in Athens. First, though, let's take a look back at the Bulldogs' 52-41 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks last weekend in Fayetteville.

The Bulldogs entered the game at 1-0 in the SEC, but with several questions still lingering on offense, defense, and special teams.

QB Joe Cox certainly did his part to answer some offensive questions. In just his 4th career start, the Red Knight completed 72% of his passes for 375 yds and 5 TDs, good for a passer rating of 256. WR AJ Green had his best game of the season despite some double coverage by the Hogs, but we got to see several other WRs and TEs step up and contribute mightily to the cause. On the ground, Richard Samuel ran through a gargantuan hole and showed the speed we've heard so much about, while Caleb King looked impressive, getting his first carries of the season after sitting out the first two games with a bum hamstring. Although Arkansas is still known for a porous defense, the Dawgs basically scored at will.

As for the bad...Georgia still continues to get smoked in the turnover battle, and continues to put the defense in bad spots. After thwarting the Razorbacks on their initial series, the Bulldogs appeared to be running a Chinese Fire Drill on the punt return, muffing the punt and giving it right back to Arkansas. A botched pitch by RB Richard Samuel a couple of series later gave the Hogs great field position again. Then, there was the issue of absolutely horrid play by the secondary. A combination of simply getting burned by Arkansas WRs, and just plain not covering receivers at all resulted in some huge gains through the air. Give credit to Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, though, as he'll be playing on Sundays.

In the end, the Dogs were able to put enough points up to secure the victory late, and despite a pitiful game over the first three quarters, Georgia's defense was able to hold Mallett to just 2-8 passing in the fourth quarter, and held the Razorback defense to just 6 points over the final 20 minutes of play. Not pretty, at least defensively, penalty-wise, or turnover-wise, but any road win in the SEC is a good win.

Offensive Player of the Game: I said Richard Samuel. While he did show his speed and get a quick TD early, the two fumbles (one lost) nearly negated that. QB Joe Cox tied the school record w/ 5 TDs, and earned National Offensive Player of the Week honors. Being named Georgia Bullblawg's Offensive Player of the Game surely eclipses that for Mighty Joe Cox.

Defensive Player of the Game: Is there one? I said DE Justin Houston. While he had a solid game (7 tackles, .5 TFL, QB Hurry), I'm going to give it to Kade Weston. The mammoth senior DT really began to assert himself in the second half, finishing w/ half a sack, but an impressive 5 QB hurries.

Thought for the Game: The defense is not good right now, to put it mildly. That being the case, the turnovers are putting an already weak unit in terrible positions, which is making a bad defense even worse. Just once (well, more than once), I'd like to see how the defense looks when it's able to defend 65-85 yard fields all day vs. 5-25 yard fields. It still might not be pretty, but it couldn't be any worse.

On to this weekend's match-up with the Arizona St. Sun Devils, who, surprisingly, have not been forced to change their mascot's name to the Sun Warriors, Sun Storm, or Sun Rays.

In 2008, this game was a trendy upset pick, being that the Dawgs hadn't been that far west in decades, and ASU Head Coach Dennis Erickson had assembled some solid talent. However, the Bulldogs calmly and steadily built a comfortable lead, and beat the Sun Devils 27-10, though the game really wasn't even that close.

Dennis Erickson's squad is at a fork in the road.

For the Sun Devils offensively, they, like the Dawgs, have had to replace one of their most prolific passers in school history in Rudy Carpenter. And, like the Dawgs, they've done so with a 5th year senior in Danny Sullivan. At 6'5, 238lbs, he's a big kid with an above average arm. He's been effective, though not particularly accurate in his limited time over the years.

At tailback, the lion's share of the carries will go to Dimitri Nance, who I don't believe is of Russian descent. He's an absolute load at about 5'10, 220lbs. He doesn't possess great speed or quickness, but runs with exceptional balance, and is tough to bring down once he gets going.

