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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Notes: Dawgs Keeping Big Game in Perspective

This week’s matchup is circled on Georgia’s calendar every season. Florida is a huge rival, and the game typically determines which team will head to Atlanta to represent the SEC East in the conference’s championship game.

This year, however, things are different for the Bulldogs. For only the second time since 1996, Georgia will be unranked when it faces Florida, and while the Bulldogs’ Eastern Division title hopes remain on life support, this game is about more than simply keeping their preseason goals alive.

“Even if both teams were ranked or unranked, it’s always a big game,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “Now with us being an unranked team playing the No. 1 team, it could change our season. We want to use this game as a great opportunity to turn our season around. That’s what we’re going for.”

Of course, even Cox knows that’s a lot of pressure to put on his team, which enters the game with three losses for the first time in 13 seasons. So while he admits there’s a lot ride on the outcome in terms of team morale, he said the Bulldogs are doing their best to keep the game in perspective.

“We don’t want to beat Florida in order to save the season or turn things around, we just want to beat Florida to beat Florida, for us,” Cox said. “We’re not talking about all the things that could come with it because there’s no need to talk about it and be thinking about stuff like that. We want to come out and execute our game plan and win the game.”

A win would be sweet, however, after Georgia has suffered through its most tumultuous season since head coach Mark Richt arrived in 2001. And knocking Florida from its perch atop the rankings – that’d be pretty nice, too.

But while the rivalry aspect of the game serves to energize the fans, Georgia’s No. 1 goal is to keep things simple. It’s not about what happened earlier this year or what has happened in seasons past, Cox said. It’s simply about getting a win this week – even if that win might be a little bigger than the others.

“I didn’t play 18 years ago, and I don’t know who did,” Cox said. “It’s all about this year, and that’s how you need to approach every game. You can talk about who won in 1957, but it doesn’t have anything to do with when you play on Saturday. That’s more something for fans to go back and forth about and bragging rights.”


The first time A.J. Green saw Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, he assumed there were a few years between them. As it turned out, the bulked-up Dunlap was just a year older than the lanky Bulldogs receiver.

“I’ve been playing against that guy since the sixth grade,” Green said. “I remember seeing how big he was and saying, ‘Man, this guy is huge. He’s not my age.’”

Dunlap and Green grew up near each other in South Carolina and were rivals throughout their careers, playing against each other in grade school and high school on both the football field and the basketball court. During one game in high school, Dunlap’s coach even split him out at cornerback to try to defend the speedy Green – a move that didn’t exactly pay off.

“It was a game at home, a rivalry, a sold-out game,” Green said. “He came over and tried to jam me one time. If he had gotten his hands on me, he probably would have knocked me down, but he didn’t get his hands on me.”

Instead, Green raced by Dunlap, and the two have been going back-and-forth ever since.
But while their on-field rivalry is intense, Green said the two are good friends away from the game and talk on a regular basis about their roles with their teams and their roles in the community.

“We were the face of South Carolina, and a lot of people, a lot of kids look up to us,” Green said.

When Green was being recruited out of high school, Dunlap was one of his primary advisors, offering words of encouragement and advice on earning playing time as a freshman. Oddly, Green said, Dunlap never tried to sell his friend on Florida or chastised him when he chose the Gators’ archrival.

“He’s a great guy,” Green said. “He’s grown as a person. In high school, he had an attitude pretty much. But now, he’s a good guy, and we talk all the time. Before I came up here, he talked to me about how it was to come and play, how hard it was to come in in the summer and get everything down pat to try to play right away.”

Green said his hope is that the two might finally be teammates in the NFL one day after being rivals for so long as amateurs. This week, however, Dunlap is anything but a friend.
The burly defensive end has already recorded five sacks this season, and while he may be a friend of Green’s, quarterback Joe Cox said he’s not particularly excited to get to know Dunlap on Saturday.

“He’s a big guy who is strong and he moves very well,” Cox said. “Their whole defense is, you can look at all their guys, but he definitely does stand out.”


Caleb King is hungry.

Sure, he’s hungry for a win this week against rival Florida. And he’s been starved for a chance at redemption after blowing a blocking assignment last season that sent him to the bench for the next few weeks. And after a two-touchdown performance in his last game, he’s dying for a chance to build on his success.

But mostly, he’s just hungry – for some real food.

After breaking his jaw in Georgia’s loss to LSU on Oct. 3, King has been barred from eating solid foods, meaning all his meals have come in the forms of shakes, soups and other less-than-hearty delicacies.

“Everybody can eat a meal, but I have to eat a drink,” King said. “It’s hard. I just have to be in the weight room more than everybody else so I can keep my strength and keep my weight up.”

