Sugar Bowl: Kendall's Take

ATLANTA - Josh Kendall breaks down Georgia's Sugar Bowl matchup with West Virginia.

Georgia vs. West Virginia

Kickoff: 8:37 p.m.

Stadium: Georgia Dome (71,250)

Tickets: Sold out

Kickoff weather: Outside: High of 64, Low of 43; cloudy, 60 percent of rain

Last meeting: First meeting

Odds: Georgia favored by 7

Injuries: Georgia: Probable: LB Brandon Miller (knee), TE Martrez Milner (shoulder); Questionable: WR T.J. Gartrell (hip); Doubtful: DT Gerald Anderson (back); Out: WR Sean Bailey (knee). West Virginia: Probable: WR Jason Colson (knee), DT Ernest Hunter (virus); Out: WR Jeremy Bruce (ankle).

Rushing

If Georgia ran the ball as much as West Virginia, it wouldn't have any problem getting enough touches for all three of its tailbacks. It's not rare for the Mountaineers, who use a spread option attack, to run the ball 60 or more times in a game. Freshman Steve Slaton has rushed for more than 125 yards in four of his last six games, and quarterback Pat White is essentially another running back. It should be a busy day for Bulldog safety Greg Blue supporting the run. Georgia's regular running back rotation of Thomas Brown first, Kregg Lumpkin second and Danny Ware third will used today, running backs coach Kirby Smart said.

Edge: West Virginia

Passing

The Mountaineers passing game suffers due to the emphasis they place on the running game. White has completed 53 percent of his passes but has only attempted 100 all year. West Virginia has just two players with more than 11 catches this year and is 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams in passing. On top of all that, the Mountaineers will be facing a secondary with three first-team All-SEC selections. Georgia's passing game, meanwhile, seems to be rounding into shape. The Bulldogs will have to get by without injured starter Sean Bailey and are going up against a team that plays two cornerbacks and three safety/linebacker hybrids in its base formation.

Edge: Georgia

Defense

Both teams are ranked high in the national rankings, but Georgia has faced stiffer competition through the course of the season. West Virginia's two best opponents – Virginia Tech and Louisville – averaged 425 yards and 29 points during regulation this season.Only one team gained more than 360 yards against Georgia all season in a far better conference. The matchup can be summed up at one position. Senior safety Mike Lorello is a first-team All-Big East selection and the heart of the Mountaineer defense. The heart of the Georgia defense is senior safety Greg Blue. He's an All-American.

Edge: Georgia

Special Teams

The Bulldogs are the runaway favorite to win this phase of the game. Punter Gordon Ely-Kelso probably is underrated as a second-team All-SEC selection, and place-kicker Brandon Coutu is a first-team All-SECer.On top of that, punt returner Thomas Flowers is blossoming into a star, and the Bulldogs may have their kickoff return game problems solved with Ramarcus Brown back deep. As for West Virginia, kicker Pat McAfee has hit just 10 of 17 field goal attempts this year. Mountaineer punter Phil Brady is fifth in the eight-team Big East. The only strength of the WVU special teams in the punt return game. The Mountaineers use an unusual strategy on punt returns, sending back two returns. Antonio Lewis averages 19.7 yards per return.

Edge: Georgia

Forecast

West Virginia has a lot of pressure on its shoulders to represent the Big East in a positive way, but the Mountaineers face a tough task. Georgia has the defensive speed to match up against White and Slaton and its defensive players typically hit their assignments, a key against the option. Defensively, West Virginia is going to have to choose whether it wants to stop the run or the pass, and the Bulldogs' veteran offensive line had the potential to overwhelm the Mountaineers' three-man front. On top of it all, the game is 70 miles from Athens and in a building where Georgia just won the SEC Championship Game. "It's a home game for us and we know that," senior defensive tackle Kedric Golston said.

Winner: Georgia


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