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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Richt defends use of Green, says team must play for 'honor'

Mark Richt was anticipating a question about A.J. Green only getting four catches in Saturday’s loss to Florida. So the Georgia head coach did some research before getting on his weekly teleconference.

There were 16 plays, according to Richt, in which Green was the primary receiver. There were eight more in which the star receiver was No. 2 in the progression.

“We weren’t saying that hey we’re gonna throw this ball to A.J. no matter what,” Richt said. “You still have to read the routes.”

The passing game was a heavy topic on the call, after Georgia’s 34-31 overtime loss to Florida. Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray had three interceptions, including one in overtime that basically decided the game.

On that play, Richt said one route was run deeper than designed, but that wasn’t the main problem with the play.

“The thing that was most problematic on that play was the protection, and Murray having to throw the ball sooner than he wanted to,” he said.

Still, after watching the tape, Richt believed Murray simply made a few mistakes, but was still good enough to go over the 300-yard mark.

“Overall the passing game was pretty solid,” Richt said.

The result, however, was still a loss, and the end of Georgia’s SEC East Division hopes. They enter Saturday’s game against Idaho State, an FCS team, just looking to get back to .500.

So what does Richt tell his team now?

“Right now we think about winning the rest of our games starting with Idaho State,” Richt said. “There’s honor in that. We have fans that have paid their money for their season tickets. We’ve got people that still love the Dogs and want to see them do well.

“And all these guys are not professional athletes, but they certainly have pride in what they do, and understand that they have a job to do. And they know that when they do that job they’ve gotta do the best they can. We’ll do that, and we’ve been doing that actually. Sometimes you lose a game like that and people might think an awful amount went right.”

Some other notes:

- Receiver Kris Durham is questionable for Idaho State after bruising his lung, according to Richt. That appeared to be the only major injury that emerged from the trip to Jacksonville.

- Richt said he’d think about changing the practice schedule, after nine straight games without a bye.

“We’ve actually been on pretty good shape on the injury front lately,” he said. “I’m not saying we won’t, but if we do, it won’t be a huge change.”

- The game time for the Auburn game should be announced on Monday, unless CBS elects to take the six-day window.

The events in Jacksonville would seem to lessen the chance that Georgia-Auburn will get that slot. CBS could opt for A.J. Green and the Bulldogs going against the No. 1 team in the country. But it’s a better bet it will be more intrigued by Steve Spurrier taking his South Carolina team into the Swamp with a division title on the line.

- Richt didn’t complain about Florida not being whistled for excessive celebration following Murray’s overtime interception. He pointed out that the Gators, having returned it to near the goal-line, probably thought they had won the game.

“The officials could’ve (called a penalty),” Richt said, but added: “I think it was a definitely judgment call on the officials. If I was an official I would’ve had a hard time calling it right there. I mean to me would that have been excessive considering they thought they won the game. I don’t think it was.”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

From the locker room

The last question of Mark Richt’s postgame press conference was a simple one: How do you beat these guys?

“You win a game like this,” Richt said. “But we didn’t do it. We’ll be back.”

Georgia, as you doubtlessly know, is now 3 for its last 21 against Florida, and 2-8 under Richt.

Richt started with the perfunctory credit-giving to the opponent. Then he added one for his own team.

“I thought they fought valiantly. I don’t think anyone could question their effort, or question their competitive spirit. It was just one of those games where somebody had to lose. Unfortunately, it was us. But I’m proud of the players and the coaches, and our fans and the band, and everybody else.”

Still, Georgia is now eliminated from contention for the SEC East, which is now a two-way contest between Florida and South Carolina.

So now the goal for the Bulldogs would seem to be getting to bowl eligibility.

“I’m sure that’ll come up,” Richt said. “What have we gotta do, win two out of three? I’m sure we’ll be fighting hard for that.”

Richt said his message to the team now as to “just keep fightin’, just keep grinding.”

“We’ll come back home, and we’ll get back to work,” he said. “We’ll play Idaho State, play as hard as we can for the Georgia people, and then we’ll hook it up the next week.”

A few other postgame notes:

- Aaron Murray, who threw a pick on his first throw, said he may have been a bit too excited to play in his home state.

“I might have been a little bit amped up,” Murray said. “But that’s no excuse.”

-Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the play-call on Murray’s overtime interception (which was tipped) was a dig over the middle to A.J. Green.

“We’ll have to look at the film on what happened on that,” Bobo said.

Bobo said Florida blitzed on almost every down, and agreed it was the most pressure Murray has faced all season. But he felt Murray dealt with it well most of the game, with the obvious exception of a few plays.

- Richt said Murray’s second interception, which went off tight end Aron White’s outstretched hands, was “catchable.”

- Washaun Ealey, whose health was a question entering the game, said his knee wasn’t “100 percent,” but was close.

“I tried to fight through it,” Ealey said. “Just go out there when my team needed me and try to make plays.”

Overtime blog

End of game, Florida wins 34-31

Chas Henry makes the game-winning field goal, and Georgia falls in overtime.

Players are stunned on the Bulldog sideline. Tavarres King was laying down for a second, and is now just sitting on one knee. Drew Butler stayed down for awhile too.

Details and quotes from the locker room soon.

First possession: Georgia picked off

We've now all been educated: You can win a game on the first possession of overtime with a defensive touchdown.

It didn't happen. But wow, did we come close. Florida safety Will Hill returned an Aaron Murray interception all the way down to the 1. For a few moments it looked like Hill might have been credited with the touchdown, which would've ended the game.

But officials ruled that Hill stepped out of bounds just before the goal-line. A minute-long review confirmed it.

It still leaves Florida in the driver's seat. Any score wins the game. The issues with field-goal kicking could loom large, but the Gators don't have long to go.

Fourth quarter blog

End of regulation: Tied at 31

We head to overtime - barely. And a Les Miles-like decision by Georgia didn't prove costly.

This will be the first time the Georgia-Florida game has gone to overtime, and it's the Bulldogs' first OT game since 2007, when they won at Alabama. It's Florida's first OT game since 2005, when it won in two overtimes against Vanderbilt.

After a curious decision to throw for it - thus allowing Florida to save a timeout - the Gators took over at their own 42 with 30 seconds left. They also had a timeout, thanks to Georgia deciding to pass for it deep in its own territory.

Georgia's defense held, but Florida's punt team came up big, downing the ball at the 4.

Florida had all three timeouts. It only had to use two of them, after the Bulldogs threw incomplete on second down.

Punter Drew Butler may have bailed the team out, with a high punt that couldn't be returned. Plus, the Bulldogs knew that Florida would have to drive pretty deep in order to be in field goal territory.

Still, the Georgia coaching staff may have sweated out those last 30 seconds harder than they have any their entire careers.

Oh, and Branden Smith's punt return, after the defense held, was not so smart either. But in that last minute Georgia has been more lucky than good, and it's worked.

4:36 left in fourth quarter, Georgia ties it at 31

It's pinball football time.

Florida scored, and Georgia answered. And there's plenty of time left.

Oh, and by the way A.J. Green remains a fairly good football player.

The receiver was the star of that drive, with Aaron Murray and Brandon Boykin playing supporting roles. Boykin started things with a long kickoff return.

Then on third down Green made a diving, stretching catch, holding on as he hit the ground. It's probably the second-best catch I've seen from him this season, after the incredible touchdown at Colorado.

A few plays later, Georgia was facing third-and-goal from the 15. When Green went over the middle, he was trailed by three Gators. They needed one more.

Murray fit in a perfect pass, Green caught in his lap, and after Blair Walsh's extra point, we were tied again.

The only concern for Georgia is whether it left Florida too much time.

6:56 left in fourth quarter, Florida re-takes lead, 31-24

OK, the Georgia offense is back on the clock. And now the clock does matter.

Florida came through a very Florida-like drive: A couple first downs then a big play, with Trey Burton taking a shotgun snap and bursting 51 yards down the right side for the touchdown.

Urban Meyer talked for two weeks about the lack of big plays for his offense. That was Florida's longest run of the game, and longest scoring play.

There's plenty of time for the Bulldog offense to answer, but not much margin for error. Expect a lot of passing, because that's what's been working, but also because they need quick strikes. The Bulldogs are in the awkward position of either having to score or, if they have to punt or kick a field goal, not taking too long to do so.

9:01 left in fourth quarter, Georgia ties it at 24

Tie game.

What a change we've seen here. Aaron Murray has moved back into hero status, passing for a touchdown then rushing for the two-point conversion.

The Bulldog band is playing, and the red-clan fans are waving their pom-poms, at least those that have them. The rest are just on their feet and excited?

Orson Charles caught the touchdown pass, and in so doing went over 100 yards for the first time in his career. My, how things open up when you get the tight ends involved.

New game, and the onus falls back on the Georgia defense.

10:48 left in fourth quarter, Georgia now trails 24-16

We've had a lot of tactical, game management situations over the last few minutes.

First came Georgia's decision to go for two, and the try failed. Then when Florida drove downfield, and faced third-and-6, Georgia used a defensive timeout.

That hasn't tended to work out much for the Bulldogs this year, who have struggled on third downs whether or not they huddled up to go over the play. But this time the defense held - and it was Florida's time to make a call.

Try another field goal with Chas Henry, who has struggled in the role and has already missed one today? Or go for it on fourth-and-2? The Gators chose the former, and Henry got it.

So now we go back to Georgia's decision to go for the two-point conversion. Hmmmm.....

14:57 left in fourth quarter, Georgia now within 21-16

That wasn't hard: Washaun Ealey practically walked into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Georgia is back within five.

But then came a debatable decision to for two. The try - an Aaroon Murray pass attempt - was no good, so Georgia still needs a touchdown or a couple field goals.

Clearly the Bulldogs would rather be down three. But with pretty much an entire quarter left, was it too early to try for two? Now if Florida gets a field goal, Georgia has to go for two again.

Plus, some of the momentum is taken away by failing on the two-point try.

On the other hand, you can definitely see where the coaches would feel the chances of making it were pretty good, the way their offense has moved downfield this half. So maybe the play call was the problem.

And, Florida probably won't even attempt a field goal unless it's a chip shot.

So really, the decision could have gone either way there.