ASU's WR corps is very experienced and talented. Kyle Williams is their main play-maker (he's also leading the Pac-10 in punt return avg). Chris McGaha is a bit more of a possession receiver, but he compliments Williams nicely, and should not be overlooked on underneath routes by the Georgia secondary (read: Uh-oh).

The ASU offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year. They will, perhaps, be the smallest line Georgia will face this season. However, although size is nice (no "that's what she said" jokes, please), O-Line play is much more about cohesion and proper technique, which the Sun Devils have in spades.

For Georgia defensively, it's time to just hit the reset button. In the last two games, Georgia has been both dinked-n-dunked to death, and burned deep. There have been some signs of improvement, though, on the offensive line. The Dawgs continue to play the run well, and play makers are beginning to step up at the DE position. Cornelius Washington, after seeing minimal playing time in game 1, now leads the Dawgs with 2 sacks and is second with 6 QB pressures. DE Justin Houston has had a game to get his feet wet, and should only become more of a force as the season progresses. Georgia should have an easier time covering the ASU receivers, and against the smaller ASU front five, the interior ought to be able to collapse the pocket against a relatively inexperienced QB. Backup CB Vance Cuff is currently listed as probable after straining an MCL, so hopefully he'll be ready to go.

On Defense, Arizona State has a legitimate threat off the edge with DE Dexter Davis. Davis is quickly moving up the all-time sack list at ASU. They'll rely on quickness and stunts up the middle with Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola at the DT positions. Guy is still a bit undersized, but he's just a sophomore, and has shown monumental improvement from last year.

Their LB corps is perhaps not the fastest Georgia will face this year, but they are big and physical, and have shown a penchant for making big plays. LB Mike Nixon already has 3 interceptions on the year, after finishing with 5 in '08.

The secondary is led by CB Omar Bolden, who also handles kick returns for the Sun Devils. Safeties Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy are not exceptionally quick, but have excellent size, and can really hit when they get a receiver or running back in their sights.

Georgia's offense just needs to keep on keeping on, with the exception of turnovers. The Sun Devils haven't been tested yet this season, so Georgia can really look for the opportunity to go for the throat early and often here. The key will be making sure that Dexter Davis doesn't take over the game for ASU at D-End. That's not to say the ASU defense is weak by any means, but as we've seen throughout college football already this season, teams that have already been battle-tested tend to be more prepared than teams who've not. QB Joe Cox needs to make sure he doesn't let his newly found stardom and success go to his head. I don't expect he will, but if he starts worrying about throwing for 375 yds again, it may lead to some forcing of passes and some inaccuracy. Although RB Richard Samuel is expected to start again, it will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs go about rotating in Caleb King.

Overall, Georgia needs an easy win in the worst way. With LSU coming to Athens next week, the Dawgs could really benefit from being able to relax a bit in the fourth quarter for a change. As always, statistics can be spun to prove or disprove just about anything. Right now, Georgia is near the bottom in all of college football in turnover margin, at 2:0. Conversely, ASU is leading the country in the category at 8:0 (just two games). So, you can say that that bodes ill for the Dawgs, given their early season performances, or you can surmise that the odds dictate this all should even out a bit. I think/hope that Georgia finally turns the ball over fewer than 3 times, and ASU finally turns the ball over. Dawgs take this one relatively easily, 37-17.

Offensive Player of the Game: Really, one could either say AJ Green or Joe Cox from here on out. To be a bit different this week, I think we'll see Caleb King get his first 'great' run as a Dawg.

Defensive Player of the Game: I'm going to stay on the Cornelius Washington bandwagon. I think the redshirt freshman DE has the talent, and now he's starting to get the confidence.

Thought for the Game Last year was supposed to be Dennis Erickson and ASU's giant leap forward with regard to being a quality program. A 5-7 season that included a 6-game losing streak clearly indicated that they weren't there yet. They'll be looking for a signature win to prove that they've arrived, so Georgia better be ready for their best shot.

OK, that's what I've got for you this week. The possibility of a rain-soaked field still looms in Athens, but hopefully that will work in Georgia's favor at home. As always, thanks for reading, and Go Dawgs!!

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