#10 - The Schedule Looks Better on Paper
- I know, the schedule looks almost as tough 2008 beginning with the first game of the season on the road in Stillwater. Some people are very scared of this game, but watching Ole Miss put the Texas Tech offense in its place in the Cotton Bowl makes me feel better about the Dawgs chances against the Cowboys. This season, Georgia played four of its final five games on the road, including a stretch of four road games in four weeks at LSU, Florida (Jacksonville), Kentucky, and Auburn. Next year, our road schedule is much more manageable and we get three of the final four games at home. The 2009 version of the tough mid-season road trip includes bouts at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Perhaps the most important change to the 2009 schedule is the return of an invaluable bye week prior to the annual road-trip to celebrate the repeal of prohibition when the Dawgs face the Gators in Jacksonville. Having LSU, Carolina, and Auburn at home next season will be a plus as I expect all of these schools to be better in 2009 than they were in 2008. Granted, these programs couldn’t get much worse than they were in 2008…
#9 – Progression of Blair Walsh
- Walsh got off to a great start in 2008 by nailing a 52-yard field goal against Georgia Southern. The freshman also hit other big kicks during the season, including four field goals against Tennessee, but overall the season was a disappointment. Walsh never quite lived up to the excitement that preceded the first Georgia kicker to be offered a scholarship out of high school since Andy Bailey. Walsh’s kickoffs, oft landing out of bounds and spotting our opponents incredible field position, are an area where he must improve next season. I look for more consistency out of Walsh both kicking field goals and kicking off. Hopefully the coaches have realized the directional kicking is not working and will let Blair kick it deep in ’09.
#8 – Full Season of AJ Green
- AJ Green had an amazing freshman season in Athens and he was not even a starter when the season began. There is cause for concern that, with the matriculation of Massaquoi, teams will be able to key in on Green. If they do, hopefully receivers like Michael Moore and Kris Durham, who both had great performances in the Capital One Bowl, step up. Green has proven to be a clutch receiver with game winning TDs against Kentucky and Auburn. Look for more of the same from him during his sophomore year in 2009.
#7 – More Passes to Aron White
- During the Mark Richt era, Georgia has produced an amazing list of tight ends that have moved on to the NFL. In 2008, Georgia seemed to abandon to use of the tight end as a major weapon in the offense. I look for that to change in 2009. Aron White only had three catches in 2008, but 2 were for touchdowns and the other was for a huge gain against LSU. While White’s blocking ability may not be great, he has proven he can catch passes and I think he will be a big target for Joe Cox in 2009.
See the 3:10 mark for White's TD vs. Michigan State
#6 – The Quarterback Position
- Joe Cox will begin the year as the starter and, as I wrote previously, I think he will be a great leader. I also think that we will get to see some of Logan Gray and what he can do on the ground. With Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger in waiting, the QB position should be fun to watch for at least a few years.
#5 – Defensive Pressure
- A glaring deficiency of the defense in ’08 was their failure to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and record sacks. We saw glimpses of the future this year in freshman Justin Houston. With another year of experience under his belt there are considerable expectations for him to improve next year. The Dawgs were also able to create a lot of pressure during the bowl game and I hope Willie continues that strategy.
#4 – The Return of Jeff Owens and Marcus Washington
- The loss of Jeff Owens was the most significant injury the Bulldogs suffered during the season last year. With Owens out, teams were able to focus on Geno Atkins and the D tackles were unable to put much pressure on the opposing QBs and running backs. The loss of Marcus Washington before the season may have been just as devastating as the loss of Owens. With Washington starting in the middle during the second half of the 2007 run, Georgia’s defense was solid. Washington is a force in the middle who also happens to be a solid tackler, one of the major issues with Georgia’s D last season.
#3 – Rennie Curran
- Washington’s return to the linebacking corps will provide solid support for Rennie in 2009. The Liberian Nightmare had a great season this year and will only get better with a healthy and improved supporting cast around him. This guy is a human wrecking ball and finished second in the SEC in tackles with 109. Curran will be all over the place and with Washington back, he will not have to make every tackle that gets into the linebacking area. Did I mention he is from my home town of Snellville (nod, nod)?
#2 – A Healthy Offensive Line
- This year, we could not keep our line healthy and we were constantly shifting the line up. Despite the well-publicized personnel challenges, the line did a great job giving Stafford time to throw and opening holes for Knowshon. With Trinton Sturdivant back at left tackle, Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones solidified as sophomores, Vince Vance returning, and Clint Boling in his natural position, the big boys up front should be one of team’s strongest assets. Caleb King and Richard Samuel may be pleasantly surprised with the size of the holes that could open up for them to run through, especially given that in each of the backs’ freshman campaigns they were asked to move the ball through gaps that only Knowshon could maneuver through. In addition, Joe Cox will have plenty of time to make his progressions and find open receivers.
#1 – It is not 2008!!!
- 2008 started with so much anticipation and talk of a national championship that a 10 win season was a huge disappointment. 2009 will paint a much different picture as the Dawgs will open the year around #15 in the polls and will not be considered title contenders. This is a similar situation to what happened in 2005, when DJ Shockley led Georgia to an SEC title. 2009 will be a chance to get back to having fun like the Dawgs did in 2007.