Third quarter blog

End of third quarter, Georgia still trails 21-10

The scoreboard says the Bulldogs are down two possessions, but they're poised to change that, and momentum is in their favor.

Georgia will have first-and-goal at the 5 when the final quarter begins. That comes after a catch-and-run by Washaun Ealey, who got inside the 5 and didn't ... well, you know.

Tavarres King had a 30-yard catch, and now has 93 receiving yards today. That's just on two catches, but hey, he's making 'em count.

While the Bulldogs' running game has lost steam, Murray's has actually picked up. The quarterback is back to doing what he does best on those scrambles: Deciding at just the right moment when to abandon the play and run. In fact I'm not so sure the run isn't his secondary read on those plays.

Obviously, this is a critical 15 minutes for each team's season. The winner is alive in a two-team division race. The loser will be scrambling for the Music City Bowl. Big, big 15 minutes.

5:18 left in the third quarter, Georgia now trails 21-10

Georgia tried real hard to get the ball to Orson Charles on its first drive of the half. It worked, at least until the end.

The Bulldogs had to settle for a Blair Walsh field goal after getting into the red zone. They took a lot of time off the clock too, but it's not time yet to make that a major concern.

The news on that drive was Charles catching three passes. He now has four on the game, which along with Aron White's earlier catch means a season-high for catches by the Georgia tight ends.

White and Charles combined for four catches in the first three games after A.J. Green became eligible. Prior to that they had combined for four in four games. Neither had a catch last week.

One of the key plays was a third-down catch-and-run by Charles. It was a well designed play - and one I don't think I've seen them run all year. Maybe for A.J. Green, but not Charles.

Now Georgia's defense needs a stop, or a turnover. Yes, there's 20 minutes left, plenty of time to keep rallying. But you also can't count on Florida's point total staying at 21.

10:50 left in third quarter, Florida still leads 21-7

They just announced attendance for today's game at 84,444.

Speaking of fours ... Florida just had to go for it on fouth-and-10, thanks to its total lack of confidence in its field goal kicking game. (Caleb Sturgis being out with a back injury and all.) The result was a play stopped fairly easily by Georgia, and the Bulldogs have a bit of life here, early in the third quarter.

I say that because the half didn't start well for the Bulldogs, as the Gators drove right downfield and looked poised to score. A pass play into the red zone resulted in Bacarri Rambo laying out a Gator receiver, but for some reason Rambo decided to showboat a bit despite the fact it was, well, a completion.

Me thinks Bacarri is going to hear about that.

Halftime thoughts and observations

- Aaron Murray was due for a clunker, and he had it in the first half. He was off on most of his passes, was picked off twice, and his fumble may end up being the key moment of the game.

- It's almost all about turnovers right now: Florida has out-gained Georgia, but not by much (249-200). The Gators' second and third touchdowns each came after turnovers and a short field.

- If it feels like deja vu, you're not off: Georgia turned it over four times against Florida in 2008, and four times last year.

- A.J. Green has touched the ball once today. Once. And as we know, when Green is not involved, the Bulldogs struggle on offense.

A lot of credit goes to Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins. But the Bulldogs have to find a way to get Green open downfield in the second half.

- Georgia's top-ranked run defense is taking a beating. Florida has 137 at the half, and is averaging 5.1 yards a carry.

- The Bulldogs are actually averaging 5.9 yards per carry. The problem is, other than the 63-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King, they have no passing game. And Florida's defense also stiffened up in the second quarter, when Caleb King and Washaun Ealey saw their yards-per-carry go down.

Second quarter blog

3:26 left in second quarter, Florida now leads 21-7

Pat Dooley, the longtime columnist for the Gainesville Sun, told me a few days ago he thought this game would be decided by turnovers and special teams. Neither team was good enough to win on its own, he felt.

So far he's right on. Georgia's third turnover of the game leads directly to another Florida score, and the Bulldogs are suddenly down a couple touchdowns.

The typical emotions of the Georgia-Florida game look to be back too: Following the touchdown run by Trey Burton, pushing and shoving commenced at the line.

That led to a comic moment as the referee, turning his mike on a couple seconds too early, was heard by millions here and on television to yell: "Get back to your side of the ball now, every one of ya!"

If only he had cursed.

I know Georgia fans are cursing right now. But there's plenty of game left here. The offense needs to stop committing turnovers, and the defense has to make some adjustments.

6:06 left in second quarter, Florida takes 14-7 lead

Aaron Murray's first mistake didn't cost Georgia any points. His second one did.

Murray's first fumble of the year gave Florida the ball at the Georgia 29. The Gators proceeded to try to give it away with penalties. But Deonte Thompson made a nice third-down catch near the sideline, turning around to haul in the pass before Sanders Commings could realize the ball was there.

That put it at the 2, and a play later Jeff Demps punched it in.

Georgia had the ball near midfield when Murray was sacked, and the ball came loose. It looked like Murray was trying to get rid of it, but the ball went backward.

Murray, who turned it over three times in eight games, has turned it over twice now in the first half.

A.J. Green, who didn't have a catch in the first quarter, finally caught a receiver screen, went seven yards, and finished the play with a nice stiff-arm of the Florida defender. (If Green had stiff-armed Chris Hawkins like that, Georgia probably wouldn't be 4-4.)

12:22 left in second quarter, Georgia ties it at 7-7

I guess Aaron Murray was just waiting to make his first completion of the day a memorable one.

The freshman hit Tavarres King on a 63-yard touchdown pass, and we're tied. Murray's pass deep downfield hit King almost perfectly in stride; King was a couple steps behind the defender, whom tried a leg tackle that King shook off around the 10.

That's obviously a great sign for the Bulldogs. If they can get the pass and the run going, they probably have one on Florida, which only seems to have the run game going.

Plus, Murray can shake off the poor first quarter. When a freshman struggles like that, he often sinks - it happened to Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. It just goes to show that Georgia may have a special one in Murray.

14:41 left in second quarter, Florida takes 7-0 lead

Florida gets the game's first score. Chris Rainey took an inside handoff and went up the middle 20 yards, and into the end zone.

It doesn't so much look like the Gators changed a lot on offense. It's just that Rainey is back. The controversial tailback has 52 yards on eight carries, and an 8-yard catch.

The Gators went 91 yards on that drive, most of it on the ground, but with a few timely completions by John Brantley.

Akeem Dent did return for Georgia, so there's that.

Now, let's see if Aaron Murray can get the Georgia offense going.

First quarter blog

End of first quarter, no score

It looks like if you took the under on this game, you're in good shape.

Also, if you don't believe in the forward pass, you liked that quarter.

Florida is driving, having reached the Georgia 35 as the first quarter ended. Florida quarterback John Brantley finally came alive on that drive, but prior to that he had only completed one pass.

Georgia's Aaron Murray has still - cue up the cliche' snarky comment - completed more passes to the other team (one) than his own (zero).

The tailbacks have had a huge impact: Caleb King has 33 yards on three carries, and Washaun Ealey has 21 on six. Florida's Chris Rainey has 32 on seven carries.

5:30 left in first quarter

Make it one interception for both teams. And the quarterback play in this game so far does not befit the schools that produced Tim Tebow and Matt Stafford.

Florida's John Brantley just WAY overthrew his intended receiver, and was easily picked off by Branden Smith, who looked like the intended receiver.

The Gators were getting their yards on the ground, via the recently-reinstated Chris Rainey.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, meanwhile, followed his game-opening interception with three incompletions. This is the first time he's really looked like a freshman.

But who needs Murray when you have Caleb King? Also recently-reinstated, he gained 33 yards on his first two carries, then made a defender look bad on his third carry, which gained a couple yards.

8:55 left in first quarter, no score

Akeem Dent did not participate in Georgia's next defensive series - not that he was missed.

The Bulldogs had three big plays on defense, including a third-down sack by Demarcus Dobbs. The resulting punt, fair caught by the newly-healthy Branden Smith, gave Bulldogs possession at their own 49.

Christian Robinson, who replaced Dent, made a big play on first down, tackling Chris Rainey behind the line.

That's the good news for Georgia, it has depth at inside linebacker, at least in terms of the immediate backups. If they have to go further down the depth chart, they'll be in trouble.

Dent has been on the sideline with his helmet off, but is walking around. We're waiting an update on his status.

11:55 left in first quarter, no score

Well, Aaron Murray's career in the Florida-Georgia rivalry got off to a poor start. But his defense averted a further crisis for the Bulldogs.

Murray's first pass was picked off by Florida's Janoris Jenkins. Murray simply telegraphed it too much, and Jenkins just dove in front of A.J. Green to pick it off.

Two plays later, Georgia's leading tackler Akeem Dent was shaken up and had to come out after Florida got a first down to get in the red zone. So at that point you're thinking ... Uh-oh, how could this have started any worse for Georgia?

Well, Georgia's defense answered the call, with Justin Houston and DeAngelo Tyson combining on a third-down sack. That set up a field goal attempt by .. not Caleb Sturgis, the Florida kicker who re-aggravated his back injury in practice this week. Instead it was punter Chas Henry, and he missed.

So basically, we just wasted two minutes of action. Still, a few observations:

- Washaun Ealey did get the start, and got the first carry on the second drive.

- Georgia revamped its starting line again, with Clint Boling at right guard in place of Kenarious Gates, and Trinton Sturdivant taking Boling's left tackle spot.

- Florida tried a lot of Trey Burton at quarterback on its first drive. Could that have been part of Urban Meyer's offensive overhual? (If it's an overhual at all?)

Pregame blog

3:35 p.m.: Game time

Florida's half of the stadium has filled in a bit, but there are still less on that side that Georgia.

The Bulldogs will receive the opening kickoff. The Gators won and deferred.

And with that, we retire the pregame blog, and move on to the game.

3:20 p.m.: Where is everybody?

Fans continue to stream into the stadium ... at a very slow ... slow ... rate.

Mostly it's the Florida fans who are taking their time. The Georgia side is more than half-filled, which in itself isn't much. But compared to the less-than-half-full Florida side, it looks like Sanford Stadium.

So where are the Gator fans? Are they that down on their team, or did the police in Stark and Lake City make a a lot of money today?

