Preview - Georgia at Colorado Saturday, October 2, 2010
When previewing the 2010 Colorado schedule, many Buff fans believed that four of the five home games on the calendar - Hawai'i, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State - were winnable.
There was one home game, however, which was not seen as even a potential "W" - the game against Georgia.
After the humbling 52-7 loss to Cal in week two, Buff fans were cringing at the thought of playing the Bulldogs in Boulder.
What a difference a few weeks can make ...
While Colorado was getting thumped by the Cal Bears, Georgia was falling to No. 24 South Carolina, 17-6. True, the Bulldogs were not used to losing to the Gamecocks, having defeated South Carolina nine straight times. But the game was in Columbia, it was against a ranked South Carolina team, and Georgia was within one score of South Carolina almost the entire game, until a Gamecock field goal with 1:12 remaining put the game out of reach.
The following week, however, Georgia, while Colorado was posting its second win of the season, was losing again. The Buffs put together their best half of the young campaign, routing Hawai'i, 31-3 in the second half on the way to a 31-13 victory. Meanwhile Georgia was ending another streak, this time against Arkansas. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 12 in the nation; and the Bulldogs did rally from a 24-10 deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but in the end Arkansas prevailed - in Athens - 31-24. It was Georgia's first loss to Arkansas in 17 years.
Last weekend, while Colorado enjoyed a bye week, Georgia was losing again. This time, there were no readily available excuses. Georgia lost to Mississippi State, 24-12, with the Bulldogs from Athens falling to the Bulldogs from Starkville for the first time since 1974.
Georgia comes to Boulder with a 1-3 overall record; 0-3 in SEC play for the first time since 1993.
Can the Buffs extend the Bulldogs' losing streak to four games?
Here are this week's "T.I.P.S." ...
T - Talent
If I were watching the Colorado/Georgia game on television, I would make this one of my "Fearless Friday Forecasts", but since I will be at Folsom Field Saturday, I won't be able to verify the following ...
The first player's name mentioned by the FoxSports broadcasters as they introduce the game to a national audience at 5:00 p.m. Saturday will be that of Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. The story of A.J. Green is as well known in Boulder as it is in Athens. Green, a consensus choice as a first round draft choice in the 2011 draft, was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the 2010 season after being accused of selling his Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000 to a person classified as an agent (the individual's last name is "Hawkins" - insert your own joke here).
His suspension now over, Green is now ready, willing, and - unfortunately for Buff fans - likely able to make a national splash against Colorado. The 6'4" junior was a first-team all-SEC pick in 2009, and believes he could have helped his team earlier this season. "I feel that I caused a lot of people pain," said Green, "because I felt like if I was out there some of the time we really had a chance."
While the fans and cameras will focus on Green, the Buffs had best not devote all of their attention to his side of the field. Without Green in the lineup, red-shirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray has made senior flanker Kris Durham his favorite target. Durham, who missed the 2009 season with a shoulder injury, leads Georgia with 17 catches for 324 yards and a touchdown. Durham did suffer a stinger against Mississippi State, but did say that he expected to be available for the game against Colorado.
With Green back in the lineup, Georgia will look to stretch the field, spreading out the Colorado defense in hopes of getting its ground game going (look for a steady diet of wide receiver screens).
The Bulldogs have all five offensive line starters back, and, with Aaron Murray making the first starts of his career, it was assumed that Georgia would look to dominate games running the ball. In fact, this summer one of the running backs, Caleb King, predicted that Georgia would have not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers this fall.
To date, however, that prediction is not coming to fruition.
King, who was supposed to team up with Washaun Ealey in the 1,000-yard club in 2010, was sidelined for two games with an ankle injury. King did return against Mississippi State to rush for 23 yards on nine carries, but has otherwise been a spectator. Ealey leads the team in rushing, but did not crack the 100-yard barrier in any of the three Georgia losses, and had two costly fumbles inside the opponent's five yard line in the past two weeks. Those fumbles have now cost Ealey his starting job. "He's going to play," said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo of Ealey. "But if a guy is turning it over, you've got to take some playing time away from him."
