Mark Richt’s biggest challenge will be determining who the starting quarterback will be for the Dawgs’ opener against Western Kentucky, and if that signal caller will hold onto that spot the entire season.
If Georgia can get steady production from the quarterback and its defense continues to be one of the best in the country, there is no reason to think this year’s Dawgs can’t defend their SEC Title. But if the quarterback controversy drags on all season long the Bulldogs could be in for a sub-par bowl game.
The number one question on Georgia’s football team is which quarterback will be the starter. Joe Tereshinski will start the season opener against Western Kentucky, most think, but whether he can hold off talented true freshman Matthew Stafford is another question. Joe Cox and Blake Barnes seem more like long shots to be the starter after Georgia finished their spring practices. Tereshinski is a team leader with serious fight, but limited throwing abilities. Stafford, on the other hand, seems to possess all the physical tools for the job; yet he has never played a down of college football. The play of either or both – depending on the outcome of Richt’s decision – will determine the fate of Georgia this fall.
Several things need to happen on the offense if the Bulldogs hope to return to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. First, the offensive line must replace two stalwarts, and make sure that protection is guaranteed for the quarterbacks. The line may need the help of starting tight end Martrez Milner at times if the tackles don’t told up. Milner must improve his pass-catching consistency to help out the inexperienced quarterbacks. Kenneth Harris, Mohamed Massaquoi and the other receivers must be more consistent this season.
The Bulldogs’ running game is arguably the best in the SEC – it certainly is the deepest. Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware all have starting experience, and all have shown the ability to punish top-tier teams on the schedule. Making all three happy with touches will be another challenge, but having too many talented running backs is never a bad thing.
Georgia’s defensive line will have question marks on the inside, but two of the best players in the SEC on the outside. Gone are former Bulldog starters Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson. The pair dealt with injuries much of their senior season, so rising senior Ray Gant got plenty of playing time. Gant, along with either Jeff Owens or Kade Weston, will form the starting pair of tackles for Georgia this fall. Weston is a monster, but has never played in college, and Owens was very productive for the amount of time he played.
On the edges, Georgia’s Quenton Moses and Charles Johnson are both potential All-Americans. Moses gets more acclaim, and he deserves it because of his quarterback-pressuring ways. But Johnson’s presence on the other side of the line makes figuring out where the pressure is coming from very difficult for the opposition.
Linebacker is the most experienced and deepest position for the Dawgs. Tony Taylor, Jarvis Jackson and Brandon Miller will start – the trio has seemingly been at Georgia forever. But all have had injury issues in the past. If the group can stay healthy they will be a steady force for the Dawgs. Marcus Washington and Danny Verdun-Wheeler are two of the top backups in the SEC.
Georgia loses the most from last season in its secondary. Gone are NFL players Greg Blue, Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter – they are replaced by Kelin Johnson, Paul Oliver and Thomas Flowers. Flowers and Johnson will have to fight off younger players to keep their spots. C.J. Byrd and true freshman Asher Allen look like they have the potential to be All-SEC in a year. Oliver and Tra Battle, the only returning starter in the secondary, could also both be All-SEC by the end of the season. Oliver will be difficult for SEC foes to deal with now that he has the experience needed to cover the best wide receivers in the conference.
Special Teams preview
Georgia has the best overall special teams in the SEC – and perhaps in the country. Punter Gordon Ely-Kelso is a dependable punting commodity, and place kicker Brandon Coutu has a steady and strong leg. Coutu is routinely depended on for kicks up to and over 50 yards. Coutu was 10 of 14 on kicks 40 yards or longer in 2005. Also, Thomas Flowers is an exceptional punt returner. The Bulldogs must improve their kickoff return production, but they will be forced to do so with their fourth coach with that responsibility in six seasons.
The trip to South Carolina looms large at the start of Georgia’s schedule. The Bulldogs are, on the whole, more talented than the Gamecocks, but they will be breaking in a new quarterback, and they never play well in Columbia. A loss to Carolina might open up the quarterback position until the Tennessee game.
Georgia should roll through UAB, Colorado and Ole Miss before Tennessee comes to Athens. A critical SEC East contest, the Bulldogs have beaten the Vols five of the last six times they have played. Vandy and Mississippi State are warm ups before the Dawgs travel to Jacksonville to try to exorcise the demons once again against their rivals Florida. If Georgia can get past Florida they will be in good shape in the SEC East race. Georgia shouldn’t be challenged by Kentucky the week after the Florida game. Auburn will be Georgia’s most difficult game all season, and the Dawgs must travel to the Plains. That game could determine Georgia’s post-season fate.
The Bulldogs then take their only week of rest all season before hosting in-state rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have not lost to Tech since 2000, but waited until the last play of the game to win the last two games against the Yellow Jackets.
As usual, South Carolina presents a challenging start to the season with Tennessee around the corner at the start of October. Then Georgia must fight its way through Florida and Auburn before finishing up with Georgia Tech. Colorado could provide a hiccup in late September, but the Bulldogs are far too talented to lose to the Buffs at home.
NOTE: This is the second story in a twelve-part feature on the 2006 SEC season. To read more see below: