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December 28, 2009

What I Expect Today From the Dawgs

I truly feel Georgia should be able to handle the Aggies tonight without much difficulty.  Although a possible lack of motivation and fan support could oppose problems, the Bulldogs should pull away by the final quarter.  Here's a breakdown of what I expect from Georgia in today's Independence Bowl: 
OFFENSE: In the first half of the season, Georgia’s running game and offensive line were considerable disappointments while the offense relied too much on easily-rattled quarterback Joe Cox and superstar receiver A.J. Green. After averaging only 97.2 rushing yards per its first six games, 3.4 yards per gain, and just four rushing touchdowns, Georgia averaged 217.0 per contest, 5.5 yards per carry, and rushed for 10 touchdowns the last half of the regular season.

The Bulldogs’ drastically improved offensive line allows only one sack per contest—tied for 12th best in the FBS of 120 teams. This strength will be pitted against a Texas A&M pass rush that is recording nearly three sacks (2.92) per game—eighth best in the nation—and includes lineman Von Miller, who is leading the FBS with 17 sacks.

In its last game, Georgia rushed for 339 yards and threw only 14 pass attempts in an upset victory over Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs will likely attempt to establish the same rushing attack against Texas A&M. Since the Aggies have struggled to stop the run, allowing 4.5 yards per rush, expect Georgia to easily gain 169 yards or more for the sixth time in seven games after not rushing for more than 155 in its previous 11 (dating back to 2008).

Green returns after missing three-and-a-half games with an injury. In the Independence Bowl, he and quarterback Cox should only have to be components of the Bulldogs’ offense, instead of its entirety as was seemingly the case earlier in the year.

DEFENSE: What grabs one’s attention regarding Georgia’s defense is it is only allowing 328.4 yards per game, ranking in the top one-fourth of the FBS, but the Bulldogs yield 26.4 points per game. For the second straight season, Georgia’s yards per point (YPP) is one of the worst in the nation while its YPP for 2009 (12.43), is the lowest ever at the school since UGA began keeping official statistics in 1946.

In other words, Georgia, by losing turnovers while forcing very few, constantly committing penalties, and often giving its opponents good field position, is allowing the opposition to score points without it having to work very hard for them. This was a major factor why the Bulldogs recently fired three assistants, including the defensive coordinator and the coach in charge of kickoff coverage.

Texas A&M’s offense, guided by recording-breaking quarterback Jerrod Johnson, seems fit to take advantage of the Bulldog defense’s shortcomings; however, the Aggies’ gaudy offensive figures are somewhat misleading. Although A&M is averaging more than 465 yards per game, it also averages more than 80 plays per game—second most in the FBS only behind Houston.

Georgia’s 12 opponents this season averaged less than 65 plays per game while just one, South Carolina, ran 80 or more plays against the Bulldogs. Texas A&M’s up-tempo attack is averaging only 5.81 yards per play. In comparison, Georgia’s offense, who ranks only 73rd in the FBS with 361.8 yards per game, is gaining 5.99 yards per play.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Georgia has one of the better special teams units in college football, ranking 10th in Phil Steele’s special teams ratings in the FBS. If not for the 26.7 yards the Bulldogs allow per kickoff return, the next-to-worst average in the FBS, Georgia might have the best overall special teams in the nation.

Because of Blair Walsh, Georgia has Steele’s second-best rating for placekickers while punter Drew Butler and the team’s net punting have the top averages in the country.

Texas A&M’s special teams rank only 84th according to Steele. If their place-kicking is included, the Aggies’ total special teams rating ranks 74th in the nation.

INTANGIBLES: For the most part, Coach Richt's teams have performed well in bowls, recording a 6-2 mark straight up and 5-3 ATS. Texas A&M has lost 10 of 12 bowl games since 1991.

Texas A&M’s biggest advantage might be its crowd support. The Bulldogs sold only approximately half of their 12,000 allotted tickets; the Aggies sold all of theirs and even started purchasing tickets from UGA. In addition, the Bulldogs might be disappointed in only appearing in the Independence Bowl after playing in January bowls in six of the previous seven seasons.

WHAT I EXPECT: The Bulldogs rushing attack gained steam as the regular season was winding down. Using the Georgia Tech game as the perfect example for the bowl game and even next season, I expect Georgia to continue its running ways against Texas A&M and into the 2010 campaign. Next year, the Bulldogs lose just one starter on offense (Cox), returning their entire line and top two backs (Washaun Ealey and Caleb King) from this season.

I believe strongly Georgia will have one of its best rushing outputs of the season and, in doing so, will move the chains often and keep the Aggies’ offense and quarterback Johnson off the field.

Although Georgia’s defense has given up many easy scores, I look for them to hold strong and exhibit the discipline and intensity, which lacked this year, they have displayed in recent bowl games.

"Everybody thought Georgia Tech was going to run on us, and we were able to shut it down," said senior defensive lineman Geno Atkins. “We take pride in that and we're going to try and keep [the Independence Bowl] a low scoring game."

The line on the game is currently Georgia -7 with a total of 66. Expect the Bulldogs to win by at least 10 points and perhaps by as many as three touchdowns in a game not quite as high scoring as the “experts” think.

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