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Post Stafford’s consistency key to beating Tech

Wednesday November 22, 2006

Looking at PWD’s tale of the tape, two stats stand out as areas where Georgia really trails: turnovers and rushing offense.

Turnovers we know about. The fact that Stafford threw no picks at Auburn was beyond huge. Looking deeper at the turnover numbers tells us some things:

  • Both teams have been relatively similar in their takeaways (24 vs. 23), though Georgia’s four interceptions at Auburn gave that total a nice shot in the arm.
  • Of course the disparity comes in giveaways. Georgia has coughed it up an incredible 29 times to just 15 for Tech.
  • While Stafford’s October interception-fest got the most attention, Georgia has fumbled it away 14 times this year. That’s way, way too much. And when you think about when some of those fumbles have occurred (on the punt in the endzone vs. Tennessee, to start the second half vs. Florida, Raley’s injury at Kentucky), they have come at some really bad times. At least the three fumbles at Auburn were deep inside Tiger territory, so they weren’t immediately costly (though they did end three more scoring opportunities!).
  • Tech has only lost four fumbles this season. But while Georgia’s 15 interceptions are dreadful, Tech has also thrown 11 picks. That puts them solidly middle-of-the-pack in the ACC.

Tech’s turnover numbers speak to the maturity of Reggie Ball. Tech is also among the ACC leaders in fewest sacks allowed, so Ball isn’t getting hit and fumbling it away. On the contrary, the rushing numbers show that, in additon to the emergence of Choice, Ball has been a lot more successful this year in pulling it down and getting positive yards. That’s a problem as Georgia has struggled against such quarterbacks and done reasonably well against potted-plant QBs at South Carolina and Auburn. Ball still isn’t that great of a passer – the interception numbers speak to accuracy – but he is at least not gift-wrapping nearly as many opportunities for teams as he has in the past.

Tech’s weakness on defense is in the secondary. They press at the line of scrimmage to shut down the run and create sacks, but if you get decent protection and catch the damn ball, you’ll be fine. It’s worth noting that Georgia’s offensive line hasn’t given up a sack since the meltdown in the Florida game. They’ve played pretty well lately, actually. Lumpkin has had some good holes, and the protection has been adequate for Stafford. Was the sharper offense we saw at Auburn a sign of growth? Good protection…generally good passes – most caught….leading to opportunities for the running game…funny how all that works. That’s the good news: the running game and turnovers – both areas of concern going into this game – were areas of great improvement at Auburn. So keep it up.

Most of the Tech week talk will naturally focus on stopping Calvin Johnson and Reggie Ball. They are in the spotlight and make the most noise. But my focus is on the other side of the ball. Georgia hasn’t broken 20 points on Tech since 2003. Tenuta’s defense has been tough, tough enough to make the last two games one-possession nailbiters even with good defense from Georgia. Even if the Dawg D can do a nice job on Calvin Johnson and contain Ball and Choice, another low-scoring game could leave this anyone’s game in the fourth quarter.

For that reason, I’m saying that this is Stafford’s game. Tech’s weakness ("weak" being relative on a good defense) is against the pass. The Auburn game was a statement by Stafford, but it was also a nice surprise. He’s showed ability and better decisions as that game progressed. Now the next step is consistency. That Georgia passing game really is the biggest variable in Saturday’s game. Regression to interceptions and drops means more trouble. Building on the success at Auburn on the other hand could make for a very fun afternoon.

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