Bulldogs Wary Of Threat From Cowboys

Friday, August 31st 2007, 2:26 pm
By: News On 6

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ A 7-6 record with a bowl win over Alabama last year made Oklahoma State a popular preseason pick this year as a team on the rise.

Georgia coach Mark Richt hopes his team also will be on rise this season, and Saturday's opener against Oklahoma State could help set the path for both teams.

The No. 13 Bulldogs are favored in Saturday night's game but are wary of the Cowboys' powerful offense, which returns its top players from a unit that finished seventh in the nation in scoring in 2006.

Coach Mike Gundy's Cowboys beat Alabama 34-31 in last season's Independence Bowl to cap a big move up from a 4-7 record in 2005.

Three all-star candidates _ quarterback Bobby Reid, receiver Adarius Bowman and running back Dantrell Savage _ make the Cowboys a possible breakthrough team this season.

Oklahoma State also has impressive financial backing from alumnus Boone Pickens, a Texas oil tycoon who last year announced he was giving $165 million to the school's athletic program.

A team on the rise? With that kind of support, it's both a prediction and an expectation.

``I've had that question so much and the reason why is we had a good season last year and we finished strong by winning in the bowl game against Alabama,'' Gundy said.

``You put $3 or $4 million into your facility and people are going to consider you a program on the rise.''

Oklahoma State and Boise State were the nation's only teams to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing last year.

``We are getting some recognition,'' Gundy said. ``Ultimately the old coaches' slogan is we've got to go out and do it on the field and we're aware of that. I think we've stayed level-headed.''

Georgia hopes to continue momentum from three straight wins over ranked teams _ Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Chick fil-A Bowl _ to cap a 9-4 2006 season.

As many as 20 freshmen and redshirt freshmen are expected to play for Georgia Saturday night.

Richt says he's curious to see how the newcomers respond and predicts the young players will be better by the end of the month.

``I will say this: We ought to improve quite a bit as time goes on,'' Richt said. ``Three or four games into the season I would think we would be a whole lot better.''

There could be growing pains for the young Bulldogs in September with an early schedule that also includes a visit from South Carolina next week and a Sept. 22 game at Alabama.

Starting tight end Tripp Chandler is suspended for the opener, leaving true freshman Bruce Figgins as Georgia's probable starter. Freshman Trinton Sturdivant will start at left tackle beside redshirt freshman Chris Davis at left guard.

Another new starter is right guard Scott Havercamp, a junior college transfer.

The young linemen will be targets of the Cowboys' defensive front.

``Is it an advantage? Yeah, it could be,'' said Oklahoma State defensive end Nathan Peterson. ``It's not something we're going to take lightly. We're going to be preparing for them like any other team.

``Maybe you feel like you have a little mental edge in the game. It's going to be their first game. Some of them are going to be nervous. But once the ball finally snaps, they'll be fine.''

Sturdivant must protect sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford's back. Stafford had mixed success as a freshman starter but finished strong and now is a young leader on the team.

If the line holds up, another strength for Georgia should be the depth at tailback, with redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno pushing seniors Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin.

Gundy says he has been careful to avoid placing too much emphasis on one game. Even so, he doesn't downplay the impact the game could have on a program that has not beaten a Top 25 team on the road since 2001.

``I don't think there's any question for us to go down there and win would be huge for our football program and our university,'' Gundy said.

Bowman, who caught 60 passes for 1,181 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, says the bowl win over Alabama left him hungry for more big wins.

``That's my first bowl game win, so I'm feeding off of it a lot,'' Bowman said. ``I want more. I'm kind of feeling the BCS rather than just a bowl game. It's not just me. It's the rest of the team too. That's our motivation right now.

``We love the fact that we're starting our season off against an SEC team and we ended (last season) against an SEC team.''