Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post All that matters tonight

Saturday October 29, 2011

A lot more to say later, but we’ll do that from the proper side of the state line. For now…


Post Basketball season already?

Wednesday October 26, 2011

Most everyone’s thoughts are on the game in Jacksonville, but Georgia’s basketball teams will start their seasons with exhibition games next week. The teams will open the season with a double-header on Friday November 11th (the day before the Auburn football game). We’ll have season previews soon, but for now here’s information about the free exhibitions.

The Lady Dogs and Bulldogs get their 2011-12 basketball seasons underway with exhibition games next week. Admission to both exhibition games is free and all seating is general admission.

  • Tuesday, November 1 Lady Dogs vs. West Georgia tip-off 7:00p.m.
  • Friday, November 4 Bulldogs vs. Morehouse tip-off 7:00p.m.

Stegeman Coliseum gates will open 1 hour prior to tip-off of all home games this season, beginning with the exhibition games.

Post Getting in a WLOCP state of mind

Wednesday October 26, 2011

Just a few mid-week thoughts about the game…

Get healthy. Both Georgia and Florida enjoyed bye weeks last week, and both expect some key contributors to return from the list of the injured. Georgia fans are nervously watching every tidbit about Malcom Mitchell’s hamstring, and Florida plans to have their first-string quarterback. The Dawgs should be as healthy as they’ve been in a while, and they welcome back a first-string linebacker. The big question though is how the healed players will hold up. Will Brantley’s ankle survive a couple of hits? Will Mitchell be able to trust his hamstring at full speed on his deep routes? Can Crowell make it through a game?

Get a hold of yourself. The takeway from the Vandy game wasn’t what happened postgame. It’s that the team, and the defense in particular, couldn’t keep its composure against Vanderbilt. Georgia hasn’t even faced their three biggest rivals. The Dawgs will be poked and prodded for the rest of the season to see if those opponents can’t gain the same edge that Vanderbilt realized. We want the defense to play with emotion, get fired up, and even be a little angry. It’s a fine line – the Dawgs were on the right side of it after the pre-game barking with Mississippi State. It went a little differently at Vanderbilt. The Florida game brings its own emotions and tension. Whether you’re talking about frustration over the streak or digging up indignation over an eye gouge or dancing in the endzone, there’s no shortage of potential powder kegs. It starts with the coaches: Grantham’s fire needs to have a laser focus. He doesn’t have to match the other sideline in the unhinged department.

There’s another angle on composure, and it’s summed up well in this post. Aaron Murray still struggles with slow starts, and that continued with a 3-for-9 start at Vanderbilt before the offense got humming. Murray recovered to throw for 313 yards and lead Georgia’s comeback, but the slow start meant that the Bulldogs played from behind for much of the game. He was a freshman making his first start in his home state, so it’s reasonable that he was overexcited. Offense has come at a premium for Georgia in this series, and they’ll need Murray to be at his best out of the gate. Florida is dead-last in the SEC in turnover margin, but Bulldog turnovers have been one of the bigger stories in the past three meetings. If the beards live on for another week, the Dawgs should be in good shape.

Get in the endzone. We’ve pounded on the lack of offense in Jacksonville for years. Last year was a rarity in the series: Georgia managed to put a fair number of points on the board and still lost. Georgia has scored at least 20 points in every SEC game this year, but Florida will be one of the better defenses they’ve faced. Even in these lean years, Georgia has done well when scoring at least 24 points in Jacksonville. Key will be finishing scoring opportunities. Settling for early field goals has left Georgia with some uncomfortably close finishes against South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. A windy forecast on Saturday is just one more reason to hope that the Dawgs have better results getting 7 instead of 3.

Get rid of the excuses. Bernie has a good point here. Of course it matters in terms of preparation and strategy who Florida puts under center. But almost every year Georgia fans cling to some sort of talisman that will reverse the trend in Jacksonville. Just wait ’til {Lito | Taylor | Wuerffel | Spurrier | Tebow | Urban} is gone. It’s the nature of lopsided rivalries – we’ll take any perceived hope we can get. Now it’s Brantley. Forget about it, and just play ball.

Post WLOCP serving hurricanes?

Tuesday October 25, 2011

This is best left to the professionals, but it’s worth keeping an eye on – no pun intended.