The weather at kickoff is going to be spectacular: 80 degrees (Fahrenheit, for my readers in other parts of the world), with 30 percent humidity, and almost a cloudless sky.

Oh, and Tennessee has gagged in Columbia, so South Carolina will improve to 4-2, and this here cocktail party will decide who will remain a contender for the division title.

3:00 p.m.: Ealey update

Washaun Ealey is in the starting warmup line, in between Aaron Murray and Shaun Chapas. So if you go by that, his knee is fine and he will be the starting tailback.

Ealey did look to be favoring his injured knee a bit in one pregame drill. But he went through it fine. I remember when Kris Durham was questionable and eventually didn't play, he suited up but didn't go through drills.

So for now, it looks like Ealey is a go. But I still expect to see plenty of Caleb King, and some Carlton Thomas too.

2:43 p.m.: Florida's uniforms

The Gators' pro-combat uniforms are rather understated, in my opinion. Nothing garish that will jump out on your television screen.

The stripe on the helmet is the most obvious change. But the helmet has the "Gators" script, as opposed to the "F."

2:20 p.m.: Warm-up acts

Washaun Ealey did a little running during the early walk-through. His injured knee was wrapped, and he appeared to be testing it. A better gauge will be warmups in a half-hour or so.

Uniform update: Florida's special-teamers came out in blue jerseys, white shirts and orange helmets. Georgia's were in the usual red shirts and helmets and gray pants. (But after last year, you have to make sure.)

1:55 p.m.: The reporter has lunch

Georgia has been graced by the presence of a reigning Sports Illustrated cover subject: Former Bulldog receiver Mohammed Massaquoi is here, and exchanging hugs with former teammates.

Massaquoi, now with the Cleveland Browns, is pictured on this week's SI, as part of a cover story on the concussions issue.

Also, a poster had asked whether I had any opinion on the press box food, saying that my predecessor had said the Alltel Stadium meals were among the worst of the season. In response, two things:

1-I don't think it's the business of media members to write about such things, since they can't be that important to the readers, and with starving kids in China, it's poor form to be complaining about something so trivial.

2-Dave was right. It's pretty bad.

1:45 p.m.: The reporter arrives

Well, I made it to the press box, after walking through the beer-soaked streets around Alltel Stadium. The revelry of outdoor cocktail party – whoops, the outdoor whatever – was in full-gear. Georgia and Florida fans cavorting together, occasionally trash-talking, and partaking in copious amounts of alcohol beverages.

At least one Georgia fan was wearing a red sticker that said: “Spank me, I’m naughty.” I didn’t stick around long enough to see how many people took him up on it.

Vince Dooley is up here in the press box, sitting alone and watching his son Derek coach Tennessee. At press time (press time being the second I push “send” on this blog) the Volunteers are tied with South Carolina. If somehow the Vols win, this Georgia-Florida game takes on even more importance.

One note from Georgia’s travel roster:

Mike Gilliard, the special-teamer and backup linebacker, is not on the trip. That’s not much of a surprise. Branden Smith and Washaun Ealey are here, but we’ll keep an eye on Ealey during pregame warm-ups.

As always, check in this space for pregame news, and thoughts and observations during the game.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Behind enemy lines: Florida edition

This week we turn to Pat Dooley, the longtime writer and columnist for The Gainesville Sun. Dooley has been around Florida football for years, and has seen a lot of Georgia-Florida games. According to the bio on his Twitter page, Dooley believes in "background vocals, a college football playoff, Marriott upgrades, baby back ribs and long, slow, wet tugs on draft beer."

So if you see Pat in Jacksonville this weekend, buy him a beer, debate the BCS with him, ask what it was like to cover Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook - and thank him for answering the following questions:

SE: Let’s get this one out of the way first: The Chris Rainey situation. How is Meyer’s handling of it being viewed around Gainesville, and by Gator fans in general?

PD: Oh I think most Gator fans are fine with it. It’s not like they haven’t seen this kind of thing before. I think nationally and around the Southeast he’s getting killed. I don’t agree with it. I don’t think (Rainey) should’ve played the rest of the year myself.

I think the average Gator fan is wondering if he’ll make a difference.

SE: So what do you make of Urban Meyer’s supposed offensive overhaul? Will they switch to the veer, or the single wing?

PD: I think they’re only going to give the ball to players that have been arrested. But no, there won’t be anything really noticeable.

SE: One of Meyer’s biggest concerns is getting bigger run plays. Will that be helped simply by the presence of Rainey, Jeff Demps and Mike Gilleslee, or is the problem bigger than that?

PD: Yeah I mean you’ve gotta get them in space, first of all. And that’s been part of their problem, not having those guys. Rainey is the one guy that can make them miss. If you take it from a strictly football standpoint, he’s been a big loss for them.

SE: What about quarterbacks John Brantley, and Trey Burton, how will they rotate.

PD: I think it’ll be 70-30, Brantley and then Burton. I don’t think you can tell a guy that’s waited around for three years (Brantley) ... that we’re going to bench you because we’ve given you an offense that’s unworkeable.

SE: Why do you say unworkeable?

PD: Because he’s a drop-back passer and they’re running Tebow plays for them.

SE: So do people talk a lot about Cameron Newton and what might have been?

PD: They do, and this is the truth: When Cameron left here, no one made a noise. … And Cam Newton, I’ll be honest with you, wasn’t that good when he was here. He was a talented, athletic kid, but he couldn’t throw the ball, he was erratic. But it wasn’t an 'Oh My God he’s leaving.' Now of course in hindsight, everyone’s like, 'Why didn’t they keep him?'

SE: Everyone’s talking about the Gator offense, but what about defense: Do they miss Charlie Strong?

I think where they really miss Charlie Strong is he was the guy who would get on him if they weren’t playing well. They have some guys that in my opinion are playing very selfishly, and there’s nobody to get in their face and tell them that.

SE: Two-part defensive question: How capable is Florida of keeping A.J. Green in check? And if the Gators do focus on Green, how vulnerable does that leave them to the running game and the middle of the field in general?

PD: I think they’re vulnerable to the running game no matter what they do. Because they’re not a physical defensive front seven. Secondary-wise, they started out great, then when (LSU receiver) Terrence Toliver torched them, they lost their confidence. They’ve played their heavy package against running teams and done a decent job of that. And then all of a sudden against Mississippi State, they couldn’t do anything. So they’re hard to figure.

SE: So what are the two or three keys to victory for Florida?

PD: Number one is win the special teams battle, which they haven’t been doing this year. … And the other thing is the turnovers. To me it’s just that simple, special teams and turnovers, the things that coaches talk about and fans ignore, those are the things. … I don’t think either of these teams are good enough to win just on their own, they need breaks.

SE: Finally, what’s the view on Mark Richt and the Georgia program from down there?

PD: Well, I think the average person down here has a lot of respect for Mark as a person, but they wonder why they haven’t been able to do better against Florida. When he lost twice to Zook, I think he went down in their eyes then, and he could’ve lost a third time when he was a lame duck. But everyone knows he’s still a major improvement on what they had the previous decades.

(Richt) does have the trifecta going against him: Not only the Georgia coach, but played at Miami and was at Florida State for years. But people do like him, they just wonder why he hasn't done better against them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rainey in, Sturgis out for Gators

As expected, Chris Rainey has been reinstated and will play for Florida on Saturday, Gators head coach Urban Meyer announced on Thursday evening.

Meyer also said Rainey, who has been suspended for five games after his aggravated stalking charge, will play "50-50" between tailback and receiver.

Tailbacks Jeff Demps and Mike Gilleslee are also "100 percent," Meyer said at his Thursday media availability in Gainesville.

However, in a bit of a surprise, kicker Caleb Sturgis has been ruled out. Sturgis aggravated his back injury in practice on Wednesday.

That's potentially a big loss for the Gators, who have been using punter Chas Henry to kick. Henry, you may remember, missed a couple field goals in Florida's 10-7 home loss to Mississippi State.

Ye Olde Mailbag

One of the joys of driving to a game on Saturday, as I will be doing Saturday, is listening to other college football telecasts on satellite radio. You hear a few homers, and a few who get quite involved on behalf of their teams.

But nothing like this. Enjoy.

I've seen a lot of things in press boxes, but never a radio analyst challenging media members to a fight.

In the meantime, on to your questions.

Do you think that Washaun’s injury is worse than the coaches, or Wahsaun for that matter, are letting on? I saw the injury and it looked awful, I thought for sure he had torn an ACL. I couldn’t believe it when he came back in the game! I couldn’t even watch the replays it looked so painful. Do you think they are playing a little possum with Florida on this injury? They kept Caleb out for two games with what seemed like a minor ankle injury compared to Washaun’s knee? Are you seeing anything differently from what is being reported?
- Kevin Wiley

Well I’m one of the people doing the reporting, so I’m not seeing anything different than I report. But yes, I do have a bit of the same leeriness about this injury. Ealey did say after the game it was just a “tweak,” then it became a mild MCL sprain. The parallel with the King twisted ankle is there. Let’s just say it will be a good idea to keep a close eye on warm-ups Saturday.

With Ealey's injury this is probably moot, but earlier in the week Richt was talking about giving both Ealey and King reps this week. I have always thought that Georgia relies too heavily on trying to use every running back we have instead of letting the #1 guy get into a rhythm. Last week is a perfect example. King was out, Ealey had the load, and he dominated with 157 yards. Too often we subbing in and out when one guy gets stopped for a couple losses. Look at what So Car has done with Lattimore. Spurrier doesn't give a crap how that makes Kenny Miles feel. He knows Lattimore is his best shot to win.
Your thoughts?
- Nick McKloskey

Well that’s the thing: Georgia still isn’t sure, based on production, which tailback does give the team the best shot to win. They were hoping someone would emerge, with the other one being a useful backup, but all the suspensions and injuries have prevented that. King did get the majority of the carries before his suspension, and was starting to separate himself. Now … who knows what to expect Saturday.

How is T.J. Stripling? Any news on his treatment/rehab?
- David Grier

Stripling had surgery three days after tearing his patella tendon at Colorado. There hasn’t been any news on him since then, but I would assume he’s going to be iffy for spring practice, but healthy enough for summer camp. Mark Richt said the day after it happened that “the history of those things (the surgeries) is very, very good. He’ll be able to recover.”

