If you ask the Georgia football team the one thing it remembers from last year’s contest at Sun Devil Stadium, it’s that ASU likes to sling the football.
Add to the fact that this year’s UGA secondary has struggled mightily to top teams through the air, and the Bulldogs (2-1) fully expect the Sun Devils (2-0) to air it out on Saturday.
“They are not playing the best pass defense in the country, that is for sure,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his secondary. “I think we have done such a good job stopping the run that people have gone to the pass.”
Another reason the Bulldogs haven’t been able to stop teams in the air is their lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. UGA has just four sacks in its first three games of the season.
“We have played some good passing teams, though, I have to say that,” Richt said. “Which is when you should get a good pass rush and should be able to harass him. We haven’t got enough pressure on a consistent basis.”
UGA has allowed an average of 34 points per game in its first three games, including 78 points total in its last two contests.
“Are we playing great on defense? No, not even close,” Richt said. “But they are fighting and to the finish, and when we need stops at the end, we have been getting them. I haven’t lost faith in this bunch at all.”
The Bulldogs have come away impressed with ASU senior quarterback Danny Sullivan and the Sun Devils’ passing game so far this season.
“He looks like he is comfortable,” UGA senior safety Bryan Evans said, “He has three receivers from last year back. He likes to sling the ball. I haven’t seen any weakness on him.”
It isn’t just the secondary and line that is dealing with growing pains at UGA — so are the linebackers. Injuries have forced the Bulldogs to play an inexperienced group.
“[A team could run] something like a naked bootleg play that a veteran could handle, and you have a puppy in there, and he might not handle it as well,” Richt said, “But everybody is dealing with those issues. That is part of football.”
Despite the defensive struggles, UGA is still 2-1 on the season because the other side of the ball is getting the job done, despite having to replace former stars in quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno.
UGA senior quarterback Joe Cox has completed more than 63 percent of his passes and has already thrown eight touchdown passes.
Cox knows that ASU is coming into Athens hungry and ready to avenge last season’s defeat in Tempe.
“They have revenge on their mind — that is something that is always tough,” Cox said. “Playing a team that you’ve beaten before and [wants] to beat you bad, and it is up to you to come ready to play just as hard as they are going to play.”
Sophomore Richard Samuel won the starting running back job and has the big task of replacing Moreno. He is averaging five yards a carry, but he has had problems holding onto the football.
“I’m not too thrilled about it,” Richt said regarding Samuel’s turnovers. “I don’t know if we are ready to move him from the No. 1 position, but I would say if that kind of thing continued, we’d have to really consider whether or not he should start for us.”
Samuel is averaging two fumbles per game, and the Bulldogs rank 116th in the nation in turnover margin (-2.33).
“You can’t have two a game, that’s for sure, and continue to play the kind of football you need to win,” Richt said. “You just have to do a better job.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs are expecting a hungry bunch of Sun Devils and are preparing accordingly to answer the emotion that they suspect ASU will bring.
“They are going to come and give us their best shot,” junior defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. “They are coming for blood after last year. I think they have something to prove to the NCAA as well.”
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