It won’t be fun for the Georgia players fending off those cut-blocks and it probably won’t be as pretty as many in the Bulldog Nation would like, but Mark Richt’s Bulldogs should emerge from their SEC Cupcake Weekend match against Georgia Southern with a 10th victory and fully up to speed on handling the triple-option offense that they’ll see again next week.
The Eagles bring the Football Championship Subdivision’s leading rushing attack to Athens, averaging 401.2 yards per game on the ground. Southern’s rushing attack is led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon, a former Sprayberry High School star who was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week after beating Howard by running for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw for two more touchdowns, though he only passed the ball four times in the game. That put McKinnon over 1,000 yards rushing.
So the Eagles are likely to control the ball for a while Between the Hedges and will rack up some yards. Probably a few points, too. They ran for 302 yards and scored 21 points last year against Alabama’s top-rated rushing defense.
But if Todd Grantham’s defense is patient, sticks to its assignments and can avoid key injuries, the Bulldogs’ advantage in terms of size and speed should allow them to keep the Eagles under control. Triple-option offenses also are prone to put the ball on the ground, and GSU has had some trouble with that this season.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Aaron Murray, Gurshall, Tavarres King and company should prove too much for an outmanned Southern defense.
It might take the Dawgs a while to pull away — that was the case with Bama last year — but at least they’ll have had a meaningful tune-up for the Governor’s Cup match with the Yellow Jackets.
Now, let’s check some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
Brett Miolen writes: [Todd] Gurley and [Keith] Marshall have been great this season and both have shown they can score at anytime from anywhere. Gurley gets the bulk of the work but Marshall has played great despite only getting around 6-10 carries a game. With his ability, do you see any way he can get more involved or get more touches?
While I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a few more carries, Marshall noted this week that thanks to the reduced load this season his body isn’t taking the beating it did in high school, and both he and Gurley are staying fresh. The slightly larger Gurley actually is built more for the heavy load of being an SEC primary back, and it’s hard to argue in favor of taking the ball out of his hands any more, what with him approaching becoming only the second UGA true freshman to break the 1,000-yard mark. Marshall is the more likely of the two to break a really long run of 50-plus yards, as he’s tied for second place nationally in that category with four. Of course, thanks to the Bulldogs’ balanced offense and potent passing attack, neither back is close to getting worn down. Gurley had 11 carries against Auburn and Marshall had eight. And Boo Malcome also usually gets in the mix late in games. “It’s kept them from getting too many carries where a true freshman might really get beat down,” Richt said this week. Bottom line: Gurley and Marshall make a pretty effective tandem with the current splitting of the load.
Blake Doster writes: Bill, I just read that Aaron Murray is coming back next year. How does that effect Hutson Mason next year? I thought he redshirted this year to be the starter next year. Please help me understand.
In a related question, Scott Vaughan writes: 1. Aaron Murray — coming back for his last year? 2. If not Aaron, who? I was surprised when they ran out Parker Welch against Auburn, first, rather than [Christian] LeMay. Reading too much into it? Great blog site. Thanks for representing the fan base.
Thanks, Scott. To answer Blake first, Murray has not said he’s definitely coming back to UGA for his senior year, but most observers figure he will since he’ll get to polish his game, enhance his NFL prospects and probably break Danny Wuerffel’s career SEC record for touchdown passes. Murray currently is in fifth place with 83, and the record is 114. By the end of this season, Murray stands a good chance of passing Tim Tebow, Chris Leak and Peyton Manning for second place. As for Mason, the reason he’s taking a redshirt this season is to give him a year of separation from Murray. That way, even if Murray returns for his senior season, Mason could have a year as Georgia’s starter after that. As for Welch playing ahead of LeMay, Georgia’s coaching staff has indicated that’s because he has exhibited a firmer grasp of the offensive playbook than LeMay.
James Ernest Nobles writes: Bill, no one has addressed the possibility of Auburn beating Alabama in the Iron Bowl and knocking them out of the SEC championship game. While the odds are against this happening, there is always the possibility. In that case wouldn’t Texas A&M go to Atlanta and play Georgia for the SEC championship?
If you saw Auburn play against the Dogs, you know the odds of them beating Bama are extremely long. But stranger things have happened in rivalry games, so let’s run with that scenario for a moment. If Alabama were to lose to Auburn and Texas A&M and LSU both were to win out, the SEC West would be a three-way tie. If that happened, LSU would play in the SEC Championship game because the Tigers and Aggies would have 5-1 divisional records, while the Tide would have a 4-2 SEC West record and LSU beat the Aggies head-to-head, giving them the ultimate tie-breaker.
Reagan Mabry writes: Bill, there is a lot of football to be played yet before the BCS championship game is determined and anything can happen in the next three weeks. My question is this, has Mark Richt learned anything from the 2002, 2005 and 2007 seasons that style points do actually count? I think he needs to have the offense score as many points as possible the next two weeks and not let up. Then UGA could close up a little in the BCS points to be in position as the best one loss team if any team loses. I know this is not Mark Richt’s style but could end up hurting UGA again by just doing enough to win. I think Mark Richt should have been on ESPN and every media outlet possible in 02, 05 and 07 doing PR work stating UGA’s claim to be in the NC game. Saban did his PR work right last year and just hope Mark Richt has learned something if he gets his team in that position again.
If you’re expecting Richt to suddenly morph into one of those coaches who keeps throwing touchdown passes deep into the fourth quarter to run up the score, it’s not likely to happen. But your point about coaches who play the PR game to sell their team’s position is well taken. If Georgia does win out and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship game, a spot in the BCS national title game still would not be assured, even if two of the three undefeated teams ahead of the Dogs were to suffer a loss. The only thing that would be guaranteed for Georgia would be a spot in the BCS. So some politicking by Richt along the lines of Nick Saban and Les Miles definitely would seem in order. On the other hand, if Georgia loses to Bama, it’s highly unlikely the Dogs would get the SEC’s second spot in the BCS no matter what Richt did. And while most predictions are that the Dogs would wind up in either the Capitol One or Outback in that case, some bowl observers think that if they’re the SEC championship game loser they could fall as far as Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, however unfair that might seem. It all has to do with bowl committee preferences for home-state teams, higher rankings and traveling fan bases. On the brighter side, both of ESPN’s bowl prognosticators, Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards, see Georgia beating Alabama in the SEC game and then meeting Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Do you have something you want to discuss concerning the current football season or UGA athletics in general? Got a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? If so, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg