One of the most anticipated games the first week of the season takes place Saturday afternoon, when the Georgia Bulldogs make a rare out-of-conference road trip to Stillwater, Okla., to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both teams are ranked in the top 15 of the pre-season USA Today Coaches Poll, but enter 2009 with different mindsets.
Georgia enters the 2009 campaign looking to bounce back after a somewhat disappointing 2008 campaign, even though they did win 10 games. The Bulldogs came into last season as the pre-season number one team in the nation behind first-round draftees Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. But, they stumbled in big games, due in large part to massive injury problems that saw them lose 19 scholarship players to season-ending injuries. Defensive implosions against Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech left a sour taste in the mouths of Bulldog fans. They enter 2009 ranked 13th in the nation, and looking to rebound behind first-year starter Joe Cox at quarterback, first-year starter Richard Samuel at running back and All-SEC WR A.J. Green.
Oklahoma State kicks off 2009 as a chic pick to win the Big XII South, and possibly contend for a National Title. They return eight offensive starters from an offense that, in 2008, finished sixth in the nation in total offense. QB Zac Robinson, WR Dez Bryant, RB Kendall Hunter and OT Russell Okung all are capable of putting up All-American seasons. The returning firepower on offense, coupled with a newly-renovated Boone Pickens Stadium, have Cowboys fans referring to this as one of the biggest out-of-conference home games in Oklahoma State history.
On paper it looks like Georgia will be over-matched by the potent Cowboys offense, the hostile atmosphere in Stillwater and the question marks on the Bulldog roster. Vegas even agrees, installing the Cowboys as a six-point favorite over the Bulldogs.
Don't count on the Bulldogs to be intimidated.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt has made a living winning big road games during his tenure at Georgia. The Bulldogs are 30-4 on the road since 2001, not including neutral-site games. In those 34 road games, they are 3-1 vs. top 10 teams, a record that includes wins at Tennessee in 2001 and 2005, and Auburn in 2006. In those three wins, the Bulldogs relied on redshirt freshman David Greene, first-year starter D.J. Shockley and true freshman Matt Stafford under center, respectively. Sound familiar?
Joe Cox has been around the block before. As as redshirt freshman in 2006, he led the Bulldogs on a dramatic 14-13 comeback win over Colorado, tossing two fourth-quarter touchdowns in place of an ineffective Stafford.
Several people have said that this isn't exactly the type of game that Richt had in mind for Cox's second-career start, and there's probably some validity to that. But, Neyland Stadium wasn't exactly a picnic for David Greene in 2001 and D.J. Shockley in 2005, and Auburn had faint National Championship hopes when Matt Stafford went to Jordan-Hare and upset the Tigers in 2006. It's going to be a hostile atmosphere in Stillwater, no doubt. But, Mark Richt knows how to handle inexperienced QB's in hostile environments.
Helping the cause for the Bulldogs is the obvious fact that Oklahoma State is a Big XII defense. The Cowboys finished 2008 7th in the Bix XII in total defense, giving up 427 yards per game; and finished 10th in the Big XII in pass defense, allowing 307 yards per game through the air. Think about that for a second – they were an average-to-mediocre defense in a conference that is known for not playing any defense. They did bring in new defensive coordinator Bill Young, which might help. But, those numbers simply can't be ignored.
If Georgia can come out of Stillwater with a win, it's likely to be a shootout win in which the Bulldogs rack up video game numbers on offense. With new starters at QB and RB, and freshman TE Orson Charles likely to contribute right away, a solid offensive performance in a hostile environment could work wonders for the confidence of the Georgia team as a whole, as they establish their identity in 2009.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BSallee_CFN
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SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 3 – June 16, 2009
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SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 2 – May 24, 3009
Ranking The SEC Coaches – May 9, 2009
SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 1 – April 26, 2009
Live Auburn A-Day Blog – April 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 16, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 12, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 9, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 30, 2009
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Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 15, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 11, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – February 28, 2009
Another Misstep For Lane Kiffin – February 14, 2009
New Rule Could Take Points Off The Scoreboard – February 12, 2009
Kiffin Swings at Meyer … And Misses Badly – February 5, 2009
Playoffs … Be Careful What You Wish For – February 4, 2009
UGA Loses RB Samuel For Spring Practice - January 28, 2009
Alabama Signs Coach Away From Auburn - January 21, 2009
America Deserves a USC vs. SEC Title Game – January 10, 2009
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