September 3, 2009

Dawgs look to lasso Cowboys

The past is the past and Rennie Curran is tired of talking about it.

Georgia's junior linebacker prefers to focus on the present, the here, the now and Saturday's season-opener at Oklahoma State, not rehash the problems on defense that plagued the 2008 campaign.

"People ask about last year, but last year is over. It's definitely a new team with new guys stepping in ready to make some plays," Curran said. "I'm just ready to hit somebody."

Curran and the rest of the 13th-ranked Bulldogs are about to get their chance. Saturday's game against the ninth-ranked Cowboys is one of the more ballyhooed games in the entire country, the first road opener for the Bulldogs since blanking Clemson 30-0 in 2003.

Richt said his Bulldogs won't be holding anything back in game set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

For Georgia, storylines are everywhere.

Will Georgia's defense rebound after last year's sub-par season which saw the Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in scoring defense (24.5 points per game) and struggled mightily in losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech.

On offense, how will fifth-year senior Joe Cox perform in his first game since taking over for Matthew Stafford? What about Richard Samuel, whose solid preseason propelled him into the starting job at running back where he will replace Knowshon Moreno?

Richt wishes he knew, but one thing he can promise, his Bulldogs won't be shy when it comes to throwing the entire playbook at OSU.

"I don't think we can play cautious. What I mean is I don't think we can hold anything back that I think could help us win the game. The good news is (Cox) knows the system. We don't have to sugarcoat anything for him. He can run anything that we do from a mental point of view," Richt said. "I don't know what our run-pass ratio will be. We still have to define that. We absolutely know we have to run the ball well to have a chance to be a good offensive team. That's not just Saturday; it's all season long. We are hoping for a great balance. If people decide to stop the pass we have to run well. If they decide to overload the run we have to throw it well."

It promises to be a big day for all involved.

Saturday's game will also mark the re-dedication of the 60,218-seat Boone Pickens Stadium, most of who will be there to cheer on their Cowboys in what's being billed as arguably the biggest opener in Oklahoma State history.

"When we played at Nebraska a few years ago, there was a lot of anticipation at that game. I think just the local buzz and maybe even more so in the state, because of the preseason ranking," head coach Mike Gundy said. "I don't know what the numbers are, but it's the highest we've been ranked preseason in a long time. Because of that, there's a lot of excitement."

Folks in Stillwater are equally excited about their team, led by the trio of quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant.

One of America's top dual-threat quarterbacks, Robinson has passed for more than 6,200 career yards and has rushed for more than 1,500.

Hunter, meanwhile, was a first-team All-American according to the Football Writers Association after rushing for 1,555 yards and 18 scores, while Bryant was the runner up for the 2008 Bilentnikoff Award after catching 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns. OSU was ninth in the country in scoring last year averaging 40.8 points per game.

Making the Cowboys one-dimensional will be a key to the Bulldogs' chances.

"Anytime you can stop a team from doing what they are good at I think that will slow them down a lot. It makes their playbook smaller than what they are used to playing with," senior safety Bryan Evans said. "Hopefully, our defensive line can get us a great push and make it tough for them to run the ball, and maybe if there's a great push it will cause some bad throws. We are harping on turnovers this year. That's something we really want to get accomplished as a secondary."

The Bulldogs are thrilled to have defensive tackle Jeff Owens back in the fold.

Owens tore his ACL in last year's season-opener against Georgia Southern and his return is expected to not only take the pressure off of fellow tackle Geno Atkins, but anchor a defense determined to make amends for last year's sub-par season.

Evans said Saturday's challenge against the high-octane Cowboys is a test that he and the defense are anxious to face.

"It's just who wants it more that day. The SEC really doesn't have a lot of five-wide every play offenses, but when we do get a chance to play them we just want to be physical and see if we can slow them down and move it our type of game - hard-nosed football," Evans said. "On the defensive side of the football, the SEC is known for having great defensives, so anytime we can go out and hold a team well under their average that's going to be a great win for the defense."

But while Georgia is getting one of its key defensive performers back from last year, the Cowboys just lost one of theirs.

Earlier this week OSU lost middle linebacker Orie Lemon, it's second-leading tackler from a season ago with 90.

That's certainly not good news for a team which struggled defensively last year giving up almost 28 points per contest, leading to the hiring of new defensive coordinator Bill Young.

Gundy doesn't buy the notion that Georgia's change in personnel at quarterback and running back will give his team any sort of advantage.

"I've said this on a number of times, they lost a couple of first-round picks, but Georgia's got players," Gundy said. "They always have and I'm going to guess for a long time they always will. The best example I can give is the first time we ever heard of Knowshon Moreno was when we played him. They were concerned if they had anybody that would be able to run the football."

Richt is anxious to see that for himself.

Along with Cox and Samuel, Richt is just as interested to see how other newcomers like true freshmen Marlon Brown, Orson Charles, Rantavious Wooten, Montez Robinson and Branden Smith perform, along with young veterans like redshirt freshmen like Carlton Thomas, defensive end Cornelius Washington, plus safeties Sanders Commings, Makiri Pugh and Bacarri Rambo.

"I'm curious to see the entire team and which guys may break out, not even so much the true freshmen. I am anxious to see the true freshmen and see how they'll handle it," Richt said. "I am anxious about some of these other veterans, maybe not veterans in starting time but veterans in our system and see how they are going to come through, and see the team as a whole and what kind of energy can we create in this game."

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