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Post Georgia vs. Tennessee: What to watch for

Friday September 28, 2012

The Florida game usually gets circled first on a Georgia fan’s calendar, but the fact remains that Georgia has never won the SEC East without beating Tennessee. Tennessee’s strong start, though tempered by the loss to Florida, at least helped to diminish the possibility of this Saturday’s game being overlooked before the trip to Columbia next weekend. The Vols can’t and won’t be taken lightly even if it means Mark Richt going back to the video vault to remind his players of the need to bring and build on the level of intensity from the week before.

Aside from the usual (turnovers, penalties, etc.), there are three areas I’ll be watching:

Can Georgia pressure Bray? It seems odd to say with Jarvis Jones on the team, but Georgia is currently in the bottom half of the conference in sacks. Of course the sack stat doesn’t entirely capture the hurries and other mistakes that come from pressure. Let’s look at another metric – interceptions. Georgia has only forced two interceptions through four games, and that’s also near the bottom of the conference. Interceptions aren’t only due to pressure, but a hurried quarterback is more likely to make bad throws and give the defense a chance for more picks.

There’s a lot – maybe too much – to talk about here. We know Georgia’s defense wasn’t at full strength. It might also be that Georgia hasn’t run many of the blitz packages yet that give the 3-4 defense its best chances for pressure. With an inexperienced and makeshift secondary, you’re not as likely to put them in isolated positions behind heavier pressure. The improvised secondary might also have something to do with the interception numbers. Georgia’s defensive backs haven’t intercepted a pass yet – both picks have come from linebackers. Younger defensive backs are just trying to stay in the right coverage and haven’t developed the instincts to break on passes.

All of those theories will be put to the test Saturday when the top priority for the Georgia defense will be to disrupt the potent Tennessee passing game. Will the return of Ogletree affect the pressure Georgia can generate from the front seven? Will Rambo return to the form that led him to eight interceptions in 2011, or is he due a regression towards the 2.5 INT/year he had as an underclassman?

Will Georgia’s offense keep it up? Though this game will be framed as a showdown of strengths (Georgia’s defense vs. Tennessee’s offense), Georgia’s offense should aim for a better showing than their lukewarm performance in Knoxville last season. 20 points was enough to outscore a Tennessee offense that was missing Hunter and lost Bray during an important time in the game. Until a brief third quarter outburst put Georgia out in front to stay, this was a 6-6 game at halftime. The Dawgs put up respectable yardage and avoided turnovers, but a paltry 3-for-12 on third downs kept the Georgia offense from sustaining many drives.

That sounds a lot like the first half offense at Missouri. The inconsistent way Aaron Murray starts games is a fairly mainstream discussion now. Whatever he did to prepare for the Vanderbilt game is worth repeating. At least the running game seems to be reliable enough this year that Murray shouldn’t have to do it all himself, but there’s no question that Georgia’s offense doesn’t click without Murray being in good form. The Vols are giving up an average of 28 points and no fewer than 21 points to its 1-A opponents so far. It could be a sign of trouble if Georgia has the stalled drives, turnovers, and other miscues that keep it from scoring at or above that average. Another total over 40 points should signal a big Georgia win.

Which receiving corps has the better game? Tennessee’s passing game deserves every bit of praise it gets. Bray and the receivers can do damage, but let’s not forget that the Vols’ leading receiver in last season’s game was the tight end, Mychal Rivera. But Georgia’s receivers have started to make some noise, and this game presents an opportunity for them to contrast themselves with one of the conference’s best units.

Post So what happened in that 2004 Tennessee game?

Friday September 28, 2012

It didn’t take long for Mark Richt to turn the clock back eight years when he talked about his team’s mental state for this Saturday’s game against Tennessee. The 2004 Dawgs were feeling pretty good about themselves after a 45-16 demolition of Nick Saban’s defending national champion LSU team a week earlier. Georgia, after unspectacular wins over South Carolina and Marshall, finally looked like the team that was ranked a consensus #3 entering the 2004 season.

NOTE: If you want to dig deeper into this game, it’s posted in its entirety on YouTube.

Tennessee’s outlook couldn’t have been more different. They were coming off a humiliating 34-10 home loss to Auburn. Freshman quarterback Erik Ainge looked his age and had been responsible for five turnovers. The Vols were still a very good team and came in ranked in the top 20, but now they had to take a freshman quarterback on the road for the first time and face the #3 team that was fresh off a near-flawless evisceration of LSU.

Of course Tennessee shocked the Dawgs 19-14 on a frustrating day for the Georgia offense. The same Georgia offense that passed for five touchdowns a week earlier managed just 265 yards of total offense. It was Georgia’s senior quarterback who looked like the rookie, throwing 15-of-34 and not finding the endzone once. David Greene was able to exploit the outside vulnerabilities against Saban’s LSU defense, but Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis used more zone to frustrate Greene and get the Georgia offense off the field.

It ended up being the game that decided the SEC East: both teams would lose to Auburn during the regular season, and Tennessee avoided any additional stumbles en route to a 7-1 conference record and a spot in the SEC Championship. Georgia’s stellar senior class saw its 17-game home winning streak broken and would not take its third straight SEC East title.

That 2004 game is useful for Richt not just as a warning that “we better get our minds right” all over again. It also shows some very basic areas of the game that can go wrong and lead to a tough afternoon for a favorite. Georgia took care of the basics last week against Vanderbilt, and the underdogs didn’t have the talent to stay in the game without help from Georgia. Here’s a breakdown of what went wrong in 2004:

  • No credible rushing threat. The 2004 Dawgs had an average SEC rushing attack with 156.8 YPG placing them squarely in the middle of the pack. The Vols held Georgia to 100 yards below average – just 56 rushing yards. With the running game bottled up and Greene under pressure, Georgia was forced into longer second and third down situations and threw the ball 40 times in the game. Tennessee’s success against the run let Chavis drop defenders into his zone coverage, and Georgia had a tough time sustaining anything.
  • Protection issues. Along with difficulty establishing the run, the line also struggled in pass protection. The same hurries, knockdowns, and sacks that plagued Georgia’s line in 2003 returned for this game. Georgia’s net rushing yardage included the lost yardage from 5 sacks of David Greene. Several of his incompletions were intentional as he avoided pressure. A promising drive to start the third quarter ended with a grounding penalty after Tennessee covered a planned screen pass.
  • Penalties. In a loss like this, you can usually find examples of a team shooting itself in the foot. Georgia was whistled for 12 penalties in the game which cost them 82 yards. Against LSU a week earlier, Georgia was flagged only once. That yardage total doesn’t tell the story though: the biggest penalty of the day was a holding call during a Bryan McClendon kickoff return after Tennessee had gone up 13-7. McClendon’s return brought the ball to the Tennessee 2-yard line. Thanks to the holding call, Georgia started from their own 20.
  • Slow start on both sides of the ball. It was 10-0 Tennessee before Georgia managed a first down. The Dawgs managed just seven first quarter yards. Georgia’s strong defense saw two blown coverages by its safeties result in two big third down conversions and a touchdown on Tennessee’s opening drive. The defense more or less settled down after the first quarter, but the offense never really got going after its slow start.
  • Special teams. The unforgettable play from this game was the attempted fake punt in the third quarter. In hindsight, of course it was a bad decision. At that point in the game, Georgia was stuck in neutral. It’s possible that the drive would have stalled out on the next set of downs even if Tereshinski had moved the chains. It’s hard to call it a turning point when the Vols led from start to finish, but the failed attempt and the resulting Tennessee scoring drive completely changed the approach to the fourth quarter.
  • Squandered opportunities. There was another special teams miscue that cost the Dawgs points. Georgia recovered a Tennessee fumble on the Vol 13-yard line and had a chance to take the lead with a touchdown. The Dawgs managed just one yard on the next three plays with a short run and two incompletions. To top it off, Andy Bailey shanked a 29-yard chip shot of a field goal that would have at least moved Georgia to within three points. Tennessee then went on a 10-play drive that ate up much of the third quarter. Georgia’s next possession ended with the fake punt, and it’s very likely that frustration over the failure of the previous drive led to the decision.

