Two days before his team's game against Mississippi State last
October, second-year Georgia coach Jim Donnan climbed aboard a
steamroller and drove it across the Bulldogs' practice field.
What the gesture lacked in subtlety it made up for in
effectiveness: That Saturday the Dawgs rolled over Mississippi
State 47-0 for their first conference shutout in 15 years.
What motivational ploys can players expect from Donnan this
year? "I have no idea, but I'm sure he'll come up with
something," says senior All-America offensive lineman Matt
Stinchcomb. "He's a pretty creative guy."
That talent will come in handy because Donnan has another tough
act to follow: last year's surprising 10-2 finish, Georgia's
best since 1992. In the wake of the departures of Mike Bobo, the
Bulldogs' second alltime leading passer; Hines Ward, the
second-leading receiver in school history; and running back
Robert Edwards, who rushed for 1,708 yards and 21 touchdowns
over the last two years, can the Bulldogs remain contenders for
the SEC crown?
Replacing Bobo is the first priority. Among the five players
vying for the starting job--none of whom has thrown more than
seven passes in his Georgia career--there were no clear
front-runners as of late August, only intriguing story lines.
Daniel Cobb, a redshirt freshman, was recently cleared to start
throwing after undergoing surgery in February to correct a
circulatory problem that had caused clotting in his right
(throwing) shoulder. Also in the mix is newcomer Quincy Carter,
a top high school quarterback who signed a letter of intent with
Georgia Tech two years ago but never enrolled, opting instead to
pursue a professional baseball career after he was drafted by
the Chicago Cubs in the spring of 1996.
Whoever steps into the pocket can count on two things: plenty of
help from the running backs and superb protection up front.
Though Edwards received most of the playing time in '97, backups
Olandis Gary and Patrick Pass combined for 613 yards on the
ground. Gary, a senior, and Pass, a junior, will run behind the
formidable tackle duo of the 6'6", 291-pound Stinchcomb, who
last year was named first-team All-America and first-team
Academic All-America, and 6'5", 285-pound senior Chris Terry.
The defense has a few things to brag about as well, including
the eight lettermen who form the deepest Georgia line since the
early '80s, and triple-threat junior cornerback Champ Bailey. In
addition to being the Bulldogs' best defensive back since
two-time All-America Terry Hoage graduated in 1983, Bailey
averaged 22.7 yards per kickoff return and caught 12 passes for
234 yards last year. He also placed second in the SEC in the
long jump this spring with a leap of 25'8 3/4". "Champ is the
best pure athlete I've ever been around," says Donnan, who will
expand Bailey's offensive role this fall. "He is a Charles
Woodson type who can--and will--do everything."
There will be another Bailey in Athens this fall. Among
Georgia's seven new linebackers is the highly touted Boss
Bailey, a 6'4", 220-pound true freshman, whom older brother
Champ calls "the real athlete of the family." Another member of
Donnan's recruiting class, which has been widely praised as one
of the country's top five, is Stinchcomb's brother Jon, a Parade
All-America offensive lineman.
Tough acts to follow? Absolutely. But not as difficult as the
one Donnan has to follow this fall. --K.A.
COLOR PHOTO: DALE W. ZANINE POCKET PROTECTOR Stinchcomb will offer safety for the Georgia passer--whoever he is. [Matt Stinchcomb in game]
1997 record: 10-2 (6-2, tied for 2nd in SEC East)
Final ranking: No. 10 AP, No. 10 coaches' poll
1997 Averages OFFENSE DEFENSE
Scoring 31.5 17.2
Rushing Yards 169.9 114.8
Passing Yards 262.7 231.2
Total Yards 432.6 346.0
Left tackle Matt Stinchcomb is a strong candidate to become the
first Georgia player to win the Outland Trophy since Bill
Stanfill in 1968.... All-SEC cornerback and part-time receiver
Champ Bailey may be the Dawgs' best athlete since Herschel
Walker.... Junior placekicker Hap Hines converted only seven of
12 field goal attempts last year. He will be pushed by sophomore
Schedule strength: 14th of 112
Oct. 3 at LSU The resurgent Tigers (with 16 returning starters)
hardly resemble the team Georgia beat 31-10 in 1991, their last
Oct. 31 vs. Florida The Gators haven't forgotten last year's
37-17 loss, which snapped their seven-game winning streak against
The Bottom Line
A weak September schedule buys time to break in 13 new starters.
Even so, last year's 10-2 record will be hard to match.