Monday December 26, 2011
The Dawgs (and Spartans) arrived in Tampa today. Mark Richt had said before the break that he didn’t expect any surprises from fall semester grades, and it looks as if everyone is in good academic shape for the bowl game.
Monday December 19, 2011
If you like baseball – a LOT of baseball – the SEC is happy to oblige. With two programs entering the conference, the SEC Baseball Tournament will expand from 8 to 10 teams starting in 2012. The double-elimination format means that the tournament will stretch from Tuesday to Sunday in the week preceding Memorial Day for a total of 17 games. We’ve never been particularly impressed with the relevance of the event, but last season’s SEC Tournament provided a path for Georgia to earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament. With an additional two teams in Hoover, a few more programs could find themselves with a chance to make a push for a place in the national bracket.
As before, the seeding will be based on overall conference standings, but the division winners will be guaranteed one of the top two seeds. Here are all of the changes:
- Increase from eight to 10 teams
- Event will run from Tuesday through Sunday
- Games played from Tuesday to Friday are double elimination with single elimination starting on Saturday with games 15 and 16.
- Addition of SEC Baseball Legends Program recognized annually at tournament
Monday December 19, 2011
Tell that to these guys:
Chris Granger / The Times-Picayune
Monday December 19, 2011
Nice story in the Banner-Herald today about the progress in conditioning made by Andy Landers’ womens basketball program. With most of the players in reasonably good basketball shape to begin with, emphasis has been less about weight loss and more about the marginal improvements that can come from better conditioning and nutrition.
The conditioning program has less to do with losing weight than with hardening muscles. Most of the team has only lost between five and 10 pounds so much of the change has been in body composition.
In addition to running, the team stuck to some new dietary guidelines.
The diet component eliminated most of the goodies that almost every college student lives on. They couldn’t eat sweets, fried food, baked goods and soft drinks. Instead they’d eat salads, baked meat, vegetables and wash it down with water.
Georgia’s rotation isn’t terribly deep again this year, so any incremental gains in conditioning could begin to show up in February and March when many teams and players begin to hit the wall.
Friday December 16, 2011
Kyle has a good question this afternoon:
Is the fullback simply an anachronism who has no place in the revamped up-tempo Bulldog offense of 2011? Does the play-calling simply reflect the personnel present in the Classic City in the current day, given the talents of Aaron Murray and the multitude of pass-catching weapons (including Bruce Figgins) at Mike Bobo’s disposal? Is the need to use the fullback as a blocker rather than a ballcarrier reflective of the thinness of the offensive line and the inexperience of the tailback rotation, or is a potentially worthwhile element of the arsenal going unused?
I admit to wondering the same thing. It was a surprise (and a pleasant one at that) to see Ogletree rumble for over 20 yards at Tech. And of course Figgins has been almost a sure thing on the 344-Fullback pass play. But there’s no question that the productivity from the position in the running game has declined, and Kyle has all of the data behind that conclusion.
Why is that? In addition to the possible reasons Kyle offers, we also have to consider that they might just not be the best carriers of the ball. Ogletree’s long run was nice, but the ball popped out. Admittedly, that’s a small sample size from which to draw any kind of conclusions about his ability to hold on to the ball. Likewise, Figgins is a converted tight end. As you’d expect, he can catch the ball. But the exchange on a running play is an entirely new operation for Figgins, and it’s possible that the coaches just didn’t trust his lack of experience there. Figgins is a senior, but Ogletree will return in 2012 with a great deal of experience. Of course a backfield that could feature Crowell, Marshall, and Mike Davis won’t leave many carries to spare, but there is an important role for a fullback that can move the pile in short-yardage situations. Given Georgia’s success against Florida, it’s also possible that the coaches will be content with Richard Samuel in that role.
