|No. 15 Georgia wary of Appalachian State|
ATHENS, Ga. -- When Appalachian State shocked the college football word by knocking off Michigan 10 years ago in Ann Arbor, it forever changed the way opponents thought about the Mountaineers.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart remembers it well.
"I remember the game. I remember the blocked kick. No. 1, it helped them recruit probably a little bit more, I would not say nationally, but even more than just regionally," Smart said. "They were able to go out and get players from Florida because of that game. It gave them great exposure. There were a lot of great players in that game for App State, just like this team here has."
Smart says his 15th-ranked Bulldogs -- 8-5 in 2016 - could suffer the same fate as the Wolverines if they're not prepared for Saturday's season opener, set for Sanford Stadium at 6:15 p.m. ET.
"Those guys -- this is the opportunity of a lifetime for them," Smart said of the Mountaineers.
"You have to understand that their want and desire cannot be more than your want and desire. That is really what this game comes down is -- who can get off the block and who can block, and they do those things well."
The Bulldogs and Mountaineers each enter the season with high hopes.
Georgia was picked by the media attending SEC Media Days to win the East Division, while Appalachian State was the choice of the league coaches and select media to win the Sun Belt. The Mountaineers went 10-3 last season, capped by a 31-28 victory over Toledo in the Camilla Bowl.
Running the table this season is not an unreasonable expectation -- except for this opener against the Bulldogs.
"That's going to be a tremendous challenge," Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said.
"You look at their defensive line, their shortest guy is 6-foot-4 and one of their outside linebackers (Lorenzo Carter) is 6-foot-6," Satterfield said. "I'm also very impressed with their two linebackers who are usually in the box. No. 3 (Roquan Smith) and No. 6 (Natrez Patrick), those guys are awesome football players, they make a lot of tackles for them."
Georgia's offense also has Satterfield's attention.
Not only are running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel back for their senior years with 5,835 career rushing yards between them, but former five-star quarterback Jacob Eason figures to be much improved in his sophomore year after starting 12 games last season as a true freshman, when he completed just 55.1 percent of his passes.
"Having that kind of running games takes pressure off the quarterback, even though he's not a freshman anymore, he's a sophomore," Satterfield said. "With the offensive line with another year under their belt and those backs ... they're going to be very solid on defense so they can just run the football and control the game that way."
The Mountaineers have some weapons of their own.
Fourth-year starting quarterback Taylor Lamb is a Georgia native, whose father (Bobby Lamb) coaches FCS Mercer and grandfather (Ray Lamb) was an ultra-successful high school coach who later served on the staff at Georgia as a high school liaison.
But it's what Taylor Lamb has done on the field for the Mountaineers that commands the most attention; he passed for 2,281 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, also rushing for 505 yards and nine scores.
The Bulldogs will also have to deal with junior running back Jalin Moore, who is back after rushing for 1,402 yards as a sophomore, when he was named the Sun Belt Conference's offensive player of the year despite sharing the workload with then-senior Marcus Cox, the school's career rushing leader.
"He's an awesome back. He's a one-cut, downhill runner," Georgia's Smith said of Moore. "I feel like the system he's playing in is perfect for his style. He's an awesome player. ... He could be playing in the SEC right now."
Smart is hoping this season to see a more aggressive defense -- one with more "demeanor and attitude," he said -- likely led by Smith and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, members of the coaches' preseason All-SEC team.
But things might not come easy against Appalachian State, which took Tennessee into overtime last season before losing 20-13.
"We are executing everything we have done in the past to make sure we have every situation that could come up covered," Smart said. "As you well know, sometimes the unexpected can happen, so the biggest thing for us is being prepared for that."