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Georgia Football: Revamping the Game-by-Game Schedule Post-Week 2

Andrew HallCorrespondent IIIOctober 3, 2016

Georgia Football: Revamping the Game-by-Game Schedule Post-Week 2

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    This time last week, Bulldog fans were ready to bench quarterback Aaron Murray, fire head coach Mark Richt and call to question the accreditation of the University of Georgia.  The Clemson loss hurt.

    Seven days later, things are looking up once again.  

    As it turns out, a big win against an SEC East rival goes a long way in calming tempers and soothing unrest. Following a 41-30 win over South Carolina, Georgia now appears to be in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, but a tough schedule remains.

    Here's what awaits Georgia following the bye this week.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. North Texas Mean Green: Sept. 21

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    Georgia follows its off week with one final tune-up game against the Mean Green before heading into a dense conference schedule. 

    North Texas opened the season with a 40-6 victory at home over the Idaho Vandals, but the wheels came off in a 27-21 loss to the Ohio Bobcats on Saturday.  You may vaguely remember Ohio as the team that Louisville pummeled (the Cardinals won 49-7) in its season opener last Sunday.

    What does a 1-1 record say about North Texas?  In earnest, not a lot.  But the loss to Ohio goes a long way in dispelling any notion that the Mean Green will keep up with the Bulldogs in two weeks.

    That being said, the game will feature two of the nation's most efficient passers.  Obviously, one is Aaron Murray (10th in the nation with a 194.8 passer rating).  But you might not have known that North Texas QB Derek Thompson ranks 25th with his 173.0 passer rating.

    The talent differential will be the tale of this game. Even Georgia's young defense should be able to shut down the Mean Green passing attack. 

    Georgia will win this football game, but more importantly, the Bulldogs will get one more chance to fine-tune before the LSU game.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. LSU Tigers: Sept. 28

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    The crowd made a difference for Georgia in the Saturday afternoon win over South Carolina.  I'd expect an equally raucous gathering at Sanford Stadium to watch these two Top 10 teams exchange blows. 

    The storylines for this game could run for days:

    • The erratic Les Miles vs. the overly composed Mark Richt
    • Zach Mettenberger taking on his former team
    • Aaron Murray looking for another signature win
    • Todd Gurley taking on a strong defensive front

    The Tigers are already 2-0 with wins over TCU and UAB to their credit.  Barring an upset loss to Kent State or Auburn (both at home), Les Miles will bring an undefeated team looking to make a statement into Athens.

    The home-standing Bulldogs will be looking to survive another tough game against a Top 10 team and come out with a 2-0 record in SEC play.

    LSU's offense has looked much improved through two games (averaging 46.5 points per game), and the defense seems to be on par with expectations, having given up just 277.5 yards per game.  Once again, the keys for Georgia will be controlling the offensive line of scrimmage and limiting mistakes on defense.

    If last weekend's effort is any indicator and if this young defense continues to improve, Georgia will win this game.

Georgia Bulldogs at Tennessee Volunteers: Oct. 5

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    No matter the state of the program, Tennessee tends to give Georgia a tough game just about every year.

    In 2011, the Vols finished 5-7 with one SEC win, and Georgia barely survived against them, eking out a 20-12 road victory.  Last year, Tennessee stumbled to an identical record before firing Derek Dooley, and the Vols gave the Bulldogs all they could handle before falling 51-44 in Athens.

    The best thing that can happen for Georgia heading into this game is Tennessee losses against Oregon (on the road this weekend) and Florida (at home on Sept. 21).  Neyland Stadium holds more than 102,000 fans, and a few losses by the Volunteers might leave some tickets unused.

    In two games against outmatched opponents (Austin Peay and Western Kentucky), Tennessee has shown where its offensive strength lies: on the ground.  Quarterback Justin Worley has been more than respectable throwing the ball, but a big and physical offensive line has paved the way for UT's 555 rushing yards.  That will remain the trend for the Volunteers this season.

    Defensively, Tennessee still lacks depth, and Mike Bobo's offense should be able to reach the end zone with some frequency.  Ultimately, Tennessee's offense won't be able to make this game a shootout like last year.

    Georgia wins on the road.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Missouri Tigers: Oct. 12

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    This game will miss the "Old Man Football" hype that accompanied Missouri's first SEC game in 2012, but the Bulldogs will likely be a far cry from hospitable.

    To date, Missouri is 2-0 with wins over Murray State and Toledo, and many expect the Tigers to be as good as 4-1 (with a possible loss to Vanderbilt) heading into the matchup with the Bulldogs.

    The odds of Missouri finding a way to stop the Bulldogs' offense are slim.  And, with Georgia's young defense moving into midseason form, I don't anticipate too many lapses against a mobile quarterback (James Franklin) who is not as good as Tajh Boyd or even Connor Shaw.

    Georgia wins comfortably.

Georgia Bulldogs at Vanderbilt Commodores: Oct. 19

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    Georgia and Vanderbilt fans alike remember what happened the last time the Bulldogs visited Nashville when a hotly contested game concluded with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham exchanging unkind words with Vanderbilt personnel.  Vanderbilt likely has not forgotten last year's game, a 48-3 Georgia victory, either.

