Thursday? A bowl game here in a city that's clearly an aberration of urban planning, where you can go faster in a parking garage than on many city streets.
It's a game between the two braggingest conferences in the country, and
the two best conferences in the country.
And, much to the dismay of - and denials by - their friends on The
Flats, Thursday is Georgia's test, Georgia's application to be a legitimate
national championship contender in the fall.
On paper, it's fairly easy to lump Georgia into the group, especially
with a win Thursday over a quality team from a quality conference.
A record-setting quarterback returns behind the entire offensive line.
A corps of running backs returns. Most of one of the nation's top
defenses is back.
And don't forget those injured guys like Will Thompson, Cedric Haywood
and Tony Milton. Other guys will be healthy. There's not a spot on the
team, save for kicker, that won't be deep and experienced, even if
people get hurt. Don't forget about the redshirts all over the place.
Sure, replacing Michael Johnson - this year's best receiver - and
Damien Gary is a key, but the Bulldogs replaced Terrence Edwards - the
best receiver the previous two years - pretty well. Don't be surprised
if the dynamic receiving duo by mid-September is Sean Bailey and
Finding another Billy Bennett is quite tough. After all, he's only got
SEC and NCAA kicking records to hang on the wall.
Upgrading the cover ability at cornerback and perhaps filling a sudden
gap at safety? Major issues.
And maybe there'll be an opening at defensive end. Know what? Georgia
won't be hurt nearly as bad as people think if David Pollack listens to
some shaky advice and leaves early.
Thompson is an all-SEC guy on the other side, and if he'd played this
year, he'd have huge numbers and Pollack would have better numbers.
So much is back. But Thursday, we might see some of the real deal.
Will Mark Richt upgrade his offensive philosophy? Will he burn a chunk
of pages from the playbook, and white-out portions of other pages?
Sure, David Greene isn't having as sharp a year aesthetically as his
numbers might show. The stats say he's playing better than it looks like
he's playing. But his reads are off, he's held onto the ball too long,
and just hasn't made as many big plays as in the past. Can anybody argue
with the ignoring of the tight end position or targets in the middle of
And yes, Georgia's 10-3 in a rebuilding year. Still, few would argue
that this offense hasn't looked sharp. Some of it's execution, some of
it's game plan, some of it is imploding at the same time.
That's why Georgia's ability to make the next step hinges, it says
here, on Richt doing some revamping, some rethinking. Maybe there's an
offensive coordinator/play-caller out there. Maybe he's thought of that.
Maybe next year, Mike Bobo assumes some of that role.
Maybe he does some of that Thursday. Can't hurt.
Georgia's offense isn't dynamic. Really hasn't been since Richt took
over. It has flashes of "Ah, that's what Florida State always did" but
not on a consistent basis.
Something seems to be missing. There are still some head-scratching
calls that work enough but even inspire a "what was I thinking?" from
Richt. Like a short pass to a 5-foot-8 fullback against Florida when
there are targets a half-foot taller or a good running play waiting to
Georgia taking that next step begins Thursday, as even Richt notes that
the last game of this year is the first game of next year.
Purdue offers a great test.
The Bulldogs and Boilermakers are pretty even. Both have decent
offenses and elite defenses.
Purdue has defenders like Shaun Phillips and Stuart Schweigert who will
give Georgia's line and receivers a workout. Quarterback Kyle Orton has
a better efficiency rating than Greene and mostly better numbers across
the board, including positive yardage on the ground.
The Boilermakers are positioning themselves for next year, too. Their
three losses this year were to bowl teams, including one to last year's
national champ and one to a team that has a big say Thursday in the
Certainly, a loss Thursday doesn't really have much to do with how people
play in August and for the following four months.
But how teams play in a bowl game gives a hint of what it's capable of.
And Thursday, we might just get a major hint of whether the Bulldogs open
the 2004 season as merely hopefuls again or legitimate contenders to
play Jan. 4, 2005 in Miami.
Dawgs take Step towards future with Purdue
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