Dawg gone

When a 2008 team ranked No. 1 in preseason went 10-3 with a humiliating 49-10 loss to Florida, Georgia fans blamed defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. When the 2009 team suffered lopsided losses to Tennessee (45-19) and Florida (41-17) en route to an 8-5 finish, Georgia fans again blamed Martinez.

Now that Martinez has been replaced, there is no scapegoat in Athens. If the Dawgs fall short of expectations again this fall, the fan frustration will be directed at head coach Mark Richt.

Once the toast of SEC football, Richt went 44-9 from 2002 through 2005 and had Dawg fans eagerly anticipating a national title. He has gone just 38-14 since then, however, and his approval rating - like his record - has slipped.

With Martinez gone, many UGA fans are expecting big things in 2010. They might want to temper those expectations a bit. Georgia's best quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, was dismissed from the team on April 18 after his arrest on charges of sexual battery.

Mettenberger's ouster leaves the QB job in the hands of redshirt freshman Aaron Murray, whose only college experienced to date was completing 10 of 22 passes for 96 yards in the annual G-Day Game. He'll be backed up by junior Logan Gray, who completed 5 of 12 passes for 31 yards with two interceptions as Joe Cox's understudy in 2009.

Murray should benefit from the fact that Georgia's other 10 offensive starters from '09 return. The bell cow is flanker A.J. Green, who reeled in 53 passes for 808 yards last fall, averaging 15.2 yards per catch.

Washaun Ealey (717 yards, 5.7 yards per carry) and Caleb King (594 yards, 5.2 per carry) will again share the tailback duties.

As usual, Georgia is loaded at tight end. Sophomore Orson Charles (6-3, 235) caught 23 passes last fall en route to Freshman All-America recognition. Junior Aron White (6-4, 236) scored touchdowns on four of the 13 balls he caught last season. Sophomore Arthur Lynch (6-5, 254) made one start last fall and finished the season with two receptions for 17 yards. Further brightening the picture is the return of junior Bruce Figgins (6-4, 266), who started two games in 2008 but missed '09 due to shoulder surgery.

Defensively, the big news is the arrival of new coordinator Todd Grantham, who installed a 3-4 alignment this spring. He's hoping to improve on the 25.9 points per game UGA allowed last season. That task would be easier if he didn't have to find replacements for three of the Dawgs' best 2009 defensive linemen - Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston.

Always good at special teams, Georgia should be downright awesome this fall. Junior punter Drew Butler is back after averaging an NCAA-best 48.1 yards en route to the Ray Guy Award last year. Junior kicker Blair Walsh, a finalist for the 2009 Lou Groza Award, returns after nailing 20 of 22 field-goal tries last fall, including a 53-yarder. Then there's standout return specialist Brandon Boykin, who averaged 26.0 yards per runback last season with three going for touchdowns, including a 100-yarder.

If Georgia had a stable situation at quarterback, it might be the preseason favorite in the SEC East. Thanks to the Mettenberger mess, however, the Dawgs are just another team trying to catch Florida.

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