    In that regard, head coach James Franklin's team may still have revenge on its mind, and nothing would excite an already abuzz Commodores fanbase like an upset against a perennial SEC power like Georgia. 

    Unfortunately for Vandy, I don't think Franklin's squad has the size or the speed to compete with Georgia's talent.

    Vanderbilt's season-opening loss to Ole Miss was wildly entertaining, but it was highlighted by a string of botched plays on defense (for both teams).  Vanderbilt's crowd won't be enough to disrupt Murray and Todd Gurley, so even a few defensive lapses could cost Vanderbilt the game. 

    Throw in a first-year SEC starter in Austyn Carta-Samuels at quarterback and an unproven stable of running backs (no back has gained more than 100 total yards through two games), and this should be another Bulldogs victory.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators in Jacksonville: Nov. 2

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    It is a gross understatement to say that Florida's offense still has a lot of unanswered questions.  Accordingly, I wouldn't be surprised to see Florida lose as many as four games this season, with LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State all contenders to follow Miami's lead in taking down the Gators.

    That being said, nothing could save a season for Florida head coach Will Muschamp as fast as an upset victory over Georgia.  By the same token, nothing scares Georgia fans as much as that midseason showdown in Jacksonville.  Records and rankings will not matter, and with talent fairly even across the board, this game will come down to in-game coaching.

    I tend to give Georgia the coaching advantage here for two reasons:

    1. Mark Richt is 2-0 against Will Muschamp in this rivalry.
    2. Georgia has an edge in continuity.  This is Mark Richt's 13th meeting against the Gators in Jacksonville; it's Muschamp's second.  This is Mike Bobo's seventh Cocktail Party as offensive coordinator; this is Brent Pease's second.  Todd Grantham will be the defensive coordinator in this game for the fourth time; Florida's D.J. Durkin will be in the capacity for the first time.

    There is a psychological edge to this game, and that edge seems to have swung the momentum to Georgia.  Combine that with the Bulldogs coaching staff's keen awareness of the game's significance, and Georgia wins for a third consecutive year.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers: Nov. 9

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    With any luck, Georgia will have starters on both sides of the ball out by halftime of this game.  But, don’t fall completely asleep against Appalachian State, right Michigan?

Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Tigers: Nov. 16

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    Historically speaking, the Deep South's oldest rivalry is so even that it almost defies logic.  The series is tied 54-54-8.  That being said, the visiting team has won this game more often than not, and an unusual number of upsets have occurred in the series.

    Auburn opened the season 2-0 and will likely improve drastically over the course of the season under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. 

    Perhaps the most intriguing facet of this game is Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.  He was a defensive back at Georgia before being dismissed from the team two years ago.  He now lines up under center for the Tigers.  He hasn't been fully unleashed (he's 20-of-36 passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games), but his development will be crucial to the Tigers' success.

    At this juncture, a lot will be known about Georgia's standing within the conference, and the hope is that the Bulldogs are sitting comfortably atop the SEC East while holding a tiebreaker over both South Carolina and Florida.  If that is the case, look for the Bulldogs to treat this game like a building trip and watch for an improving defense to make a statement.

    However, if the Bulldogs are desperate for a win to stay in the SEC East hunt, things could be much more interesting.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Nov. 23

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    Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith might be the best player in the country that nobody is talking about.  Trapped at a basketball school that happens to be the laughingstock of SEC football, Smith has quietly connected on 64 percent of his passes while throwing for 435 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in two games this season. 

    Buried even deeper in the stat sheet is this caveat: Smith was pretty darn good last year before injuring his ankle.  In his first three games in 2012, he connected on 68 percent of his passes for 966 yards and eight touchdowns.

    If Smith continues to improve and manages to stay healthy behind a mediocre offensive line, this game could scare some Georgia fans. 

    Imagine this scenario: Georgia claws its way through seven SEC games with a 7-0 conference record.  In doing so, the Dawgs clinch the SEC East and a trip back to Atlanta, thanks in no small part to wins over the likes of South Carolina, LSU and Florida.  With a Top 5 ranking, a matchup against lowly Kentucky seems like nothing more than a formality before an in-state rivalry game. 

    The game moves from trivial to hectic when Maxwell Smith comes out of the gates hot and connects on several consecutive passes during an opening drive. 

    Fortunately, Kentucky is still Kentucky.  Georgia pulls out a win after waking up late.

Georgia Bulldogs at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Nov. 30

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    This rivalry game has regressed to a can't-win scenario for Georgia.  A victory in the series carries little weight, as Georgia Tech has declined on the national scale and Georgia has won 11 of the last 12 meetings.  A loss, however, serves as a permanent and embarrassing black eye.

    Throw in Georgia Tech's pesky option offense, and this game is nothing shy of an annoyance for the Bulldogs.  Fortunately, the game comes late in the season with Georgia peaking in its preparation for another SEC Championship Game run.

    Once again, Georgia wins this game, and Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall prove that Georgia still runs this state.

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