Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Grown man football orders the early-bird special

Monday September 30, 2013

Georgia next home game (October 12 vs. Missouri) will kick off at noon and will be televised by ESPN. (Note that this is high noon and not the 12:21 SEC Network game.)

The complete October 12 TV schedule is here.

We’ve seen how fans and students can turn out for a big national late-afternoon game. We’ll need a great crowd again for this important SEC game even with the earliest possible start time.

Post Georgia 44 – LSU 41: One for the ages

Monday September 30, 2013

If you could put a Georgia football game in a time capsule, there’s a strong case for Saturday’s win over LSU.

You can start with the Chamber of Commerce weather. Athens was brilliant under a bright and cool late-September sun. Add in the national attention from a visit by ESPN Gameday. We gripe about Georgia’s record when featured by Gameday, but the turnout was outstanding. Myers Quad was packed and loud, and the show did a great job at showcasing the entire campus. This game, this setting, and this day WAS college football. All that was left to do was win.

I’m not sure Georgia wins this game without the first two. The team was able to put aside the big game hype and Gameday visit because, well, been there, done that. They’d been in two close games against top 10 competition, understood how to take the opponent’s best shot, and had confidence in their ability to measure up. The mental toughness was there, and the coaches honed the physical toughness with a week of practice in full pads.

It was a credit to both offenses that they were able to be so productive with their strengths taken from them. LSU was supposed to attack with a power running game, and Georgia could counter with Gurley. With Gurley lost to an early injury and Georgia doing a surprisingly good job against the run, the ground war never really materialized. Even the subplot of the Copeland/Hicks fullback duel fizzled. Both teams had their moments running the ball of course, but this game didn’t take long to develop into a battle of quarterbacks.

The game was won with Murray’s poise at the end, but it’s worth spending some time looking at the first quarter. Saying that LSU had dominated the first quarter is an understatement. They had been outscoring the opposition 62-3 in the first fifteen minutes. Georgia’s first drive was the picture of precision. The Dawgs didn’t face a single third down. Murray was a perfect 5-for-5 on the drive, topped off with a well-placed ball to Bennett for the score. LSU had allowed its only first quarter touchdown of the season.

But as impressive and important as that first score was, I think Georgia’s second touchdown was even bigger. LSU had responded with two quick scores of their own, the second coming after a Murray interception. If you go back to the 2011 SEC Championship game, a Murray fumble early in the third quarter started a torrent of LSU points. Within five minutes, Georgia had fumbled on their opening possession, went three-and-out, gave up a 47-yard punt return, and saw LSU take a 21-10 lead with drives of 27 and 17 yards. It was imperative that Murray put the interception behind him and that Georgia post some kind of answer to fourteen straight LSU points. The Dawgs turned to Gurley who reeled off a 23-yard run to start the drive. Georgia tailbacks put up 42 yards on the drive, and Murray was again perfect with two completions including the touchdown pass to Conley in the back of the endzone.

As dominant as LSU had been in the first quarter all season, getting off to a 14-14 start almost felt like a win. The Dawgs had overcome their mistake and even capitalized on an LSU turnover later in the game.

