Georgia Bulldogs: Knowshon Moreno
Today, we'll look at No. 3: The 2006 class that will forever carry a “what-if” label because of massive potential that was somewhat unfulfilled despite posting two top-10 rankings.
The contributors: There were many valuable role players in this class: names like receiver Kris Durham, fullback Shaun Chapas, cornerback and return man Prince Miller, linebacker Darryl Gamble, offensive linemen Josh and Chris Davis and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs. Several members of that group made it onto NFL rosters at some point after their time in Athens. Durham was the team's most valuable receiver early in the 2010 season, while A.J. Green served a four-game suspension, and finished that season with 659 receiving yards that helped him pop up on NFL radars after his first several seasons on campus were filled with injuries.
The letdowns: Some of the biggest names in the class (linebackers Darius Dewberry and Akeem Hebron, defensive end Brandon Wood, tight end Naderris Ward) failed to become major contributors in college. Ward, Tony Wilson, Michael Lemon and John Miller all left UGA before their careers were over. Safety Quintin Banks was set back by a series of injuries, derailing what could have been a solid career. And Kiante Tripp never seemed to settle into a position, perhaps wasting a career that could have been more productive had he not shuttled from location to location.
The results: With Stafford and Moreno leading the way, Georgia ranked among the top BCS contenders at the end of the 2007 season – one that ended with the Bulldogs hammering Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia opened the next season as the nation's No. 1 team, although injuries and a disappointing defense helped the Bulldogs finish with a disappointing three losses. Stafford, Moreno and Allen left for the draft after that season, and Jones left after the next. The group was full of high-end talent and the early results were mostly positive, but Florida's dominance (BCS titles in 2006 and 2008, an SEC East title in 2009) overshadows anything that this Georgia class accomplished in college.
The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.
Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.
For the first time in years -- maybe as far back as 2006, when a loaded backfield prompted coach Mark Richt to redshirt future All-American Knowshon Moreno -- Georgia could actually have too many good tailbacks to take full advantage of everyone's abilities.
Those two good backs -- ESPN 300 prospects Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among the top eight prospects at the position -- have committed to sign with Georgia in February. Presumably they will join a backfield that already includes sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and freshmen Douglas, J.J. Green and A.J. Turman.
All-SEC honoree Gurley and Marshall were obviously the group's leaders after rushing for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012, but the freshmen entered this season as complete unknowns.
When Ken Malcome opted to transfer after the 2012 season, Georgia's coaches knew they would have to play at least two of the newcomers behind the two returning stars. They couldn't have expected, however, that injuries to Gurley and Marshall would cause them to rely so heavily on Green and Douglas.
“Douglas and Green we were probably going to have to play because of the depth issue,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We were getting those guys ready to play special teams. They probably might not have gotten as many snaps at running back.”
There was a time where the coaches considered playing Turman, as well, but they were able to preserve his redshirt by sticking with Douglas and Green until Gurley returned from a three-game absence to play against Florida on Nov. 2.
Gurley recently described Turman as “a beast” and predicted that he will also make an impact once he wins an opportunity to contribute.
“People know their roles,” Gurley said. “I'm pretty sure guys, just like Turman, he would have loved to have come in and played. Sometimes you've got to know your role and if that's redshirting, then it's getting redshirted. And if not, then just try to do your best to get on the field or keep getting better.”
That's what Green and Douglas accomplished as freshmen, establishing themselves as potentially productive SEC tailbacks should they remain at the position. Both players possess the ability to play elsewhere -- Green at receiver or cornerback and Douglas at fullback -- and said they are willing to play wherever needed, although they consider themselves tailbacks first.
Asked recently about Green, Richt said the coaches also view him as a running back, although his role might someday expand to include some receiving duties, as well. So it appears that even with Michel and Chubb set to join the roster in 2014, the Bulldogs could soon possess tailback depth that will rank among the best in the conference. And with Gurley and Marshall both entering their junior seasons -- meaning they will be eligible to enter the NFL draft after next fall -- now is a good time to reload.
“I don’t know if you can ever have enough backs, and certainly injury is an issue,” Richt said. “Guys that are talented enough to possibly have a three-year career instead of a four-year career, you’ve got to plan for all of those things. I don’t know what decisions guys will make down the road, but certainly we’ve got some very talented backs that will have some decisions to make, as well. That’s all part of the reason to continue to recruit great players.”
