As we sit watching a great Chick-fil-A Bowl, I realize that I haven’t written much anything on our own bowl game. There’s been some great analysis elsewhere, but we know this team so well that the keys become either the obvious (turnovers) or the unpredictable (motivation).
You never know about the motivation thing until they get to hitting. Both teams will say and have said the right things. It is strange, though, how much Georgia’s motivation has been questioned. It’s the age-old question about whether it’s easier to shake off a blowout or a heartbreaking loss, but both teams bring baggage into this game. Georgia of course came up yards short of the national title game, but Nebraska got run over by an underdog they had already beaten with a trip to the Rose Bowl at stake. Their reward is a trip back to the same bowl they got last season – will they be motivated to return?
When we last saw these two teams, Nebraska was getting blown out by a middling Big 10 team, and the Dawgs went toe-to-toe with the defending national champion. That made the Capital One Bowl seem like a mismatch, but it’s a lot more likely that neither team will play as they did in their championship games. Nebraska is much better than their showing in Indianapolis, and Georgia will find it tough to sustain the high level of play with which they finished the season after a month of holidays, family time, and other distractions.
For a Georgia team that was gashed for 350 rushing yards by Alabama, facing the nation’s #8 rushing attack isn’t a comfortable thought. The Huskers have five players with over 300 rushing yards, and all five average at least five yards per carry. Complicating things is quarterback Taylor Martinez, one of the best playmakers in the nation. We know of Georgia’s troubles with dual-threat quarterbacks, and Martinez is a better dual threat than either Franklin at Missouri and Rodgers at Vanderbilt.
Another complication is Georgia’s defensive line. Jenkins is ineligible, and Abry Jones won’t be in top condition if he plays at all. That leaves a fairly thin group including Geathers, Drew, Smith, and Washington with much experience. Mike Thornton is also available, but he’s working back from a leg injury on a cut block by Georgia Tech. If Nebraska can stay on the field and sustain drives, this group could wear down against another good running game. This is another area where Martinez’s abilities come into play. He’ll have his designed runs, but the plays to watch will be the third downs that break down. Can Georgia’s defense contain Martinez and get off the field, or will Nebraska’s quarterback improvise to move the chains?
You don’t like to talk about it, but Georgia’s defense is full of guys who could be expected to have one eye on their draft status. On one hand, that’s a positive – this is another big stage for them, and for the underclassmen it’s the last game they’ll play in before they get poked and prodded by NFL scouts. If they value this opportunity to make a final impression, it could mean good things for the Georgia defense. On the other hand, the proximity to the draft and potentially a lot of money could make some play tentative in order to avoid injury. While this is a big game, it doesn’t have the stakes of a BCS or especially a title game. We should find out very quickly whether Georgia’s defense brings the same intensity with which it finished the season.
With so many variables on defense, I’m looking to the offense for consistency. The offense was fantastic in November, and they played Alabama as well as any team not led by a Heisman winner. Murray is in good form, Gurley has been consistently excellent, and additional weapons (like the tight ends) have emerged. It would take a lot for Georgia to put up 40 points, let alone 60 or 70, but it’s going to take a better effort on offense than Georgia has come up with in the past two bowls.
The less said about the 2010 showing against UCF, the better. But even last year the offense was a weakness. They put up 30 points against Michigan State, but remember how shaky it was. Those points included a long bomb to King and a punt return by Boykin. Georgia had a decent scoring drive in the fourth quarter after falling behind, but that was about all of the sustained offense they could muster. As the game wore on, MSU’s defensive line became more dominant to the point that Georgia all but conceded their inability to run in overtime. The game also featured some crippling turnovers by Murray that let MSU overcome their 16-0 halftime deficit.
With solid performances against Florida and Alabama under their belt, we’re still not far removed from questions about this team’s ability to perform against ranked teams. They’ve since answered those questions, but this is still one of the better teams Georgia has faced all season. It’s their fourth opportunity against a ranked opponent in the 2012 season, and the Dawgs need a win to get to .500 against their ranked foes.
It’s been what seems like an eternity since Georgia’s last bowl win, and there aren’t many key players who were on that 2009 Independence Bowl team. It’s been since 2008 that Georgia has beaten an opponent of this quality in a bowl.
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Over the weekend Seth Emerson took a look at a big preseason concern: going into the season well under the 85-scholarship limit. As it turned out, Georgia’s low scholarship total wasn’t a detriment. Even with fewer than 70 players who signed with the team out of high school, the Dawgs came within yards of a national title shot and still stand a good chance of finishing as a top 5 team.
Mark Richt reflected:
"We didn’t have a lot of injuries," Richt said. "We did have a couple ACLs, as we know, and Abry (Jones) we lost for a good bit of time. But overall we didn’t have a massive amount of injuries. You don’t play 85 guys in any one season. You might play a core of about 35 guys, 40 guys. So we were blessed to have guys stay healthy and we just played well together."
It’s true that Georgia’s low numbers didn’t torpedo the season. That’s not to say though that Georgia didn’t feel the effects of attrition. It showed up most of all along the lines. The Dawgs were nominally deeper at offensive line than they’ve been in a while, but in practical terms it wasn’t a deep group. Georgia started a true freshman at right tackle, and there were some very public growing pains for the promising newcomer. Georgia’s left tackle is a converted guard who could move back inside if the 2013 recruiting class pans out. That’s not to bag on Theus or Gates – if anything, they were better than expected. Only better defensive fronts like South Carolina caused problems for the unit.
