7:45 PM ET, September 27, 2008
Sanford Stadium, ATHENS, GA
Looking at his team's schedule before the season, coach Mark Richt saw a number of potential top-10 SEC showdowns that Georgia would have to get through to maintain its top ranking.
He probably didn't figure an early meeting with Alabama would be one of them.
After a big win over the defending Pac-10 co-champions, the third-ranked Bulldogs return home on Saturday to face the No. 8 Crimson Tide in a battle of two teams with SEC and national championship aspirations.
Georgia (4-0, 1-0) came into the season as the nation's No. 1 team and also with perhaps the country's most intimidating schedule. There were three other SEC teams in the preseason top 10, and the Bulldogs had to face two of them on the road.
In addition, they had to make their longest regular-season road trip in 48 years last Saturday, just a week after a brutal defensive struggle in a win at South Carolina.
The Bulldogs traveled to Tempe last Saturday to face an Arizona State team that was No. 15 in the preseason poll after tying Southern California for the Pac-10 title last season. The Sun Devils dropped out of the AP Top 25 due to a loss the previous week, but still figured to give Georgia a tough test.
"I think we made a good statement," said freshman receiver A.J. Green, who caught eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. "We're from the SEC, the South boys. Everybody thinks our conference is so hard, so we just came out here and proved a point."
But if that game came off as less imposing following Arizona State's loss the previous week, the matchup with Alabama (4-0, 1-0) looks all the more daunting than it did in August. The Crimson Tide began the season ranked No. 24, but have steadily climbed the poll in coach Nick Saban's second season in Tuscaloosa.
"We are playing a great team -- a top 10 team and one that is coached by one of the finest coaches in America," Richt said. "They have been tested, they just have whipped everybody so bad it didn't seem like they were."
The biggest reason for the Crimson Tide's rise was its 34-10 opening victory over preseason No. 9 Clemson. After a sloppy win over Tulane the following week, Alabama has been impressive in its past two victories, beating Western Kentucky 41-7 on Sept. 13 and routing Arkansas 49-14 last Saturday behind Glen Coffee's 162 yards rushing and two scores.
"Arkansas was definitely over with as soon as we left that locker room," Alabama safety Rashad Johnson said. "I think guys have been looking forward to this (Georgia) game for a long time."
Coffee is gaining 8.6 yards per carry to rank sixth in the country among players who average at least 10 carries per game. The junior set the Alabama single-game record by averaging 16.2 yards per attempt at Arkansas.
"We have one of the best offensive lines in the country," said Coffee, who had an 87-yard touchdown run. "You can't do a better job of blocking than they did."
For as good as Coffee's been, he'll only be the second-leading rusher on the field Saturday. Moreno, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate who seems to be picking up steam each week, leads the SEC with 455 yards rushing and is third in the nation with nine touchdowns.
Moreno ran for 74 yards and a touchdown in Georgia's 26-23 overtime win at Alabama last season.
Saban and the Tide are well aware of what Moreno is capable of, but perhaps the biggest revelation to come out of Georgia's win over the Sun Devils was Green. The freshman caught eight passes in his first three games, but matched that total on Saturday.
Green is averaging 18.8 yards per catch.
Green, though, wasn't the most highly touted freshman receiver in the SEC entering the season. That distinction belongs to Alabama's Julio Jones, the consensus top wideout recruit in the country.
Like Green, Jones is his team's leading receiver through four games. He hasn't been able to stretch the field as much as the Crimson Tide hope he eventually will, but he still has 11 catches for 132 yards and has scored a touchdown in three of four games.
"He is definitely living up to his billing I would say," Richt said of Jones.
Georgia and Alabama have met five times when both were ranked, with the Bulldogs winning all five meetings. Georgia has won three straight over the Tide since a 31-0 Alabama victory in Athens in 1995.
Top 25 Overview
Athens is the scene of this week's marquee matchup when Georgia hosts Alabama. The Bulldogs are coming off an impressive road win at Arizona State while the Tide hammered Arkansas. The spotlight will be on a pair of freshmen receivers: Alabama's Julio Jones and Georgia's A.J. Green. Georgia and Alabama have met five times when both were ranked, with the Bulldogs winning all five meetings.
Powerful running games and stout defenses will be at the center of attention when Alabama and Georgia square off on Saturday night.
|Avg Points Allowed||13.4||19.2|