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September 25, 2008

UA-Georgia: How they match up

Alabama Crimson Tide

Edge

Georgia Bulldogs

Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks

John Parker Wilson has not been forced to carry the offense yet this season, something he may have to do on Saturday. But he has navigated four games with just one turnover, a marked improvement from last season. Wilson has completed around 60% of his passes on the year (56 of 94) for more than 500 yards.

UGA's Matthew Stafford, simply put, is an elite-level passer. He has yet to throw an interception this season and is already creeping up on 1,000 yards for the year. He throws an excellent deep ball, has a quick release, and the fearlessness needed to overcome any mistakes. He is also more elusive in the pocket than he gets credit for.

Running backs

Running backs

Starter Glen Coffee posted this backfield's marquee performance last Saturday with 162 yards on only 10 carries, boosting his average to 8.6 yards per tote. Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch have proven more than capable when Coffee takes a breather, with Ingram emerging as the back of choice on the goal line. As a team, UA averages 5.9 per rush, and that includes negative yardage from sacks.

There may not be a better running back in the nation than Knowshon Moreno. He averages 113.8 yards per game and 6.6 per carry as the Bulldogs' primary offensive weapon. Moreno is also a top-notch receiver out of the backfield (13.7 yards per catch). Young Caleb King has been effective in relief of Moreno, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and around eight carries per game.

Wide receivers

Wide receivers

Freshman Julio Jones leads the receivers in catches with 11, and leads the entire team in receiving yards with 132. Those numbers are pedestrian four games in, but the success of the running game has had plenty to do with that. Eight different receivers have caught at least one pass, but none has emerged as a consistent go-to threat.

The duo of Mohamed Massaquoi and freshman A.J. Green has been plenty dangerous this year with 30 combined receptions. They have accounted for just under half of UGA's 1,043 total receiving yards for the season. Kris Durham is a solid complement to Green and Massaquoi, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch thus far.

Tight ends

Tight ends

The senior duo of Nick Walker and Travis McCall has been very effective this season. Walker's 12 catches leads the team, and McCall is as good a blocker at his position as there is in the Southeastern Conference. When both are in the game together, Alabama can pound the ball on the ground or fool the defense with play action. Athens is normally home to the SEC's deepest and most talented group of tight ends, but that hasn't been the case the last couple of years. Senior Tripp Chandler has three receptions on the season and is not especially dangerous after the catch. UGA has such good skill talent offensively, a great tight end is hardly needed. But nevertheless, the edge here goes to the Tide.

Offensive line

Offensive line

The best-performing unit on the entire team to date. Absent a Tulane performance that was missing two starters and a third out of position, Alabama's offensive line has been dominant from the word go. The left side, led by tackle Andre Smith, has been especially effective. Center Antoine Caldwell has led the interior threesome, and right tackle Drew Davis has been serviceable in his first year as a starter.

Georgia has fared well on the offensive line despite quite a bit of inexperience and position shuffling. All five positions have seen at least two different starters this season. Vince Vance (6-8, 325) is expected to make his second start at the critical left tackle position. Freshmen Ben Jones (center) and Justin Anderson (right tackle) will have to be up to the task.

Defensive line

Defensive line

The inside play of noseguards Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman continue to highlight UA's defensive play up front. Starting ends Brandon Deaderick and Bobby Greenwood have just one sack between them through four games, but have been more effective against the run. Backup ends Lorenzo Washington and Luther Davis are getting meaningful snaps - not just mop-up duty.

Even The Bulldogs, without the injured Jeff Owens, remain formidable up front with tackle Geno Atkins (14 QB hurries) on the inside. At the end positions, much like Alabama, UGA hasn't gotten great production. Starters Jeremy Lomax and Jarius Wynn both have more starts (4) than tackles (3).

Linebackers

Linebackers

Jack linebacker Brandon Fanney has been a pleasant surprise this year, and Rolando McClain (29 tackles) has met high expectations at the middle position. As a whole, this group was among the major preseason concerns for Alabama but has answered the challenge to date. However, UGA will be the stiffest test yet for the linebacking corps.

The Bulldogs' Dannell Ellerbe, as an experienced senior, was expected to be the leader of this group, yet through four games he has been the least productive of the three starters. Rennie Curran leads the team with 29 tackles, including three sacks and five TFLs. Darryl Gamble has made 15 stops with nine QB hurries and a sack. It's no knock on the talented Ellerbe - this unit is playing exceptionally well.

Secondary

Secondary

Alabama's secondary has been a pleasant surprise this season despite two new starters in the base defense. The new faces - Justin Woodall and Javier Arenas - have not been easily picked on through four games this year. Returners Kareem Jackson and Rashad Johnson are still looking for their first interceptions, but their experience and skill are as good as any corner/safety tandem in the league.

Georgia ranks 11th in the SEC in pass defense, but that's partly because opposing teams have been completely unable to move the ball on the ground. Reshad Jones has the only interception by a defensive back this season, and is the best overall talent in the unit. If UGA stops the Alabama running attack, the game could turn on this unit.

Special teams

Special teams

Aside from what has been a solid year from kicker Leigh Tiffin and a brilliant year from return specialist Javier Arenas thus far, the most encouraging sign for UA's special teams was P.J. Fitzgerald's 45-yard average in Fayetteville last week. A repeat performance from Fitzgerald in Athens would be a major boost in what is sure to be a closer game. Meanwhile, kickoff coverage continues to be UA's special teams Achilles' heel.

Four different Bulldogs have combined to average an outstanding 15.8 yards per punt return, led by Asher Allen. Kicker Blair Walsh is 5 of 7 on field goals, with both misses beyond 50 yards. Meanwhile, Brian Mimbs is one of the SEC's top punters at 44 yards per punt. UGA's kickoff coverage ranks 11th in the league.



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