I want to know why the TE's are not getting more balls thrown their way and how are we addressing the breakdowns in our porous pass coverage? Is it more of a schematic issue or personnel?
- Carlos Ingram

Regarding the tight end, they were getting back into the flow of the offense until the Kentucky game, when none of them recorded a catch. Some of that had to do with the short fields, and the success Georgia was having with the run. I would suspect Orson Charles and/or Aron White will see a few targets on Saturday.
As for the pass coverage, the Kentucky game was a clear step back. They hoped that the increased roles for Sanders Commings and Shawn Williams were a panacea, but the unit was burned again in Lexington. At this point, you just have to assume it’s not going to get much better, and hope to contain the damage.

Have you gotten any indication of how important this game is to the coaching staff and do they seem any more locked in for this game than usual? Has there been any mention of preparation for Florida taking place in the off-season?
- Matt in Smyrna

Oh, I have to think they’ve been locked in for every other Florida game. Coaches aren’t like fans, (or media members), looking past one opponent to another. They have to show up to planning meetings on Sundays and Mondays whether it’s Florida or Idaho State. … But frankly the coaches have seemed “locked in” for awhile now. We’ll sometimes ask Richt or an assistant about something we thought everyone was talking about, but they clearly had no idea about it until we told them.

I was watching some of Louisiana Tech at Boise on Tuesday. I have not seen written or verbal commentary criticizing Boise for wearing uniforms that are specifically designed to match their field turf color. There is no reason to do this other than to gain a competitive advantage in regards to affecting the opponent’s peripheral vision. It is obviously not against the rules, but it is at the least very poor sportsmanship. Has there been criticism or is everyone afraid to comment on “poor little Boise trying to fight the big boys”?
- Columbia Dawg

On this specific issue of blue-on-blue, I’ll plead ignorance. But I continue to be baffled by the anti-Boise State backlash in SEC territory. Really – and I say this as someone who lives in this area and covers the league – it comes off as petty. After all, hasn’t the SEC won the last four BCS titles? The probability is a one-loss SEC team, whether it’s Alabama, Auburn or LSU, is going to get into the national championship game.

SEC fans complaining about Boise State is like Wal-Mart complaining about the mom-and-pop store down the street.

Am I the only one who doesn't like that we won't alter the practice plan to account for what counts as a missed day? I'd like to think that with such a crucial game coming up (with the SEC East hanging in the balance) that maybe we'd try to get as much meaningful practice as possible, instead of settling for walk-throughs. Seth, are the coaches at all nervous about how this might affect the readiness of the team? Especially since Meyer is making "alterations" to their offense? I mean, he even said "There's nothing like doing it," so why not follow through on that? Am I missing something here?
- Anonymous (via Le blog)

This was a case where Georgia was hurt not having its indoor facility ready. Now if the Bulldogs lose, don’t go using that as that excuse. But it would’ve helped to do more than a walk-through. As for Thursday, coaches are adverse to doing much hitting two days before a game. So the choice was to flip the days, and risk injury two days before a game, rather than three, or just use Wednesday as essentially an informational (i.e. gameplan) day.

One thing I'll be interested in seeing is how Rainey holds up in the game after missing that many practice and game reps versus how out of "game shape" AJ was in the Colorado game? Splitting btw. RB and WR with Demps reportedly a little beat up, he should be getting a ton of chances and have to physically exert himself a lot. If he holds up and plays well, what if anything does this say about our S&C when AJ missed a decent chunk of the CO game?
- BullyMack (via Le Blog)

Ah, another strength and conditioning concern. Well, add it to the list. Let’s see what happens when Rainey and Demps do get out there.

Hoops: Bulldogs come in at No. 28

The preseason AP men's basketball poll is out, and Georgia barely missed being in the top 25.

Georgia is third in the also-receiving-votes section, with 68 votes. The Bulldogs, who had a losing record last year, are one spot ahead of West Virginia, which was in the Final Four.

If things break their way early, the Bulldogs are poised to be ranked in the AP men's basketball poll for the first time since the end of the 2003 season, when they were 21st.

Among SEC teams, Florida was ninth, Kentucky came in at No. 11, and Tennessee was No. 23. There were 14 votes for Vanderbilt, and seven for Mississippi State.

You can see each voter's ballot here.

Georgia was not on the ballot of a Athens Banner-Herald beat writer Roger Clarkson (the audacity!) or the national writers: ESPN's Dick Vitale,'s Seth Davis, Foxsports' Jeff Goodman and NPR's John Feinstein. (He was apparently subbing for Juan Williams.)

NY Daily News writer Dick "Hoops" Weiss, a legend in the business, also left Georgia off his ballot.

But Georgia got a huge amount of love from longtime Kentucky beat writer Jerry Tipton, who put the Bulldogs No. 12. Ron Morris, my former colleague at The State in Columbia, S.C., also put the Bulldogs at No. 14. And Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean, in Nashville, had Georgia at No. 16.

Q&A: DeAngelo Tyson

The 2006 senior class at Statesboro High School produced two current starters on the Georgia football team. You all know about Justin Houston, the SEC sack leader. (Here's today's story on the redshirt junior.)

But there's also DeAngelo Tyson, who has done a yeoman's job this year for the Bulldogs. Much like he did in high school.

When he was a star senior at Statesboro, Tyson was double and tripled a lot, forcing him to “sacrifice” for his team, according to Statesboro High School head coach Steve Pennington. Tyson is sacrificing again in college: As the nose in the Georgia 3-4 defense, it’s his job to help push the pocket, often taking on multiple offensive lineman.

Tyson has started all seven games this year. While he only has 14 tackles, he has been credited with six quarterback pressures, and at Kentucky got his first sack of the season.

We spoke with Tyson after Wednesday’s practice, about his hopes, his desires, his forecast for the mid-term elections … No wait, it was mostly about football:

SE: First, on Justin Houston, your former high school teammate. Did you know even back then that he could do some things on this level?

DT: Yeah Justin is a very talented guy. He listens, he’s very coachable. And as long as you have those attributes to those games, then of course anybody’s gonna be a great player. And I think he’s a great player. I think he’ll be a great one for awhile, as long as he keeps learning, and keeps getting good coaching.

SE: You all played on the same line in high school, but did you make your decisions independent of each other?

DT: Justin, me and him have been knowing each other for awhile now. It’s just like a best friend, you didn’t want to leave your best friend to go somewhere else. Of course Georgia’s a good school, and I did take my options that I had with visiting schools. But Georgia was a good one, because I liked it here, and he was here.

SE: So Justin committed first.

DT: Yes.

SE: What were your other options?

DT: I could’ve gone to Florida. Some SEC schools.

SE: So what is this Florida game like for you?

DT: It’s gonna be a very intense game. Everybody’s focused. We want to go out there and win, and we’re just gonna have to keep preparing, as we’re supposed to, if we want to go out there and win.

SE: We spent a lot of time the other day talking to Aaron Murray (who’s from Tampa) on why he didn’t pick Florida. What about you?

DT: I just wanted to stay close to home. I’m from Georgia, and Georgia was in Georgia. I had friends coming up here. I didn’t really want to go anywhere I didn’t know anybody. I wanted to meet new people, but I also wanted to feel comfortable.

SE: In the preseason, we heard a lot about you cross-training, and playing some end. Have you done any of that, or pretty much been at the nose?

DT: Basically, we really haven’t been running that base set (with Tyson at the end). Because of what the offense gives us. But I have played at end a little bit, and I did do a pretty good job, of going out there and doing what the team needs us to do to win.

SE: How do you think your adjustment to the nose has gone?

DT: It’s going very good. I’m getting a lot of coaching from coach G. And he’s a good coach, and I just take what he gives me, and run with it.

SE: You ever feel like you get swallowed up in there, some double-teams, and even some triple-teams?

DT: Yeah all the time. But it’s all about a fighting attitude, down in the trenches.

SE: Do you feel you all on the line deserve some of the credit for all those sacks? You’ve got to push that pocket to allow Justin and the other edge rushers to get outside.

DT: Yeah, we’ve been doing what we’re supposed to be doing, being conscientious about rush lanes against everybody. That’s one of the key things that you have to do, and try to get a sack in pushing the pocket. It’s mainly a team effort. One guy can’t be doing just one thing. You’ve gotta have to keep contain, and push the pocket.

SE: In run defense, you all went from the South Carolina game to now being No. 1 in the SEC in run defense. What changed?

DT: Everything was new to us. We had to get a feel for it. Coach Richt always said our defense was gonna get better as the season goes on. We thought the same thing, and we just stuck with the attitude that we’re going to get better and we have to get better. And I think that’s what we’re doing right now.”

SE: Is that what happened with the team in general, after the 1-4 start?

DT: Yeah. Didn’t nobody want to be a 1-4 team. So we had to come out of the hole somehow. And we’ve got to stay our of the hole, going into this weekend.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Richt on Ealey's injury, Houston on the NFL, and more

Georgia head coach Mark Richt still thinks Washaun Ealey’s knee is fine and he will play on Saturday. But he admitted that the sophomore tailback would have still been limited had the Bulldogs held a full-practice on Wednesday.

Instead the rain forced the team to do a walk-through.

“It’s bothering him right now,” Richt said of Ealey. “But in a few days it’ll subside, and you add a little adrenaline, and it’ll be fine.”

Ealey said after Tuesday’s practice that he had a Grade 1 MCL sprain. Richt on Wednesday described it as more of a bone bruise.

“I don’t even know who’s gonna start right now,” Richt said. “If Washaun had been healthy the whole week, it would’ve been him. But that’s something I’ll have to discuss with (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo and (running backs) coach (Bryan) McClendon, and decide what’s best.”

- Branden Smith has been cleared to practice and should play against Florida. The cornerback and punt return man has missed the past three games after sustaining his second concussion of the season.

- The rain forced Georgia inside, and caused an alteration in their normal practice plan. But Richt said they won’t try to make up for it Thursday.

“I think the information we needed to cover was covered,” Richt said. “But there’s nothing like doing it. So I wish we could’ve done it today.”

