Until the first ball sails through the air at the game's 4:00 p.m. (Arizona time) kickoff, more questions than answers will prevail, especially regarding ASU's abilities. Will the Devils provide a performance that will echo from the buttes all the way through the hedges? Or, will it be unfortunate business as usual for ASU against ranked opponents on the road?
With ASU's full Pac-10 slate ahead, this game likely will go a long ways toward short- and long-term success for the 2009 season, as last year's loss was the second of a school-record six consecutive losses, but an inspiring performance in Athens, Ga., on Saturday could potentially set a tone to follow for the remaining nine games of the year.
Georgia Offensive Projected Starting Lineup
QB 14 Joe Cox 6-1 198 Sr. Charlotte, N.C. RB 22 Richard Samuel 6-2 222 So. Cartersville, Ga. FB 49 Shaun Chapas 6-2 245 Jr. St. Augustine, Fla. SE 12 Tavarres King 6-1 180 RS-Fr. Mount Airy, Ga. FL 8 A.J. Green 6-4 207 So. Summersville, S.C. TE 81 Aron White 6-4 236 So. Columbia, Mo. LT 72 Vincent Vance 6-8 325 Sr. Hinesville, Ga. LG 71 Cordy Glenn 6-5 328 So. Riverdale, Ga. C 61 Ben Jones 6-3 300 So. Centreville, Ala. RG 79 Justin Anderson 6-5 330 So. Ocilla, Ga. RT 60 Clint Boling 6-5 304 Jr. Alpharetta, Ga.Georgia Offensive Preview
Although the Bulldog's two biggest names from last year departed for NFL first-round paychecks, the talent of one of the SEC's most tradition-rich programs has been able to satisfactorily fill a stable portion of the offensive void despite a general lack of name recognition and game experience.
Last week against Arkansas, Bulldog quarterback Joe Cox make tremendous strides in his attempt to step out of Stafford's shadow under center for Georgia, tossing a school record five touchdowns in addition to 375 yards in a shootout victory over the Razorbacks, earning him Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Much like ASU's Danny Sullivan, Cox waited in the wings as second-string for three active years before being handed the keys as a senior, and also similar to his Sun Devil counterpart, Cox has not disappointed. Despite achieving modest numbers of 33-of-58 passing (57.8-percent) for 432 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in 13 games with one start, through three games as a starter this season, the senior passer has completed 50-of-79 passes (63.3-percent) for 738 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Multi-talented sophomore, Logan Gray (6-2, 192), who returned punts for Georgia against ASU last year, is listed as the second-string quarterback, while highly-acclaimed true freshmen Aaron Murray (6-1, 206) and Zach Mettenberger (6-5, 230) are respectively charted as the third- and fourth-string quarterbacks, however only Cox has thrown a pass in a game in 2009 – and at all in a collegiate game for the Bulldogs.
Thankfully, according to ASU fans, former Bulldog running back Knowshon Moreno departed early for the NFL, so Sun Devil followers won't have to visualize Moreno's highlight reel leap into the end zone over former ASU safety Rodney Cox last year any longer. Conversely, Bulldog fans likely are happy to learn that incumbent starter Caleb King is likely to see extensive action Saturday after fighting through injuries during the team's early-season stretch.
King, who rushed for 247 yards on 61 carries (4.0 avg.) with one score behind Moreno last year, has appeared in only one contest thus far in 2009, rushing 11 times for 59 yards against Arkansas a week ago. Combining all the tools to be a solid, if not great, running back, King figures to be the primary test subject to challenge ASU's high caliber defensive front seven.
Richard Samuel had been the Bulldog's top rusher in the year's first two games, but the sophomore may have demoted himself last week with a pair of fumbles against Arkansas, which caught the attention of Richt in an unwanted way.
"I'm not too thrilled about it," admits Richt. "I don't know if we are ready to move him from the No. 1 position, but I would say if that kind of thing continued, we'd have to really consider whether or not he should start for us. You can't have two a game, that's for sure, and continue to play the kind of football you need to to win. You just have to do a better job."
