It's time for another edition of Know The Foe. The Aggies step out of conference play this week as they head between the hedges to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are coming off a hard fought victory over archrival Florida in the game formerly known as The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (damn political correctness). We've enlisted the help of ESPN.com and DawgNation writer David Ching to give Aggie fans a look at what to expect from a suddenly depleted backfield as well as what the Aggies can expect from a scary Georgia defense and what the Aggies might be able to do to spring the upset.
After starting out 0-2 the Bulldogs have really rebounded quite well posting six straight victories. What's been the biggest difference in the past six games (all wins) versus the first two games (both losses)?
Well the first thing is that the level of competition was much more manageable. Boise State is undefeated and South Carolina has only lost once, so that was a pretty difficult way to start the season. Georgia really should have won the South Carolina game in my opinion. They made a bunch of dumb mistakes that cost them the game, but really played better than the Gamecocks with the exception of a few particularly sloppy plays. They've really been sloppy all season, but have been substantially more talented than the teams they've played since then, so the mistakes weren't as costly.
The big news this week out of Athens has obviously been the suspensions of the three running backs plus the various injuries to players at running back, offensive line and the continued absence of WR Malcolm Mitchell. Most would agree that if a non-AQ team were to lose four running backs for an entire week it would be a devastating blow to the offense but since Georgia is, well, Georgia, how much of an impact do you truly expect the loss of four running backs to have on this game?
Not much of an impact, really. If New Mexico State were more effective at defending the run, it might be more of a cause for concern. But facing a team that is already 111th in the FBS at defending the run, I don't think Georgia will have a great deal of difficulty. They probably won't fare as well as they would have with a five-star back like Isaiah Crowell running the ball, but they've still got plenty of other weapons available.
This game is odd timing for both teams, right in the middle of the conference race, for Georgia they're coming off an emotional victory over Florida and face Auburn next Saturday and with a loss by S. Carolina in either of their next two games, Georgia would have the inside track to the SEC Championship game. So, is there any chance Georgia might be looking ahead to Auburn next Saturday and maybe overlook New Mexico State?
Sure, there's a chance of that. They've played a bunch of fairly tight games in conference play and still have big possibilities in front of them. New Mexico State is pretty good on offense, so Georgia is not going to be able to just sleep walk through this game. I don't think the Bulldogs would have to play their A game to still win comfortably, but they still have to play reasonably well.
Obviously the Bulldogs aren't the only team in this game with some injuries. The quarterback situation at New Mexico State is dicey with starting quarterback Matt Christian's left shoulder is banged up, backup quarterback Travaughn Colwell's toe kept him from being available in last week's game and the emergency quarterback, Trevor Walls, has been at tight end all year (though he was recruited to New Mexico State by Hal Mumme as a quarterback). Do you expect the Bulldogs to blitz aggressively and get as many hits on Christian as they can to try to either rattle him or knock him out of the game?
I do expect that, but that philosophy would not be new for this week. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme is big on blitzing from lots of different angles and positions, so they pretty much try to do that every game. Last week, they knew Florida quarterback John Brantley's mobility would be limited by an ankle injury, so they probably came after him a bit more than they normally would in spots -- and they sacked him six times. Once they got him rattled and proved Florida wouldn't be able to run against them, they didn't send as much pressure and were dropping random players back into coverage. It can get confusing for quarterbacks, I think, which I suppose is the goal.
Offensively, how will the game plan change for the Bulldogs, if at all, with the absence of the top three running backs? Will the Bulldogs still try to pound a porous rush defense or will they air it out a little more?
I think they'll still try to be balanced on offense like they normally would. I don't think they'll go into this game thinking they won't be able to run until New Mexico State proves otherwise. The difference might be more evident in the personnel they use -- like maybe trying a few more things with cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith on offense. They have both played some at running back and receiver and even taking direct snaps here and there, so we might see a bit more of them on Saturday.
Jarvis Jones is clearly one of the best players on the Bulldog defense and one of the best in the country but who are some other players on the Georgia defense that Aggie fans should be aware of?
Sophomore inside linebacker Alec Ogletree was supposed to be one of the team's defensive stars, but he broke his foot in the first quarter against Boise State and just returned from the injury last week against Florida. Safety Bacarri Rambo has a nose for the ball and is one of the nation's leaders in interceptions. Boykin is the team's top cover corner and figures to be an NFL draft pick next year. Up the middle, nose guards John Jenkins (6-3, 335 pounds) and Kwame Geathers (6-6, 350) rotate and are two players who are awfully tough to move.
Quarterback Aaron Murray had a fantastic freshman season, how would you rate his play so far in is sophomore season and what are his strengths and his weaknesses?
I think he's been better than average, but not great. He was voted the first-team preseason All-SEC, but I don't think anyone would believe that he has been as good as expected. Sometimes Aaron makes great plays -- he threw two beautiful fourth-down touchdown passes last week against Florida -- and then he'll completely whiff on a wide-open receiver. There has been a lot more good than bad, but he has a lot of improving still to do in the area of consistency. He's a really talented kid.
Aside from the running back position, who are a player or two who might have been flying under the radar this season on offense that could have a breakout game on Saturday?
I think receiver Michael Bennett is the first choice there. He's had a couple pretty good games and he made a spectacular catch last week against Florida on one of those fourth-down touchdown passes I mentioned. Marlon Brown might be another one. He hasn't been healthy much this year, but he had 121 receiving yards and two touchdowns two games ago against Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs will win this game if…
They don't give it away. Georgia has to protect the ball and not surrender the huge special teams plays it has regularly surrendered and it should be fine. If the Bulldogs play another sloppy game, they might have more of a fight on their hands than they expected.
The Aggies have a chance to pull of an upset if…
New Mexico State is a good kickoff return team and Georgia is one of the nation's worst teams at defending kickoffs. If the Aggies can make a couple big things happen there, they might have a chance.
Your predicted outcome:
Georgia 35, New Mexico State 14