Is 2009 going to be like 2005?

In many ways, I was hoping on January 1, 2009, that the coming year would definitely not be like 2005.  In 2005, the following happened:

  • The Atlantic hurricane season was the most active and devastating season the world had seen in 154 years, including hurricanes Katrina and Rita striking the gulf coast.
  • Suicide bombers struck multiple train and bus stations in London, in what is now considered the U.K.'s 9/11. Attacks occured on 7/7/05, and 7/21/05.
  • A 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed over 80,000 in the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.
  • The very unpleasant Terri Schaivo debacle unfolded, which smattered a Florida family's dirty laundry all over the national news and re-stirred the pot in the national debate over euthanasia and end-of-life issues.
  • North Korea announced that it had, in fact, been able to acquire/manufacture a nuclear weapon.  (For real this time.  And we're not afraid to use it!!!1!!1  We're serious!!1one!!1)
  • Bryan Nichols goes on a rampage in a Fulton County courtroom, murdering a judge, a court reporter, and a policewoman.
  • Two words:  Jack Abramoff
  • Tom Cruise made news by brainwashing Dawson's girlfriend jumping on Oprah's couch and seriously freaking her the heck out. 
  • The world lost the following people:  Johnny Carson, Rosa Parks, Pope John Paul II, Richard Pryor, William H. Rehnquist, Peter Jennings, Hunter Thompson, Shelby Foote, Sandra Dee, Luther Vandross, and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita.

Indeed, 2005 was not generally a "good year."  There were one or two points of light during the year, however.  To wit:

  • Iraq held its first nationwide election that was peaceful and largely included the participation of all ethnic groups in the country, which led to a coalition government that is still in power today.
  • The Georgia Bulldogs won their second SEC Football Championship in 4 seasons.

I'm sure that we would all like to avoid most of the negative aspects of 2005 repeating themselves.  Most of us (at least, the Georgia fans) are, however, hoping that our team's exploits on the field are repeated in 2009, at least in terms of the championship results.

Both I and Kyle have gone on the record as being unabashedly negative in our expectations for the Red and Black in 2009.  Kyle has recently allowed a ray or two of sunlight to penetrate his dreary outlook, however, so I figured I needed to talk any people with hope stirring inside them back out onto the ledge with the following comparison between the 2009 and 2005 editions of the Georgia football team.

I was battling insomnia recently, and decided to watch my "Hunker Down... Atlanta Bound!" DVD review of the 2005 season.  I was struck by the interesting comparisons and contrasts between that team and the one that will take the field in 2009.  How does this 2009 group of Bulldogs compare to the SEC-Champion 2005 squad?  Well, let's just see...

The Offense

Quarterback:  In 2005, Georgia had a "new" QB starting the season.  D.J. Shockley had 0 previous career starts at UGA, but he had seen a small amount of playing time in previous seasons, and was generally considered a mediocre-at-best quarterback, based on that previous performance.  Starting with the very first game, however, D.J. showed that he was a true dual-threat quarterback, scoring 5 passing TD's and 1 rushing TD.  In fact, Shockley was Georgia's leading rusher in the Boise State game, with 85 yards, and went on to score 2 more rushing TD's for the Red and Black in their second game against South Carolina. Perhaps more importantly, the entire team seemed to gel around the new quarterback, creating a chemistry and unity that had not always been present during the much-hyped (and disappointing) 2004 season.

In 2009, Georgia also has a "new" QB starting who is not actually new. Joe Cox has been Matthew Stafford's backup for 4 years, and seems to have earned the same type of respect D.J. Shockley earned as a long-time backup: someone who was capable of starting for some other teams, but chose to stick it out at Georgia instead.  The team seems to be "gelling" around Cox with a unity and chemistry in much the same way they did with Shockley, as well, though only time will truly tell on that one.

The key difference in these two men, however, is that D.J. Shockley was a significant threat in the air and on the ground.  Cox will, no doubt, be an excellent pocket quarterback with good decision-making skills, but no one will mistake him for D.J. Shockley when he starts scrambling with the ball. Advantage: 2005.