  • What a great job from start to finish by the fans. The students were as into a game as I’ve ever seen – even moreso than the blackout games. Even when LSU deflated the crowd (3rd-and-22), the fans didn’t fade. I’m not a fan of shakers (they make no noise), but the swirling sea of red was an impressive visual effect.
  • Continuing with the fans, I’ll remember the scene after the game for a long time. People just didn’t want to leave. And to have the players come back out to share the moment was a tremendous touch.
  • Getting back to the game, it was the best special teams performance of the season. Morgan was clutch. LSU kick returns looked to be a missed tackle away from breaking one, but the Dawgs made the play. I can single out Stripling in particular for a good job of fighting off a block, staying in his lane, and closing off what could have been one big return. It was an interesting experiment for Georgia to put Reggie Davis out there to return kickoffs. I can see why they’d want to use his speed, but he didn’t seem to have the moves to do much more than run straight ahead. I expect kick return duties to continue to be an experiment.
  • I guess we have to address the defense. Georgia did fairly well along the line of scrimmage, and more than a few of us were stunned to see LSU with single-digit rushing yardage at halftime. That commitment to stop the run cost Georgia a few times, and some of the struggles at the safety spot had to do with a lot of attention being paid to the LSU backfield.
  • Before we get to Georgia’s pass defense, credit to Mettenberger, his receivers, and the LSU offensive coaches. His improvement was as-advertised. Georgia helped him out a few times, but there were many throws made with precision, a couple of ridiculously good catches, and they made Georgia pay when they had time.
  • “When they had time” is the key. Georgia did well to pressure Mettenberger and came away with four sacks. The decision to bring pressure or drop men into coverage wasn’t always made correctly, but I’m glad that the Dawgs were aggressive on LSU’s final possession. Jordan Jenkins hurdling a blocker on the final play didn’t quite get him to the quarterback, but it surely contributed to a rushed and inaccurate throw. Anyone who saw it had to think back to this image from the preseason. And congratulations to Jenkins for notching his first sack of the season. His impact has been much bigger than that, but it has to be a load off to get into the stat sheet. Leonard Floyd continues to be a deadly counterpart to Jenkins on the pass rush.
  • As good as Floyd is getting into the backfield, teams are still taking advantage of he and the other linebackers in pass coverage. With Quincy Mauger earning more playing time, I wonder if we don’t see the coaches rethink personnel on passing downs. It’s true that there’s a lack of experience across the board, but Georgia does itself no favors to continue to match up linebackers with receivers. Do you replace a middle linebacker in those situations with Harvey-Clemons and add another defensive back?
  • Truthfully, I expected a bit more from Grantham in this game. There was no spread offense and no dual-threat QB. With the NFL background of Cam Cameron, this was as close to an NFL offense as Grantham would see almost all year. Georgia was routinely confused by shifts, didn’t adjust to some matchup issues, and several times were caught unprepared before the snap. I credit him with a scheme that looked a lot better against the run, but there’s no reason for receivers to be uncovered at the snap.
  • Georgia has been part of the tempo/no-huddle discussion for a while, but LSU used it quite a bit themselves with positive results. With as much as they go against the Georgia offense in practice, and considering all of the preseason preparation for Clemson’s tempo, I’m just disappointed that Georgia seemed to have so much trouble getting lined up when LSU pushed the tempo. Is it a question of coaches taking too long to get the call in? Is it the complexity of the scheme? I’ll grant some of it to young players still figuring out the basics, but that can’t be all of it. Fortunately we won’t see too many other teams able to exploit it that well, but some like Tennessee and Auburn will surely try.
  • But when it mattered most, the defense ended with a big positive moment. You can see the glimpses of talent, and the safeties had a couple of impressive hits to separate the ball from a receiver. Guys like Mayes and Drew continue to make plays along the line. I’m looking forward to the continued development of the defense, but the coaches could sure help them out some.

It was a legendary win to wrap up a tough but rewarding and memorable month. The Bulldog Nation might be awake now, but the next few games is no time to doze off. One of the most impressive things about the 2012 season was the month of November. With the Florida win in hand, Georgia just had to hold serve to win the division. They went beyond just going through the motions and went on a run of dominant wins that had them in position for a huge reward when they met Alabama. With the “big game” gauntlet behind them, I want to see how Georgia handles their business in some games that won’t be as hyped but are as dangerous as any SEC game can be.

Post Sensing a theme here…

Thursday September 26, 2013

Georgia is honored to host ESPN’s coverage of LSU football. Is this a sign of what to expect Saturday morning?

UGA-LSU Gameday

Post Georgia 45 – North Texas 21: Dawgs float on

Monday September 23, 2013

Georgia football: the team with a long-snapper controversy.

Credit a letdown, looking ahead, the weather, or whatever works for you – not many of us expected North Texas to take possession of the ball in the third quarter with a chance to take the lead. It wasn’t a disaster and really wasn’t ever in danger of becoming another UAB game. The offense was moving the ball well enough and the defense was stingy enough that things came fairly easily, even as the rain grew steadier, once Georgia stopped shooting themselves in the foot.

But there’s the rub. Georgia’s mistakes could be explained away as typical for the opponent and conditions if they were isolated to this game. Some were, others weren’t. The offensive line looked more like what we saw at Clemson than against South Carolina. Linebackers in pass coverage still scare you a little. Then there are some others:

  • In all three games, Georgia has had a special teams mistake cost points. I don’t think we need to say much more.
  • The Dawgs have had the first possession of the second half in all three games. They’ve had a net loss of nine yards on those three possessions, all of which ended with a three-and-out. The high point was a six-yard gain against South Carolina. The blocked punt by UNT was the cherry on top of a series that saw Murray bounce two passes to open receivers.
  • We’ve also seen the second quarter become a bit of an adventure in all three games. The Dawgs have given up less than 20 total points in each of the first (17), third (17), and fourth (13) quarters, but they’ve given up a total of 42 second quarter points. Even in the Clemson game where Georgia only gave up 7 points, that was a stretch when the Dawgs missed a chance to build a lead and instead saw Clemson pull even.

