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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Links 2008

It's hard to believe we've come to the end of 2008 already. What a year. I upgraded from living in Kentucky to living in Athens. I upgraded at least two notches on my belt due to the proximity of delicious southern comfort food. And I downgraded the number of times I've gone to the gym. And like every year, the Cubs broke my heart, Syracuse football stunk, and the Eagles are no doubt setting me up for a winter of misery. Good times.

Before we bid adieu to '08 though, here's a final batch of New Year's Eve links...

-- Much like Georgia has with the Tech loss, Michigan State is using their disappointing season finale as motivation this week.

-- The Detroit News looks at the sad state of affairs in Michigan off the field.

-- Georgia's players aren't too concerned about the rings Georgia Tech gave out commemorating their victory over the Bulldogs.

-- Chip Towers looks back on five plays that defined Georgia's season. I wish I had thought of doing this story first.

-- Get your criticisms ready: Bleacher Report breaks down the Cap One Bowl.

-- The Lansing paper offers one more stunning contrast in perceptions of this game for the two teams.

-- No year should end without a good story about a zebra. Also, where do you think you go to apply for a zebra permit? I've actually been considering purchasing a giraffe, so I'll probably need to go to the same office.

OK, well I hope you all have a fun, festive and -- most importantly -- safe New Year's Eve. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, and make sure you have someone lined up to post your bail long before kickoff. I'll be back with live updates from the game tomorrow, but in the meantime, I think this video is the perfect way to count down to the Cap One Bowl and the start of a very fine 2009.

Wednesday Practice Report (12/31)

From UGA Athletics...

With the 2009 Capital One Bowl game just a day away, the 16th-ranked Bulldogs put the finishing touches on their preparation Wednesday.

The Bulldogs (9-3) posed for a team photo at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in the morning, and then took part in a bowl luncheon. Head coach Mark Richt faced the media one last time before the game in a press conference at the team hotel. Richt discussed Georgia's week in Orlando and the upcoming game with Michigan State.

"It's been a wonderful week," said Richt. " It has exceeded expectations, the weather has been beautiful and that put everything over the top. Our coaches wives and kids all have had a blast, and the coaches too.

"Our guys have prepared well. We set the tone the first night we arrived and had a night practice. It has carried over all week. The players did what we asked and the focus has been on football while we were at practice. Then, they had time to enjoy all the attractions which are the best in the world."

Richt said this year's matchup with the 19th-ranked Spartans (9-3) should be a good one considering both teams have identical records in and out of conference.

"Michigan State has had a great year, they were one game away from the Rose Bowl," said Richt. If they win their last game, they go to the Rose Bowl. They are a program on the rise. You look at Cincinnati is in the Orange Bowl, and that's where Coach (Mark) Dantonio left from so he left the cupboard full. He left that program in good shape."

Both teams are looking to secure their 10th win of the season Thursday.

"We want to finish 2008 by sending out the seniors with a victory," said Richt. "It would be our 10th this year and 40th for their career. Also, this game marks the beginning of 2009. We want the seniors to leave with a smile and start 2009 off right."

The Spartans feature one of the nation's top rushing attacks highlighted by Javon Ringer who accounted for 1,590 yards and 21 touchdowns this year.

"We hope to slow their rushing attack down but no one has stopped them," said Richt.
"It will be tough. We've tackled more in practice during the bowl preparations than we did during the season to get ready for it. We just crossed our fingers and held our breath to prepare for this game. We took more of a spring ball mentality. It should help our blocking and tackling with all the live work. We had about 15 practices since we last played and five or six of them we were in full pads and tackling to the ground. We had to change the way we practiced this year because of all the season-ending injuries."

On the injury front since arriving in Orlando, Richt said sophomore Demarcus Dobbs has a sprained ankle, and he's questionable for the game.

"He wants to play," said Richt. "He's on just about every special teams, and he's a heckuva of a defensive end too. I hope he can play."

Kickoff Thursday will be at 1 p.m., and the game will be televised by ABC.

Behind Enemy Lines: Michigan State

For Georgia's past few games, we've been talking with the beat writers of the opposing team to get teh inside scoop. This time around, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode was kind enough to share his expertise with us about the Michigan State Spartans. You can find Joe's exceptional coverage of Michigan State HERE.

David Hale: Obviously Javon Ringer is one of the nation s top backs, but in some of Michigan State s biggest games, his numbers haven t been quite as good. What type of success do you expect him to have against Georgia s front seven, which has struggled of late?

Joe Rexrode: It s hard to say. He is a very talented player, but as you said, he was limited to varying degrees by the best defenses MSU faced this season. Cal, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State all kept him under 100 yards. MSU s offensive line was rebuilt this season and simply hasn t done the job against the big boys. Also, Ringer wore down with the heavy work load as the season progressed. But he is fresh again and I think Georgia, especially with the injuries, is a cut below Ohio State and Penn State up front. So it will be very interesting to watch that matchup.

DH: Ringer is the big name on offense for MSU, but what other offensive weapons should Georgia fans be aware of? Are the Spartans capable of winning even if Ringer doesn t have a huge game?

JR: Yes, MSU can get it done through the air, although the numbers don t necessarily back that up. Brian Hoyer won the Wisconsin game with a bunch of huge plays late. His numbers have suffered thanks in part to a lot of drops from his receivers. But the Spartans have some fast guys. Mark Dell has been banged up but is a very talented receiver. Blair White has emerged as the team s most reliable downfield threat. B.J. Cunningham is good, and freshman Keshawn Martin, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, is back and could make a difference Thursday. He s very fast and gifted, a high school quarterback who is still learning the position. Tight end Charlie Gantt also is a reliable target. MSU can win if Ringer doesn t have a huge game, but he has to have a decent game for the Spartans to have a chance.

DH: Georgia has a top quarterback and two big threats at wide receiver. How good is Michigan State s secondary, and what are the chances the Spartans can slow down Stafford and company?

JR: The secondary has been the strength of MSU s defense this season, although a slew of big plays yielded against Penn State hurt their numbers. But that was, more than anything, a result of zero pass rush generated by the Spartans. That s the big question. Can MSU pressure Stafford? This team has an excellent cover corner in sophomore Chris L. Rucker, along with some other talented players such as Kendell Davis-Clark and Ross Weaver. Senior safety Otis Wiley is seen by analysts as a first-day NFL draft pick. He was dominant in the first four games of the season, but he has been nagged by injuries ever since. If he s finally back to full health as he says he is, this secondary will be that much better. But MSU hasn t seen a better combination of quarterback and two wideouts than what Georgia has. Penn State would be the closest.

DH: Both MSU and Georgia are 9-3, both finished third in their conference, both lost two bad games to close rivals but have beaten everyone they were supposed to beat. Still, Michigan State seems to be approaching this as a successful season and Georgia sees it as a major disappointment. How could that difference in attitude manifest itself on the field Thursday?

JR: The Spartans hope it means they ll be more excited to play the game. That may have been the case a year ago, when a Boston College team that was at one point ranked No. 2 fell to the Champs Sports Bowl. MSU barely lost, 24-21, killing itself with five turnovers. But the way I see it, Georgia has something to prove, and this is still a New Year s Day game on a national stage. So I doubt that will be much of a factor.

DH: What would you say are the two or three biggest keys to a Michigan State victory in the Capital One Bowl?

JR: The first is ball control on offense, via Ringer and short passing. Ringer has to be able to get 20-25 carries and 80-100 yards to help keep Georgia s offense off the field.

The second is limiting big plays, which MSU did well all year before the Penn State game. And that won t be easy against this offense.

The third is finishing at least plus-two in the turnover department, while getting a big play or two out of the kicking game. The Spartans will need some breaks to have a chance to beat Georgia.

Looking Back No. 1: Top Dawgs

Looking back now, it seems as if years have passed since Knowshon Moreno appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the country announcing that Georgia was the top team in the land. The precipitous fall from grace that followed those preseason platitudes has vastly changed the perception of the this year's Bulldogs, but as Georgia prepares for its final game of the season Thursday, it's hard to ignore how much those late-summer headlines and lofty expectations shaped the 2008 season.

After Georgia finished the 2007 season with a dominating win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl and a No. 2 ranking, the seeds of lofty expectations had already taken root. Head coach Mark Richt spent most of the offseason answering questions about national titles and controlling expectations. By the time the news broke that, for the first time in school history, Georgia would begin the year as the consensus No. 1 team in the country, excitement was at an all-time high, even if the team tried to downplay it.