There is a strong hurricane – Rina – in the northwestern Caribbean forecast to become a major (Category 3) storm within a day. The current forecast is for the storm, albeit a good bit weaker, to be around the Cuba / Florida Keys area by the weekend. Important: none of the computer models are calling for the storm to come anywhere near Jacksonville. Still, tropical systems can have effects hundreds of miles from their center, so any change in the track, size, and intensity of Rina could have an impact on the game or your travel plans. That looks to be a remote possibility right now, and the National Weather Service out of Jacksonville isn’t very concerned yet.

The current NWS forecast for Jacksonville is about as ideal as you can get: Mostly sunny and breezy, with a high near 73.

Rina 5-day

Post Sturdivant to be Georgia’s next commitment?

Tuesday October 18, 2011

The Red & Black caught up with Trinton Sturdivant, and Sturdivant spoke at length about his future plans.

When Sturdivant went down in the spring with his third ACL injury since 2008, it was assumed his playing career at Georgia was over. But Sturdivant told the Red & Black that there is “nearly ‘a 100 percent chance'” that he will return. Sturdivant, who has slimmed down to 255 lb. from his playing weight, would like to return to the team not as an offensive lineman but as a tight end.

Georgia’s tight end position in 2012 looks about as deep as it does this year. Aron White will be gone, but redshirting freshman Jay Rome will be ready to go. Orson Charles might return for his senior season, and Artie Lynch isn’t going anywhere. Sturdivant sees a potential role as “one of the blockers of the bunch.”

It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for a former offensive lineman to have the athleticism to play other positions. Michael Lewis in The Blind Side discussed how left tackles have evolved, by necessity, to become some of the more athletic players on their teams. Many, like Lewis’s subject Michael Oher, were basketball standouts. Sturdivant believes that he has the hand-eye coordination to be an effective tight end that does more than just block.

Given the recent attrition, it’s not really a numbers concern. Georgia should be able to welcome back Sturdivant while signing a full class. He’ll have to apply for a medical exemption that would grant him a sixth year of eligibility, but he’s the classic case for such an exemption. The real question is whether this is a wise move. With three major knee surgeries in his past, does he need to push his luck coming back one more time at a position at which the Dawgs will already have plenty of talent?

Sturdivant, already a graduate of the Terry College of Business, has plans to attend law school. His future should be bright with or without football. He still has to talk to Georgia’s coaches about his plans. It will be a long shot for him to get on the field, but he seems set on the idea. If that’s the case, we hope he has the opportunity to come back and go out next year with his final memory in Athens a win over Georgia Tech rather than crumpled to the ground on the practice field.