Post Georgia returns three starters this weekend

Wednesday September 26, 2012

If the return of Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo to the Georgia defense is still supposed to be some cryptic secret, it’s right up there with the release of the new iPhone as one of the worst-kept secrets of the year. They will play against Tennessee, and they will start as they’ve prepared to do since preseason camp opened. With these two elite players back on the field, how will it affect the defense we’ve seen since Buffalo, and how will the end of their suspensions grant Georgia the return of a third starter?

Ogletree’s return is clear enough. Plug him back in at ILB, and you have Herrera, Gilliard, and Robinson available to rotate in or start at the other ILB spot or even help at OLB if the situation requires. Regardless, those positions are more or less settled and now that much more deep.

The return of Rambo will have a potentially bigger impact on the composition of the defense. Sanders Commings has played in the past two games after serving his own two-game suspension. Commings, though, has played at safety, filling in for Rambo. Safety wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar position for Commings. He cross-trained between cornerback and safety in the spring and preseason of 2011. But when it came down to it, Commings earned the starting job at cornerback opposite Boykin and remained at the position for the entire 2011 season. The return of Rambo allows Georgia the flexibility to move Commings back to cornerback, his preferred position, where he’s an established starter.

Since Commings returned against FAU, Georgia’s nickel package has had three of the five defensive backs with less than a year of significant game experience at their position. Swann, a sophomore, played on special teams and in a reserve role as a true freshman in 2011. Mitchell was exclusively a wide receiver as a true freshman. Commings was a converted cornerback on a temp job at safety. With Rambo back in the lineup and Commings back to his usual position, the Dawgs go from only two of five defensive backs (again, in a nickel look) with significant experience to four out of five.

Commings moving back to cornerback also allows the coaches more options with Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell is coming along on defense, but he hasn’t made himself a clear choice ahead of Smith or Swann. Though Mitchell will still have a big role on defense, Georgia will likely use Commings, Smith, and Swann as the primary cornerbacks. That means more opportunities for Mitchell to work with the offense and an increased chance of seeing him for more than a play or two at receiver where he was prolific as a true freshman. It’s a minor point, but a modified role on defense might also have a small impact on Mitchell’s phyisical and mental readiness to field punts.

Post Georgia 48 – Vanderbilt 3: Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.

Tuesday September 25, 2012

If the 2011 Georgia game at Vanderbilt was a team doing all it could to keep a weaker team in the game, Saturday’s win was a blueprint for putting a weaker opponent away. If you had to come up with a way to keep an underdog at bay, you’d start with some of these:

  • Force the opponent to drive the field for its points. Until late in the 3rd quarter with the game well in hand, Vanderbilt’s best starting position was its own 26 yard line. The Commodores hit on the occasional pass, but their poor starting field position meant that even their best drives ended up outside of scoring position.
  • Avoid the devastating plays that sustain the underdog’s hope. Last year’s game offered no shortage of big plays keeping Vanderbilt in the game: the fake punt, the halfback pass for a touchdown, the kickoff returned for the touchdown, Rodgers’ 40-yard scramble, and the blocked punt. Georgia didn’t just reduce those plays on Saturday; they eliminated them. Vanderbilt got nothing outside of their conventional offense.
  • Take away what the opponent does best. Jordan Rodgers gave Georgia fits last season by adding a running and scrambling threat under center. Combined with the dangerous tailback Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt finished with 200 yards on the ground and hurt Georgia in the second half by breaking some long runs. Though Stacy finished with a respectable 83 yards on Saturday, Georgia held Rodgers to only 9 net rushing yards and the Vanderbilt team to only 106 total rushing yards. With Rodgers bottled up, the result was to force Vanderbilt to a more predictable game that did little damage.
  • Force the opponent to make a difficult and uncomfortable decision. Though Georgia’s passing game was productive a year ago, the relative lack of a rushing threat led to several drives stalling out. Georgia established the run early in Saturday’s game and gave Vanderbilt a dilemma: bring additional defenders to help an undersized defensive front against the run or keep them back to deal with a very accurate Aaron Murray. It was a no-win decision, and Georgia found success both running and passing as Vanderbilt struggled for answers.
  • Get touchdowns instead of field goals. Those stalled drives last year resulted in six Georgia field goal attempts. It was definitely important to get those points, but 12 points on those six trips into scoring range kept the deficit manageable for Vanderbilt. Georgia attempted no field goals in Saturday’s masterpiece.

It was unavoidable that composure would be a theme after all of the build-up to this game. Would Georgia be baited into the mental mistakes, turnovers, or dumb penalties that could keep an underdog like Vanderbilt hanging around? Would the “unfinished business” theme of a near-upset a year ago be enough to get Vanderbilt over the hump after its near-miss against South Carolina earlier this month?

Composure was a factor early in the game, but Vanderbilt was the team done in by a lack of composure. The Commodores had three penalties on their first drive that lasted only three plays. They had at least one penalty on each first quarter possession and were flagged a total of six times in the first period. Credit nerves, confusion caused by the Georgia defense, the active and vocal home Georgia crowd, or any combination of those three…Vanderbilt came out as the shakier team.

It was a different story for Georgia. The Dawgs had their share of penalties and even had an occasional mental lapse like the botched extra point snap or Mitchell’s shaky punt return decisions. More often than not they were able to put those mistakes aside and sustain drives. Aaron Murray, notorious for jittery starts, started this game a machine-like 11-for-11. Passes became a counterpunch for a running game that finished with over 300 yards and by halftime had surpassed last season’s 117 yards on the ground. The success of Georgia’s running game let the coaches use the passing game strategically rather than being forced into passing situations by down and distance.