"I was honored to be on a team that was put at No. 1, but it's all preseason and it's all based on potential, so until we get out there and are actually playing some games, it won't mean anything," tight end Tripp Chandler said during fall camp.

Georgia's top billing earned the Bulldogs plenty of attention. Moreno, Matthew Stafford and Dannell Ellerbe even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. More than just media spotlight, however, Georgia had the attention of its competition.

"We had a target on our back from Day 1, and we knew that," defensive end Jeremy Lomax said.

It wasn't just the opponent that turned out to be a major obstacle for Georgia, however. The lofty expectations proved to be a burden the battered Bulldogs were unable to bear.

The expectations of fans were immense, and simply winning wasn't enough to satiate many pundits. It took just one week of games for Georgia to lose top billing in the polls. After a win over Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs dropped to second, then fell again two weeks later despite beating South Carolina.

Fans lamented close wins, and when the Bulldogs lost to Alabama, the bottom fell out for fans that had dreamed of a national title, the disappointment of dashed dreams clouding any impartial view of the season.

As Georgia concluded its regular season, those questions of preseason hype for Richt were replaced by a similar refrain: How disappointing has this season been? His response was always the same, just as it had been months earlier. Goals were not met, but that didn't mean the season was a failure. Asked if fans might have had a different view of the season had the Bulldogs begun the year ranked 20th, Richt s response spoke volumes. "They'd be doing cartwheels," he said.

Perhaps Georgia just wasn't cut out to be favorites. After all, it wasn't just fans that may have talked themselves into believing the preseason hype.

Looking back now, the hype, the excitement and the expectations may have made a big difference in how Georgia approached its season, and the aftershocks were felt in the locker room throughout the year.

"It definitely got to the point where it was a distraction in big games," Curran said. "The execution wasn't there and there were a lot of things that held us back. It affected us all year."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuesday Practice Notes (12/30)

In the first week of the season, Georgia's coaches didn't have an idea of how the Bulldogs' return game might shape up. Now, with just one game remaining before the season ends, things aren't much clearer.

"By committee as usual," part-time punt returner Prince Miller said of Georgia's plan for the return game in the Capital One Bowl. "We have a lot of guys who can handle the job, and (Coach Jon Fabris) is going to put certain guys in in certain situations, and we'll just go from there."

Miller is one of nearly a half-dozen Bulldogs to return punts this season, including last year's leading kick returner, Asher Allen. Miller had a touchdown on a return against Alabama, but several poor plays down the stretch meant more chances for Logan Gray.

Allen hasn't returned a punt since Georgia's third game of the season, but said he would have liked to have seen more action. Allen played with a broken hand, however, in Georgia's final five games.

It's something I really love to do," Allen said. "I've done it since I've been here, I did it all through high school. But it was obviously a decision that the coaches made."

The kick return game was nearly as turbulent this season without Allen carrying the load. Ramarcus Brown was the primary kick returner early, but freshman Richard Samuel appeared to grab a stranglehold on the job down the stretch, despite making a few bad decisions and a key turnover in Georgia's final three games.

Brown and Samuel haven't been the biggest problem, however, according to coach Tony Ball.

"I've been really disappointed in our productivity but it's not so much who we've had back there, we've just had so many injuries and have had to put guys in there that hadn't received a lot of reps," Ball said. "It's hard to go back during the season and rep and get somebody ready fundamentally to be effective. I think that's hurt us more than anything."

-- Despite several comments to the contrary from Georgia players and coaches, the rumors of assistant coach Rodney Garner heading to Auburn continue to persist.

Garner interviewed for the head-coaching job with the Tigers before Gene Chizik was hired but has not said he is interested in an assistant position, and Georgia head coach Mark Richt said Auburn had not contacted the him about interviewing Garner.

"I don't think he's talking to Auburn at all, I really don't," Richt said.

-- While Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford haven't made any final decision on their potential futures in the NFL, one thing remains a certainty: Georgia's big four offensive stars Moreno, Stafford, A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi won't play together again for the Bulldogs after Thursday's Capital One Bowl.

That's a sobering thought for Richt, but he said it's been impossible not to enjoy the time the foursome has had together in Athens.

"They've been great," Richt said. "If you can have that kind of production every year, you're going to win a bunch of games. You're going to enjoy coaching them, too. And it's fun for the fans to run the ball and throw and catch the way that they have."

-- With injuries in the dozens at any given time this season, practice hasn't been nearly as grueling as he would like because he simply didn't have enough healthy players on the practice field.

Looking back, Richt said, he regrets taking it easy on his team at times, going back to fall camp.

"Trend of toning down practice, it started in two-a-days, it started in camp," Richt said. "In our second of the three scrimmages, when I decided to go thud (instead of full tackle) because of all the injuries, that's just not how we practice here, and I don't think it was good for us."

Bulletin Board Fodder

Looking for a little something to get you riled up for Thursday's game? Well, Michigan State's players were kind enough to add a small amount of bulletin board material before the game...

Linebacker Adam Decker on who Georgia reminds him of (notice, it's not Penn State): "I would have to say (Georgia is) probably closer to Ohio State. They ve got talented linemen, they ve got a talented running back, but then they ve got good receivers, too, that they kind of like to throw it deep to. In that sense, they re unique in that they throw a lot more deep passes than most of the teams we ve played this year, and obviously, being from the SEC, they're going to bring a different style to it, too."

OK, that wasn't too mean, but it can't be fun to be compared to a team that has had its doors blown off in bowl games the past two years. But it gets better...

Cornerback Ross Weaver on stopping A.J. Green: I don t approach him any different at all. Even though he s a freshman, he can make plays. I don t go at him acting like he s a freshman. I m going to get all up in his head."

But here's the kicker, I think, from tight end Charlie Gantt:
"They've been playing with some injuries, but if you just come out and hit them in the mouth every play, they'll back up a little bit. They're real good in pursuit, but if you come right at them, I think that's our advantage."

Come on and Take a Free Ride!

Jay Adams and I managed to follow the team to Universal Studios in Orlando last night where the players (and us!) got free passes to enjoy the park. Following a spin on the Hulk roller coaster at Islands of Adventure, we chatted with Matthew Stafford about his ride.

Also, I highly recommend checking out the great photo gallery from the event over at the Athens Banner-Herald's Web site.

Catching Up With... Hugh Nall

It's been a chaotic month in the life of former Georgia offensive lineman Hugh Nall. After starring for the Bulldogs for four seasons -- including winning a national championship in 1980 -- Nall went on to become one of college football's most respected assistant coaches and top recruiters. Following a disappointing 5-7 season at Auburn in 2008, however, he was let go by the school along with all of former head coach Tommy Tuberville's staff. Nall wasn't out of work long, however, moving quickly into the business world, where he is now the chief operating officer of Southern Ag in Albany, Ga. I caught up with him last week to talk about the situation at Auburn, his future in coaching and Georgia's chances in the Capital One Bowl.

David Hale: So you went from being a big-time college coach to a corporate exec pretty quickly there. How did that transition come about?

Hugh Nall: I met the man I'm working for now through some Auburn people. I met Henry Griffin, who I work for now, through them, and Henry had been talking to me for probably two years about going to work for him, so that's how I got hooked up with him. Once I got the word about Coach Tuberville not going to be at Auburn anymore -- I was on a flight in Dallas going to a home visit (with a recruit) when I got word. I had to cancel that whole visit and turn around and get a flight back, and that's when I got a call from Henry that he was going to make me an offer to go work for him the next morning. Based on the fact of the way things went there at Auburn, and I'm 50 years old, and I thought this was an opportunity to get involved with someone I've thought a lot of and thought it would be an honor to work for him, so I decided to take that route. After 24 years of coaching college football and having this opportunity, I really thought it was the right thing to do.

DH: In this economy, which job is tougher -- corporate exec or SEC coach?

HN: I don't think there's any doubt that this is a tough role right now. Still, it's amazing how similar it is dealing with people. No matter what business you're in, whether it's coaching or the trucking business or whatever it might be. It's just different Xs and Os right now. I've got to learn the Xs and Os here. I have to be able to count higher than 11 now, you know?

DH: Obviously there was a good bit of controversy that surrounded the way Tommy was let go following the season. What are your thoughts about how those final few weeks at Auburn played out?

HN: Needless to say, it was very disappointing. No. 1, it was disappointing from the standpoint of the players that we had in there are a bunch of good people, so you hate to see anything negative happen for them -- especially our seniors and what they did through the games they had been involved in winning over the years. Also, you hate it for the Auburn people. It's such a great school and a great place. You hate it that all of a sudden there's eight years of really positive things happening and it turns quickly. That was the bad thing. Then once again, all the positive things that we had done, you just hate to see all that negative stuff happen. That's kind of the major things.

