2008 Sugar Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo
Georgia (10-2) vs. Hawaii (12-0)
Conference Matchup: SEC vs. WAC
Date: 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 1
Location: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Spread: Georgia -8.0
Much like George Mason forever changed the NCAA Tournament two years ago with their miraculous run to the Final Four, Boise State rocked the BCS foundation in college football with its stunning upset over traditional powerhouse Oklahoma last year in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, fans, bettors, and bowl executives everywhere are constantly scouring and scheming to set up another situation.
This year the media darlings are Hawaii, the WAC champions and the only undefeated team in the country. Heisman finalist Colt Brennan and a high-flying offense that manages 46.2 points per game led the Warriors. Hawaii's defense also took a strong step forward this year and is currently ranked No. 35 in the country.
So, will Hawaii be the BCS Buster this year? Not if Mark Richt, the motivational master, has anything to say about it.
Richt is a stud in the coaching world, a non-nonsense teacher and tactician that has gone 4-1 straight up and 3-2 against the spread in his last five bowl games. He has experience, a precocious backfield in Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford that will both be looking to make a statement on a national level, and a team that feels slighted because it wasn't invited to play in the BCS National Championship game. Looks like a recipe for a blowout to me.
But I'm sure that's what Oklahoma was thinking last year as well.
Hawaii can cover if: If they can sneak in the backdoor while Georgia's guard is down. Georgia is just 1-6 ATS as a double-digit nonconference favorite. If this number gets up to 10 then I think the Warriors have a shot. Also, if UGA is up big in the fourth quarter and starts a premature celebration then Hawaii is proficient enough on offense to put up a couple garbage TDs and make the final score look a bit more respectable.
Hawaii is 17-6 ATS on turf while Georgia is just 1-4 ATS. Playing in a dome does work to Hawaii's advantage because it accentuates the Warriors speed. I don't think that Hawaii has anything that the Bulldogs haven't seen in games against LSU or Florida, but it also won't hurt Hawaii's cause.
Georgia can cover if: If they play their game and don't take Hawaii for granted. The Bulldogs are big and nasty and have played as well as anyone in the country over the past two months. I think Richt will have them prepared for Colt Brennan and now it's just up to the players to come into the game with the same edge and focus that they have had against teams like Florida and Auburn.
The Bulldogs did lose, outright, to a West Virginia team that was able to blind them with speed two years ago. Don't think that Richt has let his boys forget about it. Regardless, the Bulldogs have been one of the best bowl bets on the board over the last decade, posting a 7-3 ATS mark over that span.
Notes: Georgia has covered in five straight games while Hawaii is 2-5 ATS in its last seven. The Warriors are also 4-7 ATS as a road underdog since 2003 and 10-15 overall on the road during that span. … Georgia is 15-7 ATS as a favorite of 3.5 to 10 and Hawaii is 7-18 ATS against a team with a winning record.
Re: Sugar Bowl
Sugar Bowl: Hawaii Warriors vs. Georgia Bulldogs
- Georgia might be the nation's best team and possibly deserves to be playing for the title. They face a Hawaii team that fought with critics all season over the schedule (ranked the easiest among all 119 Division 1 teams). Heisman finalist Colt Brennan leads the Warriors against a Bulldogs team that won six straight to finish the season in the tough SEC.
The Warriors scored 14 points in the fourth quarter last time out to beat the Washington Huskies 28-21 and keep their record perfect on the season.
The Warriors failed to cover the 13.5-point spread at home in that contest, while the combined score fell well UNDER the night's posted total (75).
The Bulldogs had 219 yards rushing in a 31-17 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets last time out. Georgia easily covered the 3.5-point spread on the road, while the 48 points made it OVER the posted total of 46.
Matthew Stafford was good on 14 pass attempts for 214 yards with a touchdown, and ran for a TD to lift the Bulldogs.