The game showed Georgia what’s possible, and they’ll hear all week about the Georgia teams that came off similar complete games only to fall flat the next week. Good teams can put out efforts like that when they get the right motivation. Great teams find ways to sustain that high level of play over weeks at a time. That was almost too enjoyable to let go, but the SEC schedule requires it. On to a couple of bullets featuring several video clips from ESPN.

  • My spot in the east endzone is better to see some plays than others, but one thing I love seeing from that perspective is the pulling guard. If you saw a long run down the south sideline in the second quarter, odds are Dallas Lee had pulled out and was clearing the way. Georgia’s offensive line did well against an overmatched Vanderbilt front, and you see the results in the rushing totals and the time Murray had to throw. Line play often goes unnoticed unless something goes wrong, but that’s what I like about a well-designed run that pulls a lineman: everyone gets to see the athleticism of the big man hustling downfield and enjoying the reward of flattening some helpless defender.
  • Gurley’s touchdown run was a thing of beauty, and we’ll surely see it on the video board for the rest of the year. We saw Georgia continue to test the waters of the pistol formation, and they had better success on Saturday than they did against FAU. Gurley finished the run in impressive fashion, but his initial hole was opened by – wait for it – guard Chris Burnette pulling while the rest of the line blocked down.
  • Of course the pistol isn’t only a running formation. Here we have a play-action look that pulls the linebackers in and leaves an area roughly the size of Barrow County for Marlon Brown to settle in.
  • Speaking of Marlon Brown, in two SEC games he’s accounted for 13 catches, 220 yards, and three touchdowns. Let’s hope that form holds against his home-state school.
  • If there’s a Georgia player you never, ever want to leave unblocked, it’s Jarvis Jones.
  • It’s inconsequential in hindsight, but it was important at the time to just hold Vanderbilt to a field goal at the end of the first half. Vandy actually had a 2nd-and-5 inside the Georgia 10, but the defense forced the Commodores backwards. A touchdown there still would have left Georgia with a 20-point lead, but you’re not far away from the 23-7 scenario from which Vanderbilt came back a year ago. 27-3 kept the visitors from taking much momentum into halftime, and it didn’t take Georgia long to end all doubt in the third quarter.

Post Georgia – South Carolina under the lights on ESPN

Monday September 24, 2012

Georgia’s October 6th game at South Carolina will kick off at 7:00 p.m. ESPN will carry the game. It will be the first night game between the two since 2009 – a wild 41-37 Georgia win in Athens which also marks Georgia’s most recent win in the series. The teams last met at night in Columbia in 2006, an 18-0 Georgia victory.

As we expected, CBS went with LSU @ Florida for the 3:30 slot on October 6th. They’re both potentially huge matchups of undefeated teams, but the fact that CBS has yet to feature LSU or Florida played into the decision. CBS will have had South Carolina and Georgia in consecutive weeks.

Post Lessons from a narrow escape in Nashville

Thursday September 20, 2012

We’ve looked at the play-by-play and the stats from last year’s game at Vanderbilt, and is there anything we can apply to this weekend’s game?

  • It’s worth looking at who won’t be on the field. For Vanderbilt, they’ll miss outstanding linebacker Chris Marve. Versatile cornerback Casey Hayward is also gone. Georgia expects to be without Rambo again, and he was very active in the 2011 game.
  • Vanderbilt’s weapons to watch this weekend also showed out in the 2011 game. Zac Stacy has already rushed for 258 yards this year. Jordan Matthews leads the team in receiving. Andre Hal remains a threat on kick returns and brought one back 52 yards against South Carolina.
  • Jordan Rodgers remains largely the same threat he was last season – dangerous on the ground when defenses get caught cheating on Stacy, and he’s a bit better than he was, though still not great, at passing. The question though is whether Rodgers will play at all. Last week against Presyterian, Rodgers was benched in favor of Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels. The junior made his first start against 1-AA Presbyterian, and the 2009 Mountain West freshman of the year had a modest debut. Carta-Samuels completed 13-of-20 for 195 yards and 1 touchdown against the Blue Hose. He’s not nearly the running threat that Rodgers is, but Carta-Samuels seems to be a better passer. Vandy coach James Franklin won’t name a starter yet, but I would be surprised if it’s not Rodgers. He held things together during Vanderbilt’s comeback a year ago, and his running ability frustrated the Georgia defense. The alternative is giving Carta-Samuels his first SEC start on the road against an annoyed and capable Georgia defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some combination of the two in one of two scenarios. The first is in relief if Rodgers proves ineffective early just as Franklin pulled Larry Smith early in the 2011 game. The second scenario is as a change of pace if the game is relatively close. If the Georgia defense gets tired chasing Rodgers and Stacy around, bring in Carta-Samuels to switch gears and force the Dawgs to react in the passing game.
  • Georgia’s running game figures to be more of a factor this year. You have to like the combination of Gurley, Marshall, and Malcome over a suspended Crowell, Samuel, and Thomas. South Carolina’s Lattimore broke 100 yards against Vandy in the season opener, and that would be a good benchmark for Georgia’s young backs.
  • Three of Murray’s incompletions a year ago were on screens and passes to backs. Screens and passes like 344-Fullback remain an adventure this year. Can Georgia finally figure out how to throw the ball to the backs?
  • Georgia’s six field goal attempts a year ago stand out. It’s tough to quibble with 33 points in an SEC game, but the six field goals represented opportunities to put a lot more distance between the teams before Vanderbilt made a game of it. It’s bad enough that two of the longer field goals were missed; there was also an interception at the Vandy goal line. Georgia has done a good job cashing in on drives this year, but hopefully Murray’s interception in the FAU endzone last week was just a case of sloppiness after the game was in hand.
  • Most of all, Georgia has to keep its cool. Even with a slow start, Georgia was on its way to building a nice lead. That changed as they – players and coaches alike – let the emotions of the game get away from them. The Dawgs bit on trick plays, got sloppy on defensive position which allowed Rodgers to do damage, and got baited into a total of 11 penalties including several personal fouls. Both teams are more or less saying the right things, but the fact that the ugliness of last season’s game has been topic #1 this week will have both teams on edge. The Georgia fans, with the added time to prepare for a night game, won’t let the team forget either. Georgia can focus that intensity and play as they did in a grudge match against Auburn last year, but they can’t let the emotions turn into the undisciplined and reckless style of play we saw in Nashville.

The Dawgs followed the how-to-keep-a-lesser-opponent-around playbook to perfection in Nashville. They settled for field goals, failed to cash in on other chances, and made the mental mistakes that allowed a team that was 11-of-31 passing the ball to end up with 28 points against one of the SEC’s better defenses. Fortunately the offense was just productive enough to overcome the meltdown. Georgia’s attention to detail and discipline will be tested in their home SEC opener. If Vanderbilt is forced to drive for their points, they’ll struggle to keep up. If Georgia lets the bad blood get to them again, they’ll be vulnerable to the same defensive miscues and special teams breakdowns that kept a mediocre team in the game last season. It’s a good exam for the coaches in the way they prepare for the first of several highly-charged games over the rest of the season, and it’s also a good exam for the leadership on the team in how they spot and reign in teammates who lose their edge.

