January 2, 2008

Sugar is sweet

NEW ORLEANS - Attention, 2008. The Georgia Bulldogs may be pretty good next fall.

Based on the way Mark Richt's 4th-ranked squad handled No. 10 Hawaii in Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl 41-10, there seems to be little doubt about that.

The Bulldogs return 16 starters from the team that demolished the previously undefeated and defending WAC champions in the Superdome, a victory that will set Georgia up with a least a top-five preseason ranking and a chance for even greater glory this time next year.

Georgia (11-1) dominated the Warriors (12-1) in just about every way imaginable.

"We conditioned this team for any bowl game than any team since I've been here," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I know they can attest to that. They probably didn't like it too much, but we wanted to make sure everybody was in great shape for this game, especially on defense to be successful against a great offense. I think we did that."

Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan would no doubt agree.

Brennan, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting, was treated like a used rag doll. Everywhere he looked there was a Bulldog to hit him. One of those hits, a third-quarter sack by Marcus Howard, resulted in touchdown when the defensive end also forced a fumble before recovering the football in the end zone for another Georgia touchdown.

The sack was one of eight by Georgia (three by Howard), which also picked off four passes - two by Asher Allen and one each by Prince Miller and Dannell Ellerbe.

"This was totally unexpected. Going into this game I was as confident as I've ever been," Brennan said. "Obviously, for me it's a giant disappointment because it's going to hang me out for all these analysts to take their shots at me. Luckily, I've been through a lot of other difficult experiences in my life."

And then some.

Georgia put such a pound on Brennan that he was knocked out the game early in the fourth and replaced by Tyler Graunke.

Graunke accounted for Hawaii's first touchdown on a 16-yard pass to Ryan Grice-Mullen, but it was much too late for the Warriors to start thinking about any memorable comeback.

Brennan, who finished 22-of 38 passing but for a season-low 169 yards, actually hurt his hand during the fumble on the sack by Howard.

"They hit me right in the mouth," said Brennan, who didn't get a lot of sympathy from Bulldog running back Thomas Brown after the game.

"We kind of got tired of always hearing about Colt Brennan and the offense, and Georgia being an upset alert and everything like that," Brown said. "We just wanted to come out and prove what our offense could do, and also what our defense could do."
Turns out both did plenty.

Offensively, the Bulldogs had no trouble moving the ball. Georgia piled up 334 yards of offense, getting touchdown runs of 17 and 11 yards from Knowshon Moreno who played despite a gimpy ankle and a 1-yarder from Thomas Brown in the third quarter.

Brown led Georgia with 19 carries for 73 yards, followed by Moreno with nine carries for 61.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford enjoyed a solid game as well, completing 14 of 23 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown.

Senior Brandon Coutu wrapped up his Bulldog career in style by booting field goals of 52 and 45 yards.

"One thing we wanted to try to do was run the ball throughout the game and control the clock," Brown said. "I was just prepared to carry the load if I had to. But Knowshon got to carry a few times, and Kregg Lumpkin got in at the end of the game. We all take the credit."

Hawaii coach June Jones was ready to give it, too.

"We couldn't get anything going," Jones said. "Georgia has a lot of good players. You can't miss a beat. You gotta keep pace with them."

The Warriors could never get their vaunted offense on track.

Back-to-back penalties by the offense to start the game set the kind of tone it would turn out to be for Hawaii, which scored its first four possessions to grab a 24-3 halftime lead.

Moreno was responsible for the early damage, as he scored on runs of 17 and 11 yards in the first quarter, before a 52-yard field goal by Coutu and an 11-yard pass from Stafford to Sean Bailey put the Warriors in a hole which they would not recover.

The Bulldogs also made sure Brennan endured one of the toughest first halves of his brilliant career.

Brennan competed 14 of 18 passes for 117 yards, but did not complete a pass longer than 21 yards and was sacked five times.

The only first-half points Hawaii mustered was a 41-yard field goal by Dan Kelly in the first quarter, which marked the lowest half point total by the Warriors since the 2006 Hawaii Bowl against Arizona State.

Defensively, the 24 points surrendered by Hawaii was the second-most allowed in a half this season, second to the 28 points given up against Washington in the regular season finale. Hawaii came back to win that game 35-28.

Georgia's canines proved to have more bite than their Husky counterparts.

The Bulldogs limited Hawaii to a season-low 311 total yards, including minus-5 on the ground.


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