If we’re going back to preseason storylines, the emergence of David Andrews at center is one of the bigger individual reasons why the line had the year it did. Just a couple of weeks before the season the starting center position was still a question worth asking. Andrews had just minimal experience in mop-up time as a freshman, and the other option at center was converting a starting guard (Burnette). As with the tackle spots, the plan had to work, and it did. The numbers didn’t matter, but the margin for error was nonexistent.
We might also become more aware of depth issues along the defensive line in the bowl game. With Jenkins out and Abry Jones limited in his comeback, Georgia’s bodies up front are very limited. We saw some of these effects in the SEC Championship. Georgia just didn’t have any answers up front as Alabama put together sustained drives on the ground in the second half. Of course many teams have issues stopping the Alabama ground game, but the Smith-Geathers-Jenkins line got very little relief. The Tide weren’t able to shut down Georgia’s offense either, but they were at least able to be a little more versatile with their personnel on the defensive front. Now without Jenkins, we’ll see more Washington and Drew, but it will also mean that more is asked of Geathers.
Admittedly these are picky points, but little details like that show up and become magnified when great teams face each other. We could also add the secondary to areas where low numbers caused some shaky moments, but the early schedule allowed Georgia to navigate those waters without it showing up in the wins and losses.
Scholarship numbers aren’t a static one-year issue, and we’ll be talking about it again next year as we try to piece together a defense. Even with a big signing class, impact true freshmen like Jordan Jenkins are few and far between. We’ve looked at the disappearing 2010 signing class last year, and those are the guys who would be the veteran core of a 2013 team.
Before saying anything that might come across as sour grapes, we’re grateful for what Garner did at Georgia. His willingness to serve as a key member of the transition from Donnan to Richt helped stabilize the program, and that stability had a great deal to do with Mark Richt’s ability to enjoy immediate success in 2001 and 2002. From Richard Seymour to DeAngelo Tyson, Garner’s linemen are spread across the NFL, and more are on the way this year. 15 years of service is a long time for any coach, but it’s an eternity in the fluid world of assistant coaches.
It’s a lateral move in terms of job titles, but it might’ve just been time for both parties to go their separate ways. Georgia didn’t seem to put up as much of a fight as they did in 2009 when Lane Kiffin tried to pry Garner to Knoxville. Though he’s added the title of assistant head coach over the years, Garner has been primarily a position coach for his 15 years at Georgia. He has seen Georgia hire three defensive coordinators over him, and his career had stagnated. With aspirations to be a head coach, he likely sees Auburn as an opportunity to re-boot his career path at age 46.
The immediate concern is recruiting. Georgia has a solid class committed, and they have the opportunity to finish with a bang. Obviously the loss of the recruiting coordinator is significant. Current commitments must be reassured, and the remaining prospects will have to build new relationships with the Georgia staff.
Before we panic, Garner wasn’t the only recruiter on Georgia’s staff. Tight ends coach John Lilly was the former recruiting coordinator at Florida State and remains one of Georgia’s best closers. Mike Bobo is also an outstanding recruiter and – along with Todd Grantham – accounted for many of the key signings in the “Dream Team” class of 2011. These three, as well as Coach Richt and the rest of the remaining staff, will be in contact with recruits as soon as the rules allow. There will be the need for immediate damage control as rivals jump on a perceived moment of weakness and opportunity, but the right people are in place to keep any attrition to a minimum.
Any concerns or theories about what Georgia might do with this opening (such as bringing in a special teams coach) were put to bed by Todd Grantham almost as soon as the Garner news broke. Grantham told UGASports.com that “(Grantham) will be the person responsible for hiring Garner’s replacement, and that the hire will be for a new defensive line coach.”
If Grantham’s track record with Lakatos and Olivadotti tell us anything about Garner’s replacement, it will be that Grantham will lean on his personal and professional relationships to find a coach. Lakatos had been a longtime friend of Grantham’s before Georgia’s new coordinator announced what seemed like an obscure hire. Grantham had coached with Olivadotti’s father in the NFL.
Garner will be missed, but his departure affords Grantham the opportunity to own the composition of the defensive staff. Georgia’s 2013 line will be relatively inexperienced and thin (depending on draft decisions), and they’ll be looking to build depth quickly. The Dawgs will need a capable technician able to step in and build on the standard set for Georgia defensive linemen, and they’ll also need a strong recruiter to replace what they’re losing in Garner. Hopefully such a man exists in Grantham’s contacts list.
The tug-of-war over Malcolm Mitchell looks to continue into the offseason. The need at cornerback is obvious, but so is Mitchell’s potential as a receiver. There will be several sub-plots to the story, and the readiness of guys like Blake Tibbs or Shaq Wiggins will nudge this story one direction or the other. If Alvin Kamara signs with Georgia, will he help in the role envisioned for the injured Tramel Terry?
To me, it comes down to schedule.
The early part of Georgia’s 2012 schedule shielded the Dawgs from much of the personnel chaos caused by the suspensions. That won’t be the case in 2013. They’ll face three ranked teams before the end of September. Mitchell claims that “he still was ‘rusty’ at receiver even by the Oct. 20 game against Kentucky when he had a career-high nine catches for 103 yards.” It was obvious that others affected, Ogletree for example, didn’t round into form until November. Mitchell noted that instincts got him far enough to get open, but longer runs like the final score against Florida require practicing technique. “That just comes with the offseason and I didn’t have the offseason at receiver,” he added.
