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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/31/2007 06:16:00 PM

Sugar Bowl Set-Up: Is Moreno's Ankle OK?

Thomas Brown
Thomas Brown will be the Bulldogs' starting tailback in the Sugar Bowl.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
NEW ORLEANS -- The Sugar Bowl head coaches held their final pregame press conferences here Monday afternoon, and Georgia’s Mark Richt raised a couple of eyebrows with a bit of “news” regarding redshirt freshman sensation Knowshon Moreno.

While answering a largely innocuous question about Moreno’s workload this season, Richt seemed to go out of his way to praise fellow tailback Thomas Brown, the senior whom Moreno supplanted around midseason when Brown missed three games with a shoulder injury. He pointed out that Brown, who’s run for 706 yards and nine touchdowns, actually has a slightly higher per-carry average (5.5) than Moreno (5.3), who has 1,273 yards and 12 TDs, and that the two essentially split carries in the Bulldogs’ last two games.

“As exciting as Knowshown has been for us, Thomas has been equally impressive,” said Richt, before adding, jokingly: “Maybe it’s just the name – ‘Knowshon!’”

But then came this subtle tidbit: “Thomas Brown will start [against Hawaii].”

This elicited a follow-up from one of Georgia’s beat writers about the state of Moreno’s ankle, which he sprained in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech.

“He didn’t practice at full speed for most of bowl practice,” said Richt. “But the last couple days he’s looked pretty good. Knowshon will be ready to play.”

Maybe it’s much ado about nothing, but Moreno’s health could certainly play a huge factor in the outcome of the game. It’s long been believed that Georgia will attempt to counter the Warriors’ high-tempo passing offense by pounding Hawaii’s perceived less-physical defense over and over with Moreno and Brown. Among those who expect that very approach: Warriors coach June Jones, who’s been effusive in his praise of Moreno this week.

“I am sure they will look to do that, and they aren’t smart if they don’t try to do that,” Jones said earlier this week. “They have a Barry Sanders-type running back and he is only 18 years old.”

On Monday, Jones said of the challenge Moreno presents for his defense: “We do have a front seven that’s pretty good. My biggest concern is when he breaks through that front seven, are we physical enough on the back end to bring him down?”

That, as much as Georgia’s ability to slow down Colt Brennan, will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

∙ Richt also revealed Monday that the Dawgs will don their much-hyped black jerseys -- which they first donned in a 45-20 win over Auburn -- in the Sugar Bowl. They took their first-ever team picture wearing them Monday morning.

“The players wanted them as a bowl gift,” said Richt. “We’re the home team, so we’re wearing black.”

∙ Jones expressed a bit of awe over the sea of green that has enveloped the streets of New Orleans this week, acknowledging the great distance and costs many Hawaii fans endured to make it to the game. It’s also created a unique set of distractions for the Warriors.

“It’s like a Super Bowl atmosphere to us,” said Jones. “It’s a Sugar Bowl atmosphere to Georgia.”

∙ Richt admits that, “I really don’t have a good feel for how [the game] is going to go,” due to his team’s unfamiliarity with Hawaii’s unique offense. He was then asked how that might compare to Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss to West Virginia two years ago, when the Mountaineers’ fast-paced spread-option attack seemed to catch the Dawgs flat-footed in racing to an early 28-0 lead.

“I didn’t do a very good job [prior to that game] of making sure our team was in condition,” said Richt. “When we came back from Christmas, had our first practice at the bowl site, I looked at the team and said, 'We're out of shape.'"

To avoid a repeat of that mistake, he said the Dawgs emphasized more running in their December practices on campus this year and did not take as much time off between the end of those practices and the start of practices in New Orleans.

∙ As if Hawaii wasn't already unique enough, the New York Times' Pete Thamel chronicles the amazing story of Brian Kajiyama, a graduate assistant for the Warriors who was born with cerebral palsy and whose wheelchair and lack of speech does not prevent him from working with Hawaii's defensive staff.

∙ One trend among the first 15 or so bowl games this season was a notable lack of surprising outcomes (falling in direct contrast to the regular season), but Oregon’s Sun Bowl rout of South Florida on Monday definitely qualifies as such. Considering how badly the Ducks’ offense struggled during their three-game losing streak following Dennis Dixon’s injury, the last thing I expected was to see Oregon come out and torch the Bulls’ normally solid defense.

It’s got be encouraging to Ducks fans to see the emergence of redshirt freshman QB Justin Roper, the former fifth-stringer who showed signs of promise in Oregon’s overtime loss to Oregon State in the Dec. 1 Civil War, and followed it up with a sensational performance Monday, throwing for four touchdowns. It seems the Ducks may have found their quarterback of the future.

Meanwhile, Cal may have launched itself a certifiable quarterback controversy for 2008 after Kevin Riley replaced Nate Longshore early against Air Force and proceeded to deliver the kind of sizzling performance (16-of-19, 269 yards, three touchdowns) largely lacking from Cal’s offense during their implosion over the second half of the season, leading the Bears back from an early 21-0 deficit to win 42-36. Both QBs will be back next season.

∙ Finally, back here in New Orleans, a group of my fellow sportswriters and I did our part to contribute to the local economy Sunday night with a “tour” of Bourbon Street. My own personal highlight: Doing my part to help enforce the law.

Watching below from the balcony of Pat O’Briens as part of a private media reception, a few of us noticed an intoxicated bully forcefully shoving a seemingly defenseless man right in the middle of the street. Noticing a pair of cops standing about 40 feet away, I somehow caught their attention, pointed to the offending party and watched as one of them darted to the scene and pinned the bully against a wall in a scene straight out of “COPS.”

