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Bulldogs hoping Sandy steers clear

ATHENS, Ga. – What comes to Georgia junior Hutson Mason’s mind, as a quarterback, when he hears about 20-25 mile per hour winds maybe gusting much higher?

UGA coach Mark Richt says windy conditions are "problematic,” perhaps even more than rain.

“That’s like a nightmare,” Mason said.

And it could be a reality for this year’s Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, Fla. Hurricane Sandy became a Category 2 storm as it slammed into Cuba on Thursday, continuing on a path that would have it off the northeast coast of Florida on Saturday.

The Jacksonville area is currently under a tropical storm watch as Sandy approaches. The storm is not projected to make landfall, but it could pass close enough to make her presence felt.

UGA athletics director Greg McGarity said Thursday morning that he has not held discussions with UF about any possible weather contingency plan for Saturday and that expectations are for “just wind and rain at this time, according to weather reports.”

At this point, nearly all projections have Sandy passing the coast from afar. Actually, the very latest projections have taken the storm a few paces farther from the coast, not closer.

Because of this, The Weather Channel’s forecasted winds for Saturday have dropped from 22 mph on Wednesday to 18 mph now. Rain is expected, but the heaviest now is expected to fall in the hours prior to the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

Predictions do vary, however, and they could change more depending on how the storm may wobble and track in the next 48 hours.

“Locally, forecasters are predicting scattered to numerous thunderstorms Friday night and Saturday morning with sustained winds of 30 mph,” according to the Jacksonville Times-Union’s website. “Perhaps the most dangerous conditions will be strong rip currents at local beaches.”

But in football terms, Sandy’s impact could still be felt during Saturday’s game just by being the vicinity. That is likely more with wind gusts than wet playing conditions.

Coaches on both staffs have been monitoring the development of the hurricane, which only developed into a tropical storm on Monday.

“If we have the (wind) back to us, we might see more throws on a certain drive or a certain quarter," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said this week. "I’ve definitely been a part of that. … You just have to be aware during that time of the game you may get more one style of a game. If it’s a big wind, sometimes you’re still defending it, but a lot of times it has to depend on the quarterback. He’ll throw the ball a little bit further down and the ball can’t float up, depending on how windy it is."

UGA coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday’s practice he expected winds of at least 20 mph from what he had been hearing.

And he didn't consider it to be good news.

“I mean, that’s a lot of wind,” Richt said. “That does affect the game, I think, more than just rain. So I’ve been in some games where the wind has just totally changed the game. If it’s a cross-wind, it’s even probably more of an issue than if it’s in your face or behind you. Even that, there’s issues with that. But when it’s going sideways or just swirling around in all different directions, it kind of wreaks havoc on any kind of long balls, any kind of field goals.”

“I think it’s different for each quarterback,” Mason said. “I can throw better in the wind than I can the rain. I hate throwing in the rain, but it might be different for Murray. This isn’t exactly The Windy City. We don’t really get too many tropical storms with winds, so we don’t really get to test that out.”

Additional wind as a deterrent to a passing game would figure to be a clear advantage for Florida, which ranks 114th nationally in passing offense and 25th in rushing offense, and a disadvantage for Georgia, which throws the football more often and is 30th nationally in passing offense.

So Richt, for one, continues to hope the rougher stuff steers clear of Jacksonville.

“It is problematic,” Richt said, “so we’ll see. Hopefully, it changes course.”

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