DH: You've known Gene Chizik for a while, too. What did you think of the hire?

HN: I thought this was a great opportunity for Gene. He's a great guy, and I certainly wish him the best. I worked with him for two years, and Gene is a class act, so I really hope he does well. Not just for him, but for the players that we've got in there and those good Auburn people, you want to see good things happen for them.

DH: It had to have been a tough transition for you to leave behind the work you'd done for so many years. How did you handle saying goodbye to Auburn and football?

HN: I'm certainly a different person in the way I look at things. I look at everything as a great opportunity. Whether you're a pessimist or an optimist, I'm neither one. I'm an opportunist. I just look at this as a great opportunity to do something special. I heard a guy say one time that I took reverse out of my gear box years ago. I got the call on a Thursday, and I started working Monday morning after we were released on Wednesday, and I haven't slowed down and looked back. That's the way I've done and that's the way I'm going to do it. I'm proud of what I've done the last 24 years, I'm proud of what I've done at Auburn, and I'm proud of the players I left behind, especially with what we did in '07 with three true freshman on the offensive line to win nine games, beating Florida in the Swamp, beating Alabama for the sixth year in a row. That was pretty special. I'm not hanging my head at all about being let go. It's the first time I've been let go in 24 years, but this is a chance to move forward.

DH: Switching gears from Auburn to your alma mater, Georgia had some problems on defense toward the end of the year. As an opposing coach who game planned for the Dogs' defense, was there anything you noticed that you thought you could take advantage of? And how do you think they'll do against Michigan State?

HN: I think there was an injury factor. There always is that time of year. It was nothing that really stood out. I'm a big Mark Richt fan. I'm a Georgia staff fan. I really like his staff, I like what they do, and I always have. As an alumni, I'm proud of what they've done, and as an opponent, I didn't like what they did these last few years. But I think they've got a good chance to win that game, but they're going to have to stop a good running team. I think Georgia will win. They've got a lot of weapons on the offensive side, and the best defense is a good offense in my mind. If they don't have the ball, it's hard to score.

DH: Georgia's pass rush was a problem all year for them. Was that something that you saw on film that you thought held them back as a defense?

HN: I'll be honest, I don't remember that much of saying they didn't have a pass rush. I was too concerned with what we could do or couldn't do because we struggled so much offensively this year. I really don't remember that being that big a topic. It was more about trying to get us to execute and worrying about what we were doing. I just never felt like we got very good at -- to be a good offense, you've got to be sound enough at your system to do some things that are a little more complicated, and I just felt like we never got to be a good offense at all this year with all the changes and things we had to go through.

DH: Do you have any intentions of getting back into coaching soon?

HN: I have no plans to. My next stop coaching football right now will hopefully be Pee-Wee football with my grandkids way down the road. I've got my mind focused on what I'm doing, I'm looking forward to it, and my main objective is to do a good job for Southern Ag.

DH: Well, I'm guessing you'll at least be tuning in to watch your alma mater on New Year's Day, right?

HN: As long as there's not good golf or a good quail hunt going on, I probably will.

Looking Back No. 2: Decisions, Decisions

Each day leading up to Georgia's date with Michigan State at the Capital One Bowl, we'll be counting down the top moments that thrilled, haunted and downright perplexed Bulldog Nation in 2008.

No. 2: Decision Time for Stafford and Moreno

Matthew Stafford walked onto the practice field at Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla. on Monday with his eyes focused squarely on Georgia's sports information director, whom he expected to direct him to a group of reporters waiting nearby. As Stafford approached, however, he was waved on. For the first time in weeks, no one was waiting to interrogate the junior quarterback.

Attention from reporters comes with the territory for quarterbacks, but Stafford's popularity hasn't had much to do with Georgia's bowl game. The questions are almost all about the NFL. Will he stay or will he go?

"I've been pretty much saying the same thing to you guys for about a month now," Stafford said during one of his most recent inquisitions. "You keep asking me the same questions. I've just got to figure out what I want to do, and to tell you the truth, I haven't really had a lot of time to do it."

That hasn't kept anyone from asking. At practice, Stafford is hounded by reporters. Around campus, the students want to know what his plans are. Around town, it's virtually all he hears. And he's not alone.

While Stafford is projected as a potential No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft should he forego his senior season at Georgia, tailback Knowshon Moreno is facing a similar dilemma. He's widely considered a first-round pick and perhaps the best running back who might be available in the draft.

In the NFL, riches await both players, but before they announce a decision, fans have made a point of letting the two Bulldogs know they've got a home in Athens for another year, too.

"I hear it every day," Stafford said. "I get used to it, so I just smile and say, 'OK.'"

That has been Moreno's plan, too -- sort of.

The tailback from New Jersey who became only the second player in Georgia history with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons this year has managed to tune out most of the NFL hype. In fact, he simply doesn't pay much attention to football at all outside of his own game.

When Moreno was asked earlier this week what he thought of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's comments that no rookie salary cap would be in place before 2011, Moreno's answer was telling. "Who's Goodell?" he said.

While both players have insisted that they haven't made a decision and haven't even given the choice much thought, the campaign to keep two of Georgia's finest in the SEC rather than the NFL has been an enduring one for their fans.

At the team's end-of-season awards banquet, chants of "One more year" erupted each time Stafford or Moreno walked across the stage. It was enough to make an impression on both players, but not enough to sway their decision -- at least not yet.

"It's a tough decision on anyone," Moreno said. "It's a really big jump, but right now, I'm just having fun. I really enjoy being here, being in a college town and being with these players every day."

If either player has made up their mind, they've kept it a closely guarded secret. And while everyone from rabid fans to their fellow Bulldogs is on the edge of their seat waiting for an answer, few are expecting it to come prior to the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare draft eligibility.

"Nobody talks about it, not (Moreno) or Stafford," running back Richard Samuel said. "I'm a little bit curious, but I'm just letting it play out. Sooner or later, we'll find out."

Know Your Spartans

Don't know much about Michigan State? Not to worry. The Telegraph's Jay Adams sat down with Spartans offensive lineman Joel Nitchman to get a few answers.

Jay Adams: If you had a chance to tell Georgia fans about your team and about your school, what would you tell them?

Joel Nitchman: That s a good question. I ve never heard one like that. We re No. 1 in Criminal Justice, No. 1 in Secondary Education. We have 80,000 fans who come to our stadium every Saturday. We rank in the top 25 in attendance. Our Sparty statue, we have a battle between us and Michigan during Rivalry Week. We have to protect it or else they ll come over and steal it. They never get at it, but our band protects it, which is kind of a cool tradition. Overall, it s a great school, and I m sure Georgia is, as well.

JA: Everybody talks about the SEC on Saturdays and the atmospheres at those schools. What s a Saturday like at Michigan State?

JN: One of the best places to be as a fan. Tailgating around a five-mile radius, it s packed everywhere on Saturdays. In my mind, it doesn t get more electric than East Lansing on a Saturday.

JA: I know it s pretty cold back home. How are you adjusting to the Orlando weather?

JN: That first day it was pretty tough. It was real humid and hot. The second day, I was surprised it was a lot easier. I think our bodies, as we work and continue to work hard, our bodies just kind of acclimate to it.

JA: Who s the one player besides Javon Ringe r that Georgia fans need to keep an eye on?

JN: Look for Brian Hoyer (6-3, 215, Sr., QB). He s our leader. He s been there for two years now. Look for him. He s a great player and great leader.

JA: Gonna put the shorts away when you get back home?

JN: Yeah. I don t want to, but I m going to have to.

Georgia's Top Dawg

I have a story in today's Telegraph on Rennie Curran's development from intimidated freshman in 2007 to vocal leader in 2008. Obviously the defense didn't have its finest season this year, but Curran was more than just a silver lining. In addition to my story, below is some video of defensive coordinator Willie Martinez giving his thoughts on Rennie. Willie tends to be pretty thorough in his answers to all questions, but when a coach can give you four full minutes on what makes a kid a great leader, you know Rennie must be pretty special.

Tuesday Links (12/30)

I was sitting outside at a local establishment with some friends last night and overheard several Michigan State fans discussing the game. Here were the following tidbits they had to offer:

-- "I just hope we lose by less than 40."

-- "I don't think we have any chance."

-- "The only way we can win is if Georgia gets stuck in their hotel."

See what this bad economy has done to the poor people of Michigan? No confidence at all.