I’m not going to lie: It was awesome.

I can also report seeing a significant number of Georgia players -- including a couple prominent starters who will go unnamed – enjoying the scene two nights before kickoff. To their credit, however, they had a midnight curfew, and at about 11:50, they made an astonishingly quick exit.

This is my sixth time in New Orleans, however, and for the most part, the night was an unfortunate reality check that the novelty of Bourbon Street wore off somewhere between the ages of 27 (when I made my last visit here) and 31. My goal for the duration of the trip is to avoid it as much as possible, and I appreciate those of you in the comments section who have already offered suggestions for alternative dining and entertainment options.

Enjoy New Year’s Eve. The big games start tomorrow.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 8:14 PM   by Blogger Ivan
Attiki Bar & Grill at 230 Decatur Street is the best bar/restaurant in the French Quarter, especially if you like Mediterranean food.
Posted: 8:25 PM   by Blogger sandytowne
DBA bar, a little outside the french quarter is a must. Great, live music, and an amazing beer list. Plus not as much tourists.
Posted: 8:32 PM   by Blogger marc
Try Cochon in the warehouse district or Luke.
Posted: 1:26 AM   by Blogger Hal Incandenza
Happy New Year, college football fans!

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to a long, lazy New Year's Day watching games and chowing down.

It's probably the best day of the year for a football fiend, perhaps just slightly behind every Saturday in October.

I like Georgia in this game, but it'll be hard not to root for the Rainbow Warriors.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's another bottle of champagne around here somewhere....
Posted: 1:33 AM   by Blogger SasQuatch
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Posted: 1:39 AM   by Blogger SasQuatch
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Posted: 1:45 AM   by Blogger SasQuatch

Just some empathy. I lost the initial zeal to go all night in the French Quarter at about the same age as you. Still, that loss was marginal and does not keep me from going back once in a while, for a while, though.

Plus, good move with the Crescent Badge folks. They have taken a lot of slams over the years, but they are the best when "push comes to shove." Good job there.

Frankly, I don't think there is any bad place to eat or drink in N'Awlins. My favorite for the former is still Antoines. My favorite for the latter is the historic "Abisinthe" bar . . . I have a watercolor by a local artist of it over my desk. You just can't go wrong whatever you choose. Enjoy.

I can't wait . . . . Geaux Tigres!


PS: Agree with you and a former poster that UGA should win . . but also agree with the former poster that it is hard not to root for Hawai'i.
Posted: 4:50 AM   by Blogger John
I'm on Oahu. This team has had an amazing year. We respect Georgia. They are good. Our defense gives up alot of yards early. Expect Hawaii to come on strong after the first quarter. They will be nervous because of the venue. Colt and his receivers will amaze people. They rarely drop his accurate passes. Colt Brennan was 42 for 50 against Washington the last game. Should be close. Hawaii by one point!!!
Posted: 8:02 AM   by Blogger SOS
There is nothing quite like watching Michigan get beat down in a bowl game. Florida 37, Michigan 10. Michigan belongs in the Motor City Bowl and next year they won't even be that good.
Posted: 8:45 AM   by Blogger barwicks
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Posted: 10:10 AM   by Blogger fleurbelieve
Forgive me for interrupting football discussion. I like S.Mandel’s columns/blogs and want to give him some suggestions, in no particular order, for great local food outside of the FQ (from a knowledgeable local).

Walker’s Southern Style Bar-B-Que 10828 Hayne Blvd. (504) 241-8227 Cochon de lait po-boy. The owners were the first to open a restaurant in NOLA that featured cochon de lait (slow roasted pig—a longtime Cajun specialty.) There have been others since but the followers have nothing on this far off the beaten path original joint.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern 538 Hagan (504) 482-3047 one of the best roast beef po-boy spots in NOLA that, I believe, is not on the tourists’ radar.

Mandina’s 3800 Canal St. (504) 482-9179 a local favorite for decades: Trout amandine, gumbo, turtle soup, shrimp, oysters and more.

Brigsten’s 723 Dante St. (504) 861-7610 one of the best Creole/Acadian resturants in NOLA.

Clancy’s 6100 Annunciation St. (504) 895-1111 you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Also, the Historic New Orleans Collection in currently featuring a Sugar Bowl exhibit covering the last 8 decades. 533 Royal St. (504) 523-4662
Posted: 12:22 PM   by Blogger Wolverine2000
Stewart, does it bother you that you've now become an old man? Yes, it was probably the right thing to do by getting the attention of the police, but would you have done that 5 years ago?

Anybody have suggestions of other things to do during the Rose Bowl? Illinois doesn't deserve to be there and USC will prove it.
Posted: 12:40 PM   by Blogger sec_jack
SEC = 4-0.
Posted: 3:17 PM   by Blogger Larry

You're watching the Florida/ Michigan game right? I'd toss your crystal ball out if I were you.
Well, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Mandell. A bowl game between the champions of one conference and the champions of another demonstrates quite clearly who has the superior conference. The Big East is THE power conference. After Rutgers wins, they will be 4-2 in the BCS, with an impressive whuppin' of Oklahoma as the highlight of the Big East's bowl season.
Well, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Mandell. A bowl game between the champions of one conference and the champions of another demonstrates quite clearly who has the superior conference. The Big East is THE power conference. After Rutgers wins, they will be 4-2 in the BCS, with an impressive whuppin' of Oklahoma as the highlight of the Big East's bowl season.
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