Post Looking back at Georgia-Vanderbilt 2011: The Stats

Thursday September 20, 2012

We’ve looked back at the game’s ebb-and-flow, and here’s how the numbers came out.

Georgia passing:

Aaron Murray had a fair game with 22 completions on 38 attempts (58%), 326 yards (8.58/att), and three touchdowns to one interception. His first quarter fit the “slow start” sterotype with 2-of-5 passing for 20 yards. His first sustained run of success came late in the first half on Georgia’s second touchdown drive. Murray was 5-of-7 for 60 yards on the up-tempo drive.

Georgia rushing:

The Dawgs managed only 117 yards on the ground. Samuel led the team with 53 yards on 15 carries. Crowell, suspended for the first part of the game, added 35 yards on 10 carries with most of his yardage coming on a single 24-yard carry on a second quarter field goal drive. Carlton Thomas contributed 18 yards, primarily on Georgia’s first scoring drive late in the first quarter.

Georgia receiving:

Marlon Brown was the star for Georgia with two long touchdown receptions and 121 yards. Brown recorded over half his 2011 yardage and two of his three 2011 touchdowns in this game. Michael Bennett actually led the team with seven receptions. King and Charles each contributed five catches.

Vanderbilt passing:

Larry Smith started the game and was pulled after throwing 5-for-10, 24 yards, and two interceptions. Through Rodgers proved far more dangerous running the ball, he was even worse than Smith throwing it. Rodgers only completed 4 of 19 passes for 47 yards, and he threw the late interception to Rambo. As a team, Vandy was 11-of-31 (35%) for 149 yards with one touchdown on three interceptions. Two of Vanderbilt’s 11 completions came on the trick plays that led to their first touchdown, and those two completions – thrown by a punter and tailback – were Vanderbilt’s longest pass plays of the day.

Vanderbilt running:

The Commodores did most of their damage on the ground. Zac Stacy had a solid 97 yards on 17 carries and punched in a second-half touchdown. They had a nice 29-yard run using cornerback Casey Hayward that was wasted. Rodgers made his biggest impact here in the running game. He carried 11 times and finished with 80 yards, 40 of which came on a single run in the 4th quarter. The team combined for 200 yards on the ground.

Vanderbilt receiving:

Vandy had no receiver with more than 46 yards, and the receiver with the second-highest yardage total was the long-snapper.

Special teams:

Neither team did much in the punt return game, though each team recovered a blocked/muffed punt. The difference really shows up in kickoff returns. Vanderbilt got 210 yards on 8 returns, highlighted of course by Hal’s touchdown. Boykin averaged 18 yards per return on four inconsequential returns for Georgia. Six of Georgia’s drives ended with field goal attempts, and Walsh made four of them, missing on kicks from 50 and 42 yards out.

Other stats of note:

  • Georgia found themselves in a nail-biter despite winning the turnover battle 4-1 (including Vandy’s muffed punt).
  • The game got chippy at times, and Georgia was penalized 11 times for 89 yards. Vandy earned 50 penalty yards on 7 flags.
  • Vanderbilt was only 4-of-12 on third down, but they were a perfect 2-of-2 on fourth down, including the fake punt.

Post Looking back at Georgia-Vanderbilt 2011

Thursday September 20, 2012

Since this game is so much in the news this week, we might as well go back and re-examine what all the fuss was about. (If you’d like, you can watch the complete game here.) The game is mostly remembered for its ending and the tense fourth quarter following a pair of Vanderbilt comebacks. The first half was a story of missed opportunities by Georgia on offense, defense, and special teams to put the game away early and make it nothing more than a ledger entry in a lopsided series. Vanderbilt, to their credit, wouldn’t go away, and Georgia opened the door just enough for their SEC East hopes to come down to the final play.

First Quarter (UGA 0 – VAN 0)

Though the game was scoreless through one quarter, each team missed a scoring opportunity. After Georgia forced a 3-and-out on Vanderbilt’s first possession, the Dawgs took over with good field position. Georgia converted a pair of first downs, but a sack of Aaron Murray all but ended Georgia’s first drive. The Dawgs had to settle for a 50-yard field goal attempt, and Walsh missed.

Vandy took over and responded with their own drive, going deep into Georgia’s end on a trio of long runs. Defensive back Casey Hayward’s 29-yard run set the Commodores up with a 1st-and-goal from the Georgia 6, but Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass in the endzone from Vandy starting QB Larry Smith. Disaster was averted, but the Dawgs couldn’t do anything with the turnover. A 3-and-out gave the ball back to Vandy. Georgia’s defense stiffened, and Abry Jones came up with a big deflection to force a punt.

Georgia’s ground game began to get in gear. Carlton Thomas and Aaron Murray combined for six consecutive carries and 28 yards to end the first quarter. The Dawgs were on the move and had crossed midfield.

Second Quarter (UGA 20 – VAN 7)

Georgia’s success on the ground was short-lived. A third down pass to Orson Charles came up short of the sticks, and the Dawgs faced another long field goal attempt. Walsh knocked this one through from 53 yards out. (3-0 Georgia)

The Dawgs were given a golden opportunity when Shawn Williams intercepted another Smith pass and returned it to the Vanderbilt 24. Murray threw three straight incompletions under pressure, and the opportunity was wasted when Walsh missed his second field goal attempt of the day – this one from 42 yards out.

Bulldog special teams then gave the offense yet another scoring opportunity. After the defense forced a 3-and-out, the Commodores muffed a punt. The offense took over on Vanderbilt’s 20. Murray wasted no time and connected with Tavarres King on a 20-yard touchdown pass. (10-0 Georgia)

Vanderbilt made a season-changing move at this point and inserted Jordan Rodgers at quarterback following Smith’s ineffective start. Though Rodgers started off slowly himself, Vandy was able to keep the game from getting out of hand with a pair of well-executed trick plays. Georgia forced another 3-and-out following their touchdown, and Vandy faced a 4th-and-13 from their own 22. The Commodores shifted suddently out of their base punt formation which resulted in an unorthodox formation in which the long-snapper became eligible. The center, Andrew East, released off to the right and was wide-open for a 35-yard pass from the punter. Vanderbilt went back into the bag of tricks two plays later when tailback Zac Stacy threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews. It was a massive swing in momentum – Vandy went from being down 10 and facing a 4th-and-long on their own end to closing the gap to three points. (10-7 Georgia)

Fortunately for Georgia the momentum swing was only temporary. Vandy’s subsequent kickoff was short and out of bounds. Georgia took over near midfield and put the ball in the hands of Isaiah Crowell. Crowell contributed 34 yards on the ground to set Georgia up with a 1st-and goal, but the drive stalled. Walsh chipped in from 28 yards out, and Georgia had somewhat answered. (13-7 Georgia)

Vanderbilt once more went 3-and-out, and Abry Jones had his second big third down deflection. Georgia took over with under two minutes remaining in the half and now leaned on the passing game. Murray went 5-for-7 on a quick 60-yard drive that ended on a 27-yard touchdown strike to Marlon Brown. Georgia enjoyed their biggest lead of the game so far at 20-7. A personal foul against Shawn Williams set Vandy up near midfield for a Hail Mary attempt just before the clock ran out, but Ray Drew sacked Rodgers, forced a fumble, and recovered the ball to end the half.