I’ll stop dwelling on the negative because it shouldn’t overshadow some positive developments. It was just another day at the office for Aaron Murray. 400+ yards, over 70%, a slew of touchdown passes, and grumbling fans. Now Murray wasn’t as sharp as he was two weeks ago. The intercepted pass was forced, and he had another shaky pass into coverage intended for Lynch. There were some unforced errors like the short-hopped passes to start the second half. Still, with North Texas using their safeties in run support, Georgia’s senior quarterback had few problems carrying the offense to an extremely productive day.

Georgia’s offense handling a mid-major opponent didn’t surprise anyone. Could the defense? The Georgia defense put an emphatic stop to a streak of poor performances against the run and held the visitors to negative rushing yardage until garbage time. Chris Mayes did well on the inside in his first opportunity, but it was truly a team effort to stuff the run and create pressure. We saw our first interception and the first sack by an outside linebacker.

The defense had two important moments in the second half. Georgia had scored to re-take the lead at 28-21, but UNT responded with a 30-yard pass to the tailback and were in position to get some points back. There was fortunately some miscommunication on a pass play, but Tray Matthews had to make a really nice play on the errant pass in order to claim his first interception. The Dawgs preserved their lead, and the offense took over for another scoring drive that gave them some much-needed breathing room.

The second moment came a little later – early in the fourth quarter. Gurley fumbled, and UNT took over on Georgia’s 34 trailing by two scores with plenty of time left. Georgia’s defense stood firm, forced two incompletions, and actually drove UNT back a yard in three plays. The visitors lined up for a long field goal but ended up with an awful 12-yard pooch punt. That was the last serious challenge by the North Texas offense, and the Dawgs used the rest of the fourth quarter to put the game away.

There’s still a lot to work on before Georgia faces another SEC opponent. Third down defense was better (UNT was 4-of-16), but several of those conversions came on their lone scoring drive. Georgia was also fortunate that a couple of open seam passes and one wheel route in particular fell incomplete. But on the whole it was encouraging to see the defense gain confidence and make plays against an opponent with an experienced quarterback and an offense with couple of weapons. Floyd continues to get comfortable, and you could start to see things clicking for Harvey-Clemons and Matthews.

A few short points before we move on to bigger things this weekend…

  • If there’s one thing to be disappointed in from Saturday, it’s that the way the game unfolded didn’t allow Georgia to pull the starters until very late. We saw a pretty good rotation along the defensive line, and Quincy Mauger saw time at safety early in the game. There was less of a rotation at linebacker. Wilson and Herrera played quite a bit at inside linebacker again, and we didn’t see much of Carter or Kimbrough. Carter’s most significant moment was an unfortunate one as he got out of his lane on UNT’s kickoff return touchdown.
  • Special teams were generally poor, but I was encouraged to see Swann take a few more risks on his punt returns. The fair catch signal on his first and best return of the day was a mistake, but he did make some things happen on other returns.
  • It was one of those days for the stadium operations crew too. Stats on the scoreboard were useless for much of the game, sound was in and out and sometimes WAY TOO LOUD, and of course the malfunctioning clock meant that we spent the last few minutes in heavy rain with narration by Penn Wagers.
  • Wooten the ballthrowa! Wooten did several things well to make that trick play come off. He had to scoop up an underthrown pass that messed up the play’s timing, he had to avoid a UNT defender leaping at him, and he threw a nice-looking pass deep enough that Lynch could go up for it. There was interference on the play, but credit Lynch with a nice catch too.
  • I’d like to see Reggie Davis, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley, and the receiver of your choice on a four verts route. (Also…it was only used as a decoy on a run play, but the sight of Davis coming on an end around got my attention.)
  • Jenkins was active behind the line and was a big factor in Georgia’s pressure, but the lack of a sack has to be eating at him. I look for him to be very aggressive against LSU – and hopefully under control.

Post ESPN Gameday coming to Georgia-LSU

Saturday September 21, 2013

It’s official – for the second time in four games, ESPN Gameday will broadcast from the site of a Georgia game. It’s Gameday’s first visit to Athens since 2008 and the third in the history of the program.