Post Vandy bullets: the special teams cycle of shame

Monday October 17, 2011
  • We weren’t planning on going to this game, but an opportunity presented itself, and we were off on a wild hair Saturday morning. I’m glad we went; it’s always good to be able to support the Dawgs in person. Nashville is always one of our favorite trips, and it didn’t disappoint.
  • It’s easy to see why the lights went out in the second quarter. All of the juice in the area was going to power that awful sound system. I’ve been to games inside domes, and I’ve seen games from Neyland to the Swamp to LSU’s Death Valley…I’ve never had a bigger headache after a game than from listening to the strident and distorted sound coming from those frat house-quality speakers.
  • I’m convinced that some of our fans could find a way to blame Vandy’s kickoff return touchdown on Mike Bobo. Georgia scored 33 points and had a good shot at 40. Murray and the passing game operated well against a dangerous secondary, and the Dawgs were able to put enough points on the board despite a bizarre tailback situation.
  • Speaking of tailbacks, I’m still trying to find out what happened to Carlton Thomas. He had some nice runs in the first quarter and then…nothing. If he was among the injured, I’m having a heck of a time finding that news. (UPDATE: It looks as if it was an injury.) Did I think before the season that I’d be wondering why Carlton Thomas didn’t get more carries? No, I did not. And I guess Malcome was brought along to look good on the sideline?
  • My only problem with the offense was on the last series. I don’t question running the ball three times; Georgia was able to run the clock down to 15 seconds. But if Samuel does one thing well, it’s straight-ahead power running. The dumb substitution penalty that started the series was bad enough, but three runs out of the shotgun asked a north-south runner to search for holes several yards behind the line of scrimmage. Why not put him behind a wham formation with Lynch and Ogletree in the backfield, and see how far we can move the pile?
  • Considering that Vanderbilt blitzed much more often than not, pass protection was solid. Murray took a few shots but usually got the right pass off. Crowell deserves his share of credit for standing in there and doing his role despite his numerous injuries. He had key blocks on Murray’s two second quarter touchdowns, and on the tape you’ll see Richt make it a point to let Crowell know about it.
  • Murray did get off to another slow start though. He started the game just 3-of-9, but he at least avoided bad mistakes or forcing throws. After that scoring strike to King broke the ice, Murray finished by completing 19 of his final 29 passes. That’s a positive, but it’s also something to keep in mind for the next game: a slow start and an early interception in Jacksonville meant that Georgia was playing from behind pretty much the entire game.
  • Once he got going, Murray did well to spread it around. It had to take some pressure off of both of them to finally connect with King for a score. The Vandy fan near us was beside himself with how often Bennett found space. And Brown – good for two scores and nearly a third. If he keeps it up, you can add back in Mitchell and Wooten and have a nice set of receivers.
  • Yes, it would have been nice to have a few more passes to the tight ends, but with Vandy blitzing so much it was often necessary to have that extra protection. The attempted wheel route to White was a good idea, but the defender just didn’t bite. From the reaction on the field, perhaps the tailback didn’t do the best job selling it. Charles did catch five passes.
  • Three of Murray’s incompletions came on what should be some of his easiest throws: throws behind the line of scrimmage. His first attempt was tipped into the air and nearly intercepted. Another was just barely tipped and landed at King’s feet. A third was a little flare to Crowell – though he’s caught several screens and downfield passes, has Crowell caught one of those flare passes this year?
  • Had Vandy converted that ugly onside kick attempt in the second quarter, we’d be looking at a very rare special teams cycle: the punt block, the TD return, the successful fake, and the successful onside kick. With poor kickoff coverage in years past, we had a convenient scapegoat in Fabris. With special teams responsibilities spread out among the coaching staff, how can you explain so many things going wrong at once? And after a scoring drive that included a fake punt and a halfback pass, how many people didn’t expect another trick play on the ensuing kickoff?
  • Are they still considered trick plays if they can be reasonably expected to work?
  • I’ll give Vandy credit for the fake punt: you don’t see many center-eligible plays. It also helped that the guy who became responsible for covering the pass was a walk-on receiver. Maybe that’s part of the problem with the success of some of these trick plays. Georgia’s special teams stars are generally good at what they’re trained to do, but on a fake you suddenly have a walk-on trying to stop someone like Melvin Ingram. You might’ve noticed that Georgia’s defense remained on the field for Vanderbilt’s next punt.
  • I’m less understanding about Georgia’s blocked punt. With a timeout to set the protection and aware of the certainty that Vandy would attempt the block, Georgia had no business doing anything but keeping all ten players not named Butler in for protection. At that spot on the field, Butler could have kicked it out of the endzone. Though Georgia ultimately escaped, those kinds of plays and breakdowns can be cement shoes for embattled coaches.
  • Georgia’s defense didn’t suddenly get bad or get exposed. They did lose their cool, but there was no fatal flaw that leaves you dreading the future. They defended the pass well and got good pressure. There were some really nice things going on. Abry Jones made several big plays – two of them in what could be considered pass coverage. Shawn Williams, despite a couple of dumb penalties, was playing out of his mind. Ray Drew was effective playing with his hand on the ground in more or less the role of a 4-3 defensive end. And when it came down to it, the defense made the stop they had to make when everything else had gone wrong.
  • A lot of people are looking for recent analogues for this outcome. We escaped Vandy in 2007. Or maybe it was more like the Ole Miss game with the big plays and trick plays keeping it close. Or it was like ugly games last year that were close losses instead of narrow escapes. I don’t disagree with any of that, but it really reminded me a lot of the South Carolina game. You had the early drives ending in field goal attempts rather than touchdowns. The opponent hung close with a fake punt. Without an alert play by Butler, the fake punt nearly became the Clowney sack that all but beat Georgia back in September.
  • Finally, let me whine about this. It’s the most firstworldwhitepeople problem ever, but being unable to turn off 3G makes the new iPhone pretty useless at an event of any size, even a smallish-SEC game.

Post L’Affaire Grantham

Monday October 17, 2011

Any thoughts about the incident at the end of the game are secondary to what happened during the game. Whether it was anger and frustration about dirty blocks or holds not getting called, Grantham (and several other coaches) were boiling well before the end of the game. One of the coaches, I believe Grantham, chased down and had words with an official heading into the locker room at halftime.

The problem is that the players picked up on all of this and let it get to them. The discipline and execution that had led to four straight dominant defensive performances were abandoned. We’ll let the players describe what happened. Ray Drew:

We kind of fell apart (in the second half), let emotions run a little too high, and things started going every which way.

Jarvis Jones:

We were out of position on a lot of plays, which is the mental part of the game, and the quarterback took control of the game.

