December 27, 2009

Bulldogs, Aggies, wrap up in Shreveport

Georgia coach Mark Richt can sum up the journey that's led to Monday's Independence Bowl game against Texas A&M in one word - interesting.

That's fairly safe to say.

When the Bulldogs (7-5) and Aggies (6-6) kickoff at 5 p.m. Monday afternoon (ESPN2) in Shreveport, it will bring an end to a season which has left many people scratching their collective heads, still trying to figure out the reason for all the inconsistencies that resulted in three assistant coaches losing their respective jobs.

While a victory over Texas A&M might not soothe all that went wrong, it will at least put a happy capper on the year moving forward to 2010.

"I've really been encouraged by what we've put together, and I think the players have been positive," Richt said. "I think everybody has taken this game as a challenge that they have to step up to. As far as the coaching search, we all know it's a very important hire and one that I'm doing the full diligence I think that it takes, but I'm working toward that end."

An entire Bulldog Nation can't wait to learn the answer.

While most followers of programs like the Bulldogs focus their attention on the opponent at hand, it seems most of the focus has been on who will replace Willie Martinez as defensive coordinator, and how that decision will translate into success in 2010.

Richt maintains that he expects to have his answer sometime "after the bowls."

"I think that will be the safest bet," Richt said. "I would hate to think it goes much past the first week of January. You have to get back on the road recruiting. You'd like to hit the ground running at that point with your new staff."

Meanwhile, being shorthanded in regards to staff hasn't been as much of a problem as many of the players first feared.

According to linebacker Rennie Curran, grad assistant Mitch Doolittle and Todd Hartley have more than held their own.

"I obviously don't like Coach (John) Jancek being away, but Coach Doolittle has a done a good job," Curran said. "He has picked up our system really quickly, and he is a guy that I feel like relates to us so well being so young and energetic."

Of course, the young assistants have been under the watchful eye of Richt, who along with defensive line coach Rodney Garner, have organized the game-plan for the high-scoring Aggies.

Texas A&M comes into play as the top offensive team in the Big 12 (465.3 yards per game) while ranking second in rushing offense (190.4), third in scoring offense (33.9) and 6th in passing offense (274.9).

The Aggies' goal is a simple one - score as often and as quickly as they can.

"I do think the fact we have, next to Houston the second most plays run in the NCAA. I was concerned when we did it, because I thought I was going to put our defense in a precarious position if we were hurrying up offense and were 3-and-out with 12 seconds off the clock," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "That was going to be a difficult challenge, but fortunately we've been pretty good on getting first downs throughout the course of the season. But to answer your question, I feel it's helped our run game. More so than anything, if you look at our statistics - and I don't spend much time looking at that but at the end of the season I did - our passing game improved probably about 20 yards per game, but our run game more than doubled.

"Part of it is the fact that we're able to wear people down, and our run game in the second, third and fourth quarters was much, much improved from where it was a year ago."

Defensively, the Aggies have had some issues.
Texas A&M is giving up 32.7 points per game, while opponents are averaging 431.3 yards of offense per contest.

Two of those games came against opponents the Bulldogs are quite familiar with - Oklahoma State and Arkansas. The Cowboys beat the Aggies 36-31 while the Razorbacks thumped Sherman's squad in Arlington, Tex., 47-19.

Georgia beat the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, 52-41.

"It helps, in the sense that you see the throwing game more so than anything else," Sherman said "By having those common opponents, and knowing the quality of teams that they are, lets us determine that this is a pretty talented football team we're playing."

Richt has equally complimentary things to say about Aggie quarterback Jerrod Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder who has rushed for almost 700 yards and thrown for 3,317 yards with 28 touchdowns.

"He's been the guy, absolutely the catalyst of that offensive football team," Richt said. "They love to spread it out, go fast-paced, go with three-receiver sets, four-receiver sets, a no-back, five-receiver look. They go into certain personnel groups and give you every formation known to mankind and do it in a very quick manner, so it will be a challenge just to recognize what's happening and get lined up properly."

Defensively, Aggie defensive end Von Miller leads the country in sacks with 17.

For Georgia, quarterback Joe Cox (170-303, 2,426, 22 touchdowns) will spearhead the Bulldogs' offense, which also figures to lean on running backs Washaun Ealey (639 yards, three touchdowns) and Caleb King (534 yards, five touchdowns).

The Bulldogs will also welcome back wide receiver A.J. Green (47 catches, 751 yards, six touchdowns) who has missed the past two games with a separated shoulder.

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