Hawaii: 12-0 SU, 4-6 ATS
Georgia: 10-2 SU, 7-4 ATS
Hawaii most recently:
When playing on turf are 10-0
After outgaining opponent are 10-0
When an underdog on the road are 1-9
When playing outside the conference are 8-2
Georgia most recently:
When playing in January are 5-1
When playing on turf are 8-2
After outgaining opponent are 8-2
When favored at home are 8-2
A few trends to consider:
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Hawaii's last 5 games
Hawaii is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
Hawaii is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 games
Georgia is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
Georgia is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games
Re: Sugar Bowl
Sugar Bowl Preview
By Chris David
Hawaii (12-0 SU, 4-6 ATS) vs. Georgia (10-2 SU, 7-4 ATS)
How they got there:
Hawaii won its first outright Western Athletic Conference title in school history, ending Boise State's run of five consecutive WAC championships. The Warriors were the only team out of 119 D-1 schools to finish the regular season unbeaten.
Georgia finished tied for the SEC East but did not earn a trip to the SEC Championship due to a head-to-head loss to Tennessee, 35-14. Since the setback, the Bulldogs closed the year with six straight wins en route to their No. 4 ranking.
What to expect:
Hawaii brings the nation's best scoring offense (46.1 PPG) to New Orleans, which is averaging 529 YPG. Even though the Warriors' offense gets all the press, the defense is the best in June Jones' nine seasons at Hawaii. The unit is ranked 33rd in total defense (348.9 YPG) and have racked up 39 sacks on the year. The Warriors have also forced 28 turnovers on the season.
Georgia brings the 19th ranked unit in total defense (324 YPG, 21 PPG) to this matchup, plus this group led the SEC with 2.8 per game. The Bulldogs like to grind out the ball and then use play-action pass to beat you deep.
Players to Watch:
Quarterback Colt Brennan (4,174 yards, 38 TDs) is the heart and soul of the Hawaii offense. Brennan isn't unstoppable though, evidenced by his 14 picks and 20 sacks. Helping the gunslinger is a trio of talented wide receivers in Ryan Grice-Mullen (100 catches, 1,335 yards) Davone Bess (101 catches, 12 TDs) and Jason Rivers (13 TDs).
Georgia relies heavily on running back Knowshon Moreno (1,273 yards, 12 TDs) and his backup Thomas Brown (706 yards, 9 TDs). Quarterback Matthew Stafford (2,348 yards 18 TDs) has a 2/1 touchdown to interception ratio but his completion percentage (55.4) is shaky.
Hawaii has posted a 5-2 record in its seven bowl trips, but four of the five victories have come in its own backyard on the Islands.
The Bulldogs own an all-time bowl record of 23-16-3 and is 4-2 under head coach Mark Richt. Georgia is 3-5 in the Sugar Bowl, which includes a 38-35 loss to West Virginia in 2006.
The Sugar Bowl has been owned by the Southeastern Conference in recent years, watching the 12-team conference win five of the previous six meetings. The favorite has gone 6-4 against the spread in the last 10 matchups.
Inside the Line:
The Bulldogs opened up as 11-point favorites and the total at 69. Since the number came out on Dec. 3, the betting public has bet the Warriors down to 7 1/2-point underdogs in some books.
Hawaii hasn't fared well for gamblers this year, going 4-6 ATS. Meanwhile, Georgia has put together a 7-4 ATS ledger.
The Warriors haven't been listed as underdogs all year, but were 0-2 SU and 2-0 ATS last year as puppies.
Expert Opinion: - Doc's Sports
Everybody is jumping on the Hawaii bandwagon and this line keeps going down. Hawaii played in a terrible conference and did not beat anybody of significance this season. Their victory of Boise State was not that impressive, as East Carolina just knocked them off and they are not the same team that they were last year. The Warriors struggled on the road, barely beating La Tech and Nevada and expect them to travel lightly and the Dawgs will pack the dome with fans. It will be interesting to see if Hawaii can overcome adversity if it gets down early.