King’s diet has been monitored by Georgia’s training staff, but for the most part, he’s been on his own to find ways to keep his body strong despite the lack of solid foods.

“I blend stuff, I drink a lot of Muscle Milk – morning, afternoon, at night for dinner,” he said. “If I think I just need something, I drink it. So it’s just pretty much the same routine every day.”

That’s a routine he’ll be thrilled to end, but he’s not sure when that might happen.
His jaw is healing, but he’s far less concerned about the injury and more about when he can dive into a steak.

“I’ve been thinking about it, but (trainer) Ron (Courson) tells me he’ll tell me when it’s time, and he hasn’t even given me a hint,” King said. “He hasn’t even looked my way yet, so I don’t know.”

The upside, King said, is that he’s had plenty of film study and strength training to keep him occupied, but as good as some success on the field Saturday might taste, it probably won’t be quite as good as his first real meal.

“I already told Ron, the first meal, they’re going to have to pay for it,” King said. “I’ll go in and chow down.”


Prince Miller finally brought a spark to Georgia’s punt-return game two weeks ago with two returns totaling 95 yards, but keeping that trend going won’t be an easy task this week.

Through seven games, Florida has yet to allow even a single punt-return yard to its opponents behind punter Chas Henry, making the Gators a worthy adversary for Georgia punter Drew Butler, who leads the nation in punting average. With those statistics, Mark Richt said field position will be tough to come by.

“Chas Henry is fantastic,” Richt said. “He hasn’t punted a lot, but he can boom it with distance and great height. He can easily get a five second hang time, and when you get that hang time, you’re not going to return it.”

Of course, punting is just one aspect of the special teams, and Richt said it will be incumbent upon the Bulldogs to win more than just one of those battles.

Last year, a botched on-side kick led to a Florida touchdown, while kicker Blair Walsh missed three field-goal tries for the Bulldogs in a loss. This season, however, Walsh is among the best kickers in the country, and Georgia’s special teams have provided a number of highlights that have Richt convinced Georgia could be in for a successful day Saturday.

“It’s a situation where you’re going against one of the better special teams teams in the league and in the country,” Richt said. “It’ll be a challenge, but we’ve had a lot more good than bad in my opinion on our special teams, and I think we’re moving in a very good direction.”


Georgia’s fans may assume linebacker Rennie Curran is the Bulldogs’ version of Superman after he has led the team in tackles in all seven games so far this season, but even Superman needs a break.

So while linebackers coach John Jancek said he would love to have Curran on the field at all times, that just hasn’t been an option, and the All-SEC junior has sat out a handful of key series during the past few games.

“The guy can’t play every single snap,” Jancek said. “He’s on all the special teams, and you have to factor those plays in. And you’ve got to be able to substitute, roll guys in and keep guys fresh.”

That trend will continue throughout the season, Jancek said, with the idea being that keeping Curran fresh for most of the plays is better than having him winded on all of them.

“Rennie, as great of a player as he is, he’s not going to be as effective as he should be or could be if he’s taking every snap,” Jancek said.


The season hasn’t exactly been an easy ride for Georgia’s offense, which has had its share of ups and downs. But despite a handful of tough opponents along the way, quarterback Joe Cox admits this week’s game will likely be the Bulldogs’ toughest.

Florida ranks first nationally in total defense, second in pass defense, 12th in run defense and second in scoring defense, allowing just more than 10 points per game. In addition, the Gators return several key players from injury, including All-SEC linebacker Brandon Spikes, meaning Georgia has its work cut out for it.

“You look at them statistically, they definitely are the best we’ve faced,” Cox said. “They have great athletes, they’re ranked pretty much one or two in everything in the country, so they’re definitely the best. I’m glad we had two weeks to prepare for them.”


bobbyt said...

"We’re not talking about all the things that could come with it because there’s no need to talk about it and be thinking about stuff like that". Gee, you would think Joe Cox the senior leader would have let all of his team know his thoughts.

But after reading comments from B. Evans and other players regarding their motivation for this game (ruining season, remembering time outs, bragging rights, etc.) it appears they have no earthly idea what thoughts are coming from the Cox camp. Simply put, I think this team(?) sux. We will eliminate some bad apples in the off season and become a TEAM again.

I've been to my fair share of GA-FLA games and know anything can happen. But when certain players on this team keep talking about "getting even" and don't talk about getting better...

walter sobchak said...

special circumstances: i'll tell you another worthy adversary, the man in the black pajamas dude.

hope you are watching its always sunny in philadelphia by now or you are missing out.