September 4, 2009

On the Mark: Dawgs coach talks about OSU game

Typically, Georgia doesn't make a big road trip like this.

And the fact that it's basically two top 10 teams going at it just increases the intrigue of a game that the majority of the nation will see on ABC at 2:30 p.m. Central Time.

It's a tough game to open the ninth season of Mark Richt in Athens. Earlier in the week, he talked to media members about the game against Oklahoma State and what needs to happen for the Bulldogs to come away with a victory.

The last time the two teams faced off, the Bulldogs cruised to a win. But this time things have changed, as OSU has risen to the level that UGA has been at for years.

"I think the biggest difference is that Oklahoma State is a much more mature team," Richt said of this year's matchup. "Coach (Mike) Gundy's been there longer. I think they understand very well what it takes to play the best teams in the country. Just the experiences they had last season - Oklahoma, playing Texas, Texas Tech - when everybody was in the top five. Texas was No. 1 when they played them, and really (without) a fumble early in the game, they might have won that game. So they know what it takes to win those ballgames. A couple of years ago, I'm not sure they weren't in that maturation process, but now they know."

The growth has been individual, as well. Richt said a vital part of the Cowboys has really grown up since OSU's trip to Sanford Stadium - quarterback Zac Robinson.

"I did study Zac over the summer and just a couple of days ago and he's fantastic," Richt said. "The only thing we hear about him is he's tough-as-nails. Some guys you can hit and get to him and shake him up, but they say "you can hit him all you want, but that guy is very resilient and he's going to play well."

Richt comes into this game with some holes in his offense. Gone are Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, both defectors to the NFL. That means breaking in new starters at two vital positions - quarterback and running back.

In the case of new starting QB Joe Cox (who is rumored to have flu-like symptoms at the time of this writing), Richt said: "I expect him just to focus on his job and to get us in the right plays at the right time and get us out of the bad ones and try to get the ball to the skill (players). Try not to be the hero, just manage the game well and get us started."

As for the running backs, it sounds like he has decided on a rotation.

"We've settled on Richard Samuels as our number one back right this minute, but Caleb King - who started out camp as the number one guy - pulled his hamstring in the first scrimmage," Richt said. "We hope to get him back soon, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Caleb move back into a prominent spot. Before the season is over, he could be the number one guy again."

But UGA has an ace in the hole on offense. A set of them, actually. The Dawgs' offensive line, while young, has some decent experience coming into 2009.

"We need them to play well, there's no question about it," Richt said. "We're hoping that they will play better than they played over the last couple of years. I'm not saying that they played that poorly, but we played with a lot of youth. Two seasons ago, we had three freshmen and two seniors start. Then last year we had three freshmen and two sophomores start for us.

"Now that we've been through those years and allowed those guys to play - we're definitely more experienced - we should play that way. We still only have one senior in our offensive line corps. That's Vince Vance, so we're relatively young as a group, but still those guys have had playing time as freshmen and sophomores. We hope it pays off."

If there's someone on the Bulldogs to watch Saturday that might be coming in under the radar, it's wide receiver A.J. Green. Last season as a freshman, he caught 56 passes for 963 yards and eight touchdowns. Is he UGA's Dez Bryant in-the-making?

"I don't think A.J. is not nearly as established as Dez - he's done it for a couple of years," Richt said. "And Dez's statistics were stronger than A.J.'s and he had quite a year," Richt said. "A.J. was just learning how to play college football last year. This year he's certainly bigger and stronger than he was (as a freshman), but I don't know that he's quite as strong as Dez is. I think that with Dez having the experienced quarterback and the very, very veteran and solid running back situation, plus you've got the big tackle (Russell) Okung, so you've got a better bunch of guys that he's playing with. I think he'll benefit from (that) too, where we're not as established, I don't think."

Richt realizes the challenge ahead of him in Orange Country this weekend. And if his Dawgs figure out a way to take control of the game early, he isn't going to think he's out of the woods yet.

"They're veteran," he said of the Cowboys. "I don't think, if they did go down early, I don't think that would phase them. They're just so explosive, I don't think they would be shaken at all."

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