SUGAR BOWL Georgia is healthy again
The Bulldogs went 4-1 in the final five games without their top three receivers, who are now back.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
NEW ORLEANS -- Neil Callaway knows a silver lining when he sees it.
Georgia's offensive coordinator, the mind behind the highest-scoring offense in the Southeastern Conference, had to do without his top three receivers for a combined seven games this season.
Senior Terrence Edwards (shoulder) was sidelined for the Bulldogs' game against Auburn, while sophomore Fred Gibson missed two games -- against Kentucky and Florida -- with a thumb injury.
Junior backup Damien Gary sat out the last four games after undergoing surgery for acute compartment syndrome.
Rather than faltering down the stretch of a difficult SEC schedule, Georgia went 4-1 -- the only misstep being a narrow loss to Florida. During that stretch, Callaway turned to a cluster of reserve wideouts, with junior Michael Johnson -- Georgia's fourth-leading receiver despite just three starts -- the most prominent. Johnson's 19-yard touchdown catch against Auburn capped a Georgia comeback and clinched the SEC East title.
"We were forced to play those young guys," Callaway said. "We got them some experience and playing time. We feel like if we have to go with those guys, at least they've been in the heat of battle and know what to expect out of it."
Lots of depth at receiver
Now, with Edwards, Gibson and Gary healthy, Callaway and quarterback David Greene have a full complement of pass-catchers at their disposal. The depth has allowed Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose "fast break" offense at Florida State in the 1990s frequently utilized three- and four-receiver sets, to implement elements of the wide-open attack.
Greene has excelled at spreading the ball around. Seven Bulldogs have more than 20 receptions. FSU has just two players -- starting receivers Anquan Boldin and Talman Gardner -- with 20 catches.
Against FSU, the receivers likely will have plenty of opportunities to make plays. The Seminoles are ranked eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in pass defense, just ahead of 2-10 Duke.
Seminoles secondary weak
The FSU secondary, which has allowed more than 300 yards passing in four games this season, will have its hands full against the accurate Greene, who led the SEC in passing efficiency.
Despite the numbers, Edwards is taking FSU's defense seriously -- much more seriously than Seminoles' subpar statistics would suggest.
"It's going be like lining up against All-Americans," said Edwards, the SEC's all-time leader in receiving yardage.
"They get a lot of publicity, but I'm sure they deserve it," FSU cornerback Rufus Brown said of Georgia's receivers. "They've got a good group."