Michel and Chubb have certainly earned that distinction within recruiting circles, so this could legitimately become Georgia's most talented backfield since the 2006 bunch that included future NFL players Moreno, Danny Ware, Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown.
Green said he, Douglas and Turman will show the newcomers the ropes just like Marshall and Gurley did, but predicted that a fierce competition for playing time will await the freshmen once they arrive on campus.
“Competing at practice, who wants it more? Working out, who wants it more? That's why you have an offseason. Who's going to want it more?” said Green, who is second on the team with 365 rushing yards. “Who's going to step in there and learn the playbook? That's all it's going to take: who wants it more?
“You watch Keith, you watch Todd. You're going to want to be just like them. You're going to try to ball out.”
Hutson Mason: Aaron Murray's second-quarter knee injury forced the Bulldogs' backup quarterback into the game earlier than expected, but Mason was outstanding from his first series. He led the Bulldogs to a touchdown in five plays just before halftime and guided the offense to four touchdowns and a field goal in the five possessions he was at the helm. Mason finished 13-for-19 for 189 yards and a touchdown, and he scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Josh Harvey-Clemons: One of the goats of last week's loss to Auburn, Harvey-Clemons had one of his best games on Saturday. He recovered two fumbles, forced one and also posted six tackles and two tackles for a loss. The sophomore safety also delivered a handful of vicious hits on a defense that held Kentucky to just 211 yards of total offense.
Todd Gurley: The sophomore tailback carried eight times for 77 yards and caught five passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. His 16-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter off a screen pass ended with Gurley soaring across the goal line from the 5-yard line -- a highlight-reel play that was reminiscent of Georgia great Knowshon Moreno's memorable 2008 touchdown against Arizona State.
Quarterback Aaron Murray -- who has started every game of his career and on Saturday tied David Greene's school record for most career starts by a non-kicker (52) -- injured his left knee in the second quarter and needed assistance to reach the locker room.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said he does not expect Murray to play next Saturday against Georgia Tech, but would not rule him out for the Bulldogs' bowl game, pending the results of an MRI on the injured knee.
“It just was hard to have a lot of fun,” Richt said after the game. “Even right now, I'm glad we won and I'm really proud of how we did, but it's kind of a crummy feeling right now when you think about what Aaron is going through.”
Prior to the injury, Saturday's game was shaping up as a glorious going-away party for the senior quarterback in his final game at Sanford Stadium.
He was the centerpiece of an emotional pregame ceremony to honor Georgia's 28 departing seniors, with the home crowd offering a raucous ovation when the SEC's all-time leading passer was the final Bulldog to be introduced. Murray had tossed four touchdown passes (he finished 18-for-23 for 183 yards) and in the first quarter became the first SEC quarterback to pass for 3,000-plus yards in four seasons.
He left Sanford Stadium during the third quarter to undergo an MRI at Athens' St. Mary's Hospital and did not return.
“You could tell in his body language he was hurt,” backup quarterback Hutson Mason said. “It wasn't the same Murray.”
And it was yet another injury in a fall where the Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3 SEC) already lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley for the season, while tailback Todd Gurley and receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett also missed multiple games with an assortment of injuries.
“He did mention that was about how our season has gone as far as injuries and everything,” Richt said of his conversation with Murray at halftime. “It was tough.”
Mason did an admirable job as Murray's replacement -- he finished 13-for-19 for 189 yards and one touchdown, plus a 1-yard scoring plunge -- but Murray's injury put a major damper on what should have been a happy final outing between the hedges for the seniors.
“Seeing Aaron go down, that was tough. That's one of my best friends. He was one of my groomsmen at my wedding, and seeing him go down, I never want him to go down because most of the time it's my fault,” said senior offensive guard Chris Burnette, whose wife, Arielle, was one of Murray's classmates at Tampa (Fla.) Plant High School.
The Bulldogs quickly made it clear that there would be no lingering hangover in the wake of last week's devastating 43-38 loss at Auburn, when the Tigers scored the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds to play. Georgia needed only three plays to score its first touchdown -- on a 9-yard pass from Murray to McGowan -- and led Kentucky 21-0 after its first three possessions.
Murray and Gurley were the stars of the early onslaught, with the pair hooking up for a 16-yard touchdown where Gurley soared into the end zone -- reminding Bulldogs fans of Knowshon Moreno's memorable 2008 touchdown dive against Arizona State -- that put Georgia up 14-0.