In any case, here's a bit of reading for you to kick off your Tuesday. Don't forget I'll be chatting live today at noon at Feel free to submit a question any time in advance, too. Come on, don't make me beg.

-- Tim Tucker has a nice piece in this notebook about kicker Blair Walsh's season. This appears to represent an end to Walsh's self-imposed media blackout. Good to have you back, Blair.

-- The lovely and talented Jay Adams has a cool story on Asher Allen and his outgoing personality.

-- The triple option rap is now no longer the dumbest thing Georgia Tech has done this year. They gave out rings to commemorate their win over Georgia.

-- The Chattanooga Times Free Press tries to pin down the best run Knowshon Moreno has made in his two seasons at tailback.

-- Georgia's hoping a little extra practice helps solve its tackling problems this week.

-- Michigan State is thrilled to be getting a key player back for its bowl game.

-- The always informative T. Kyle King tells you all you'll need to know about the Michigan State offense.

-- Michigan State's head coach is likely to gain some brownie points with Sen. Blutarski over at Get the Picture as he counters Mark Richt's playoff push with some reasons why the bowl system works.

-- The Orlando Sentinel recounts the first meeting between Matthew Stafford and Michigan State's Brian Hoyer.

-- The Kansas City Star compares the potential draft value of Stafford vs. Sam Bradford.

-- The Charleston Post and Courier catches up with Jon Richt, who is ready to finish up his first season in the college ranks.

-- Bad news for Bama fans: Andre Smith won't be playing for the Tide against Utah.

-- Two weeks after interviewing for the head coaching job at Auburn, Patrick Nix is now among the unemployed.

-- Longtime Tennessee assistant John Chavis will be the new defensive coordinator at LSU.

-- And finally, I'm still really enjoying this.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Live Chat: Tuesday at Noon

Who's up for a little polite conversation?

Well, you can enjoy high tea at noon Tuesday while chatting with me live on the Interwebs. He may be out of a job now, but Sly Croom has assured me the series of tubes are clear for a great Q&A on Georgia football and the Bulldogs' date with Michigan State in Thursday's Capital One Bowl.

So join me at noon Tuesday at or you can CLICK HERE to leave your questions in advance and check back to read the answers later. What better way can you think of to kill an hour of your day at work?

The Spartans Speak

Michigan State took Monday off from practice, ostensibly as a reward for their hard work the past few weeks, but more likely because of a few illnesses in the locker room. Tackle Rocco Cironi admitted a case of the flu had made its way through the Spartans' roster during Monday's interview session. Here's a few other quotes from Michigan State's players and coaches...

Linebackers coach Mike Tressel

On Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford and how he eludes pressure

I think a lot of the credit should go to him. He does a good job of feeling pressure and stepping up in the pocket. He's not necessarily going to take off and run, but he can buy himself a couple more seconds on just about every play. I've been in a situation where the offensive line has only given up a few sacks, and they deserve a lot of credit, but the quarterback deserves a lot of that credit as well He can make the throw when he doesn't necessarily have the time to step up into it, when he's off-balance, when he's going one way and then sliding another way, he can make accurate throws in all of those situations.

Sophomore tight end Charlie Gantt

On having a day off

When Coach D told us, we all said, This can't be true.' But I think we needed a day off to recuperate, we've been practicing pretty hard since we've got here. We've been in full pads every practice.

On the Day for Kids held at Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf

It was a great event. I remember when I was that age, I was amazed to go out and see some college football players. It felt real good to go out there and to do something for the kids.

On the Champs Sports Bowl last year vs. the Capital One Bowl this year

Last year was our first bowl game in a while. We didn't know what to expect. Now we know what to expect, and we're more relaxed down here. We're having a lot of fun.

Junior center Joel Nitchman

On the Day for Kids held at Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf

To make somebody have a great day like that is really cool. And truth be hold, my partner, she got me really good at mini-golf. She had a great time, and all of the other kids did as well, so it was a real great day.

On getting a day off

Everyone has been flying around (at practice) the past few days. We've been focused on what we need to do since the season ended. The coaches have done a real great job of getting us the information we've needed. Today is going to be good, we're going to get rested, get our legs back a little bit, and get ready for tomorrow's practice.

Senior fullback Jeff McPherson

On his career and playing in his last game

It's been a long and very fun ride for me. From being a walk-on and earning a scholarship, I'm very, very grateful for that. This last game means everything to me. We just want to go out there and play the best game we've had all season. We want to put everything together and execute the game plan. It's going to be a lot of fun if we can go out there and come home with a win. That's definitely the No. 1 thing I'm thinking about right now.

On the senior class

I'm going to have to thank last year's seniors and their leadership. We learned a lot from watching them. We just wanted to reiterate all of the things they did. We take a lot of pride in everything we do every day. Also with the underclassmen that we have, we have a lot of leadership there. I'm sure in the future we're going to have a lot of strong leaders on this team.

On if the senior class has laid the groundwork for a championship

It could be next year, or in a couple of years, but we definitely know we're headed in the right direction. With Coach Dantonio and the whole staff in place, we feel very confident in the future of the program. That would be satisfying to look back and know you were a part of something very special at MSU.

Video Blog: Rennie Curran

Video courtesy of Jay Adams.

Monday Practice Notes (12/29)

Tight end Bruce Figgins has spent most of his season battling through shoulder injury that has limited his performance, so it's no wonder that he's looking forward to getting healthy during the offseason. That doesn't mean, however, that he's not a little wary of his impending surgery, which is scheduled for the week after the Capital One Bowl.

"I'm a little nervous about it," Figgins said, "but I'm ready to get it over with so I can get my rehab done and be 100 percent."

Easing the nerves a bit is a healthy dose of empathy from many teammates. Figgins said he has gotten advice from Darius Dewberry, who underwent shoulder surgery three weeks ago, and Dannell Ellerbe, who had a similar procedure early in his career.

"They told me just not to try to rush anything, take my time and do everything they tell me to do," Figgins said.

-- Add two more names to Georgia's seemingly endless list of injuries.

Running back Richard Samuel had his wrist taped at Monday's practice after suffering a sprain Sunday. Head coach Mark Richt said the injury was minor, however, and expected Samuel to be ready for Thursday's game.

"There was X-rays, and there's no fracture," Richt said. "We're just trying to protect anything that hurts right now."

More serious might be a sprained right ankle for defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, whose two interceptions this season have been among Georgia's best defensive plays. Dobbs was on crutches at practice, but Richt again downplayed the severity.

"He was on crutches, but the goal for us is just to have him stay completely off it, wrap it up tight and try to keep the swelling down," Richt said. "(Trainer) Ron Courson was hopeful he would be able to play, and maybe even practice (Tuesday)."

-- Brannan Southerland still has a heavy swath of tape around his foot, but he's through complaining about injuries. The senior had his final season at Georgia cut short by a foot injury that kept him off the field for five games, then sat out the first two weeks of bowl practice in Athens with a knee injury, but he said things are finally starting to look up.

"I'm feeling great, I really am," he said. "I'm well rested, the knee is healed up, I'm really doing good now. I'm very excited and happy and thankful that I'm at the end of my injury hopefully, and I really feel like it's over. It's been a bear to get over."

Southerland's return to the field this season, however, hasn't exactly been as productive as his first three seasons in Athens might have indicated. The senior has just two carries for one yard and only four touches overall. While that marks a significant decrease in touches from seasons past including a career high 46 carries in 2005 running backs coach Tony Ball said he hasn't purposely ignored his senior fullback.

"Our fullbacks have never really been runners in our scheme," Ball said. "Where our fullbacks have probably been effective with the ball in their hands is in the passing game, so nothing has changed in that regards."

Still, Southerland wouldn't mind making a few more plays in his final appearance in a Georgia uniform.

"I'd like to go out and get a win," Southerland said, "but if in doing so I touch the ball a couple times, that'd be great."

-- In the wake of consecutive national-championship wins by SEC teams over Big Ten heavyweight Ohio State, the consensus among many pundits is that Georgia's conference has superior speed over its Big Ten rivals. Richt isn't so sure that's true, however, and he said the recent results in the Capital One Bowl where the Big Ten has four straight wins proves his point.

"I don't think it's that big of a discrepancy really, not as I'm watching tape of these guys," Richt said. "And this game itself, when you look at the record over the last four or five games, if one team is faster year after year, they're going to win, and that's not been the case."

Video Blog: Matthew Stafford

Quarterback Matthew Stafford discusses his thought process on staying in school or heading to the NFL. Video courtesy of Jay Adams.