Third Quarter (UGA 26 – VAN 21)

Georgia took the second half kickoff and put together a five-minute drive that went as far as the Vanderbilt 13. Samuel was stuck for a five-yard loss on second down, and another stalled drive resulted in another field goal attempt. Walsh handled the 36-yard attempt, and Georgia’s lead grew to 23-7.

Vanderbilt struck again with another big special teams play to wrest momentum back in their favor. Andre Hal took Walsh’s kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown. (23-14 Georgia)

The Dawgs turned to Murray again to begin their response. The sophomore QB completed four passes without an incompletion and added another 8 yards on the ground to move the Dawgs inside the Vanderbilt 25. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re correct: Georgia’s drive ended there, and Walsh came on for his sixth field goal attempt. He knocked a 44-yard field goal through, and Georgia increased its lead to 26-14.

For the first time in the game, the Bulldog defense started to wilt and could not get off the field. Vandy responded with a 13-play drive taking up over 6 minutes largely using Rodgers and Stacy. Rodgers converted three third downs on the drive, two through the air and one on the ground on a 3rd-and-7 from the Georgia 10. The Commodores punched it in from one yard out, and Georgia’s lead was suddenly back to less than a touchdown. The long drive all but ended the quarter, and a holding penalty on the kickoff made Georgia start the next series inside their own 10.

Fourth Quarter (UGA 33 – VAN 28 final)

Though the Dawgs started in the shadow of their own goalposts at the end of the third quarter, it didn’t take them long to turn the tables. Murray hit Bennett for 16 yards to end the third quarter. Facing a third down from their own 25, Murray found Marlon Brown streaking down the right sideline for Brown’s second touchdown reception of the game – this one a 75-yard strike. Georgia was back to a two-possession lead early in the fourth quarter. (33-21 Georgia)

The Commodores again capitalized on their new-found success against Georgia’s defense. Facing a 2nd-and-21 following a holding penalty, Rodgers scrambled for 40 yards down to the Georgia 30. A defensive holding penalty against Georgia moved the chains on another third down, and Stacy capped off the drive with a 19-yard burst to give the Commodores their second touchdown in as many drives. (33-28 Georgia)

With over nine minutes remaining, Vanderbilt had pulled to within five again. The teams traded punts, and a fumble by Rodgers pinned Vandy back near their goal line. Their punt gave Georgia the ball near midfield, and the Dawgs had an opportunity for a short drive to build their lead. A Murray completion to Bennett set the Dawgs up on the Vanderbilt 25, but a pair of Richard Samuel rushes went backwards. Murray went for the endzone on third down and was intercepted at the Vandy goal line.

Vandy punched the ball out of danger on a pair of Rodgers runs. Rodgers then tried a long pass down the middle, and he was intercepted by Bacarri Rambo. Georgia got the ball back near midfield with just over a minute remaining, and one first down would have ended the game. The Dawgs immediately shot themselves in the foot with a substitution penalty. Georgia then ran Samuel three times for a net loss of two yards. After running the game clock down to 15 seconds, Georgia took a timeout to set up a punt on 4th-and-17.

On a play that’s still probably very fresh and stomach-turning in the minds of most Georgia fans, Vanderbilt was able to block the punt. Butler’s quick reaction likely prevented Vanderbilt from walking the blocked punt in for the win. The recovered punt gave Vanderbilt new life in Georgia’s end of the field with seven seconds remaining. Rambo broke up Rodger’s first shot at the endzone. On the final play of the game, Rodgers was forced to dump the ball off to an underneath receiver, and Georgia’s defense stopped him well short of the goal line. A very tense and emotional final few minutes after a back-and-forth game boiled over into a verbal confrontation on the field involving coaches and players as a relieved but shaken Georgia crowd filed out.

Post The Sanford video board needs a TV-MA rating

Tuesday September 18, 2012

I was going to put this in the recap post, but it didn’t really fit. There seems to be a clear and deliberate effort by the administration to improve the experience inside Sanford Stadium. They’ve take advantage of new SEC policies and are showing more replays. The scoreboard is doing a good job keepng up with national and SEC scores. Social media has a presence now. We respect the attention to recycling and litter management (though the whole pass-bottles-down-the-row thing was awkward and unsanitary.) I appreciate the positive direction of these little tweaks.

That brings me to the look-ins from other games on the video board. I thought I’d love this. We know that teams are now competing for attendence against the home experience and ubiquitous TV coverage. Sure enough, it was cool to see how Stanford went ahead of USC. Georgia’s reserves were even watching that one during a very late stoppage. Kentucky’s overtime flop was a shared cringe. So far, so good.

But then there’s the Tennessee-Florida game. With Arkansas rendered irrelevant, the game in Knoxville was the biggest SEC game of the week. It makes sense that we’d want to see what was going on. Fans were checking their phones for the score in between updates. We cared.

Still it bugged me that two of our divisional rivals got that kind of billing in our stadium. Maybe it was the incongruity of sitting in our hallowed stadium enjoying a win by the Dawgs and seeing our huge HD board – the same that might’ve just showed a replay of a nice Gurley run or Bennett catch – used to broadcast the celebrations of big plays by two teams we wished could both lose. A look-in at Florida’s late game-clinching scores gave me no joy…nausea perhaps.

I fully admit this just might be a me thing. This infusion of technology should be right down my alley, and it surprised me how turned off I was at giving a Gator win such exposure. I do hope they are more judicious about the look-ins during more contested conference games when every bit of crowd and player focus needs to be on the action between the hedges. The administration is right to try to enhance the value of the ever-increasing cost of a ticket, but at the same time the stadium isn’t our living room; our role and experience is different and more active than someone passively watching the game(s) at home. I suppose I’ll get used to it, but some schools only deserve a place on our video board during our highlights.

Post Dawgs return to CBS for Tennessee game

Tuesday September 18, 2012

Georgia’s September 29th game against Tennessee will mark the Dawgs’ first 3:30 CBS appearance of the season. It’s not a huge surprise as there aren’t many other interesting SEC games beyond Arkansas-Texas A&M, and there’s not much shine left on that one.

