QB on the rise

With few exceptions, the quarterback is the most important player on a football team. If he plays well, the team usually wins. If he plays poorly, the team usually loses.

Case in point: Matthew Stafford.

Stafford played poorly as a Georgia freshman in 2006 and the Bulldogs dropped four SEC games, including embarrassing setbacks to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He completed just 52.7 percent of his passes with nearly twice as many interceptions (13) as touchdown passes (7). His passer-efficiency rating of 109.0 ranked eighth among SEC quarterbacks.

One year later, however, Stafford is playing very well, and Georgia carries a 4-1 record and a No. 12 national ranking into Saturday's game at Tennessee. He has completed 57.6 percent of his passes with more than twice as many touchdowns (7) as interceptions (3). His passer-efficiency rating is a solid 127.2.

"I think he's growing in his confidence, and I think the staff is growing more confident in him," Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis said this week. "He's in command of the offense and he's doing a great job. He's got a tremendous arm. Obviously, his talent is well documented."

Stafford also is getting more help in '07 than he did in '06. Senior Sean Bailey, who missed last season with a knee injury, has emerged as the go-to receiver, leading the Dawgs in both receptions (16) and yards per catch (14.8). Redshirt freshman tailback Knowshon Moreno leads in rushing (432 yards) and ranks third in receptions (11). Senior tailback Thomas Brown leads in yards per carry (5.6) and touchdowns (6).

"The receivers are playing well," Chavis noted, "but the biggest thing is that running game. Not that he (Stafford) needs for it to be easy, but it becomes a lot easier when you can run the football."

Tennessee secondary coach Larry Slade echoes those sentiments. He believes Georgia's ground game has taken a lot of pressure off of Stafford, much as Cal's ground game took pressure off of Nate Longshore in Tennessee's opener.

"Both of them have the benefit of that great running game," Slade said. "That makes it a lot more comfortable when you've got that to depend on."

Still, Stafford has exceptional talent. Several NFL talent scouts believe the 6-3, 237-pound sophomore will be a first-round draft pick someday. He certainly has the attention of Tennessee's coaches.

"He can throw it anywhere," Slade said. "He has an extremely strong arm."

Although he won't remind anyone of quick-footed Georgia predecessor D.J. Shockley, Stafford has good mobility. In addition, he has a good grasp of the Bulldog offense.

"They don't ask him to do a lot of things," Slade said. "He has the ability to scramble and get away. But the thing that stands out is that his team can run the football, and that makes it really hard to stop."

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