Hawaii will be facing its toughest test of the season Tuesday when it meets a very fast and aggressive Georgia defense in a venue that should seem like a road game. While we expect the Warriors to put some points on the board, we don't see the Bulldogs' running game being slowed down on the fast turf of the Superdome. Look for Georgia to control the clock and force Brennan into mistakes early and often.
Final Score: Georgia 44 Hawaii 31
Re: Sugar Bowl
Georgia's freshman star won't start Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS -- Knowshon Moreno is the star of Georgia's offense.
He won't be starting in the Sugar Bowl, however.
Moreno has been bothered by a sprained ankle since the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech, so senior Thomas Brown will get the start in Tuesday night's game against unbeaten Hawaii.
Moreno, the first freshman to rush for 1,000 yards at Georgia since Herschel Walker, looked better in practice after arriving in New Orleans. But coach Mark Richt said Brown has been more productive throughout bowl preparations.
Both players are expected to get equal playing time if Moreno's ankle holds up.
''Thomas was the starter at the beginning of the year. It's his senior year. He's performed as well as anyone on the team,'' Richt said Monday. ''We've kind of gone game by game seeing who would start. They're so close in productivity, we might have started Thomas anyway.''
But the decision was sealed by Moreno's gimpy ankle, which contributed to him rushing for just 45 yards on 17 carries against Georgia Tech after five straight 100-yard games. Brown also had 17 carries in that game, but accounted for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Moreno was the catalyst for Georgia's turnaround after a 21-point loss to Tennessee appeared to doom any hopes of reaching a major bowl.
The redshirt freshman rushed for 1,273 yards - the first 1,000-yard season by a Georgia back since Musa Smith in 2002 - and 12 touchdowns. He also pumped up the Bulldogs with his infectious enthusiasm, injecting some much-needed emotion into a team that lacked it through the first half of the season.
But Brown, who missed three games with an injured collarbone, also had a strong season. He rushed for 706 yards and nine touchdowns, actually averaging slightly more per carry (5.5) than Moreno (5.3).
Richt said he's not sure how Moreno's ankle will fare in the game.
''I'm sure he'll start out looking like it's 100 percent,'' the coach said. ''As he gets contact, we'll have to see how it reacts.''
LESSON LEARNED: Georgia learned a lesson from its last trip to the Sugar Bowl.
Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs rolled into the bowl as a huge favorite against Big East champion West Virginia, having won the Southeastern Conference title and benefiting from a home-field advantage (the game was moved to Atlanta from New Orleans in the wake off Hurricane Katrina).
But the Mountaineers raced to a 28-0 lead by the opening minute of the second quarter and held on for a 38-35 upset.
Georgia coach Mark Richt blames himself for giving his team too much time off before the bowl. He said the players weren't in top condition, and it showed on the field.
This time, the Bulldogs went through conditioning every day and even practiced the night they arrived in New Orleans.
''I think we're more focused now, starting at the top,'' Richt said. ''We don't want to be caught again with our pants down. We want to be ready.''
Re: Sugar Bowl
Unappreciated, unbeaten Hawaii gets chance to prove point
NEW ORLEANS -- Even in the wackiest of seasons, no one could have seen this Sugar Bowl coming.
Georgia appeared down and out at the midway point, licking its wounds after a listless 21-point defeat at Tennessee. Coach Mark Richt wouldn't even talk about goals such as conference championships or major bowls, figuring both were out of reach with the Bulldogs' second defeat.
Not so fast. Georgia (10-2) hasn't lost since and might be playing as well as any team in the country.
Five time zones west of Athens, Hawaii put together perhaps the most neglected perfect season in college football history. The Warriors (12-0) play most of their games after the rest of the country goes to bed; when everyone finally woke up, they found an unlikely interloper as part of the Bowl Championship Series.
Today, these disparate teams will meet for the first time -- a traditional Southeastern Conference powerhouse taking on an up-and-coming program from paradise.
It just might be the most intriguing game on the postseason schedule, certainly a worthy warm-up to the BCS title game six days later on the same Superdome field.
