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.