They’re not reaching for excuses – that all happened. You could see the missed tackles, the personal fouls, the loss of containment, and the gaping spaces left by players out of position. No other way could Vandy roll up 200 yards of rushing.

Unfortunately, there was no one on the sideline able to reel the emotions back in. If someone was trying to get heads back in the game, they didn’t make much progress. After the game Grantham was well within his place to take up for his players, and that will be appreciated in the locker room. During the game though Grantham and the other defensive coaches needed to recognize that their players were caught up in the emotion and get everyone settled down and focused on their assignments. They failed in that respect, and that should bother us a lot more than whatever went on afterwards.

We know that there will be plenty of emotion and bad blood in the next game, and there’s already a history between Grantham and Florida. We love the intensity and refusal to back down, but understand how it affects your players. Emotion can be used for good – the dust-up prior to the Mississippi State game certainly fired up the Dawgs with impressive results. We’ve also seen now how it can get out of control.

Post Tennessee bullets: adjustments, milestones, and an upset trap?

Monday October 10, 2011
  • Ugly, incomplete, whatever. Georgia held the Vols to -20 yards rushing and their fewest points in the series since 2000. Georgia won on the road in Knoxville after two alarming blowouts in their past two visits – the last of which was against a Tennessee team not much better than this one. A win that ugly would have put the Dawgs in the 2007 SEC Championship game. We’ll take it, congratulate Mark Richt on his 100th win as Georgia’s coach, and get on with winning.
  • I think the game was as ugly and slow to develop as it was because of the injury to Crowell. Georgia’s offense just isn’t as effective without him. It was a good job just to sustain two long first half drives without him. It was disappointing that Georgia couldn’t get more from those drives, and it was frustrating not to be able to punch it in after stalling on the UT 5 yard line. Crowell was able to suck it up and give Georgia just enough to be the difference in the third quarter. His second touchdown run to the right off the sprint draw was a thing of beauty.
  • As we expected, tight end Mychal Rivera was a focal point of Tennessee’s passing attack. He led the Vols with 85 receiving yards, and his five receptions were second behind only a tailback – more on that in a second. The Vols used Rivera well in the first half to challenge Georgia’s linebackers, and it worked well. Rivera also made a heck of a catch on that 4th-and-17 to set up Tennessee’s only touchdown.
  • Why were a tight end and a tailback Tennessee’s top receiving options? Georgia did a great job of taking away the UT vertical passing game. That element is admittedly diminished with the absence of Hunter, but Bray has shown an ability to get the ball downfield all season. The Bulldogs allowed only one pass play longer than 20 yards – it was a short throw to Marlin Lane that Lane turned into a gain of 27 yards, slicing through a series of missed tackles to convert a 2nd-and-25 and keep alive the drive that tied the game going into halftime. Rivera’s longest reception was the 19-yarder that converted 4th-and-17 late in the game. You rarely heard a defensive back’s name in pass coverage – the plays weren’t there.
  • Though Georgia wasn’t putting up touchdowns in the first half, they were at least moving the ball. That and zero Georgia turnovers meant that Tennessee spent most of the game with average-to-poor field position. The Bulldogs did too, which is why the snap over Bray’s head and the subsequent poor punt changed the game.
  • With unfavorable field position, an ineffective running game, and downfield passes more or less shut down, Bray and the UT offense had little choice but to move down the field in smaller chunks, getting what they could through short and intermediate passes. That worked some in the first half, and the Georgia defense did well not to break on those drives. But as the game went on, the Georgia defense was able to tighten up to take away even those shorter passes. Pressure was increased, and the Vols – who had no drive shorter than 8 plays and 46 yards in the first half – had no second half drive longer than 5 plays or 20 yards until their last gasp scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. Credit to the Georgia defense and staff for adjusting while maintaining what they were already doing well.
  • They weren’t especially long or challenging kicks, but it was still good to see Blair Walsh have a 2-for-2 night. Those six points at least bought Georgia some time to figure things out with a hobbled Crowell.
  • Credit also to Murray for avoiding the killer turnover this week. The beards are safe for another week. Tennessee’s best chance at an interception was broken up on an alert play by Marlon Brown. Brown ended up nearly making the catch himself.
  • Kudos also to Tennessee for becoming the first team to recover a fumble with an ankle. I’m still unclear as to what went on in the replay booth during that early review.
  • Georgia is two games over .500 in the SEC for the first time in over two years. The Dawgs began the 2009 season 2-0 with wins over South Carolina and Arkansas but soon dropped consecutive games to LSU and Tennessee.
  • Moving on, I don’t expect the Vandy game to be a thing of beauty. Mitchell is out at receiver, and hopefully Crowell can be used sparingly. The goal for this weekend shouldn’t be aesthetics. The Vandy offense is dreadful, so if Georgia can avoid turnovers again, they should be able to get out of Nashville with a win. Some rest for our banged-up players would be nice, and then we get the bye week to really recover.
  • The Vandy game will also be the first time in a while that Georgia has faced what could be called, with a straight face, an upset trap. At Ole Miss, Georgia was determined to get in the SEC win column. Last season’s result was more than enough motivation against Mississippi State. Vandy’s defense is good enough to frustrate, or even score against, teams that are sleepwalking on offense. Georgia has a bit of momentum now, people are talking about them in the SEC East race again, and it’s tempting to look ahead to Florida with the division at stake. It’s been a long time since we’ve had to approach a game this way, but how will Georgia handle their success against a big underdog?
  • With Mitchell out, it might be a good week for Murray and King to work on their timing. We’ve seen King be an effective deep weapon before – even as far back as his freshman season at Arkansas. King might not have the speed of Mitchell (few do), but he did have a step on his defenders at Tennessee such that better passes would have gone for big gains. This is an element of the passing game that could stand to get a lot better, and when it does, watch things open up for Crowell and underneath routes for the tight ends and running backs.
  • With a win this weekend and Kentucky still left on the schedule, the Dawgs can just about guarantee the very minimal goals of a winning record in the SEC and bowl eligibility. So that’s nice.
  • Just as things are starting to get good, the regular season is half over. Can you believe it?