By the time Gurley left in the third quarter of the blowout, he had rushed eight times for 77 yards, caught five passes for 90 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Not to be miss out on the fun, Georgia's defense posted perhaps its finest outing of the season. A week after surrendering 566 yards to Auburn's potent offense, the Bulldogs held Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) to 211 yards -- 69 of which came on Dyshawn Mobley's first-quarter touchdown run, with 30 more coming on a Maxwell Smith touchdown pass to Javess Blue against the defensive reserves late in the fourth quarter.
“We got some turnovers, too, which was good to see,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose defense recovered three of Kentucky's six fumbles, with those turnovers leading to 21 Bulldogs points. “Kentucky has not turned the ball over a lot.”
Richt credited the seniors for holding the team together through the spate of injuries and a disappointing season that started with a top-five ranking and BCS title aspirations.
“Even though the season had certain expectations and certain hopes got dashed along the way, the leadership was great,” Richt said. “The unity of our team was rock solid because of those guys. And I've said it a couple times, this was a fun team to coach, but I think it was mostly because of the seniors and how they led this year.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Brendan Douglas has been the hurdler and the hurdlee, so he has firsthand knowledge of the embarrassment that accompanies an opponent leaping directly over you. The thing is, the Georgia tailback still isn't sure what he should have done when teammate Jordan Jenkins hurdled his attempted block during the Bulldogs' second preseason scrimmage.
It wasn't like he dove at Jenkins' ankles on the play. The 5-foot-11 back was nearly standing straight up when he lunged to block Jenkins, and the linebacker simply jumped straight over him.
“You're just like, 'What am I supposed to do?' He just cleared me,” chuckled Douglas, who also hurdled cornerback Shaq Wiggins in the same scrimmage. “I didn't dive on the ground or anything. I just kind of lunged at him a little bit and then he was over me. I didn't know if I should like grab his foot or what. It's kind of like you've just got to let him go at that point.”
“I was shocked I got over him,” Jenkins said. “Actually I stopped and thought, 'Oh God, I got over him,' and I just tried to get LeMay.”
Two months later, teammates still marvel at the athleticism required for Jenkins to pull off such a move.
“That was crazy,” tailback J.J. Green said. “I've never seen something like that where somebody was standing straight up and you just jump right over them.”
Most Georgia fans were first introduced to the in-game hurdle when All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno famously jumped over a Central Michigan defender in a 2008 victory. However, Moreno's legend began to grow two years earlier when as a redshirting freshman on the scout team, he jumped over teammate Donavon Baldwin in practice.
“That was probably most impressive one I've seen,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He did it down on the turf [practice] fields and I think he kept his feet and went on and scored.”
Hurdle sightings have become much more prevalent over the last few years as the sport's increasingly big and athletic players have demonstrated the ability to avoid blocks or tackle attempts at their ankles by simply jumping over their opponent.
Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch has attempted it a number of times, most recently when he successfully cleared Missouri defensive back Randy Ponder's diving tackle attempt along the UGA sideline, bringing some electricity back into Sanford Stadium after the Bulldogs had fallen behind 28-10 in the second quarter.
“I thought it really did bring the crowd back into it [against Missouri] and also just kind of gets into the mind of your opponent, as well,” Lynch said. “I know like in a boxing match, if you go for the body shot, body shot, body shot, go up top, you've got a guy thinking. I think it's the same concept. If you run somebody over, the next play he's going to lower his shoulder and not be able to see anything, and [you can] go over the top.”
But Lynch's successful hurdle still surprised his teammates -- even his buddy Aaron Murray.
“I didn't think he could get that high,” said Murray, Georgia's quarterback. “I don't think anyone did, but that was pretty sweet.”
On the final defensive play of Georgia's 44-41 win against LSU, Jenkins attempted his pass-rush hurdle again, but it didn't go quite as smoothly. Rushing from the right side, he tried to soar over a block from LSU's Travis Dickson – and he was nearly successful again.
He cleared Dickson with his right leg, but the LSU tight end caught Jenkins' left leg and flipped him into the air. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger stepped backward with Jenkins flying toward him and Leonard Floyd rushing into his face and threw incomplete for a turnover on downs that sealed Georgia's win.
“I didn't pick up my leg like I was supposed to,” Jenkins said. “It's like when you try to jump a hurdle in track, if you don't pick up that back leg, you'll fall down.”
