LeFevour, a junior, threw for 3,652 yards and ran for another 1,122 and combining for 46 touchdowns last season, leading Central Michigan to a MAC championship. Today, he’s looking to lead the Chippewas to their biggest win in school history, and the Bulldogs’ defense isn’t taking anything for granted.
“As a defense, just to know that they have a possible Heisman candidate at quarterback, he brings a lot to the table,” cornerback Bryan Evans said. “We know what he can do, and his receivers are pretty good. It makes us have more urgency out there.”
Urgency is exactly what the Bulldogs lacked in the second half of their season opener against Georgia Southern last week. After building a 38-0 lead midway through the third quarter, head coach Mark Richt said he saw an obvious attitude change, and the Eagles outscored Georgia 21-7 the rest of the way.
The lackluster final 20 minutes may have cost Georgia its No. 1 ranking – Southern California passed the Bulldogs in both the AP and Coaches polls this week – and it earned players a high-tempo week of practice with an emphasis on conditioning.
Part of the extra work was punishment. A bigger reason, however, was the high-powered spread offense LeFevour and the Chippewas run.
“We have to prepare more, it’s more of a fast-paced offense,” Georgia safety Reshad Jones said. “Coach (Willie) Martinez said it would be very quick. They do no-huddle a lot. We need to prepare, know the plays, and get lined up to play ball.”
The offensive attack of the Chippewas is not much different from the spread run by Georgia Southern last week, with one key difference. While the Eagles juggled two inexperienced quarterbacks, Central Michigan is led by one of the nation’s best.
“They will put the game on LeFevour,” Richt said. “They’re going to win or lose with his play. Because of the reliance on the quarterback to make plays, they’ll be more apt to throw the ball down the field.”
Georgia has never played Central Michigan in its history and hasn’t played a team from the MAC in a decade, but to find a template for beating LeFevour, Richt only needs to look back a year.
LeFevour quickly built an impressive resume last season as a dual-threat player, becoming only the second Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,000. With a bruising 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame, the numbers and body type look an awful lot like one of Georgia’s most talented opponents.
“This guy is a very, very tough football player, he’s more like (Florida’s Tim) Tebow than I really thought,” Richt said. “Just the mind-set of preparing for Tebow, if they can match that preparing for LeFevour, I think it will help us.”
The game plan won’t be simple.
The spread is designed to put receivers into open space on the field, meaning the pressure will be on Georgia’s defensive backs to make tackles, something Evans said the team failed to do well against Georgia Southern.
“Twenty-one points is a little bit too much for us to be giving up,” Evans said. “We gave up a touchdown pass and a long run from missed tackles by the secondary. So we know we need to come out better prepared, with more of a sense of urgency and be ready to play.”
Quarterback Matthew Stafford said the offense would need to do its part to help out Georgia’s defense as well.
Last week, several false start penalties killed drives for Georgia. While the Bulldogs employed a quick strike offense to near perfection, they failed to sustain many long drives, something they’ll need to rectify against Central Michigan.
“With the ability they have on offense and the numbers they put up and how they run it, we’ve got to be efficient on third down convert and keep our defense off the field,” Stafford said.
Special teams will have its hands full, too. Freshman kicker Blair Walsh hit a 52-yard field goal in his only attempt last week and was perfect on six extra-point attempts, but his kickoffs left Richt a bit disappointed.
“He was given permission to try to knock it out (of the end zone) on the first one,” Richt said, “but on a couple of other ones that he was just not able to do it. You’ve got to be sure that you get it out and there’s two that he didn’t and they got a pretty good return on them.”
That is even more crucial against the Chippewas. Returner Antonio Brown collected 1,048 yards on kickoff returns last season, second most in the MAC.
“Punt return, kick return and receiving,” Richt said of Brown. “He’s a 1,000-yard receiver and a terrific return man.”
Still, it’s LeFevour that will likely determine how successful Central Michigan will be, and Jones said the defense plans to make sure he doesn’t enjoy his afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
“That’s our philosophy on defense – hit the quarterback, scare him and make sure he doesn’t hurt our defense,” Jones said. “Once we scare him a little bit, getting off blocks and running to the ball, that’s Georgia, that’s what we do.”