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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.

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).

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. 

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.)

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.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.