Nonetheless, the hurdle is proving to be an effective-enough technique that Georgia tight ends coach John Lilly instructs his players to look for chances to leap over smaller defenders who will try to take out their legs instead of attempting a traditional tackle.
But even when a player sees his opponent lowering his head and preparing to hit him low, Jenkins said it takes a little something extra to attempt the hurdle instead of a different method of getting away.
“You've got to have that swagger to do it,” Jenkins said. “As long as you have it in your mind, if you know you can do it, if you have it in your head thinking, 'I know I can get this guy' and just commit to that, you can do it. But if you're half-guessing yourself, it ain't going to work out.”
Let’s take a look at five Georgia “sleepers” since 2006 -- when ESPN first started its recruiting enterprise -- who exceeded our expectations after their arrival on campus.
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ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4
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ATHENS, Ga. -- In the summer of 2007, Ben Jones was one of those prospects who became a rock star on the summer camp circuit.
After dominating some high-profile competition in blocking drills at a prospect camp at Georgia, Jones quickly made himself a household name among recruitniks. But luckily for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs, Jones had a burning desire to play football at his late father’s alma mater -- and he played quickly.
Jones was a starting center for the preseason-No. 1 Bulldogs only a few games into his freshman season in 2008 and essentially held onto the job for the rest of his career. He was an ESPN All-American and All-SEC selection last season as a senior before becoming a fourth-round NFL draft pick by the Houston Texans.
Walker famously burst onto the college football scene in 1980 when he flattened Tennessee’s Bates on the way to the end zone, sparking Georgia’s comeback win against the Volunteers. Three decades later, Gurley tossed Sherry aside like a ragdoll on both of his touchdown runs as he constructed one of Georgia’s all-time most impressive debuts by a true freshman in Saturday’s 45-23 win against Buffalo.
“I didn’t really think about, ‘Yeah I’m going to score,’ or ‘Yeah I’m going to do this,’ my goal was really to come into the game and play my best without the ball, because if I get the ball, then that’s just going to come natural,” said Gurley, who rushed eight times for 100 yards and two touchdowns and returned his first college kickoff 100 yards for another score.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Let’s face it, the Florida-Georgia rivalry had gotten boring.
But things have heated up again over the past five years -- thanks in part to some questionable actions -- and now the rivalry between the SEC schools is as intense as ever. Players danced, eyes were almost gouged, and the infamous choke sign made an appearance.
Oh, yeah, and there’s the matter of Florida’s coach having played at Georgia, too.
Obviously the hard work has paid off.
After making 20 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns, Sandland, having grown to almost 6-6 and 250 pounds, received his first offer from Utah on Feb. 22. Two months later, offer No. 10 arrived from Georgia.
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This year, however, might be Georgia’s best opportunity in years to reassert itself in Jacksonville. Florida is slumping, having lost three games in a row, and Georgia enters the game on a five-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs are listed as 2.5- or 3-point favorites in most of the booking places I looked at online, but I was wondering how many times in Mark Richt’s tenure -- which includes a 2-8 record against Florida -- Georgia actually entered the game as the betting favorite or the higher-ranked team.
So here are some facts:
- This is the first time Georgia is the favorite since 2005. It’s also the first time since that season that Georgia is ranked ahead of Florida and the fifth time overall in Richt’s 11 seasons. The others were 2002, 2003 and 2004.
- The only seasons where Georgia has been favored were 2002, 2003, 2004 and this year. The Bulldogs won only in 2004 thus far.
- Last year was the first time since 1979 both teams were unranked when they reached Jacksonville.
Here’s a quick recap of the series history under Richt. The Florida series is no doubt the most troubling black mark on Richt’s otherwise sterling record at Georgia, but don’t forget how good Florida has been for much of that time. Richt no doubt has to bring more balance to the rivalry if he is to remain at Georgia -- and this weekend’s game is probably his best opportunity.
Rankings: Georgia: No. 22; Florida: Unranked
Favorite: Georgia -2.5
Final score: ?
Rankings: Florida: Unranked; Georgia: Unranked
Favorite: Florida -1
Final score: Florida 34, Georgia 31
Recap: Both teams enter the game unranked for the first time since 1979 and Florida snaps a three-game losing streak by winning the first overtime game in series history. Backup kicker Chas Henry, filling in for the injured Caleb Sturgis, drills a game-winning 37-yard field goal after Georgia’s Aaron Murray throws an interception on the Bulldogs’ overtime possession. Murray leads the Bulldogs back from a 21-7 halftime deficit, but his third interception eventually results in defeat.