Mitchell says bluntly that “I don’t want to play full-time defense.” He’s always going to consider himself a receiver who moonlights on defense. Georgia needs Mitchell (and everyone else) at top form out of the gate in those three big September games. Suspensions would be costly of course, but the coaches also need to move the timetable up on these personnel decisions that sometime linger well into August camp. Mitchell’s preference to be offense first means that he won’t have time (or motivation, really) to develop into the kind of cornerback he’d need to be to make the effort worthwhile.
The defense needs the help, but the offense could be truly special with Mitchell focused on that side of the ball. We know that’s his preference, and I expect that the coaches will realize the importance of Mitchell dedicating the offseason to perfecting his craft at receiver.
UPDATE: The assistants can tug all they want, but the Top Dawg has made it clear: Mitchell is a receiver. “I doubt he plays any more corner. I think he needs to play one position,” Mark Richt told the media on Tuesday. “If he’s going to be the best he can be at either position, I think he needs to concentrate on just one of them and receiver is where he’s going to be.”
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Georgia’s mens and womens programs emerged from the first games after exams headed in opposite directions. There are just a couple of weeks until conference play begins, but we’ve already learned quite a bit about the squads so far.
The men missed a golden opportunity for a decent win over an Iona team that made the NCAA Tournament field a year ago. Georgia overcame a slow start and took several second half leads, but the Dawgs surrendered 12 three-pointers to the visiting Gaels and had a team-wide collapse at the free throw line. The overtime loss was Georgia’s third in a row and the seventh in the last eight games. Yes, it’s to the point of starting to ask some unpleasant questions.
The Iona loss masked some positive developments. The offense was more productive as the team was able to work the ball inside and find guys like Donte Williams (16 points). The Dawgs shot 44% which is still an improvement over the season average of just under 40%. Even more promising was the continued development of a decent freshmen class. Morris continues to earn playing time, and Mann had his best game yet.
Unfortunately, leaning on the freshmen so much implies something about the upperclassmen. Georgia was able to lean on a pair of veteran guards (and the freshman Caldwell-Pope) to somewhat compensate for an absent frontcourt last season. While the frontcourt has made marginal strides this year, the drop-off in the backcourt has been precipitous. You’re just not getting production from senior guards Brantley and Williams. The freshmen are fine, but they’re not going to have an impact like Caldwell-Pope had a year ago. Even with KCP you take the good with the bad – he’s a gifted scorer, but you want your best player to make better decisions than the rushed, off-balance shot he attempted with no shot clock and 20 seconds left at the end of regulation on Saturday.
The backcourt isn’t the only spot where there’s a vacuum in production from veteran players. Marcus Thornton is banged up again, but he hadn’t posted more than 8 points in any of the first eight games. More importantly, the fall in production of Djurisic has been significant. Nemi’s big enough to bang around the basket, but he’s only getting to the line just over two times per game. We know he prefers to face the basket, but his three-point percentage has been cut in half from 36.4% a year ago to 18.5% this season. He continues to be in love with the outside shot though and has already attempted half as many three-pointers as he did as a freshman.
In short, it’s a mess. The good news? Have you seen the rest of the SEC?
In a more pleasant development, the women built on their unblemished record over the weekend with a 93-42 thrashing of Lipscomb. Georgia’s defense was relentless, and 23 steals led to numerous transition chances that helped Georgia shoot over 50%. The Lady Dogs are now 11-0 and sit just outside the top 5. Andy Landers has a luxury he hasn’t had much of in the past ten years: quality depth. There’s a strong core of upperclassmen and a very talented group of freshmen and sophomores. Landers has been able to work the newcomers in quite a bit, and they’ve responded. After several seasons of running players like Houts and James for 35-40 minutes per game out of necessity, Georgia can now run in waves of players in roughly 5-minute intervals. They’re able to play much more of the pressure defense Landers prefers, and the results have been promising so far. The team will still rely on its seniors – especially James, Armstrong, and Hassell – but the depth will help make sure that the team can finish the season with lots in the tank.
If there’s any uncertainty, it’s that Landers’ squad hasn’t been tested with top-quality competition yet. Rutgers and Georgia Tech were good opponents, and New Mexico’s Pit is traditionally a tough place in which to win. Though Georgia’s next two opponents aren’t ranked, TCU and Illinois still represent a step up in quality from the Mercers and Lipscombs of the world. They’ll give Georgia a chance to test their road chops before league play begins in January. Georgia’s last trip to TCU two years ago was a near-disaster, and Anne Marie Armstrong had to sink an ultra-long range three pointer at the buzzer for the team to escape with a win. This Georgia team is in a much better place and should arrive at the January 3rd SEC home opener against Missouri with their perfect record intact.
There’s still one big game to go, but we have some down time to look back at some of the most important moments of the regular season. These plays didn’t all come at critical times (like a Gurley touchdown late in a rout of Vanderbilt), but they all were significant moments in the story of the 2012 regular season either for individuals or the team.
10. Samuel stuffs the fake punt. Georgia had scored just before the end of the third quarter to take a 24-20 lead on Missouri. It was Georgia’s first lead of the game, and it came during a stretch where both teams posted points on four consecutive drives. The fact that neither team was doing much to stop the other had to weigh on Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s mind, because he called for a fake punt on 4th-and-11 from his own 35. The play actually had a good chance of success and was blocked well, but Richard Samuel was able to shed his blocker and stop the punter short of the first down marker. The Dawgs added a field goal on their next possession and set the stage for Jarvis Jones’ heroics.