Looking Back No. 3: Lots of Pain, No Gain

By midseason, it had become some sort of twisted joke. Injuries happen every season, but Georgia's coaches and trainers had never seen anything like this.

The bad luck started early. Brannan Southerland thought his foot had completely healed from offseason surgery and was set to return to action in June. Then the news came: The injury hadn't healed. He would need another surgery -- and another three months of rehab.

Barely a week of fall camp was in the books before the list of injured players had grown exponentially. Quintin Banks sprained an MCL to further deplete a young group of safeties. Defensive ends were dropping like flies. And then there was the most devastating news -- left tackle Trinton Sturdivant tore multiple knee ligaments and would miss the season.

As bad as it seemed as Georgia prepped to open the year in late August, things would get much worse.

Star defensive tackle Jeff Owens blew out his knee on Georgia's first series of the season, missing the year. Rod Battle missed three games with a nagging neck injury. Tavarres King suffered an ankle injury against Arizona State that ended his season. The list went on and on, and for much of the season, the number of green non-contact jerseys on the practice field nearly outnumbered the quantity of healthy players.

"We've got a green team, and I think the green team could play against the red team and we'd be successful," Owens said.

Tripp Chandler went down against Alabama, leaving Georgia with a depth chart at tight end that looked to include Aron White and no one else, thanks in part to a shoulder injury Bruce Figgins had suffered a week earlier. At one point, Georgia moved Kiante Tripp, who had been filling in for Sturdivant, from tackle to tight end just to ensure there was a backup at the position.

Preseason All-SEC linebacker Dannell Ellerbe hurt his knee and missed three games. He joined a laundry list of linebackers to miss time in 2008, one that included Charles White, Akeem Hebron, Darius Dewberry and Darryl Gamble.

"This year has been different because not only do we have a lot of injuries but they've been congregating at certain key positions, particularly the tackles and the tight ends, and that can be problematic."

In all, Georgia suffered 22 season-ending injuries, and by head coach Mark Richt's count, 16 were to players who were set to play significant roles on the team. That number, however, doesn't include the litany of nagging injuries that players managed to play through but never were able to perform at 100 percent. A trickle-down effect from all the injuries managed to touch virtually every player on the roster in one way or another.

"A lot of times these injuries, you might be healthy enough to practice or play, but you miss all that time in the weight room, you miss all those fundamentals, it's hard to roll back in there and play great," Richt said. "It's just hard."

Of course, just how much different Georgia's season may have played out had the team remained relatively healthy is impossible to say. Alabama led 31-0 at the half, and it's doubtful Owens or Sturdivant could have changed that. Florida beat the Bulldogs by 39, and even a healthier pass rush wouldn't have changed that outcome.

For their part, the Bulldogs aren't spending much time wondering what might have been anyway.

"I don't like getting into the woulda, coulda, shoulda situations because every team has them," said wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, the only senior to start every game on offense this season. "We didn't do what it took to get to where we wanted to be."

Monday Links (12/29)

Couple quick notes:

-- Georgia practices early today -- 9:15, ugh -- and I'll have practice notes up early this afternoon. The team is set to spend the evening at Universal Studios.

-- I'll be hosting an online chat tomorrow (Tuesday) at to answer any questions about the game. You can go HERE to post questions early, otherwise you can log on and have your question asked starting at noon tomorrow.

And on to some links for today...

-- There's an interesting story in the AJC about the difference in SAT scores between athletes and the general student population at the country's best athletics programs.

-- Georgia's hoops team got back on the right track against North Carolina A&T on Sunday.

-- Kris Durham is looking to finish strong after an injury riddled season.

-- Speed may not be the strong point for Big Ten teams, but Michigan State isn't worried.

-- The Savannah Morning News writes about the legacy of Texas QBs, starting with Matthew Stafford and also says the Spartans will try to take advantage of the Dawgs' young O line.

-- The Athens Banner-Herald, however, has a story on the future potential of the O line after this year's successes.

-- The Orlando Sentinel calls Aaron Murray the state's top high school QB.

-- Georgia and Michigan State teamed up for some charity work this week.

-- Auburn found its offensive coordinator -- which may or may not lead Mitch Mustain to transfer again.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking Back No. 4: Nothing to Celebrate

The buzzword leading up to the game was "celebration," but by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock in Jacksonville, Fla. on Nov. 1, that was the last thing on the minds of Georgia fans.

For a full season, Florida had stewed over the Bulldogs' end-zone celebration that followed their first touchdown in 2007 -- a huge victory for Georgia. Throughout the offseason, the Gators replayed the loss, remembered the huge performance by Knowshon Moreno, and seethed over the perceived slight of the Bulldogs' dance in the end zone.

By the start of the fourth quarter in 2008, however, Florida had gotten its revenge -- even if all parties concerned said the celebration had little to do with the outcome in 2007 or 2008.

"The celebration isn't why we won the game last year," head coach Mark Richt said. "We played very good last year. We played good enough to win. This year, we didn't play good enough to win, and they did."

For Georgia, its season was on the line when it met Florida for their annual SEC East showdown. Redemption for a loss to Alabama earlier in the season was within the Bulldogs' grasp. A trip to the SEC championship game was nearly guaranteed with a victory over the Gators. After nearly two decades of Florida dominance, a second consecutive win in Jacksonville could change the momentum of the series for good.

From the outset, however, everything went sideways for the Bulldogs -- particularly Blair Walsh's field-goal tries.

Walsh missed two first-half field goals and Georgia was thwarted in the red zone three times before the half, helping Florida to a 14-3 lead at the midway point. The 11-point deficit seemed much worse in Georgia's locker room.

"We were down 14-3 and we were in the locker room like we were down 28-0," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "I was in the locker room trying to get the guys going, and we just didn't come out with that fire like we play real Georgia ball. I don't know what was wrong with us. I don't know if we were shocked or what."

The disappointment carried over into the second half. Georgia's opening drive was sailing along as the Bulldogs cruised to the Gators' 30, but Matthew Stafford threw a crippling interception that Florida returned to Georgia's 1. The Gators scored on the next play, and from there, the route was on. Two more turnovers and a seemingly endless string of Florida scoring drives followed, and the Gators were holding a 49-3 lead before backups Joe Cox and Aron White connected for a garbage-time touchdown.

In the end, Florida head coach Urban Meyer got his revenge -- not just with the numbers on the scoreboard in a 49-10 domination of Georgia, but with two last-minute timeouts he called to prolong the Bulldogs' misery.

"We did our thing last year," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "I feel like they came into this game feeling like they had something to prove and they did with those timeouts and with the way they played."

It was a disappointment for Georgia on numerous levels, and served notice that the balance of power in the SEC hadn't shifted in the Bulldogs' favor just yet. It was the worst loss for Georgia since Mark Richt became head coach. It was perhaps the most visible disappointment in a season that fell far short of expectations.

Dawgs Hoops Back on Track

From UGA Athletics...

Trey Thompkins led five Georgia scorers in double figures with 22 points including 18 in the first half as the Bulldogs cruised to a 98-68 win over North Carolina A&T Sunday at Stegeman Coliseum.

Thompkins also grabbed 12 rebounds to record his first career double-double. The freshman from Lithonia, Ga., was 8-of-10 from the field including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.

"We've been talking about (Thompkins) asserting himself and doing more to get the ball in his hands," head coach Dennis Felton said. "He can score in the post with his back to the basket, he can obviously shoot the ball, and he also had plays tonight where he broke defenses down and made the next play for somebody else to score. Trey is coming along."

Corey Butler scored a career-high 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds for the Bulldogs (8-4), who matched their largest offensive output of the season. Jeremy Price chipped in with a season-high 15 points, Dustin Ware added 11 and Travis Lesley scored 10.

"It was North Carolina A&T's game plan to do everything they could not to allow us to put the ball inside," Felton said.

The result was a season-high 17 three-pointers by Georgia including five apiece from Thompkins and Brewer. Georgia shot 53 percent from the field on 35-of-66 shooting while holding the Aggies (5-7) to just 36.8 percent.

The Bulldogs raced to a 7-0 lead and led throughout including a 51-27 advantage at halftime. Dwane Joshua led North Carolina A&T with 17 points while Robert Johnson added 15.

Georgia won without the services of senior Terrance Woodbury, who missed his third straight game since aggravating an ankle sprain on Dec. 19.

The Bulldogs return to action Wednesday against Kennesaw State at 4 p.m.