On defense, Georgia is talented, but the players are learning new positions. After posting an 8-5 record last season, Georgia head coach Mark Richt brought in a new defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham from the Dallas Cowboys. Grantham has switched the Bulldogs from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and the results have largely been encouraging despite the Bulldogs' overall record. Georgia is ranked in the top half in the nation in most defensive categories, and is giving up less than 20 points per game (19.8, ranked 46th). One player to keep an eye on is outside linebacker Justin Houston. A junior, Houston is ranked third in the SEC in both tackles for loss and sacks. Last season, despite missing two games, Houston finished second in the SEC with 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
If the Colorado/Georgia game comes down to special teams, the Buffs may be in trouble. The Bulldogs have, without question, the best kicking tandem in college football. Punter Drew Butler is the reigning Ray Guy award winner, which he won as a sophomore. Last season, Butler averaged 48.1 yards per punt, and the junior is averaging 44.3 yards per punt in 2010, with five punts of over 50 yards.
The Georgia kicker is Blair Walsh. As a sophomore in 2009, Walsh was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's best kicker. Last season, Walsh was 20-of-22 in field goal attempts, including four-of-five from 50 yards or more. So far this season, Walsh is seven-for-seven in field goal attempts.
So, the talent is clearly there for the Bulldogs. At the same time, Georgia is still 1-3, 0-3 in SEC play. Which leads us to ...
I - Intangibles
Georgia head coach Mark Richt is 91-30 in his nine-plus years as the head coach in Athens. He is one of only seven coaches in NCAA history to win 90 games in his first nine years (other familiar names on the list include Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, and Barry Switzer). His .752 winning percentage is fourth amongst active coaches, behind only Meyer, Stoops, and Gary Patterson of TCU (and just a fraction ahead of one Joe Paterno).
Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins, meanwhile, is 18-34 in his four-plus years as the head coach in Boulder. He is the only coach in Colorado history to be kept around for four consecutive losing seasons, and is three weeks removed from the latest humiliating defeat, this time a 52-7 drubbing by California.
So which coach is on the hot seat?
"We're definitely in a position that I've never been in as a player or a coach," said Mark Richt after the 24-12 loss to Mississippi State. "It's certainly not a good place to be, but we are where we are."
Will the return of A.J. Green make a difference? "We're trying to stay away from saying, 'If we had A.J. (in the first four games) we would do this, that or another," Richt said. "We're just glad to have him back." The players are also going with the party line. "We're not going to automatically start winning games because of just one player," said quarterback Aaron Murray. "All of us need to step up our game ... We've got to be more consistent."
Still, there is concern in Athens about a four game losing streak. "Our season could turn into a catastrophe," said wide receiver Kris Durham, "if we don't stay together and work hard."
Other intangibles ...
Folsom Field will likely be sold out, with an interesting mixture of black and red throughout the stadium. Georgia was allocated 5,000 tickets for the game, and then asked for 4,000 more. While surely some of the Bulldog faithful may have changed their minds about coming after their team fell to 1-3, in all likelihood most of those Georgia fans with tickets made their arrangements months ago, and have been looking forward to their trip west of the Mississippi.
The Buffs will counter with their third-ever "Blackout" game (the first two ended in a loss to Florida State in 2007 and a win over West Virginia in 2008), and 45,000 or so of their own vocal fans. If Colorado's 2-1 record was not enough to encourage Buff fans to get excited about the game, then the celebration honoring the 1990 national championship team should push them over the edge.
Then there is the ever-present altitude question. Hawai'i' players said after their game in Boulder that the mile-high atmosphere did not affect them, but Colorado was able to run over the Warrior defense in the second half. Georgia, for its part, has only played 12 regular season games west of the Mississippi River ... in its history. The Bulldogs are 4-7-1 all-time when venturing this far away from the southeast, including a 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State last season.