Post A shot across Bobo’s bow?

Monday October 10, 2011

It’s rare to see this level of public introspection by Georgia’s coach:

But Bobo going all ultra-conservative again in the fourth quarter frustrated even his boss, who said he wished they’d handled it differently after Georgia got the ball back with just over 8 minutes and only burned a couple of minutes, going three-and-out playing it safe on the ground. That “pretty much put more pressure on the defense there,” Richt said. “If we’re in that situation again, we’d better be able to put it away.”

I know at that point the offense was probably shell-shocked from the penalty disaster on their previous series. Up until that point, Georgia was still throwing the ball quite a bit in the 4th quarter with their lead. The drive that included all of those penalties had been conservative – i.e., no deep passes or trick plays, but it also had strategic purpose. Georgia mixed the run and the pass to get into at least field goal range before the penalties hit. Murray was having success on short, relatively safe passes.

It also didn’t help to have (another) Justin Anderson penalty torpedo this particular drive before it could get going. Richt wasn’t quite as amused with that penalty.

That fourth quarter drive aside, the offensive game plan was solid. Richt made sure to note that the offensive staff “did a good job of putting a plan together” that gave him confidence to be decisive about some of the riskier calls he made. The plan was surely knocked on its heels by Crowell’s injury, but they did a good job recovering.

Post The silver lining of 2nd-and-Chattanooga

Monday October 10, 2011

2nd-and-56 is nothing but an amusing footnote on the game. Even Richt was smirking about the absurdity of the situation. (Perhaps he should have just punted then – at least he didn’t take the safety.) It’s a shame that we’ll just remember those penalties and the ridiculous down-and-distance, because all of it came right as Georgia was playing some of its best football of the season.

Midway through the third quarter, Georgia was pinned down in the shadow of their own goalpost nursing a one-score lead. Bottled up for much of the game, the offense strung together a series of big plays to score on Isaiah Crowell’s second touchdown run. Crowell had been a battering ram on Georgia’s first scoring drive of the third quarter, but he showed what he can do in space on that second score.

Tennessee responded with a kickoff return to midfield – one of the few Bulldog special teams mistakes. There was still plenty of time left in the game, and the Vols had their best field position of the night. Though Tennessee faced a 3rd-and-1 after a Georgia offsides penalty and a 4-yard run, the Vols stalled after a delay of game penalty. The Bulldogs held and forced a punt.

For the second consecutive series, the Bulldogs started a drive inside their own ten yard line. They didn’t instantly flip field position with a long pass this time; instead they moved the ball in much smaller chunks, spreading the ball around to four different receivers. Bennett, Brown, King, and Conley all caught short-to-intermediate passes on the drive. You had to love Bennett going airborne on his reception. It was also encouraging to see a nice, safe pass to Marlon Brown on 3rd-and-1. Yes, with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, Georgia was putting together a long drive by throwing the ball.

