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Thursday, October 16, 2008

10 Questions: UGA-Vandy

Georgia can take control of the SEC East with a win this week before hitting the road for a crucial two-game stretch at LSU at against Florida in Jacksonville. The Dawgs need to win this week first though, and these are 10 key questions they'll need to answer against Vanderbilt.

1.) Will the offensive line build on its success against Tennessee?

They were season-defining drives. The two-minute drill before the half and the 11-minute beat down in the fourth quarter. Georgia may not have two more drives that impressive all year, and the offensive line looked great on both.

With a line that includes three freshmen, the two-minute march was a revelation. They played with urgency and confidence, and Matthew Stafford had time to throw the ball and move the Dawgs down the field quickly

In the fourth quarter, everyone in the stadium knew Georgia was looking to run the ball, and even Tennessee's monster front was helpless to stop the Bulldogs. It was a coming-of-age moment for the O line.

Still, the line will feature its fourth different starting lineup in seven games following the season-ending injury to Vince Vance. Clint Boling will get the start at left tackle -- a position that clearly isn't his strongest -- while true freshman Cordy Glenn will be forced back into the starting lineup after he was benched in Week 4. Kiante Tripp is now back practicing at right tackle, and will backup Bean Anderson, while Josh Davis will be the primary backup to Boling on the left side. Chris Davis will be at right guard after working on the left side earlier in the season, but coach Stacy Searels is reluctant to put Glenn and Anderson -- both freshmen -- on the same side.

Still, as Richt said, the young guys aren't really freshmen anymore. They have six games under their belts and have overcome plenty of adversity. It's sort of like the old saying -- whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. At this point, that line has to be awfully strong.

2.) What impact will the early start have?

For the first time since Week 1, Georgia will kick off at 12:30. Before Vandy lost to Mississippi State last week, this game may have been on track for national television, but that's not happening now. In the past, Georgia has come out a bit flat in these early games, and the fans are often a bit less drunk -- err, enthusiastic. Vanderbilt is just the type of team to take advantage of early mistakes, and the Bulldogs would be well served by putting their foot on Vandy's throat early.

3.) Can the secondary get some picks?

In Georgia's five wins this season, Georgia opponents have thrown the football a whopping 64 percent of the time. That statistic should underscore how crucial it is for Georgia to stop the run -- something they've done better than all but three other teams in the country -- but it also makes it all the more curious why the Bulldogs' DBs haven't racked up the interceptions.

Georgia's secondary has just one pick this season -- Reshad Jones' INT to seal the South Carolina game -- despite opponents running 202 passing plays already this year. It's been a case of missed opportunities, Asher Allen said, and it's something they hope to change this week.

Interestingly, the Bulldogs intercepted just two passes in their first eight games, then added 13 more in their final five. Brown said that's the hope again this year.

"Last game, most definitely I think the team's body language, we looked faster, and we created opportunities to get turnovers last game," Allen said. "Game by game, we should be able to get better."

4.) Will Prince Miller break another big one?

Miller is quickly grabbing control of the punt returner job and for good reason. After his 92-yard touchdown against Alabama, fans were expecting a lot. Miller nearly repeated his heroics against Tennessee but was tripped up after a 27-yard scamper deep into Vols' territory. Miller has now returned three kicks and is averaging more than 40 yards per return. He probably won't be Georgia's sole deep man on punts -- expect plenty of Logan Gray, too -- but he's quickly becoming the Dawgs' most dangerous returner.

5.) Can Knowshon get back on track?

First, let's set the record straight: I'm not criticizing Knowshon. The guy is great, and if he can rack up 76 yards on the ground, he'll be at 2,000 for his career at Georgia, despite the fact that he has only been the starter for one year.

Having said that, Moreno hasn't been the catalyst for Georgia for the past few weeks. In three SEC games, Moreno has averaged 4, 3.8 and 3.7 yards per carry. Georgia has relied on the passing game early against both Arizona State and Tennessee to help open up the run, and while Knowshon has still gotten some yards, they've been much harder to come by. Even against Tennessee, when Moreno racked up 101 yards -- his third 100+ game this season -- he struggled at times. He had runs of 13, 10 and two of 12 yards, but averaged just 2.3 yards on his other 23 carries. Moreover, Moreno has suffered an injury that forced him out of the game three times already this season. None of the injuries have been serious, but given Georgia's run of bad breaks medically, it's still a cause for concern.