Dawg fans tend to be a little(?!) angst-y when it comes to Gameday, but that might be with good reason. The Dawgs are 0-2 when Gameday visits Athens and 3-12 overall when its game is featured. But after navigating the first two weeks of the season, another big game and the national spotlight should be nothing new for this team. Let’s put on a great show and play ball.

Post Big data and ticket prices

Wednesday September 18, 2013

The NFL is increasing the price of its most expensive Super Bowl tickets in order to “close the gap between the face value of the ticket and its true value as reflected on the secondary market.” You can see why they’d want to do this: if a $1,250 ticket is going to end up fetching aver $2,500 on the secondary market, why not try to capture some of that difference in the primary market?

Thanks to the online secondary marketplace, we’re getting a much better and transparent sense of the true value of a ticket. Some are worth almost half of face value (if that). Others sell for many times the original asking price. As schools continue to partner with these secondary brokers, they should be gathering quite a bit of data about the demand for their tickets.

In a day when schools are squeezing all of the money they can out of their football programs, will they use this data to adjust future prices? Differential ticket pricing is already done at this level, but it’s still somewhat crude. Several of our opponents already place Georgia in a premium tier. More attractive opponents create higher demand, and prices are set higher. But how much higher? If we know that a visit from Alabama brings resale prices to over $200, why stop at a premium price of $90? Of course you have to balance maximizing revenue with selling out the stadium (not necessarily the same thing), but you’ll at least start with a more precise idea of what the price should be.

Any tinkering with ticket prices will be a slow process. You have an entrenched fan base used to a certain system, and there will be a negative reaction if too much is done too soon – especially if similar adjustments aren’t made at the bottom end of the scale for less-attractive games. But as the data builds and schools get an exact picture of the demand for their tickets, it will be very tempting to transfer those premiums from the secondary markets into the coffers of the teams. As with the NFL and the Super Bowl, I’d expect this to start with the CFB playoff where the potential gap between primary and secondary markets is the highest. Just don’t be surprised to see it from individual conferences and schools down the road.

Post What to watch for against North Texas

Wednesday September 18, 2013

With a relatively unfamiliar opponent and with Georgia so heavily favored in this game, I’m looking at it as a way to measure Georgia against itself. For most of us, that starts with the defense. We’ve accepted that 1) we’ve faced two of the best offenses we’ll see all year and 2) we’re in an era of very productive offenses. Granting all of that, there are still a lot of ways for Georgia’s defense to improve. We can start with individuals – Langley was picked on by South Carolina, owned his performance, and has the attitude you hope for from a young cornerback. There are also some more general and measurable things we’ll look for from the defense:

  • Rushing yardage: Only Clemson’s 197 rushing yards are keeping Georgia opponents from a long streak of rushing for at least 200 yards that goes back to last November. Coaches have mentioned several tweaks that might help. There’s a chance for increased playing time for a larger defensive lineman like Chris Mayes. We’ll also see more of some younger inside linebackers. In general, there’s been a greater emphasis on better angles and proper tackling during the bye week. Are any of those a silver bullet? Probably not. Hopefully the sum effect of these changes will be positive. It’s time for Georgia’s defense to shut down an opponent’s running game.
  • Turnovers: Georgia’s preseason scrimmage reports featured a fair number of turnovers generated by the defense. So far that defense has generated a single fumble through two games (Georgia’s other takeaway came on special teams.) Georgia and Kentucky are the only SEC teams without an interception this season. There have been dropped interceptions in each game (Herrera at Clemson and Langley against South Carolina.) The Mean Green have already turned the ball over seven times this year, so there should be an opportunity for some takeaways.
  • Sacks: Only Alabama has fewer sacks than Georgia. That tells you that sacks aren’t a perfect metric of defensive pressure or ability, but we’ve seen a couple of elusive quarterbacks avoid Georgia pressure and make plays. Georgia’s linebackers have only recorded 1/2 of a sack (by Herrera.) Will Jordan Jenkins record his first sack this week? North Texas has only allowed two sacks through three games, so they should be a fair test of Georgia’s pass pressure.
  • Third downs: Georgia’s third-down defense, at 44.4%, has been the worst in the SEC. That’s no surprise if you’ve watched Georgia’s first two shootouts. Can the defense get off the field?

