Thursday, August 30, 2007


Here is Jody's preview of the Dawgs opening contest against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State...

Well, here we are. Pinch yourself folks, it’s football time in the South. Well, it’s football time everywhere, and its pretty big most places, but as we all know, in Athens, it’s pretty much everything. Enough foolishness, on to the stuff…

About our Visitors

Hailing from Stillwater, OK, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming to Athens for the first time since 1946. I decided to take a quick look at Stillwater and found a few things out. One, it’s a lot like Kansas…flat and generally devoid of distinguishing characteristics. Two, the whole dang city looks like it’s laid out on a perfect grid oriented north-south and east-west…Athens might as well be Paris or Rome (I’m making assumptions those cities aren’t grid-like because they’re old) when it comes to crazy side streets after looking at Stillwater so if you see a lost OSU fan, just point them in the general direction of Sanford. Three, apparently they gave us the fast food chain Sonic, which has given us some pretty funny commercials…that’s kinda cool. Four, Billionaire T. Boone Pickens’ donated money ($165 million or some such ridiculousness) has gone to make some pretty impressive upgrades to their athletic facilities. Their stadium (a little small by SEC standards) has a beautiful exterior and they’ve now added an amazing basketball facility adjacent to it. Impressive.

Lastly, take a look at their stadium and its immediate environment…they have parking lots, big ones, right near the stadium. To any OSU fans making the trip, don’t expect many of those at the door of Sanford. I imagine Pickens probably bought Winder or Watkinsville for traveling OSU fans to use as housing, but that’s about as close as you’re getting to park. Oh and another thing, Athens isn’t flat, so don’t expect that typical Big XII type thing where you see the stadium for 10 miles in all directions.

OSU Offense

· The OSU offense presents significant challenges for a UGA defense with more than a few questions that need to be answered. They have a devastating ground game featuring several speedy RBs, a mobile QB and an All-American level WR. Last season they were the 16th ranked total offense and the 7th ranked scoring offense. Not too shabby. They were held to 20 or less only once (Texas) and put 34 on the board 7 times…consequently, each of their 7 wins.

· At QB, former UGA recruiting target Bobby Reid is a dangerous pass-run threat entering his junior year. He’s a quite nimble load at 6-3, 235 but also an effective passer with a career completion percentage of 53%. He threw for over 2,000 yards last season with a sporty 24-11 TD to INT ratio. A closer look at the stats reveals some pretty erratic numbers. Digging deeper reveals that most of this is because the guy battled injuries. He got knocked out of the Texas A&M and Oklahoma games. Tossing those games out and looking at other comparable defenses to UGA, it really boils down to Texas and Alabama (Nebraska isn’t the Nebraska of old yet so they’re excluded here, good scoring D, bad yardage D…for the record, statistically speaking, UGA had better Ds than both Bama and Texas last year in both total yardage and points…I digress). In those two games (Texas and Bama), Reid only managed 26-57 (46%) for 334 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. Rushing-wise in those games he only managed 18 carries for 52 yards (under 3 ypc). Honestly it’s hard to get a feel for how good a runner the guy is as he was sacked 17 times last season and in the NCAA that counts against rushes. For the season, he averaged 4.2 ypc…Stafford averaged 4.1…Reid just runs a lot more. He’s a solid passer but he racked up 30% of his season’s passing yardage in 2 games (juggernauts Houston and Kansas). Heck, add the opener against Missouri St and you’ve accounted for half of his passing TDs (12) in those 3 games. He also admitted that he gets really nervous and amped up before games. Backup Zac Robinson is a Reid clone, very athletic and solid.

· Columbus native Dantrell Savage comes into the season as the starter at RB. While he won’t be scaring any of Barry Sanders’ OSU records, he is a very fast, smallish back that averaged an impressive 6.5 ypc. He split carries last season with a number of backs, otherwise his stats would be even more impressive. He’s not a tremendous receiving threat, averaging fewer than 1 reception per game. Backup Keith Toston had nearly as many carries as Savage and provides a little more muscle while having a nice 6.0 ypc. 3rd string RB Mike Hamilton transferred to GA Southern. UGA fans liked to talk about the 3-headed monster of Ware, Lumpkin and Brown…OSU actually had one, with Savage, Toston and Hamilton each going for over 540 yards on the season and averaging over 6.0 ypc combined. Throw in Reid’s 500 yards and this is a potent ground game.

