Tuesday, January 1

The Sugar Bowl

When LSU was chosen for the BCS Championship game, the Sugar Bowl was fortunate that the SEC had another 10-2 team, Georgia. The Sugar had last pick for the remaining spots, but fortunately being "forced" to take Hawaii isn't a bad thing for the game itself, only revenue if anything. (and I'm not sure how much I believe that) The matchup itself is excellent and features the highest combined winning percentage of its teams amongst all BCS Bowls this season.

In the last six years, the SEC has compiled a 5-1 Sugar Bowl record, with three wins by LSU but Georgia going 1-1 with a loss to West Virginia. However, midmajor teams are 2-0 in BCS bowl games with unbeaten Utah and Boise State teams each pulling off wins in the Fiesta Bowl. This has all the makings of a great game if Colt Brennan brings his A-game.

Hawaii (by Coach Lawrence)

Hawaii entered the 2007 season as favorites to be an unbeaten BCS-crasher and with outside Heisman hopes for Colt Brennan. Yep, 12-0 and a top 4 finish for the QB. Unfortunately, their schedule strength has hovered around 150th for most of the season (there are 119 I-A teams, so you know what that means) and even after facing Boise State and Washington in their final two games, wasn't quite strong enough to creep into the top 120. Because of this almost-mockery, the Warriors weren't selected to play in the BCS title game despite being the nation's only unbeaten. Note to mid-major teams: you need to schedule at least one real opponent in your nonconference slate (read: not Northern Colorado, UNLV, Charleston Southern, and Washington only counts if they finish .500).

The Warriors define what it means to be an offensive team. Hawaii leads the nation in points per game, yards per game, and are second in passing yards per game. They run the ball... sometimes. Colt Brennan has averaged 379 passing ypg, a number lowered due to a few games where he played only partway due to injury, and amazingly his backup averages 156 ypg passing on top of that. Overall the offense gains 450 ypg through the air, racking up 50 aerial touchdowns and a 165.8 rating. Ryan Grice-Mullen and Davone Bess have both caught 100 passes and average over 100 ypg receiving, and a deep threat Jason Rivers comes in at 97 ypg while leading the team in TD recptions with 13. It's a crazy, exciting system.

Defensively, the numbers are average (132 ypg rush, 217 ypg pass), but then we recall who they've faced -- yeah, nobody. In their last four games, against somewhat respectable opposition, UH gave up at least 26 points in each game. Stopping Georgia, who will be by far the best and most physical offense they've seen all season (there's really no comparison to anyone UH has faced), will be a huge uphill battle and a lot of the gameplan will probably revolve around the realistic assumption that the Warriors will have limited success defensively.

Keys to Victory:
1) Every possession must be a score. You can't count on this defense to stop everything Georgia has, particularly their powerful running game. Scoring, say, 42+ points gives their own defense a break and could also force Georgia away from their running game should the Warriors build a lead.

2) Exploit your biggest advantage - the depth differential provided by your receiving corps. Grice-Mullen, Bess, and Rivers have been extremely productive wide receivers and CJ Hawthorne is about all you could hope for for the #4 guy. Georgia has a good starting secondary, but how's their dime package? Most college teams don't go that deep -- Georgia really needs to spread those receivers out so that Kelin Johnson and Reshad Jones - UGA's ballhawking safeties - aren't doing what they do best (coming over the top from help for interceptions or jarring hits) and instead have to provide primary coverage. Effective receiver spread is probably the only way they can: (3)

3) Don't even bother with the run until the pass game is well-established or the defense is completely in pass rush/coverage mode. Georgia has a good defensive line and only gives up 3.4 ypg against SEC power-oriented offenses. Those draws and screens to Pilares and Wright-Jackson are great changes of pace, but first there has to be a pace to change. Otherwise you're just looking at no gain and falling behind the chains.

4) Go for broke. We saw what it took for Boise State to knock off Oklahoma last season. Georgia this year is better than OU a year ago, and Hawaii doesn't have the trick plays of BSU, which means Brennan's probably going to have to put up 500 yards the hard way. But going for it on 4th down at midfield, going for that interception rather than playing safe coverage, etc give your team the chance to swing the game. Matthew Stafford hasn't had a very consistent season, and while miles ahead of where he was a year ago, the Warrior defense has to be looking for opportunities to exploit his mistakes.

Georgia (by Coach Pendley)

Contrary to popular belief, Georgia did NOT win the SEC East. They did finish 10-2, but thanks to an earlier loss to Tennessee, Georgia ended up losing out on the division to the aforementioned Vols. Of course, since they got a Sugar Bowl invite courtesy of not winning the division, they shouldn’t complain too much. They did well for themselves this year, winning out after the Tennessee game – and often looking dominant in the process.

