UGA vs. USC Article. Interesting

Discussion in 'The Tiger's Den' started by Atreus21, Aug 13, 2004.

  1. Atreus21

    Atreus21 Founding Member

    Nov 12, 2003
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    Natural selections: Georgia, Southern Cal to the evolutionary chain

    By Matt Hayes - SportingNews

    Georgia 23, USC 20. A New Year's treat, let the Big Dawg eat.

    Now how in the world did we get here?

    We simply could've proclaimed a national champion, but what good is that? College football now is a race for two teams, a weekly guesstimate/argument of who needs who to win or lose, and how some poll voter in Wyoming -- there is one -- will perceive a three-point win as opposed to a 33-point win. The championship game itself almost is anticlimactic.

    So here is the evolution of that race: how two teams that couldn't have less in common find a way to the Orange Bowl. The East Coast vs. the West Coast. One guided by a longtime college assistant; another directed by a longtime NFL coach. One wins with flash and dash; the other seemingly grinds it out.

    Wasn't so long ago that Georgia stars David Greene and David Pollack, the pride of Snellville, Ga., were summoned on stage during a Kenny Chesney concert to help the country music star sing his hit, "Back Where I Come From":

    Now you can lie on a river bank
    Paint your name on a water tank
    Or miscount the beers you drank
    Back where I come from.

    Then there's Southern California movie star quarterback Matt Leinart, the new king of La-La land, who recently met ditzy pop star Jessica Simpson and talked about USC football -- not about the glitz and glam of Hollywood, just pigskin. At least, that's what Matt swears.

    The good ol' boys and the glamour boys. Opposite ends of the spectrum, right? Maybe not as much as it seems. The evolution -- at least over this summer -- was eerily similar. The end result won't separate them much, either, with Georgia having just enough to win the Orange Bowl and its first national title since 1980.

    He was sitting in the locker room at halftime of last year's Florida game, and the beating Greene had taken felt like 12 games of punishment: four sacks, a passel of knockdowns and hurries and enough bumps and bruises that he already was dreading Sunday morning. And, this was a weekly occurrence.

    "Sometimes," Greene says, "that next day wasn't easy."

    How could it have been? Greene played last season with five new starters in the line -- five rookies still learning protection shifts and zone blocking and the enormity of the game. Want to know why Greene's numbers fell drastically from his sophomore season? Look no further than a shaky line that gave up 47 sacks. In 2002, Greene threw for 22 touchdowns and was intercepted eight times; last season, it was 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But his completion percentage increased almost three points, to 60.3 percent.

    "I think he actually played better (than his sophomore season)," says one SEC defensive coordinator. "But, my god, that kid took a beating."

    So coach Mark Richt made adjustments in the spring to protect his key to a championship run. He moved tackle Max Jean-Gilles, the team's best lineman, inside to guard and will platoon Dennis Roland, Daniel Inman and Ken Shackleford at tackle. The move will give the Dogs more strength in the middle three and could pave the way for emerging tailback Kregg Lumpkin to have a big season and give the offense more balance. Star wide receiver Fred Gibson is completely healthy for the first time in two years, and Richt moved shifty tailback Tyson Browning to wideout to upgrade the speed of the receivers. Still, everything hinges on the line.

    "I'm skeptical," Richt says matter-of-factly.

    So is USC -- about its own line. A year after Leinart nearly went untouched (15 sacks) behind a veteran unit, he'll be protected by a group that could include two freshmen (center Jeff Byers and guard Chilo Rachal) and one junior college transfer (tackle Taitusi Lutui). All that uncertainty means USC's ridiculously loaded skill group might not be so productive. It was so easy last year for freshman tailbacks Reggie Bush and LenDale White -- and, more important, for Leinart -- because the line paved the way. And if All-American wide receiver Mike Williams is forced by the NCAA to sit out a few games for a failed attempt at entering the NFL draft, the Trojans will begin the season with one experienced receiver (Steve Smith) who finished with all of 17 catches last year.

    In other words, USC still could be searching for continuity and chemistry right about the time the schedule starts getting interesting.

    "All that talent isn't going to mean a thing if those big guys up front aren't pushing," says one Pac-10 defensive coordinator. "If that line doesn't come together, they're going to be in a lot of 17-14 games. And one mistake can cost you in those games."