Running Back:  In 2005, Georgia employed the running-back-by-committee approach, which is by now all too familiar to Bulldog fans.  The trio of Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, and Kregg Lumpkin were by no means world beaters, but all of them were good backs, and were able to get the job done for the most part.  Their biggest glaring weakness was in the red zone (and, more specifically, inside the 5 yard line), when none of the backs was the typical "bruiser" who could just plunge into a pile and get your team the 3 or 4 yards you needed to score.  To circumvent this weakness, the Bulldogs frequently relied on the patented Mike Bobo endzone fade pass or the speed of D.J. Shockley to run the ball around the line and into the corner of the endzone.

In 2009, Georgia will again be running the committee approach, with a group including Caleb King, Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas, and possibly Washaun Ealey.  After the "redshirting Knowshon Moreno" mini-scandal, it's anyone's guess as to whether or not the promising young freshman (Ealey) will actually play.  Unless he shows something he hasn't already, however, he won't be rising to the level of the Knowshon's or the Garrison Hearsts of the world.  So, basically, the Georgia backfield will be virtually identical in 2009 to that in 2005:  very capable, but probably not able to get you 3 yards on 3rd & 3/Goal without some extra help.  Advantage: Push.

Wide Receiver:  In 2005, Georgia had 2 legitimate wide receiver threats:  a talented veteran in Sean Bailey, and a hot freshman in Mohamed Massaquoi.  The rest of the WR corps was generally capable, but not in the elite company of the top 2.

In 2009, Georgia only has 1 proven WR threat:  Sophomore A.J. Green.  Green has incredible talent, but behind him are a group of "capable" players, but no established elite talent.  This is a problem, since you really need at least 2 great receivers to help distract opposing defenses and keep them from double and triple-teaming your #1 guy on every down.  Advantage: 2005.

Offensive Line: This was Georgia's secret weapon in 2005. Max Jean-Gilles was the massive bedrock of the very experienced line, which also included upperclassmen Daniel Inman, Nick Jones, Russ Tanner, and Fernando Velasco.  They had talent, experience, and confidence, which served the team very well (as all experienced, talented lines do).

In 2009, Georgia effectively returns 7 starters on the offensive line, including bedrock left tackle Trinton Sturdivant. Justin Anderson, Clint Boling, Cordy Glenn, Tanner Strickland, Kiante Tripp, and Vince Vance are all a very talented group, and could potentially provide an even better base than the 2005 squad.  Advantage: 2009

Tight End: In 2005, Georgia had Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner lining up at the end of the offensive line, and both turned out to be great receiving threats in addition to being great blockers.  In fact, Leonard Pope led the team in receiving yards for the season, and the Tight Ends as a group had more receiving yards than the receivers in 5 games that year.

In 2009, Georgia returns no tight ends that are perceived as a significant receiving threat. Orson Charles might be the exception to that statement, but he has not yet played a down at the collegiate level, so he doesn't count.  Advantage: 2005 by a landslide.

The Defense

Defensive Line: In 2005, Georgia had Quentin Moses, Charles Johnson, and a newly-minted Marcus Howard at the DE spot.  The D-line was anchored by Kedric Golston, and also included Kade Weston and a breakout freshman named Jeff Owens.

In 2009, Georgia returns a 5th-year Jeff Owens, along with Geno Atkins and Kade Weston, which will be a dominating presence. The defensive end slot doesn't appear to be nearly as stacked, however, with best-hope Justin Houston suspended for the first 2 games of the season. Damarcus Dobbs and Rod Battle are the next best, but this group will have to get significantly better as a whole before the pass rush off the edge will be effective against great offensive lines. Advantage: 2005, because of the massive talent at end.

Linebackers and Cornerbacks: In 2005, Georgia was loaded at LB, with Jarvis Jackson, Danny Verdun-Wheeler and Tony Taylor spearheading the charge.  At CB were Tim Jennings, DeMario Minter, and Paul Oliver... all fantastic players.