Looking ahead a week to the South Carolina game, it’s more likely that CBS will choose LSU @ Florida. Though the Georgia @ South Carolina game is a big one, Florida-LSU will likely feature a cross-divisional battle of undefeated teams. Florida has Kentucky and a bye week, and LSU faces Auburn and Towson over the next two weeks. Georgia and South Carolina will have each had an appearance on CBS, and it seems unlikely that CBS would leave a popular highly-ranked team like LSU on the shelf for another week even if the Dawgs and Gamecocks also remain undefeated.

A big matchup like Georgia-South Carolina won’t fall to the 12:21 slot, so we might be looking at the 4th night game in 5 weeks for the trip to the other Columbia.

Post Georgia 56 – FAU 20: Taste the rainbow

Tuesday September 18, 2012

If you left Saturday’s game concerned about the defense, you either had money on the 40-something point spread or you didn’t watch the Missouri game. Georgia, starting a pair of true freshmen in the front seven and a cornerback at safety, figured things out pretty quickly and played lights out in the second half. Against Buffalo we saw a bit of disinterest and lackluster effort in the first half. That was a little alarming for a team that had been focused on the possibilities of this season for months. The early defensive struggles against FAU had nothing to do with effort or focus, and you only had to watch Shawn Williams for a few plays to get that. Like a holding call on Burnette that came after he had driven his man 20 yards downfield, you can live with mistakes of over-aggression a lot more than you can a lack of effort.

Georgia’s piecemeal secondary was tested early and gave up several big pass plays. There was confusion and a little finger-pointing as assignments were figured out on the fly with predictable results. The secondary wasn’t helped by the lack of pressure from a pass rush that typically used no more than four defenders. The base defense rarely changed much with a lot of nickel that put Commings as a lone deep safety and even some dime that had Norman in as a second deep safety.

This isn’t the defense we’ll see against Tennessee or even Vandy for that matter, so you can’t evaluate much based on what we saw. There were still a couple of things I took away:

  • Malcolm Mitchell is still “new” to the cornerback position. He has great skills that are evident in man coverage, but zone assignments are still a work in progress. Combine that with the relative inexperience of Swann and Commings at their respective positions, and you had three of the five guys in a nickel package learning not only their position but also how to play as a unit with other inexperienced guys.
  • Commings played out of his usual position, but it reminds us that there will still be an adjustment when Rambo and Ogletree return. Even though the suspended players have and will get plenty of practice time, it’s another thing to adjust the instincts of the other defenders that have developed over the first third of the season. This will be worth watching early on against Tennessee as the defense adjusts to a new (and hopefully permanent) normalcy.
  • Vasser, as you’d expect, had fewer issues and some nice plays returning to his usual position.
  • Though shaky early on against the pass, the run defense was fine. FAU gained 43 yards on one carry and was held to under 92 yards on 37 other runs (under 2.5/run). That 43-yard touchdown came as two defenders, including a freshman, ended up engaged with the same blocker and left a gap wide open.
  • I was surprised not to see more Corey Moore at safety especially as the game became decided in the 3rd quarter. I understand that Commings will likely be the answer at safety again against Vanderbilt, so it was important to get him as much work as possible. Still, not much has been done until late in the 4th quarter to develop that depth at safety whether it’s Moore or Harvey-Clemons.

On to the rest of the game…

  • At the heart of the “old man football” kerfuffle last week was a contrast of styles on offense. Missouri’s spread versus Georgia’s pro-style. Old, boring, predictable, bland, vanilla…all criticisms we’ve heard before, especially from our own fans. Michael Bennett was asked about playing in a “vanilla” offense, and he replied, “If we execute like we know how to do, we can make a vanilla offense look rainbow.” We were treated to 713 yards worth of ROYGBIV on Saturday.
  • Heavy favorites don’t often show much in games like this unless they’re trying to work on new concepts. So there was the pistol formation – one of the few truly interesting developments from this game. The pistol isn’t new – its roots in Division 1 go back to Nevada in the middle of the last decade. It’s also not a gimmick – we’ve seen it used in offenses as diverse as the Air Raid to Alabama’s stodgy offense. It’s primarily a running formation, though of course there are passes and play-action built in. (If you want a nice introduction to the theory behind the pistol, start here.) For a team with a nice set of tailbacks and a quarterback that can run, the pistol is a very nice tool to have in the shed. It will be an interesting subplot to see how Georgia continues to use the pistol and how (or if) Bobo riffs off of the basics with some play-action or keepers for Murray.
  • Gurley’s popularity is well-earned, and in every game Gurley has done something to wow us. Against FAU Gurley’s downfield vision and speed through the secondary on his touchdown run was breathtaking. I was glad then to see Marshall get his chance to shine as well. We saw several good examples of the speed and shiftiness that brought him accolades as a prospect. Unlike, say, a quarterback controversy, we’re fortunate that this isn’t an either-or situation. Each had similar stats on 10 carries apiece. It’s going to be fun to watch this combination develop. And then you bring in a legitimate SEC back like Malcome when a defense has chased Gurley and Marshall for a while…
  • Speaking of backs, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see at least a late carry or two for Samuel. After the play he made at Missouri, he deserved to have his name called and the fans given the chance to show their gratitude. That’s not too much to ask for someone named a captain for the game.
  • As raw as he is at cornerback, Malcolm Mitchell the receiver is just fine, thanks.
  • Michael Bennett has become such an important receiver that his few drops at Missouri were noteworthy (and unusual). The FAU game was his moment to shine, and he showed everything from agility laying out on a 3rd down reception to keep Georgia’s first drive alive to speed as he outran the FAU secondary on a long touchdown. We continue to see the depth of the receivers – last week it was Brown’s turn. Wooten had the impressive TD catch in the opener and showed his speed on a reverse against FAU. Conley did what he does best – beat isolated 1-on-1 coverage to set up a score. King is always there for a long reception. Even Justin Scott-Wesley got in on the act this game and raised some eyebrows with his speed on one of LeMay’s few highlights.
  • Jerome Bettis would have been proud of Georgia’s offense – half of Georgia’s scores came from runs of 1 or 2 yards out after someone else got the ball down to the goal line. Georgia’s quarterbacks had more rushing touchdowns than the tailbacks.
  • Speaking of the quarterbacks, we’re at an uneasy truce with the backup situation. Give LeMay time in his current role with the understanding that the redshirt would come off of Mason if Murray were unable to go for any extended length of time. Fine. We’d prefer not to think about that scenario right now because either alternative – the shaky LeMay or Mason coming out of cold storage – isn’t reassuring.
  • The most impressive part of the offense’s record-breaking display was the efficiency. Murray was as effective out of the gate as he’s ever been. Even on the drive ended by Lynch’s fumble, Georgia was moving right down the field again. Consider the competition, but we’ve seen much worse execution against comparable teams.
  • Can you quibble with coaching decisions in a game like this? Letting 20 seconds run off the clock before deciding to call a timeout with a minute remaining in the first half would have received more scrutiny had FAU not moved the chains.
  • Every touchdown is worthy of celebrating, but I hope everyone noticed the unfiltered joy the team showed on Lynch’s touchdown. They campaigned for the review, and they made sure the senior wouldn’t forget his first career touchdown. It was a classic tight end rumble worthy of Mark Bavaro, and it took a good deal of skill to stay in-bounds and extend the ball over the pylon while holding off a would-be tackler.
  • The key block on Lynch’s touchdown? WR Rhett McGowan. McGowan also had a big block on Gurley’s first touchdown against Buffalo. He added the lone bright spot from the punt return game against FAU. I’m sure he’d like a few passes thrown his way, but he’s making some nice plays when given an opportunity to contribute.
  • The return game was the sore spot on an otherwise good night from the special teams. Coverage was fine, and kickoffs alternated between touchbacks and inconsequential returns. Pooch punts weren’t as successful this time, but one was unlucky as it bounced to the right and into the endzone instead of out of bounds. Morgan didn’t have any field goal opportunities, but extra points were much less of an adventure for the first time. Credit to Geathers for blocking an extra point. The return game is worrisome. Georgia hasn’t settled on a punt returner, though Swann seems to be the default. The opportunity was there for a few longer returns, but the punts were either fumbled or too long based on where the returner set up.
  • Lastly – and this has nothing at all to do with the FAU game – a tip of the cap to Michael Elkon for an August comparison of 2012 USC to 2008 Georgia. SoCal didn’t have the defensive meltdown that Georgia experienced a few times in 2008 – Stanford isn’t that potent of an offense. The Trojans just couldn’t overcome a poor game from its offense. The offensive skill players are great, but the core is hollow and the defense is soft. Been there.

