Originally created 10/24/98

Georgia set for air raid



ATHENS, Ga. -- It took only moments for Florida to understand the difficulty of pressuring Kentucky's offense.

One quick strike from Tim Couch to Craig Yeast, and 97 yards later the Gators abandoned their tight man-to-man defense against the Wildcats.

"You can go from goat to hero very quickly against them," Georgia safety Kirby Smart said. "They can embarrass you in a heartbeat."

This afternoon, the 11th-ranked Bulldogs will try not to let Couch create many goats when they meet the Wildcats in Lexington at 12:30 (JP).

Georgia has experienced the speed and agility of LSU's Herb Tyler and been pushed by the strong arm and playmaking of Tennessee's Tee Martin.

But none of that matters this week, since neither of those two has prepared Georgia for the track meet that will commence at Commonwealth Stadium.

A more suitable preparation would have been coach Jim Donnan dishing his players to Ron Jirsa to go through the opening week of basketball practice inside the Ramsey Center.

Along with the endless passing drills and the picks, the Bulldogs could have experienced playing in a full-field, up-tempo extravaganza.

"We know the ball is going to be in the air 50 or 60 times," defensive back Glenn Ford said. "It's like playing basketball on grass. It's pick, alley-oop, touchdown. We know we have to be mentally and physically ready."

The Wildcats rank second in the country in passing offense (421.1 yards per game) and total offense (538.9 yards per game). Couch has put the ball in the air 220 times over the Wildcats' last four games, totaling 1,611 yards and 12 touchdowns -- a solid season for many quarterbacks.

That's Hal Mumme's "Air Raid" offense, and there's really no way to stop all of it. Yards will pile up feverishly as Couch spreads the ball to as many as 11 or 12 receivers.

The Wildcats count on one eventually going for a big play -- whether it's Craig Yeast slipping through the secondary or Anthony White sliding out of the backfield the way he baffled South Carolina two weeks ago.

"We've got to hold them to the least amount of points possible," Ford said. "Going in saying that we're going to hold them to zero points, that would be kind of ludicrous. They put up points against everybody."

They'll try to do that the same way they did last year. Kentucky marched around the field virtually at will -- but only between the 20-yard lines.

Couch completed 41-of-55 passes for 324 yards a year ago, as the Wildcats piled up 28 first downs and never punted. But the Bulldogs held Kentucky to just 13 points, the only time since Mumme arrived in Lexington two years ago that his offense scored fewer than 20 points.

"We're gonna have to go up there and score some points," Donnan said. "Even if we play well, they're going to score some points.

"The big key is who can stop the other team enough to make them miss their turn."

The Bulldogs stalled Kentucky last year with a mixture of zone and man-to-man defenses. On occasion, they dropped as many as nine players into pass coverage. They'll allow the yards in order to prevent points, hoping to make enough big defensive plays to keep Couch off-balance.

"It's a risky strategy, because if you don't stop them in the red zone you give up all those yards and points," Smart said. "Of course, last year it worked better than anyone. They know that.

"We have to play better than last year to beat them."

Todd Graff covers college football for the Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or tgraff@augustachronicle.com.