September 3, 2009

Ga. Joe! Will Cox play hero against OSU?

When the Georgia Bulldogs run onto the turf at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday, they will be guided by a player most everyone on the team regards as their true leader - even though he didn't start last year and is a senior who has only played 13 games over the previous three seasons.

His name is Joe Cox and he's the new starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, replacing Matthew Stafford, who is now dodging Robocop and the ED-209 in Detroit.

Up to this point in his college career, Cox's stats are obviously limited. Overall, he's 33-of-58 for 432 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. A lot of those numbers came in a game against Colorado in 2006, where Cox went 10-of-13 for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning drive to get past the Buffaloes, 14-13. In that game, he relieved an ineffective Stafford, who only passed for 76 yards.

But he's largely spent the past three seasons on the sideline, biding his time to get out on the field and lead the Dawgs. That time comes this weekend.

UGA head coach Mark Richt has total confidence in him.

"I expect him just to focus on his job and to get us in the right plays at the right time and get us out of the bad ones and try to get the ball to the skill (players)," Richt said. "Try not to be the hero, just manage the game well and get us started."

If a coach has to deal with a new starting quarterback, having one who is a senior and has been around for awhile is a plus. In the case of Cox, he says he draws confidence from the demeanor of his coach, knowing that being calm and collected is key in a tough road environment.

"I know this is my first big start, but there are going to be a lot of guys that are looking to me," Cox said. "I have to be the guy that stays even keel the whole game. That's just something I'm going to have to handle. I'm a pretty emotional guy, but I know when to not let my emotions get the best of me. It's just going to be one of those games where I've got to have a good demeanor that whole next week and the same thing while we're out there."

While UGA lost big-time skill guys such as Stafford and Knowshon Moreno in the offseason, they return a big asset - literally. A veteran offensive line will help ease the transition into the starting lineup for the 22-yard-old Psychology major from Charlotte, N.C.

"I think that they give me and the running backs more confidence, knowing that those guys have played together and we have guys that can play multiple positions across the line," Cox said. "They've done a great job this offseason and in camp of pass protection and run-blocking, everything. Any time you have a group of guys like that it definitely takes a load off weight off the guys' shoulders who are in the backfield."

"We need them to play well, there's no question about it," Richt said. "We're hoping that they will play better than they played over the last couple of years. I'm not saying that they played that poorly, but we played with a lot of youth. Two seasons ago, we had three freshmen and two seniors start. Then last year we had three freshmen and two sophomores start for us.

"Now that we've been through those years and allowed those guys to play - we're definitely more experienced - we should play that way. We still only have one senior in our offensive line corps. That's Vince Vance, so we're relatively young as a group, but still those guys have had playing time as freshmen and sophomores. We hope it pays off"

This is obviously a big game for both UGA and Oklahoma State. With both teams highly-ranked, an early-season win like this might go a long way in tracking the trajectory of the ballclub that comes out on top.

"It's a great opportunity for us and it's going to be an incredible game," Cox said. "We're all looking forward to it, but we don't want to try to come in just being too wild and not play in our assignments. So it's going to be on a lot of our senior's shoulders to kind of set the demeanor that we want going in there."

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