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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Five Questions: UGA vs. Auburn

This is usually my "10 Questions" post, but I'm sick, I have a basketball preview story to write on top of my football stuff, and I tivo'd some good "Seinfeld" reruns last night, so I'm cutting things in half for this week.

1.) Can Georgia avoid the special teams breakdowns?

It's been a mixed bag all season on special teams for Georgia. Actually, Jon Fabris refuses to even call them special teams this year. He calls them "kicking teams" because, "they haven't been too special."

Against Kentucky last week, Georgia had a punt blocked, shanked another punt that set the Wildcats up with great field position, muffed a punt return of their own that set them up for a drive at their own 3, and allowed two long kick returns, including a 96-yarder by Winston Guy that set up a UK touchdown.

That doesn't even mention the fact that field-goal kicker Blair Walsh has missed five of his past eight attempts, and head coach Mark Richt chose to go for it on fourth-and-6 at Kentucky's 33 rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal. Georgia ended up turning the ball over on downs.

The litany of injuries have really hurt Georgia's special teams, and that plays right into the hands of Auburn, which ranks first in the SEC in kick returns (third nationally) and first in punting.

Georgia is the better team this week, but short fields for the Tigers' weak offense and long fields against Auburn's banged-up defense would go a long way to evening things up.

All you have to do is look at last week for just how big it can be: Kentucky scored 38 points in the game -- none off turnovers -- but had just two drives of more than 50 yards.

2.) Can the offensive line withstand yet another injury?

Justin Anderson will miss this week's game, with Josh Davis and Kiante Tripp filling in at right tackle. At this point, that's par for the course, but it is a danger against Auburn's strong front four.

The Tigers are fourth in the SEC in sacks and get three defensive linemen, including Sen'Derrick Marks, back from injury this week.

"I'd say their strength is probably their front four," QB Matthew Stafford said. "They've got some linebackers that can run like they do every year, but when those guys are healthy up front, they're pretty potent."

Despite the long line of injuries and chaos on the Bulldogs' line, the unit has still allowed just 13 sacks through nine games this season.

"Without veteran skill guys, I think our line issues would be greater than they are now," Richt said. "There have been times where Matthew has made some throws on rhythm, on time with guys bearing down on him, and there's been time when there wasn't much running room at all for Knowshon, but he's been able to make his way just by making people miss."

3.) Can Knowshon grind out the important yards?

It's not that Knowshon Moreno hadn't been playing well, but after racking up 10 touchdowns in his first five games, he had just two in his last four before Kentucky.

He got back on track last week, however, finding the end zone three times on runs of 6, 20 and 18 -- all extremely hard-earned yards. Moreno's 15 touchdowns with three games to play put him in striking distance of Garrison Hearst's school record of 21 in 1992.

Of course, reaching that plateau won't be easy against Auburn. Yes, the Tigers' run defense is ranked ninth in the SEC, but they have allowed just four rushing TDs all season. Auburn's red-zone defense third in the conference, and Georgia has shown some problems scoring once they get inside the opponent's 20.

Moreno will be crucial on third-down conversions, too, where Auburn's defense ranks third in the nation, allowing its opponents to convert just 27.6 percent of the time.

4.) Can Georgia get off to a quick start?

Auburn is just 5-5 this season, but oddly, the Tigers have trailed at the half just once (to Ole Miss). In fact, Auburn hasn't allowed a touchdown in the first quarter all season, and has outscored its opponents 57-13 in the opening frame.

The slow starts have been Georgia's undoing in its two losses. Alabama outscored Georgia 31-0 in the first half, and Florida held the Dawgs to just a field goal in the opening half of their game.

If the Bulldogs can put up a few touchdowns early, Auburn simply doesn't have the offense to mount a comeback.

5.) Will Kodi Burns have a big day?

Georgia wasn't expecting Kentucky to run the option, but freshman QB Randall Cobb embarrassed the Georgia defense, running for 82 yards and three touchdowns. In all, UK compiled 226 yards on the ground, the most Georgia has allowed all season.

"No disrespect to the quarterback from Kentucky, but we let a rookie gash us like that," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "We're going to set everything else to the side this week, and we're going back to the basics. We're going to stop the run, we're going to try to minimize the points on the board, and we're going to play good, hard-nosed Georgia football."

Burns will provide Georgia with another tough test. Last week, he ran for 158 yards against UT-Martin, but the Bulldogs said the experience against Cobb has them better prepared this time around.

"It definitely defined what we have to break down in the film room and prepare more and what we have to look for in the option offense," safety Reshad Jones said.

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