    Pollack was holding court recently at the SEC media days, with giddy hacks hanging on to his every colorful word. Someone mentioned he was noticeably thinner this time around, and Pollack said he cut fried foods out of his diet "to look good on the beach." Yeah, well, the nearest beach is more than three hours away.

    Pollack dropped nearly 35 pounds -- down to 260 -- because he was sluggish and slow when he added 30 pounds at the end of his sophomore season. The nation's best defensive player in 2002 was concerned about double-teams in 2003, but the added weight made him lose the quickness that made him unblockable in man situations. His numbers and production decreased, and various injuries to the Georgia defense made Pollack's regression that more significant.

    "I could've played a lot better," Pollack says. This from an All-American end who led a defense that finished fourth in the nation last year -- 26 spots ahead of a more heralded group at USC. But Pollack will play better this year because rush end Will Thompson returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Thompson was having a better fall camp than Pollack before the injury last year, and he will change dramatically the way opponents protect in pass situations and deal with Georgia's speedy front seven.

    "They were dinged up a lot last year, and they were really good," says one SEC offensive coordinator. "Your only option is to spread them out and make them chase. But if you do that, you're going to leave Pollack and Thompson with one man to beat, and that's a bad sign."

    While Pollack was dropping weight this summer, so was USC sophomore tackle Manuel Wright. And while Pollack was entertaining the hacks at SEC media days, coach Pete Carroll was explaining at the Pac-10 media days why Trojans star tackle Shaun Cody had moved to end this spring. Carroll says end is Cody's natural position, but that's only part of the reason. The bigger issue: how to get Wright, who has dropped nearly 65 pounds since first reporting last year, on the field permanently.

    By the end of last season, Wright was the team's most disruptive lineman but couldn't stay on the field because he wasn't in optimum shape. Now he is, and USC's already fast defense just got that much better. In their past two bowl games against two of the best offensive lines in the nation (Iowa and Michigan) in those seasons, the Trojans totaled 10 sacks. One of the lasting highlights of last season was Wright beating a double-team with a quick shot through the gap and sacking Michigan quarterback John Navarre.

    Just how fast is this defense? Incoming freshman linebacker Keith Rivers, a heralded recruit who could gain a starting spot early in the season, competed in the 100 meters as a track star in Florida -- a state known for the speed of its athletes -- but he isn't among the five fastest players on USC's defense.

    "You can't duplicate their speed," says Michigan offensive coordinator Terry Malone. "And that means you're guessing a lot more than you'd like."

    There's no way around it: If Georgia truly is a national title contender, it has to learn how to beat Florida. The past two years, Georgia clearly had been the better team and lost. In fact, the Dogs have lost 13 of the past 14 in the World's Largest Hangover.

    When Richt arrived at Georgia, the Dogs were 7-26-1 against their three biggest SEC rivals -- Florida, Tennessee and Auburn -- under previous coaches Ray Goff and Jim Donnan. Under Richt, they're 5-1 against Tennessee and Auburn and 0-3 against Florida. Take a guess which game Georgia fans and boosters want more than any?

    "I'm not leaving here with four losses to them," Greene says.

    USC, meanwhile, must learn to win when it is getting every team's best shot. A perfect example: last year's triple overtime loss to Cal, a team that eventually would lose six games. All part of the evolution of a champion.

    When Richt arrived at Georgia in 2001, he found a team and a university desperate for change and direction -- and, yes, the evolution to an elite level. The carpet on the main floor of Georgia's football building is adorned with the famous "G" logo every 15 feet. From the day he took over, no one -- no player, coach, administrative staffer or janitor -- was allowed to walk on a "G," only around it.

    It's pretty simple, really. No one walks on Georgia.

    That's evolution in a nutshell. Something simple evolving into something special.


    Hey, I'll be honest. If UGA does manage to get to that level, I'll be pulling for 'em 100%. And, on the upside, they do, at the beginning of the article, pick USC to lose. :) I'm not so much angry at us not being figured in at the national title, but I'm sort of angry that every single prediction I've seen so far has USC in the Orange Bowl. Oh well. We'll just have to see. :cuss:
  2. ramah

    ramah Founding Member

    Sep 13, 2001
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