Posted: Friday December 30, 2005 11:49AM; Updated: Friday December 30, 2005 11:49AM
Marquee Matchup: Sugar Bowl
No. 8 Georgia (10-2) vs. No. 11 West Virginia (10-1)
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)
Georgia Dome (71,500)
SI.com's B.J. Schecter analyzes the BCS showdown between the Dawgs and Mountaineers.
Setting the Stage
Not much was expected out of either Georgia or West Virginia this season, but both teams have proved the prognosticators wrong and exceeded expectations, winning the SEC and Big East, respectively. Statistically, the two teams match up well, with quick-strike offenses and stout defenses. Both teams have outstanding coaches and big-play threats on both sides of the ball. The first meeting between these two schools should be an entertaining one.
Breaking down Georgia
Out of David Greene's shadow, D.J. Shockley had a stellar senior season.
After patiently waiting four years for his chance to start, senior quarterback D.J. Shockley made the most of his opportunity, going 10-1 as the Dawgs' No. 1 QB. He was the SEC's top-rated passer this season, and since returning from a knee injury that kept him on the sidelines for the Florida game, he has thrown for 773 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception in four games. Shockley has shown poise in the pocket and also is a threat to run. The Dawgs' experienced line, led by All-America guard Max Jean-Gilles, has paved the way for a trio of running backs -- Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin. The receiving corps, led by Mohammed Massaquoi, is inexperienced and was dealt a big blow when Sean Bailey tore his ACL in practice on Dec. 20. But tight ends Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner are solid targets and have combined for 782 receiving yards and five TDs.
Despite losing its top three players to the NFL, the Junkyard Dawgs' defense has been just as dominant as its '04 version, giving up just 297.8 yards and 14.6 points per game. The unit is bolstered by hard-hitting senior All-America safety Greg Blue, who leads the team with 88 tackles. Quintin Moses (10.5 sacks) is a monster up front, while linebacker Tony Taylor is a stopper. The secondary, led by Blue and All-SEC corner Tim Jennings -- who has four of the Dawgs' 16 interceptions -- is as good as any in the country.
Breaking down West Virginia
True frosh Steve Slaton continued the tradition of backfield stars at WVU.
A pair of freshmen have re-energized the Mountaineers' offensive attack. Redshirt quarterback Pat White (878 yards rushing, 708 passing, 14 total touchdowns) and true freshman tailback Steve Slaton (924 yards, 14 TDs) give West Virginia a dangerous 1-2 punch. Add receivers Brandon Myles (472 yards, 3 TDs) and Darius Reynaud (4 TDs) and it's no wonder the Mountaineers are averaging 31.5 points per game. West Virginia can score in a hurry and Georgia must limit the Mountaineers' big plays.
While West Virginia's offense has received most of the attention, its defense has quietly dominated. The Mountaineers have held opponents to 293.5 yards and 16.6 points per game and have allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season (Louisville's Michael Bush). West Virginia has a bunch of ball-hawking playmakers in safety Mike Lorello (74 tackles, 7 tackles for loss), cornerback Dee McCann (4 interceptions), linebacker Kevin McLee (74 tackles, 6 tackles for loss) and tackle Kellen Dykes (5 sacks). They will need to make plenty of big plays in order for West Virginia to win.
This should be a competitive game and an important one for West Virginia and the Big East. A win here would go a long way to proving that the conference still deserves an automatic BCS berth. Another blowout loss could be disastrous. That's highly unlikely because the Mountaineers are tough and don't quit. But the difference between the SEC and Big East is substantial, and Georgia's two losses were by a total of five points. What's more, UGA has a virtual home game in Atlanta and has won four of its past five games in the Georgia Dome. The Mountaineers will hang around, but in the end the Dawgs have too much bite.