Georgia coach Mark Richt got his wish, and his team didn’t even have to lose.
Despite an easy win in their season opener, the Bulldogs fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the latest AP poll. While the drop takes the target off of Georgia, the Bulldogs look to prove they belong back on top of the rankings on Saturday when they host Central Michigan.
Georgia began this season as the top team in the nation for the first time in school history, but its stay there was brief.
The Bulldogs scored the first 38 points in last Saturday’s season-opening 45-21 win over Georgia Southern, but voters were apparently not impressed, as Georgia fell behind Southern California in the latest rankings.
After the victory, Richt said his players handled the hype of being the No. 1 team better than he did.
“I’d just as soon not go through it again, to be honest with you,” Richt said. “It did get pretty tiresome.”
While Richt may be relieved by the news that his team is no longer No. 1, the drop to No. 2 just adds extra motivation to Georgia, which is trying to win its first national title since 1980.
“We got to prove some things to ourselves,” said running back Knowshon Moreno, a Heisman Trophy hopeful.
Moreno, who rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman last season, matched his career high with three scores last week. He finished with 59 rushing yards on eight carries and added two catches for 53 yards.
Freshman tailback Caleb King led the Bulldogs with 12 carries for 95 yards, while first-year tailback Richard Samuel added six carries for 34 yards. Georgia, playing with four new starting offensive linemen, had 535 total yards of offense, its most since racking up 543 against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 17, 2005.
“All three guys ran the ball well,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It’s a testament to our offensive line. A lot of times we got to the second level without being touched. This is what we were looking for, and it’s what we got.”
Stafford, another Heisman hopeful, threw for a career-high 275 yards with two touchdowns.
Georgia’s victory proved costly, though, as defensive tackle Jeff Owens tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will have season-ending surgery. Owens joins offensive left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason practice.
“At this rate we won’t last very long,” Richt said. “We can’t afford much more there. I think we’ve got pretty good depth still at both spots if you’re thinking about trying to finish out the season, but much more trouble there and we might really get thin.”
Georgia’s defense faced a spread system in its season opener, and will face a similar offense Saturday. One major difference, though, will be the man lining up under center for two-time defending Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan.
The Chippewas are led by quarterback Dan LeFevour, who threw for 27 touchdowns and ran for 19 last season. In last Thursday’s season-opening 31-12 victory over Eastern Illinois, LeFevour was 21-of-31 for 217 yards, three touchdowns and no interception and had 42 yards rushing on 11 carries.
This will be the first meeting between Georgia and Central Michigan, and Richt isn’t thrilled with having to face LeFevour.
“If it weren’t for what (Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner) Tim Tebow did last year, everyone would be talking about what LeFevour has done,” Richt said. “You really don’t want to catch a team if you are just going to play them once in a blue moon when they have their veteran quarterback and he has been tremendously successful.”
LeFevour is trying to lead the Chippewas to back-to-back victories to open a season for the first time since winning their first three in 2002.