· OSU’s major weapon on offense is WR Adarius Bowman. Like Calvin Johnson, Bowman is a big (6-4, 220), athletic WR that creates all kinds of difficult matchups just off his size and natural strength. Bowman transferred from UNC 2 years ago and broke onto the scene in a big way last year with 60 catches for almost 1,200 yards. With those prodigious numbers, it might surprise you that he only topped 100 yards receiving in 2 games…Houston and Kansas (again). He went absolutely crazy in that Kansas game, snagging 13 passes for 300 yards and 4 TDs. There’s a long list of potential complimentary WRs, but Bowman is clearly the star, snagging roughly a third of their completions and nearly half the yards last season. TE Brandon Pettigrew is solid, pulling down 24 passes last season with 3 TDs. At 6-6, 260 he’s a nice-sized target.

· OSU replaces two starters along the OL this season and features a varied unit with two sophomores, 2 juniors and a senior. LT Russell Okung started as a true freshman last year and is the most talented lineman they have. Opposite him will be converted LG David Koenig who will be adapting to the OT position. They average just under 300 pounds amongst the starters…not the biggest OL we’ll see, but not small be any means. They return 7 of their top 10 from last season, with 4 having started 5 games or more last season so there shouldn’t be a tremendous dropoff from last season’s performance although replacing all-Big 12 OT Corey Hilliard won’t be easy.

· Bottom Line: This is a balanced offense. They threw for 2,411 yards last season and rushed for 2,497…both great numbers. Granted, a chunk of those yards were against questionable competition, but they were gained nonetheless. As strong as their running game is, Reid is the key to the offense. When he’s on, these guys can score with anyone. Bowman is as good a WR as you’ll find, but it’s kind of the Calvin Johnson effect in that statistically it appears he disappears in big games, but it mostly has to do with his QB struggling to get him the ball. For him to do his job and take the game over, the OL has to protect and the QB has to execute. Against better Ds that’s obviously going to be harder to do each down. Their spread attack will move the ball, but against faster teams, they’ll struggle to put a ton of points on the board. They have some serious speed in the backfield and certainly have the offensive weapons to move the ball so this will be another challenge for Martinez.

· Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: Can we pressure Reid and when we do get pressure, can we contain him? Their OL did give up 19 sacks last year even with Reid and Robinson’s mobility. The more pressure we can put on him, the tougher it will be for them to get the ball to Bowman, who could really be a matchup problem for some of our smaller CBs. We’ll just have to avoid the mad upfield pass rush that opens up massive running lanes for Reid.

OSU Defense

· As lethal as the OSU offense was last season there had to be a reason they only finished with 7 wins. For reason #1, I present the OSU defense. They finished 89th in total defense (364 ypg) and 82nd in scoring defense (giving up 25.6 ppg). They struggled equally against the run (72nd) and pass (54th). They bring in a new DC, Tim Beckman, who was the Ohio State CB coach the last 2 years and was on staff with Urban Meyer before that.

· The 2007 OSU defense poses the age-old question, is losing 4 starters off a bad DL a bad thing? We’ll find out because that’s the case. The returning pass rushers at DE actually appear to be pretty solid, with Sr. Nathan Peterson being a potential all-conference selection. He racked up 8 sacks last season. Opposite him will be fellow senior Marque Fountain who pulled in 4.5 sacks and 13 TFLs last year. Both have battled injuries through their careers, thus muddying their career numbers. UGA fans are quick to point to the lack of size from Marcus Howard…Peterson is listed at 6-2, 240, exactly 5 pounds heavier than Howard (I say heavier, Howard is somehow now listed at 250, which can’t be right…he’s gained good weight, but not that much). Converted MLB Rodrick Johnson provides depth with Peterson. JUCO transfer Tonga Tea (great name) manages the NT spot and at 6-0, 310, he’s a load, but it’ll be his first game playing big-time college football (which works nicely since the same is true of a chunk of our OL depth chart). Maurice Commings gets the nod at DT and his 6-4, 275-lb frame will provide the pressure from the interior but eh senior has been largely unproductive in his career, managing only 1 start and 8 tackles.

