Kickoff: 6:45 p.m. (TV: ESPN2, Radio: 940-AM)
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Kickoff weather: High of 85, low of 66; 30 percent chance of rain; scattered thunderstorms
Series: Georgia leads 2-0
Last meeting: Georgia won 20-7 in Stillwater, Okla., in 1947
Odds: Georgia favored by 6.5
Injuries: Georgia: Questionable: FB Jason Johnson (neck); Probable: WR Kris Durham (concussion), LB Akeem Dent (concussion). Oklahoma State: Probable: LB Jeremy Nethon (head), Dantrell Savage (groin).
Fans expecting a shootout could be surprised if Georgia tries to exploit Oklahoma State's most glaring soft spot. The Cowboys are expected to start a junior college transfer and a senior with eight career tackles in the middle of the defensive line. "They'll have to grow up really fast against a team that is going to want to run the ball," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. If Georgia can win that battle, it may be content to run the ball up the gut and keep OSU's offense off the field. "On Saturday, we will see if our offensive line is really ready," senior running back Kregg Lumpkin said. Thomas Brown will start at running back for the Bulldogs, followed by Lumpkin and then redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno. Dantrell Savage,a Columbus native, will carry the load for the Cowboys. The senior who had mostly small college offers coming out of Jordan High School ran for more than 100 yards in five of the last seven games last season. A powerful cutback runner, he averaged 6.5 yards per carry last year after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. "He's 190 (pounds), but he runs like he's 230," safety Kelin Johnson said. "Our linebackers have to wrap up."
The new and improved Matthew Stafford will be unveiled today. Not only does Georgia's sophomore quarterback have a better grasp of the offense, but he's in much better shape physically. The question about Georgia's passing game has to do with the wide receivers. A group that caught just four touchdown passes last year, eight fewer than Oklahoma State widereceiver Adarius Bowman. Bowman will be this game's biggest weapon in the passing game. The Cowboys will line him up on the outside and in the slot. Don't expect Georgia to cover him one-on-one much. Instead, the Bulldogs will be physical on the line of scrimmage and have help behind them most of the time. Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid is a solid passer who is most effective on the run. If Georgia's cornerbacks and safeties give up their coverage when he scrambles, he'll beat them with easy throws to wide open receivers.
EDGE: Oklahoma State Defense
Both defense have something to prove, but Oklahoma State has a lot more. Georgia is replacing nine starters from the team that finished third in the nation last year (258.2 ypg allowed). The Bulldogs have the added incentive of having listened all summer to proclamations about how good the Cowboy offense is. "I don't think there's any question all the national attention our offense has received will motivate their defense," Gundy said. Oklahoma State is motivated to prove it isn't as bad as everybody thinks. The Cowboys were 11th in the Big 12 last year in yards allowed. The team's leading returning tackler is linebacker Patrick Levine, but the most intriguing figure on defense is Donovan Woods. The senior from Oklahoma City, Okla., started 12 games at quarterback as redshirt freshman. As sophomore, he started two games at quarterback and then five at safety, where he played all last season. Now, he's a starting outside linebacker.
The Bulldogs have the two biggest special teams weapons in this game. Place-kicker Brandon Coutu is a Lou Groza Award finalist, and punt returner Mikey Henderson is hoping to duplicate last year's numbers, when he led the SEC with 14.7 yards per return and scored two touchdowns. On top of that, Richt expects the influx of this year's large redshirt freshman class to be an overall special teams boost. "I think our special teams will be a lot better than a year ago because of the amount of players who can run and hit and tackle," he said. Punting could be an adventure with junior Brian Mimbs taking over as the starter for now. The Cowboys are led by Perrish Cox, who as a true freshman last year was second in the Big 12 in punt returns (12.8) and fourth in kickoff returns (23.8). He returned one kickoff for a touchdown, and he'll be especially dangerous thanks to the new kickoff rules. Oklahoma State's Achilles' heel is punting. It was 11th in the Big 12 last year, but the Cowboys spend plenty of time on special teams.
One to watch
This is Marcus Howard's kind of game. He'll get to use his biggest asset, his speed, to chase Reid around the field. Howard will be making the first start of his career after playing in 37 games the last three years as a backup. He has made an impression on Richt in the last two weeks of practice. "I wouldn't surprise me to see him play really, really well," Richt said. "I love his attitude and his effort out there. It's been tremendous." The Cowboys have two solid but young offensive tackles, sophomores Russell Okung and Brady Bond.
A closer look at Oklahoma State's offensive numbers reveals that the Cowboys may not be as daunting as they appear. Oklahoma State had 603 yards against Kansas, 584 against Florida Atlantic and 528 against Houston. Against Texas and Oklahoma, it averaged 283 yards. The Cowboys are accustomed to playing big-time opponents, but this still is a step up for them. Their home field seats only 44,700. Georgia is 17-0 at home against non-conference foes under Richt and that number won't change today thanks to the Bulldogs' overall depth.