Of course it’s all related and intertwined. Better rushing defense puts opponents in more obvious passing situations. More effective pressure can lead to sacks but also to turnovers. I expect that if we see improvement in one area of the defense, it will show up in other areas as well. A few more areas I’ll be watching:

Inside Linebackers. Are Carter and Kimbrough ready to take on larger roles? Wilson and Herrera are the established vets on the interior, but each has his strengths and weaknesses. Carter, in particular, should get a chance to spell the starters and earn more time for himself.

Offensive Line. We’ve talked mostly about defense, but uf Georgia sleepwalks into this game, I think it’s most likely to show up along the offensive line. Speed doesn’t take a week off, so Georgia’s advantages at the skill positions should remain fairly strong. Georgia’s offensive line wasn’t perfect against South Carolina, but it did improve from week one. If we see a muddled running game or Murray scrambling more often than not, we’ll be back to talking about inconsistency among this experienced group rather than progress.

Routine special teams. Can we make it through a game with clean operations on all kicks? Will the return of Morgan be uneventful? If we can have that much, I’ll take it.

The occasional productive punt return. I’m OK with few or no kickoff returns. You usually don’t end up with better field position than what you get from the touchback. Punts are different. It’s a problem when you’re not forcing many punts to begin with, but the Dawgs have managed only two returns so far for a total of seven yards. Swann made a fair catch on a very returnable punt against South Carolina and later attempted a return against much better coverage – possibly because the coaches got in his ear about the earlier fair catch. I understand Mark Richt’s reasoning – it’s not as if the offense has struggled to drive the ball, and you don’t want to get burned by the fake. Still, it’s frustrating to leave yards on the table if they’re there.

Debuts. We’ll see Morgan’s first action. We still don’t know if Rumph’s health will allow him to go. We might see Hutson Mason’s first snaps in a couple of seasons. Several others have already seen playing time in limited action or on special teams, but we’ll hopefully see a lot more of them in this game. Will anyone stand out?

Post The Gamecock diet

Monday September 9, 2013

Georgia fans probably felt a little helpless watching Spurrier target a few inexperienced or weak spots in the Georgia defense on Saturday. Fortunately, Spurrier wasn’t the only coach who had done his homework. As Gamecock (and former Bulldog) beat writer Josh Kendall reports, “Mike Bobo told (Blackledge) last week that Georgia had an advantage due to the new linebackers’ relative lack of experience and size.”

What lack of size? While the South Carolina defensive line is stout, the Gamecock linebackers are, on average, over 25 pounds lighter than the unit that shut down Georgia’s running game a year ago in Columbia.

In 2012, when South Carolina’s starting linebackers weighed an average of 239.7 pounds, Georgia rushed for 115 yards.
On Saturday, when the Gamecocks’ starting linebackers weighed an average of 213.7 pounds, the Bulldogs rushed for 227 yards and whipped South Carolina 41-30.

Follow the link for some more good observations from Josh.

Post North Texas kickoff set for 12:21

Monday September 9, 2013

Georgia’s September 21 game against North Texas will start at 12:21 p.m. Your local SEC Network affiliate will have the broadcast. Fans in the Atlanta market will find the game on Peachtree TV as usual. SEC Network affiliates in other markets can be found here.

For the complete slate of September 21 SEC start times, use this link. Florida/Tennessee is the 3:30 CBS game of the week.

Post Georgia 41 – South Carolina 30: What a difference a week makes

Monday September 9, 2013

Sometimes after a loss we’ll get a comment from a coach claiming that the plan was sound but that the execution was lacking.  Go back to the 2007 loss to South Carolina, and Mark Richt deflected criticism of Mike Bobo by saying, "I think we had plenty of opportunities to score touchdowns. We’ve got to execute." Other times it’s the plan that’s lacking.  A timid attack in Columbia last year didn’t do much to stem the Gamecocks’ explosive start.

On Saturday we saw what happens when a good plan is executed well.  Georgia’s plan certainly tipped its cap to the abilities of Jadeveon Clowney* – the passes were usually quick and short, and runs often went away from him. But any plan would have failed without good blocking, tough running, accurate throws, and big catches.  The execution we saw from the Georgia offense was what we had hoped for and expected from such a loaded and experience unit. It was a high level of performance from everyone from the backs to the line to the quarterback to the receivers.  And it’s a good thing – this was a battle between two very good teams that came down to inches in the fourth quarter.  Georgia had very little room for error when it had the ball, and fortunately the errors were few.

