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November 15, 2006

Stafford comes of age in upset of Auburn

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Mark Richt cringed when he looked at the game plan he drew up for Auburn.

Luckily for the Georgia coach, his true freshman quarterback - Matthew Stafford - didn't flinch.

"I was probably about as low as I have been all season," Richt told reporters after Georgia's game against Auburn. "I thought that it was the worst thing I had ever seen. I was looking at how I could get Matthew some confidence and I thought this (game plan) was awful."

Whatever Richt thought of his plans for Auburn, Stafford made his coach look golden in a 37-15 upset of the Tigers.

Stafford was 14 of 20 for 219 yards and a touchdown. He added 83 rushing yards and a TD run. The effort earned him the Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week honor.

"I'm glad he didn't say anything before the game," Stafford said of his coach's doubts. "Obviously, it was a great game plan."

The plan helped Stafford come of age in what has been a trying freshman year. He started out as a backup to Joe Tereshinski. An injury to Tereshinski moved Stafford into the starting role for two games before he relinquished the job to Joe Cox.

When Stafford became the starter once again, the offense stalled in losses to Vanderbilt and Florida and struggled during a win over Mississippi State.

Prior to the Auburn game, Stafford had thrown 12 interceptions in the first 10 games of the season.

Against the Tigers, things began to click for the the 6-foot-3, 228-pound Texan.

"Something happened. There was really nothing I can really put a finger on," Stafford said. "The offensive line blocked well, the receivers made plays and the defense got us the ball, making it easy."

Click here for an exclusive Q&A with Matthew Stafford from UGASports.com.

Stafford beat out the following candidates for freshman of the week:

Quarterback Josh Freeman, who led Kansas State's 45-42 upset of Texas with three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. He was 19 of 31 passing for 269 yards and an interception.

Forced into the starting role because of an injury to Terry Caulley, Donald Brown carried the ball 43 times for 205 yards with three total touchdowns in Connecticut's 46-45 double overtime win against Pittsburgh.

South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe set a school record with 364 passing yards in a 27-10 win over Syracuse. He was 25 of 35 passing and rushed for 45 yards.

Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey kept the Terrapins' ACC title hopes alive with five catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns in a 14-13 win over Miami. His 96-yard touchdown catch was the longest pass play in Maryland history and the longest allowed by Miami.

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ran for 154 yards and a touchdown in a 20-14 win over N.C. State.

Oklahoma State cornerback Perrish Cox had seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble to go with 84 yards on four kickoff and punt returns in the Cowboys' 66-24 win over Baylor.

While Richt's decision to stick with his true freshman quarterback paid off, Arkansas made the difficult choice to bench its undefeated freshman quarterback.

Gus Malzahn's offense didn't miss a beat when coach Houston Nutt benched Mitch Mustain, who quarterbacked Malzahn's team at Springdale (Ark.) last year. Mustain gave way to sophomore Casey Dick against South Carolina. The Razorbacks opted to start Dick for the first time this season against Tennessee.

"We felt like we had two starters," Malzahn said. "We're going with the guy that's hot right now. That's what happened. (Dick) practiced well. He's familiar with what we're doing. The great thing is that Mitch is supporting him."

The move worked out well for the Hogs. The Razorbacks beat Tennessee 31-14 to inch closer to the SEC Championship Game, earning Malzahn his second National Coordinator of the Week honor this season. The first came after Arkansas' 27-10 win over Auburn on Oct. 7.

The Hogs can thank Malzahn for finding creative ways for Heisman-contending running back Darren McFadden, backup running back Felix Jones and receiver Marcus Monk to have success.

Over the last two games, the trio has touched the ball more than they have in any two-game span all year.

Against Tennessee, McFadden accounted for three touchdowns - on plays in which he lined up as the quarterback in the shotgun. He had touchdown runs of 17 yards and 5 yards and completed a 12-yard pass to Monk for a TD.

"Our goals were to play people to our strengths and keep people off-balance," Malzahn said. "We've tried to find formations to get playmakers on the field at the same time."

Among other candidates for coordinator of the week:

Wake Forest defensive coordinator Dean Hood became the first coach to shut out Florida State in Tallahassee in 33 years. The Demon Deacons intercepted Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee four times and allowed only 139 yards of offense, including 26 rushing yards. In the 30-0 loss, Florida State reached Wake territory twice.

Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez helped the Bulldogs hold Auburn to 171 total yards and 35 yards passing. Tigers quarterback Brandon Cox threw four interceptions.

USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt led the Trojans to a stifling defensive effort against Oregon, which leads the Pac-10 in rushing and total offense. The Ducks were shut out and held to 103 total yards in the first half of a 35-10 loss.

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