Despite a loose grip, Samuel still paces Georgia to date in 2009 with 51 carries for 273 yards (5.0 avg.) with two scores as a starter in all three games.
According to Richt, both King and Samuel are expected to see extended duty against the Sun Devils, while diminutive redshirt freshman Carlton Thomas (5-7, 180), who has appeared in every game and has collected 25 yards on 10 carries and 18 yards on two catches, also figures to earn snaps Saturday. Additionally, ball security will has become an increasingly urgent issue for this game, as heavy rains are expected in Athens on Saturday.
"There will definitely be a plan to play both (King and Samuel)," states Richt. "I'm not even sure we have settled on who will start, though I will say Richard (Samuel) will start the game; I'm pretty sure that's going to happen."
"Caleb (King) did very well (against Arkansas). He ran the ball well. He pass protected well and secured the ball well. He showed no signs of the hamstring becoming an issue for him, so it was a very good performance for Caleb. I think our tailback position just got stronger by virtue of that. Carlton (Thomas) certainly has done a nice job for us, and we still have confidence that he can go in there and play ball for us."
The "X" factor may prove to be dangerous trick-play threat, true freshman cornerback Branden Smith, with 4.28 speed, who has earned spot duty on offense and has totaled 80 yards on six carries, including a 61-yard scoring dash, while also seeing action in the passing game and on special teams returns.
Sophomore receiver A.J. Green clearly is Cox's primary target in the passing game, and his is a name Sun Devil fans heard called far too frequently in last year's meeting, as Green, then a true freshman, secured still-standing career-highs of eight catches for 159 yards. Fully avoiding a sophomore slump, the Summerville, S.C. native has caught team highs of 17 passes for 275 yards (16.2 avg.) and three touchdowns in three games as a starter in 2009.
Although Green greatly torched Sun Devil defenders last season, Richt believes the former five-star prospect has stably grown from then to now.
"(Green is) close to 20 pounds heavier than the day he came to Georgia, so he's definitely a stronger receiver," says Richt. "I've seen no drop-off in speed or quickness. He's a much better blocker. He certainly has a greater understanding of what we are trying to do. Last year we had some guys guiding him almost every play early in the year. Of course as the season went on he got more comfortable. He has changed the game for us to a certain degree."
Whichever cornerback draws the assignment to shadow Green likely will be expected to take on the game's most integral matchup from ASU's perspective, as Green is clearly the most compelling and capable offensive threat in the Bulldog lineup.
Beside Green, senior Michael Moore has stepped into a more prominent role at receiver thus far in 2009, catching 10 passes for 120 yards with two scores, on pace to possibly match his three-year career totals of 34 catches for 515 yards which he had collected entering this season. A year ago, Moore caught one pass for 19 yards against ASU and may be in line for ample contributions Saturday if the Sun Devils attribute significant attention to limiting Green's performance.
Tavarres King is likely to start, or at worst, serve as the third receiver, and has hauled in six receptions for 95 yards (15.8 avg.) with one score as a starter in two of three games on the year. King showed a flash of game breaking ability last year in Tempe, with a 41-yard reception against ASU, the longest play from scrimmage on the day.
Sophomore Israel Troupe (6-1, 215) and true freshmen Marlon Brown (6-5, 200) and Rantavious Wooten (5-10, 170) are listed as the main reserves at receiver behind Green, King and Moore, however none of the three has recorded a reception yet this season.
Orson Charles has emerged as a bona fide big-play threat from the tight end position, and while he has yet to start a game and is listed second on the depth chart this week, Charles, a five-star prospect and the nation's No. 3 tight end recruit last year, ranks third on the team and leads all Bulldog tight ends with six catches for 146 yards and one score, while his 24.3-yard average on receptions is easily the highest on the squad.
Slated to start ahead of Charles at tight end is one-time ASU recruit Aron White, a starter in all three games thus far who has caught a pair of passes for 33 yards and one touchdown.
