A battle of freshman quarterbacks highlights the 2010 Liberty Bowl, as the Georgia Bulldogs tangle with the UCF Knights on New Year's Eve in Memphis, Tennessee.
Georgia struggled to a 6-6 finish, and the club managed just a 3-5 mark in the Southeastern Conference. They are one of 11 teams competing in bowl games who posted sub-.500 conference records. The 6-6 finish also marked the first time in coach Mark Richt's 10-year tenure that the Bulldogs have not posted at least eight wins.
The Bulldogs did muster a 4-2 record down the stretch, however, to earn the 46th bowl berth in the history of the program. This game will mark the team's third Liberty Bowl appearance, and first since 1987 when it defeated Arkansas, 20-17. The other Liberty Bowl trip occurred back in 1967.
This season, UCF advanced to its third Conference USA Championship Game and won the title for the second time with a 17-7 victory over SMU. The Knights have not lost since November 13th when they fell to Southern Miss in a 31-21 final. Perhaps the most significant win of the season for UCF came on October 30th when the team downed two-time defending C-USA champion East Carolina.
This will be the Knights' fourth appearance in a bowl game, and they are still searching for their first victory. Most recently, UCF competed in the St. Petersburg Bowl and suffered a 45-24 loss to Rutgers.
Georgia and UCF has met just one time prior, that being on September 5, 1999 when the Bulldogs posted a narrow 24-23 victory.
True freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey has been a revelation for the Knights this season, as his 165.3 passer rating puts ranks him eighth in the FBS. Godfrey took over the signal-calling duties from Rob Calabrese mid-game and nearly leading a miraculous comeback over NC State in the second week of the season.
Godfrey leads an offensive attack which is rooted in a punishing ground game (192.5 ypg). Ronnie Weaver leads the team with 890 rushing yards, while Godfrey is second with 546. The top three UCF ball carriers have combined to score 31 rushing touchdowns.
In conjunction with UCF's old-school running principles has been a reliance on a strong and suffocating defense. The unit ranks 18th in the country in total defense (318.1 ypg) and 29th in pass efficiency defense. The Knights have recorded 15 interceptions on the year, four of which belong to Reggie Weams.
Sophomore safety Kemal Ishmael has a nose for the ball and is likely the team's most sure tackler. He has registered 82 tackles, has intercepted two passes and also forced a pair of fumbles.
As a unit, the defense allows just 18 ppg and should be in for a challenge against a Georgia offense which has been building momentum.
UCF coach George O'Leary is excited about facing a Georgia program he has admired for a long time, "I've always respected the program at Georgia. They get terrific athletes, they're well-coached and they play a full 60 minutes. It's an SEC team that's traditionally a powerhouse in that league and we'll have our work cut out for us no question."
The Bulldogs are guided by redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. The young signal caller has had an impressive year and currently ranks ninth in the country in passing efficiency (167.72) and 33rd in total offense (251.17 ypg). He has throw for 2,851 yards and 24 touchdowns against just six interceptions.
Georgia started the season at 1-4 before slowly crawling back into contention. A significant reason for the slow start was the absence of standout wide receiver A.J. Green, who was serving a four-game suspension. Green returned to lead the team in receiving, despite playing just eight games. He has caught 49 passes for 771 yards and nine touchdowns.
The offense, which has been clicking of late, was dealt a significant blow recently when it was announced that running back Caleb King will miss Friday's game due to academic reasons. King ran for 430 yards in eight games this season and averaged 5.4 ypc. Fullback Shaun Chapas is out as well, with an ankle injury. Washaun Ealey (68.3 rushing ypg), the team's top back, and Carlton Thomas will be called upon to shoulder the majority of the backfield duties.
The Georgia defense is led by a pair of playmaking linebackers in Justin Houston and Akeem Dent. Houston thrives at disrupting opponents behind the line of scrimmage. He leads the team in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (18.5). Meanwhile, Dent is first on the team and second in the SEC in total tackles, with 122.
As a collective unit, the Bulldogs allow 23.1 ppg to rank 48th in the country. More importantly, their run defense allows 149.2 rushing ypg (60th) and will be tested by the hard-charging Knights for sure.
Coach Richt also thinks this is going to be a tremendous game, "We expect a physical game from UCF. Coach (George) O'Leary's teams are always fundamentally sound. We're not a spread offense and they like to do a little of that. I expect both teams to get after it."
Everything about the Knights' makeup appears to give them the edge, from the old-school adherence to running the ball and playing stingy defense, to their superior regular-season record. Still, Georgia has the pedigree and has been surging of late. Expect the Bulldogs to ride the tandem of Murray and Green to a hard-fought victory.