Sunday Practice Notes (12/28)

The transition from high school to the SEC hasn't seemed like a tough one for A.J. Green, but as he approaches the finish line of a stellar freshman season, the wide receiver is feeling the effects of the conference's physical football.

Green suffered a groin injury early in the season that never fully healed, and as time has gone on, playing through the pain has become increasingly difficult.

Early in the season, he said, the pain would dissipate as the game went on, but now it's just a nagging injury.

"At the beginning of the season it was like that," Green said, "but right now, the harder I go, it gets a little stiffer."

The effects haven't exactly shown up on the field, as Green leads the SEC in receiving and is just 49 yards shy of becoming Georgia's second 1,000-yard receiver in history.

He hopes to hit that mark Thursday in the Bulldogs' last game of the year, despite saying that the injury has not gotten any better with nearly a month's rest. Once the game ends, however, he'll be happy to take a much-needed vacation from the football field.

"I think I just need a little bit of rest," Green said. "I'm trying to get this thing better just to play and then try to rest it up after that."

-- Georgia has only faced Michigan State once in its history, and that was nearly two decades ago, but quarterback Matthew Stafford thinks the Spartans won't be a complete mystery by game day. In fact, the team Michigan State's defense reminds him most of is Kentucky a defense that allowed the Bulldogs to rack up 42 points in Lexington last month.

"We've still got to protect and hit some plays," Stafford said, "but as far as scheme-wise, that's probably the most similar team."

-- It has been a long season for Georgia's offensive linemen with injuries plaguing the unit since fall camp. Two of the Bulldogs' starters plan to play in the Capital One Bowl on Thursday, but neither will be at 100 percent.

Head coach Mark Richt said sophomore Chris Davis will most likely require surgery on an injured hip that Davis has played through all season.

Meanwhile, right guard Justin Anderson is getting healthier after a foot injury caused him to miss Georgia's game against Auburn and limited him two weeks later against Georgia Tech.

"(Anderson) is getting a lot of work, and I'm sure he'll play, but right now, Josh (Davis) is slotted to start at right tackle," Richt said. "He deserves to. He played well when he was in there. But I would think both those guys will play."

-- Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was a hot commodity prior to the season and figured to be a first-day selection in the NFL draft, but injuries have limited his performance and his stock with pro scouts has slipped.

Ellerbe will play in the East-West Shrine game, however, which gives him one more chance after Georgia's bowl game to prove he's still the future star he appeared to be in August.

"It's a good opportunity because I got hurt," Ellerbe said. "I'm glad I at least have one more chance to show what I can do."

Video Blog: Knowshon Moreno

Courtesy of the legendary Jay Adams...

Saturday Practice: Mark Richt

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Big Money, Big Decisions

In Sunday's Telegraph, I have a story about the potential rookie salary cap and how it may affect the decisions made by several underclassmen who may stand to lose some serious cash if they stay in school an extra season. For the story, I spoke at length with ESPN's John Clayton, who gave me some insider knowledge on how the cap might work. Below is the complete Q&A.

NOTE: ESPN's Chris Mortensen talks with Roger Goodell, who says there won't be a cap in place before 2011.

David Hale: What are the odds that there actually is a salary cap in place for rookies by 2010?

John Clayton: I still say it's speculative. Here's what the problem is: What chip do the owners give up to get it? Obviously there's a lot of incentive to do it because it paralyzes your team when you give up a $60-million contract to a player that you either cut or want to cut by the third year. But also, do you trade a point in the revenue sharing to get rid of it, which is a lot of money? It's one of those economical things that seems easy to eliminate but it really isn't because again, what you're dealing with, and this is the union's position, you're talking about 10 to 12 players that really get affected by it. Obviously as time grows, that number is going to increase as it keeps going down the first round, but it's one where the players can't give it up easily because that's a left tackle, a defensive end, a quarterback – a high paid position and there's no guarantee that if you put that money into the veteran pool that it's necessarily going to go to a veteran.”

DH: So how concerned should underclassmen considering leaving after this season be?

JC: It's one of those things that seems like it should get fixed, but it's one of those complicated things in the salary cap that still might not go away. There's definitely going to be a major effort to do it, and if you're a player making a decision, particularly for the 2010 draft – because obviously it won't happen in 2009 – you have to worry about it because the losses are significant. If they go to a hard cap, all of a sudden you go to a $2.5-million contract from a deal that could have made you $10 million or $11 million a year.

DH: Do you expect many underclassmen to come out early then?

JC: The money risks are too big. Now there's only like about 12 players that will be hit, and you have to really think about what is the real advantage or disadvantage of doing it because if you're gambling, you're going to gamble on the chance to make more money. And naturally, when you're talking to agents, they're going to encourage players to want to try to go out because that agent's going to get the player.

DH: OK, so hard numbers, how do you think a cap could impact the top picks?

JC: What they'll end up doing is if they do put a hard cap in, they'll put some kind of a pool together of what the money would have been and do it that way. For example, the first pick, Jake Long, got a deal for $57.75 on the max over five with 29.25 guaranteed. Go down to Jared Mayo at the 10th pick. His max deal is 13.3 over five and the deal behind him is Leodis McKelvin at 11 makes 12.5. So that's 2.5 a year, and that's the max. He'd have to do everything to achieve that. Then the cap number at the top is $3 million. So they would probably take in 2010 make that like $3.25 million, so it would be the average of $3 million or $4 million on paper all the way down. You take the average of five years for $20 million, look at the difference on that (from Long's deal).

DH: That seems like a lot for the players to give up. Do you expect the union to put up a strong fight?

JC: It's a nice carrot because the owners want to get rid of it. I don't know if there's going to be enough offered to the players to get rid of it with the number of players who are affected.

DH: You mentioned that only the top 10 to 12 picks would be affected by the cap. How so?

JC: Everything else is in the slot right down the line. It's just those top eight or nine players. The ninth pick maxed out at $15.45, the eighth pick is 17.4.

DH: So for a guy like Knowshon Moreno who might go later in the first, is the cap not really a big deal?

JC: If you're told that you're going to go 23 or 24 overall, you're better if you're an offensive lineman, a quarterback, a defensive tackle, you're probably better served to stay. Now if you're a running back, that's different.

DH: So if you go by money, you think it makes a lot more sense for Stafford to go now?

JC: If you're telling Matthew that he's going to be top five, economically, it might be better to go. Playing-wise, it's definitely better to stay because most of the quarterbacks who have stayed have wound up doing much, much better. Financially though, if you're going to crack the top five, you've probably got to go now.

DH: There are those longterm ramifications to leaving early though, as you said. That still makes a difference, right?

JC: You're not going to hold him for five years. You're going to let him go after three or four or put him up for some way to get that big contract. Look at Aaron Rodgers. Ultimately if you're good, you'll get your money. And if Matthew thinks he's good, even if he's slotted in 2010, within three years he can come up and get that big deal making $15 million or $16 million. But if he wants the money now, he'll be in position to get the money now. I just don't know if he's going to be top five.

Saturday Practice Notes (12/27)

Among the numerous storylines surrounding Georgia's season finale in the Capital One Bowl is the potential for the Bulldogs' 1,000-yard receiver club to expand by 200 percent.
Both A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi could reach the 1,000-yard mark against Michigan State on Thursday, with Green needing just 49 yards and Massaquoi 90 yards shy.

"It'd be awesome," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who hopes to air it out enough against the Spartans that both receivers hit their goal. "It's only happened one time in Georgia history that anybody's had 1,000, so to have two guys do it in the same year would be fun."

For his part, Massaquoi isn't as concerned about hitting the magic number as he is getting his team to its 10th win of the season.

"Most importantly we want to win the game," Massaquoi said, "but long term, looking back on it, it would be something nice to have."

That doesn't mean Stafford is anticipating a nice reward for getting the ball to his top two targets so often should Massaquoi and Green finish with 1,000 yards apiece.

"I'm expecting something," he said, "but I don't think I'll get it."

-- Nearly a dozen players who spent most of January in green non-contact jerseys are hopeful to be ready to play by game time against Michigan State.

Head coach Mark Richt said Brannan Southerland, John Knox, Rod Battle and Kris Durham were all able to return to full practices Friday and several other players are getting closer to being ready.

Still, when an Orlando-area television reporter asked Richt if he felt like his team was healthy and 100 percent, it was inquiry the coach quickly shot down.

"No, we're really not," Richt said. "We have 22 season-ending injuries, and of those 22, 16 would be participating in the game. But we've still got a bunch of guys out there that are ready to go."

