UGA vs. ASU: A Pre-Game Overview

Daniel SpratlinContributor ISeptember 26, 2009

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Quarterback Joe Cox #14 of the Georgia Bulldogs against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Sun Devils travel to Athens, Georgia for their first non-conference road game since 2006. The last two non Pac-10 road games have been successful for ASU (wins at Northwestern and Colorado), but this trip should be much more of a challenge. Arizona State comes into this game untested after beating Idaho State and UL Monroe at Sun Devil Stadium. However, those two cupcakes were a necessity; it has allowed QB Danny Sullivan to gain some confidence, and coach Dennis Erickson seems to have settled on a running back rotation. Georgia lost their opener at Oklahoma State, but rebounded to win SEC shootouts against South Carolina and Arkansas. The Bulldog offense has not missed a beat despite losing NFL first round draft choices QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno. Both teams also have significant injuries to deal with; Georgia will be without starting LT Trinton Sturdivant for the season with a knee injury, and ASU will be missing K Thomas Weber for about four to six weeks with a leg injury. Georgia dominated the Devils 27-10 last year in the first leg of this home and home series. ASU will be trying to garner some national recognition and UGA tries to show that they can compete in the loaded SEC.

When ASU has the  ball:

The much maligned Sun Devil offense has definitely not been spectacular this season, but they have done a great job protecting the football. Playing mistake-free football is definitely the key for the offense to keep this game close. Sullivan has not thrown an interception, and ASU has not lost a fumble in the first two games. The key to moving the football will be the passing game. Sullivan seems to have good chemistry so far with Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha, and the Georgia defense has allowed over 280 yards per game through the air. The Dawgs have also allowed 120 yards per game on the ground, but their first three opponents have stronger rushing attacks. Another key will be penalties. Many of ASU’s 12 penalties last week set the offense back. Too many holding and chop block infractions will leave the offense with very few chances to score. If this game becomes a battle of kickers, ASU now seems to be at a disadvantage. With Weber out, place kicking duties fall to walk-on Bobby Wenzig. Although Wenzig didn’t miss a kick last week, ASU had to try for fourth down conversions more than once last Saturday because of their shaky kicking situation.

The best news for ASU coming into this game has to be the play of Georgia’s defense. South Carolina and Arkansas have tallied 78 points in the last two games against UGA. The defense also only has four sacks on the young season. If Georgia is unable to get pressure on the QB, ASU should be able to move the ball. However, if the D can shut down the run and pressure the pass, Arizona State will be in for a long evening. The Georgia D has shown the tendency for allowing the big passing play, which is good news for them because ASU will feature a more underneath passing game with a lot of short routes. If UGA can tackle the receivers well, they should be able keep points off the board

Arizona State won’t keep up with their 44 PPG pace, but they should be able to move the ball. It sounds obvious, but holding on to the ball, protecting the passer, and limiting penalties will be the key.

When Georgia has the ball:

Cox has shown to be quite the capable replacement for Stafford at QB, especially in the last two games. The senior quarterback has led the Dawgs to 93 points in the last two wins. WR AJ Green is the player to watch on the offense. He is a likely 1st Team All-SEC WR and is averaging over 90 yards per game so far. Replacing Moreno has been slightly more difficult; Richard Samuel does have 256 yards after 3 games, but 80 of those came on one touchdown run. If it weren’t for Samuel’s long TD and a 61 yard TD scamper by Branden Smith, the Dawgs would only be averaging 2.3 yards per carry. This leads me to believe that Georgia will probably be stopped for most of the night, but will probably break the game open with big plays.

It is very hard to find problems with the Sun Devils’ defense in the first two games, but there is always room for improvement. The defense has been unable to create too much pressure on the QB, and Joe Cox will have a field day if he can just sit in the pocket and look for open receivers. However, the +8 turnover margin for ASU gives them some hope, especially since Georgia is in the bottom 10 in the FBS in that same statistic. The Devil defense might just be the best that UGA have seen so far this year. A weaker Oklahoma State defense shut down the Dawgs in the opener (Ok State has since given up 45 points in a loss to Houston and 24 points to lowly Rice). This is the ultimate test to see just how fast this defense is. ASU needs to force turnovers, draw penalties, and sack the QB, or else this may be a blowout.