"They're undefeated, so I know they're approaching this as a championship game," Georgia defensive end Marcus Howard said. "We were one of the hottest teams toward the end of the year and felt like we should have been in the BCS."
Even without a national title on the line, it's a fascinating story line:
-- Can the Warriors, who went undefeated against an unimpressive schedule that included teams such as Northern Colorado, Charleston Southern and Idaho, cope with an opponent that knocked off defending national champion Florida and three other bowl-bound teams during its six-game winning streak?
-- How will Georgia's defense fare against Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan and the rest of Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense, which is unlike anything the Bulldogs have faced all season?
-- Will the Bulldogs take offense when Hawaii does its traditional Polynesian war dance before the game? Can the Warriors counter the emotional boost Georgia expects to get from donning its black jerseys?
"I really don't have a good feel for how it's going to go," Richt said. "We haven't played them before. We haven't played anybody like them. Their style of football is very different from anyone we've played. I imagine we're a lot different from most people they've played."
Hawaii can take hope from last year's Fiesta Bowl, when another unbeaten team from the Western Athletic Conference knocked off a big-time school from one of the elite conferences. Boise State's thrilling overtime win against Oklahoma was a victory for all the little guys.
The Warriors are eager to show it wasn't a fluke.
"No one gave Boise a chance. They thought Oklahoma would overpower them," Hawaii linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. "It didn't happen like that. The team that wanted it more and had the most heart came out on top."
Georgia showed plenty of heart after its three-touchdown loss to Tennessee, a game that was especially troubling to Richt because his team played with so little emotion.
After escaping with a last-second win at Vanderbilt, Richt vowed to do something -- anything -- to fire up his team.
The laid-back coach, who often comes across as downright boring, made it clear he expected his players to draw a celebration penalty after their first touchdown against Florida. The Bulldogs took it a step farther -- the entire team stormed the end zone, providing an emotional boost that carried them to a rare victory over the Gators.
Richt was at it again before the Auburn game, asking the Georgia faithful to wear black instead of their traditional red for a Sanford Stadium "blackout." After spending the entire week coyly dodging questions about what color his players would wear, the coach sent them out in red for warm-ups -- then broke out black jerseys for the game. The Bulldogs romped to a 45-20 win.
"This year was kind of a surprise," senior running back Thomas Brown said. "I thought I was on a different team."
The Bulldogs will wear black again today.
NO. 10 HAWAII VS. NO. 4 GEORGIA
• RECORDS: Hawaii (12-0 overall, 8-0 Western Athletic) vs. Georgia (10-2, 6-2 Southeastern)
• KICKOFF: 5:30 p.m. at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans
• TV: Fox (5)
• LINE: Georgia -8; total 681/2
• THE BUZZ: Hawaii is this year's Cinderella crashing the BCS party thanks to its high-power, pass-happy offense aptly piloted by Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan.
Georgia needs to control the football to keep Hawaii from racking up points, giving star freshman running back Knowshon Moreno a chance to carry the Bulldogs to a win. Both defenses are suspect, but Georgia should have enough athleticism on both sides of the ball to dodge the upset.
• PREDICTION: Georgia 45, Hawaii 42
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Re: Sugar Bowl
Georgia-Hawaii pairing makes the Sugar Bowl interesting
The seeming mismatch is one reason why people purchase 58-inch plasma screens. While a Georgia win seems so predetermined, a Hawaii upset could set SEC trash talk back 20 years.
NEW ORLEANS -- A Georgia fan, loaded on something, perhaps bourbon, brushed a Hawaii fan on Bourbon Street late Sunday night.
"You ain't ever seen anything like our defense!" the guy screamed in between expletives. "We are going to kick your . . . "
Really, what is Hawaii doing here?
Don't the Warriors know they're up against a top-dog team from the best college football conference, the Southeastern, ever conceived?
