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August 25, 2008
Let The Season Begin
Georgia was celebrating its Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii, soaking in the adulation from the crowd at the Superdome, all with a collective eye cast toward the 2008 campaign.In one respect, it doesn't seem very long ago that
In another, maybe it does. Ever since the Bulldogs returned to Athens from New Orleans, Mark Richt's squad has been dealing with almost daily questions about expectations, expectations that have recently been fueled to a fever pitch after Georgia was named the nation's preseason No. 1 team by the Associated Press and in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.
Five days from now - 12:30 p.m. on Saturday to be exact - the journey begins. Richt expects his team will be ready.
"I think so. We're still evaluating, we're still trying to decide what to do and I'm hoping the dust will be settling down by (today)," Richt said. "I hope we know who is going to go play and start and all those things. I'm not sure we'll have every answer but some of those answers might be to play two or three guys at a certain spot to see who can do it the best."
The entire country will be watching.
From commentators on ESPN to newspaper columnists to online bloggers and reporters, everyone, it seems, is talking about the Georgia Bulldogs. Can Georgia overcome its formidable schedule? Will the team's young offensive line mature? What about Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno? Can the duo become the type of game-changing performers that everyone expects them to be? What about this, what about that? Defensive tackle Jeff Owens, fpr one, is ready for the talking to stop.
"I think we're all just ready to play, man," Owens said. "Everybody's definitely excited. We're just ready to get this season underway."
Saturday's game against Georgia Southern will be test No. 1, followed by Central Michigan on Sept. 6 before diving teeth first in the meat of the schedule Sept. 13 at South Carolina. Obviously, it doesn't stop there. Arizona State, Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida, Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech lie in wait and must be conquered before the Bulldogs can begin worry about accomplishing their ultimate goals – winning the SEC championship, and hopefully the national title.
"We know it's a tough schedule, that's why we have to take it as it comes," cornerback Asher Allen said. "There's no way we can get ahead of ourselves with a schedule like this."
The focus certainly appears to be where it needs to be. That includes Stafford, who has been a rallying point, not only for the offense, but for the entire team ever since the players arrived back on campus for voluntary summer workouts.
He's also been more consistent. If there was one knock on Stafford from last year it's that he only completed 55 percent of his passes. Thus far in practice and the team's recent scrimmages, that hasn't been an issue.
"I've been very pleased this camp because he's really taken it upon himself to be focused every day and really knew the goal coming in that we wanted him to become more efficient offensively. That's started with him," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I've felt if he played better our receivers would play better and no doubt there's no denying that our receivers are better because they've had another year of experience. But we've also had a lot of injuries this camp and been limited, but he has still been extremely accurate and I think everybody's play has picked up around him."
Bobo admits there remains some concern about the offensive line. The Bulldogs were already going to be extremely young and relatively inexperienced, even before starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down with a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago.
Kiante Tripp has since taken over Sturdivant's old position. But if you look at it, although center Chris Davis started all 13 games and left guard Vince Vance saw extensive action in a backup role, Georgia's entire offensive line will consist of players who either did not play, or will be starting at a position different from the one they played a season ago.
Bobo, however, prefers to take a more positive look at the situation.
"It's (losing Sturdivant) going to affect us a lot. We were coming along nicely before he got hurt, but we've got guys there who have the opportunity to step up and we'll be conscientious of that as we're getting ready to game plan," Bobo said. "It will be on a basis of how we do things and execute things and we're struggling to execute certain things. We may curtail some of the offense protection wise, but that could have been the same thing if Trinton had been there. One guy is not going to make a unit dominant; it's got to be five cohesive guys."
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez's biggest concern is at safety, where depth could become an issue if the team suffers any more injuries at the position. Georgia is already without the services of backup Quintin Banks (for approximately five more weeks with an MCL injury), while Donavon Baldwin was suspended indefinitely by Richt three weeks ago.
"I'm concerned about the depth at safety in regards to experience. We're pretty set at corner with experience, but we can't afford to lose another safety," Martinez said. "The type of player that Q is and experience he brings will be missed so that's a concern. As far as practice and how they're preparing they're doing fine."
The biggest key to Georgia living up to its expectation may fall on the shoulders of a 5-10, 175-pound freshman: kicker Blair Walsh.
Georgia will depend heavily on the native of Fort Lauderdale to fill the capable cleats of the graduated Brandon Coutu.
"I'm excited about the opportunity and ready for the challenge," Walsh said. "I'm ready to go out there and show what I can do. I think we all are."