The Bulldogs had to use the Ramsey student center. Richt said only half-jokingly that he was trying to get into the school’s unfinish indoor practice facility. He pointed out that the field turf is down.

“I just thought if we went in through an outside door, then went right back out, and didn’t do anything else. But they wouldn’t let me in,” Richt said.

Actually, now that I play the tape back, I'm not sure whether Richt was joking or not.

- With all the bad off-field news his program has endured, Richt was happy to bring up the fact Georgia ranked second in the SEC in the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate. That was released Wednesday.

“Of course Vanderbilt was No. 1, and Georgia was No. 2,” Richt said. “That’s great news for all our players that have worked so hard, and our academic people. Certainly not as high as we want it to be, but considering a lot of people like to compare numbers in the league, and we’re No. 2.”

Richt pointed out that the team’s Academic Progress Rate was also No. 2 this year. When it was pointed out that the team’s GSR was higher than Georgia Tech, Richt said: “Is that right? I didn’t say that.”

- I’ll have a bigger story in Thursday’s papers on Justin Houston. But since I didn’t include it, here’s his response to The Question, of whether he’s thought about possibly leaving a year early for the NFL draft:

“I try my hardest not to thing about that at all,” Houston said. “I just want to take it a game at a time, and just focus on this season. When the time gets here, I’ll think about it then, but right now I just want to focus on this season.”

- Houston was also asked about having a half-sack taken away from him at Kentucky, after coaches watched tape. That happened before, when a sack was taken away at South Carolina.

Yes, the only ones that can stop Houston this season are Georgia’s coaches.

“Uh, yeah, if you say so,” Houston said, smiling.

Some good off-field news about the football program

Georgia’s football team had the second-best graduation rate in the SEC, for players who entered between 2000-03.

That’s according to the NCAA’s latest Graduation Success Rate (GSR), which was released on Wednesday. Georgia graduated 68 percent of football players who entered the first four seasons of the last decade, behind only Vanderbilt.

(If any of you want to dispute that 2000 was the beginning of the last decade, and thus we’re actually still in the first decade of the millennium, feel free. After all, this is a post about academics.)

Notre Dame ranked first nationally among football programs, with a GSR of 96 percent.

(Point of contention No. 2: You could also point out that it's gramatically incorrect to refer to it as the "last decade," as in it's not the last, final decade, unless you believe the Mayan calendar and/or the movie "2012.")

The GSR measures athletes who graduate within six years of entering school, and counts transfers in and out of school.

Overall, Bulldog athletes recorded a GSR of 77 percent, up from 75 percent a year ago. Three sports scored 100 percent: Men’s swimming and diving, gymnastics and women’s tennis.

The men’s basketball team was at the low end, at 36 percent. But that was still the best rate that sport recorded in any of the four years the GSR has been recorded.

(Point of contention No. 3: In the previous point of contention, it's possible I mispelled the word 'gramatically.' It's possible there are two 'm's.' I'm checking with my third-grade English teacher, who I believe is dead, so I'm not sure when I'll get an answer.)

The Georgia football team has shown a general improvement: It was at 41 percent in 2007, then 48 percent, and 57 percent last year.

“The overall report is encouraging and it definitely continues an upward trend,” Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said in a statement. “The improvement by eight of our sports as well as the three that remained at 100% is particularly noteworthy. At the same time, we want to get better and will continue to work hard in the academic area with our student-athletes.”

Meyer: Rainey on track to return for Georgia game

Florida head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday he would decide in 24 hours whether Chris Rainey will return from his suspension. But it sure looks like the star player will play against Georgia on Saturday.

“As of now he’s done everything he’s supposed to do,” Meyer said on the SEC teleconference. “I’ll just do a thorough check on everything that I’ve asked him to do.”

Rainey has been out since a Sept. 14 arrest for aggravated stalking. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor.

Meyer also said Rainey would play both tailback and receiver “if he plays.” Rainey was a tailback his first two years, then switched to receiver this season.

Meyer was asked how the publicity around Rainey’s arrest, along with others on the team, affects the program.

“I think obviously the initial sting is a lot of negativity brought on towards the program and disappointment,” Meyer said. “Then it’s an opportunity for a young man to clear his name get himself right, like we’ve had with a bunch of young men around here. We’re gonna keep a tight rein on Chris Rainey. He’s never faced anything like this before. He certainly never better again.”

Georgia has faced its own off-field problems, as a questioner pointed out to Meyer.

“One thing Georgia and Florida share is they’re in a college town, and that’s the news,” Meyer said. “Obviously that doesn’t justify the stupid mistakes that people make. I don’t know all of Georgia’s issues, but I do talk to colleagues and what they deal with and how they deal with it. A lot of people deal with similar stuff, it’s just not brought to that level.”

A few other Florida injury updates:

- Meyer said tailback Jeff Demps (sprained foot) has practiced, but not at full speed. Demps has been slowed or out the past three games.
- Mike Gilleslee (ankle) did not practice at full speed.
- Kicker Caleb Sturgis (stress fracture in back) is probable. Sturgis hasn’t played since Sept. 25, and in his absence punter Chas Henry has gone 2 for 5 on field goals, including a 42-yard miss that would’ve tied the game against Mississippi State.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ealey describes injury, calls it "nothing"

Washaun Ealey looks good to go, according to everyone we spoke to after Georgia's practice, despite the tailback sitting out the first portion of practice with a knee injury.

Ealey said he has a grade 1 sprained MCL.

"So it's really nothing," Ealey said. "Basically a bruise."

Ealey came out briefly in the fourth quarter of the Kentucky game. He only participated on scout team on Tuesday, but that was described as a precautionary measure.

"It's 100 percent. I've been running on it," Ealey said. "I'm just trying to get it from being stiff, just get it back to the strength."

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Ealey was "gonna be good to go."

Running backs coach Bryan McClendon said Ealey would likely start Saturday against Florida, as long as he was healthy. Caleb King is off from his two-game suspension, but Ealey did well in his absence.

"Right now we still don't know," McClendon said. "Especially if Washaun's all banged up, and you don't want him taking that bulk of the work, then he probably wouldn't (start). But right now if everything stays the same and he's good and healthy and he continues on as practice as he has been, then he probably would."

Death to the BCS ... trophy

I’m aware that this story has been told, but for those of you who haven’t heard it, enjoy:

A few years ago, when now-Georgia tight end Orson Charles was on a recruiting visit to Florida, he broke the national championship trophy.

Yup, broke it into a bunch of pieces, after bumping the table holding the trophy, and the Gators had to get another one.

“The whole thing shattered, and I guess they swept it up and put it in the trash can,” recalled Aaron Murray, who was Charles’ high school teammate at Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., and were both being recruited by Florida. The trophy-shattering incident happened the spring of their junior years.

Murray wasn’t there when it happened, but was on his way to Gainesville and remembers a panicked phone call from Charles.

“I broke the trophy,” Charles told Murray.

“What?” Murray said.

“I broke it. The national championship trophy,” Charles said.

Then he hung up abruptly.

(Charles, normally very accessible and talkative, has chosen not to do interviews Monday or Tuesday, according to Georgia.)

“He was upset. Not upset, but more embarrassed about what happened,” Murray said Tuesday. “I told him, Hey that’s a good thing now. If you had gone to Florida that would’ve been a bad thing. But you went to Georgia, I mean you’re worshiped for that right here. He should take more advantage of being the guy that dropped the national championship trophy.”

Murray said one of his coaches at Plant picked up a piece of the shattered trophy and took it back to the school. So now at the high school they show off a piece of Florida’s BCS trophy – brought home, in one way or another, by Charles.

“I think Urban, I mean coach Meyer, was like, You better commit and come win us another one if you’re gonna do that,’” Murray said. “I think he was pretty cool about it. They’ve got insurance on it, so they just went and got another one.”

And Charles and Murray each went to Georgia.

Richt speaks (and makes a funny), the blog listens

At least now Mark Richt can laugh about it. Sort of.

Caleb King returns this week from his two-game suspension. So at Richt’s weekly news conference on Tuesday, a question was prefaced by pointing out that Georgia hasn't had both King and Washaun Ealey available for the same game.

Richt started smiling.

“I was told we were 4-0 when we had our running back suspended,” he said, adding: “It’s early yet. It’s only …” he looked at his watch.

The room laughed, and Richt kept smiling, sheepishly, as if he felt guilty about going there.

“Anyway,” he said.

The Bulldogs are actually 3-0, since Ealey was suspended the opener. The exception was the Tennessee game, when Ealey was benched for his fumbling problems, but still got 12 carries. King did miss a couple games with a sprained ankle. (The Bulldogs lost both of those.)

More notes from the news conference:

- Richt didn’t name a tailback starter, saying they’ll wait to see how King and Ealey practice this week.

“I still feel like if you’ve got two guys that know what they’re doing, they’re going to be physical, then you play them,” Richt said. “So I’m sure we’ll split them up.”

Carlton Thomas will still be in the mix too, Richt added.

- Cornerback and punt returner Branden Smith will be in a non-contact situation practice today, and they hope to upgrade him later in the week.

- Richt on Chris Rainey, the Florida receiver who is eligible to play but hasn’t been officially ruled in: “We’ve gotta prepare as if Rainey will be there. A very fast guy, and very problematic when they put Rainey and Demps in the same backfield. Double trouble, so to speak.”

- Richt said they “missed out” on Chas Henry, a Georgia native, but lucked out by landing Drew Butler.

“There’s probably the two best punters in America going against each other in this game,” Richt said.

- Richt hasn’t studied a lot of defensive film of last year’s Florida film, since Charlie Strong is gone and the Gators have a new defensive coordinator. He does expect Janoris Jenkins to man coverage on A.J. Green, and will watch to see if a safety “sneaks over.”

- When asked about Florida’s offensive struggles. Richt took a deep breath.

“There are some good defenses out there and they’ve played some good defensive teams,” Richt said. “They have struggled some against those teams, but they have also done well.”

- Richt was asked to diagnose the team's struggling third down defense. He attributed it to “mostly our inability to squeeze the quarterback in the pocket. We’ve allowed him to get out of the pocket either on QB run situations or scrambling situations where he can buy a little time and get a little more pressure on our coverage.” … And the defenders in zone coverage haven’t been “disciplined enough.”

