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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Q&A with Desmond Howard

(photo by Morgan Cogswell)

I've spent the better part of the past two days hanging around the "GameDay" set. I'll have a feature on the experience in Sunday's Telegraph, but here's a quick Q&A with ESPN's Heisman-winning analyst, Desmond Howard.

David Hale: Most people seem to think this is going to be a smash-mouth SEC throwback game. Is that what you foresee?

Desmond Howard: Without a doubt. Both teams have quarterbacks who can air it out and who are veterans in this game, but it's going to be determined by who can run the ball and who can stop the run.

Hale: A lot has been made of the "blackout" this week. Obviously that doesn't get you any yards on the field, but do you think it can have a real effect on the outcome of the game?

Howard: I think because of the noise, crowd noise can always play a part. Obviously right out the gate, the home team is going to be just amped up. They're going to be so excited, and they're going to get after it. But that dies down. What goes on throughout the game is that the crowd has to keep re-energizing their home team and make enough noise that they make it difficult on the opponents.

Hale: So if this will be an old-school ground game, does that help or hurt Georgia?

Howard: Georgia's offensive line is still a work in progress to me. This is their biggest test. Arizona State couldn't bring the heat like Nick Saban will. But if they can control the line of scrimmage, I think they have an advantage, but if they can't, it's going to be a long day for the Bulldogs. Whereas for Alabama, I think they don't have the issues on the O line that Georgia has. It's going to be tough.

Hale: A.J. Green had a big breakout game last week for Georgia, and that really opened up some running room for Knowshon Moreno in the second half. Is that something that Georgia might try to do again this week?

Howard: The thing about stretching the field vertically is you've got to give the quarterback some time. If they're going to put Stafford in the seven-step drop, they're going to really firm up up front to give that guys some time. That's going to be the key. If he has time, Stafford's going to pick you apart. He's going to definitely find the open guy, and he's going to hit his target. But it all comes down to those guys in front of him, how they're going to perform in the trenches, how they hold off that 'Bama blitz package.

Hale: Speaking of those battles in the trenches, what have you seen from Alabama's Terrence Cody?

Howard: He's a big guy who moves extremely well for his size and is hard to move out. He takes up a lot of space in the middle.

Hale: Alabama also has a great playmaker in its return game in Javy Arenas. How big of an impact can he make in this game?

Howard: I think special teams could play a huge role in this game. I think that's the thing that hasn't been talked about a lot. When you have a game that we anticipate is going to be a hard-fought game in the trenches with both teams trying to impose their will on the other team, especially to run the ball, field position is going to be key, and that's where special teams comes into play.

Hale: What would you say is the key to winning for both teams?

Howard: It's the trenches. Whoever can stop the run and establish the run is going to win this game, unless turnovers. Turnovers are always the X-factor. You can't turn the ball over, that goes without saying. But if everything is even, no turnovers, not a bunch of penalties, the team that's going to win is the team that has the most rushing yards. Unless these cats decide to go off script and start airing it out.

Hale: So do you have a prediction on the outcome?

Howard: I think it's going to be like the LSU-Auburn game last week, a real close game. It'll probably be less than seven points, less than 10 points. I picked Georgia to win. I've just got to believe they're going to find a way with the talent and with the home-field advantage that they're going to have. It's going to be an aggressive ballgame. I can't wait. It's one of those games, I really struggle with picking it because it could go either way. But I just think Coach Richt and his staff, they're going to find way to win like they did last year in Tuscaloosa.

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