No crazy numbers, but Stafford still a star

Matthew Stafford

ATHENS – His talent is exceptional, but his numbers are purely pedestrian.

Matthew Stafford, Georgia's sophomore quarterback, arrived on campus as star material but two years later, with the Bulldogs on the biggest stage of his career, is playing a strictly supporting role.

Stafford was ranked the No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback in the nation by every major recruiting service and was the EA Sports national player of the year after throwing for 4,018 yards as a senior at Highland Park High School outside Dallas.

His passing ability is unquestioned, but his primary role this season as Georgia has won six straight games has been as middleman, getting the ball safely from center Fernando Velasoc to running backs Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown.

"Statistically, it's not like anybody is going to want to write a lot about how things have gone for him," head coach Mark Richt said. "We are doing what we feel like we need to do to win, and we have won."

Stafford has thrown for 2,348 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year. He is sixth in the SEC in yards per game, behind the likes of John Parker Wilson and Matt Flynn, and he has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game.

That can't all be blamed on Georgia's growing dedication to the running game.

"He knows he's had some opportunities for more completions and more yards and more touchdowns," Richt said. "He's got to improve, too, and he is. He's been very unselfish in how he's playing the game and his best years are yet to come statistically."

Stafford has only thrown more than 35 passes once this season and that came in the game in which the Bulldogs scored their fewest points of the season, a 16-12 loss to South Carolina. In Georgia's two most impressive victories of the season, over Florida and Auburn, he has thrown fewer than 20 passes.

There may be a time, Richt said, the Bulldogs need Stafford to throw the ball 30-35 times a game to win, and Stafford is holding out hope that there is.

"It'll come," he said. "I'm still young. Obviously, I expect a lot out of myself this year, but I have to keep doing what I'm doing and keep plugging away. We'll probably start throwing it more and more as I get older and our line gets older, but even if it did stay like this, if we were winning games, then I'm happy."

One of the things that made Richt confident that he had the right quarterback during the recruiting process was that Stafford committed to Georgia very early, which kept him from getting all the attention he might have gotten had he drawn out the process. It's that attitude that is serving him well now, Richt said.

"I don't see Matthew as a selfish guy," Richt said. "If all you worry about is your numbers then you are probably a little bit too self-centered for the position. The great ones want to win the games."

Stafford's attitude has helped his leadership potential because his teammates want to play hard for him, Velasco said.

"I think he's handled it unbelievably," Velasco said. "He's a real team guy, the real definition of a team guy, whatever is best for the team, that's what he's going to do. He's not really getting caught up in all the stats and the hype and stuff. It's real easy to be around and want to block for somebody who is as humble as he is."

Stafford still has the ability to amaze his coaches and teammates with the ease with which he makes some throws.

"There have been times where Matt knows he has to get the first down or knows we have to get a touchdown and, boom, there it is," safety Kelin Johnson said.

Stafford does not resent his team's offensive leanings, he said, but he will be looking across the field with a touch of jealousy on Jan. 1 when Georgia plays pass-happy Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Warriors quarterback Colt Brenanan averages 43 pass attempts per game and has thrown for more than 4,000 yards this season. Would Stafford like to trade places with Brennan for just one game?

"That," he admitted, "would be pretty cool."

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