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on big downs, stafford shines..


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on big downs, stafford shines

by mark bradley | saturday, november 10, 2007, 10:28 pm

the atlanta journal-constitution

athens he d thrown an interception. auburn had taken the lead. the early mojo from those black jerseys was in danger of plunging into a black hole, never to return. and was matthew stafford worried?

nope. i was ready to go again, he said. and the interception? a bad throw? a poor read? nope. corner just made a great play.

when we came back on the field, matthew was very spirited, sean bailey said. he said, we ve got to get it done now. we need to get the momentum back.

on first down, knowshon moreno lost three yards. on second down, stafford and bailey changed the game. the receiver ran down the right sideline. the quarterback pumped to his left. it was similar to the pass to michael johnson, said mark richt, speaking of the historic 70x takeoff on fourth-and-15 at auburn that cold day in 2002. and this pass wound up beating the tigers, same as that one had.

stafford threw. bailey caught. the 45-yard gain put georgia in position to snatch back the lead, and from there the bulldogs would keep scoring until all the drama had been drained from the latest installment of the south s most dramatic rivalry. and the pass served as a reminder that, for all the acclaim flowing moreno s way, this remains matthew stafford s team.

something remarkable had happened this past month: the most heralded and scrutinized bulldog since herschel walker had been relegated to a co-starring role. since stafford enrolled in january 2006, he has been the focal point of every discussion concerning georgia football. (and one or two about how best to enjoy race day at talladega.) but moreno had been the star in jacksonville, and if you listened, you could hear bulldog fans suggesting he, not stafford, will be georgia s next heisman winner.

[moreno] has taken the burden off our offense, said mike bobo, the coordinator. if you ask a quarterback to throw it every down, you re not going to be very successful.

truth to tell, stafford still isn t an every-down quarterback. he doesn t lead the sec in passing efficiency or yards per game, and he d completed only 56.1 percent of his passes before saturday. (auburn s brandon cox had completed 60.9 percent.) what stafford is, however, is a big-down quarterback. when it gets late and gets tight, he throws the ball as well as a ball can be thrown.

said bailey: he s a gamer. when it s a big-time play, he s puts it on the money.

said stafford: i ve been having some success late in games, late in halves. i had some success in those situations in high school. i love that situation.

and that was the difference saturday. auburn had cox, who can t throw any ball with much authority he had four interceptions saturday, same as last season and georgia had stafford. the tigers entered with the nation s 10th-best defense against the pass; they exited having been undressed by stafford and his receivers on three long completions.

sometimes you have to drop back and launch it, said richt, who ordered up the 45-yarder to bailey. and then, of stafford: [moreno] has taken some pressure off matthew. it s evened out the load. & he s understanding that he doesn t have to be the hero, and that s a good thing.

moreno s ascent means georgia doesn t have to travel on stafford s arm, but that limb is still an imposing vehicle a hummer of an arm. the yield saturday was a coordinator s dream 180 yards rushing and 237 yards passing, with more than twice as many rushes as passes and 45 points against an opponent that hadn t surrendered 40 in a game since 2001.

this suddenly heady season has a ways to go, but in the sophomore stafford and the redshirt freshman moreno, the bulldogs have the makings of a dream backfield, a matt leinart/reggie bush type of tandem. either stafford or moreno might win a heisman down the road. together they might well win a national championship.

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that pass was a bomb. on another play later in that quarter, my buddy and i were watching the auburn defense get set up for a third and long, and noticed they had left bailey in man coverage. we were both just saying how you can't try to play press on bailey on a passing down - stafford takes the snap, bailey burns his man, and comes down with it in the red zone. another touchdown ensued.

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that pass was a bomb. on another play later in that quarter, my buddy and i were watching the auburn defense get set up for a third and long, and noticed they had left bailey in man coverage. we were both just saying how you can't try to play press on bailey on a passing down - stafford takes the snap, bailey burns his man, and comes down with it in the red zone. another touchdown ensued.

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