9. Grown-man Jarvis. Samuel’s play on the fake punt stopped any momentum Missouri had, but Georgia was still only up 7 on a team that had showed an ability to score quickly. The two teams traded punts midway through the fourth quarter, and Georgia pinned the hosts back on their own 12. A pass interference penalty seemed to bail the Tigers out of trouble and gave them a first down. Jarvis Jones dropped back into coverage on the next play and sat in the underneath passing lane. James Franklin threw right at him, and Jones picked off the pass. He returned it just short of the goal line, and the Dawgs were able to score and open up a 14-point lead. Jones wasn’t finished – he came on a speed rush during Missouri’s next drive and forced a fumble. The Dawgs recovered inside the Missouri 10, and they added another score for a much more comfortable final margin.
8. Norman recovers the onside kick. Even with a bye week, Georgia wasn’t able to shake off the blues of the South Carolina loss. They found themselves in an early hole at woeful Kentucky. It was the kind of night where Marshall Morgan had to bank in a short field goal off the upright just to give Georgia a thin 16-14 halftime lead. Georgia didn’t establish a multiple-possession lead until the fourth quarter, and they needed a roughing the punter call to sustain that drive. Even after the Dawgs went up 29-17, they couldn’t put the upset-minded hosts away. Kentucky put together a scoring drive to pull within five with four minutes left. Georgia’s defense had few answers at that point, and you had that sense of dread about what would happen if Kentucky got the ball back trailing by less than a touchdown. The Wildcats attempted an onside kick, and it was executed fairly well. Kentucky’s blockers controlled the first line of Georgia’s return team, and the Wildcat kicker had a good chance at diving on the ball. The dribbled kick took just a little too long to advance the required ten yards, and the Kentucky kicker had to wait for it to roll. That delay gave Connor Norman an opportunity to sprint in from the side of the play and pounce on the ball right before the Wildcat kicker curled around it. Georgia’s offense was able to get a few first downs and kill enough clock to keep the ball away from Kentucky until the waning seconds, and the Dawgs escaped Lexington.
7. 3rd and 25. Ole Miss had been playing well and were on a little roll after posting their first SEC wins in several seasons. A Homecoming loss would cost the Dawgs everything they had earned in Jacksonville. Georgia’s offense was sluggish in the first half with the only score coming on the hidden ball play. Ole Miss looked in position to take a lead into halftime – especially as Georgia wasted time and lost yards on sacks during their final drive of the half. Instead of a likely field goal opportunity, Georgia was faced with a desperate 3rd-and-25 from the Ole Miss 40. Somehow Tavarres King got behind the Rebel secondary, and Aaron Murray threw his best pass of the half for a touchdown. Georgia rode the momentum to a second half rout.
6. Tough enough. After some poor performances and after a week dealing with the whole “soft” challenge and controversy, Georgia was determined to show something different in Jacksonville. The Bulldog defense took the field first and immediately brought pressure against the Gator offense. Florida QB Jeff Driskel was hit and fumbled on the game’s first play from scrimmage. He recovered the fumble, but Georgia kept up the pressure. Damian Swann came on a blitz from the slot on third down and again separated Driskel from the ball. This time Jarvis Jones was able to recover the ball for Georgia, and the Dawgs were set up early on the Florida 20. Todd Gurley took it in a few plays later, and Georgia had served notice that they were ready for a brutally physical game.
5. Gurley plows through Vanderbilt. We were introduced to Todd Gurley during the season opener when he followed up a powerful touchdown run with a kickoff returned all the way. But Buffalo was one thing, and Gurley was held to just 65 yards in the SEC opener. His next big showcase came in the SEC home opener. Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 212 yards and four touchdowns. Late in the third quarter, Gurley topped off the scoring with this run. He took a handoff out of the pistol, got up a head of steam through a nice hole, and shed four would-be tacklers on the way to the endzone. Gurley had more significant runs than this late score in a blowout win, but few of them showed off his combination of power and speed like this one.
4. Rambo takes the ball. It’s likely that Georgia Tech wasn’t going to do much to stop the Georgia offense, but that was the case in 2008 also. Tech had put up a basketball score a few weeks earlier against UNC, and they were used to having to compensate for poor defense. Georgia scored immediately, but Tech began their own march towards a score. The Jackets put together a 10-play drive that set them up on the Georgia 20. Tech back Robert Godhigh ripped off another run that took the ball inside the Georgia 10. With a host of Georgia defenders slowing Godhigh’s progress, Bacarri Rambo was able to go for the ball. Rambo wrested the ball away and took off down the south sideline before he was forced out around midfield. The Dawgs scored for the second time just a few plays later, and Tech didn’t come close to the endzone again until the fourth quarter.
3. Commings sends Tennessee packing. Georgia’s defense hadn’t done much to stop Tennessee since the second quarter. The Dawgs had to protect a single-score 51-44 lead for much of the fourth quarter. Sanders Commings had spent much of September at safety as he covered for the suspended Rambo, and this was his first game back at cornerback full-time. Georgia turned the Vols over on three consecutive possessions to secure the narrow win, and Commings was responsible for two of those turnovers. The Dawgs avoided the upset and preserved their undefeated record – for another week, anyway.
2. Mitchell breaks open the WLOCP. Though Aaron Murray had struggled for most of the Florida game, Georgia’s coaches turned to the passing game clinging to a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. The drive started slowly and needed a defensive holding penalty to move the chains. Murray then completed four of his next five passes. A short second down pass to Malcolm Mitchell had to be reviewed, but it set Georgia up with a manageable 3rd-and-5 in Florida territory. Florida showed tight coverage, and Murray was able to find Mitchell again. A move back to the inside got Mitchell clear of his defender, and Florida’s tighter coverage meant that Mitchell suddenly found himself with a lot of green in front of him. He took off towards the north endzone, evaded a couple of desperate attempts to catch him, and gave Georgia and 8-point lead.
