Wednesday, August 19

Georgia Bulldogs '09: ARP ARP ARP ARP ARP

The 2008 Season in a Box
Last year should’ve been played with “The Price Is Right” loser’s theme on an infinite loop in the background. Georgia bet aggressively after opening as the pre-season #1 and riding emotional momentum to what would hopefully be heights they hadn’t seen in a while. Unfortunately for them (fortunately for the rest of us), the Alabama blackout stomping pretty much killed any realistic shot they had at competing for a title – and what little bit of life they had after that got ground into paste by Urban Meyer. It wasn’t that last year’s team was bad, but when you make it to the showcase you don’t bid $1 on how much the grand prize costs. But thanks for playing, guys.

Why Should This Season Be Any Different?
Other than losing your two first-round draft picks out of the backfield? That’s what we term a “minor adjustment”; sure, you can debate whether or not Stafford was worth the first overall pick (my take has always been he needs to have something resembling consistent accuracy to make him worth the top pick, and there’s a very good reason I was making jokes about his accuracy all season), but at the end of the day he’s gone and so is talented workhorse Knowshon Moreno. Georgia at this point is talented enough to overcome their losses to some degree, but there’s a fine line between overcome and excel. Of course, last year was a bit of a disappointment. Hopefully they’ll wear their black jerseys in all their games next year.

On Offense
With the departure of Matt Stafford to the Lions – I’m not sure if that’s a step up – Joe Cox will likely step in as the starting QB. We last saw Cox in 2006 as an occasional passer before Stafford stepped in as a true frosh. Cox isn’t exactly shabby, but he wasn’t blessed with the howitzer that Stafford owned; now that he’s a senior, he’ll be a capable but likely not outstanding guy under center. Logan Gray is your prototypical change-of-pace backup QB; we’ll call him dual-threat, but since he’s a sophomore, his accuracy is probably measured in miles, not in inches. The best-case scenario for Gray and Cox is that they’re used in a similar fashion as David Greene and DJ Shockley were back in 2004; of course, that year Shockley also failed to complete 50% of his passes, which probably proves my point.

The running game will likely remind people of some reason between 2004 and 2006; while there’s not a dominant, establish rusher in the batch, there are a couple of guys who are good enough to start. Caleb King had the starting RB spot in good hands up until he screwed up and lost it; now he’ll be in a battle with Richard Samuel for RB1. The main difference between 2004 and 2005/2006 is how effective the second back was; in 2004 both Thomas Brown and Danny Ware were quality, dangerous backs who had basically 700+ yards apiece. In 2005, Brown was the true star but there were two guys underneath him who had nearly an equal amount of yards, but 2006 was the relative dud of the lot. With the talent in the backfield, 2004 is a more likely outcome than 2006, and a situation like 2007 (when Moreno burst onto the scene) isn’t terribly likely unless true freshman Washaun Easley blows everyone away in the first few weeks of the season. It’s not a bad thing that Georgia will end up with a 2 RB system; truth be told I’m actually a fan of multi-back attacks, as it lets coaches sub in and out without sacrificing a rushing threat. (It’s the converse of the dual-threat QB who can’t pass; sure, he may put the ball in the air, but he probably won’t, and if he does it shouldn’t be hard to stop it from being completed.)

WR is a bit more settled than the backfield spots; sure, Football Jesus finally lived up to his billing as a senior, but AJ Green was the true star of the unit and he’s only a sophomore. At nearly 1,000 yards and 8 TDs last year – again, as a freshman – he has a pretty decent shot of getting above the elusive 1,000 yard / 10 TD watermarks that SEC receivers typically don’t get to; in the last 5 years, only 7 players have reached that mark – and of that crew, only Sydney Rice and Earl Bennett reached that mark as sophomores. Green’s emergence as that kind of threat will be dependent in part on whether Michael Moore, Tavarres King, or Marlon Brown can emerge as enough of a threat that defenses don’t just rotate coverage over to Green’s side and dare Cox to beat them to the other receivers. Of those guys, Brown is the most intriguing; he’s a Green clone by size and recruiting acumen, but he’s also a true freshman. There’s also a chance that TE Aron White or Orson Charles emerges as a receiving threat; since it’s a new QB that should help their production.

Richt and OC Mike Bobo have done a great job tailoring the offense to what’s there; ostensibly it’s a pro-style offense, but it’s the kind of pro-style offense I like – there’s a basic set of concepts, but the concepts and plays are tailored to suit the personnel. As a result, it ends up as dynamic without becoming predictable, and Georgia’s done a good job of fielding a respectable at worst offense. Even with the absence of their two biggest stars, this season should be similar.

On Defense and Special Teams
If Georgia had a shortcoming last year, it was the defense inexplicably crapping the bed against good teams. The aggregates weren’t bad (although their opposing 3.6 ypc was the highest since ’05), but in every loss they were pretty much steamrolled: Alabama had 45 carries (although the 2.9 ypc was good), Florida averaged nearly 5 yards a carry over their 38 runs, and Georgia Tech had a staggering 7.3(!) ypc on 56 carries. Hell, even Kentucky (4.0, 56), LSU (4.6, 41), and Georgia Southern (2.9, 35, but triple option 1-AA team) were way more successful than they should’ve been.

By that standard, it’s a good thing that 6 of the front 7 return; WLB Rennie Curran is the star of the bunch, but DT Geno Atkins is pretty damn good in his own right. The secondary isn’t quite as lucky, but SS Reshad Jones should keep that unit from collapsing under its own weight. Really, the secondary wasn’t the problem last year (unless failing to tackle at the second level counts as a problem, which it probably does), but since Georgia’s two new starters are a FS who didn’t see a lot of action last season and a true freshman, there will be some growing pains.

Blair Walsh returns as K; he was Georgia’s only K last year even as a freshman, so he’ll have one heck of a leash. As these things go, he’s pretty good. Drew Butler steps into the full-time punting role after doing most of his punting from opponent’s territory last year. As for the return games, they’re nothing to write home about and fall solidly into the “mildly, but not spectacularly dangerous” category like so many teams.

As much as I hate saying it, Willie Martinez needs to have the defense return to prior form this season; if that doesn’t happen, I can’t see him sticking around. Last year had typical Georgia defense in some games but they just plain didn’t show up in others; with the question marks the Bulldogs have on offense, a consistent defense will keep them from losing a game or two they probably shouldn’t. As a Tennessee fan, I can only hope it’s inconsistent but quality enough to keep Martinez around, as I have no doubts Georgia would only move up on the DC list if Martinez was to leave.

So What’s Their Bowl Game?
This looks like a New Year’s Day bowl type of team; right now they look pretty inexperienced, but Arkansas / Auburn / LSU out of the West is pretty easy, relatively speaking. The only thing that would be better is if they swapped LSU for Mississippi State. There’s a tough road opener at Oklahoma State which should give everyone a clue as to how the defense will perform in elite games; we’ll have to wait for the aforementioned LSU game to see how the offense performs against elite defenses, though. As things stand, they’re clearly the 2nd-best team in the SEC East and should end up in the Outback Bowl if things go kind of according to plan; whether that’s 10-2 with losses to Florida and LSU or 8-4 with the aforementioned two losses coupled with losing to Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech it’s still 6-2 in-conference. The Capital One Bowl isn’t out of the question with a win against LSU, but this team’s success will be defined by how the defense matures after a rough 2008 – and if it returns to form, this team will be dangerous again in 2010.