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Georgia football midseason review.


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Georgia football midseason review

And a look at the Bulldogs’ season ahead

By BY TIM TUCKER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Athens — Mark Richt says not much has surprised him, really, about the first half of Georgia’s football season.

Maybe just one thing.

“I’m surprised,” Georgia’s coach said, “we’re starting three freshmen and two sophomores up front.”

That’s the situation on the offensive line after junior tackle Vince Vance was lost last week to a season-ending knee injury.

Despite the young, injury-depleted line, Georgia arrived at the halfway point of the regular season with a 5-1 record (2-1 SEC) and with its goal of reaching the confererence championship game intact.

The first half of the season will be remembered for Knowshon Moreno’s leap of a Central Michigan tackler, for the Bulldogs’ longest regular-season trip in almost a half century (to Arizona State), and for the debacle of the Alabama game.

The second half will bring one of the toughest stretches of schedule in Bulldogs annals.

The AJC reviews the first half of the season and previews the second half:

• How’d they do? The Bulldogs had too many injuries and too many penalties. They dropped from No. 1 to No. 10 in the national polls. But the bottom line is that they lost just one game in the season’s first half, and no team in the SEC East lost less.

• MVP so far: If linebacker Rennie Curran had not knocked the ball loose from South Carolina tailback Mike Davis at the Georgia 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter on Sept. 13, the Bulldogs might have lost that game. And the season would have looked very different, then and now. Instead, the Bulldogs held on to a 14-7 win after Curran forced a fumble that teammate Asher Allen recovered in the end zone. Curran has come up big throughout the first half, leading the Dogs in tackles (47), sacks (3) and fumbles forced (2).

• Best game so far: It came 2,000 miles from Athens, in 99-degree heat, against a non-conference opponent that proved to be overrated. But the 27-10 victory at Arizona State on Sept. 20 — witnessed by 20,000 Georgia fans who made the trip to the desert — was the highlight of the season’s first half. Wins over South Carolina and Tennessee were more significant, but less fulfilling.

• Biggest surprise so far: No one saw the blackout blowout coming. Athens was at fever pitch for the Sept. 27 game against Alabama: two top-10 teams, Georgia players and fans dressed in black, ESPN College GameDay on campus and a No. 1 ranking possibly on the line. Then the game began. Alabama scored the first five times it had the ball and built a 31-0 halftime lead, aided by Georgia blunders (penalties, bad punt, fumble, you name it). Alabama won 41-30, and the black jerseys went into storage.

• Biggest disappointment so far: Injuries, of course, are part of football — but not usually as big a part as for Georgia this year. The Bulldogs lost their best offensive lineman (left tackle Trinton Sturdivant) to knee surgery before the season began, then lost their best defensive lineman (tackle Jeff Owens) to the same after one game. Last week, they lost Sturdivant’s replacement, Vince Vance, to a knee injury. The list is long of key players who have missed games: FB Brannan Southerland, DE Roderick Battle, TE Tripp Chandler, LB Dannel Ellerbe. … You get the idea.

• Best coaching decision so far: Offensive line coach Stacy Searels juggled his lineup after three games, changing the starters at all five positions, and the new configuration clearly was an improvement. He had to juggle again last week when left tackle Vince Vance sustained a season-ending knee injury in the second quarter against Tennessee. This time Searels moved Clint Boling from right guard to left tackle, where he played well enough to be named SEC offensive lineman of the week. The young line remains a work in progress, but a 10-minute, 55-second drive in the fourth quarter last week indicated the moves are working.

• Breakout star so far: Six games into his college career, freshman flanker A. J. Green leads the Bulldogs in receptions (29) and the SEC in receiving yards (441). He has shown an ability to make both acrobatic and routine catches, although he shocked Georgia players and fans when he dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone last week. That play aside, Green has combined with senior Mohamed Massaquoi (23 catches for 331 yards) to give Georgia one of the most productive receiver tandems in the SEC.

THE SEASON AHEAD

• How will they do? The hardest part is ahead: four consecutive games away from Sanford Stadium after this week, the first two against the past two national champions (LSU and Florida). Georgia will have to elevate its game to avoid another loss or two.