1. Jones thwarts the Gators. We started this list with a Jarvis Jones play that gave Georgia a touchdown, and we end it with a Jones play that prevented an opponent’s touchdown. Mitchell’s score gave Georgia a larger lead over Florida, but the Gators were still within one possession of a tie game. They began to find success mixing the run with passes to tight end Jordan Reed, who was creating matchup problems against Georgia’s linebackers. Just inside the Georgia 20, Reed caught a short pass and broke free of Alec Ogletree. Like Mitchell on his scoring play, Reed’s evasion of the initial tackle opened up a path for a score. Georgia’s defenders gave chase, but it looked as if Florida would have the ball inside the five at worst if Reed didn’t score. Branden Smith came in from the side and dove at Reed, forcing the Florida receiver to jump. Jarvis Jones had started rushing the passer but turned as soon as it became clear that he couldn’t get to the quarterback in time. He began pursuing Reed. The slight delay caused as Reed jumped to hurdle Smith gave Jones a chance to catch up with the receiver, and Jones punched the ball free into the endzone. Sanders Commings dove on the loose ball, and the Dawgs were able to run out the clock to secure the win and claim the inside track to a consecutive SEC East championship. Even more, it meant Georgia’s first back-to-back wins over the Gators in over two decades.
Do you have a few different moments in mind? A different order? Let’s hear them in the comments.
Georgia’s doing reasonably well, selling 10,000 of its 12,500 allotment so far for the January 1st game. Nebraska has only sold 4,000. There are several reasons for their slow sales: Nebraska isn’t around the corner, the economy isn’t all that hot, the Huskers played in this same bowl last year, and did you see their last game?
Osborne identifies another “problem,” at least from the perspective of the school.
“The problem is so many people buy tickets now from the secondary market,” Osborne said. “People sometimes feel like you get better location and cheaper prices buying over the Internet. It’s really difficult anymore to assess how many fans you’re really going to have in that stadium.”
He estimates that as many as half of his school’s fans in Orlando last year didn’t buy tickets through the school. Teams are often held accountable for the unsold portion of their allotment, so it’s in their interests to sell as many tickets as possible. But fans know they can get better seats at a discount elsewhere. Fans don’t want to see their school take a hit, but they’re only loyal to a point.
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The SEC announced today that “Alabama defensive end Quinton Dial won’t be suspended for his disputed hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in the SEC title game on Dec. 1.”
I’m not exactly sure what a “disputed hit” is. There was nothing disputed about the excessive shot Dial put on Murray. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw admitted that “we missed the call.” There’s no question that the hit broke the NCAA rule that “No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.” The SEC didn’t say today that the hit was clean and legal; they just ruled that it didn’t merit a suspension.
A suspension isn’t a do-over. I know a lot of Georgia fans feel that no suspension means that Dial got away with the hit…and he did, then and now. Review by the league office isn’t a way to make up for penalties that should have been called. If that were the case, half the conference would have been suspended by the league office at one time or another. If Dial’s hit were flagrant enough to merit a suspension – penalty or not – then the league should have taken action. I’m not so sure it wasn’t anything beyond your garden variety cheap shot though. Georgia was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty against Alabama’s quarterback during the game, and Alec Ogletree won’t be suspended either.
We can debate whether the hit on Murray rose to the level of the hits that got Trae Elston and D.J. Swearinger suspended earlier in the year. The consistency in judgement calls like this is a whole other topic.
The league also said that “all subsequent action will be handled internally by the two institutions,” meaning that the likelihood of Dial missing the BCS Championship game is zero.
We talk a lot about narrative and its role in everything from the presentation to the discussion of sports. The steady drumbeat of a story creates its own momentum. While Johnny Manziel’s Heisman win on Saturday was hardly dramatic, his candidacy was noteworthy for being a relatively recent development. As recently as mid-October, when A&M was struggling to beat Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss and went dormant in the second half against LSU, Manziel was the walking definition of a novelty – an entertaining new quarterback in a new system whose coach was at a new school in its first season in a new conference.
It might be argued that Manziel won the Heisman in three games. That’s not true of course; he emerged as a special player from the opening week in a near-upset of Florida. But it did only take three games to turn novelty to narrative.
I remember driving back from Jacksonville to the beach listening to A&M-Auburn. Texts, calls, and tweets were flying as people marveled at the complete destruction going on at Jordan-Hare. It was 42-7 by halftime. We knew Auburn was bad, but this was the SEC’s version of the Oregon-Colorado score we were tracking during the WLOCP. The actual score soon took backseat to the image of an 85,000-seat stadium that had all but emptied early in the third quarter. Manziel’s five touchdowns got the buzz going again after A&M’s first laugher in a month after three nail-biters.
Beating up on Auburn and Arkansas was one thing, but the following week gave A&M a challenge they hadn’t done well with: beat a ranked team. Mississippi State was still in the top 20 after coming back to earth against Alabama. As we waited for a 3:30 Homecoming kickoff, it didn’t take long to see that 1) Mississippi State was still over-rated and 2) Manziel and A&M were on to something. For the second straight week, they had beaten and demoralized an SEC West opponent by halftime.
