FORGET THE ARM sopowerful that it has had teammates quietly suggesting that he not throw sohard, and so pinpoint it racked up "a gazillion yards" in high schoolaccording to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. (It was 8,711 actually.) The realtest of how well sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford has developed will bein how much running he does.
For every mistakehe made in a game last season--and with 13 interceptions and numerous technicalbreakdowns, there were lots of them--Stafford was forced to run a gasser atpractice, sprinting from sideline to sideline and back again. "He mighthave 19 or 20 gassers after a game," says Bobo. "That's throwing aninterception, having the wrong footwork on certain drops or not carrying outhis fake. This spring he did a nice job of doing those little things like wewant him to."
Stafford had tolearn the hard way during an uneven freshman season. He started the year thirdon the depth chart but ended up starting eight games because of injuries andlackluster performances. During one brutal midseason stretch, he threw eightinterceptions in three games, but he capped off the season by rallying Georgiafrom an 18-point deficit to a 31-24 victory over Virginia Tech in the PeachBowl, earning offensive MVP honors after throwing for 129 yards and atouchdown. It was the Bulldogs' third straight win over a Top 20 team withStafford at the helm. He finished the season with 1,749 passing yards and seventouchdowns, but his questionable decision-making prompted coach Mark Richt togive him a simple piece of advice: Be as smart as you can with thefootball.
"The biggestthing he can do is know how to manage the game and take care of thefootball," says Bobo, a former Georgia signal-caller who was promoted tothe coordinator's position after six years as quarterbacks coach. "Evenwhen he got the starting job, we didn't put him into a lot of situations wherehe had to make checks at the line of scrimmage. We just let him play. This yearwe'll have to put more on him."
That's largelyout of necessity, because Stafford is one of the Bulldogs' few guaranteedstarters heading into the Sept. 1 opener against Oklahoma State. The offensiveline features three new starters who will try to open holes for a rushingattack that includes three quality backs (seniors Kregg Lumpkin and ThomasBrown, who's recovering from a torn right ACL, and redshirt freshman KnowshonMoreno) but no sure stars. The defense, which ranked eighth nationally lastyear, has just three starters coming back and struggled mightily in the springgame. And that was before cornerback Paul Oliver, expected to be the team's topdefender, was declared academically ineligible. The front four is undersizedand with a pair of underclassmen will have to grow up quickly to keep Georgiain the SEC title hunt.
Stafford, too,must mature in a hurry. Fewer mistakes from him will mean fewer gassers andlikely more wins for Georgia, whose 61 victories since 2001 are sixth-best inthe nation. "I think we're going to be good and do what we expect aroundhere," Stafford says. "We're a young team, but we're hungry."
COACH: Mark Richt
2006 RECORD: 9-4
FINAL AP RANK: 23
RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 7, Defense 3
WR Sean Bailey (Sr.)
Healthy after missing all of '06 with knee injury
C Fernando Velasco (Sr.)
6' 4", 328-pounder anchors inexperienced line
SS Kelin Johnson (Sr.)
Top tackler is only starter back in secondary
Sept 1 OKLAHOMA STATE
8 SOUTH CAROLINA
15 W. CAROLINA
22 at Alabama
Oct. 6 at Tennessee
13 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 3 TROY
24 at Georgia Tech
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Stafford must mature in a hurry. "This year,"says Bobo, "we'll have to put more on him."
Running laps has made Stafford a better passer.
Mike Carlson/Icon SMI
PAUL ABELL/US PRESSWIRE
Georgia's leading rusher in '06, Lumpkin will have to get his yards behind arebuilt line