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Post MSU game storylines

Thursday October 19, 2006

Once you get beyond the coachspeak, Mississippi State isn’t a good team. After all the self-flagellation Georgia fans have done in the past two weeks, we have to make a distinction. As many problems as Georgia might have, they are nowhere near as bad as Mississippi State. They haven’t been able to stay within 15 points of an SEC team this year. They are down, and let me say without equivocation that there is no reason why Georgia should be in a game with these guys after halftime. Of course, I would have said that about a few other games this season. Here are some areas I’ll be watching in the game:

  • Stafford and the youth movement: The big news of course is Richt turning the reigns over to Matthew Stafford on a more permanent basis. That in itself leads to a number of questions. Will Stafford spend more time in the shotgun where he is most comfortable? Will receivers catch his passes? Will he go downfield much against a shaky pass defense? Stafford looked fine in relief last week, but even he was not a cure for Georgia’s redzone problems.

    Injuries have thrown other youngsters in the mix this weekend. Sophomore Tripp Chandler will start at tight end in place of Martrez Milner. If Ramarcus Brown is unable to go at cornerback, redshirt freshman Bryan Evans along with true freshmen Asher Allen and Prince Miller will see action. Allen will return kickoffs in place of Thomas Brown. If Nick Jones can’t play, Ian Smith wll be the center. We might even see more time for younger safeties like C.J. Byrd if the starters continue to under-produce. A good showing by some young players might leave the door open for the coaches to try even more guys down the road at positions such as linebacker.

  • The three two-headed monster: The season-ending injury to Thomas Brown will affect the distribution of carries; the only question is how Ware and Lumpkin will split time. Will Lumpkin get the chance to carry the ball 20 times? Blocking by the backs will be important against a formidable defensive front.

  • Receiver TD watch: Forget dropped passes for a second. Other than Mario Raley’s touchdown early on against Western Kentucky, Georgia’s receivers haven’t caught a touchdown pass this season. Fullback Brannan Southerland with two receiving touchdowns has twice as many as Georgia’s entire wide receiver unit. There are individuals who have outproduced the entire Georgia receiver corps. An injury to A.J. Bryant doesn’t help their chances for improving those numbers. Massaquoi has been playing better lately, and we’ll see how improved the unit can be after a week’s working exclusively with Stafford. There will be a few wild cards in the passing game. Tripp Chandler and Coleman Watson present a different look at TE. Danny Ware might see more time in the backfield, and he’s Georgia’s best receiving back. And always beware of the dual-threat from (to this point) offensive MVP Southerland.

  • Musical offensive line: If there’s one area where Mississippi State might cause Georgia problems, it’s in the trenches when Georgia has the ball. The MSU defensive line has three senior starters led by Deljuan Robinson. The unit is as good as any in the SEC. The bad news is that Georgia’s already-thin offensive line took a hit last week when Chester Adams and Nick Jones were injured. Jones might play this week, but Adams’ position will be filled by reserve tackle Michael Turner. The remaining linemen have been working without substitution this week, so hopefully they have something left in the tank for the game. An effective day by the MSU defensive front likely would mean another low-scoring close game.

  • What the doctor ordered for the defense: The Mississippi State offense made South Carolina look like Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense in the season opener. The glacial Mike Henig will play at quarterback since injuries have eliminated everyone else. On the other hand, Georgia made Vanderbilt’s quarterback look like John Elway during Vandy’s game-winning drive last week. The good news is that Mississippi State has no systematic strengths or weapons on offense to be concerned about. Jerious Norwood is gone, and nothing remotely close has stepped into his void.

    The question then is whether or not Georgia can avoid defensive breakdowns that would allow their opponent to have above-average output from their offense. Mississippi State presents a great chance for Georgia’s defense to get a much-needed shot in the arm before Jacksonville. We also thought that Colorado and Ole Miss would be good chances to work out kinks for later in the season, but those games turned into fights for survival.

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