Chris Low posted something the other day that made me think of a question. Here’s what he wrote:
3. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: As great as running back Knowshon Moreno was, strong-armed quarterbacks like Stafford, who’ve started since their freshman season, are invaluable. His leaving early for the NFL draft also means Georgia will be going with somebody at quarterback (whoever it is) that has little or no experience in SEC competition. With Stafford’s ability to make every throw, he kept defensive coordinators honest. He could beat you a number of different ways. Some of the Georgia fans got down on him at times because of untimely interceptions, but he led the SEC with an average of 266.1 passing yards per game last season and was second with 25 touchdowns, while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Those numbers won’t be easy to replace…
So what I wonder is this: who is Georgia going to miss more in 2009, Moreno or Stafford?
Low makes a good point about Stafford’s ability keeping defensive coordinators honest. Gary Danielson, he of the admittedly severe man-crush on Stafford, gave a clinic during last year’s broadcast of the LSU game about how Stafford’s arm forced a complete change in the Tigers’ pass coverage. Matt’s quick release and just-enough mobility in the pocket also saved his team from a few sacks.
But Moreno’s ability to turn nothing into something – Mark Richt talked constantly about Knowshon’s great three and four yard runs – can’t be underestimated. And it was he, not Stafford, who provided the spark in 2007 when the team went on its run beginning at Vandy.
Low’s point about Stafford’s arm keeping defensive coordinators honest notwithstanding, I can’t recall a defensive game plan last year deployed against Georgia that didn’t start with trying to slow down Moreno. Some of that was due no doubt to the Georgia offensive scheme which relies on the run to set up the play action pass. But some of that was also a tribute to Moreno’s skill set.
But what those two brought to the table is only half the story. The other half is what Georgia is able to deploy at quarterback and tailback this season. And that’s a much tougher question to evaluate at this point. Certainly on paper there’s plenty of talent at both positions, but it’s relatively inexperienced and it’s never been counted on to carry the team over the course of a season.
The X-factor is the offensive line. Does it stay healthy and stable enough to allow the offense to coalesce around it? Give Cox or whomever else may get the chance to play time to execute and you can make up for a lot of what you lose from Stafford’s off-the-charts arm. Give the running backs solid blocking and you won’t miss as much Moreno’s uncanny ability to turn a two yard loss into a four yard gain (and maybe you can also pick some of what you lose from Moreno’s skill in blitz pick up, too). With the emergence of a solid offensive line you also put the tight end position back into the passing game and provide Bobo and the quarterbacks with an option that was sorely lacking in 2008.