When asked by a fan Tuesday about Georgia playing in the rarefied air of Boulder, Bulldog head coach Mark Richt replied, "There's not much we can do about it". Richt did say that he had consulted with his director of sports medicine about going to Boulder a day earlier to try and acclimate, and was told it wouldn't make much difference. Georgia will have oxygen available for players on the sideline, but "we're not going to make a big deal out of it", said Richt.
Sold out stadium, a "Blackout", the 1990 national championship team on hand, and an opponent not used to the altitude (or getting home at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday). All of the outside factors for this game seem to favor the Buffs.
P - Preparation/Schedule
On paper, the schedule makers clearly favored the Buffs for this matchup. Georgia is coming off a tough loss, on the road, to a conference opponent. The Bulldogs are off to their worst start in the Mark Richt era, and, for the first time in over a decade, have been all but eliminated from the SEC title chase ... in September.
Meanwhile, Colorado is coming off a bye week. The Buffs have had an extra week to enjoy the memories of a well-played second half against Hawai'i. The Buffs have had an extra week to recuperate (with some starters sitting out practices last week to allow some minor injuries to heal). The Buffs have also had an extra week to game plan for Georgia.
Next week, Colorado travels to play Missouri to open Big 12 play. There is not much to look forward to here for the Buffs, as Colorado has played abysmally against the Tigers. Georgia, meanwhile, returns home to play against Tennessee in a must-win SEC game. There is no reason for Colorado to look past Georgia - they know what awaits them in Columbia. Conversely, the Bulldogs have much more at stake next week against the Volunteers than they do against the Buffs.
As for preparation ... well, if Colorado does not have a game plan for Georgia, the Buffs have only themselves to blame. The Bulldogs had to put everything they had into the last three games, all conference games. There should be few surprises for the Colorado defense (other than trying to keep up with A.J. Green). At the same time, the Buffs had an extra week to insert specialty plays just for this game. If the Buffs don't at least try a few new wrinkles with the offense, it will be a disappointment.
S - Statistics
Colorado is finally in the top ten of a statistical category - instead of the bottom ten.
The Buffs are ranked 7th in the nation in rush defense, giving up only 71.67 yards per game. Georgia counters with a rushing offense ranked 86th in the nation. Advantage, Colorado.
Colorado, though, may have troubles of its own running the ball. The Buffs, even with the 252 yards rushing against Hawai'i, are only averaging 147.33 yards per game rushing. While the No. 68 national ranking is far better than the triple digits the Buff Nation endured last year, the Buffs will have to do even better this weekend. The consensus is that, even though Georgia is only giving up 108.75 yards per game rushing, that the best chance for a Colorado victory is to run right at the heart of the Georgia defense. The Bulldogs are fast, so reverses and counters are not going to be as effective. The Buffs lined up the same five players along the offensive line for every snap against Hawai'i, and the line grew stronger as the game wore on. Colorado fans will be hoping for more of the same against Georgia.
A few more stats ...
... Under Mark Richt, Georgia is 39-4 record against teams from outside the SEC. In the regular season, the Bulldogs have only lost to Georgia Tech once (in nine games) and to Oklahoma State last year. On the road, Georgia is 33-8 under Richt, including an 11-4 record against ranked teams. (Very impressive for a coach on the "hotseat").
... Get to the game on time - Georgia has given up a touchdown to the opposition on their first drive of the game in each of their losses. A repeat on Saturday would certainly bolster the Buffs' chances. It is also true that the Bulldogs never led in any of those three games.
The formula for Colorado is simple. Get up on Georgia early; don't allow big plays; don't make mistakes; wear down the Bulldogs in the second half.
Colorado gave up an 80-yard pass on the second play of the game against Hawai'i, and then lost a fumble at the three yard line. The Warriors failed to score early, despite having eight plays inside the Buffs' five yard line. Hawai'i errors gave the Buffs the chance for a second half comeback.
If given the same opportunities, Georgia will not make the same mistakes ...
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