Bulldogs wary of Warriors’ potent bite
NEW ORLEANS » There was a whole bunch of barking going on at Georgia's final full practice yesterday at the Superdome.
As the Bulldogs put the finishing touches on their Allstate Sugar Bowl preparations, the talking among themselves on the football field was so loud, you'd have thought they were at a company picnic.
"I believe we're ready to play," Georgia head coach Mark Richt told a packed media gathering near the back of the end zone. "We've taken a very business-like approach to this game, which is good. We had fun when we needed to have fun. And we worked hard when we needed to work hard."
This is Georgia's sixth bowl appearance since Richt took over the program in 2001. The Bulldogs are 4-2 in those postseason games, including last year's 31-24 victory over Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But it was the stunning 38-35 defeat to West Virginia in the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta that the Bulldogs have been reminded of almost daily that still lingers near the edge of their consciousness. That night, the Bulldogs were bright-eyed with excitement, and not quite sure how to handle themselves, something that hasn't been a problem this time around.
"There is so much riding on this game," senior safety Kelin Johnson said. "They are undefeated, the only team without a loss. We take that to heart and we want to be the team that gives them that one loss. This is a wonderful opportunity to be in the Sugar Bowl. I mean, who would ever have thought we would be in a BCS game after losing to Tennessee and South Carolina early on in the season?"
One reason for the first-half struggles was youth. Georgia has four freshmen and five sophomores scheduled to start against the Warriors tomorrow night. They haven't been allowed much free time on the streets of New Orleans.
Granted, they went to see the New Orleans Hornets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, but an early curfew since they arrived the day after Christmas has kept the Bourbon Street distractions to a minimum. Does that translate to a win over Hawaii, which head coach June Jones allowed to roam free the first two nights they were here?
Richt would like to believe that. But he also knows Hawaii has an offense similar to West Virginia's. And how the Bulldogs match up against the Warriors could be the most telling thing in this BCS game.
"We went down 28-0 because West Virginia spread us out," Richt said. "I think what happened was we had not seen that type of offense before and we did not fully understand how fast and talented those guys were. We also turned the ball over three times to their zero. We did make some adjustments and made it a close game."
Several Georgia upperclassmen said they helped put West Virginia on the BCS map that night. It's their job to keep the younger players from allowing something similar to happen with Hawaii. The Bulldogs are well aware the Warriors are the final unbeaten team in the land and aren't about to let them go 13-0 without a fight.
"We're very respectful of what Hawaii has accomplished," sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "This is a very good football team that's more than Colt Brennan and his wide receivers. Their defense has been key in a lot of their wins this year. We're not going to be overconfident just because we're the favorites or are from the SEC."
Moreno echoed that sentiment all week. He's heard how Hawaii isn't that great defending the run or susceptible to yielding the big plays. But, as he put it, the Warriors are 12-0 for a reason.
"This is a good football team on both sides of the football," Moreno said. "We'd like to be able to control the ball on offense to keep Hawaii's offense off the field. The fewer times they have the ball helps our defense. It's a team game. We have to help each other in order to get the win."
Defensively, the Bulldogs are excited about facing UH quarterback Colt Brennan and his talented receiver corps of Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullins, Jason Rivers and C.J. Hawthorne. Limiting big plays is one of the defense's main goals.
"We've got to be able to put pressure on their quarterback," junior linebacker Dannel Ellerbe said.
Ellerbe's been battling nagging injuries all season and said he's only about 80 percent.
"If we let Brennan sit back in the pocket it's going to make it hard to get the win," he said.