Tripp Chandler, Andrew Williams and Deangelo Tyson were among the battered Bulldogs still in green Saturday, but Richt was hopeful all would be ready in time for Thursday's kickoff.

-- Among the bevy of Bulldogs returning to full practice was Green, who had sat out most of Georgia's early bowl preparations with a groin injury he has battled all season.

"He still feels it," Richt said. "It's not like he's 100 percent, but he says it feels better now than it has most of the season."

Of course, Green, who leads the SEC in receiving, hasn't let the injury slow him down much this season. That, however, doesn't mean Richt isn't hoping a few months of rest and rehab won't make the talented freshman an even better receiver next season.

"I'd like to think it held him back a little bit and if he gets healthy, next year he might do even greater things," Richt said. "But my guess is once he got warmed up real good, it probably didn't affect him much."

-- A trio of Bulldogs didn't make the team's first practice in Orlando due to travel dilemmas in Atlanta, but Asher Allen, Johnathan Owens and John DeLaureal were all back at work Saturday morning.

"They're all here," Richt said. "Not long after we got back to the hotel, they were there."

-- Richt is making sure his players are taking the task of beating Michigan State seriously, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want them to enjoy their time in Orlando, too. In his address to the team Friday, he made sure they knew were excited about the opportunities to be tourists in addition to football players.

"We are probably in the greatest city for those types of things in the world," Richt said. "I said, You guys enjoy it.' A lot of guys maybe went when they were kids, and there's no shame in acting like a kid when you're here."

So what might Richt be most looking forward to doing with his downtime in Orlando?

"Taking a couple naps maybe," he said.

-- Georgia may have had higher hopes than a trip to the Capital One Bowl when the season started, but now that the Bulldogs are in Orlando and practicing for Michigan State, the disappointment of missing out on a BCS bowl is long gone.

"We've been through all that kind of talk once the regular season ended, and a lot of things were said and felt," Richt said. "But right now, I hope they're really enjoying this experience and I hope they take seriously the moments that we are working."

-- Georgia's players visited Disney World on Saturday, something Allen said he hadn't done since he was 8 or 9 years old. The cornerback said he had good memories from his last trip, however, and was hoping to relive a few this time around.

"I'll talk to Minnie Mouse," he said, "and rekindle some flames."

Saturday Links (12/27)

Just got in from practice. I'll have some notes posted a bit later this afternoon, along with some video (assuming we can get the $16-per-day Internet access to work).

A few other interesting notes from the first 15 hours of my time in Orlando:

-- The customers at the Perkins in Gainesville, Fla. are a truly miserable lot.

-- Fiji water in the hotel mini bar costs $10. Beer costs $5. In this economy, it's like the people at Marriott are forcing me to get drunk.

-- There's a phone in the bathroom in my hotel room, which is convenient for wake-up calls in case you pass out in the tub.

Just a few links for today...

-- The AJC looks at the matchup between Knowshon Moreno and Javon Ringer to find out who is better.

-- Since I know you all enjoy critiquing Bleacher Report, I'll add this post, where BR gives Brian Van Gorder the Chick Norris treatment.

-- Georgia Sports blog wonders how Michigan State plans to stop the Dawgs' high octane offense.

-- Michigan State is feeling a bit more confident in its DBs' ability to slow down Georgia's passing attack.

-- The Examiner compares the football seasons at UGA and Tech.

-- The guy who played Johnny Cakes on "The Sopranos" died, thus depriving the world of another great mustache.

Looking Back No. 5: Losing the Legends

From Pop Warner to Mark Richt, Georgia has had its share of legendary head coaches. New stars grace the field nearly every season then disappear in four years. For the better part of the past half-century, however, a grizzled announcer and a rumple-faced bulldog have been the face of Georgia football around the country. In 2008, however, Bulldogs fans bid farewell to both.

The sad farewells began in July when Uga VI, the Bulldogs' mascot since 1999, died. During his tenure as the sideline stalwart for Georgia, Uga VI had presided over more wins than any of his predecessors, and the selection of a replacement was shrouded in secrecy.

Fans were still quick to embrace the new mascot, Uga VII, an English bulldog that was introduced to the Sanford Stadium crowd prior to Georgia's home opener against Georgia Southern. Excitement over the introduction even spilled into the locker room.

"I know Stafford is very interested in getting a picture with Uga VII since that's his jersey number," head coach Mark Richt said before Georgia's home opener.

Uga VII may have quickly endeared himself to the Bulldogs' fans, but he wasn't exactly an energetic supporter on the sideline, with several players commenting after that first game that the new mascot seemed to be dozing off in the fourth quarter.

While the transfer from one mascot to the next was mostly seamless, the change in the press box was a bit more noticeable. In late September, longtime announcer Larry Munson announced he was retiring from the broadcast booth.

Munson, 86, had undergone brain surgery during the offseason and had battled health problems throughout the past few years. For months leading up to the kickoff of the 2008 season, fans wondered whether the unabashed Georgia fan would add his Southern charm and boundless enthusiasm to the team's broadcasts for a 43rd season until Munson announced he would be back in the booth in early August.

The work took its toll on Munson, however, and after just two home games, he was ready to call it quits. An outpouring of well wishes and vivid memories of Munson's best calls and colorful style followed.

"I was a big Georgia fan growing up," said wide receiver Kris Durham. "I always wanted to hear him call my name even though he kind of butchers it every time he says it. He's a legend around here. Even when I watched the games back at home when I was younger, my dad would turn off the announcers and listen to him."

In Georgia's final game of the regular season against Georgia Tech, Muson was honored with a special on-field tribute between the first and second quarters that earned some of the loudest cheers heard all season in Sanford Stadium.

"I can't express enough my deep feelings toward the Georgia football fans," Munson said after his retirement. "They have been so friendly especially during this most recent period of time. I feel I owe them so much more than I can give. I'll remember all the great times with the Dogs and have the fondest wishes and good luck toward them all."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Practice Report (12/26)

At some point tomorrow when I have more energy, I'll tell you all of my awful 45 minutes in Gainesville. But beyond that, today has involved WAY too many hours of driving -- much of it in traffic -- so I was unable to make the start of practice for interviews. Bummer. In any case, I do have the practice report the school put out to media, which will have to suffice for tonight.

From UGA Athletics...

The 16th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs arrived here Friday and held a 90-minute evening workout at Olympia High School in preparation for the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl.

Friday's workout marked the first of five for the Bulldogs (9-3) before they face 19th-ranked Michigan State (9-3). Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he was pleased that everyone was accounted for when the team gathered for its first practice after the holidays.

"We've got three players that had some travel issues, but we've talked to all of them, and they are safe and sound and on the way," said Richt. "We took five days off for Christmas and now it's back to work. We'll get what we need. It was important to get a workout in tonight. It's a cool evening, and we know it's going to be warm tomorrow."

Richt announced that offensive line coach Stacy Searels will remain at Georgia after his alma mater, Auburn, had shown interest for a position on their staff.

"He (Stacy) is staying at Georgia, and we're glad about that," said Richt. "He's done a fantastic job for us. We talked about it and decided to wait until we got to the bowl site until making an announcement."

While winning the bowl game is the top priority on this trip, the Bulldogs said they enjoyed the holiday break and would be excited about visiting the area theme parks during the week.

"We're glad to be here, we like the weather, it feels good," said sophomore running back Knowshon Moreno. "It was good to be home with the family and now we're looking forward to the game. It will be a tough contest, Michigan State has a good defense."

"I love the game so much, I wanted to keep playing," said Georgia senior defensive tackle and captain Corvey Irvin. "Now that we are in Orlando, we have to get ready mentally and physically to stop Javon Ringer and Michigan State's running game."

Friday Links (12/26)

I'll be en route to Orlando for most of the day, but I'll have news and notes from practice late this evening. Georgia begins its first practice session of the week at 7:20 p.m., but will practice in the morning the remainder of the week. They'll be visiting Disney World on Saturday, they have a charity event and their Best Buy shopping spree on Sunday, Universal Studios on Monday and Sea World on Tuesday. We'll hopefully have video from at least two or three of those events, too.

In the meantime, here are some reading materials to brighten your day before you head to the mall to return the ugly ties and malfunctioning coffee makers you got yesterday...

-- I have a story in Today's Telegraph on what's in store for the Bulldogs this week.

-- Here's some good video of Aaron Murray talking about his choice to head to Athens in 2009.

-- The Charlotte Observer has a nice piece on all the charitable work done by former Bulldog Thomas Davis.

-- The Chattanooga Times Free Press looks at what Georgia's QB situation might look like next season.

