Bama/UGA Q&A with Hey Jenny Slater

You know what's awesome? When you talk other people into doing your blogging for you! Doug of Hey Jenny Slater fame was kind enough to answer some questions about Saturday's game for us, and give me a few questions in return so be sure to check back with him for my responses. On to his:

1. After all the pre-season hype, are you pleased/surprised/disappointed about how the Dawgs have performed so far, and do they still look like a team that can make a run at the MNC (at least in your eyes)?

I'd have to say I'm pleased, for the most part -- the offense is clicking along as efficiently as it has since D.J. Shockley graduated; the defense has continued to perform at a strong level despite having to deal with a number of nagging injuries both major and minor along the line. Richt has done a pretty good job during his Georgia tenure of making sure that his teams demonstrate tangible improvement over the course of a season, last year's squad being a prime example, and if he can engineer that same kind of development in a team that's already started at this high a level, we're going to be in good shape once we hit our stretch run in SEC play.

We're not perfect, obviously -- the offensive line is struggling to control the line of scrimmage at times, while their counterparts on the D-line, as I said, have been troubled by injuries. But if the worst we end up looking all season is something like our performance against South Carolina, then we'll be doing OK. We always play that kind of game against the 'Cocks -- in 2002, for example, we pulled an ugly 13-7 win straight out of our rear ends (or, rather, David Pollack pulled it out of Corey Jenkins's hand), but we still managed to roll from there to a 13-1 record. So I guess what I'm saying is none of the Dawgs' problems are enough for me to declare their national-title contention in jeopardy just yet.

2. Beyond the obvious choices of Stafford and Moreno, what offensive player will Tide fans be cursing during the game?

Ahh, clearly you missed the second quarter of the Georgia-Arizona State game, or you'd know the answer to that one already -- it's A.J. Green, our true-freshman phenom receiver. (You didn't think you'd cornered the market on those, did you?) Green not only caught eight passes for 159 yards against the Sun Devils, he caught the kinds of passes Georgia's receiving corps hasn't been catching in quite a while: Ball's a little behind him? Maybe a tad overthrown? Maybe hits him in the hands harder than he expected? No problem, #8 will catch it anyway. ASU took forever to figure out how to cover him, and while I'm sure the Tide's defense is a big step up, it's still not going to be a picnic.

Actually, I did see the second half and was really REALLY hoping Green was a one game fluke and you'd be naming someone else...

The "sleeper" answer, though, is Brannan Southerland, our fullback who should be returning this week from a fractured bone in his left foot. He's going to be a godsend for the offensive front, particularly in our goal-line package, but he's also a surprisingly sure-handed pass-catcher out of the backfield. And it's scary to think that as good as Knowshon has looked so far, he's been doing it without the help of his first-string lead blocker.

3. Much was made about the loss of Sturdivant at LT before the season started. How is the line looking without him and who has stepped up at that position?

Well, as I said, we're still working through some kinks. Stafford's only been sacked six times all season, four of those at the hands of South Carolina's defense, but his pockets haven't stood up as well as I'd like and the running lanes we're opening up for Knowshon don't seem quite as smooth as what we were giving him last year. Kiante Tripp is the main man tapped to take Sturdivant's place, and he's done a serviceable job so far -- but there was a lot of shuffling done on the line after the South Carolina game, and Tripp tweaked an ankle in practice the week leading up to Arizona State, so it's pretty hard to make any overarching judgments at the moment. Of course, Vince Vance did pretty well in Tripp's place out in Tempe, so who knows -- as fellow Dawgblogger Senator Blutarsky said last week, we're all just believing in O-line coach Stacy Searels at this point.

4. Georgia has committed a ton of penalties so far this season (11 for 112 yards during the nailbiter at South Carolina, for example). Is this an experience problem with some young players or something that's a real issue for the team?