Post Georgia 41 – Missouri 20: No loss for old men

Sunday September 9, 2012

“No man loves life like him that’s growing old.” – Sophocles

Forgive us if we go a little overboard with the Old Man Football thing. Georgia’s style of play has been mocked even within our own fan base. Calling it “old man football” distilled years of familiar criticism into one pithy phrase. Boring, predictable, not creative – you didn’t have to go to Missouri to hear what you’ve heard weekly in Sanford Stadium. So to hear it so bluntly from a Missouri defensive lineman was a bit of an “only we can do that to our pledges” moment. “Blame Bobo” on the message boards? Preach on, brother. Old man football from some Big 12 castoff? Oh HELL no.

It helped that Sheldon Richardson’s infamous quote not only hit on a very sensitive spot for Georgia fans, it also summed up the biggest storyline in the SEC this weekend. A&M with its “air raid” offense and Missouri’s spread were new looks for many of their new conference peers, and both fans and pundits wondered how the new styles would fare in the defense-minded SEC. So both the A&M/Florida and the Georgia/Missouri games were, quite unfairly, presented as tests for one style against the other. Would the new guys come in and teach the stodgy SEC how to play offense, or would the old guard put the whippersnappers in their place?

The Georgia/Missouri game had a lot less to do with a clash of styles as it had to do with a clash of programs. I don’t mean to discount the importance of an effective scheme – on both sides of the ball. But many of the reasons why Georgia won this game happened long before the Dawgs flew to Columbia. It’s recruiting that brings top talent like Jarvis Jones, Aaron Murray, and Marlon Brown into the program. It’s a refined approach to conditioning that allows Georgia to play with a limited roster and still be strong enough to make big plays in the fourth quarter. It’s the experience of playing in games with this kind of build-up several times a season.

Missouri isn’t far away. They’ll be just fine as a mid-tier SEC team this season, and their offense will give several opponents fits. As a program, Georgia is just positioned better now. The Dawgs will face bigger challenges this season, but it’s reassuring to see that we seem to have the team we thought we did. That Georgia would lean on its defense and Aaron Murray couldn’t have been closer to the preseason consensus. With a retooled offensive line and new tailbacks, this was the formula that would have to be successful in order for Georgia to live up to preseason expectations. The good news is that the formula seems to work, and it should only improve as suspended defenders return.

The mandate going forward is to keep the fire lit. It wasn’t difficult to find motivation to turn “old man football” into “grown man football.” Grown men show up for work even on bad days. The win doesn’t give Georgia anything – it just means that all of the goals are still in reach. With all of the missing players and a hostile environment very much against them, the simple fact of leaving Missouri with intact goals is very much worth celebrating. The team deserves a big and appreciative crowd next week regardless of the opponent, and I hope Georgia fans come through.

More from the game…

  • Richard Samuel has done it again. A year ago he was the improbable hero of the Florida game. This year, without seeing time on offense or defense, he found a way to come up big on special teams. His stop on the fake punt wasn’t easy – he had to shed blockers as the play came to him. He used the skills he developed several seasons ago in a short stint at linebacker and made a game-changing tackle.
  • Samuel’s stop came at a time when neither team could grab momentum. Missouri opened the second half scoring. Georgia answered and converted the try to tie it up. Missouri responded with a field goal. Georgia came back and took the lead for the first time. The Dawgs had finally forced a punt, and giving up the fake would have been deflating for a defense that had just made its first big stop of the second half. Instead, the defense didn’t allow another point.
  • That back-and-forth was a key theme in the game. Georgia didn’t come out and take the crowd out of the game, but their ability to answer Missouri score-for-score kept the Tigers from getting on a roll and kept the crowd from becoming more than a nuisance. It’s a credit to the coaches and the leadership that panic nor frustration set in. They worked through the stagnant start and were prepared when Missouri finally wore down.
  • Georgia struggled at times with Missouri’s tempo, but it’s important that three of Missouri’s five scoring chances ended with field goal attempts rather than touchdowns. The field goal attempts all represented big stops: the two in the first half were actually three-and-outs as the defense stood their ground following turnovers. The second half attempt came after a long 13-play drive when it seemed that Missouri would take momentum back after Georgia tied it at 17. The field goal gave the lead back to the Tigers, but holding them to 3 instead of 7 put the Dawgs in a position to take the lead with Georgia’s next score.
  • As much trouble as the inside linebackers had last week with Buffalo’s running game, they responded in a big way at Missouri. The Tigers broke only two runs over 15 yards with their dangerous spread running game. Franklin was held to a Dayne-like 25 yards on 20 carries. Robinson was very effective at getting to Franklin on designated runs. Herrera was extremely active, especially in the first half. Their efforts helped keep Missouri fairly one-dimensional and kept Georgia from being burned when the outstanding pressure flushed Franklin.
  • Georgia’s inexperience at a few key positions showed. Bowman was burned for a long TD. Missouri’s more successful passes were slants into the interior of the secondary. Theus struggled with penalties and protection. Morgan’s kicking was an adventure, but the kicks he made were huge. I’d even include Mitchell in there – he’s not exactly seasoned as a punt returner and made a very poor decision that fortunately didn’t result in Missouri points. But for the most part, Georgia covered their areas of inexperience well. Along those lines, Mitchell’s debut as a cornerback was quietly successful.
  • I get on Murray probably more than he deserves, but the problems hooking up with passes to the running backs – be they screens or fullback releases – continue to confound me.
  • Murray faced a ton of pressure, and several of his throws ended up being blind in the general direction of where someone should be while Murray took a good lick. As the game wore on Murray became a lot better against the pressure. Missouri took away the outside routes and the run, and the deep ball was impossible under that pressure. Murray did well taking the opportunities presented by the pressure, and Bennett and Brown were excellent at finding those holes. The quick underneath route to King that set up a score was the perfect read for the situation.
  • Welcome back, Marlon Brown. We saw a glimpse of his potential at Vanderbilt last year. If that’s the new norm, it gives Georgia a lot more flexibility in how they use Malcolm Mitchell. In much the same way we’d burn Knowshon’s 2006 redshirt in hindsight, it’s a shame that Brown didn’t redshirt in 2009.
  • We have a tight end sighting! Jay Rome had the first reception of the season by a tight end, and it was a big one that converted a 2nd and 11 in the fourth quarter. As with the Buffalo game, the tight ends are spending most of their time helping with protection.
  • The penalties were painful. Many seemed to be the product of the environment and a young line. Missouri smartly used movement and shifts to add to the crowd noise to draw several false starts. It would be something to worry about if it continues, but Georgia has three home games to work those problems out before their next road test.
  • Generally Georgia seemed well-prepared for the game. There were breakdowns on defense that resulted in points, but I don’t think they saw anything that surprised them. The offense wasn’t clean, but, again, there were answers to what Missouri presented. Better line play and fewer drops would’ve made Murray and the coaches look a lot smarter.

