A.J.'s Not Enough, Dawgs Crumble 29-27 In Boulder

Georgia loses fourth straight game for the first time since ... anybody?

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Georgia-Colorado Preview: When The Buffaloes Have The Ball

Looking for a little good news about Georgia's desperately-must-win game at Colorado this weekend? You're in luck: As much as the Bulldog offense has struggled in its last three games, Colorado's has been statistically worse, and they haven't even played as tough a schedule as Georgia has. If Mark Richt all of a sudden senses himself coaching for his job these days, it's a feeling Dan Hawkins -- 18-34 with a single bowl appearance in four seasons and change in Boulder -- already knows quite well.

COLORADO'S OFFENSE, BY THE NUMBERS
Passing: 226.4 yards per game in 2009 (45th nationally); averaging 186.0 yards per game so far this season (89th).
Rushing: 87.9 yards per game in 2009 (113th); averaging 147.3 per game this season (68th).

REASONS TO BE EXCITED
Whatever Dan Hawkins did at Boise State to lay the groundwork for the Broncos' stunning run over the last few years, it hasn't been working at Colorado. In his four full seasons in Boulder, his team has finished 102nd, 75th, 95th and 104th in Division I-A in total offense. Georgia is 80th nationally in total offense so far in 2010, and alarm bells are sounding all over Athens; Colorado is six spots below them, and it actually qualifies as a reason for hope.

The primary culprit, it would seem, has been a running game that has gotten worse with each passing year. Since putting up a surprisingly good showing in Hawkins' first season -- Dawg fans probably still have vivid memories of Hawkins using a mobile QB to repeatedly make the Georgia front seven look silly when the teams met that year -- the Buffs' run production has dwindled to barely half of what they managed in 2006. Part of it has to do with QBs who are much less mobile, but the running backs haven't been all that mobile, either: Sophomore Rodney Stewart netted 804 yards rushing last season, but nobody else had more than 150 the entire year. The player who was supposed to be the catalyst for a Colorado renaissance -- Darrell Scott, the nation's top-ranked RB recruit in 2008 -- totaled only 438 yards in two injury-ridden seasons before transferring to South Florida, so Stewart will be carrying the load more or less by himself this year. And he's averaging only 3.8 yards per carry even after going up against three run defenses all presently ranked markedly worse than Georgia's.

The passing attack, meanwhile, has improved overall since Hawkins' first year in Boulder, but that basically means it went from "horrendous" to "merely mediocre." It should at least benefit from a greater degree of consistency this season, as last year's unfortunate rotation between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins (the coach's son) appears to have been shelved for 2010; Hansen has taken every offensive snap through the first three games and managed a career-best 63.5-percent completion rate, though his 4/4 TD/INT ratio is nothing special. Nor is the eight sacks he's taken despite a veteran offensive line, which the Georgia front seven should look upon as a redemption opportunity after only notching a single sack in its last two games. 

REASONS TO WORRY
As nice as it would be to look upon the long-suffering Buffalo offense as being ripe for a plundering by the Bulldog D, let's be real here: This defense hasn't earned the right to consider anyone an easy mark. In the grand scheme of things, they haven't been that bad considering they're still in the midst of a major transition in scheme, but the degree to which they struggled to get a mediocre Mississippi State offense off the field in the second half last week should be a sign that some of them just haven't quite mastered their roles in the 3-4 just yet. Tyler Hansen won't present nearly the running threat that MSU's Chris Relf did, but Rodney Stewart is a more potent runner than last year's stats (or his diminutive size) would indicate; he'll be able to slip through gaps easily and make the Dawgs look foolish if they don't wrap up better than they have at times over the past few weeks.

The Buffs will also send an experienced, talented receiving corps up against a Georgia defensive backfield that has only shown nominal improvement since hitting a nadir in Willie Martinez' last season as defensive coordinator. Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas will present a tricky combination for the Georgia defenders to cover, and they'll be joined by junior Toney Clemons, a Michigan transfer who caught three passes for 85 yards and a TD a couple weeks ago against Hawaii.

Finally, there are the intangibles: How will Georgia respond just a week after perhaps the most embarrassing loss of the Mark Richt era, in a stadium a couple thousand miles away from home, in the thin air a mile above sea level? Can they get as geeked up for this game as the Buffaloes, who need a big win just as badly and who will be welcoming dozens of beloved former players as they salute the 1990 national co-championship team at halftime? (And how should Georgia respond to that, anyway? Stay silent because Colorado is the enemy this week, or stand up and applaud because any championship recognition for the Buffs drives Georgia Tech fans crazy and is therefore hilarious and awesome? Ehh, perhaps that's another post for another time.)

MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia LB Cornelius Washington vs. Colorado RB Rodney Stewart. With Stewart only checking in at 5'6", 175, it's safe to say Colorado won't be running him up the middle much. Get him outside, though, and he could be trouble. Georgia repeatedly got burned on the edge by Chris Relf and Vick Ballard in Starkville last Saturday, and it'll be critical for this front seven to fight its way past Colorado's blockers, make tackles, and force Colorado into as many third-and-longs as possible.

