The opening game of the Georgia Bulldogs’ 2011 season is but six Saturdays away (not counting today), so it is high time I got down to the serious business of looking at the opposition. Links to the previous previews in this series, as well as to the Maple Street Press annual which offers even more in-depth coverage of the coming campaign, are provided at the bottom of this posting.
The Red and Black face a daunting slate to open the autumn, first facing the defending WAC champion Boise St. Broncos at the Georgia Dome, then welcoming the defending SEC East champion South Carolina Gamecocks to Sanford Stadium. Fortunately, the schedule eases up considerably on the ensuing Saturday, as the Athenians will host the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers between the hedges on September 17. To the surprise of exactly no one, this body bag game will get underway at 1:00 p.m. and be available on pay-per-view for a price for which, honestly, you could scalp a ticket outside the stadium, watch it in person, and still have cash left over for a hot dog and a Coke.
The Division I-AA Chanticleers---no, they’re not named after fancy light fixtures, as I explained in the aforementioned annual---will be squaring off with the Classic City Canines for the first time in their history, which dates back to 2003. (No, I’m not being snide; this will be the school’s ninth year of intercollegiate football.) A year ago, Coastal Carolina finished tied for first place in the Big South Conference, but they ended the season at 6-6 overall.
In their lone outing against Division I-A opposition last fall, the Chanticleers were administered a 31-0 whipping by the West Virginia Mountaineers. Previous dates with FBS squads included a 66-10 loss to the Penn St. Nittany Lions in 2008 and losses by margins of 18-0 to the Kent St. Golden Flashes and 49-3 to the Clemson Tigers in 2009. A Georgia win is virtually certain; a shutout should be the goal, at least through the moment at which the Redcoats strike up "Krypton Fanfare." (Of the 13 points the Chants have tallied against Division I-A competition in the history of their program, all but one score came in the fourth quarter, after the game already was out of reach and the home team’s starters were sitting on the sideline.)
What makes that objective problematic is the presence in the Chanticleer backfield of Aramis Hillary, previously of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Hillary’s chicken affiliation was downsized after an alcohol-related arrest in Columbia, which the Palmetto State Poultry appear to collect as effortlessly as the Classic City Canines end up committing scooter-related mischief. Consequently, Coastal Carolina will bring to bear an SEC-caliber mobile quarterback playing behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters. Yeah, the Bulldogs’ front seven is going to be tested for the third Saturday in a row, serving as yet another reminder that, as goes Georgia’s run defense, so goes Georgia’s season.
The Chants, whose last outright conference title came in 2006, have lost six games in each of the last four seasons after finishing with nine or more wins three times in a row between 2004 and 2006. A quick look at last season reveals the source of the problem: Coastal Carolina scored at least 26 points in nine out of twelve games in 2010, but the Chanticleers surrendered 27 or more points seven times, conceding point totals in the thirties thrice and in the forties thrice. They can score, but it’s open to debate whether they can stop anyone from scoring. Come to think of it, that’s kind of our problem, too, isn’t it?
This is likely to be one of those outings in which the final margin makes the game read better than it lived; don’t be surprised to see the ‘Dawgs start slow, surrender more yards than they should, let the talent differential take over in the second and third quarters, and coast to a win over Coastal in which Hutson Mason is sent in with more than 15, but fewer than 20, minutes remaining on the clock. This probably will be a comfortable win on paper that produces some grumbling in the stands at halftime, but, as long as the Athenians remain healthy and card the W by three or more scores, it’s all good, and we’ll chant a clear "hey, baby, I want to know if you’ll be my girl" toward the visitors’ section as folks begin to file out in the final period.
If Coastal Carolina goes Appalachian State on us, of course, all bets are off.