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Friday, September 26, 2008

10 Questions: Georgia vs. Alabama

Black Jerseys. "GameDay." Prime time, nationally televised game. A huge throng of media. A sold out crowd with all day to tailgate. The first matchup of two top-10 teams at Sanford Stadium in years. And the No. 1 ranking on the line. Do games get any bigger than this?

To whet your appetite, here are 10 key questions surrounding Saturday's Georgia-Alabama showdown.

1.) Can Ben Jones scale Mount Cody?

This is the biggest matchup of the game. Alabama's DT Terrence Cody weighs in somewhere in the neighborhood of 370 pound but combines his heft with surprising athleticism. He's been a terror on the line so far this season, stuffing opponents' running games and knocking down QBs. He'll be matched against a true freshman in Jones, who is making just his second career start. Jones looked good against Arizona State last week, playing every snap, and Mark Richt and company are putting their faith in him again. Considering Jones is OK with eating dead grasshoppers, something tells me he's not intimidated.

2.) Can A.J. Green add to the legend?

Most pundits will look at this matchup and figure whichever team wins at the line of scrimmage wins the game, and that might be true. But where Georgia has a real advantage is in its passing game. What Green did last week in the first half set the tone for the game, and if he can have a similarly productive first half this week, Georgia will win this game. If Matthew Stafford can hit a few passes to Green vertically, it opens up the running game and takes the pressure off Georgia's O line which, on paper, is not as good as Alabama's front seven.

3.) Can the Dawgs punch it in?

Twice last week Georgia had drives end inside Arizona State's 1. Granted, neither were crucial to the game's outcome, but against an opponent like Alabama, the Dawgs must take advantage of every scoring opportunity they get. Two weeks ago, Georgia also had a number of key drops that killed drives. That can't happen against Alabama either. Scoring chances may be rare in this game for both teams, so those opportunities can't be missed.

4.) Will the stout run defense keep it up?

In the past two weeks, Georgia has allowed 22 yards rushing. Alabama's Glen Coffee had three rushes that long last week alone. Alabama wants to run the ball -- a lot. The Crimson Tide's offensive line is big and bruising and has had no trouble against overmatched opponents so far this year, but Georgia provides a much bigger challenge. Corvey Irvin, Geno Atkins, Brandon Wood and Kade Weston have been Georgia's real unsung heroes so far this season, and if they can force Alabama to abandon the run, it will be a big victory for the Dawgs.

5.) Can John Parker Wilson win a big game?

Alabama would probably prefer not to find out. Wilson is a veteran quarterback with a few good games on his resume, but he hasn't been asked to do that much for the Tide so far. Alabama has run the football on more than 60 percent of its snaps this season, and the running game has staked the Tide to big leads early in three of four games. If Georgia gets its way, that won't happen this time around, and the game will be on Wilson's shoulders.

6.) Will Georgia's luck with fumbles continue?

Georgia has five fumbles in the past two games but has recovered all of them. A big portion of that comes down to luck -- which way the ball bounces. That stuff has a way of evening out, and while the Bulldogs have been able to come up with key turnovers when it has mattered most in the past two weeks, those trends can swing quickly. Stafford has done a great job of protecting the football through the air -- he has yet to throw an INT -- but the rest of the team needs to keep a handle on it on the ground.

7.) How healthy are the defensive ends?

Defensive ends Jeremy Lomax and Jarius Wynn will both play Saturday, but both left last week's game with injuries. Richt said both practiced Thursday without limitations, but that doesn't mean they are 100 percent. With Rod Battle out, there isn't much depth at the position for Georgia. All due respect to Andrew Gulley, who assisted on a sack a week ago, but if Georgia is relying on him by game's end, it's probably a bad sign.

8.) Can the kick coverage improve?

Alabama returner Javy Arenas is no joke. He's capable of taking every kick to the house, and Georgia hasn't shown a penchant for pinning opponents deep. Blair Walsh has struggled at both deep and directional kickoffs at times, and Georgia's coverage on both kicks and punts has had its problems. In a close game -- which most expect this to be -- Georgia can't afford to give up big plays on special teams or give Bama great field position to start drives throughout.

9.) Will Lee Corso sport an elephant or bulldog head?

ESPN's "GameDay" makes its first trip to Athens in 10 years, which adds to the already electric atmosphere surrounding this game. The show will be filmed in the Myers Quad on campus and there will no doubt be a huge throng of Georgia fans there to provide enthusiasm. Of course, the highlight is always when Mr. Corso picks the game of the day by donning the mascot head of his selection. If it's the Dawgs, the crowd will go nuts. If it's not, he'll probably need security to escort him to his car.

10.) Will the Dawgs finally get some love in the polls?

With USC's loss to Oregon State, the top spot in the polls is up for grabs. Oklahoma plays Texas Christian this week, which is hardly the same level opponent as Alabama. If Georgia can come out with a victory Saturday, it should take its rightful spot atop the polls.


Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on moving a lineman to tight end to add some weight to the line?

David Hale said...

That might make some sense and given that practice has been closed to the media all week, it's hard to rule it out as a possibility. Kiante Tripp would probably be perfect for that role, given his athleticism. However, Richt generally doesn't like to switch up his game plan too much to suit the opponent. He's a firm believer in beating the opponent on his terms, so I'd be surprised if any wholesale changes were made.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. Great blog. If anything is going to require a game plan modification, Mt. Cody might be the thing. My prediction is that K. Tripp suits up as a tight end to add an extra blocker on the line. I even say he switches numbers to be more like a tight end. Just a guess though.