With the emergence of Green's surrounding receivers and tight ends as targets in the passing game, Richt compliments the versatility that provides the Bulldogs, as opposing defenses simply can't solely focus on attempting to limit Green.
"What happened throughout the (Arkansas) game is we began to throw the ball to Michael Moore, Aron White and Tavarres King," reflects Richt. "The guys that were opposite of A.J. began to make plays; the tight ends down the middle…they are all beginning to benefit from the types of coverage A.J. has been seeing."
Georgia features a fullback regularly in its offensive sets, with junior Shawn Chapas, who has seen minimal action as a ballcarrier this year, slated as the starter with junior Fred Munzenmaier (6-2, 240) seated just behind him on the depth chart. Chapas has contributed to the Bulldog offense in three years, totaling career figures of 19 carries for 69 yards and 14 catches for 156 yards, while Munzenmaier is primarily used in a blocking role, carrying only twice in his two-plus year career.
Along the offensive line, the Devils likely will see the same five starters they did a year ago in Tempe, with senior Vincent Vance and sophomore Cordy Glenn, a member of College Football News' First-Team Freshman All-America squad a year ago, figuring to start on the left side at tackle and guard, respectively, with junior right tackle Clint Boling, an All-SEC performer a year ago and likely Georgia's top lineman, and sophomore right guard Justin Anderson opposite them and sophomore Ben Jones, who started 10 games last year as a true freshman and earned First-Team Freshman All-America recognition by College Football news, stands as the first-string center.
Quality depth may be somewhat of an issue for the Bulldogs, largely due to a second consecutive season-ending injury to star tackle Trinton Sturdivant, as starting right tackle Clint Boling is listed as the top reserve at left tackle, while starting left guard Cordy Glenn is tabbed as the backup right guard.
Junior Chris Davis (6-4, 290) stands as the top reserve at left guard and center, while junior Casey Nickels (6-4, 280) is behind Boling at right tackle.
Georgia Defensive Projected Starting Lineup
DE 42 Justin Houston 6-3 259 So. Statesboro, Ga. DT 95 Jeff Owens 6-3 300 Sr. Sunrise, Fla. DT 56 Geno Atkins 6-1 290 Sr. Pembroke Pines, Fla. DE 58 Demarcus Dobbs 6-2 274 Jr. Savannah, Ga. WLB 35 Rennie Curran 5-11 225 Jr. Snellville, Ga. MLB 38 Marcus Dowtin 6-2 220 So. Upper Marlboro, Md. SLB 50 Darryl Gamble 6-2 250 Jr. Bainbridge, Ga. WC 23 Prince Miller 5-8 198 Sr. Duncan, S.C. SC 2 Brandon Boykin 5-10 185 So. Fayetteville, Ga. FS 3 Bryan Evans 5-11 190 Sr. Jacksonville, Fla. SS 9 Reshad Jones 6-2 215 Jr. Atlanta, Ga.Georgia Defensive Preview
Although stout defense has traditionally been a hallmark of most upper-level SEC teams, Georgia has uncharacteristically has had a few geographic "out-of-body" experiences this year, participating in ‘Old West' style shootouts, most recently edging Arkansas, 52-41, in a game that saw nearly 1,100 yards of offense, including over 400 through the air by the Razorbacks behind former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Through three games, Georgia has been outscored on average, surrendering 34.0 points-per-game, while allowing 285.3 passing yards-per-game and 406.3 total yards, rating the Bulldogs in the lower NCAA ranks in several key defensive categories.
Standout weak side linebacker Rennie Curran has continued to be a force for the Bulldog defense, ranking 11th in the nation and atop the SEC with 33 tackles in three games with four quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery, while fellow starting linebackers Darryl Gamble and Marcus Dowtin rank second and third on the team in tackles with 19 and 17, respectively. Curran enjoyed a stellar outing last season in Tempe, with a game-high nine tackles, including two for loss, and an eight-yard sack.
