2008 Sugar Bowl Preview
#5 Georgia (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. #10 Hawaii (12-0, 8-0 WAC)
January 1, 2008 @ 8:30 PM (EST) – FOX – New Orleans, LA
It’s been a historic season for the Hawaii Warriors, but if they want to put the icing on the cake, it’ll require adding one more line in the history books for the 2007 season - 2008 Sugar Bowl champions.
June Jones’ Warriors are making their first BCS bowl appearance, and are looking to follow in the footsteps of Boise St., who went 13-0 last season and upended national power Oklahoma in an overtime thriller in the Fiesta Bowl.
But, there’s a team standing in the way of Colt Brennan and the Warriors’ way of repeating the feat, and that team is the Georgia Bulldogs, who’s no stranger to BCS bowl games.
This is Georgia’s third appearance in the Sugar Bowl in the last six seasons under Mark Richt, with the Bulldogs beating Florida State in the 2003 edition and losing a 38-35 shootout to West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, both as SEC champion. This year, the Bulldogs come into the Sugar Bowl at 10-2, having won their last six games in order to get themselves an at-large BCS berth despite not winning the SEC Eastern Division.
Hawaii was penciled in as a potential BCS buster in the preseason, like WAC rival Boise State in 2006, but only if they could run the table. It wasn’t easy, but the Warriors obliged, going 12-0 and going a perfect 8-0 in WAC play, capping off their first outright WAC title with a 39-27 win over Boise State, and sealing their place in a BCS bowl the next week with a 35-28 win over Washington.
For the upstart Warriors, it’s all about record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan, who finished third in this year‘s Heisman Trophy voting behind Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden. Brennan threw for 5,549 yards and an NCAA-record 58 touchdowns as a junior, and while he didn’t replicate those numbers as a senior, he still put together an excellent campaign, throwing for 4,174 yards and 38 touchdowns. Against the Broncos on November 23, Brennan broke the NCAA record for career touchdown passes (formerly 121 by BYU’s Ty Detmer), and has 131 heading into the Sugar Bowl.
Brennan has a plethora of weapons to choose from, with three 1,000 yard receivers - Ryan Grice-Mullen (101 rec., 1,213 yards, 12 TD), Jason Rivers (100 rec., 1,335 yards, 12 TD), and Davone Bess (82 rec., 1,069 yards, 13 TD). And, there’s also converted defensive back C.J. Hawthorne, who has 57 catches, 786 yards, and six touchdowns this season, totals that would be tops on many a team in the country.
While Hawaii will look to Brennan to lead them to victory, Georgia has a talented QB of their own in sophomore Matthew Stafford. Stafford struggled as a freshman, but has greatly improved in his second season, throwing for 2,348 yards, 18 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions after throwing 13 picks in 2006.
Hawaii’s offense is predicated on the pass, while Georgia is a lot more balanced and leans more towards the run. Freshman Knowshon Moreno (1,273 yards, 12 TD) burst onto the scene with five 100-yard games in a row in the second half of the season, including a 188-yard, three-score day in a 42-30 win over Tebow’s Gators on October 27.
But, the Warriors have to deal with Moreno and senior Thomas Brown (706 yards, 9 TD), who showed that he’s not to be forgotten by running for 139 yards and a touchdown in a 31-17 win over Georgia Tech in the regular season finale.
Hawaii’s offensive line is going to have to a brick wall against a Georgia defense that has picked up 34 sacks this season, recording six vs. Florida and five vs. Oklahoma State, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. That pressure played a key part in Georgia’s success down the stretch, as 25 of those 34 sacks came in the last six games, with at least three sacks in each game. They’ll need to repeat the performances they had in slowing down dual-threat QBs Tebow and Oklahoma State’s Bobby Reid. Brennan uses his feet well both as a passer and runner (eight rush TD in ‘07, 15 career).
Their offense gets all the plaudits, but Hawaii’s defense might be a forgotten aspect. They’ve had a solid season, registering 38 sacks, allowing only 348.9 yards per game, and picking off 19 passes. But, their one potential weakness, and one that Moreno and Brown can exploit, is the run, as Hawaii gives up 131.7 rush yards per game.
On the flip side, it would benefit Hawaii to get something out of its running game, which is averaging only 79.1 yards per game. The key there may not be Brennan’s ability to run, but junior Daniel Libre, a receiver turned running back. Libre only saw extensive action in three of the final four games, but made an impact, especially against Washington (10 carries, 82 yards, six catches, 61 yards).
The game certainly favors Hawaii if the scoreboard gets lit up. However, Georgia can score plenty of points themselves, as they’ve put up 42 or more points on five occasions this season.
Hawaii hasn’t faced a defense the caliber of Georgia’s, but at the same time, Georgia hasn’t faced an offense like Hawaii’s, with so many weapons able to break a big play on every down. But, the speed that the Bulldogs face on a regular basis in the SEC might prepare them for their showdown with the Warriors. If they can force Brennan into mistakes and get a nice early lead, the Bulldogs could be on their way to their 11 th win.
However, even if the Warriors get down early, don’t turn away. Hawaii has comeback wins over Louisana Tech (down 38-35 late in fourth, won 45-44 in OT), San Jose St. (down 35-21 with four minutes to play, won 42-35 in OT), Nevada (down 26-25 late in fourth, won 28-26) and Washington (down 21-0 after first quarter, won 35-28). So there‘s no doubt that this is a team with plenty of fight in them, no matter the size of the dog - and they‘ll be facing a pretty big one on New Year‘s night.
As for who wins? Both teams should put up some points, but if Georgia can keep Hawaii under 30 to 35 points, chances are good for the Bulldogs to back up their status as favorites.
But, if Brennan gets time to throw, and the Warriors live up to their nickname, Hawaii’s record season will end with lucky #13 in the win column, and a place as the only unbeaten team in the country.
This matchup shapes up to be the most entertaining and intriguing of the BCS matchups - and maybe out of all of the bowl games - and hopefully it fits the bill.
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