- How big a game is this? Georgia-Florida is always big , but Richt granted that a win would open the door for a shot at the division title.

“We pretty much dug out of a hole. Now we’re just trying to climb the mountain a little bit,” Richt said. “Hopefully we’ll just continue to play well and represent Georgia the way everybody would be proud of. … We’ve grabbed a lot of positive momentum, and we just want to keep it going. That’s where we’re at right now.”

- Less than 400 tickets left for the Idaho State game.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Walsh works on his kicking

Georgia kicker Blair Walsh thinks he may have diagnosed why he’s been missing field goals lately.

His extra point miss, on the other hand, well that was just a bad kick.

All three of Walsh’s missed field goals this season, including a 47-yarder on Saturday, came from the right hash mark. So the junior thinks he was over-compensating.

“I didn’t want to end up hooking the ball,” Walsh said. “So I was trying to keep it straight, and I just kept it too straight and not enough left.”

Walsh said he went out earlier than usual for a Monday, kicking 30 or 40 balls from the right hash.

As for the missed PAT, Walsh said he hit it cleanly, but it went left and he knew right away he had missed it. He said it was his first extra-point miss since a high school all-star game.

“I was bound to miss one eventually,” Walsh said. “I hope I won’t miss another one before my career is done.”

Walsh still leads the SEC in field goal percentage. And the Florida native, who was wearing a Jacksonville Jaguars visor on Monday night, is ready to make amends this Saturday.

“I didn’t have a good week at all last week,” he said. “It’s unacceptable and I’ll fix it, and I’ll come back out this week. I’m just glad it didn’t happen this (coming) week.”

McGarity praises Richt

A few weeks ago Greg McGarity was having to answer questions about the state of the Georgia football program, and the status of head coach Mark Richt.

After a three-game win streak, McGarity, Georgia’s new athletics director, is praising his coach. Specifically, McGarity lauded Richt for “admitting … mistakes” about the way preseason was run, and going to more physical practices.

“At one time it didn’t look it was going in the right direction for our program. And I have to credit Mark with what he was able to do, to basically rally the troops after a rough run there and a tough game at Colorado,” McGarity said on Monday.

Georgia was 1-4 after that loss at Colorado. Richt called a full-pads practice for the next Monday, saying it was the first time he has done that at Georgia.

“I think that Monday really set the tone for the season. I really do,” McGarity said. “That different tone, and Mark being a man enough to take some responsibility to say we probably made some mistakes the front end, in terms of the practices and the two-a-days. For him to acknowledge that, I think that speaks to the type of man he is.”

McGarity, who started on the job the last week in August, said the practice changes were not made at his suggestion. Richt initiated them on his own.

“I think that was huge. I think for him to basically do that,” McGarity said. “People are afraid to say in business or government or whatever, hey I made a mistake. It’s another thing to say hey I made a mistake and this is what I’m gonna do to change,” McGarity said.

“If you’re always looking at ways to get better, then I think you have to do things that are a little out of your comfort zone. And that may be admitting that you make mistakes. But the ability to make it publicly, and chart that, I think that’s a credit to him.”

Georgia puts its 4-4 record on the line Saturday against Florida, where McGarity spent the previous 18 years as an associate athletics director.

By the numbers

It's another beautiful day in Athens ... No wait, it's not. It's raining cats and dogs at the moment, so much so that my cat and dog are saying, "Yeah we'll stay right in here." As for me, I guess it's a treadmill day.

(Time to work off all that burgoo from Kentucky.)

As you get back to work, or whatever you do during Georgia-Florida week, a few stats, records and such to tickle your fancy:

- No one ever would have imagined this after the Marcus Lattimore fiasco, but Georgia now ranks first in the SEC in run defense and 12th in the nation. The Bulldogs are the only league team yielding under 100 yards on the ground per game – and it’s not just because of sack yardage. The Bulldogs have 18 sacks and 121 yards in sack yardage, which both rank in the middle of the SEC.

- The flip side: Georgia is dead last in the league in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 42.2 percent of the time. Those of you who watched Kentucky on its opening drive convert four straight third downs, all with longer than eight yards to go, are not surprised by this.

- Justin Houston’s nine sacks lead the SEC, and is one off the national lead, held by Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers. He’s five away from the school record, set by David Pollack in 2002. (They started keeping sack records in 1979.) Auburn’s Nick Fairley is second in the league with 7.5 sacks.

Houston, with 19 career sacks, is also more than halfway to Pollack’s record of 36. But I’m not quite sure Houston will be around long enough to make a run at it.

- Florida is receiving votes in the Harris Poll, which the BCS uses as one-third of its formula. In fact the Gators rank 27th, and moved up a spot last week despite playing. Esteemed voters in the Harris include Gus Frerotte, who once injured himself after banging his head against a wall to celebrate a touchdown.

But remember, the BCS is a great system.

- Speaking of the polls (the AP one), this will be the first time in 31 years both Florida and Georgia are unranked when they play.

- Want to know why Urban Meyer is working on his offense? Florida ranks ninth in the league in scoring offense and total offense. For the school of Tim Tebow and Steve Spurrier, that’s Ron Zook territory.

- Here’s an intriguing matchup for Saturday: Brandon Boykin, coming off his third career 100-yard kick return touchdown, goes against the Gators, who rank second in the league in kickoff coverage. And that’s with only four touchbacks. By comparison Georgia, which leads the lead in kick coverage, has 11 touchbacks.

- Here’s another intriguing matchup: Jeff Demps vs. Georgia’s kick coverage. Demps leads the league in return yardage, averaging 32.5 per return. And Georgia, as we said, is first.

- Georgia is more disciplined this year, and ranks third in the league in least amount of penalties. But its opponents are even more careful – the Bulldogs rank last in the league in opponent penalty yardage.

- The Bulldogs are now at plus-7 in turnover margin, bested only in the SEC by Alabama in that category.

- Akeem Dent is second in the league with 77 tackles. The leader is Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan, with 81.

- Aaron Murray’s pass efficiency rating is 156.97, which would be the best in school history, at least since they started keeping the stat. The current record-holder? Murray’s quarterbacks coach, Mike Bobo, who had a 155.80 rating in 1997.

- Murray now ranks fourth all-time among Georgia freshman quarterbacks in passing yardage (1.766). The first three are David Greene (2,789 in 2001), Quincy Carter (2,484 in 1998) and Eric Zeier (1,984 in 1991).

- All those short fields at Kentucky resulted in Murray dropping to fifth in the league in passing yards (1,766). But among starters, he remains tied for first in least amount of interceptions (3) with Alabama’s Greg McElroy.

- You may recall that A.J. Green missed the first four games of the season. (It was in a few newspaper stories.) Despite the missed time, Green is still tied for fifth in the league with four receiving touchdowns, and 10th in receiving yards (365). His average receiving yards per game (91.2) would rank second behind South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery if Green had enough games to count for the SEC.

- Despite the time he’s missed, Green now ranks fifth on Georgia’s all-time receiving list, with 2,137. He’s one good game away from catching Mohamed Massaquoi (2,282). First place is Terrence Edwards, who holds the SEC record too, with 3,093.

- Green has 131 career receptions. He’s on the verge of passing Hines Ward and Reggie Brown, who are tied for fifth on the school’s all-time list with 144. Edwards also holds the career record with 204.

- Blair Walsh is struggling a bit, having just missed his first career extra point, so let’s throw him some love: The junior is one point away from moving into fifth all-time at Georgia in points scored kicking. In fact Walsh, who has 268, one good game from vaulting past three guys into third all-time. The record is held by Billy Bennett (409) and Kevin Butler is second (353).

- Brandon Boykin should soon break Gene Washington’s school record for kickoff return yardage. Boykin has 1,507 in 56 kick returns, and Washington, who returned 71 kicks between 1973-76, had 1,637.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Healthy Ealey, eligible King set to compete

Washaun Ealey is probably OK, and Caleb King is back to contend with him for carries, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said on Sunday’s teleconference.

Ealey said after Saturday’s win at Kentucky that he “tweaked” his knee a couple times. But Ealey, who scored a school-record five rushing touchdowns in the game, said he didn’t think it was serious, and Richt said he hadn’t heard otherwise on Sunday.

“The way he finished I don’t think it’s anything serious. I’m sure he’s a little sore,” said Richt, who added that athletic trainer Ron Courson’s postgame injury report didn’t include Ealey.

Meanwhile, King’s two-game suspension following an arrest is over. King was the starter before his suspension, and had been separating himself from the pack.

“I don’t think there’s any reason he won’t get back into the mix,” Richt said. “I think he’s played pretty well this season. I think he’s improved in a lot of areas throughout the year. We’re confident in his ability to play, so I’m sure he’ll get right back in there.”

A few other injury updates from Richt:

- Cornerback Branden Smith’s status remains uncertain. Smith has missed the past three games with a concussion.

“That’ll be one of the first things I’ll ask Ron as far as where do we think he’s at,” Richt said.

- Linebacker and special teamer Mike Gilliard injured his hamstring at Kentucky. His status is also uncertain.

- Receiver Logan Gray also appeared to hurt his hamstring, but Richt said Gray played after the injury.

“He may be in better shape than we think,” Richt said.

As for the next opponent, Florida, the Georgia coach seemed to compare Florida’s current state with how Georgia was after falling to 1-4.

The Gators had a bye this weekend, and head coach Urban Meyer said they would use the time to make some changes, especially on offense.

“I’m sure they’re doing some soul-searching and trying to find some answers too,” Richt said. “They have time to change their course a little bit. I’m sure that’s what they’re focusing on right now.”

Fleeting thoughts: After Kentucky

So it’s Florida week. Not sure if any of y’all were aware of that. File that away if you need something to do next Saturday afternoon.

I'm thinking of going, as long as that riveting Giants-Rangers matchup in the World Series doesn't suck the wind out of me.

Georgia enters the cocktail party on a three-game win streak, and having outscored its opponents 128-45 in those games. The Bulldogs are finally looking like the team they were expected to be.

