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September 23, 2009During his Monday press conference, Arizona State football coach Dennis Erickson said turnover margin is football's most important statistic.
Surely, regardless of the competition, he's got to be proud of his team's ability to play turnover-free football while creating eight takeaways. Don't think his players haven't noticed either.
"We have an ongoing bet with the [defensive backs] about who's leading in picks and I think we're up 5-1 now," senior linebacker Mike Nixon said. "We've got bragging rights until they change that."
When asked about the friendly wager, junior cornerback Omar Bolden was visibly peeved. He rolled his head and dropped his helmet and shoulder pads to the ground in disgust.
"We've got a big opportunity this week to get on top," Bolden said. "[The linebackers] definitely got us but I'm not going to take anything away from those guys. They do their thing, much credit goes to them, but we're just trying to catch up."
In order to gain ground on the linebacking corps, the secondary will have to do one hell of a job against Georgia's senior quarterback Joe Cox, who's put together back-to-back quality outings.
Everyone knows about Cox's biggest threat, sophomore wide receiver A.J. Green, especially Bolden. Green made Bolden look bad on a couple of occasions during last year's tilt in Tempe, en route to gaining a career-high 159 receiving yards.
"I believe he got the best of me last year," Bolden said of Green. "He's great. He's young, he's talented and he's definitely a playmaker."
One would be foolish to think Georgia's talent at receiver starts and ends with Green, though.
For the first time this season, ASU will have to pay attention to legitimate pass-catching tight end. Orson Charles is an athletic 6-3, 230-pound freshman who will certainly demand plenty of attention down the middle of the field.
Then there's x-factor Branden Smith, a speedy freshman cornerback who's also seen some time on the offensive side of the ball. Smith took a reverse 61 yards to the house against South Carolina on Sept. 12. And don't forget about Georgia's second and third options at receiver, redshirt freshman Tavarres King (6-1, 180) and senior Michael Moore (6-1, 210).
"Against maybe some of the teams we've played, if you make a mistake, we've got other guys who could run [the ball carrier] down," Nixon said. "Teams like this, if you a make a mistake they're getting 30 or 40 yards. What we really got to do is focus on playing sound football."
Just last week alone, Cox tossed four passing touchdowns that went for at least 25 yards. Despite admitting to have a chronic shoulder injury last week, Cox showed he can still make all the throws.
"Cox is nice," Bolden said. "He's not Matthew Stafford but he's definitely a real good quarterback. He can throw it on the money and he can zip it in there. He's got a real strong arm."
As big a problem as the Georgia receiving corps appears to be, the ASU receivers pose a similar threat to a struggling Georgia secondary. Weather and offensive line permitting, the Sun Devils passing attack could do work against a unit that's given up an average of 285.3 yards per game.
"Contrary to what anybody believes, we can put up points," senior wide receiver Kyle Williams said. "It doesn't matter who it's against, we've got a good offensive scheme and we got a guy back there who makes good decisions with the football and takes care of the football [The passing yards Georgia has given up] shows us they're vulnerable, yes, but again they gave up a lot of points to teams that weren't us."