Friday December 16, 2011
TSK opened up the topic of the top (5, 10, 31) stories of 2011 across the SEC. Here’s my stab:
1) Supremacy. Within the pages of the 2011 calendar, Auburn won a national title while Alabama and LSU set themselves up to play for the next one. The case for the Tide and Bayou Bengals as the nation’s two best teams was so compelling that it was enough to overcome distaste for a rematch and a serious case of SEC fatigue from the rest of the nation. It wasn’t just supremacy in football – South Carolina notched back-to-back College World Series titles for the conference.
2) Comings and goings. At the macro level, the conference welcomed two new member schools during 2011. The real impact of expansion won’t be felt until the coming years, but the move could eventually have an impact on everything from recruiting to the location of the SEC’s marquee events. (As the Georgia Dome clock kept malfunctioning at the SECCG, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it was until Jerry Jones made a bid to move the game to one of the SEC’s newest states.)
The SEC also said farewell to a number of individuals whose personalities made following the conference more interesting. Bruce Pearl, Houston Nutt, Stephen Garcia, Charlie Weis…it won’t be the same without you. We’re glad that Mark Richt wasn’t among them.
3) Pat Summitt. Summitt’s diagnosis of early-onset dementia reached beyond the world of women’s college basketball. In vowing to coach on, Summitt brings this little-understood condition into the public eye and will doubtlessly do much for awareness and fundraising in the campaign for research, knowledge, and ultimately a cure.
4) Oversigning. The action of the season has pushed this story to the back burner, but you couldn’t avoid it for the first half of the year. The league’s decision to limit football class sizes to 25 probably won’t do much to change many of the deeper issues related to the oversigning problem, but it did at least force a conference-wide conversation about the practice.
5) The Tuscaloosa tornado. Much of the SEC landscape – from Mississippi to Georgia to our newest territory in Missouri – was scarred by a series of spring tornado outbreaks. The tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and just missed Bryant-Denny Stadium pushed the story on to the sports pages and, if temporarily, refocused the passions of SEC fans. When even Auburn fans, players, and coaches become a positive part of a tragedy involving Alabama, you know you have an exceptional story.
What are your top 5?
Friday December 16, 2011
Gus Malzahn is leaving Auburn, taking a significant pay cut to become the head coach at Arkansas State. There are any number of theories this morning why a guy who could have had an SEC head coaching job a year ago now takes less money to coach in the Sun Belt. To me, the most reasonable explanation is asking where Malzahn expects to be in three years. If he’s looking for a stepping stone, Vandy might not have been the best choice: it would have been tough to build much of a resume with a shiny winning record and bowl bids (note how much praise Franklin has received for a 6-6 year at Vandy this year). At Arkansas State Malzahn should, in theory, have the opportunity to take over a program in fairly good shape, lean on his familiarity with the area, and build his portfolio for the next tier of jobs for which he came up just short this year.
Including the changes at Texas A&M and Ole Miss, the SEC will see new offenses at 5 of its 14 programs for the 2012 season. We know a little bit about what we can expect from the Aggies and Rebels from their new head coaches. But it will be interesting to watch the simultaneous vacancies at Alabama, Auburn, and Florida. At the very least, a lot of playcallers around the nation (and their agents) figure to make some money.
Will so many changes across the conference lead to a sea change in SEC offenses? Not likely. A&M and Ole Miss have a ways to go before they start influencing the rest of the league. Muschamp at Florida is committed to the pro-style offense. It’s hard to imagine Saban at Alabama getting far away from the “don’t screw it up for the defense” system that has worked for him.
Auburn will be worth watching. Malzahn took some knocks in 2011, but he fielded some very good units during his first two years at Auburn. Calling to mind the back-and-forth between Blutarsky, Elkon, and Chris Brown, Gene Chizik has to consider the talent recruited for the Malzahn system. Instead of recruiting players to fit a particular system, Chizik might have to constrain his coordinator search based on the players.
Kiehl Frazier was the centerpiece of the 2011 Auburn recruiting class. His background (shotgun preference, running ability, familiarity with the spread) fit the Malzahn system well. The Tigers have a pair of veteran backs in McCalebb and Dyer who have been successful in Malzahn’s system. Quan Bray is one of several young players who were recruited for their flexibility in a spread scheme. Chizik has to worry about both sides of the ball, but finding someone who can make the most of that talent on offense before his own seat starts to warm up.
