Q&A: Talking Georgia Football with Dawg Sports

COLUMBIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs rolls out and looks downfield to pass during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11 2010 in Columbia South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 17-6. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Now that the conference season is starting, it's time for our annual tradition of Q&A exchanges with our blogging counterparts on the other side of the field. In this first installment, we hear from Kyle King of the excellent Georgia blog, DawgSports.com (definitely read it often this week). Many thanks to Kyle for his time and insightful analysis! And before you do anything productive today, be sure to check out our responses to his questions.

1. Last season was a rocky one by the Bulldogs' usual standards, and this year hasn't gotten off to the greatest start. What's the mentality among the fans at this point? And is Mark Richt truly on the hot seat?

While no one was happy with last weekend’s result, no one should be terribly discouraged or surprised by it, either. Georgia took a redshirt freshman quarterback and a retooled defense on the road to face probably the best South Carolina squad of the Steve Spurrier era, which is led by a highly-touted tailback and a consistently stingy defense. Despite being too conservative on offense and too timid on defense, the Bulldogs were still in the game deep into the fourth quarter.

Those who are howling are baying for the blood of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, not calling for the head of the head coach. Any jeopardy in which Mark Right might have found himself in 2010 was postponed for at least another couple of years when he cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball. A collapse so complete as to put Coach Richt’s job on the line in 2010 is virtually unthinkable. A coach with 90 wins in his first nine years, a pair of SEC championship rings, a couple of conference coach of the year trophies, and the universal admiration of Bulldog Nation as a good man may have to put up with some grumbling, but, unless the dark days of the mid-1990s return and Georgia goes back to posting six-win seasons with no bowl bids, Coach Richt will be in Athens for the long haul.

2. Now that you've had a couple of games to evaluate Aaron Murray, what are your impressions? Can he be a difference maker in a potential shootout against the Hogs?

Both Coach Bobo and Coach Richt have acknowledged that they should have taken the bubble wrap off of Aaron Murray sooner. The redshirt freshman completed two-thirds of his passes for 192 yards and no interceptions against the Gamecocks, which represented a solid outing compared to the performances turned in by other Bulldog rookie signal callers when facing the Palmetto State Poultry.

Murray is still young, so he’s still green, but he shows signs of being Greene . . . as in David Greene, who started for Mark Richt as a redshirt freshman in 2001 and left school four years later as the winningest quarterback in Division I-A college football history. Murray will be taken off the leash against the Razorbacks, so we’ll see what he can do, but he definitely has the tools, and it’s time to find out just how adept he is at using them.

3. Much has been made about Georgia's transition to a new defensive scheme under Todd Grantham. What's your take on it so far? Which aspects of the D give you the most and least confidence as they prepare to face Ryan Mallet and company?

The shift from the 4-3 to the 3-4 is a work in progress, but, for all of last Saturday’s reversion to the arm-tackling ways of the Willie Martinez era, there has been progress. The Georgia defense has played eight straight quarters of penalty-free football, given up fewer points in the second half than in the first half in each of the first two games, and staked out a position as the SEC’s fourth-best scoring defense and third-best total defense.

While the Bulldogs surrendered far too many rushing yards last Saturday, they also sacked Stephen Garcia five times, recovered a fumble, and staged a goal line stand to force a field goal. Even Marcus Lattimore’s hefty yards after contact attest to the fact that the Red and Black were in position, even if they didn’t wrap up the way they needed to do. In short, I am confident in the Georgia pass rush and the Bulldog secondary, but I am concerned about the home team’s ability to defend up the middle. Naturally, I’ll be worried about tackling until I am given good reason not to fret over that most fundamental act of defending.

4. Setting aside the obvious candidates like A.J. Green (if he plays), which Bulldog players will Razorback fans be cursing by the end of the game on Saturday?

If asked in the locker room afterward to name his least favorite Bulldog, Ryan Mallett will answer, "Justin Houston." Since making the move from defensive end to outside linebacker, the Georgia junior has racked up three sacks and a dozen total tackles in two games under the new system. The earlier and more often Houston hits Mallett, the better the chances of the Athenians picking up their first conference win of the campaign.

On the other side of the ball, the player the Razorback faithful are apt to find most maddening is Kris Durham, whose eight catches match the number of receptions made by Marlon Brown and Orson Charles combined. In the absence of A.J. Green, Durham has been Murray’s favorite target, and the Georgia senior is averaging almost 20 yards per catch and nearly 80 receiving yards per game. Durham also hauled in a 55-yard reception from Murray against South Carolina. If the ‘Dawgs and the Hogs are in for another shootout, Durham will be among the home team’s best weapons.

5. What kind of warm Southern hospitality can Bobby Petrino expect when he rolls into Athens? Or, to put it another way, if a typical Georgia fan were on a crashing plane with Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and Petrino, but only had enough parachutes for himself and one other, what would he do?

Why, strap on one parachute and take the other with him for a spare, of course! Professional football largely is an afterthought in the Peach State, as it is in most of SEC country, so I doubt that any but the most diehard Falcons fans are too concerned with Bobby Petrino’s return. He certainly hasn’t earned anything like the level of disdain directed at Urban Meyer or Steve Spurrier. While I suspect there will be a few boos during the pregame introductions, folks will have forgotten all about Coach Petrino by kickoff time. I seriously doubt that the Georgia faithful will be anywhere near as vocal regarding Coach Petrino as the Alabama fans will be when facing Bill Curry’s Georgia State Panthers later in the year.

(Many thanks again to Kyle for his time. And if you want more of this interview, our answers to his questions are up here.)

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