September 2, 2011

The wait is over

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Redemption, it's a word that's been bandied about throughout the halls of the Butts-Mehre Building since the first of the year.

Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, Georgia gets its chance when the 19th-ranked Bulldogs challenge No. 5 Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic (8 p.m., ESPN).

Yes, this is a big deal - on a couple of important fronts.

But for the Bulldog players themselves, none is more important than showing their own fans that the program is ready to re-assert itself after back-to-back substandard seasons, including the first losing campaign in 14 years.

"We want to show our fans that we aren't going to let them down," defensive end Abry Jones said. "We want to let them know that we want to put the Georgia football program back on top of the college football world."

Boise State has been situated at or near the top for much of the past decade.

In fact, the Broncos' 61-5 record over the past five seasons gives Chris Petersen the best winning percentage amongst active coaches in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

For the Broncos, there's a lot on the proverbial line as well.

With a victory over the Bulldogs, Boise State sets itself up for a potential unbeaten run, that would lead to rounds of debates over whether or not that would be enough for the Broncos to qualify for the BCS championship game.

A loss to Georgia and the Broncos can forget about that.

But the Broncos are a confident bunch.

"If you can win a lot, kids get confidence and if you don't win a lot, it's such a different feel," Petersen said. "Our kids have been able to pull out some wins, so they play with confidence."

The Broncos aren't without some questions.

Friday, Boise State officials announced that three of their key players did not make the trip to Atlanta and are being held out "due to a review of their academic eligibility."

The players - senior starting safety Cedric Febis, co-starter at wide receiver Geraldo Boldewijn and second team defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe - were each expected to play vital roles for the Broncos.

"We're concerned about it. We're looking into it; that's why they're not here," Petersen said during Friday's press conference in Atlanta. "Hopefully, we can get it resolved sooner rather than later. We've just got to stay focused on this game. The next guy has to step up and we got to go."

Either redshirt freshman Jeremy Ioane or senior Travis Stanaway will start for Febis, while redshirt freshman Matt Miller and true freshman Dallas Burroughs will stand in for Boldewijn, who is considered the Broncos' fastest wide receiver.

Georgia obviously has concerns of its own.

From depth on the offensive line, questions at wide receiver, youth in the backfield, to whether or not year No. 2 in the 3-4 will produce better defensive results, there certainly has been no shortage of storylines to fill Bulldog fans with preseason angst.

Head coach Mark Richt is no exceptions, although from a defensive perspective he feels much more confident than he did this time a year ago.

"I feel so much better about our defense. I knew our guys weren't sure what to do a year ago 100 percent. You're putting it in from scratch, everybody's trying to figure it out, even the assistant coaches, other than Coach (Todd) Grantham," Richt said. "There's absolutely nothing to draw from experience-wise, but our guys understand it at a much greater depth. They are much better technicians than they were a year ago. There's no doubt in my mind that we're better than we were a year ago."

With quarterback Kellen Moore directing what last year was the second-most prolific offense in the FBS, it had better be.

Moore is 38-2 all-time as the Broncos' starter as he continues to inch closer to the FBS record for wins by a quarterback, which currently stands at 45 (Colt McCoy, Texas).

His numbers are eye-popping.

The senior enters the season as the nation's active career leader in passing efficiency (166.74), second in completion percentage (68.17), passing yards (10,867), passing touchdowns (99) and completions (831).

Keeping the left-hander off-balance will be a key to whatever success the Bulldog defense might enjoy.

"When a guy can get rid of it quick, you can't be one dimensional," Grantham said. "I think it's about being balanced, but understanding that guys have to win up front one-on-one and be able to do those kinds of things, because this guy knows what to do with the ball. He understands what coverage you're in, and when he knows that, he's going to be able to throw it in the soft spot."

Running back Doug Martin led the Broncos with 201 carries for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Georgia, meanwhile is still expected to employ the two-prong attack of Richard Samuel and true freshman Isaiah Crowell who is making his collegiate debut.

"I don't think there's any doubt that we would hope for them to split the time, to share the load," Richt said. "Most everybody in college and pro football would much prefer having two guys that could get it done. I think that Richard's style and Isaiah's style contrast enough to where that would really be good for us, too."

Of course, Georgia's offensive success against the Broncos - who led the nation in sacks in 2010, averaging 3.69 per game - will be the play of quarterback Aaron Murray, who whether he likes it or not, is sure to draw comparisons from Moore, his opponent in blue.

"He's (Moore) a little bit more mature than Aaron is in his play. I think Aaron is going to have to play extremely well for us this season," Richt said. "Kellen is the leading passer in the country returning as far as QB ratings and things of that nature. I think he hit 70-percent of his passes. Aaron is getting there, but I don't know if he's there yet."

But Richt believes that Murray and his Bulldogs will be ready.

"There's an awful lot of hype going into this ball game compared to some other opening games and I don't personally think that the season is riding on the one game," Richt said. "But it's a game we absolutely want to win. It's a game that we expect to win."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.