It’s going to be a busy day for the opponent previews. We’re going to try to cram Georgia, Samford and Alabama all in on the same day. So check back for updates.
- Head coach: Mark Richt (11th season at Georgia, 96-34; was assistant at Florida State and East Carolina)
- 2009 record: 6-7 (3-5, t-3rd SEC East), lost to Central Florida 10-6 in Liberty Bowl
- Returning starters: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)
- Total offense: 385.0 ypg (8th SEC, 56th nationally)
- Total defense: 328.5 ypg (4th SEC, 23rd nationally)
- Series: Auburn leads 54-52-8
- Last meeting: Auburn won 49-31 last year in Jordan-Hare Stadium
- Consensus prediction: Second in SEC East
Five-week schedule glimpse
- Oct. 29: vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
- Nov. 5: New Mexico State
- Nov. 12: Auburn
- Nov. 19: Kentucky
- N0v. 26: at Georgia Tech
We’ve reached Amen Corner with our opponent previews. First up is Georgia. The Bulldogs struggled to a 6-7 mark last year, Mark Richt‘s worst record in all his time in Athens, capped off by an uninspired Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida. It didn’t help ease the heat the coach had been feeling. But Richt gained some momentum back with a strong recruiting class in February and hopes that, an additional year in the 3-4 defensive scheme and the arrival of super frosh running back Isaiah Crowell will jumpstart the program. this year.
To find out if it will happen, I went to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph (who also provides our Bulldogs stuff at the Ledger-Enquirer.) Follow him on Twitter here, read his work online here and make sure to check out his blog’s new site here. Here are his answers to a few questions:
AB: Freshman running back Isaiah Crowell (Carver High) figured to be a big part of the offense when he signed. Then, every conceivable road block to him getting on the field moved out of the way this summer (Washaun Ealey transferred and Caleb King was ruled academically ineligible). How quickly will the Bulldogs make Crowell the featured back? And can he have a Marcus Lattimore-like impact this year?
SE: I always figured, after Crowell signed, that either Ealey or King would be quietly shown the door. Turns out it was Ealey, but then they lost King, who the coaches wanted to be a veteran presence to go with Crowell. So they’ve moved back Richard Samuel, who played his first two seasons (’08 and ’09) at tailback before spending last year at linebacker while he redshirted. They say Samuel will enter the preseason No. 1 on the depth chart, so my guess is he and Crowell will be 1A and 1B. I’m downgrading my expectations on Crowell for that reason, and away from being a Lattimore-type impact player. But I still think he and Samuel can really upgrade the running game this year, and Crowell has a chance to have a special career.
Of course, I’m basing all that on what I hear and sense about summer workouts. Ask me again after a few weeks of actual scrimmages and practices, and I’ll probably have another take.
AB: The Bulldogs are stocked at tight end and have perhaps the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray. But the receivers are a question mark after losing A.J. Green and Kris Durham. Who is going to step into their place? And how much do you think not having those two will affect Murray’s growth as a quarterback?
SE: It’s too bad for Georgia this isn’t the NFL and they couldn’t trade some of their tight ends for receiver help. Tavarres King is their top returning receiver, and he needs to make a big step this year if he’s to be considered a go-to guy. But players and coaches are raving about a freshman, Malcolm Mitchell from Valdosta. Linebacker Christian Robinson said he’s never seen anyone, including Green, who was better at pivoting on his route than Mitchell. Having said all that, Georgia still needs to lean on tight end Orson Charles, a preseason first-team All-SEC guy. They also have senior Aron White and Jay Rome, one of the nation’s top-rated freshman. I do think it’ll be interesting to see if Murray’s production drops because of the absence of Green — although he was still pretty solid the first four games last year without Green.
AB: The defense lost end/outside linebacker Justin Houston and linebacker Akeem Dent but benefits from going into its second year under Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. Will the group be better in Year 2 just because of their comfort in the system? Who are going to be the new headliners on defense?
SE: Houston and Dent are big losses, no doubt. What they were hoping is that Jarvis Jones (another Carver kid, who sat out last year) would step into the outside linebacker role and flourish. So they’re anxiously awaiting a resolution of the Tony Adams/parks and rec fund situation. The biggest addition, literally, is nose tackle John Jenkins, a junior college grad. DeAngelo Tyson played out of position last year at nose and has switched to end. Grantham likes to say that the nose tackle is the most important spot in the 3-4, and with a natural nose guard this year in Jenkins (and the improved Kwame Geathers) they feel the entire defense will be improved. We’ll see.
Robinson and fellow inside linebacker Alec Ogletree can make tackles, as can safety Bacarri Rambo. The question is whether this revamped defense has enough guys that can get to the ball and actually stop plays. They’re hoping Jones and Jenkins can help do that.
AB: Special teams often gets overlooked, but Georgia has some of the best around with veteran kicker Blair Walsh, punter Drew Butler and return man extraordinaire Brandon Boykin. How much of an impact can these guys make this year?
SE: All three of those guys were around last year and were pretty good, and it didn’t make enough of a difference. That’s not to mitigate the importance of special teams; Georgia just didn’t have many close games go its way last year.
But yes, when it comes to special teams Georgia is probably set up better than anybody in the country this year. Butler’s presence should give their defense a bit more room, Walsh’s leg should be worth a few more points, and Boykin should cause some teams to kick away from them.
AB: Head coach Mark Richt has a lot invested in the “Dream Team” recruiting class from last February, especially after a disappointing 6-7 mark last year. Are there legitimate concerns about his job security this year or will the administration give him enough time for this strong class of recruits to develop into contributors before making any important decisions regarding his employment?
SE: I don’t think there’s any doubt that his job is on the line this year, but I do think there’s a disconnect between the perception inside and outside Georgia of how hot his seat is. It seems regional and national people expect the job to open if he doesn’t win the East; but athletics director Greg McGarity has said he wants to see “improvement,” and that could mean just eight wins, under certain circumstances. The Bulldogs just got another big group of recruiting commitments for future years, including some from Florida and South Carolina. And Richt has a lot of goodwill built up from the important people at Georgia, whether it’s the president, board members or influential boosters.
Now obviously if the team struggles on the field, and/or there are more off-field problems, this might be it for the Richt era. But this is not like the end of the Tommy Tuberville era at Auburn, or Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee; the difference here is if it’s a close call, I believe Richt will still be the coach in 2012.
NCAA ’12 says …
No. 16 Auburn 23, No. 25 Georgia 16. Barrett Trotter threw for three touchdowns, including a 21-yarder to Travante Stallworth that proved to be the difference. Mike Dyer topped 100 yards again, reaching 104. Daren Bates was the defensive star, making nine tackles, three tackles for a loss and a half a sack. The Tigers improved to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the SEC. That puts them in a tie with Alabama atop the SEC West, a half game in front of 4-2 Arkansas.
Big thanks to Seth for helping me out with this one. This is another game that’s always entertaining. And I always enjoy a trip to Athens, one of the better cities on the SEC circuit.
Up next: A mini-preview of Samford.