September 20, 2008

Georgia defense paves way to easy win

Georgia 27, Arizona State 10: Box score | Recap

TEMPE, Arizona – Temperatures are hot in the Arizona desert, but probably not hotter than tempers in Athens, Ga., lately.

Georgia football faithful have been angry. Very angry.

That's because they feel their beloved Bulldogs have been grossly disrespected. Ranked No. 1 in preseason, Georgia has dropped in the national polls each week, from first to second to third, despite posting three consecutive victories.

Saturday night, the Bulldogs emphatically showed they would not be dropping again with a 27-10 thrashing of Arizona State, which was supposed to be one of the greatest threats on Georgia's treacherous schedule.

No threat. No problem.

"I like where we are right now if we understand we have a long way to go," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "It's nice to be 4-0 and having not played what we envision as our best game. We still have problems that we have to iron out."

If Georgia has problems, what does that say about Arizona State? The margin could have been much, much worse, except that the Bulldogs missed a field goal, settled for a couple of field goals in the red zone and were penalized for 104 yards.

But quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 285 yards and a touchdown. Freshman receiver A.J. Green accounted for 159 of those yards on eight catches. Heisman-contending tailback Knowshon Moreno rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

GEORGIA 27, ARIZONA STATE 10
WHAT HAPPENED
Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for two touchdowns and quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for another to lead the Bulldogs to the easy win. Georgia led 21-3 at halftime, and a defense that shut down the Arizona State running game and limited Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter made sure that lead was never in serious jeopardy.
STAR OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Moreno averaged 6.5 yards per carry while rushing for 149 yards. He scored first-half touchdowns on runs of 9 and 3 yards. The 9-yarder was of a highlight-reel variety, as he leaped into the end zone from the 4-yard line.
STAR DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Picking one isn't easy. The Bulldogs pressured Carpenter relentlessly and five players were credited with sacks. Linebacker Rennie Curran posted a team-high nine tackles, including a sack and another tackle for a loss.
TURNING POINT
Though down 14-0 midway through the second quarter, Arizona State drove for a 25-yard Thomas Weber field goal just 2 1/2 minutes before halftime. But what momentum that might have provided quickly disappeared on Georgia's ensuing possession. Stafford and A.J. Green hooked up on passes of 23, 31 and 14 yards – the last going for a touchdown – with 41 seconds remaining.
KEY INJURIES
Georgia defensive end Jeremy Lomax sprained an ankle early in the third quarter and did not return. Bulldogs tight end Tripp Chandler left in the second half with a sprained neck.
ETC.
Georgia jumbled its offensive line. Three players who started last week – Vince Vance, Clint Boling and Chris Davis – were at different positions. Right tackle Justin Anderson and center Ben Jones made their first starts of the season. … Georgia junior safety Donovan Baldwin blocked a Thomas Weber punt in the second quarter to give the Bulldogs possession at Arizona State's 43, but the Bulldogs did not convert that into points. … Arizona State was held to 4 rushing yards, its lowest total since being held to minus-2 in a 55-38 loss to California on Nov. 9, 2002. … Georgia now has 11 consecutive victories, the second-longest active winning streak in the country behind BYU's 14. … Georgia freshman A.J. Green had the best game of his brief career: eight catches for 159 yards. He's the first Georgia player to exceed 100 yards receiving since Kenneth Harris had 106 against Mississippi State in 2006.
The offensive line protected, the defensive line pressured and the defense as a whole contained Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter. The Sun Devils, who were without starting running back Keegan Herring, finished with a mere 4 rushing yards.

"We can't get the big play and that hurt us," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "I think Keegan will be back for the California game (next week). We need to find some way to get some explosion in the running game, and obviously we didn't have that."

That's the way Georgia planned it.

"We knew if they were able to run it would be great for their passing game," Georgia cornerback Asher Allen said. "We stopped the run and made them one-dimensional, and that helped us against the pass.

"We knew (Carpenter) was a great quarterback and he made some good calls and reads. But I trust my boys on defense. There's nothing we can't do."

This matchup originally was considered one of the premier non-conference games of the year. But that was before UNLV upset the Sun Devils last week. Arizona State surely was looking ahead. Now, it's Georgia that can look ahead – to a grind that would make most teams crumble.

Unbeaten Alabama visits Athens next week. LSU, Florida and Auburn also loom – all away from home. So does unbeaten Vanderbilt. Don't laugh: The Bulldogs were lucky to escape with a 20-17 victory over Vandy last season.

But the Bulldogs could glean much optimism after dominating Arizona State. The Sun Devils entered Saturday's game ranked among the nation's top 10 in passing offense. None of Georgia's remaining opponents ranked higher than 52nd.

Last week, the Bulldogs were riddled for 271 passing yards by South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley. Yet they pummeled Carpenter like a Colt Brennan piρata, with four sacks. Carpenter was rattled in the first half when throwing for just 78 yards, and he improved only slightly in the second half.

The Bulldogs were much better on the offensive line, too. The one serious question about the Bulldogs is their revamped line. Against Arizona State, the starting line was jumbled and included two new starters – Justin Anderson and Ben Jones. It turned out to be a good combination. The Bulldogs rolled up 461 yards, Stafford was sacked just once and star Arizona State defensive end Dexter Davis wasn't credited with a tackle.

That kind of protection should help the Bulldogs start moving up in the polls instead of falling.

"Polls are polls," Georgia guard Chris Davis scoffed. "We can't worry about that. We've got to worry about Alabama. They're hot as fire right now."

Georgia fans were, too. But like the Arizona temperatures, those tempers probably cooled considerably by game's end.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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