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August 29, 2008

Dawgs host Eagles for Opener

Georgia Southern at No. 1 Georgia

SITE: Sanford Stadium
TIME: Saturday, 12:34 p.m.
COACHES: Georgia Mark Richt (72-19, eighth season), Georgia Southern Chris Hatcher (7-4 at GSU, second season; 83-16 overall)
RADIO: Georgia Bulldog Network (WSB 750-AM Atlanta).
TV: Pay per view (state of Georgia), ESPN Gameplan (outside of Georgia). The game will also be replayed on CSS Monday at noon and 9 p.m.

Georgia players to watch:

QB Matthew Stafford (Jr., 6-3, 237), RB Knowshon Moreno (R So., 5-11, 207), OT Kiante Tripp (R So., 6-6-285), FL Mohamed Massaquoi (Sr., 6-2, 198), FL A.J. Green, (Fr., 6-4, 197), TE Tripp Chandler (Sr., 6-6, 263), DT Jeff Owens (Sr., 6-3, 298), DT Geno Atkins (Jr., 6-1, 290), Mike Dannell Ellerbe (Sr., 6-1, 232), Will Rennie Curran (So., 5-11, 220), SC Asher Allen (Jr., 5-10, 198), FS Reshad Jones (R So., 6-2, 203), PK Blair Walsh (Fr., 5-10, 175).

Georgia Southern players to watch:

QB Lee Chapple (RFr., 6-1, 190), QB Antonio Henton (So., 6-0, 240), C Trey Dunmon (Jr., 6-3, 300), DE Dakota Walker (Sr., 6-3, 237), MLB Quentin Taylor (Sr., 6-0, 240), R Chris Covington (Sr., 5-11, 200), B Chris Rogers (Jr., 6-1, 190).

Georgia keys to the game

Young offensive line must show it can execute and protect Stafford.

Freshman kicker Blair Walsh must show he can handle kicking in big, loud environment.

Avoid injuries to key personnel. The Bulldogs have dealt enough with this in preseason.

Bulldogs must not be overconfident. Georgia needs to come out in business-like fashion, execute the game plan. Do that and victory will come easy.

Georgia Southern keys to the game

Absolutely no mistakes, particularly by young quarterbacks.

Not become overwhelmed by big-time setting in front of a hostile crowd.

Must find way to contend either Matthew Stafford or Knowshon Moreno.

Need to get off to a quick offensive start or it could go downhill quick.

Bulldogs tough in season-openers

Georgia own an all-time Sanford Stadium record of 301-103-1 including 63-15-1 in home openers. Georgia has won its home opener 11 consecutive years. The last time Georgia lost its home opener was 1996, falling 11-7 to Southern Mississippi in former coach Jim Donnan's debut.

Current head coach Mark Richt is 7-0 in season openers and 7-0 in home openers. Under Richt, the Bulldogs are 30-2 against non-conference foes including 20-0 in Sanford Stadium. Overall, Richt's Bulldogs are 38-7 at home. The last time Georgia lost a non-conference game at home was during the Donnan era in 2000. Georgia Tech posted a 27-15 win.

Stafford has Georgia rolling

Junior quarterback Matthew Stafford led Georgia to seven consecutive wins, including four over ranked opponents, to close out the 2007 season. The Dallas, Texas, native finished with the third-most passing yards for a sophomore in school history (2,523) and tied for sixth for the most touchdown passes in a season (19). Junior Joe Cox and redshirt freshman Logan Gray will serve as his backups.

Encore for Moreno?

Running back Knowshon enjoyed a fabulous freshman year by collecting 1,334 rushing yards and scoring 14 times. He earned Associated Press and Sporting News SEC Freshman of the Year honors and his 1,334 yards in 2007 ranked as the fourth best ever by an SEC freshman (1,616 by Herschel Walker-UGA-1980; 1,364 by Jamal Lewis-UT-1996; 1,341 by Emmitt Smith-UF-1987).

Moreno also ranked No. 2 nationally for freshmen in rushing yards per game (102.6), trailing only Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy (110.7). Moreno is trying to become only the second Bulldog in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Herschel Walker did it all three years of his career (1980-82). Moreno will be joined in the backfield by redshirt freshman Caleb King and freshman Richard Samuel. At fullback, Georgia will have redshirt sophomore Shaun Chapas filling in for injured starter Brannan Southerland. Chapas' backups are senior Benjamin Boyd and redshirt sophomore Justin Fields.

Offensive line set - finally

The season-ending injury to left tackle Trinton Sturdivant and the one-game suspension of Clint Boling leaves the Bulldogs with a revamped lineup for Saturday's opener against the Eagles.

Projected starters for Georgia include center Chris Davis, guards freshman Cordy Glenn, junior Vince Vance and tackles redshirt sophomore KianteTripp and redshirt sophomore Josh Davis.

Chris Davis is the only member of this unit who has ever started a game for the Bulldogs.

Ben Jones, who enrolled at UGA in January, could see early playing time at center. In 2007, the Bulldogs allowed only 15 sacks, giving up just four sacks over the final five games.

Defensive ends get their shot

Defensive end has long been a strength for Georgia and despite some new faces should be again this fall. Guided by defensive ends coach Jon Fabris, the Bulldogs have had a defensive end emerge as a sack leader every season since 2001. The Bulldog leader in sacks in 2007 was Marcus Howard, who finished with SEC-best 10.5 sacks. Howard capped his senior season as MVP of the Sugar Bowl. He sacked Hawai'i quarterback Colt Brennan three times and scored a touchdown after Brennan fumbled on the final sack.

Jeremy Lomax, Rod Battle, Jarius Wynn and Demarcus Dobbs all return to the position and Georgia will get its first extended look at redshirt freshmen Neland Ball and Justin Houston.

Injury update

Georgia will be without several of their projected starters and reserves against Georgia Southern.

Trinton Sturdivant (left knee - out for year), Kade Weston (sprained MCL), Charles White (Achilles tendon - out for year), Chris Little (foot - out for year), Brannan Southerland (foot), Marcus Washington (shoulder), Quintin Banks (knee), Walter Hill (arm), Clint Boling (suspended one game), Darius Dewberry (suspended two games) and Fred Munzenmaier (suspended two games) will sit out the opener.

Prediction

While all of Georgia's questions likely won't be answered against the Eagles, Saturday's opener is an opportunity for the younger members of the team to get their game-legs under them and work out any early butterflies.

Head coach Mark Richt certainly isn't taking the Eagles lightly, but when the final horn sounds he'll at least like what he sees on the scoreboard. Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 17.



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