Bulldogs await the Mallett challenge

semerson@macon.comSeptember 16, 2010 

ATHENS — Ryan Mallett is 6-foot-7 with a blazing arm, could be the first pick in next year’s NFL draft and last year scorched the Georgia secondary for five touchdowns.

Brandon Boykin can’t wait to face him again.

Or at least that’s what the Georgia cornerback said, when asked if a defender gets excited at the prospect of facing Mallett, the Arkansas quarterback and All-America candidate.

“You do,” Boykin said. “Also, I’m excited because I know they’re gonna throw the ball this game. That’s their offense. I mean, what better challenge for us as a secondary.”

It should be quite the challenge. The Bulldogs need only look at last year’s game film, when they escaped with a 51-40 win, despite Mallett’s best efforts.

His five touchdowns tied with a Danny Wuerffel game for the most anyone has ever thrown against the Bulldogs. Mallett’s 408 passing yards in that game last year rank as the fifth most ever by a Georgia opponent.

In two games this season against non-BCS conference teams, Mallett has six touchdown passes and 701 passing yards. He is also first in a Heisman Trophy predictor poll on ESPN.com.

“Ryan, every week makes two or three throws that make you go, ‘Wow, no one else in America could make that play,’ ” Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said.

So how does Georgia defend that? Boykin and his fellow secondary members are hoping for a bit more help this year from the front seven.

Last year the Bulldogs sacked Mallett twice. Georgia has seven sacks in two games this year, including three by outside linebacker Justin Houston at South Carolina.

Houston is aware of the importance he may play against Mallett.

“That’d change the game,” Houston said. “If you can get pressure on Mallett, then you get him moving, and that’s the big difference in the game. If you just sit there and let him throw he’ll eat you apart.”

But when Mallett does get the pass off, the onus goes on the secondary.

Georgia secondary coach Scott Lakatos at least has a fresh perspective, not having been with the team last year when it faced Mallett. He hasn’t watched film of that game, since Georgia was in a different scheme.

Lakatos shrugged and laughed when asked if he’d be happy to just contain the damage by Mallett — say, only allow a certain amount of points. He declined to give a figure, but like Boykin said it was the kind of game that gets you excited.

“That’s why you coach,” Lakatos said. “You want to go against teams like this. You want to be challenged.”

Mallett played his freshman season at Michigan, then transferred when Rich Rodriguez and his run-option offense arrived in Ann Arbor.

He sat out a year, Petrino’s first at Arkansas, giving Mallett a year to learn the complicated, pass-happy system. So when Mallett took over last year, he dominated nearly from the get-go.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt jokingly suggested last year that Mallett should consider going pro. Mallett did think about it but elected to return.

Now, with another matchup, Boykin said he looks at it as a statement game.

“We really can’t make any mistakes as a secondary, or they’re gonna really hurt us,” Boykin said. “Coming off the game last year, we know what Ryan Mallett can do, and he has a great arm, he’s accurate. So like I said I think it’ll be a great challenge to us. But if we respond to it I think we’ll get a lot of respect.”

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