· The LB spot for OSU is a source of considerable attention due in large part to the presence of former SLB Chris Collins. Collins moves to MLB this year. He’s a tackling machine when healthy and was leading the team in tackles last season before going down with a torn ACL 6 games in. On the football field he’s a terror at 6-2, 240. Off the field he’s a lightning rod for controversy considering the looming specter of his part in the rape of a 12-year old girl in his hometown. He’s been under investigation since May of 2004. It’s pretty sickening, but until it’s resolved, he’s playing, although probably a step slower until his knee completely recovers. WLB Patrick Lavine stepped in last season as a true freshman and managed to finish 2nd on the team in tackles but is listed as a co-starter at one of the OLB spots (fighting a nagging injury) with Jeremy Nathon who played well once Collins went down. Moving to the other OLB spot is converted FS Donovan Woods, who also happened to start at QB in 2004. Woods is a tremendous athlete and should adapt well, but he’s new to the position.

· Sophomore SS Andre Sexton is a burner at safety. He’s also a sure tackler, who led the team in tackles last season and managed 8.5 TFLs as well, not too shabby for a DB, especially a freshman DB. Converted WR Ricky Price has won the starting job at FS. Obviously he’ll have solid ball skills (I don’t know, maybe not, some WRs can’t catch a cold), it’ll just be an instincts issue back there for the first time. At CB, senior Martel Van Zant begins his final season. He had a solid 67 tackles last season with two INTs. Opposite Van Zant will be Jacob Lacey, a junior of nondescript experience who had a good Fall practice.

· Bottom Line: The defense actually returns several starters somewhere in the unit, the problem is some of the starters have shifted to other positions and/or lost their jobs, so the whole “they’re returning 8 starters on defense” thing isn’t entirely accurate. While this might be a good thing considering the shakiness of the D in general last season, it destabilizes some of their experience. Starting a converted WR at safety and a converted safety at LB should speed up the overall defense but there will be an adjustment period. I expect us to present a balanced attack on Saturday, a tenant of the Richt era in Athens. I wouldn’t be surprised (given our young OL) if we don’t try to simplify things early on and just run the ball at them to open up the pass later. I’m even more inclined to think this way after looking at the shakiness of their interior DL. Load up behind Velasco and let’s just keep those RBs fresh. Heck, with Bobo back there, who knows.

· Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Can this oh-so-young OL of ours (with so much potential) manage to open holes for our RBs while closing holes for their D? If we can establish a ground game, it will make Stafford’s life that much easier once we start to throw it some.

The OSU Game Overall

I’m not going to make the overdone comparison of Oklahoma State being 2007’s version of an over-hyped opponent (Boise St) coming into Athens looking to prove themselves and trying to win a statement game. This is a much better team than the one Dan Hawkins brought here two years ago. Oklahoma State is a quality opponent with an explosive offense that plays in a BCS conference. While Sanford will be intimidating, it’s not like playing in Lincoln or Austin or Norman is a walk in the park. I would equate this team to Kentucky. Questionable defense, explosive offense, right down to the oversized QB. Could they beat us? Absolutely (seems like that happened not too long ago). Should they beat us? No, we’re simply a deeper, more talented, mo-better team. I’m not saying that from a point of pride or arrogance, I’m simply stating what history has proven. Oklahoma State won seven games last year and it’s resulted in people talking about them as a hot team. UGA won 9 games last season and people were wondering what was wrong with them.

Take a closer look at what the Cowboys did last season and you’ll see a few things pop out at you. We’ve already talked about how much their defense struggled last season, but averaging giving up nearly 31 per game over your final 9 games is horrible, no matter who you’re playing, and it’s not like they got to that average by giving up 60 to Texas or anything like that, they were consistently bad, giving up 30 or more 6 times (for reference, under Richt, UGA has given up 30 or more 4 times…since he arrived…6 seasons ago). The least amount of points OSU gave up in that 9-game stretch was 24 in a blowout win over Baylor. The most was 36 to Texas. They somehow managed to give up 34 to Houston, a team that lost to Lousianna-Lft. I guess their best defensive performance of the season was managing to only give up 27 against rival Oklahoma.

For even more warm and fuzziness, take a gander at a few of Richt’s pertinent records. One, in openers, Richt is 6-0, including 3-0 against OOC opponents that wear orange (Clemson twice and BSU once). Two, Richt is 25-2 in non-conference games, with neither of those losses coming in Athens (both in bowl games). This is a coach that knows how to prepare his teams.

