Louisiana-Lafayette-Georgia Preview

Last season was a huge disappointment for Georgia. An offseason
marred by eight player arrests has been a bigger frustration for
coach Mark Richt.

Hoping a freshman quarterback and a new-look defense can produce
better results this season, the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs open the 2010
campaign Saturday at Sanford Stadium where they’ll face
Louisiana-Lafayette for the first time.

After an average of more than 10 wins in his first eight
seasons, Richt last year led Georgia to an 8-5 mark for his worst
record since he debuted with the team in 2001.

While the Bulldogs ended 2009 with a 30-24 victory over then-No.
7 Georgia Tech for their fourth straight bowl victory, the past
nine months have forced Richt to deal with a litany of charges
against members of his team including simple battery/family
violence, public intoxication, driving under the influence and
leaving the scene of an accident.

“It definitely tarnishes our image, but I don’t think we have
any bad seeds on this team,” said tight end Aron White, offensive
MVP of the Independence Bowl. “We’ve got guys who have made silly
mistakes for the most part and did things they knew better. I don’t
think we have any guys who are bad to the core or do things
intentionally to hurt people.”

With redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray set to take his
first collegiate snap Saturday and the team relying so much on its
running game, last Friday’s arrest of sophomore running back
Washaun Ealey could have the most damaging on-field impact.

Ealey, who rushed for a team-high 717 yards and three TDs last
season, was charged with hit and run and driving on a suspended
license. He could be suspended beyond Saturday’s opener.

“I’m not happy with it. It’s foolish. He knew better,” Richt
said. “… He knew his license was suspended and we knew his
license was suspended. As a matter of fact, we spend a lot of hours
checking on every single player to make sure their licenses are up
to date and if they’re not, making them aware of that.”

With Ealey out, Caleb King and sophomore Carlton Thomas could
see plenty of work. King rushed for 594 yards and a team-high seven
TDs last season, while Thomas rushed for 92 yards in six games.

Murray is the Bulldogs’ third starting quarterback in three
seasons after Matthew Stafford and Joe Cox, but teammates already
have confidence in his leadership and playmaking abilities.

“I’ve never seen anyone who watches as much film, especially at
an early age,” White said of Murray. “He picks things up pretty
fast. I think he’s growing into a bigger leadership role on the
team. He always at the front of the pack, being vocal and making
sure guys are working. He’s going to do just fine.”

Murray should be fine if he can get the ball to White and junior
wide receiver A.J. Green, who had team highs with 53 receptions,
808 yards and six TDs last season.

But Green is also involved in an offseason scandal. The NCAA has
been investigating a Memorial Day party in Miami Beach to determine
if agents or other financial advisors provided improper benefits to
a number of college athletes. Green said he did not attend the
party.

While the Bulldogs’ ability to reach the end zone could hinge on
how quickly Murray picks up the offense, they’re hoping a switch
from a four-man front to a 3-4 will improve a defense that was 10th
in the SEC with 26.4 points per game.

Todd Grantham, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line coach from
2008-09, takes over as defensive coordinator after Richt fired
Willie Martinez prior last season’s bowl.

“It’s going to allow me to put more pressure,” said Justin
Houston, who led the Bulldogs with 7 1/2 sacks last season and will
move from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Although Georgia is 38-4 versus non-conference opponents under
Richt, Ragin’ Cajuns coach Rickey Bustle isn’t taking his team to
Athens with the intention of getting routed.

“People keep saying, ‘You’re playing Georgia, you’re playing
Georgia,'” he said. “Well, they’re playing us too.”

Quarterback Chris Masson returns after throwing for 2,406 yards
and 10 TDs last season when Louisiana-Lafayette finished 6-6 for
the second straight season. He had a solid preseason and could
benefit from a deep group of running backs led by Julian Shankle,
and All-Sun Belt tight end Ladarius Green.

The Ragin’ Cajuns, though, have an inexperienced offensive line
and five freshman starting on offense. Georgia has 10 returning
offensive starters.

Louisiana-Lafayette has dropped 12 straight to ranked opponents
since beating then-No. 25 Texas A&M in 1996.