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Georgia-Colorado Preview: When The Bulldogs Have The Ball

Doesn't seem like it's taken long for the Dawgs' game at Colorado to go from "Woooo! Fun road trip out west!" to "GOD PLEASE LET US WIN THIS GAME I'M HANGING ON BY A THREAD HERE." Easier said than done -- with the Dawgs facing a long plane ride, thinner air, and a coach even more desperate to salvage his career than Richt is at the moment, this trip doesn't look to be anything like the semi-easy win predicted by the more optimistic Dawg fans in the offseason.

COLORADO'S DEFENSE, BY THE NUMBERS
Against the pass: 201.8 yards allowed per game in 2009 (34th nationally); giving up 241.0 per game this season (87th) against Colorado State, California, and Hawaii.
Against the run: 161.2 yards per game in 2009 (80th); allowed just 71.7 per game (7th) through their first three games in 2010.

REASONS TO BE EXCITED
Praise the lord, A.J. Green is finally rejoining the active roster, and not a nanosecond too soon. The question is still open for debate whether the offense was really that bad without him or whether the coaching staff just didn't do a good enough job accounting for his absence, but either way, his return from NCAA-imposed suspension can only be a shot in the arm for a Bulldog attack that has sputtered badly in its last three games. Having Green as a deep threat means Colorado won't necessarily feel content to stack the box the way South Carolina and Mississippi State did; it should also free up some opportunities for a talented tight end corps that has been criminally underused so far this season (Aron White and Orson Charles have just eight combined receptions in four games, and neither Bruce Figgins nor highly touted recruit Arthur Lynch have seen the field at all).

That all adds up to an opportunity for Aaron Murray -- who, irony of ironies, has been the one consistent bright spot for this offense in 2010 -- to have a big performance that will finally show on the scoreboard. Colorado's QB pressure has been decent, with seven sacks in their first three games, but five of those sacks came against Colorado State and Hawaii -- a pair of low-tier teams returning just one O-line starter apiece in 2010. And the Buffalo secondary has been vulnerable: Yes, more than half of the passing yardage they've given up so far this season was accrued by Hawaii's frenetic air-raid offense, but the other QBs they've faced have had suspiciously efficient performances. And while they managed to pick off Colorado State's true freshman QB Pete Thomas three times in their opener, they've had just one interception since. Green's return dramatically lessens the chances they'll get too many more on Saturday.

REASONS TO WORRY
Unfortunately, Murray's prospects have a definite ceiling if Colorado's defense doesn't see a need to respect the running game, and if they watched game tape of Mike Bobo flinging Carlton Thomas up against Mississippi State's D-line to no avail last Saturday, they may not see that need. Granted, the Buffaloes' run-defense stats are inflated considerably by the fact that they've faced the two worst rushing teams in Division I-A (Colorado State brings up the rear with just 59 running yards per game, and Hawaii is next worst with 59.8), but even California's Shane Vereen only managed 59 yards on 16 carries against the Buffs.

Meanwhile, Georgia's own rushing attack is languishing at 86th and averaging only 3.6 yards per carry, not at all what Bulldog Nation predicted after the hot streak with which Washaun Ealey and Caleb King ended 2009. The Buffalo D-line returns three starters from last season, and the one new guy is 6'7", 270-pound sophomore Nick Kasa; if A.J. Green's return doesn't loosen things up a little up front, Ealey, King and Carlton Thomas are going to have a long day. (Or maybe just King and Thomas: Mike Bobo confirmed yesterday that Ealey is slated to get less playing time after losing two goal-line fumbles in the past three games. This is kind of symbolic of where the Georgia offense is right now -- a running game once thought to be a major bright spot on the team is still doing depth-chart tinkering into the second month of the season, with the presumptive preseason starter now surrendering carries to the presumptive third-stringer.)

The Bulldogs can't count on winning the field position battle, either, as CU ranks fourth in the nation in kickoff-return defense -- the one bright spot in Georgia's return game. They're not quite as strong covering punt returns, but Georgia has been curiously silent in that aspect of special teams, averaging an even 10 yards per return, with a big fat 0 on three punts from Missy State last week. It's still unclear as to whether Branden Smith will play after sustaining a concussion that kept him out of the MSU game; if he doesn't, expect a whole lot of thrilling fair-catch action from Logan Gray -- which, if last week is any indication, stands to result in a lot of 90-yards-to-the-end-zone situations.

MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia WR A.J. Green vs. Colorado CBs Jimmy Smith and Jalil BrownOK, A.J., you want some redemption, you want to be a hero? Then school the Buffs' secondary and give the Dawgs a shot in the arm that they need perhaps more desperately than they have at any point in the Mark Richt Era. Don't take anything for granted, though -- Colorado's pass-defense stats may not be great, but Smith (6'2", 210) and Brown (6'1", 205) are both seniors and impressive physical specimens to boot. They've known all along that they were going to have to face the nation's most dynamic receiver, and it's a safe bet that they've been preparing nine months for this matchup.

(Tomorrow: Georgia's D vs. the Colorado O. Hey, an offense that's been struggling just as much as ours has! Sweet!)

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