Coach June Jones joked that tonight's Sugar Bowl between Hawaii (12-0) and Georgia (10-2) at the Superdome was basically the Bad News Bears versus Bad News.
"We have to play like we belong," Jones said Monday.
Any doubt the SEC is/was the nation's best conference was put to rest when the league flexed its mighty muscles this season and finished first in every Bowl Championship Series computer index.
The Pacific 10 thought it had something going -- but it didn't, or maybe you missed the Holiday and Las Vegas bowls.
To illustrate just how tough the SEC is, Georgia didn't even win it. Yet, a lot of people think the Bulldogs should be playing for the national title in next week's game at the Superdome.
Georgia has won six straight games and its two losses were to other SEC teams, so those setbacks are put in a separate category known as "eating your own."
The Bulldogs' offense is a model of balance and precision and their beefy linemen will be looking down at Hawaii's.
Georgia has passed for 2,404 yards and rushed for 2,145, with a freshman tailback, Knowshon Moreno, who has been compared to Herschel Walker, who led Georgia to the national title in the 1981 Sugar Bowl.
Hawaii has won 13 straight but try saying that to an SEC fan with a straight face. The Warriors are the 100-pound weaklings of scheduling. Hawaii needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech and a last-second field goal to outlast Nevada, which got blown off the field in its bowl game by New Mexico.
And Hawaii's offense is about as lopsided as a fun-house mirror.
The Warriors boast a quarterback, Colt Brennan, three speedy receivers and four running backs that could be in witness protection. Hawaii has passed for 5,402 yards this season and rushed for 949 -- an average of 79.1 a game.
Jones described his running attack as "we throw the ball, catch it, and then we run after the catch."
Any disciple of serious football knows you can't be great without balance and a stalwart defense, and Hawaii has neither.
But Hawaii vs. Georgia is one reason why people purchase 58-inch plasma screens. Sometimes the most interesting games are the ones in which the outcome seems so predetermined.
Think of what a Hawaii upset might mean. It could set SEC trash talk back 20 years. Chat rooms south of the Mason-Dixon line would close down.
A Georgia loss tonight might even diminish a Louisiana State victory next week in the BCS title game, as in "Big deal, Georgia still lost to Hawaii."
A Hawaii win would be more upsetting than Boise State's win over Oklahoma in last season's Fiesta Bowl if only because Big 12 fans don't think about their football the way SEC fans do.
A Georgia fan could no longer walk down Bourbon Street spouting the things he did, because all you'd have to do to shut the guy up is to say "Hawaii."
So, Hawaii over Georgia, is there any chance?
It's difficult to imagine Hawaii playing in the SEC and getting out with fewer than four losses, yet impossible things have been known to happen in 60-minute bowl spurts.
Hawaii might just be screwy enough to pose a threat. The team is an outfit of misfits, "a melting pot in the Pacific," as Brennan puts it. What other quarterback from California calls the offensive plays in Samoan?
Georgia won't soon again see a team with more hair coming out of its collective helmet.
Don't discount, Brennan says, the "why-not-us?" component.
"Everyone has come up with an excuse as to why we are not a great football team," he said. "There shouldn't be any more excuses after this football game."
Jones is Hawaii's nonconformist coach, a former NFL outcast whose run-and-shoot philosophies were ridiculed because the system dared not feature a tight end. However, in the college game, where the talent gaps are pronounced, the kitchen-sink concept is about the only chance a Hawaii has against a Georgia.
"I think that if you were to line up in the I-formation their speed and power would overwhelm us," Jones said. "Because of what we do offensively and Colt's quick release, we have a chance."
Two years ago in the Sugar Bowl, West Virginia threw its spread offense at Georgia and it was 28-0 before the Bulldogs showed any bark, only to still lose, 38-35.
"I think what happened was we had not seen that type of offense before," Georgia Coach Mark Richt said of that game. "And we did not fully understand how fast and talented those guys were."
Richt doesn't think his team will get surprised again.
But hasn't this season already been full of them?