But have they convinced everybody that they’re truly back? Not quite yet, I suspect. Winning at Kentucky is more impressive than the home routs of Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but Saturday’s win came in a sloppy fashion.

That said, turnovers count. (And because of that, a bunch of Bulldogs don’t have to shave again this week. Tune into the World Series this week, and you might see Fred Munzenmaier out there in the Giants bullpen.) The Bulldogs may have been out-gained by Kentucky, but they also had a ton of short fields. The Wildcats may have rallied, but it was never a one-possession game after the first quarter.

So, as we prepare for the onslaught of Florida week hype and analysis, a quick look back at how Georgia got back to .500:

QUARTERBACKS: Is it weird to say someone quietly had a quiet game? Well yeah, it probably is, but that’s how I’d sum up Aaron Murray’s performance. It was his worst passing yardage game of the season, and he didn’t have much substantial run yardage. But with his team jumping out to a 28-3 lead via short fields, Murray’s only job was to not screw up. Mission accomplished. … B.

RUNNING BACKS: Washaun Ealey’s record-setting performance looks a lot flashier on paper (five touchdowns, 157 rushing yards). In reality, Ealey was a workhorse, carrying the ball 28 times, hitting the line hard and getting a push on his runs. He also didn’t fumble. Carlton Thomas (13 yards on six carries) filled his change-of-pace role very well. Now with Caleb King back from his suspension, the Bulldogs have some interesting decisions to make on who carries the ball in Jacksonville. … A.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Someone asked Murray after the game why there weren’t many downfield throws. Murray smiled and pointed out in so many words, Hey, why would we have bothered? A.J. Green (six catches for 86 yards) still put up his usual numbers, but with the exception of a 34-yarder in the second half, he got his yards on receiver screens. Rantavious Wooten (2 catches for 15 yards) and Tavarres King (1 catch for 12 yards) were the only others who caught passes. … B.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Murray was never sacked, and Ealey had enough holes. Josh Davis earned back his starting spot, at least for this game, while Trinton Sturdivant came off the bench, but he did play. Kenarious Gates got to play at Kentucky, the team he was committed to until two days before signing day. The results for everyone seemed positive. … B+.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Kentucky shouldn’t have been able to run well without Derrick Locke, and it didn’t. Never mind backup Raymond Sanders’ stats (79 yards on 16 carries). He got 21 of those on one carry, and most of his positive yardage came late. DeAngelo Tyson, the starting nose tackle, got to Mike Hartline on the game’s first drive, helping to force the first fumble. Hartline was sacked three times, half as many times as he had been sacked before Saturday. Most of Georgia's pressure was the edge rushing, but the front three appeared to get a lot of push too. … B+.

LINEBACKERS: Justin Houston was credited with 2.5 sacks to expand his SEC lead. He now has nine on the season. Akeem Dent had 15 tackles, 12 of them solo. Even Marcus Dowtin, starting for the first time this season, came through with six tackles, four of them solo. More importantly, Kentucky star Randall Cobb wasn’t much of a factor, which is due in large part to the linebackers staying on key and keeping the outside bottled up. … A-.

SECONDARY: This has become quite the hit-or-miss unit. They either make big plays or give them up, and there isn’t much in-between. Sanders Commings had a pick and a fumble recovery and Bacarri Rambo forced a fumble. But in the second half there were a lot of misses, allowing Kentucky to stay alive for longer than it should have. Even in the first half – on the first drive – Kentucky converted on four straight third-and-longs. … C-.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Brandon Boykin finally broke one, as he had seemed on the verge of doing for a few games now. Punter Drew Butler (50.7 yards on three punts, two inside the 20) was fantastic. The kick coverage kept Cobb from breaking anything. The only blemish was Blair Walsh, who missed an extra point for the first time in his college career, and also missed a 47-yarder. I understand from Walsh’s Twitter feed that his NFL fantasy football team is struggling this year. Maybe it’s affecting his own play. I’ll have to ask. … B+.

COACHING: The Bulldogs got their first road win of the year, against a team that had just won at home against a top 10 team, and nearly knocked off another. That says something. The season’s ultimate swing game now awaits in Jacksonville. … B+.

From the locker room

The Georgia Bulldogs weren’t exactly complaining about being handed a bunch of turnovers by their opponent, or being out-gained. They won their third straight game, and there is a sense of renewal to their season.

Pending next week, of course.

The reaction to the 44-31 win over Kentucky was “relief,” according to cornerback Sanders Commings. He meant the team having staved off the Wildcats in the second half, but the word could also be apropos to the team’s season.

“This feels good,” star receiver A.J. Green said. “With the shaky start, with the start I had, with missing the four games, it feels good. I feel like I’m a little responsible for the four losses. …

“I feel like this is a different mood right now. With Aaron coming into his own, the offensive line and our defense coming into our own, I feel like we’re really gonna turn this around. This is going to be a special season.”

Commings sort of shrugged off the team’s defensive performance in the second half.

“Really, when the game is close, that didn’t really happen to us,” Commings said. “When we have a big lead like that we kind of relaxed. That’s one thing we have to work on.”

Head coach Mark Richt was a bit concerned with his team’s offense in the first half, but pleased overall.

“I’m excited about winning a game somewhere besides Athens. We’ve caught a good little bit of momentum now,” Richt said. “We’re just playing hard and we’re playing with a lot more confidence right now. For whatever reason, we’re knocking more balls out and if it’s closer to us and we’re getting on it.”

South Carolina did beat Vanderbilt, so entering the Florida game, Georgia will be a half-game out of first, and a half-game ahead of third-place Florida.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fourth quarter blog

2:47 left in game, Georgia leads 44-25

Georgia needed a long drive, or a score, to remove all doubt. It got both, and you can finally put this one in the books.

Blair Walsh hits a 27-yard field goal to make it 44-26.

So in the past four games (assuming it's done scoring) Georgia has put up 41, 43 and now 44 points.

I'm heading down to the locker room, and will try to post something later.

10:52 left in fourth quarter

This is resembling a video game. Kentucky still won't go away, and it's a two-possession game with plenty of time left.

Chris Matthews scored on a long catch-and-run for Kentucky, which continues to have success against the Georgia secondary.

The Bulldogs had hoped their defensive backs had turned a corner the past few games, especially when it came to giving up big plays. But the troubles are back.

So it's back up to the Bulldog offense to take some time off the clock. Some Kentucky fans have left - enough to make Randall Cobb angry - but there are still a lot in here.

13:53 left in game, Georgia now leads 41-17

We are now in looking-up-records territory in this game.

Washaun Ealey's fifth touchdown of the game means:

1. Georgia has a commanding lead, and fans are heading to the exits. Even Randall Cobb may forgive them this time.
2. Ealey tied the school record for most touchdowns by a single player in a game. He's tied with Robert Edwards' performance against South Carolina in 1995.
3. Ealey now has the school record for rushing touchdowns in one game. Edwards held the previous record.
4. As far as I can tell, it's the first time Georgia has ever scored 40-plus points against three straight SEC opponents.

By the way, for all his touchdowns, Ealey still doesn't have 100 yards.

Third quarter blog

0:41 left in third quarter, Georgia now leads 34-16

This game isn't quite over, as Kentucky has scored late in the third quarter. But it was a hushed Commonwealth Stadium as receiver La'Rod King - who caught the long touchdown pass - stayed down on the field and had to be helped off with an apparent knee injury.

It's still a three-possession game. But not many fans have left the stadium, and the Wildcats know they can rally, having done it before. Georgia just has to do what it did to open this half - put together a convincing drive.

The question is whether the Bulldogs can. They have no passing game at the moment, especially downfield.

UPDATE: Maybe they don't need one. Kentucky just tried for the onside kick, and it went out of bounds at the Kentucky 46. Georgia starts with good field position yet again.

A gamble by the Joker that doesn't pay off.

7:12 left in third quarter, Georgia still leads 34-10

Add Sanders Commings to the list of Bulldogs having a big night. (And appropriately, a Sanders is doing well in Kentucky.)

The sophomore just picked off a long pass in the end zone, after recovering a fumble in the first half. The interception snuffed out a Kentucky drive that had reached deep into Georgia territory.

It also may prove to be the clincher. I know, I know, there's plenty of game left. But the way the Bulldogs are running the ball, they'll be able to eat up a lot of clock.

One note: Linebacker Mike Gilliard, who was emerging as a special teams star, is out for the rest of the game with a hamstring injury.

11:06 left in third quarter, Georgia now leads 34-10

Georgia needed a good opening drive to set the tone here, and not let Kentucky or its fans think a third straight comeback was possible.

It got it. An effective drive ends with Washaun Ealey's 3-yard touchdown. He became the first Georgia player to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Robert Edwards in 1997, against Florida.

It wasn't without one blemish - Blair Walsh missed the extra point, the first time he's done so in his three-year career. Last week he set the school record for consecutive made PATs. (Walsh also missed a field goal in the first half. Huh.)

Ealey did most of the damage, as he continues to be the workhorse this game. He's doing so without fumbling, so far.

But the big play on the drive was a 35-yard catch-and-run by A.J. Green. Give credit to the Georgia coaches - they don't see much of a vertical game there, but they're making sure Green gets the ball anyway.

Quick halftime thoughts

And I mean quick.

- South Carolina and Vanderbilt are tied in the third quarter as I write this. If South Carolina loses, and Georgia holds on to win, the Bulldogs will be alone in first place in the SEC East.

No really, they will be.

- Georgia needs to get the passing game going. Kentucky's offense is capable of a comeback, as we've seen. Especially if it stops turning the ball over.

The Bulldogs are still in control of this game - but only on the scoreboard. The feel of the game is more of a toss-up, especially among the crowd and on the Kentucky sideline. Given the past two weeks, they're not giving up.

- Georgia's run defense has been stupendous, as has the pressure on the pocket, at least most of the time. But when it hasn't, Kentucky has burned the UGA secondary. It has to clamp that up, with the Wildcats set to be firing often this half.

Halftime stats

- Kentucky is out-gaining Georgia in total yards, 200-96.

- The Wildcats have also had more plays (39-24), first downs (9-4) and are dominating in time of possession (18:09).

- Which leads us to the key stat: Kentucky 3 turnovers, Georgia zero. Which is why it's 28-10.

