1. Throwing the obvious out there right off the bat, what/how did Georgia get things turned around after started out 0-2 or was it just a matter of getting past two really good teams and then forging ahead?
Georgia made no wholesale changes after the 0-2 start. Practices and meeting were conducted on the same schedule and usual routine. The first two games showed a lack of offensive execution (against Boise State) and trouble with ball security (against South Carolina). A few small adjustments were made, but for the most part the playcalling and personnel remained the same.
Important to note: Cornerback Brandon Boykin, who almost went pro last year, gave a speech to his teammates following the loss to the Gamecocks. He told the team the season was not over and there would be no quitting. I know leadership is often times overstated – but Boykin and guys like center Ben Jones, quarterback Aaron Murray and linebackers Jarvis Jones and Christian Robinson helped keep this team together and on task. The term unified has been used many times this season.
The schedule did get easier following the first two games. But Georgia also got better as the season played out. The offense has many underclassmen contributors (some true freshmen) – they needed time to become comfortable.
Coach Mark Richt has said it on many occasions – Georgia wasn’t ready against Boise and gave away the South Carolina game. The team has been improving, and winning, ever since.
2. With the season-turning winning streak, how has the climate around Richt changed and what do you think his future his now?
The strength of schedule kept some reluctant to embrace a “Richt’s turnaround” story. But the fact remains – Georgia beat Florida, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech all in the same season for the first time since 1981.
Once the Bulldogs clinched the SEC East with a win over Kentucky (and maybe even more so the week before following the 45-7 win over Auburn), talk of extending Richt’s contract became more prevalent.
I think Richt will receive a contract extension following the SEC Championship game. He has two years remaining on his current deal, and I could see an extension that would effectively put Richt on track to retire in Athens.
3. How has Murray evolved in year two as the starting quarterback and how big a key is he against this LSU defense?
Murray began the year fine. He did have some inconsistent moments (especially against South Carolina – an interception and two fumbles) and missed on throws that he normally converts.
|Aaron Murray had an All-SEC caliber season for Georgia|
Something clicked following the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 15. Since that time Murray has thrown 19 touchdowns to six interceptions. I think the offensive line has played better, which obviously helped Murray elevate his play. But Georgia has seen offensive success without a steady rushing attack due to suspensions and injuries at the tailback position.
Murray will be key against LSU because Georgia has done most of its damage through the air this season. The offensive strategy won’t change at this point. However, it will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Mike Bobo continues the downfield passing attack he likes to use. Murray might not have the pocket time he’s had over the last half of the season. Screens, draws and double moves on the outside might be a way to combat LSU’s aggression.
4. Along those lines, why and how has Isaiah Crowell lived up the heavy expectations he arrived with and how big does he have to come up against the Tigers for the Bulldogs? And if he’s limited or out, just how much how does that impact this game?
Crowell gives Georgia the threat of scoring at any moment. The drop-off in talent behind him is staggering. Richard Samuel hasn’t played since the Florida game and is listed as probable. Carlton Thomas, Brandon Harton and Ken Malcome are all average backs.
Crowell has struggled with injuries to his ribs, wrist, ankle and knee this season. And he’s been suspended twice – once for a quarter and the whole New Mexico State game. Still, he’s rushed for 832 yards and five touchdowns and is on pace to rush for more yards as a true freshman than any other tailback at Georgia besides Herschel Walker.
His troubles to stay on the field have been frustrating – but Georgia’s chances of pulling off the upset dip dramatically without Crowell.
5. Georgia’s defense has been understandably, but probably not fairly, overshadowed in the SEC by Alabama and LSU, but what has made that side of the ball so effective this season and why is that such an integral part of the Bulldogs' success?
The improvement was expected entering coordinator Todd Grantham’s second season at Georgia. Players became more comfortable and the playbook opened up to a certain degree.
|Jarvis Jones has made a huge impact for the Bulldogs' defense.|
For reference, Georgia used more blitz calls against South Carolina (the second game of the year), than it did in any game in 2010, when the defense mostly remained in the base package and plays calls were vanilla.
Also, the unit got a boost from outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who sat out in 2010 after transferring from Southern Cal. Jones leads the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. Most expected him to be a leading contributor, but nobody could have predicted the amount of productivity he’s put forth.
Another key: The defensive line, while not big in statistical areas, has played exceptionally well. Defensive ends Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson have combined with nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers to provide penetration and to occupy blockers. That’s part of what has made Jarvis Jones and linebackers Mike Gilliard and Alec Ogletree so successful.
6. How do you think this game will play out?
I think LSU will win the game. In terms of covering the spread (LSU as a double-digit favorite by most outlets), I think Georgia’s defense can keep the game close. But a late special teams or defensive score could push the Tigers’ lead to 14. LSU 24, Georgia 10.