In 2009, all-everything Rennie Curran returns as clearly the best LB, along with Darius Dewberry, Marcus Washington, along with Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent. At CB, we've got Prince Miller and... who? Vance Cuff?  Probably will need some more help here. Overall, not a bad squad, but the '05 squad dwarfs them.  Advantage: 2005

Secondary: In 2005, all you had to do was utter two words:  Greg Blue.  Just the thought of being on the wrong side of his bone-crunching tackles caused more than one receiver to drop a pass and curl up into the fetal position on the field, sucking their thumb and crying for mommy.  In addition, the presence of the dangerous Tra Battle and Kelin Johnson prevented teams from simply throwing it away from Blue.

Sadly, the Dawgs have no Greg Blue in their defensive backfield in 2009.  Reshad Jones and relocated CB Bryan Evans anchor the backfield, and Bacarri Rambo provides name support in case the opposing QB is reading a media guide instead of defenses, but all of these players will have to show significant improvement to even approach the playing level of their 2005 counterparts.  Advantage: 2005.


Special Teams

In 2005, Georgia had Brandon Coutu and Gordon Ely-Kelso at the place kicker and punter spots, respectively.  Coutu was the leading point-scorer in the SEC in 2005, and made field goals of 58 and 56 yards in addition to converting 100% of his PAT attempts.  He also nailed a 51-yarder in the SEC championship game vs. LSU, which set the record for the longest FG in championship game history.  Meanwhile Ely-Kelso regularly landed his punts inside the 20, and frequently inside the 10.

In 2009, Georgia will have either notoriously-inconsistent Blair Walsh or great-distance-but-poor-accuracy Brandon Bogotay at place kicker, and living-in-daddy's-shadow Drew Butler at punter.  Neither of these positions elicits great confidence from me... nor should they from you.  Advantage: 2005, by about 58 yards.

Intangibles & Luck

In 2005, Georgia's team was coming in with lowered expectations after the graduation of two major players, the David's Greene and Pollock. Most media "experts" didn't take into account, however, that there were a lot of talented skill players returning 2005. This relieved a lot of the pressure on the team associated with high expectations, and it could be argued that this allowed them to come out more focused and unified.

Without one unfortunate play in the Arkansas game, Georgia might have been positioning itself to make a highly improbable run to a national championship game.  But, alas, an Arkansas defender rolled up on D.J. Shockley's ankle, and Shockley missed both the rest of that game and the Florida game.  Not only that, but he struggled to shake off some rust in the Auburn game, which Georgia also lost.

The 2009 Bulldog team will similarly be coming off a previous disappointing season, and the departure of some key players that the media seem to think were the only players on the field.  We do have talented players coming back, and expectations are certainly about as low as they've ever been during the Mark Richt era.  Since it's impossible to know how untimely injuries will affect us (or not) during the season, I'll have to say Advantage: Push in this area.

The Results

In case the negative tone of my post was not clearly established in the opening paragraph, let me say it plainly: The 2009 Georgia Bulldogs are not the 2005 Georgia Bulldogs. 

The 2009 offense will have no running threat at QB, and the defense will have neither the oppressive pass rush of great defensive ends nor the crushing monsters in the secondary that the 2005 team had. And one of the biggest strengths of the 2005 team - the special teams - is one of the biggest question marks on the 2009 team.

The preseason poll rankings are similar, the expectations are similarly lowered, and the "coming off a disappointing season and losing your best players" is similar.  Unfortunately, however, I believe that's where the similarity ends.

Many fans' hopes of this team becoming the 2009 SEC champions are incredibly farfetched, in my opinion.  As I've written before, my prediction for the season is 8-4, with losses to S. Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona State, and Ga. Tech. I certainly will be the first to be cheering if I'm wrong, however.  Remember, friends... if you always expect the worst, you can only be pleasantly surprised!

Well, that was depressing... so let me end on a positive note.  Even if we do have a poor season (by Georgia's new, incredibly high standards), I'm going to thoroughly enjoy our trip to Stillwater and tailgating with all of our friends before every home game.  Because, really, that's what the experience is primarily all about...  having a great time with your friends and family.


Go Dawgs!

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