Suddenly the “A&M will give Alabama as much trouble as LSU” talk had some teeth. But even then the quarterback getting much of a Heisman push was McCarron. Alabama’s dramatic prime-time win at LSU was as big of a moment as there had been in college football in 2012, and McCarron was flawless on the game-winning drive.
Big performances in big games can win a player the Heisman. That’s nothing new. Often that turning point can even be a single play – like Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010 or Desmond Howard’s punt return against Ohio State. If you had to point to a single play that flipped the 2012 race, it was the early touchdown pass where Manziel was pressured, escaped, ran into his own guy, fumbled, caught the fumble in the air, and found a wide-open receiver in the endzone.
Between the A&M win an multiple interceptions by McCarron, the door had been opened for Manziel. That seemed to be the story of the season – one by one, players who seemed like reasonable Heisman candidates found it impossible to get traction and fell away. The emergence of Manziel and A&M that took place from the last week in October was perfectly-timed to fill this void, and all it needed to go over the top was knocking off the nation’s #1 team.
If you go to most any preseason Heisman list, you’ll find names like:
Matt Barkley (Southern Cal): Started the year as the Heisman frontrunner and leader of the preseason #1 team. Yikes.
Tyrann Mathieu (LSU): Remember him?
Geno Smith (West Virginia): He was the frontrunner after September, and it wasn’t even close. Then he went to Lubbock.
Denard Robinson (Michigan): Robinson was an electrifying player who didn’t quite fit in his offense, but he could have been a career-achievement type of winner with a strong season. His awful line vs. Alabama eliminated him in week 1.
Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina): I don’t know if he was having a Heisman-type season before his injury, but he would have likely stolen some votes from Manziel in the South and mid-Atlantic and made the overall tally much more interesting.
Landry Jones (Oklahoma): Like McCarron and A&M, Jones lost his shot when he faltered against Klein and Kansas St.
Tyler Wilson (Arkansas): His chances were pretty much finished when Petrino flamed out. Like Barkley, coming back for that senior year didn’t quite turn out as expected. Wilson’s production was down only slightly, but his interceptions soared.
Montee Ball (Wisc): Ball finished fourth last year and was the returning player with the most 2011 votes. Three September games with less than 100 yards took him out of the running early.
What the 2007 season was to the BCS, the 2012 season was to the Heisman. As the preseason and early-season favorites stumbled time and again, a freshman and a defensive player stood out as fairly consistent outstanding players. Manziel deserves his award. He was the best player left standing, and his performances were exciting to watch while having a real impact on the outcome of the 2012 season. Just as the circumstances that put a two-loss team through in 2007 don’t come around very often, the circumstances that led to this season’s finalists are fairly rare. There was no George Rogers to his Herschel Walker. It’s to a freshman’s credit that he was ready to make the most of the opportunity.
Seth Emerson has raised an interesting point: Mike Bobo has some leverage now. His status as a finalist for the Broyles award will likely make him a candidate for the coordinator position at a few major programs and even merit consideration for a head coaching opportunity at smaller programs. Much was made last week of the relationship between Bobo and Kirby Smart. Smart didn’t end up getting the Auburn job, but that’s only one scenario that might have resulted in a serious offer for Bobo. He’ll hear from other programs even if Smart remains at Alabama.
Before the Bobo detractors out there start helping him pack, remember that there’s a lot more to his job than playcalling. Not only has Bobo directed one of the nation’s top offenses this year, he’s also presided over the golden age of Georgia quarterbacks. Beyond coaching, he’s one of Georgia’s hardest-working and most effective recruiters.
At the very least, Bobo has worked himself into position for a significant increase. He’s currently at $300,000. The range among coordinators at similar programs in the area is all over the map, but in all cases it’s a great deal more than Bobo’s current compensation. Chad Morris at Clemson pulls down $1.3 million. That’s also what Gus Malzahn was making at Auburn. Pease at Florida makes $600,000 in total compensation. Nussmeier at Alabama is also around $600,000. Jim Chaney at Tennessee was at $550,000. LSU’s Greg Studrawa is currently at $500,000 – the same as Scot Loeffler at Auburn. Even Randy Sanders at Kentucky was pulling down more than Bobo.
Emerson points out that the contracts of Georgia’s assistants run through June, and ordinarily we’d hear about adjustments then. With Bobo likely to draw some interest in the next few weeks, the athletics administration will have to operate under a different timetable.
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Before we get to the painful look back, my overall reaction is the same. Georgia gave a fantastic performance as the underdog under tremendous pressure and came up five yards short against the likely national champion. Looking at individual moments can give the impression of being critical and harsh, but none of us can ask for more from this team than we got.
But to leave it at that – good job, good effort – doesn’t do Georgia football justice. If you put stock the preseason outlook, this is exactly the position in which Georgia was supposed to be. The consensus expectations were for a team that challenged for the SEC East title, finished somewhere in the top 10, and headed into the postseason with no more than a loss or two. That the serendipity of the season turned that result into a shot at playing for the national title was a welcome surprise, but Georgia was exactly where they belonged.
I’m disappointed for these seniors after the work they put in over the past two and three seasons to get this program back in a position to compete for SEC and national titles. But this wasn’t Georgia’s first chance at a national title in the past 15 years, and it won’t be the last under Richt. Georgia missed this time, but we should expect the program to be back in this position soon. That was the point of the whole midseason crisis: was Mark Richt able to compete in an SEC where four different programs had won national titles in the past six seasons? If the answer is “yes”, recruiting, player development, and coaching should be at a level where Georgia doesn’t put all of their eggs in the basket of a single season.
