September 25, 2009

Richt wants improvement versus ASU

Say one thing for Georgia's season through three games, it's certainly been interesting.

Since dropping a 24-10 decision to start the year at Oklahoma State, the 21st-ranked Bulldogs have been scoring points at an eye-popping clip, totaling 93 in their victories over South Carolina and Arkansas.

Trouble is, the defense has given up 102.

Although head coach Mark Richt will point to the team's turnovers (last in the SEC in turnover margin at -2.33) and penalties (next-to-last in the SEC at 83 yards per game) as two of the big reasons why, the fact remains that 21st-ranked Georgia (2-1) still has work to before it can truly become the team that many still hope it can be.

"I always make the analogy of the team being a train. You want to get that train on the track and you want to get it rolling down the track and gain momentum and energy as you go. It's hard to get that train going from a dead start. After losing that first game, we didn't' get it moving it all," Richt said. "The second game took a lot of effort to get it rolling, and now we are getting it rolling pretty good, but I think we'll roll a whole lot faster if we don't have the two anchors out the back of the caboose that are stuck in the ground dragging behind us, and that is our turnover ratio is very poor and penalties have cropped up on us. If we can just cut those anchors lose, I think we will fly even better and if we just improve in those two areas, I think everything will improve."

Richt and the Bulldogs hope to start seeing that improvement when Arizona State pays it's first-ever visit to Stanford Stadium.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (ESPNU).

Linebacker Rennie Curran admits the defense has a lot to prove. One week after South Carolina rolled up 37 points on the Bulldogs, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett had a field day, throwing for over 400 yards and five touchdowns before Georgia's defense finally made some plays late to preserve the 52-41 win.

"It is frustrating as a defense. We want to hold the offense to the least amount of yards and least amount of points as possible, but we are definitely doing the right things. We are keeping a good attitude, working hard and encouraging each other," Curran said. "There were a lot of times in the last game that we could have pointed fingers and got discouraged, but we didn't and it has really helped build us up. We know where we are at as a defense, and I feel that we are not very far from being great. We just need to take care of some of the details and I think we can be a great defense and shut people down."

Richt would no doubt like to start seeing some improvement soon. Whether or not the Sun Devils (2-0) will provide such a tonic remains to be seen.

Arizona State has posted a total of 83 points in its two games, although Saturday's contest will no doubt be the Sun Devils' biggest test after opening the season against Idaho and Louisiana-Monroe.

Quarterback Danny Sullivan (32-for-56, 385 yards) directs the offense for ASU, which also features running back Dimitri Nance (25 carries, 113 yards, three touchdowns) and wide receiver Kyle Williams (13 receptions, 179 yards).

Richt was asked about the ways the defense can improve earlier this week.

"It's always the same answer, a combination of pressure and coverage. Which comes first? What helps the other one the most? The better you cover, the longer that quarterback has to throw the ball. If you're in zone coverage, or man for that matter, we have some man coverage where it's still only a four-man rush," he said. "We have a couple of high-hole and a low-hole player that are playing zone, a robber-type coverage. The better you cover, the longer the quarterback has to hold the ball and it allows your pressure to get to him.

"We also know that if we put pressure on the quarterback he tends to throw the ball too soon or a little bit off balance, and that helps your coverage. It's as simple as that. We have to cover better and we have to put more pressure. One area where I thought we might be putting a little more pressure on the quarterback where we really haven't up to this point on a consistent basis is right up the middle. We need to get more from the inside push. If the quarterback does step up he's got nowhere to be comfortable or no space and we've had too much of that."

Fortunately, the Bulldogs have had relative success stopping the run (121 yards per game), a fact Richt said has led to opponents taking more shots with their passing game.

But despite this success, the Bulldogs are still having trouble getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Georgia comes into Saturday's game with only four sacks, which ties for the fewest in the SEC.

"Is it very unusual to be able to stop the run and not pressure the passer. I wouldn't say it's highly unusual. There are certain body types that can maybe stuff the run better than they can get after a passer but I wouldn't categorize our guys that way," Richt said. "If you looked at it from a statistical point of view, you might start drawing that conclusion. But I've seen Jeffrey (Owens), Geno (Atkins), Kade (Weston), DeAngelo (Tyson), I've seen all those guys, and even young Abry (Jones), they all have the ability to rush the passer and push the pocket. We just haven't done it well enough on a consistent basis. So that's definitely a big point of contention for us."

At least the offense no longer appears to be a problem.

Joe Cox's record-setting performance against Arkansas (18-for-25, 375 yards, school-record tying five touchdowns) enabled the Bulldogs to score the most points in consecutive SEC game (93) since 2004 when Georgia edged Florida (31-24) and Kentucky (62-17).

Couple with the continued emergence of tight end Orson Charles and wide receiver Tavarres King, the Bulldogs are learning they have more weapons than just wideout A.J. Green (17 catches, 275 yards, three touchdowns), who continues to excel despite constant double-teams.

Running back Richard Samuel continues to run the ball hard and is coming off a 104-yard effort against Arkansas, although his two fumbles against the Razorbacks has opened the door for Caleb King, who picked up 59 yards on 11 attempts.

"There will definitely be a plan to play both of them. I'm not even sure we have settled on who will start," Richt said. "But I thought Caleb ran the ball well. He pass protected well and secured the ball well. He showed no signs of the hamstring becoming an issue for him, so it was a very good performance for Caleb. I think our tailback position just got stronger by virtue of that."

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