Eventually Georgia drove as far as the Tennessee 23, and they looked almost certain to get at least a field goal that would pretty much end the game. That’s when the hilarity started. 46 yards in reverse and a pair of pointless runs later, Georgia was punting from their own 31. Yes, it was ridiculous. Yes, it cost Georgia a chance to put the game away. Yes, that series of penalties and the late hit penalty on Lynch fired up the crowd.

Still, the drive chewed up 8:21 of clock on one of the longest Georgia drives of the season. It took us from a contested game in the third quarter and awful field position to Tennessee getting the ball back still down 14 with under 10 minutes left to go. It also gained enough net yardage to move the ball from inside the Georgia 10 to a more reasonable spot outside their 30. Even with a good punt return and Lynch’s penalty, the Vols weren’t much past midfield. For a team that had committed three holding penalties and two personal fouls, that wasn’t the worst possible outcome.

Then the defense took over. Rested after over 8 minutes of game action on the bench over two quarters, the defense made certain that 2nd-and-56 wouldn’t let Tennessee back in the game. Michael Gilliard came crashing through on first down, forcing Bray to take a grounding penalty rather than a sure sack. A harmless pass on second down put the Vols in 3rd and long, and the defense forced another punt after a three-and-out that deflated what lift Tennessee got from Georgia’s mistakes on the previous series. With great field position and a reinvested crowd, the Vols actually lost six yards.

It was similar to the response of the defense after the successful Ole Miss onside kick. The Rebels had the crowd fired up after scoring on a trick play, got a huge boost from the onside kick, and Georgia’s defense responded with an interception. In recent years, we’d explain away an opponent’s score by noting the bad position in which the defense had been placed. Even this year, Boise State was able to cash in on a good punt return. Georgia’s mistakes against South Carolina almost invariably led to points. Georgia’s defense isn’t just looking strong when they have favorable field position or down-and-distance; they’re showing resilience when placed in tough spots. To paraphrase Mark Richt, it’s OK to get a three-and-out or to keep a bad situation from ending in points.

Post Game-week tidbits: Blair, blitzing, and beards

Friday October 7, 2011

Walsh meets with his guru

I expected to see more about this story this week, but Blair Walsh went to the mountaintop to meet with his kicking guru. Nick Gancitano is a kicker’s equivalent of a swing doctor, and Walsh had worked with Gancitano long before Walsh came to Georgia. With his field goal percentage taking an alarming nosedive, Walsh reached out to his former mentor.

It didn’t take long for Gancitano to spot a minor mechanical flaw that had evaded the notice of Georgia’s star kicker. “I was coming too much in at the ball rather than up-field with it,” Walsh explained. We’ll see if the kicks fly straighter in the games, but Walsh considers the problem identified and fixed.

Grantham walks us through a typical blitz

Be sure to check out this video from ESPN of Todd Grantham explaining a basic middle linebacker/safety blitz from his 3-4 package. But don’t expect to see it much, if at all, on Saturday. It’s not that he’s giving away trade secrets, but Georgia is actually in their base 3-4 a small percentage of the time.

Saving the turnover-battle beards

Shawn Williams’ late interception against Mississippi State was a footnote for many fans already headed for the exits. But it was a big deal to Williams’ teammates. The pick zeroed out the turnover margin for the day, meaning that the team could keep its turnover-battle beards for another week. David Ching explains the deal with must-read commentary by Aron White. If Georgia shows up at the end of the season looking like ZZ Top, you’ll know they’ve been getting turnovers and taking care of the ball.

Post Stopping the Tennessee passing attack

Friday October 7, 2011

It’s unavoidable: the Tennessee passing game against Georgia’s defense is the story this week. It makes sense – Tennessee has a quality quarterback, a very good main target at receiver, and Vol quarterbacks have gone 37-of-49 (>75%) against Georgia in the past two meetings in Knoxville. Year2 over at TSK paints the picture of the challenge presented by the Tennessee offense, and Blutarsky responds with a closer look at how Tennessee rates relative to the best passing attack Georgia has seen so far.

As usual, I can’t let it go without a word about the offense. Georgia has been blown out in their past two trips to Tennessee, and lackluster offense had as much to do with it as Crompton or Ainge or Foster. Georgia managed 14 futile second half points after falling behind 28-0 in 2007. It was even worse in 2009. Georgia scored 19 points, but only three of those came from the offense. That game sealed the fate of Willie Martinez, but it was equally atrocious offense. This year’s Georgia offense should have better success against Tennessee, especially on the ground.