• MVP to come: There’s little doubt who the MVP must be for Georgia to successfully navigate the rest of its schedule. Matthew Stafford is 22-5 as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback and leads the SEC in passing yards per game, yet needs to play better than ever – even behind his young, injury-depleted line – if the Dogs are to reach the SEC title game. Stafford had his first 300-yard passing game last week but threw two interceptions in the red zone. He’ll need to make many big throws, and not many bad ones, from here on out.

• Best game to come: Georgia’s next three games are against ranked teams with a combined record of 14-3 — Vanderbilt, LSU and Florida. It’s the third game of that stretch that should hold the highest stakes. Even if Georgia were to, say, lose at LSU after beating Vandy, the winner in Jacksonville should have the upper hand to represent the East in the SEC title game.

• Biggest surprise to come: Georgia might have played its worst game — Alabama — but it probably hasn’t played its best game. (If it has, the season isn’t going to end well, given the schedule.) In some game — it wouldn’t be a surprise if we knew which one — the Bulldogs could hold on to the interceptions their defensive backs have been dropping, could stop the silliness with penalties and could play well enough up front to maximize the running room for star tailback Knowshon Moreno. That might be the day BCS talk revives.

• Biggest disappointment to come: The Bulldogs keep talking a good game about reducing penalties, but so far without sufficient results. They remain the most frequently penalized team among the 119 in Division I-A. You can argue the flags didn’t cost the Bulldogs a game in the first half of the season, because they presumably would have lost to Alabama even if they hadn’t helped the Crimson Tide with penalties. But it’d be hard to argue that the Dogs can keep piling up penalties in the grueling second half of the season without having the problem cost them a game or more.

• Best coaching decision to come: The blackout, which worked so well last season, bombed as a psychological ploy this year. Still, you get the feeling the Bulldogs are going to need some kind of catalyst to build momentum for the second half of the season. Maybe it’ll come from the players; maybe it’ll be a big play that excites and rallies the team. Or maybe it’ll come from coach Mark Richt, who is not above theatrics to stir emotion and bond a team. One thing’s for sure: It’ll have to be something other than the excessive celebration penalty Richt engineered against Florida last year. Enough already with the penalties this year.

• Breakout star to come: Before this season is over, look for a game to be on the line in the final seconds. And look for freshman kicker Blair Walsh to be the deciding factor. The early evidence is that he’ll deliver. He has made 10 of his first 12 field-goal attempts, the longest from 52 yards, although he hasn’t yet been needed in a game-on-the-line crisis. Last week he kicked four field goals against Tennessee — hours after going to the university health center for treatment of a migraine.

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If you would tell me we would be 5-1 after the first half of the year after losing our best dlineman, our best olineman, missing 8 guys out for the year, and missing 8 starters from the beginning of the year, and also having guys like roderick battle, ellerbe, quintan banks, southerland, tripp chandler, etc, miss a lot of time, I would be freaking happy as can be. It has been good in one way we have had 13 true freshman get a lot of playing time as well as 12 redshirt freshman. So that's experience for 25 freshman and a bunch of sophomores.. It will be good long term and it will be very good IMO toward the end of the year.. i think the oline showed at the end of the ut game they are ready to play very good for the rest of the year.. we saw the same thing last year with our oline taking halfway through the season til they jelled and it will be huge playing teams like vandy who blitz often and a dline that lsu has.

Some positive signs: UGA is 5-1 and hasn't come close to playing a complete game. UGA's growing pains has a lot to do with injuries and youth, but they are improving and IMO we will see that early playing time the young guys really help uga in the last part of the year. UGA has control of their own destiny. They take care of business everything will work itself out. UGA's next 3 opponents are 14-3 and if they can get 2-1 I would be very happy as long as that 1 loss isn't to a team in november.. :P

People see 11 penalties on uga last weekend, but 9 of them came in the 2nd half and 2 of those were coaches delay of game penalties and 2 were not penalties that were bad calls.. that's 7 penalties which is an improvement, but not enough.. they did a bunch of up and downs yesterday.. LOL

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