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August 17, 2007With 15 days until the Georgia Bulldogs' football season opener, the Associated Press breaks down the 2007 UGA season.
COACH: Mark Richt, seventh season, 61-17 career record.
LAST YEAR: 9-4 overall, 4-4 Southeastern Conference (tied for third in Eastern Division); defeated Virginia Tech 31-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
OFFENSE: After auditioning four potential starting quarterbacks before last season, the Bulldogs are set for 2007 and beyond. Sophomore Matthew Stafford (53 percent completions, 1,749 yards, 7 TDs, 13 INTs) locked up the job with a solid performance down the stretch, leading the Bulldogs to wins over Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. He is enormously talented and finally seemed to grasp the importance of not throwing silly interceptions.
The Bulldogs' major concern is up front, where the only two returning starters are both playing new positions. Right out of high school, freshman Trinton Sturdivant is penciled in at the crucial left tackle position. Redshirt freshman Chris Davis has the inside track at one of the guard spots. Most of the depth is provided by freshmen, as well.
The receivers are on the spot after producing only one wideout with more than 15 catches in 2006.
The running game will likely be handled by committee again. Seniors Kregg Lumpkin (798 yards, 6 TDs) and Thomas Brown are trying to hold off redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno and true freshman Caleb King. The Bulldogs haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Musa Smith in 2002.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets his first full year at calling plays after head coach Mark Richt gave up the job late last season.
DEFENSE: The Dawgs have some big holes to fill. Both ends, Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses, were drafted by the NFL. The Bulldogs also lost their top two tacklers, LBs Tony Taylor and Jarvis Jackson. Sophomore Roderick Battle and senior Marcus Howard are the new ends, while the coaches were still trying to figure out who should play where at linebacker. Brandon Miller, Darius Dewberry and Dannell Ellerbe are sure to be the starters, but all worked at different spots during the preseason.
The secondary is a strength, led by returning SS Kelin Johnson. CB Bryan Evans moved into the lineup late in the season. FS C.J. Byrd should be an able replacement for Tra Battle. Ditto for CB Asher Allen at the spot held last season by Paul Oliver.
Kicker Brandon Coutu is a huge weapon, as Georgia learned the hard way. He missed the final seven games of the regular season with a freak hamstring injury, but returned to make three field goals, including a 51-yarder, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Overall, Coutu was 10-of-11 on field goals and perfect on 17 extra points.
KEY LOSSES: DE Charles Johnson, LB Tony Taylor, DE Quentin Moses, C Nick Jones, S Tra Battle, CB Paul Oliver, LB Jarvis Jackson, TE Martrez Milner, OT Ken Shackleford, OT Daniel Inman, P Gordon Ely-Kelso.
OPENER: Sept. 1, vs. Oklahoma State at Sanford Stadium.
OTHER PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 22 at Alabama; Oct. 6 at Tennessee; Oct. 27 vs. Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.; Nov. 10 vs. Auburn; Nov. 24 at Georgia Tech.
OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs hope to contend in the SEC East, but it could be tough with road trips to Alabama and Tennessee, along with the annual game in Jacksonville against defending national champion Florida. Georgia also faces a dangerous opener, hosting Oklahoma State.
The Bulldogs appear to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode after the glorious era from 2002-05, when they captured two SEC titles and had at least 10 wins every year. An inexperienced offensive line is of particular concern, threatening to stunt the growth of promising QB Matthew Stafford. Still, the Bulldogs positioned themselves well for 2007 by winning their final three games last season, all against ranked teams.