Back to this year. It isn’t 2007 or 2009. Georgia’s defense has changed. Tennessee’s coaching staff has changed. Many of the key pariticpants – from Bray to Rogers to Murray to Crowell – weren’t even on their teams for the 2009 game. The identities of the teams have changed. Georgia now leans on their defense. Tennessee now leans on their passing game. That strength took a big hit several weeks ago when leading receiver Justin Hunter was lost for the year.

The Vols have had only one lightweight game in which to figure out life without Hunter, but one name is emerging. Tennessee’s leading receiver against Florida wasn’t the injured Hunter or emerging sophomore Da’Rick Rogers. It was junior tight end Mychal Rivera.

Rivera hadn’t been much of a factor in the passing game before this season. He recorded 11 catches for 112 yards in 2010. He failed to make a catch in the season opener against Montana. But in the three games since, Rivera has recorded 14 catches for 163 yards – already eclipsing his entire production of a year ago. In Gainesville, with Hunter knocked out of the game, Rivera came away with a team-high 5 receptions and 71 yards.

To give it perspective, Rivera’s 14 catches are only two fewer than Orson Charles has notched on the season. Rivera’s numbers would place him third on the Georgia team behind Mitchell and Charles and ahead of King and Bennett.

If you think back to the Boise State game, the Broncos didn’t torch Georgia deep. They used short and intermediate passes, along with tempo, to put the Georgia defense on its heels. Many of those passes came across the middle. Tennessee’s tendencies might be more vertical, and that makes sense when your offensive coordinator comes from the Brees-era Purdue offense. But the emergence of Rivera does indicate some flexibility there. This is more of a concern due to Georgia’s inexperience at linebacker. Two starters – Washington and Ogletree are on the shelf. Another, Robinson, is still working his way back from injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee test the pass coverage of Georgia’s replacements at linebacker.

Of course Bray doesn’t merit Kellen Moore comparisons yet, but he is still an accurate passer when given time. Another big difference is the relative experience and quality of the offensive lines. Boise started four upperclassmen. Tennessee starts a single upperclassmen. Still, this unit has only allowed 7 sacks on the year, 3 of which came against Florida. Georgia can affect Bray’s accuracy, as Florida did, with pressure, but they’ll have to do it with sack leader Cornelius Washington watching from home.

Third downs will tell a lot of the tale of this game. Tennessee comes in with an SEC-leading 62.1% conversion rate, but they managed only 4-of-12 on third downs in their only SEC game to date. That’s going to happen when you get 0.94 yards per carry. Georgia brings their SEC-leading 25.4% third down defense, but they weren’t so hot against a quality passing opponent. We looked earlier in the week at Georgia’s success on early downs leading to manageable third down situations. Mississippi State’s average third down position was 3rd-and-7.5. They’ll do well against Bray if they can get the Vols into similar third down situations. Bray might be a good passer, but the defense still has the advantage when you know a pass is likely.

Post One last look back at Mississippi State

Tuesday October 4, 2011

Georgia won the game with two things: field position and defense. At the end of the first quarter, both teams had 83 yards of total offense. The score was 14-3 in Georgia’s favor. The (Georgia) Bulldogs had two short scoring drives totaling 55 yards thanks to Boykin’s brilliant punt return and a shank on another MSU punt. The visitors had to drive 56 yards in a single possession just to get into range for a field goal. Georgia’s scoring drive of any length was the 8-play, 81-yard drive to close the first half. With the exception of the late second-quarter drive that was ended by Commmings’ interception, MSU didn’t have a drive start with better field position than their own 37.

Georgia’s special teams got attention after last week’s problems, and you could tell. Returns were sharper, and Boykin had an instant impact on punt returns. It was also interesting to see the defense remain on the field for more than a couple of 4th downs – even when distance and field position made the odds of a fake nearly zero. There’s not much to say about Walsh. I’ll buy that he has the yips because I’m not informed enough to spot mechanics issues. I do wonder if he’s overkicking – he’s knocking balls through the endzone on kickoffs more than ever this year, and sometimes greater power comes at the expense of accuracy. The most important consequence is that the coaches, at least in the short-term, should not call plays inside the opponent’s 35 assuming they have three points in their pocket.

And the defense. As Munson once put it, “the beautiful defense.” MSU took a lot of heat for nearly losing to Louisiana Tech, but this was still the same team that ran all over Auburn. We knew what MSU does well – run the spread option and burn you with play-action after you bite on the run. We knew what MSU doesn’t do well – throw the ball in obvious passing situations.