Thursday December 8, 2011
GeorgiaDogs.com has a nice compilation up today showing every Aaron Murray touchdown pass of the year. Murray’s 33 touchdowns obliterated the previous Georgia single-season record by over 30%.
I had honestly forgotten about some of these. The cast of players catching touchdown passes is impressive – everyone from Wooten to Figgins to Boykin. By my count, 12 different Bulldogs caught a touchdown pass this year. By comparison, the Georgia defense only allowed 11 touchdowns total through the air in 2011.
Monday December 5, 2011
The all-time ledger between Andy Landers’ Lady Dogs program and Georgia Tech is a lopsided 30-4 in favor of Georgia. Recent history hasn’t been nearly as one-sided. Since Georgia won the first 24 contests, the Lady Dogs have only enjoyed a 5-4 edge in the series entering Sunday’s annual meeting. In fact, the Lady Dogs had to win on Sunday for its senior class to avoid the ignominy of being the first at Georgia to finish with a losing record against their rival.
Georgia got the win. The 74-68 triumph moved the Lady Dogs to 7-1 on the year and preserved an umblemished home record in the series with Tech.
The game was every bit as close as you’d expect from two teams that have had a lot in common with each other lately. Tech has joined Georgia as a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament, and the Jackets have been just outside the upper tier of the ACC for several seasons. With a team featuring five seniors, you’d expect them to give Georgia a fight, and they did. A year after a poor showing in Atlanta, Georgia was up to the challenge this year.
Forward Jasmine Hassell led the way for Georgia with a career-high 24 points. Hassell was engaged in battle for most of the game with Tech’s
imposing 6’5″ center Sasha Goodlett. The Lady Dogs had good success double-teaming Goodlett in the high post, but the Tech senior still finished with 19 points. Jasmine James and Meredith Mitchell also scored in double-figures for Georgia, and James notched a game-high five steals.
Both teams built small first half advantages, and a little Georgia run at the end of the first half tied things at 33 going into halftime. The Lady Dogs built another small lead early in the second half and kept Tech at arm’s length before another spurt with about 7 minutes to go punctuated by a Khaalidah Miller three-pointer opened up a 12-point Georgia advantage. Some missed foul shots and timely outside shooting from the visitors got Tech back to within three points inside of a minute left, but Georgia rediscovered their free throw shooting and iced the game from the line.
If there was one thing that put Georgia over the top, it was Georgia’s ability to create more turnovers than they committed. The Jackets rely on full-court pressure and tight on-ball defense to create transition opportunites on offense. Georgia occasionally struggled with this pressure, especially when Anne Marie Armstrong had to sit during the first half with foul trouble. But much more often than not the Lady Dogs were able to work it up the court and get into their halfcourt offense. Thanks in large part to the successful traps of Goodlett, the Lady Dogs forced 20 Tech turnovers and created their own opportunities to run.
The remainder of Georgia’s nonconference slate is highlighted by a Las Vegas holiday tournament in a couple of weeks which includes a game against Gonzaga. The Zags were one of the surprises of last season’s NCAA Tournament and have another quality team this year. If they can get past that game, the Lady Dogs stand a good chance of entering conference play on January 1st with a 12-1 record.
Thursday December 1, 2011
We can dismiss any notion that LSU will be overlooking the game with their place in the BCS Championship a virtual lock. Despite the opinion that this game is now somehow without meaning, playing for an SEC title means quite a bit to anyone who puts on a uniform. Georgia’s absence from this game since 2005 has been noted, but LSU has experienced a lesser drought of their own. Few on the team were around in 2007, and everyone else has watched either Alabama or Auburn represent the West for the past three seasons. They’re about as likely to make light of their opportunity to be champions of the conference as Georgia was to overlook Tech last week.