In November alone, they increased their per-rush average by .74 yards per carry over the previous month and added 13 TDs – almost more than they had in September and October combined! The defense buckled down, too, allowing 2.69 yards per carry in November compared to 4.07 in October. And yes, the pass offense / defense improved as well, but it wasn’t as drastic as the running game, which has served as the catalyst for this Bulldog team.

For that, you can blame Knowshon Moreno, the freshman sensation who came out of nowhere after the first half of the season to finish with 1,273 yards and 12 TDs. Of those, 766 yards and 10 TDs came in only five games – not coincidentally the games where Georgia basically woke up and started kicking ass. That relegated Thomas Brown to backup status – again. He’s done decently there, racking up 700 yards in only 9 games along with 9 TDs. Unfortunately, the rest of the ground game has been nonexistent, thanks in part to two different factors:
1 – Kregg Lumpkin’s injuries
2 – A distinct desire to not use Brandon Southerland on the ground
Of the two, Lumpkin is the forgivable option. I’m not sure I totally understand not using Southerland; he wasn’t used in the passing game either. He’s a sneaky option that can cause opponents to have fits, but since Moreno was absolutely destroying it, I guess I can see not wanting to put the ball in someone else’s hands.

QB Matthew Stafford is still a bit inconsistent, but he’s shown signs of turning the corner, having five different games at least in spitting distance of 60%. While his rating isn’t spectacular – a modest 127.69 – his 19/9 ratio is good. Part of the problem could be with his WRs, as both Sean Taylor and Mohammed Massaquoi are talented, when they bother to catch the ball. Massaquoi, in particular, is hot and cold – he had two different games where his only catch was a TD pass over 50 yards. Taylor was relatively consistent, getting at least two catches in all but two games. Tripp Chandler is a decent, but not often-used TE (only 20 catches in 11 games).

The UGA secondary – because, let’s be honest, nobody’s going to care about UGA’s run D in this game – has done a decent job, pulling down 11 INTs to go with their 11 TDs given up. CB Kelin Johnson is the ball hawk in the secondary, but CB Asher Allen is the emotional leader in the secondary – he’s second on the team in solo tackles. UGA excels at getting to the QB, leading the SEC with 34 sacks. They’re a threat all along the line, too – Marcus Howard, Geno Atkins, and Jeremy Lomax all have at least four sacks.

UGA knows what Hawaii’s going to do – pass, and do a hell of a lot of it. Of course, it’s not even that easy; Hawaii’s WR operate on a lot of coverage reads and will burn you if you make a mistake. It gets worse: Ryan Grice-Mullen, Davone Bess, and Jason Rivers are all #1 / #1.5 type of WRs. So how the hell do you stop them? Get pressure on Brennan; I doubt UGA will be able to cover all three of those WRs at once. I do expect Asher Allen to be able to shut one of the WRs down, but Reshad Jones may have a tougher time of it.

Georgia’s biggest problem is that aside from Allen, Jones, and Kelim Johnson, there’s not a lot of solid coverage optoins. Hawaii will be able to throw CJ Hawthorne on the field too, so they’ll have to find a fourth option. I don’t want CJ Byrd forced into coverage any more than he has to be (I don’t trust having two safeties forced into coverage packages). I don’t care too much about the run; the front seven should be able to handle it.

On defense, Hawaii is nasty but they haven’t faced a truly physical front yet; Boise State comes closest and ECU rolled up yardage on the ground. Moreno operates solely in pissed-off mode and Hawaii hasn’t seen that yet, either. I pound the hell out of the ball with Moreno (and Brown, with a little bit of Southerland thrown in there, at least to block) until Hawaii can show they’ll stop the run. I don’t think they can, to be honest; Fresno State and Nevada picked up nearly 400 yards combined on the ground, and those were the two best rushing offenses Hawaii faced. Georgia’s better than that. The added bonus is Moreno tearing up the field means Brennan can’t.

I’d pass just enough to keep Hawaii honest. They’re a very opportunistic defense and my plan for Stafford would consist of “don’t lose it.” If Stafford comes out of the game with 200 yards and zero INT, I’m happy with that; I don’t even need a TD pass from him. Obviously, I’d want to use Taylor and Massaquoi, but I may want to get Chandler and Southerland involved if I can get them away from LB Adam Leonard, who has 4 INT on the year (ran two back). Screens may have some success, too.

More than anything else, I want to force Hawaii into their most conservative gameplan possible. Don’t let them get fumbles, INTs, sacks, big kickoff or punt returns, etc. That being said, conservative does NOT mean the same thing as passive. Take the fight to the Warriors, but don’t go too far out of your comfort zone. I fully expect the team to play emotionally, but they’re going to have to know that’s how Hawaii plays too, and they’ve been doing it for way longer than six games. If you’re going to play emotionally, make sure you kill their emotions, too. It won’t work otherwise.