Post Georgia 45 – Buffalo 23: Our Team, Our Time, Some Regrets

Tuesday September 4, 2012

We’ve had some time to re-watch the game a time or two and think about things after one of the more oppressively hot days we’ve seen in Sanford Stadium. In no particular order…

Above all things – score, stats, or stars – the thing I was looking for on Saturday was whether the team looked like it bought its own talk. Whether it played like a team excited about the possibilites that inspired this season’s player-driven motto. I thought back to an unhappy Mark Richt from August who warned his team after a lackluster scrimmage about looking like an 8-4 team. “I didn’t see a team that was ready to be great,” Richt explained back on August 15th. That would serve as a pretty good analysis for the season opener too.

Before we jump off a bridge, it’s clear that Buffalo didn’t have Georgia’s full attention. The Dawgs have been preparing for Missouri long before this week. As Seth Emerson noted, that’s a problem in that a mobile quarterback shouldn’t have given Georgia fits. A better-than-expected < ahref="http://www.ubbullrun.com/2012/8/20/3255847/buffalo-bulls-unit-preview-offensive-line">Buffalo offensive line was as much a part of the problem as Zordich’s mobility.

If there’s a good angle to Georgia’s struggles, it’s that we’re talking about the defense. If it were Georgia’s offense that struggled, we’d be validating preseason concerns about the offensive line and freshman running backs. But we’re talking about the defense. It’s not a question of hoping these guys can play better. We know they can – we’ve seen it, and we saw it during that third quarter. They still have to get it done in practice this week and play with proper focus, but at least we’re not dealing with a lost cause.

Redzone defense was a topic of preseason conversation. It wasn’t a point of pride on Saturday. Buffalo drove into the redzone four times, and they came away with points each time – three were touchdowns. The lone field goal came at the end of the first half when time was a factor.

Of all the suspended players, Ogletree seemed to be missed the most. That’s not to say all was smooth sailing in the secondary. Several of Georgia’s biggest problems on defense – the quarterback escaping containment and the pass coverage across the middle – were areas where you’d expect middle linebackers to have an impact.

On offense, most of the attention – deservedly so – is going to SEC Co-Freshman of the Week Todd Gurley. It’s a debut for the ages. It’s worth noting that before Gurley broke his long touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Gurley and Marshall each had 45 yards. I was as pleased with one freshman as I was the other. If Marshall could have just held on to that nice pass from Wooten. That was a neat play – it was a little odd seeing Marshall in the game at the same time as another back – Malcome I believe. Marshall was lined up offset, almost like a fullback. He released through the line and was able to get wide open for Wooten’s pass.

Georgia completed no passes to tight ends. That’s not a criticism – they were often kept in to block. But it’s something that’s only happened three times over the previous three seasons. It’s an adjustment after three years of the White/Charles combination, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lynch have a bigger role in the passing game soon.

King very quietly had a great game. We’ll take 6 catches, 117 yards, and a touchdown any day. Georgia was without its #2 and #3 receivers, and the tight ends didn’t figure much into the passing game. Despite that, King was able to get open and have a big day. He frequently got behind the Buffalo secondary and could have had an even bigger day with more accurate passes. The receivers as a whole played well, and there was some great blocking going on, especially on those quick passes to the sideline. Rhett McGowan had a nice block to finish off Gurley’s first touchdown.

We’re more than pleased with zero turnovers. Murray wasn’t at his most accurate, but he didn’t make many dangerous or ill-advised throws. The freshmen backs held the ball, and there were only a couple of obvious drops. Generally speaking, when the pass was close, it was usually caught.

Speaking of Murray, he had an ambitious goal of completing somewhere between 65 and 70 percent of his passes. 15-of-26 isn’t much progress towards that goal. It’s closer to Murray’s 59.1% average last year. A lot of his incompletions came on longer pass attempts, but you can’t write off the deep ball as a weakness. The passes to Wooten and King were just fine. If it’s just a question of excitement or nerves, it’s not a new problem. It is something that could keep Murray from his goal though. He did do well to hold on to the ball when pressured – something that was an issue during the preseason scrimmages.

On the flip side of the turnover margin, it was mildly disappointing not to come away with any takeaways. The defense had a couple of chances at interceptions, and the best chance might’ve been taken away by borderline offensive pass interference. Jarvis Jones also dropped a ball thrown right into his chest, but it’s tough to catch those passes in close quarters when going full speed at the quarterback. A lack of pressure kept Zordich from making many poor throws into coverage, and he had time to convert third downs on scoring drives. Georgia clamping down on those third downs was the biggest difference from half to half.

I don’t care much about style points, but that’s the game, and they do matter. There’s a bigger reason why the game needed to be put away in the first half, and you can sum it up by John Theus being in the game in the fourth quarter when he got injured. Murray was still in there for Gurley’s emphatic touchdown run. At that point, I was just happy not to be sweating a close game like we were at halftime. Still, this was one of only a few opportunities the team would have to develop game experience for a lot of the younger guys who will be expected to contribute soon. LeMay hadn’t played in a game since 2009 and is expected to be the backup this year but only got one series. Harvey-Clemons saw very little time. Some of the younger offensive linemen began working in during the fourth quarter, but starters were still in there when Theus was injured. (By the way, the reserve line did a nice job blocking Gurley’s long run.) That was a missed opportunity, but hopefully a few other early games will offer a chance to get these young guys in.