The New Goals at Georgia

ATHENS – Georgia's players spent the preseason talking about the national championship. They spent the past two months talking about an SEC title. But after losing 49-10 to Florida last Saturday, they have spent this week talking about finding new goals for the rest of the season.

 "You know that BCS is crazy, so believe me, we haven't given up hope," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "There's three more weeks left. Anything can happen on any Saturday, so we haven't given up."

 Those BCS aspirations are a long shot at this point, however, with Georgia needing the Gators to lose both of their remaining SEC games in order to sneak into the conference title game.

 That doesn't mean there aren't other things the Bulldogs are still playing for. For both the team and individual players, there's still plenty on the line as Georgia wraps up the 2008 season.

 

Stafford aims for 3,000

 

 Even playing behind an offensive line comprised completely of sophomores and freshmen, quarterback Matthew Stafford has easily had the best season of his career and is pace to become Georgia's first 3,000-yard passer since David Greene in 2003.

 So far this season, Stafford has thrown for 2,211 yards, which puts him on pace to finish with 3,193 for the year. That would rank fourth in school history, with Greene and Eric Zeier the only Bulldogs to have thrown for more. Stafford could theoretically top Zeier's school record of 3,525, but he would have to average nearly 330 yards passing per game the rest of the season.

 More important to Stafford than the yardage, however, is his completion percentage. He has connected on 60.7 percent of his passes this year, and he said he hopes that number will improve by the time Georgia completes its bowl game.

 "Obviously I've got a chance to finish out the season and maybe bump it up some, but I think I've been a lot more accurate than I have been in the past," Stafford said.

 

Green shoots for 1,000

 

 Making Stafford's job a bit easier this season has been the strong play of freshman qide receiver A.J. Green. On just the fourth play of his college career, Green hooked up with Stafford for a 36-yard completion, and he hasn't slowed down since.

 Green leads the SEC in receiving yards with 753 – 180 more than the next closest competitor. He's also tied with Arkansas' D.J. Williams for the lead in receptions per game, a category no Georgia player has led in since Brice Hunter in 1994.

 "He's a phenomenal talent," wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said of Green. "He's a guy that just makes plays. That's what he's accustomed to doing, but at the same time, he's a humble guy. He hasn't changed at all, and it's just good to see him doing as good as he's been doing."

 More than simply seeing his name atop the SEC leader board, Green has a chance to set a new standard for receivers at Georgia.

 Terrence Edwards is the only player in Bulldogs' history to top 1,000 yards in a season, a number he topped by just four yards in 2002. Green could easily top that number if he continues at the same pace he has averaged so far this season. The freshman projects to finish with 1,087 receiving yards this year – and that number may be low considering his slow start to the year. After totaling just 141 yards in his first three games, he has tallied at least 88 yards in five of his past six.

 "It would be a big compliment just because it's my freshman year, not even knowing the system and still getting 1,000 yards," Green said. "But I'm just going to take it as it comes, day by day go out there and play my game."

 

Moreno's assault on the record book

 

 The comparisons have always been made, but with just 10 more rushing yards this season, Knowshon Moreno will create one more similarity between himself and former Heisman winner Herschel Walker. Moreno has 990 rushing yards this season and is poised to join Walker as the only two Bulldogs in school history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

 That won't be the only place Moreno adds his name to Georgia's record book. The sophomore tailback is on pace for 1,440 rushing yards this season, which would rank as the fifth best in school history. The top three spots on the list all belong to Walker, but Moreno could run his way into one of those top spots by averaging 157 yards per game in his final four contests.

 Even if Moreno simply keeps up his current pace, he would top Rodney Hampton for fourth in school history for career rushing yards. Not bad for a guy who has only had the starting tailback job for a little more than a year.

 "He's as big a threat as ever," Stafford said. "He's doing a great job catching the ball out of the backfield, too. He's doing everything right, and he's playing really well."

 

Massaquoi's streak continues

 

 Massaquoi has been overshadowed a bit by Green's breakout season, but the senior is having a pretty good year, too. Massaquoi is seventh in the  SEC in receptions per game and eighth in the conference in receiving yards, but it's the body of work he has assembled throughout a four-year career as a starter that may be most impressive.

 Massaquoi needs just 11 more receptions to tie Hines Ward and Reggie Brown for fourth all-time at Georgia, and he has an outside shot at passing Fred Gibson for third on the career catches list.

 More than just the totals, however, Massaquoi's consistency has been remarkable. The wide receiver has caught a pass in 30 consecutive games dating back to Sept. 30, 2006. In his career, Massaquoi has played in 48 games and has caught at least one pass in 46 of them, despite working with four different starting quarterbacks.

 "He's playing great and a lot of the stuff that he does so well is unseen," Stafford said of Massaquoi. "It's not in the box scores. The guy is blocking extremely well. He does what he has to do to help the offense out. The guy is just playing so hard."

 

Curran's hit parade

 

 With his small stature, Rennie Curran may not look like the most intimidating figure on the field, but so far this season, no player in the SEC has brought down more opponents than the Georgia linebacker.

 Curran's 74 tackles lead all SEC defenders, and he is on pace to become the first Bulldog with more than 100 stops since Thomas Davis in 2003.

 "He's a magnet to the ball," linebacker Darius Dewberry said of Curran's play. "Wherever the ball goes, he's going to be there. I think people mistake his size, but he plays with a lot of heart."

 

Bitter rivalries

 

 The Bulldogs may have lost their most important rivalry game of the season to Florida last week, but two more big games lie ahead.

 Georgia closes out its regular season with games against Auburn – its oldest rival – and Georgia Tech – the Bulldogs' in-state rival.

 Georgia looks to win its third straight over Auburn, something the Bulldogs haven't done since Walker's days in Athens from 1980 through 1982. The streak of dominance over the Yellow Jackets is even more impressive. Georgia has won every meeting since Mark Richt took over the program in 2001 and will look for its eighth straight this year.

 "It doesn't matter who we're playing, we're going to go out and try to take care of business," Curran said. "But those two teams definitely are traditionally huge games and games that are very important to us. Coming off a loss to Florida, you want to win out and continue to do big things, so we'll definitely be looking to do big things in those games."

 

Leaving with a bang.

 

 From players like Green who have been at Georgia for just a few months to veterans like Massaquoi who have spent four years in Athens, the biggest motivation they have going forward is doing whatever they can to ensure the Bulldogs' seniors leave on a high note.

 "It's my last season, and I want to go out with a bang," Irvin said. "I came here as a JuCo guy, I haven't played but two years here, so I want to leave a little legacy behind, leave something special behind – you know, 11-2, whatever bowl."

 The Bulldogs have won at least nine games each year since 2002, and this year's seniors don't want that streak to end on their watch. The seniors have a chance to finish with 41 wins in their four years, among the highest totals during any four-year stretch in the past 25 years.

 The legacy they hope to leave behind means more to the team than the loss last week to Florida, Curran said, and the rest of the team is following suit.

 "Coming into this year, we had a lot of goals and everything," Curran said. "Knowing that some of those goals might be out the window with this game, it is pretty disheartening, but we can't forget how hard we worked to get to this point and for the seniors, this is their last season, so you can't let one game ruin your season."


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