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Thursday, September 18, 2008

10 Questions: Arizona State Edition

We're two days away from one of the most anticipated non-conference games in quite a while for Georgia. Sure, Arizona State's loss last week took some of the luster off the contest, but when the Dawgs haven't played a Pac-10 team in two decades, it's hard not to be excited for this one.

Georgia's 14-7 win last week over South Carolina kept its SEC title hopes alive, but also exposed more than a few weaknesses the Dawgs will need to overcome if they hope to add another title to their collection at year's end. So here are 10 key questions I have entering the battle in the desert...

1.) What will Rennie Curran do for an encore?

The sophomore linebacker won SEC defensive player of the week honors after his six-tackle performance against South Carolina. In that game, Curran recorded one of Georgia's two sacks and forced a fumble in Georgia's end zone that preserved a seven-point lead for the Bulldogs. This week, Curran has been the story du jour among the beat writers, and Georgia's coaches have been more than happy to laud his lightning-quick speed and instinctual play. Oh, and he bench presses 435 pounds. Curran is the real deal -- just a fun guy to watch play football. This time last year, he wasn't even the starter, however, so the best part of his game might be how much room he still has to improve.

2.) Can the front four get to Rudy Carpenter?

Mark Richt said blitzing may not be an option against Arizona State's veteran QB. Carpenter's completion percentage actually goes up against the blitz, and his quick reaction time makes it hard to bring him down before the ball is out of his hands. That will put added pressure on a struggling pass rush to get to Carpenter without bringing an extra man (or two or three). The Dawgs' secondary has struggled at times already, so the less the DBs are left in one-on-one coverage situations, the better.

3.) How will the travel affect the team?

On paper, Georgia is clearly the better team in this matchup, but the same could be said about Tennessee's trip to UCLA earlier this season. The fact is, long trips to unfamiliar places present a real challenge, even to the best teams. Georgia hasn't traveled this far for a regular season game since 1960. The Dawgs have never played Arizona State. The vast majority of the players have never been to Arizona at all, let alone played football in the scorching desert heat. The Bulldogs won't arrive until Friday, and Richt said the team won't even adjust their clocks off Eastern Standard time. That might be the best plan of attack, but the lack of familiarity has to be a big edge for Arizona State.

4.) How will the offensive line look?

Richt said no starter's job is safe after a poor performance a week ago against South Carolina. Cordy Glenn appears to be the lineman on the hottest seat, meaning Justin Anderson could land the starting role at right tackle with Clint Boling sliding over into Glenn's role at right guard. Richt said Vince Vance has worked at left tackle some, while Chris Davis has filled in at left guard and Ben Jones has worked at center. Kiante Tripp may have lost his starting job at left tackle, where Vance could take over or Josh Davis could earn a start. Whoever ends up on the field Saturday will have their hands full with Arizona State's two standout defensive ends, Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez.

5.) Can Matthew Stafford remain turnover free?

One of the biggest criticisms of Stafford during his first two seasons at Georgia was his decision making. Through three games this year, however, he has yet to throw a pick. Stafford did have one pass -- a severely underthrown ball -- intercepted against South Carolina, but the play was negated by a Gamecocks' penalty. Stafford has looked sharp for the most part this year, and that has started with his ability to keep the ball in Georgia's possession. The Bulldogs have a plus-2 turnover ration so far, and that needs to continue (or improve) against Arizona State. Turnovers are always costly. Turnovers on the road even more so.

6.) Will we see more of Knowshon on special teams?

Georgia surprised fans by throwing Knowshon Moreno in at punt returner on South Carolina's first punt of the game last week. The result was a 32-yard return, the best of the game by a Bulldog. Not surprisingly, coaches are playing coy on when Moreno will return to duty on special teams, but it's already obvious what a weapon he could be.

7.) Who will win the field position battle?

Georgia's kickoff difficulties have been well documented so far, and opponents' strong field position to open drives have been thorn in the defense's side. Brian Mimbs, on the other hand, has looked great through three games, including his incredible 77-yard punt that flipped the field at a crucial point in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. Arizona State presents a much bigger challenge for Georgia's D than the Gamecocks did, so the Bulldogs' special teams can't put the D behind the 8-ball to start drives. The kicking game must catch up with Mimbs' strong start.

8.) How will the Sun Devils respond to last week's loss?

For the second week in a row, Georgia faces an opponent coming off an upset loss. South Carolina looked sharp despite its loss a week earlier to Vanderbilt, and Richt thinks he'll get a similarly desperate style from Arizona State after it fell to UNLV last Saturday. The Gamecocks' loss was in conference, however, which meant South Carolina really couldn't afford another SEC defeat. Last week's loss for ASU was against a non-conference foe, just as this week's game against Georgia will be. There just isn't as much on the line. A win over a top SEC team, however, would go a long way toward getting the critics believing in the Sun Devils again.

9.) Can the receivers hold on to the ball?

Georgia hadnearly a half dozen drops last week, several of which werebackbreakers. Tripp Chandler dropped two third-down passes that wouldhave kept drives alive, while Kris Durham failed to come up with anend-zone reception that would have given Georgia a lead. The bottomline against a team like Arizona State is Georgia must take advantageof its opportunities and not give the Sun Devils any extra chances. TheBulldogs are the better team, but if receivers kill drives with badhands, there's no doubt Arizona State can capitalize a lot better thanSouth Carolina did.

10.) Will Arizona State want to invite us back?

I lived in San Diego for two years, and I can tell you with absolute authority that West-coast fans have nothing on the SEC. Rumors have spread that a third of the crowd at the game could be Bulldogs fans, and stories have been circulating for months about how Georgia fans bought ASU season tickets just so they could attend this game. Now, I highly recommend you all behave yourselves while you're out there, but don't be afraid to remind those people on the other side of the country how real football fans party. Of course, when there are rules saying no liquor, no formally organized events and no drinking games are allowed, well I just can't see this ending well.

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