Look, I know that reading this it may or may not come off like I think we’re going to destroy OSU. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the outcome and I try to write about these things as objectively as possible, but this is a team that lost on the road to Houston and Kansas St. Their first road game last year was Ark St (who travels TO that place?)…after that game (where they gave up 7), in their final 5 road games, they gave up 30 or more in EACH contest (including Houston, KSt, Kansas, Texas and TT)…that’s not good. These guys have some offensive punch and it kept them in a bunch of games. Outside of Texas their worst loss was 9 points, but their defense kept the other teams in as well. If we can force some turnovers and keep our offense on the field, I like our chances.

Positional Notes

· I was more than a little disappointed to hear that Moreno has been putting the ball on the ground some lately. It’s the first chink I’ve heard in this guy’s armor.

· It looks like Figgins will start at TE in Tripp Chandler’s suspended absence. He’s still drawing praise from Richt for his blocking prowess, so something tells me that’s why he got the nod. Ward’s not far behind.

· Bailey sitting early this week with a concussion is frustrating because I think he’ll really add a nice dimension to our passing attack. It looks like he’ll play, but I want everyone loggin mintues right now so the WRs and Stafford can be clicking.

· The loss of S Antavious Coates to his 4th (that’s right, 4) ACL injury doesn’t really impact the depth chart as he was fighting for 3rd string, but it’s difficult to see a kid who tried so hard so many times to see the field, only to be unable to do so for physical reasons. That’s tough.

· You all know about the OL. It’s young and the backups are younger. Richt is convinced that new OL coach Stacey Searels is the best in the country. He’ll certainly be given every opportunity to prove it with all these youngsters in the mix.

Random Thoughts

· In writing this, I was looking back over the writeup for the Sugar Bowl. I made the comment that “Some of these bowl games are just bad. New Mexico was playing San Jose St the other day. I couldn’t even watch it.” I’d kill to watch that game right now I’m so ready to see some meaningful football after watching completely meaningless NFL preseason games.

· So I take it Sports Illustrated has bought into the whole “Saban is the 2nd coming” thing. I mean, they already put the guy on their cover and he hasn’t even lost to Auburn yet. I think they did it because he’s already outlasted the Mike Price tenure.

· I’m about ready for Tennessee to stop scheduling these out-of-conference games against schools where the SEC’s rep is at stake, making me pull for them. For the record, the national media seems to have fallen right back in the trap they fell in last year with regards to that game. Here I am again, stuck (grudgingly) pulling for UT.

· OK, I’m sure during the broadcast we’ll be inundated with a ton of references and comparisons to the two great running backs in OSU and UGA’s histories, Barry Sanders and Herschel Walker. You’ll probably also encounter a few OSU fans who are interested in exploring this comparison. Be patient with them. The fact of the matter is, there’s no denying Sanders was a special player, easily one of the all-time greats, and his best collegiate season certainly eclipses anything anyone else has ever been able to do (for one year). He was also a much better pro RB (although Herschel was a better pro than many give him credit for). With all that being said, Herschel is still the better college back overall. I say that without question because Sanders simply didn’t do it for long enough. His one great year can’t surpass what Walker did over 3 seasons where he was arguably the top player in college football each year. Sanders was a backup for his first two seasons. I understand he was backing up another future hall-of-famer, but if you’re the best ever, you don’t sit for two seasons behind anyone. Sanders’ 1st two seasons resulted in 1,000 yards combined rushing. Look, don’t get me wrong, Sanders is/was an amazing RB, and it’s debatable about what would have happened had he been allowed to start for 3 years, all I can tell you is this: Barry Sanders never competed in the Olympics…enough said.

· Ho-hum, another year, another Little League World Series champion from Georgia.

· I guess I thought T. Boone Pickens was going to look like a cross between Yosemite Sam and Boss Hogg…I mean the guy’s an oil baron from Oklahoma. Well, he doesn’t. He looks like Locke’s dad from the TV show Lost. If you don’t watch Lost, you’re too late. You’re simply not going to catch up now…and you might be better of for it. I won’t bother telling you which is which.

· I love the tradition of the honorary captain for each home game. I always look forward to seeing who they’ve brought back to speak to the team. It’s the little things guys.


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