There’ll be a lot more of an edge than usual for a game between Georgia and an FCS team on Sept. 10 when Samford comes to town for the home opener.
The reason will be simple - it’ll be the first time at home for Georgia since winning a national title on that glorious night last January.
Can you imagine how the stadium will react when Sanford Stadium PA man Brook Whitmire says...”annnnnnnd make some Sanford Stadium noise...for your YOUR DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPION GEORGIA BULLDOGS!”
In the midst of all that, there’ll be a game to be played with Georgia finding itself in one of two places going in - either rolling nicely after a resounding win against Oregon and being on letdown alert or having a point to prove after a lackluster showing at Mercedes-Benz.
Here’s what to expect from Samford.
Famous alums: Bobby Bowden not only played for the school then known as Howard College, but was also its head coach from 1959 to 1962. The Bulldogs home field is named after Bowden. Other notable alums include actor Tony Hale and author Jon Acuff.
When Samford Has The Ball
Even if you don’t know much about the Bulldogs, you probably know a bit about their head coach, or at a minimum, his offense.
The Bulldogs are coached by legendary Valdosta State quarterback Chris Hatcher who not only played for Hal Mumme but is one of many branches on the coaching tree sprouted by the purveyor of the “Air Raid” offense.
If it’s a challenge that Georgia’s secondary needs with a defense with new but talented newcomers to the starting lineup, it should come in the form of Samford’s pass-happy set-up that averaged 38 points a game last year.
The flip side is that the “Hatch Attack” will have a new face under center with quarterback Liam Welch having graduated. He put a scare into Florida last year before Samford ultimately lost 70-52 and
It’s not a sure thing who’ll replace him, but Michael Hiers and Nik Scalzo had the upper hand in spring practice, so keep an eye on them. But if a starter is not named by the Georgia game, don’t be stunned if Samford opts for a hot hand.
Welch’s running ability will also have to be replaced with him being last year’s second-leading rusher, so look for Jay Stanton, last year’s leading rusher with 52 yards a game to be a focal point in the ground game in an offense that returns last years top tight end and second-leading receiver, Michael Vice (but lost the pass-catching ability of Montrell Washington).
Up front, expect preseason all-SoCon selection Gavin Orr to again lead the offensive line.
When Georgia has the ball
Samford is taking on a new defensive scheme this year with defensive coordinator Chris Boone at the helm, so that should bring challenges in itself, but adjusting should be helped by the return of linebacker Nathan East, a preseason all-conference pick who had a team-best 97 tackles last year. Other expected experience by way of Trimarcus Cheeks and Noah Martin should make this position a point of strength.
Obviously, defense is a focal area for Samford as they gave up roughly 39 points a game last year, and that learning curve gets rather steep against Georgia’s offense.
It’ll happen under Boone’s leadership after his troops at East Mississippi Community College led all of JUCO in scoring defense last year. He also coached defensive ends and safeties at Southern Miss from 2018 to 2020, where in 2018 USM was third nationally in scoring defense.
One thing that could help is establishing a pass rusher, and last year’s sack leader Joseph Mera could play a big role in that as one of the defensive-line leaders.
The only player with multiple interceptions last year, Chris Edmonds, is also primed to return following last year’s time at safety with a trio of pickoffs.
Taking on a new defense is a challenge, but experience as a whole could pay dividends as a whole for Samford.