My friend Harvey Parson and I have this (relatively) good-natured thing going where we joke about which of our teams is the “real” Bulldogs.
Of course, outside of the state of Mississippi, there’s no real bone of contention there, so to speak, but whenever UGA plays Mississippi State you hear the yipping of Maroon Bulldog fans (along with lots of bad doggy wordplay).
Speaking of which, I miss the old big red fireplug that the Georgia cheerleaders used to pull out on the field for Uga, don’t you?
Anyway, with interim Georgia mascot Russ playing host to pretender Bully this week, I asked Harvey whether he’s optimistic about Saturday’s game Between the Hedges, and he said he’s “feeling pretty good about the ‘real’ dawgs.”
OK, that could be read two ways, but Harvey made clear that he thinks MSU, which won 24-12 last year in Starkville in one of UGA’s worst games, can do it again.
His take: “I think our D-line and corners give us the edge on defense. And I like the changes [Dan] Mullen is making on our O-line; should restart our offense. Moving our center back to his natural position and taking our big ole left tackle and moving him to the right guard position should create some push for us. My biggest concern is our safeties and linebackers against your passing game.”
Care to make a prediction, Harvey?
“Sure. MSU 27, UGA 17.”
The oddsmakers in Vegas don’t quite see it that way, installing Georgia as a 7-point favorite, at least in part because MSU had to go to overtime last week to take care of lightweight Louisiana Tech.
Last year, Georgia moved the ball pretty well against MSU between the 20-yard lines and had 100 yards more offense, but made key mistakes (a Washaun Ealey fumble on the goal line), drew a shower of penalty flags and in the second half got just plain whipped on both lines of scrimmage. The Georgia defense just couldn’t seem to get off the field as MSU continually ran it up the gut.
This year, Georgia looks much stouter against the run up the middle, but Mark Richt has openly expressed concern about what Mullen’s spread option attack could do with sweeps and reverses on the outside, where the Red and Black Bulldogs have been vulnerable.
MSU’s offense is led by big QB Chris Relf, who on his better days looks almost like a Tim Tebow wannabe, and tailback Vick Ballard, who’s averaging 7 yards a clip. But the Maroon Dogs have struggled on third-down conversions lately (while Georgia’s defense, conversely, has been much better this season at stopping opponents on third down). Last week against Louisiana Tech, Relf was 2-for-9 passing with one conversion on third-down attempts.
But while running is the main thrust of the MSU attack, Georgia’s secondary needs to keep speedy receiving threat Chad Bumphis in check, even though State also has been struggling lately in the passing game. I was encouraged by the way the UGA defenders were breaking up passes against Ole Miss last week.
Bumphis also is a threat as a punt returner, though, which concerns me considering Georgia’s recent struggles on special teams.
But MSU has had to reshuffle its injury-depleted offensive line and the front seven of its defense hasn’t been all that impressive to date, while Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell is coming into his own.
Bottom line: I think Georgia is still smarting from last year’s loss in Starkville and will be out to prove something against the other Bulldogs. As long as they don’t get flag-happy like last year or give up points on special teams, I think the “real” Bulldogs win by at least a touchdown.
And, oh yeah, Harvey, that means the Dawgs in red. Woof!
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