Duo of Stafford, Moreno key Georgia’s lofty ranking - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Duo of Stafford, Moreno key Georgia’s lofty ranking

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Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008 12:05 am | Updated: 9:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A big reason that Georgia topped most preseason poll ballots is the fact that the Bulldogs possess two of the top players in the nation at their positions, quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno.

Despite winning its first three contests, Georgia has dropped to third in the polls. However, the presence of Stafford and Moreno to the Bulldogs remains invaluable, as they have been rock-solid examples of reliability amid the offensive turbulence around them.

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"It's exciting to have them," Georgia cornerback Asher Allen said. "They bring a full effort all the time, and all that can do is make a team better. Matt is a quarterback that never seems to make a wrong throw and always puts the ball in the right place, and Knowshon is as hard a runner as you'll find."

The Bulldog team that visits Arizona State on Saturday remains a national championship contender but has issues. The offensive line figures to receive a shake-up, and last week at South Carolina, there were a handful of dropped passes.

Yet, when Georgia needed points against one of the better defenses in the nation, their dynamic duo responded. Stafford played smart and avoided mistakes, and Moreno had 79 workmanlike yards and a game-deciding touchdown run in the third quarter.

"We got it done," said Stafford, a junior who has thrown for 634 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions this season. "The number one goal for me is to step on the field and win. Whether I throw it a bunch of times or hand it off, I want to win, and we've done that a lot the last couple of years."

Added Moreno: "I focus on my assignments and try to get the job done. That has been my measure of success. I don't think about yardage, I worry about victories."

For both players, the road to this point - trying to lead the Bulldogs to their first national championship since 1980 - started early in their careers. Both started as freshmen.

The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Stafford experienced growing pains, but blossomed in 2007 by showing better passing touch and decision making. He is projected in some corners as the top pick in the NFL draft in April. Moreno (5-11, 208) exploded on the scene last year, rushing for 1,334 yards and 14 TDs as a redshirt freshman.

"In the three games that we watched this season, and we saw a lot of their games last year, they make a lot of plays," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "Moreno is strong and quick, difficult to tackle. Stafford probably has as strong of an arm as I've seen in a long time....

"You add all of those things together, and you have to mix things up and take your chances."

Georgia lost its best blocker, left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, to a preseason knee injury. It had three new starters on the line and, after South Carolina held the Bulldogs to just 3.0 yards a rush, coach Mark Richt said that all five positions could have personnel changes.

"We struggled a lot last week, but we are young," Stafford said. "It's going to take them awhile to grow into a good offensive line. But they are playing hard, and we went against a really good defense and did OK. But we have to improve to go the places we want to. As the season progresses, we'll get better."

A superb individual effort netted Moreno his touchdown at South Carolina. He ran left, but lost his footing when attempting to cut back to the middle.

Keeping his knees off the ground by supporting himself with his right hand, Moreno slipped through tacklers for a 4-yard score.

The play was the latest jolt of electricity for a hype machine that has run non-stop since Moreno's debut and made him a Heisman Trophy candidate this season.

"That stuff is always in the air, but I deal with it by staying focused on the job that I have to do, which is help the team win games," Moreno said. "That goes for the rest of the team. I think a lot of guys are doing a good job keeping everyone focused and providing accountability."

Two weeks ago against Central Michigan, Moreno hurdled over a defender en route to a long gain, a jaw-dropping feat that has been immortalized on several YouTube videos.

"I saw that and thought about the video game, NCAA (Football) '09," ASU reserve defensive end Jamarr Robinson said. "You can do that in the game. He is the first guy I've seen do it in real life."

As impressive as Stafford has been, any quarterback's job becomes more difficult if the running game is taken away. The addition of Robinson and backup middle linebacker Morris Wooten, who are both returning from suspension, should provide the Sun Devils' run defense a boost.

"You can't let them run it down your throat, which they've been able to do against a lot of people," Erickson said. "You have to be able to stop the run, or slow it down, I should say. Then, we'll try and go from there."

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