That doesn’t make Saturday night any less painful. We all know Georgia was five yards from playing in a national title game in which they’d be the favorite. I admit to wondering before the game if Georgia could even compete in a game of this magnitude. Certainly they could and did. There’s still a game to go, but this team has become everything we hoped and expected of them before the season. On to the game…
After the elation of Ogletree’s return of the blocked field goal, my first thought was for the defense. They had just been on the field for a 10-play drive and were headed right back out. Sure, they were up 11 now instead of 4, but Alabama had a much easier time from that point on. (Two 15-yard penalties didn’t help.) The offense then picked the worst possible time to have a three-and-out. The Dawgs started the second half with an impressive scoring drive but only ran three plays the rest of the third quarter. That’s asking a lot of a defense that was taking a steady pounding from a physical offense.
The 3-4 defense is severely tested by a power running game. In its most basic form, you have three defensive linemen on five offensive linement. That leaves linebackers to take on other blockers or make the tackle. Against most teams good defensive linemen can neutralize this disadvantage by taking on multiple blockers or making things messy enough that the linebackers are relatively unimpeded. That’s not the case against a team like Alabama that features not only five outstanding offensive linemen but also sound tight ends – not to mention two backs that are very difficult to bring down. Jarvis Jones is amazing at many things, but he’s never been known as a run-stopper. Most outside linebackers aren’t, especially when they’re being specifically blocked by bigger linemen and tight ends.
Shawn Williams’ mid-season challenge to his teammates will live on as a defining moment of the season. It could have divided the team or lit a fire under them, and fortunately it did the latter. But his “soft” line was only one part of what he had to say. He also had some more controversial and specific comments about playing time among the linebackers. That aspect of his criticism had been laregly forgotten as the linebackers finished the season as well as any unit on the defense. I admit that it popped back into my head as Georgia was desperately searching for ways to stop Alabama’s running game in the second half. Specifically, where was Herrera? We saw him force a fumble on special teams, but he was largely absent from Georgia’s defensive plan. There are trade-offs with any personnel decision, but it was puzzling not to see more of one of Georgia’s more physical inside linebackers.
Georgia’s lack of depth along the defensive line was an issue. Geathers, Jenkins, and Smith saw much of the action with some help from Drew. As much as Jenkins was compared with Cody leading up to the game, remember that Cody was used much more situationally. Garrison Smith has filled in well for Abry Jones and was fine in this game, but this was one of the few times when the lack of depth brought on by the injury to Jones really showed.
It’s interesting to see how many big plays in the game were made by Georgia defenders who otherwise didn’t see much playing time. Washington had the field goal block. Ramik Wilson forced a huge fumble at the goal line to set up Commings’ interception. Herrera also forced a fumble on a kick return. That’s not necessarily to argue for more playing time, but it’s a great example of guys being ready when their moment came.
We’d be talking about many other things had Georgia won, but at the top of the list would be the goal-line stand in the second quarter highlighted by Wilson’s forced fumble and Sanders’ pick. Georgia defended the run and the pass about as perfectly as one could expect.
As much difficulty as Georgia had against the run, their success rushing the passer was a big plus. In fact, Nick Saban credits the Georgia pass rush with Alabama’s decision to lean on the run in the second half. As much credit as Alabama’s offensive line is getting for laying down a 12-lane expressway for their tailbacks, Georgia was getting to AJ McCarron.
Did anyone else get a flashback to the South Carolina game when Amari Cooper out-jumped Rambo for a second quarter pass?
As much as individual plays stand out, especially those made by Cooper against Rambo and Swann, the secondary played a great game. Georgia was able to get to McCarron, but it was often because he couldn’t find anyone open.
I’m glad to see a more thoughtful discussion of the decision whether or not to spike the ball. Steve Spurrier provided raw meat to fans who thought Georgia erred by not spiking the ball, but my opinion comes down to a single word used by Chris Brown: “defensible.” Not right or wrong, but there was a choice made with sound reasoning behind it. I can see the reasons to spike it, but the Georgia coaches made a decision to run a good play that had a fair chance of working without giving Alabama a chance to set up or substitute. The same scenario – a tipped pass caught by the underneath receiver – would have run out the clock regardless of whether Georgia had spiked it. I’m fine with the call.
That final play will be agonized over for years, but what will keep me up at night is 3rd and 1. Up 28-25 with about 7 minutes left, Georgia’s defense forced a stop and gave the ball back to the Bulldog offense that had just driven for the go-ahead score. After an incompletion and a 9-yard Gurley run, Georgia faced a 3rd and 1 from their own 17. The Alabama defense was ready for another plunge up the middle. The Dawgs had to punt, Alabama got the ball back near midfield, and they scored the winning touchdown just a few plays later.
Bama’s line was more than good enough to overshadow what otherwise would’ve been a good job by Georgia’s offensive line. Only two teams had managed 100 yards rushing on Alabama this year, and Gurley went for over 120. Pass protection struggled early, but as they settled down and Murray became more comfortable with the game, he was able to find opportunities. There were moments, like the 3rd and 1, where the Alabama defense got the better of the Georgia line – that comes with the territory against a defense that good. It’s fair to say though that the Georgia line played better than expected.
Alabama did well to limit Georgia’s big plays with one exception: Tavarres King came up big with receptions of 33, 31, and 45 yards. But there was no bigger or better catch by King than the 23-yarder he hauled in on Georgia’s final drive. King took a nasty hit but was still able to secure a pass across the middle to keep Georgia’s chances alive. With 142 yards on 5 catches, he had the kind of a game you hope for from a senior starter.
