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19 Georgia
Ted Keith
August 20, 2007
A young quarterback has learned the hard way how to lead
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August 20, 2007

19 Georgia

A young quarterback has learned the hard way how to lead

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FORGET THE ARM so powerful that it has had teammates quietly suggesting that he not throw so hard, and so pinpoint it racked up "a gazillion yards" in high school according to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. (It was 8,711 actually.) The real test of how well sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford has developed will be in how much running he does.

For every mistake he made in a game last season--and with 13 interceptions and numerous technical breakdowns, there were lots of them-- Stafford was forced to run a gasser at practice, sprinting from sideline to sideline and back again. "He might have 19 or 20 gassers after a game," says Bobo. "That's throwing an interception, having the wrong footwork on certain drops or not carrying out his fake. This spring he did a nice job of doing those little things like we want him to."

Stafford had to learn the hard way during an uneven freshman season. He started the year third on the depth chart but ended up starting eight games because of injuries and lackluster performances. During one brutal midseason stretch, he threw eight interceptions in three games, but he capped off the season by rallying Georgia from an 18-point deficit to a 31-24 victory over Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl, earning offensive MVP honors after throwing for 129 yards and a touchdown. It was the Bulldogs' third straight win over a Top 20 team with Stafford at the helm. He finished the season with 1,749 passing yards and seven touchdowns, but his questionable decision-making prompted coach Mark Richt to give him a simple piece of advice: Be as smart as you can with the football.

"The biggest thing he can do is know how to manage the game and take care of the football," says Bobo, a former Georgia signal-caller who was promoted to the coordinator's position after six years as quarterbacks coach. "Even when he got the starting job, we didn't put him into a lot of situations where he had to make checks at the line of scrimmage. We just let him play. This year we'll have to put more on him."

That's largely out of necessity, because Stafford is one of the Bulldogs' few guaranteed starters heading into the Sept. 1 opener against Oklahoma State. The offensive line features three new starters who will try to open holes for a rushing attack that includes three quality backs (seniors Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown, who's recovering from a torn right ACL, and redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno) but no sure stars. The defense, which ranked eighth nationally last year, has just three starters coming back and struggled mightily in the spring game. And that was before cornerback Paul Oliver, expected to be the team's top defender, was declared academically ineligible. The front four is undersized and with a pair of underclassmen will have to grow up quickly to keep Georgia in the SEC title hunt.

Stafford, too, must mature in a hurry. Fewer mistakes from him will mean fewer gassers and likely more wins for Georgia, whose 61 victories since 2001 are sixth-best in the nation. "I think we're going to be good and do what we expect around here," Stafford says. "We're a young team, but we're hungry."

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