Rankings: Florida: No. 1; Georgia: Unranked
Favorite: Florida -16.5
Final score: Florida 41, Georgia 17
Recap: Georgia trots out special black helmets and black pants, but Florida wins in another blowout. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow accounts for four touchdowns in his final appearance against Georgia. He breaks Bulldogs great Herschel Walker’s SEC career record for rushing touchdowns with his 50th in the second quarter of the rout.
Rankings: Florida: No. 5; Georgia: No. 8
Favorite: Florida -7.5
Final score: Florida 49, Georgia 10
Recap: Georgia starts the season as the nation’s No. 1 team, but Florida eventually wins its second national title in three years and destroys Georgia after the bitter 2007 loss has festered for a year. Florida coach Urban Meyer says he would not forget the Bulldogs’ touchdown dance and rubbed in this blowout win -- Florida’s second-biggest margin of victory in series history -- by using both of his remaining timeouts as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Rankings: Florida: No. 9; Georgia: No. 20
Favorite: Florida -7
Final score: Georgia 42, Florida 30
Recap: Georgia participates in a team-wide touchdown dance in the end zone after Knowshon Moreno’s first-quarter score and the Bulldogs sack eventual Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow six times as they begin a seven-game winning streak that ends with a No. 2 final national ranking.
Rankings: Florida: No. 9; Georgia: Unranked
Favorite: Florida -13.5
Final score: Florida 21, Georgia 14
Recap: Eventual national champion Florida builds a 14-0 halftime lead that grows to 21-0 when Ray McDonald returns a Kregg Lumpkin fumble for an 8-yard touchdown on Georgia’s first possession of the second half. The Bulldogs rally behind a feisty defense and freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford, but can’t get a stop in the fourth quarter to get one more shot at the end zone.
Rankings: Georgia: No. 4; Florida: No. 16
Favorite: Florida -3.5
Final score: Florida 14, Georgia 10
Recap: Previously unbeaten Georgia is without injured starting quarterback D.J. Shockley and the offense sputters with backup Joe Tereshinski III. First-year Florida coach Urban Meyer reworks his ineffective spread offense before the Georgia game and the Gators score touchdowns on the first two drives of the game -- enough to barely hold off the eventual SEC East champion Bulldogs.
Rankings: Georgia: No. 10; Florida: Unranked
Favorite: Georgia -6.5
Final score: Georgia 31, Florida 24
Recap: Georgia snaps six-game losing streak against the Gators and Bulldogs greats David Greene and David Pollack get their only career win against Florida, which had announced the Monday before the game that coach Ron Zook would not return the next year.
Rankings: Georgia: No. 4; Florida: No. 23
Favorite: Georgia -1.5
Final score: Florida 16, Georgia 13
Recap: Florida’s Matt Leach drills a 33-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining to lift the Gators to their 13th win in 14 tries against the Bulldogs. Sluggish Georgia rallies from a 13-3 deficit in the fourth quarter, but it’s not enough. Florida coach Ron Zook improves to 2-0 against the Bulldogs, although Georgia entered both games as a top-five team.
Rankings: Georgia: No. 4; Florida: Unranked
Favorite: Georgia -1.5
Final score: Florida 20, Georgia 13
Recap: Florida limps into Jacksonville with a 5-3 record against unbeaten Georgia and still manages to hand the Bulldogs their only loss of the season. Georgia eventually wins the SEC championship, but the Florida loss almost certainly costs the Bulldogs a chance to play for the national title. The Bulldogs go 0-for-13 on third down and commit three turnovers -- the most costly being a D.J. Shockley interception that Guss Scott returns 47 yards for a touchdown. Wide-open Terrence Edwards drops a David Greene pass at the Florida 30 late in the game as the Bulldogs stumble to defeat.
Rankings: Florida: No. 6, Georgia: No. 19
Favorite: Florida -19.5
Final score: Florida 24, Georgia 10
Recap: Steve Spurrier wins his final game against Georgia as Florida’s coach, with the Gators overcoming four turnovers and 12 penalties and eventually pulling away for a win. First-year Georgia coach Mark Richt’s club has its chances, but fails to convert three fourth downs in the second half -- including Verron Haynes’ dropped pass on fourth-and-2 at the Florida 6-yard line. Rex Grossman passes for 407 yards in leading the Gators to victory.
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