NO. 8 GEORGIA (10-2) VS. NO. 11 WEST VIRGINIA (10-1) • 8:30 P.M. MONDAY, GEORGIA DOME • ABC • WSB-AM (750)Sugar Bowl game breakdown
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/31/05
This is the last game for Georgia's 24 seniors, and Kedric Golston, for one, wants the memory to be a positive one.
"I'm not going to say if we don't win this game it reflects bad on the last four or five years," the senior defensive tackle said. "But it's like I have been telling everybody: This would be the cherry on top of the sundae. We have won the SEC East championships, we have won two SEC championships. Just to top it off with a Sugar Bowl would be the cherry on top."
MOST POPULAR STORIES
The other message floating around Georgia is to not be complacent. Georgia Tech may have been the best messenger to hammer that point home. The Yellow Jackets were a favorite, much like Georgia is against West Virginia. Georgia Tech lost by 28 Thursday to Utah.
"There is great talent everywhere so if you don't go into the game, no matter who you play, with the right mindset and focus and preparation, that is the kind of thing that happen to you," Golston said.
There is also a little matter of pride when it comes to the bowl game, said Max Jean-Gilles.
"We have to defend the SEC," the Georgia senior said. "Everyone has to know that the SEC is one of the most dominating conferences in the country."
HEAD OF THE CLASS
A look at the milestones achieved by Georgia's senior class — and others within reach:
• Its 44 wins are the most in school history, one more than Georgia's Class of '83. This class is 3-0 in bowl games; that one went 2-2 — with a national championship mixed in there.
• Only one other class posted a 4-0 bowl record — Jim Donnan's 2000 crew, which starred Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud.
• Put on a good show tonight and it's likely Georgia will finish in the top 10 of the AP poll for the fourth consecutive year. That's something only the '83 class pulled off.
• Win No. 44, over LSU in the SEC championship game, came against the highest-ranked team since the 1985 Bulldogs beat then-No. 1 Florida.
Shockley is two threats
While Georgia has to stop the running game of Pat White, West Virginia will try to concentrate on stopping the dual threat of D.J. Shockley.
Shockley is not the runner White is, but he is a more experienced passer and has plenty of running backs around him.
"They have so many weapons," WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said of Georgia. "Their running game is obviously their strength, and their passing game is based off their running game.
"I don't know that we're going to do anything different to
each back. They all
have a similar style in that they all run very physical and they are very well-coached in terms of not turning the ball over."
Georgia's run game could be aided by a size difference between its offensive line and West Virginia's defensive line.
"Their offensive line is huge," WVU linebacker Jay Henry said.
"We've obviously seen big people before, but their tackles are 6-7, 6-8, 6-9 — our basketball team is not that big," Casteel said. "Our guys have to play with leverage. We have to be a physical football team to have a chance."
White, Slaton tough to catch
Georgia will have its hands full trying to contain the Mountaineers' slippery backfield tandem of Pat White and Steve Slaton.
White, a redshirt freshman quarterback who took over as full-time starter because of injuries to Adam Bednarik, rushed for 875 yards and seven touchdowns while passing for 708 yards and another seven scores.
Slaton, a freshman from Levittown, Pa., took over at tailback in the fifth game of the season and rushed for 924 yards and scored 16 touchdowns to earn Big East Rookie of the Year honors.
Add to that a 6-foot-3, 245-pound, path-clearing fullback like sophomore Owen Schmitt and it's clear why no one has contained the backfield duo yet. Only Virginia Tech, then ranked No. 3, has been able to beat them, and that was way back on Oct. 1.
"Their quarterback is as good as anyone we played this season, and he plays like a tailback with his capabilities," said Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, whose defense gave up 100-yard games to backs three times this season. "He will put us in stressful situations. . . . Slaton is similar to Darren McFadden at Arkansas. Their fullback is about 250 pounds and doesn't get knocked backward. Those guys are pretty good."
White looks little green
Georgia safety Greg Blue has heard all about West Virginia quarterback Pat White. He knows about the speed. The 220-yard game that broke Michael Vick's Big East record. The 177 yards gained against South Florida. But he also knows White is a freshman.
"When you see the words 'freshman' and 'quarterback' together, your eyes light up," Blue said. "We will have to introduce them to how we play in the Southeastern Conference."
For his part, White does not seem all that concerned about Georgia or the stage on which he is playing.
"It is a BCS game, but it is just another game for me," he said.
Ample prep time gives Dogs edge
West Virginia will throw an unusual and effective 3-5-3 defense Georgia's way Monday.
"They have two guys who are not big enough to play linebacker, and they are not fast enough to play the secondary," Georgia offensive line coach Neil Callaway said. "They put them at the two rover spots outside, and they are two hard-nosed, physical football players."
Those two players are versatile enough to drop back into passing lanes and also bring pressure on the quarterback. But first and foremost, the defense is about stopping the run. West Virginia has done that well enough to limit opponents to 99 rushing yards per game.
"They are an eight-man front, so it is predicated on stopping the run first," Callaway said. "But what they are able to do is take the five underneath and take the intermediate passing away."
"They can definitely confuse us," Georgia tackle Dennis Roland.
Given only a week to prepare, Roland said he could see how the awkward defense would mess with the flow of offensive lines. But since Georgia has had nearly a month, Roland felt confident the offense will be able to scheme correctly.
Late change in receiving corps
The best game of Sean Bailey's career (two touchdowns in the SEC title game) was followed by the worst moment (an anterior cruciate ligament tear in Sugar Bowl practice).
Now Georgia must deal with finding a new player to stretch the field against a West Virginia team that could be vulnerable to the deep pass. Freshman Kenneth Harris will fill in. But Harris does not have all of the same abilities as Bailey.
"Sean gave us the explosiveness that we saw in the last ballgame," wide receivers coach John Eason said. "We lose a little bit with him out. Kenneth has good speed but not the speed of Sean Bailey."
If Harris doesn't work out, the Bulldogs have a couple of other options. Backup A.J. Bryant is fast but untested. Then there's the possibility that Bryan McClendon, Georgia's most veteran receiver, could move outside and Mohamed Massaquoi, the most sure-handed receiver, could move into McClendon's spot.
Whatever happens, Georgia knows it will have to somehow at least have the threat of a deep ball.
"[West Virginia's] 3-5-3 defense, it takes away all the intermediate stuff," McClendon said. "So there is going to be that need to stretch the field."
National spotlight hits Morgantown
Three consecutive Big East championships . . . three consecutive New Year's Day bowls . . . a 10-win season.
In case you haven't noticed, things have been going well for Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia.
Since leaving Clemson as Tommy Bowden's offensive coordinator after the 2000 season, Rodriguez has racked up 38 wins as head coach of the Mountaineers. Thirty-five of those have come in the past four seasons.
But it's only lately that Rodriguez's good work has started to get noticed — nationally, at least.
"We're ranked up there at 11 or so. We're the Big East champions," Rodriguez said. "Being 10-1, we're getting a lot more attention than we did at the beginning of the season. But that's the advantage of playing on a national stage like this."
Of course, West Virginians have been abuzz about Rodriguez since he arrived in Morgantown. Rodriguez grew up in Grant Town, W. Va., a half-hour away from the WVU campus, and he was a three-year letterman for the Mountaineers from 1982-84.
West Virginia fans are crazy about him. Now the rest of the nation is starting to take notice.
"That's the advantage of a game like this. Your program gets a lot of attention and it helps recruiting," Rodriguez said.