-- The AJC says that a top receiving recruit wants to know who will be playing QB for Georgia next year, too.

-- Total UGA has a piece on my favorite Members Only-wearing Bulldog, Vance Cuff.

-- And while I've been looking back on this year's biggest stories, Dean Legge at Scout does the same but with pictures (which makes his way better).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Looking Back No. 6: A Rivalry Reborn

In truth, it had become a rivalry in name only. Chan Gailey's crew of Yellow Jackets had been no match for mighty Georgia since Mark Richt arrived in Athens prior to the 2001 season. The Bulldogs paid attention to their cross-state rivals insofar as they took the game seriously, but it had been a long time since they were on the wrong end of the final score.

That changed all changed, however, when Paul Johnson arrived to helm Georgia Tech this season. On paper, Georgia probably still had the superior talent, but Johnson made beating the Bulldogs a priority, and Tech suddenly had a new outlook on its annual showdown with the Bulldogs.

While Tech was taking things seriously, no one on Georgia's roster could truly appreciate what a loss to the Yellow Jackets would mean.

"We don't know what it's like to lose to them, and we don't want to find out either," tackle Clint Boling had said during the bye week that preceded the in-state showdown. "If we do lose, we'll find out how big a rivalry it is and how bad it really hurts."

The answer, it turned out, was that it hurt an awful lot.

Georgia dominated the first half of the game -- the final contest for its seniors at Sanford Stadium -- but things turned ugly in the third quarter.
Tech erased a 28-12 halftime deficit with a 26-0 run in the third frame that included a 60-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Dwyer and multiple big plays by Roddy Jones, who racked up 214 yards rushing in the game. By the time the Bulldogs caught their breath, the uphill climb was too much to overcome.

"We lost our edge in the second half," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "We had that juice in the first half. We were all over the field having fun. I guess we lost our composure. I don't know if that's the correct word to use, but it sounds good. I guess we thought we had the game wrapped up in our pocket, and we really didn't. Tech came out and fought hard to the end, and we shot ourselves in the foot with bad plays and missed tackles. You can't give a team like that with guys that can go the distance mistakes. Every mistake we made they capitalized off of."

The loss stung on numerous levels. Fan outrage -- particularly directed at defensive coordinator Willie Martinez -- reached its zenith. Georgia's players took the loss hard, too -- particularly the seniors who had watched their final chance for a win in front of the home crowd slip through their fingers.

Perhaps no one had more reason to be crushed by the defeat than wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who carried Georgia on his back throughout the game, nearly willing the Bulldogs to a comeback win. He finished the contest with 11 catches, 180 yards and three touchdowns.

"This will not be a good memory," Massaquoi said after the game. "No matter how good you played, this will not be a good memory. At the end of the day, your memory comes out in a loss. It's tough, especially as a senior because you never get a chance to redeem yourself."

The loss was the first for the Bulldogs to Tech in eight years, and as the players soaked in what it meant to be without bragging rights for another 12 months, a small silver lining did emerge.

Senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens had missed the entire 2008 season after tearing his ACL on the year's first series against Georgia Southern. He had considered heading to the NFL after his injury healed, but the loss to Tech, and the bitter taste that came with it, was enough to keep him in school for another year.

"We lost to Tech, and I can't leave losing to Tech," Owens said. "I've got to get revenge on that."

Whether or not the loss might be enough to spur quarterback Matthew Stafford -- who had his first 400-yard passing game against Tech this year -- and running back Knowshon Moreno to stick around to exact some revenge, too, remains to be seen.

Another Festivus Miracle

A week or so ago, I was trying to find a good series of stories to do for the blog that would provide some new content while the Dawgs (and I) were away for the holidays. I came up with the idea to count down the top 10 biggest stories of the season. I still like the idea, but as a few of you have been kind enough to point out, some of those stories don't exactly fit with the holiday cheer. I blame Nick Saban.

In this economy, I'm sure we all have enough to be bummed about (I'm looking in your direction, Andy Reid), so I don't want to simply add to your misery. So, for today, in the spirit of the season, here are 12 reasons to be happy you're a Bulldogs fan -- counting down 12 Days of Christmas-style. So get your Festivus pole out of the crawl space and enjoy!

12 more months until next year's national championship game. One thing this season taught us -- if healthy, Georgia has as much talent as anyone. Another this season has taught us -- a lot can happen in 12 months. Take it from a longtime Chicago Cubs fan; Nothing breeds hope better than next year.

11 players with diplomas. College is about academics, after all, and Georgia not only graduated some great players, but some great students this month, too. From Dannell Ellerbe, who probably wouldn't have imagined he'd leave UGA with a diploma when he arrived, to Mohamed Massaquoi, one of Georgia's truly inspirational players, it's good to see guys take a real interest in gaining the most from their time at Georgia, both on and off the field.

10 wins this season. That's where Georgia could be with a win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. It would be the sixth time in the past eight years the Bulldogs reached that plateau. It might be a few Ws short of where they wanted to be, but still, 10 victories is nothing to sneeze at.

9 interceptions thrown by Matthew Stafford. I'm sure fans and Stafford would love to see a zero there, but it was one fewer than a year ago, while he threw three more touchdowns. It may be debatable as to whether Stafford is ready for the NFL, but he certainly showed this year that he was capable of being a very good college QB.

8 seasons under Mark Richt.
And 81 wins during that span. After some rough weeks, I can understand some of the anger at Georgia's assistants, but anyone who thinks Richt is the problem for the Dawgs is crazy. Georgia fans are lucky to have one of the nation's best coaches, who just so happens to be someone who cares a great deal about his players, his fans and his school, too.

7 links for today.
Haven't gotten around to posting any links in a while, so here's some reading materials for that post-turkey hangover... Deadspin looks back at the year's best sports injuries; Whether you're a BCS fan or not, this article from Yahoo's Dan Wetzel is a must read; the 49ers may not be any good at football, but they know mustaches!; Apparently it's not just in the SEC that the refs know how to tackle better than Reshad Jones; Corvey Irvin and Mo Massaquoi were invited to play in the Senior Bowl; Marc Weiszer has the lowdown on Georgia's prep for Orlando -- no, not for Michigan State, for their trip to Best Buy; and just in case you haven't gotten enough of it yet, remember: Nothing says Christmas like the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.

6 yards per carry for Knowshon Moreno. Well, not quite. It was 5.9, but for the purposes of this post, I rounded up. Knowshon may not be around next year, but Georgia fans should be thankful they got to watch him for two seasons. They don't come much better than the kid from New Jersey.

5 seasons of Jeff Owens.
The senior defensive tackle missed this year after tearing his ACL in Georgia's opener, but he announced last week he would be back for a fifth season in red and black, in part because he didn't want to leave after a loss to Georgia Tech. Fans have to be thrilled to have a top player back for another season, and I'm thrilled to have one of the Bulldogs' best quotes back again in 2009.

4 left tackles used. And yet Georgia's offensive line still managed to play well, keep Matthew Stafford standing and open up holes for Mr. Moreno. From Trinton Sturdivant to Kiante Tripp to Vince Vance to Clint Boling, the left tackle position never seemed quite settled, but Stacy Searels and company got the job done anyway. And boy will it be a wealth of riches when everyone is healthy next year.

3 sacks by Rennie Curran.
OK, maybe that's not the most impressive stat, but I needed a '3.' Rennie showed glimpses of greatness last season, but this year he came into his own. Just 20 years old, Curran has developed into one of the best leaders in the locker room while racking up 109 tackles this season. And as good as he was this season, you still get another two years of the Liberian Dream.

2 great receivers. Only one receiver in Georgia history had recorded 1,000 yards in a season. With some decent production in the bowl game, the Bulldogs could have two do it this year. From the outset, Mohamed Massaquoi took A.J. Green under his wing, and in turn, both flourished this year. From A.J.'s breakout game against Arizona State to Mo's masterpiece against Georgia Tech, the duo provided fans with enough highlights to last a long, long time. (Oh, and don't forget to read my story on Green in today's Telegraph.)

1 game left to play. Before we all start looking ahead to 2009, there's still the small matter of adding Michigan State to the list of defeated foes this season. Georgia has one game left to play, and fans might be getting their final chance to watch Stafford and Moreno in red and black. Now that's a great opportunity to take a step back from the concern over this year's shortcomings to instead appreciate how many great memories these Bulldogs have provided.

Hope this cheered you up a bit. Now I've got to get back to watching "A Christmas Story" for the ninth time today.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and thanks so much for reading all season. I'll be posting from Orlando starting tomorrow.