Here's a phun phact for you I read on CFN this morning: The top five D-IA teams in penalties per game are Georgia, Texas Tech, Utah, Florida, and TCU; between the five of them, they have yet to lose a game. So if Mark Richt says he's not worried about the penalties (http://onlineathens.com/stories/092408/foo_336097216.shtml), then I'm not worried either. I mean, yeah, it can be frustrating -- it seemed like there were more flags in the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game than at the main plaza of the United Nations -- but LSU proved last year that leading the conference in penalties doesn't necessarily hinder your path to the MNC if you're doing well enough everywhere else. Richt seems to think that the penalties are less a matter of inexperience than of perhaps playing a little too hard; certainly it'd be nice if we were a tad more disciplined, but if the price of SEC-championship aggressiveness is a guy jumping the snap every once in a while, I can live with it.

5. What aspect of the Tide offense concerns you most relative to the UGA defense?

Alabama has looked incredibly strong on both sides of the line of scrimmage this year, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't apprehensive about the Dawgs' ability to challenge them. I'm comforted by the fact that our run defense has been so strong -- only 22 yards over the past two games, just in case you haven't had that fact thrown in your face enough this week -- but it's safe to say that Alabama's stable of running backs is a good bit deeper and more talented than any we've seen so far. And even if we do bottle up the Tide's ground game to a manageable degree, I'm still not convinced we're going to be able to get to John Parker Wilson very consistently. If we can render Alabama's offense as one-dimensional as we did Arizona State's, we have a chance to force JPW into some killer errors, but that's easier said than done.

6. What has Georgia been able to do that has surprised you so far this season? What haven't they been able to do that you thought wouldn't be an issue?

I figured Georgia would be good at most things this year, and they have been, but one of the few positions with a truly glaring lack of experience coming into this season was at kicker. So I was a little nervous that true freshman Blair Walsh might cost us a game somewhere along the line, but it obviously hasn't happened yet. He's 5-of-7 on field goals so far this year, with his Bulldog debut being a 52-yarder against Georgia Southern; his only misses have been a 56-yarder against Central Michigan and a 54-yarder out in Tempe that doinked off one of the uprights. In the kind of game like tomorrow's, where every point is going to matter, it's nice not to have to reach for the nitroglycerine tabs every time your kicker jogs out onto the field.

Ironically, though, as good as Walsh has been on FGs, he's been nearly as bad on kickoffs; he booted the opening KO against Southern into the end zone and has barely been able to get it inside the 10 ever since. Considering that Javier Arenas is going to be on the receiving end of most of those kicks Saturday, I'd just as soon not make his job any easier for him. Supposedly our coaches are trying to get Walsh to do some kind of directional kicking thing, but I think most Georgia fans at this point would just prefer him to boom 'em into the end zone as opposed to letting our opponents start at the 30, 35, or worse.

7. And finally, what's YOUR take on the Blackout? Cool, hokey, etc?

I'll be honest: I thought the first "Blackout" last year was a bad idea -- not so much the fans in the stands wearing black, 'cause hell, if Mark Richt wants me to wear a pink tutu to the game, I'll wear a freaking tutu, but the black jerseys. Just seems like a lot of teams who do that end up focusing more on the unis than on the game itself and end up getting embarrassed. Well, one 45-20 beatdown of Auburn later, I changed my tune. That was maybe the most fun Georgia game I've ever been to, and the electricity in the stands was certainly matched in intensity down on the field.

Coming into this season, I figured we'd save the next Blackout for Tennessee, but I can kind of see why Richt was open to doing it this weekend. We're coming off a win just big enough to create a bit of a letdown opportunity, we're also probably tired enough coming home from our West Coast trip that there'll be a little temptation to take it easy this week, so it's a little something extra to make 100-percent sure everybody's as geeked up as they need to be.

And I've heard more than a few people this week say stuff like, "Rarr rarr, this is the SEC, guys shouldn't NEED that stuff to get geeked up for a game." But, I mean, we're cranky and jaded old bastards; of course we're more likely to look at stuff like that as gimmicks. And we're not the ones down there busting our asses on the field -- the ones doing that are a bunch of 19- and 20-year-old kids, and if black jerseys and Soulja Boy are what get them amped up, more power to 'em. If we get blown off the field by Alabama, of course, my vote is for burning the black jerseys and shooting the ashes into deep space, but otherwise, I'm going black, knowing full well that I may never go back.
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