In one of the more puzzling statements after the loss to Boise, the Dawgs claimed to have been rattled by the crowd noise in what was more or less a home game. Just so we’re all clear on this: LSU will have more fans on Saturday than Boise had. LSU fans are known for being a little loud. Hopefully the Dawgs will be more prepared this time.
We know both teams have a good defense. With that in mind, individual matchups are more interesting. Is Georgia well-seasoned enough up front to deal with LSU’s tailback rotation and pounding running game? Can they keep Jordan Jefferson’s mobility from being a factor? Rueben Randle is a beast, but only two LSU receivers have over 20 catches on the year. Can Georgia afford to cheat a little on Randle and Beckham?
When LSU gets into its power running game mode, they like to do it from one-back ace formations with two TE or from two-back sets. Against Arkansas it was noted that the Tigers often split out a third receiver instead of using that second tight end or blocking back. Because Arkansas wasn’t especially strong up front, LSU could get away with spreading the field without betraying their running game. The spread field opened up additional opportunities with the passing game and the occasional option play.
Georgia is certainly much stronger up front than Arkansas, so LSU will be faced with a few choices. The running game is still their bread and butter, so we could expect to see more power formations in order to establish the run against a good defensive front. At the same time, they’d forego the spread formation that made them more versatile and explosive against Arkansas. All of that depends on Georgia’s front playing as expected. If LSU can have early success running the ball, they’ll be able to spread out and put a lot of pressure on Georgia’s back seven or eight in pass coverage.
All sorts of things come to mind when Georgia has the ball. Can the Georgia offensive line that’s been so good in pass protection this month deal with a pure speed rusher like Mingo? Will the tight end be less of an option in the passing game if he’s needed to shore up the edge? Murray’s been much more efficient lately, but accuracy has never been his calling card. Can he get away with that against such a good secondary? Does that secondary lead Georgia to lean more on shorter passes, and can guys like Figgins or Charles be productive?
Can any tailback be counted on enough to develop a rushing strategy for this game? Will LSU’s Eric Reid be back? It looks that way. He’ll give them a more physical defensive backfield and make it tougher to run.
Will Georgia try their hurry-up? It was a train wreck in the season opener, but they’ve used it with more success during the year. It’s a reach to compare Georgia’s higher-tempo offense with Oregon, but the Ducks were able to put up yards on LSU. Just not points.
Turnovers and big special teams plays might seem like random events, but LSU has relied so consistently on them this year that they’re just about as reliable as 100 yards from a good tailback. We’ve seen everything from the fake punt against Florida to the kickoff return at West Virginia to a pivotal interception and punt at Alabama to the punt return against Arkansas. LSU can afford to get outgained in traditional yardage because it’s been so good at the margins. You don’t have to drive 80 yards when you’ve flipped field position with an interception or a long punt.
The challenge for Georgia isn’t just winning turnovers or avoiding special teams mistakes, though that matters. It’s doing those things in a way that create, if not points outright, an advantage that leads to points or changes how the opponent operates. That’s what LSU has done so well this year. Like a good defensive basketball team depends on a press to create easier transition chances, LSU effectively uses defense and special teams to score in spurts that bury an opponent.
Georgia has blocked a punt in both of Mark Richt’s SEC Championships. With Georgia retreating into a punt-safe shell after a couple of successful fakes, we’ll probably have to see if the Dawgs can win a title without a blocked kick. The Dawgs do at least look solid in the other areas of special teams. This is what I was just talking about though – it’s not enough to play neutral with few mistakes. Georgia needs those positive and point-producing plays from its defense and special teams to have success against an opponent of this quality.
If you look over the LSU schedule, the one game that gives more reason for hope than any other is the Mississippi State game. I don’t like comparisons using games from months ago – both Georgia and LSU are different and improved teams since then. That game though is the formula that gives Georgia its best chance to win. Play solid defense, don’t give up scores on big plays, make it a game of field goals, and do your best to get to the 4th quarter. Of course every other team has seen that film, and only Alabama was able to duplicate it.