Although the linebackers unit has been the most stable and successful this season, Curran and company still feel largely responsible for the team defense's overall disappointments.
"It is frustrating as a defense," Curran said earlier this week. "There were a lot of times in the last game that we could have pointed fingers and got discouraged, but we didn't and it has really helped build us up. We know where we are at as a defense, and I feel that we are not very far from being great."
Junior Akeem Dent (6-2, 233) backs up Gamble on the strong side, while sophomore Charles White (6-1, 224) is Dowtin's top contingent in the middle and sophomore Nick Williams (6-2, 219) and redshirt freshman Christian Robinson (6-2, 216) are the top reserves for Curran on the weak side. Collectively, the reserve ‘backers have made few notable plays in 2009, as Dent has accounted for eight of the nine total tackles posted by the primary reserves listed on the depth chart.
Georgia has had limited results in terms of quarterback pressure from the defensive line, combining for only three sacks from its linemen – with only one-half of a sack coming from one of the four usual starters. However, to the defensive front seven's delight, Georgia has had success in defending the run, according to Richt.
"We have been stout against the run," praises Richt. "I think some of the passing yards have to do with the fact that people haven't had a lot of success. Is it very unusual to be able to stop the run and not pressure the passer. There are certain body types that can maybe stuff the run better than they can get after a passer but I wouldn't categorize our guys that way."
Usual starting defensive ends sophomore Justin Houston and junior Demarcus Dobbs have collectively totaled 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss, however those numbers may be a little misleading because Houston has only appeared in one game but totaled seven tackles and 0.5 tackles-for-loss in that effort.
Redshirt freshman Cornelius Washington (6-4, 248) is the top defensive end reserve, and has exhibited pass-rush skills in the infant stages for his college career, leading the team with 2.0 quarterback sacks. Junior Kiante Tripp (6-6, 275), who has also been listed on the offensive line depth chart during his Bulldog career, stands opposite Washington as second-string defensive ends, while true freshman Montez Robinson (6-5, 250) and senior Marcus Washington (6-0, 260) fill out the third team.
Seniors Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens are positioned to be the top two tackles on the defense and have combined for seven tackles and 11 quarterback hurries as the starting pair all three games in 2009.
Behind the Bulldog starting tackles, senior Kade Weston (6-5, 315) and sophomore DeAngelo Tyson (6-2, 294) are tabbed on the second team, while senior Brandon Wheeling (6-3, 276) and true freshman Abry Jones (6-3, 290) round out the three-deep.
"One area where I thought we might be putting a little more pressure on the quarterback where we really haven't up to this point on a consistent basis is right up the middle," says Richt. "We need to get more from the inside push. If the quarterback does step up he's got nowhere to be comfortable or no space and we've had too much of that."
The Bulldog secondary, which has been picked on and prodded both in games and by media, figures to see senior Prince Miller and sophomore Brandon Boykin as starting cornerbacks, with junior Reshad Jones at strong safety and senior Bryan Evans at free safety.
The combination of lackluster secondary play and subpar pass-rush has Richt balancing a chicken-and-the-egg philosophy on how to create a likely widespread defensive improvement.
"The better you cover, the longer the quarterback has to hold the ball and it allows your pressure to get to him," admits Richt. "We also know that if we put pressure on the quarterback he tends to throw the ball too soon or a little bit off balance, and that helps your coverage. It's as simple as that. We have to cover better and we have to put more pressure."
Statistically, Jones and Evans pace the group, as Jones has totaled 14 tackles, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries, while Evans has tallied 12 tackles, 0.5 tackles-for-loss and two pass breakups on the year. Evans had a solid effort in last year's meeting between the Devils and Bulldogs, collecting seven tackles and a pass breakup.
Boykin leads all Bulldog corners with 12 total tackles and has the team's only interception on the year, while Miller has collected four tackles. Junior Vance Cuff (5-11, 177) ranks second among cornerbacks in tackles with nine and – if healthy – will backup Boykin at strong cornerback, while all-purpose contributor Branden Smith is Miller's top reserve at weak corner and has contributed one tackle in addition to his offensive deposits.
