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 Brown. OK, 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!)