September 1, 2007

Let's get it started

ATHENS, Ga. - If Bobby Reid had his way, there would be a warmup game before today's mammoth match-up against Georgia.

Well, not exactly.

"Not so much a whole four quarters," Reid said, "but maybe like a half to get some of the rust off and iron out some kinks in communications and getting some of the young guys some exposure of what it's really going to be like in a Saturday environment."

But this isn't the NFL. College football goes on stage without a dress rehearsal. This evening at 5:45 p.m. central time, OSU takes the stage at Sanford Stadium to play the Georgia Bulldogs in a game which will air nationally on ESPN2. Ready or not, it's time for the Cowboys to sink or swim against a squad that is ranked No. 13 in the preseason Associated Press poll. Not only that, but try to beat UGA at the fifth-largest on-campus venue in the country. Sanford Stadium's seating capacity is listed at 92,746.

Crowds that huge can pose problems for visiting offenses. Luckily for the Cowboys, their offense is ran entirely via hand motions, which should negate the sound issue, though it might not calm nerves from facing the big crowd.

"I don't think there's any doubt that it'll be loud," head coach Mike Gundy said. "We tried to prepare for that as best as we can. One thing about our offense is, we talk all the time, because we don't huddle up, so that does give us an advantage, in my opinion, because we practice so much of it. At times, our players are so comfortable with it, they don't really even have to hear each other. They can tell by looking and with signals and things what the play may be. So I think that's an advantage to us. But I've not ever been there, so we're just assuming it's going to be really loud."

The Bulldogs are coming off a 9-4 campaign in 2006 and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. They got there by way of a very strong defense that picked up the slack from a very weak offense. The Bulldogs ranked No. 9 nationally in total defense last season, only allowing 258 yards per game. The offense, however, ranked 90th in total offense, posting only 311 yards per game. This is the complete opposite of an OSU team which ranked 89th in total defense (364 ypg) and 16th in total offense (409 ypg).

It should make for an interesting clash of which strength will beat which weakness. For Gundy, he is hopeful the unit will overcome last year's woes.

"Defensively, we're not as far along with mature players that had the same playmaking ability that we have on offense," Gundy said. "But I feel comfortable that our defense will play hard, will run to the ball, they'll tackle better than we have and they've come together as a group. We've had good leadership."

There are reasons for concern on the other side of the field, as well. Bulldog head coach Mark Richt is very aware of what kind of offensive arsenal OSU is bringing to the Peach State.

"They are a very dangerous offensive unit," Richt said. "Adarius Bowman is arguably one of the most talented receivers in the country. He is big with great speed and good hands and he has the ability to catch the tough ball and run after the catch. He is absolutely going to create some problems. Brandon Pettigrew, their tight end, is also a mismatch problem. If you double Bowman all day you will have trouble with Pettigrew."

UGA cornerback Bryan Evans will be one of the Bulldogs in charge of trying to shut Bowman down. He's known about the standout for a while now.

"We actually started watching a lot of film after spring ball," Evans said. "We saw that he was a great receiver and kind of similar to (former Georgia Tech wideout) Calvin (Johnson). With the ball in the air, he has very good ball skills. He's a bigger type of receiver."

That's not all UGA will need to watch out for, though. Richt said he realizes OSU's ground game is just as dangerous.

"At running back they are very strong with (Dantrell) Savage and (Keith) Toston," he said. "Both of those guys are averaging over six yards per carry. That's what happens when you are as diverse as they are, they spread the field, they throw the ball and run equally well. They are very dangerous in that way."

This is a game that Cowboy players have had on their mind since the end of their win over Alabama in the Independence Bowl, if not before. It's a chance for a once-struggling program trying to make a name for itself to make an early statement to the Big 12 and the nation as well.

"I think the sky's the limit for us regardless of this game, but this game right here is a statement game," linebacker Marcus Brown said. "For us to play a top 25 team at the start of the year, this just shows we're trying to get to the next level of football."

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