Georgia Special Teams Lineup and Preview
K 57 Blair Walsh 5-10 185 So. Boca Raton, Fla. P 13 Drew Butler 6-2 203 So. Duluth, Ga. PR 23 Prince Miller 5-8 196 Sr. Duncan, S.C. KR 2 Brandon Boykin 5-10 176 So. Fayetteville, Ga. KR 1 Branden Smith 5-11 175 Fr. Atlanta, Ga.Combining flash and reliability, the Bulldog special teams by-and-large have been nothing short of amazing in nearly all facets during the first quarter of the 2009 football season.
Brandon Boykin has undoubtedly provided the most excitement on the Bulldogs' special teams returns units, averaging 32.4 yards on 11 punt returns – good enough for 15th in the FBS – including a school-record 100 yard scoring return against South Carolina, while Smith averages 18.8 yards on five returns with a long of 48.
Punter Drew Butler has absolutely blasted balls through the team's first three games, averaging a herculean 54.5 yards on 11 punts – tops in the nation – with a long of 75 and five placed inside the 20-yard line.
Although Butler's gaudy punting average is a tough act to follow, kicker Blair Walsh has converted all six field goal attempts, including a pair of successful tries from beyond 50 yards.
Perhaps the only special teams' area where Georgia hasn't boldly stood out this year is in punt returns, where Prince Miller has totaled only seven yards on four returns with a long of four yards.
It isn't out of the realm of sanity to say that, despite Georgia's below-usual performances recently, Saturday's game will be the most hostile environment – both between the hedges of Sanford Stadium and in the violated and defiled surrounding tailgate areas – which members of this Sun Devil squad will experience through the duration of their collegiate careers.
A variety of variables could be at play in this contest; some feel Georgia, much like the state's famed peaches, are ‘ripe for the picking,' but many feel that the long distance underdogs won't much compare to the host ‘Dawgs.
Many firsts will transpire Saturday, as ASU takes to the road for the first time in 2009, which also will serve as quarterback Danny Sullivan's first career road start in what is ultimately ASU's first ever appearance in an SEC stadium.
Though this matchup undoubtedly would serve as a statement on behalf of the Sun Devil football program if pitchforks are held high in victory, Georgia shares the importance as the Bulldogs aim to prove to the nation that theirs is still very much a force to be reckoned with.
For ASU to end up victorious the defense likely will have to steal the show and the offense – in all areas – must be efficient and advantageous, and provide Sullivan enough time to make wise decisions. Additionally, it likely is the hope of the Sun Devil staff that the place kicking game doesn't end up being a major factor as true freshman walk-on Bobby Wenzig will kick in place of injured Thomas Weber, while All-Pac-10 linebacker Mike Nixon may potentially be in the kicking game mix as well.
Virtually all odds favor the Bulldogs in this affair, however this Georgia team seems not quite as dominant as those of years passed, and on a nationwide scale this young 2009 season has reinforced the "any given Saturday" philosophy on multiple occasions.
ASU Injury Update and Lineup Notes
- Kicker Thomas Weber will miss five-to-six games due to injury.
- Defensive end James Brooks will serve his third of a three-game suspension Saturday.
- Linebacker Oliver Aaron and offensive guard Zach Schlink will miss at least one more game each due to injury, while center Garth Gerhart is uncertain for the Georgia game.
- True freshman Bobby Wenzig will fill in at kicker for Weber, while linebacker Mike Nixon may see time at this position as well.
Five Questions: ASU at Georgia
- How will the Sun Devils handle a hostile SEC environment and will the weather be a key factor?
- How will ASU be able to fill Thomas Weber's void at kicker?
- Can the ASU secondary contain Georgia's receivers and tight ends, namely A.J. Green?
- Can the Sun Devil defense rattle quarterback Joe Cox?
- Can Danny Sullivan and ASU's receivers exploit Georgia's secondary?