No individual rushed for more yards against Alabama this year than Todd Gurley. Only one other back broke the century mark, and it took LSU’s Jeremy Hill 29 carries to get there. Gurley posted 122 yards on 23 carries and scored twice.
This game was so back-and-forth that even the best performances weren’t perfect. The Alabama line struggled with pass protection. McCarron threw a couple of interceptions. And even Gurley can be singled out for his role in the game’s deciding play.
What impressed me most in the game was Georgia’s response after surrendering the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. This is where a lot of teams would have folded after giving up two touchdowns to a relentless Alabama running game. Murray hit Mitchell for a moderate gain and then found King 45 yards downfield to set up a pair of strong runs by Gurley. The Dawgs recaptured the lead and even forced a punt on Alabama’s next possession. Georgia didn’t win, but they went down fighting.
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There will be plenty of time to take a longer look at the game – if we can bring ourselves to re-live that. Even in a loss, it was one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen from a Georgia team, and everyone involved has nothing to apologize for. Especially this guy:
Glory be to God in everything no matter how much it hurts. I may have fallen short but I will be back and better for it. Sorry DawgNation.
Chris Conley will do many big things over the next two seasons, and no one faults him for doing what every receiver has trained his life to do – catch a pass. Georgia played their tails off in a man’s game, and it was probably the best “big game” on a national level since the Texas-USC 2006 Rose Bowl. Damn.
And a big thanks to the students and fans who gave this team the reception they deserved back in Athens.
If you’re thinking clearly on a morning like this, hats off to you. I can’t do more than snag a couple of the million random things zipping around my head the past few days.
I just hope they show up. I hate going into such a big game with that negative thought in the back of my head, but I imagine that a lot of Bulldog fans have had that thought pop up this week. Was the Florida game a one-time emotional response, or has this team figured out how to play ranked opponents in big showcase games? If they have, we can buckle in for a competitive game. Their play over the last month leads me to think (hope?) that it’s a different team, but they still have a lot to prove, especially to themselves.
Make sure strengths are strengths. We started the season assuming that a strong defense was a given. It wasn’t and still isn’t a given. The defense discovered that performing as a unit at a top level requires the effort, attitude, and commitment we’ve seen down the stretch. Georgia needs its strengths to show up in order to have a chance. That includes strengths at the macro level – defense – and also at the individual level. Murray must look like one of the nation’s most efficient passers. Jones and Ogletree must look like elite linebackers. Gurley must find a way to create tough yards against a good defense. Good performances in areas of strength will elevate the rest of the team.
Cash in on opportunities. We remember how close Georgia came to a big lead against LSU last year, and we also remember how quickly things turned once those opportunities went away with only 10 points to show. You won’t get many chances against a good team like Alabama, and you have to make them count. Passes have to be caught, placekicks have to be made, fumbles have to be recovered, and catchable interceptions have to be secured. It’s not about an impossible requirement of being perfect for the entire game. It’s about executing at exactly the biggest moments. When Richt’s Georgia team throttled Saban’s LSU squad in Athens in 2004, David Greene was only 10-of-19 for 172 yards. But 5 of his 10 completions were for touchdowns. Make the big plays when they present themselves. The Dawgs were wonderful at capitalizing on short fields last week, but this is a different challenge.
Conversely, Georgia has to make Alabama work. Of course that means avoiding turnovers, but special teams is also important here. Coverage units on both punts and kickoffs can’t allow long returns. Barber has been very good with his punts lately, and I wouldn’t mind Jamie Lindley continuing to put kicks through the endzone. The offense also has a role here – three-and-outs can be as costly in field position as a shanked punt or a midfield turnover.
Create opportunities. Sometimes in big games you have to make your own luck. We saw the onside kick against LSU last year. Richt’s two SEC championship game wins have both featured a pivotal blocked punt. Georgia’s attempts at trick plays this year have pretty much been a flop, and they always come with big risks. Will Georgia have something along these lines ready, and will they need it?
Watch the screen. There’s nothing like a well-executed screen to slow down and burn an aggressive defense. Right, LSU? Alabama loves to run them, and we’ll see them on all downs. Sniffing them out can lead to big losses and even turnovers. Forgetting about them will have you watching an Alabama player’s taillights.
Is this Murray’s McCarron moment? Heading into the national title game last year, there were still questions about AJ McCarron’s ability to shoulder the burden of leading the Alabama offense. The Tide were content to lean on Richardson and use the passing game conservatively. McCarron was turned loose in the BCS championship game and completed 23 of 34 attempts to lead a much more potent Alabama offense than they had showed in an earlier meeting with LSU. With Murray, it’s not so much a question of turning him loose and throwing 25-30 times. It’s more about rising to the occasion. His self-prescribed isolation this week shows that he recognizes the importance of the moment and his role in it. Will that recognition lead to a tight performance, or is he ready to shine in the biggest game of his career?
This one is for 2002 and 2007. Those great Bulldog teams came on strong at the end, but they never got the breaks they needed to rise above their flaws from earlier in the year. We’ll always wonder how it would have turned out if those teams had a chance to play for the national title. This team has that chance. What will they do with it?
Our team, our time, no regrets. As we prepare for another game, let all the Bulldog faithful rally behind the men who now wear the red and black with two words — two simple words which express the sentiments of the entire Bulldog nation: Go Dawgs!