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by PATRICK GARBIN, DawgTime Beat Writer

Following Georgia’s (8-2, 6-2 SEC) 34-to-7 thumping of Auburn at Sanford Stadium last Saturday, the 9th-ranked Bulldogs remain at home for seemingly a breather against Charleston Southern (8-3, 3-2 Big South) of the FCS. Coach Mark Richt stressed at Tuesday’s press conference that the Bulldogs could not, and would not, look past CSU; the Buccaneers nearly defeated Vanderbilt earlier this season. Nevertheless, Saturday afternoon should be a good opportunity for many Dogs to see playing time, while likely benefiting with a tune up before the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech.

Sadly, Georgia fans have probably seen the last of superstar Todd Gurley, who tore his ACL against Auburn and seems most likely to jump to the NFL before his senior campaign of 2015. Regardless, depending on the results of SEC East-leading Missouri’s final two games, the Bulldog Nation could still have a lot to look forward to, like a trip to the SEC Championship and possibly beyond.

When the Dawgs Have the Ball: While Georgia’s running game has garnered all the attention in 2014, quarterback Hutson Mason has been assembling a fine season. Through 10 games, the fifth-year senior has thrown 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions; his 150.6 passer rating ranks 17th in the nation, while 67.6 completion percentage is tops in the SEC.

Hopefully, Mason and his fellow starters won’t have to play much past halftime against CSU, when they can relax and look forward to the Tennessee-Missouri game that night. A win by the Volunteers, who are currently a slight favorite over the Tigers, would clinch the SEC East for the Bulldogs.

“It’ll be nice to sit down and watch the [Tennessee-Missouri] game,” Mason said when asked about his post-game plans. “Tennessee is fun to watch…I think it’ll be a really good match up and [Knoxville] is a tough place to play at night.”

As far as Mason’s roommate—receiver Michael Bennett—there’s no doubting where his allegiance lies: “I may paint a ‘T’ somewhere and run through it. Me and Hutson will definitely be cheering [Tennessee] on.”

Prior to rooting on the Volunteers, Georgia must encounter a CSU defense which ranks first in the Big South Conference in total defense (302.5 yards) and first in rushing defense (128.8 yards). Notably, the Buccaneers held Vanderbilt to 21 points and 295 total yards.

When the Bucs Have the Ball: As good as CSU has demonstrated stopping the run is the Bucs’ ability to do the running. Averaging more than 230 rushing yards per game and five yards per carry, they feature three backs who have each gained between 425 and 875 yards on the season. This excludes quarterback Austin Brown who, besides passing for 1,833 yards and 11 touchdowns, has rushed for 249 yards and five scores.

Still, CSU’s ground game must face a Georgia defensive unit which recently held one of the nation’s best rushing offenses in Auburn in check.

“We went out there [against Auburn] and did what other teams were not able to do and what we haven’t done all year against the run,” linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “It was great. Everybody did their job and everybody was in the right spot and didn’t try to do other people’s jobs.”

Currently, the Bulldogs are holding opponents to a respectable low of 4.9 yards per offensive play. Entering this season, only one of Georgia’s previous six defensive units (2008-2013) held its opposition to an average of less than five yards per play.

“It’s hard to explain [in evaluating this season’s defense],” defensive end Sterling Bailey stated. “This defense is just something different. The coaching staff that we brought in, they believe in us. It’s starting to show.”

Special Teams: Something else for Georgia that is “just different” this year than before are the Bulldogs’ vastly improved return units. Last season, Georgia averaged a lowly 2.9 yards per punt return, surpassing the previous all-time program low of 3.8 established in 1957, and just 18.6 yards per kickoff return. On the contrary, the Bulldogs are averaging 12.1 yards per punt return and 23.8 yards per kickoff return this season, ranking 20th and 21st, respectively, out of 125 FBS teams.

Georgia’s foremost returner is true freshman Isaiah McKenzie, who is averaging 14 yards per punt return and 30 yards per kickoff return, and has scored three touchdowns off returns.

DawgTime Tidbits:
* Since NCAA Division I football reclassified to Divisions “I-A” and “I-AA” in 1978, Georgia has a 15-0 record against I-AA/FCS opponents, averaging a 45-to-11 final score.

* Hutson Mason’s interception percentage of 1.35% this season (3 INT in 222 attempts) is currently second-best in UGA single-season history, barely trailing David Greene’s 1.33% in 2004 (4 INT in 299 attempts).

* During the Coach Richt era (2001 to present), Georgia has entered 11 games favored by 35 or more points, including versus Troy this season; although the Bulldogs won all 11 games rather easily, just three times did they cover the point spread (including against Troy).

DawgTime Prediction: A couple of days ago, Coach Richt claimed, “[CSU is] physical. They’re well coached. … You can see on film when a team is believing and these guys are believing. They’re going to be a great opponent for us this weekend.”

“Great opponent”? Yes, perhaps, but not for long on Saturday against a big-time FBS program. The Buccaneers might contend at first, but Georgia wins—and wins big—in the end, 45 to 10. Several hours later, while the Dawgs cheer them on, the Tennessee Volunteers defeat the Missouri Tigers by 10 points, sending the Bulldogs to the Georgia Dome in early December for the third time in the last four seasons.

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