A year ago, MSU was an efficient 7-of-13 on third down against Georgia. They were able to sustain drives, control field position, and pick their moments while the Georgia offense worked uphill. That story was reversed on Saturday. Georgia held the visitors to just 4-of-15 on third down, and a lot of Georgia’s success had to do with their play on first and second down. 10 of MSU’s 15 3rd downs were 6 yards or longer. They converted only one of those – a 3rd and 9 on their first-quarter field goal drive. Otherwise, the Georgia defense did exactly what it had to do – contain the running game on the first two downs and force Relf (and Favre) into uncomfortable third-and-long situations. The average MSU third down was 3rd and 7.5 to go.

My enjoyment in watching the defense is why I had a problem with the second-half offense. The offense was given field position, momentum, and a tired defense put back on the field after numerous short MSU drives and did little with it after intermission. I’m fine with being conservative in that situation, but I’m not so sure that’s what was going on. It’s just that, short of returning a few of those dropped interceptions for scores, the defense couldn’t have done more for their counterparts on offense. It’s not just the lack of production by the offense, it’s the feeling of a wasted gift.

(There is something good to say about the second-half offense. There was still plenty of time left when MSU got their pick-six. A three-and-out and an average punt return could have set MSU up with momentum and the game very much in doubt. Though the offense, and ultimately Walsh, failed to put more points on the board, they at least responded with a nice 9-play drive that ate up 5:32 and let a lot of air out of whatever lift MSU got from their defensive score. Thomas deserves recognition for his role in that drive. In fact, that drive (nine plays, 5:32) and the one before it (seven plays, 4:08) that ended on Murray’s interception ate more clock than all but one of Georgia’s drives. Some points would have been nice, but those drives did their job. We have a much bigger problem with the 3rd quarter offense that failed to eat clock OR move the ball for more than a total of 24 net yards.)

I had to remind myself a few times after the game that this was a one-sided double-digit revenge win over a team that started the year ranked above Georgia. This was a possible trap game. MSU’s offense is about as far as you can get from pro-style, and Todd Grantham’s ability to scheme against the nontraditional offense was still up in the air. I was among several wondering if MSU could make things difficult by attacking Georgia on the edge. Memories of Georgia’s struggles getting in the endzone in Starkville were erased three minutes into the game.

There’s a couple of problems with leaving things at “a win is a win”:

1 – The opportunity to develop the reserves against an SEC opponent was lost. As Brandon Boykin went down with just a couple of minutes left, my second thought – after initial concern for his well-being – was frustration at the fact that he was in the game to begin with. Georgia, though it had dominated the game, still had to worry about the remote possibility of an Auburn/Utah State scenario, and so a fair number of starters were left in to close the game. With Cornelius Washington on the shelf for a while, it would have been nice for Faloughi and Drew to see more action. Of course playing reserves is subordinate to protecting the lead and winning the game. There can be greater value in a game though than just getting the win. Georgia missed a good opportunity to realize that value.

2 – It would be one thing if the second half were really about trying to kill the clock, but I think we’re letting the offense off easy by putting their awful third quarter on ultra-conservative playcalling. Almost a third of Murray’s pass attempts (8 of 25) came during the third quarter in which Georgia managed a grand total of 24 yards. Another pass play broke down. Only two of those pass attempts were completed. The same people were in the game. The offense wasn’t particularly risky in the first half, either – the plays just stopped working after halftime. Georgia’s offense was more successful in the fourth quarter when they really *were* trying to run clock.

With the program placing so much emphasis on finishing games this year, it’s not out of bounds to ask questions of the second half offense in the past two games. The defense has embraced the challenge – they’ve pitched two, make that three, straight shutouts after halftime. The offense has a couple of things working against them:

  • Their best option at tailback, though insanely talented, is still building his endurance.
  • The offensive line depth is razor thin. I’m not sure Georgia substituted on the offensive line, and that would make two consecutive games that these five have played all snaps. I understand why that is a neccesity, and hopefully Burnette can be back soon. You also don’t rotate offensive linemen like you might defensive linemen or tailbacks. But a waning Crowell and a line that can’t afford even a series off isn’t the hallmark of an offense built to finish games.

That’s quite a problem to have, isn’t it? Why is Georgia only winning by 14 instead of 24? It’s one of the #firstworldproblems of college football.

Post Under the lights in Nashville

Monday October 3, 2011

The SEC has announced that Georgia’s October 15th game at Vanderbilt will be on FSN at 7:00 p.m. ET. (That’s the same channel as the Mississippi State game.) Georgia’s game this weekend is also a 7:00 p.m. start, but it will be on ESPN2.