Moreno won't blame any of his struggles on the offensive line, but the truth is, there just hasn't been much running room for him. He has been forced to do some nifty dance moves behind the line of scrimmage just top get two or three yards.

"I have seen him make some great three-yard runs," head coach Mark Richt said. "I have seen him behind the line of scrimmage have to dodge a guy and spin and get four yards and think, wow, that is a fantastic run."

Moreno's biggest successes against Tennessee came on the toss sweeps, which Georgia ran early and often.

"We have some offensive linemen that can run, so it makes it easier to get them outside and get the backs outside," Moreno said.

That may be true, but the line needs to find some room for Moreno to run between the tackles, too, and this would be a good week to make that happen.

6.) Can the D ends get to Mackenzi Adams?

The biggest complaint of the defense for most of the season has been the lack of pressure from the defensive ends. Senior Jeremy Lomax has pointed to the inability for the d-ends to recognize running plays vs. passing plays, and Adams -- who is starting after Chris Nickson was benched by Vandy coach Bobby Johnson -- won't make that any easier. Adams runs well and can take advantage of an overaggressive pass rush. Adams isn't exactly an inexperienced backup either. He has played significantly the past two seasons and won't be rattled playing in Sanford Stadium -- but Lomax hopes he will be rattled by the Georgia pass rush.

7.) Can Darryl Gamble make another game-chaging play?

Gamble's forced fumble against Vanderbilt a year ago not only helped Georgia complete a stunning comeback in the second half, but it may have saved the Bulldogs' season.

It was a turning point for Gamble, too, who has looked better in virtually every game he has played since then. He's now second on the team in tackles despite the fact that he hasn't been an every-week starter, and his versatility has allowed him to play at all three linebacker positions -- a big plus for the banged-up Bulldogs.

Gamble will likely get his second start at Mike linebacker this week with Dannell Ellerbe doubtful to play. After Gamble helped Georgia completely shut down Tennessee's running game last week, the difference between the preseason All-SEC player and the first-year starter no longer seems quite so stark.

8.) Will Georgia cash in on its red-zone chances?

Before last week, Georgia had been pretty good about getting touchdowns when it sets up shop in the red zone, but against Tennessee, things didn't go as well. A.J. Green dropped a wide open TD pass, the refs screwed Georgia out of another touchdown, and Matthew Stafford threw two picks that ended potential scoring drives in the red zone.

Each of those errors can easily be fixed and none are likely to resurface again soon. Mark Richt won't abide by another mistake by the refs like the one that happened against the Vols, Green has been extraordinarily dependable all season, and Stafford had only one interception all season before last week.

Still, while Georgia has been very good in the red zone in its first five games, the Bulldogs did have some issues on short-yardage. Brannan Southerland's return should help with that, too.

Against Tennessee, Georgia was dominant enough that the missed opportunities didn't come back to bite them, but against better teams -- particularly opportunistic ones like Vandy -- that won't be the case.

9.) Can the Dawgs stay healthy?

It seems like every week brings more bad news for the Bulldogs on the injury front. The season-ender for Vince Vance against Tennessee was a huge blow for the offensive line, and at this point, there is really no position where Georgia has enough depth to overcome another blow like that one. The Dawgs have a brutal month-long road trip coming up with the first two games against LSU and Florida. Both games will be tough, both will determine the outcome of the Dawgs' season, and neither can be won if Georgia is at any less than full strength.

10.) Does a win over Vandy mean much?

Truth be told, Vandy simply hasn't been that good this year. The Commodores are at or near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every essential category, but have won games by capitalizing on nearly every opportunity and doing all the little things right.

Voters, however, aren't always too excited by the little things, nor will they be likely to remember how well Vandy has played Georgia the past two seasons. So how impressed will they be if Georgia wins, particularly if it's close? The Bulldogs will have two big chances to make their case for the national title in the next two weeks, but a statement win against Vanderbilt certainly wouldn't hurt.

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