September 20, 2008

Georgia preview

A wake-up call; a lesson learned. Call it what you will but Arizona State needs to rebound from its embarrassing loss to UNLV last week with a quality performance -- win or lose -- against No. 3 Georgia.

Big time opportunities to showcase your program in front of a national audience against an out-of-conference opponent don't come around often when you're ASU.

The goal, of course, is to play in more games like this one. But that can only happen if a team is competitive in the opportunities it does get, and if it also wins enough of its other games to deserve the spotlight attention.

Losing to the Rebels devalued what this game could have been, of that there can be no doubt. The opportunity to have ESPN's College GameDay come to town again? Gone. The national game of the week? No. That is now No. 6 LSU at No. 10 Auburn.

But ABC will still be in town, with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit working the broadcast, and the chance to make a big impression still exist.

You can be sure many recruits will be watching this game, both in person and on television. You can be sure a poor performance will not help the recruitment of those prospects, and will not help sustain the forward momentum of a program that was a media darling last season with 10 wins in coach Dennis Erickson's first win.

You can be sure that a bad loss to Georgia would lead to a lot of whispers.

Cal and USC next? On the road? Then Oregon at home? Wow. Things could get out of control fast.

All reasons ASU needs to play well in this game.

After a practice week ahead of UNLV that generously would be described as lax, the Sun Devils had a much better effort this week.

"I'll never forget about UNLV," Erickson said. "That'll last longer than any championship I've ever won, believe me. But [winning this game would take the] sting away a little bit. This is a great opportunity for us. National TV, national game, at home; we'll probably have a crowd out there. It'll be exciting. That's what college football is all about."

About Georgia

Head coach: Mark Richt (8th season)
2007 season: 11-2
2008 season: 3-0 (1-0)

Offense

The Bulldogs put up over 1,000 total yards and a combined 101 points against Georgia Southern and Central Michigan before managing just 252 total yards and two touchdowns in their first real test, a 14-7 win at South Carolina.

Star running back Knowshon Moreno, a 5-foot-11, 207 pound sophomore, averaged 7.4 yards per carry against Georgia Southern and 9.3 yards per carry against Central Michigan, but was held to 4.0 yards per carry on 20 rushing attempts against the Gamecocks.

Limiting Moreno, an explosive athlete with tremendous open field speed and elusiveness and enough power to run effectively inside, will be the key focus for an ASU defense that held Stanford's Toby Gerhart in check before allowing UNLV running back Frank Summers to run over it in the second half.

ASU has the use of MIKEs Gerald Munns and Morris Wooten, in this game, two players that did not play against UNLV and could have helped, certainly.

But Moreno is a whole different caliber player from Gerhart and Summers -- more like a Jamaal Charles, who chewed up ASU for 161 yards and two scores in the Holiday Bowl last season -- and it will take a tremendous effort from the Sun Devils to keep him in check.

What makes the task all the more difficult, the Bulldogs have a high quality veteran quarterback, junior Matt Stafford, a player who threw for 2,523 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and some impressive receivers with plenty of length and athleticism.

Stafford has completed 62 percent of his throws this season for 634 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He's had the luxury of throwing to a number of pass catchers, but the Bulldogs' biggest weapons are 6-foot-2 senior Mohamed Massaquoi, 6-foot-4 true freshman A.J. Green, 6-foot-2, junior Michael Moore, and 6-foot-5 junior Kris Durham.

Those four receivers have combined to haul in 30 ball for nearly 500 yards through three games, with none of the four having fewer than five catches. The group's length and depth will have to be accounted for by the Sun Devils.

Moreno is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield with seven catches for 96 yards.

Georgia doesn't really have any part of its offense that you could call a weakness but the offensive line is probably its most untested unit, with three sophomores and a true freshman starting against South Carolina. One of the team's top offensive tackles was lost for the season and ASU is going to have to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage to have any sort of success. South Carolina had four sacks against the Bulldogs last Saturday.

Defense

The Bulldogs return just about all of its starters from last year on defense and the group is strong up front, with junior defensive tackle Geno Atkins anchoring the line. He has just 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss thus far, but an astounding 13 quarterback hurries tells the story. Last season he had 7.5 sacks. He can be very disruptive on the interior and will be a challenge for the ASU offensive line.

It appears Georgia is less potent at end, with sophomore Demarcus Dobbs and senior Jeremy Lomax projected to start. They have a combined 1.5 sacks through the first three games and just four quarterback hurries.

At linebacker, sophomore Rennie Curran is the team leader with 20 tackles thus far, including three for loss, two of which were sacks. He also has the team's lone forced fumble of the season, which came on a crucial play against South Carolina. With the Gamecocks driving with a chance to tie the score in the fourth quarter, Curran hit Mike Davis near the goalline forcing the ball out, allowing Georgia to preserve the win.

Sophomore strong side linebacker Darryl Gamble is tied for second on the team with 12 tackles and senior middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has nine tackles with one interception.

In the secondary is probably will the game will be won or lost for Georgia, as the Bulldogs are second-to-last in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 236.3 yards per game. This game could easily turn into one where ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter throws the ball more than 40 times, especially if the Sun Devils have limited (or worse) success against the run, a real possibility.

ASU is first in the Pac-10 in passing offense with 324.7 yards and last week the team lost when Carpenter had only 23 passing attempts, his low since late in the 2007 season. It figures to reason the Sun Devils will be willing to, and possibly forced to, win or lose this game on the capability of Carpenter's right arm.

Even though this may be an area where Georgia can be exploited, it won't be due to a lack of experience. The team has five players that have started a combined 41 games. Juniors Asher Allen and Bryan Evans are the starters. Allen has three breakups and nine tackles while Evans has two breakups and six tackles.

At safety, senior C.J. Byrd and sophomore Reshad Jones each have 11 tackles thus far, with Jones having one interception and one breakup.

Quotable

"I think for my position that might be true but for everybody else I hope they're hyped up and I hope they're ready to play and emotional and intense an all those things. I think that's what football is about and I hope those guys are like that. For myself I think I'm going to have to calm myself down a little bit and get some tunnel vision and focus a little bit more." -- Carpenter, on whether the team might be too hyped up come game time.

"Tons of problems. I think they're very fast. I think they're very aggressive. I think they're big. That's why I think we've got to just play smart, make good decisions, maybe play the field position game for a little while, try not to give them momentum and easy points." -- Carpenter, when asked about what problems Georgia creates for ASU.

"I do feel that way. Obviously I hear all the same things that you guys hear and it's kind of an unfair statement. The way that UNLV played us forced us to do what we did. Could we have done other things? Sure. Hindsight is 20/20 but with what we did we should be able to beat a lot of teams like that and we didn't because one, UNLV played good and two, we had a bunch of mental errors." -- Carpenter, on whether ASU has to do a better job executing before expanding its play calling.

"That's what's been killing us all these three games, mental errors. That's not someone beating us, that's us beating ourselves. It's pretty hard to win games when you're playing two teams." -- Carpenter, on what has plagued ASU thus far.

"It's about pride as a football team and as a program and pride as a player. They're the ones. I'm the coach. I get it, they get it, we all get it when we don't play very well (against UNLV). All I ask them and all I've said is come out and play as hard as you can play. Play the best you can play and whatever happens, happens. And I believe we'll get that effort Saturday." -- Erickson on coming back from a tough loss.

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