Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Game 12 gives us a glimpse of what was expected since Game 1

Monday November 30, 2009

If you go back and look at a generic preview of the 2009 Georgia season, you’d get a sense of a team that was planning to lean heavily on its offensive and defensive lines. There would be the inescapable fact that Georgia was replacing first round draft picks at quarterback and tailback. The roster was thin at receiver as well as defensive end. The quarterback, though capable and a fifth-year senior, was most often lauded for his leadership and other traits that were valuable to the team but which also implied that Georgia shouldn’t be a team slinging it all over the field. Georgia’s best hope, at least on offense, was to be a team that went as far as its offensive line could take it, get efficient play from its quarterback, and let a fleet of tailbacks do the rest.

It didn’t take long for reality to deviate from expectations. One of Georgia’s biggest talents on the offensive line, tackle Trinton Sturdivant, was lost for the year in the season opener. Whether due to the unsettled line or the tailbacks themselves, the running game never materialized except for isolated moments like Samuel’s run at Arkansas or Branden Smith’s play against South Carolina. Anyone remember Carlton Thomas? Instead of “managing the game” or whatever you ask of a quarterback who’s not a superstar, Joe Cox found himself with a lot more on his shoulders than anyone expected. In Georgia’s five losses, Cox attempted at least 30 passes four times. In Georgia’s seven wins, Cox attempted an average of just over 22 passes.

It took 12 games, but we finally saw the team that most had in mind when Georgia was ranked in the high teens to begin the season. A stout offensive line and fullback led a committee of two tailbacks up and down the field. The defense was shaky at times but solid up front and delivered when they had to. The quarterback didn’t have a dominating game, but he didn’t have to. He didn’t make many mistakes though, avoided the crushing turnovers of a week ago, and he came up with three big completions on third down – one of which was a second quarter touchdown to Michael Moore and another of which kept the Dawgs from going three-and-out after Tech had closed to within six.

Of course the downside is that it took 12 games to get to this point. The team played with a chip on its shoulder, the tailbacks were determined to “run this state”, and defensive players like Rashad Jones had redemption on their minds (and, boy, did he deliver). Such intensity, focus, and will hasn’t been there much this season. How can Georgia be so effective on the ground in this game a week after twice being unable to score from the goal line against the SEC’s second-worst rushing defense? The win over Tech was euphoric, but it underscores the consistency that’s been an issue for this team all year.

You’ve got to like how the Georgia offense is shaping up for next season. King and Ealey have emerged as a nice backfield combination. The entire line, except for Vance, returns. White, Charles, and the return of Figgins makes the TE position as deep as it’s been in years. Receiver is still a little thin, but you can put King opposite Green and still feel confident that something can come from the group that will include Wooten, Troupe, Marlon Brown, and the return of Kris Durham. The big unknown of course is the quarterback. It’s not automatic that things will get turned over to Logan Gray, and you’ll be sick of the coverage given to the offseason competition by the time the season rolls around.

It’s my one hope for 2010 that many of the questions get sorted out before the season rather than during it. In 2006 it took until the midpoint of the season to settle the quarterback position. Stafford took his lumps but hit his stride in time to beat three ranked teams down the stretch. In 2007 Knowshon didn’t become Knowshon until the Vanderbilt game. Even this year the reshuffling of the offensive line that moved Boling to left tackle as well as settling on King and Ealey in the backfield didn’t come until late in the season. That’s how it goes sometimes – many moves have come as reactions to injuries and other twists introduced by the season, and you have to credit the coaches with getting the answers right in the end. Players improve during the season. I also know that other teams deal with the same thing: how many Tennessee fans are asking the same what-if questions about the Crompton that finished the season?

Given the likelihood of staff changes making the offseason even more unsettled than usual, it’s going to be a tough job. Unrealistic or not, it would still be nice to see these answers and the team hitting its stride come before the last half (or month) of the season.

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