- Washaun Ealey is the game's leading rusher so far with 48 yards, including three touchdowns, on 13 carries.

- Aaron Murray is 6-for-8 for 46 yards. Four of his completions went to A.J. Green.

- Akeem Dent has nine tackles, eight of them solo.

- Justin Houston was credited with 1.5 sacks (splitting one with DeAngelo Tyson).

- The Bulldogs have started four possessions in Kentucky territory, notching 21 points on those drives. They have started two drives on their own side, and punted both times.

Second quarter blog

1:09 left in second quarter, Georgia's lead down to 28-10

Here's where Georgia needs to worry a bit. Yes, it's still up by 18 points, even after Kentucky finally struck - on a 35-yard touchdown pass by Mike Hartline.

Still, 28-10 was the same score Kentucky was down by last week at the half. And we know how that turned out.

The Bulldogs also aren't quite out-classing the Wildcats. The three fumbles and long kickoff return are the difference.

Georgia's pass offense has been tepid so far, and the one time the offense didn't have a short field, they had to punt. Kentucky, on the other hand, just hasn't been able to hold onto the ball.

All that makes it a more interesting second half than it normally would be in a 28-10 game.

6:42 left in second quarter, Georgia now leads 28-3

I had posted the previous item JUST as Georgia got yet another big break. And yet another fumble.

This time Georgia's defensive players didn't have to do anything but pounce on the loose ball, which came out after a muffed pitch. Justin Houston recovered the fumble at the Kentucky 5.

Three plays later, Washaun Ealey scored for the third time tonight. The play stood up under review, perhaps because the replay crew didn't have a good goal-line angle. The Kentucky fans, as biased they may be, certainly disagreed with the call.

So now we sit here at 28-3 with time left in the first half. My Kentucky writer friend, Brett Dawson, didn't believe the Wildcats would have a third straight rally in them this week if they got down again. That's about to be tested.

8:55 left in second quarter, Georgia still leads 21-3

Even when Georgia's offense can't convert, things still end up peachy for the team.

Punter Drew Butler, who was probably checking his Blackberry up until now, came on for his first punt and did about as well as humanly possible: A 56-yarder that bounced out at the 3.

Oh, and because Kentucky wasn't pinned enough, a holding penalty forced it back half the "distance" to the goal-line.

The one worry Georgia should have - other than Kentucky's comeback ability - is that its offense hasn't really done much yet. It hasn't had to, yes, but it may need to at some point.

13:04 left in second quarter, Georgia now leads 21-3

Georgia is threatening to run away with this one. Based on the past couple Kentucky games, don't look for the Bulldogs to take the pressure off. (Assuming they can.)

Washaun Ealey scores his second touchdown of the game. And it's always impressive when a tailback, on a goal-line carry, can finish the run standing up.

The Bulldogs are doing it with the running game so far, and all Ealey, who has 39 rushing yards on nine carries.

Not that they're not trying to get A.J. Green involved. All three pass completions have gone to Green. He has three catches for 25 yards, all basically on screens.

But the story remains how Georgia is creating chances for itself, via the two fumble recoveries, holding on a fourth down and Brandon Boykin's kick return touchdown.

Incidentally, Boykin's fourth career kickoff return TD tied an SEC record, held by Tennessee's Willie Gault and Arkansas' Felix Jones. Pretty good company there.

First quarter blog

End of first quarter, Georgia leads 14-3

Everyone talked this week about how A.J. Green's presence had changed things for Georgia. Well he hasn't been a factor - because he hasn't had to - and the Bulldogs have a 14-3 lead after 15 minutes.

The early story of this game: Turnovers, special teams and big plays - in Georgia's favor.

The latest came when Kentucky went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 39. The Georgia defense held.

Georgia's offense has now started all three drives inside Kentucky's 40: at the 24, 34 and 39.

And that's not including Brandon Boykin's kickoff return touchdown.

The Bulldogs couldn't capitalize the second time, when Sanders Commings returned a fumble down to the Kentucky 34. Blair Walsh missed a 46-yard field goal.

As we prepare to start the second quarter, Georgia is driving, with Washaun Ealey having converted a third down.

Ealey is also emerging as a story, at least on offense.

4:57 left in first quarter, Georgia leads 14-3

This just in: Brandon Boykin is good at returning kickoffs.

The Georgia junior just returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown - the third time he's done that in his career.

That's not too shabby.

It never hurts to have the special teams and defense do the legwork: Georgia now has 14 points in this game, after running just four offensive plays. That's the kind of stuff that wasn't happening earlier in the season.

Boykin had seemed on the verge of a long return - I wrote as much in my pregame capsule for today's papers. Now the question is whether Kentucky will start kicking away from him.

5:14 left in first quarter, Georgia now leads 7-3

Georgia's defense finally held on third down, but not after four straight long Kentucky conversions got it into field goal territory. So after a 41-yard kick by Craig McIntosh, the Wildcats are within four.

The Bulldogs didn't hold on third down four straight times on that drive, with the four conversions all coming from longer than eight yards out. Kentucky's drive lasted 16 plays.

On the plus side, none of the big plays resulted in a touchdown.

7:30 left in first quarter

Kentucky had only allowed a league-low six sacks entering this game. But it's already yielded one, and Georgia is getting a ton of pressure on Mike Hartline.

It appears that with tailback Derrick Locke out, the Bulldogs are allowing their edge rushers to just go after Hartline, and they'll let the safeties worry about the tailbacks, if need be.

On the other hand, Georgia's third-down woes - specifically on third-and-long are back. Kentucky just converted a third straight one to get into Georgia territory. It's been third-and-10, third-and-8 and third-and-15.

11:57 left in first quarter, Georgia takes 7-0 lead

I'll go ahead and assume Georgia is mildly satisfied with the beginning to this ballgame.

Georgia has grabbed momentum and quieted the crowd early, capitalizing on a fumble recovery with a Washaun Ealey 3-yard touchdown run. Ealey set up his own run with a 13-yard run on third down, and on both plays he showed a lot of strength at the line, barreling through after getting hit.

But the big play came on defense, when the Bulldogs forced Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline to cough the ball up deep in his own territory.

DeAngelo Tyson was actually credited with the sack, but Justin Houston had the initial hit. Houston burst through pretty much untouched.

Cornelius Washington recovered the fumble at the Kentucky 24.

Keep in mind, Georgia is 3-0 when it scores first this season.

Pregame blog (updated)

7:32 p.m.: About to kick off

Kentucky has won the toss and will receive.

If you believe in precedent, the next few minutes will dictate the outcome: When Georgia has given up a touchdown on the opening drive, it is 0-4. When it hasn't, it's 3-0.

Plus, as Kentucky writers have told us, they're not sure if the Wildcats have another big comeback in them. So it'll be big for the Bulldogs if they can strike early and often.

Here we go.

7:05 p.m.: An O-Line starting change?

Josh Davis, who has come off the bench the past two games, was stretching with the starters, while Trinton Sturdivant was with the backups.

So if you go by that, Davis has earned back his starting right tackle spot, Clint Boling is switching back to left tackle, and Trinton Sturdivant will come off the bench. Gates will start his third straight game at right guard.

The starting change, if it comes to fruition, is a bit of a surprise, considering Mark Richt said last week they would stick with the starting lineup. But he also said they like the rotation, so I would assume Sturdivant will continue to play. But we'll have to see.

6:50 p.m.

As the teams warm up, a few more news and notes for you:

- Players may want to be careful about their hitting from now on. The SEC just handed down a one-half suspension for South Carolina LB Rodney Paulk for a helmet-to-helmet hit in last week's game at Kentucky.

If you remember, Georgia center Ben Jones got a similar suspension at Colorado for his cut block the previous week at Mississippi State.

- Colorado has lost at home to Texas Tech. The Buffaloes have now lost three straight, two of them at home, since defeating Georgia. (Commence scratching your heads again at how the Bulldogs didn't leave Boulder with a win.)

- Former Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks is here, looking comfortably retired in a pair of sandals, and with a jacket tied around his waist. I read Brooks' tweets about golfing and taking his grandkids to the park and hope I get to live that life someday. Brooks, who still lives in Lexington, was at last week's game here at Commonwealth Stadium.

- There's a good deal of red in one corner of the stadium. Forty minutes till kickoff, there's still a lot of room for the place to fill up.


5:45 p.m.: Dress list

Nothing too startling, with Branden Smith and Nick Williams as expected being kept home with their injuries.

Quintin Banks, the safety whose career has ended because of injury, is here. Apparently the team wanted to let him go on the trip.

But Shaun Chapas is wearing 31 - along with Banks, so they've got two of the same number. (That's not an unusual occurence; Brandon Boykin and emergency walk-on QB Parker Welch are both wearing No. 2.)

Ken Malcome is on the trip, despite the decision to redshirt him at almost no cost. That makes sense, as the team has to be ready in case of Washaun Ealey and Carlton Thomas both getting hurt.

Michael Bennett, the freshman receiver who has also yet to play, is dressed too. Bennett has made every road trip so far.

5:25 p.m.

Greetings from Commonwealth Stadium. What started as a beautiful autumn day has turned into a cloudier one here in Lexington.

The Georgia players and staff are on the field right now (which is officially C.M. Newton Field). If I notice anyone missing who might be a surprise, I'll pass it along. We already know that CB Branden Smith didn't make the trip.

I'll also be curious how many Georgia fans make it in the stadium. To be honest, I didn't see as many as usual over the past 24 hours: There were hardly any on my flight, or at my hotel, and I didn't see too many out on the town last night.

Although, as I wrote yesterday, there were a ton at Keeneland. Maybe everyone lost so much money they had to go home early.

Also, a few pregame stats, provided by the SEC, to satisfy any fixes you may have:

- Georgia QB Aaron Murray has thrown for 1,653 yards this season, which is the eighth highest total by a freshman in SEC history. The SEC single-season record is 3,687 yards by Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen in 2000. Georgia’s David Greene threw for 2,789 yards as a freshman in 2001 and is second on the list.

- In its three wins this season, Georgia’s average time of possession is 35:05 while in its four losses, the Bulldogs average 28:49 per game.