* – The Clowney backlash has been something to behold.  I get why fans relish getting the best of someone like Clowney – sticking it to Tebow was one of the joys of the 2007 Florida win, after all. But Georgia’s success had a lot more to do with the rest of the defense than it had to do with a sub-par performance from a great player.  Georgia was magnificent at frustrating him, and other teams will try to do the same until the rest of the defense can respond.  That doesn’t diminish Clowney as a player or pro prospect, but it does show why the Heisman was never going to happen.

Any talk about Georgia’s execution starts with Murray. He set the tone on the opening series.  With Clowney hanging on to him, Murray was somehow able to launch a pass in the general direction of Michael Bennett.  It wasn’t, and it couldn’t have been, right on the money, but it was a strong response by a quarterback who was supposed to be in fear of the guy hanging off of him. Murray’s stats – even with the drops – were as good as it gets, and his numbers through two games are even ahead of last season’s pace.  As important, he avoided any kind of mistake that could have turned such a close game.

When I heard that Murray had watched the Clemson film six or seven times, I was a little worried about the psychology major.  Was he overthinking things? When you’re so analytical and obsessed with perfection, it can be easy to press, and that can lead to some of the mistakes and early jitters we’ve seen.  South Carolina’s pass rush might’ve been a blessing for Murray in that he didn’t have much time to think.  The plan called for a large helping of slants, passes to the backs, and other plays that showed that Georgia’s offense was very aware of timing.  Some of Murray’s most successful passes – the first lob to Bennett, the touchdown to Gurley, and the last toss to Justin Scott-Wesley – were improvised or rushed.  Murray’s talent and instincts are just fine, and he turned them loose in one of the best performances of the year.

More from a bright and sunny home opener:

  • Was anyone else surprised that Spurrier ended the game eating two timeouts?
  • The trend of booing injured players is on the rise, and I’m disappointed that it showed up at Sanford Stadium yesterday.  It wasn’t to the degree that we saw at Clemson last week, but it was there.  It’s ridiculous that we had to spend time last Sunday producing video evidence of a legitimate injury. Whether or not these stoppages are meant to slow momentum, the benefit of the doubt used to be with the injured player.  It needs to be that way again. 
  • The wonderful closing drive meant that the defense never had to take the field after its crucial goal-line stop, so we won’t know for a while whether it’s going to mark a turning point for the defense.  South Carolina found success with that speed option from their opening drive, and they kept going back to it.  It’s the play that they scored on early in the fourth quarter. In fact, Herrera had a chance to stop the pitch on that scoring play and couldn’t complete the tackle.  After Ray Drew’s stop on third down just inches short of the goal line, the Dawgs were ready, and South Carolina went to the well one too many times.  Shaw was met immediately by Jenkins and forced the quick pitch.  Herrera was up to the job this time and slowed Mike Davis long enough for Wilson and several other defenders to finish the job. 
  • Speaking of Herrera and Wilson, what a test for them.  You had a tough runner in Davis, an elusive quarterback to contain, and Wilson in particular was picked on almost as much in the passing game as Langley was.  But they had enough left in the tank to suck it up for the big stop. The next few weeks will be about developing depth across the board, but few positions could use depth as much as inside linebacker.  It’s a big three weeks for Kimbrough and Carter.
  • And on Langley, be patient with him.  He’s out there for a reason, and he’ll continue to learn and improve.  It’s said that offensive line and cornerback are two of the toughest positions for freshmen, and we saw a master probing the weak spots of Georgia’s defense yesterday.  
  • Jordan Jenkins through two games has six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and zero sacks. Is that representative of Georgia’s pass rush so far?
  • I could go overboard gushing about Gurley, Hicks, and the rest of the backs.  It’s enough to say that, with Murray and the backs, Georgia is deploying an NFL backfield in the college game.
  • I wasn’t down on Marshall after the Clemson game, but his impact was limited.  You can’t say that about this game.  Keith reminded us of what he can do running the ball, but his speed on those swing passes was magical.  What a weapon.
  • All hail Sol.  The third-quarter sun saved Georgia at least once.
  • The Dawgs were a little better at third downs in this game (6-14 vs. 4-14 a week ago). Georgia’s success at sustaining drives was helped by two fourth down conversions.  That early 4th-and-13 pass to Scott-Wesley was both important and outstanding.
  • With Morgan available going forward, you wonder if we make the same call on 4th-and-13 from the opponent’s 31. I hope so.
  • South Carolina got zero points directly from its defense or special teams (excepting placekicks of course).  They had the short field thanks to the botched punt, but that’s as much help as Georgia gave them.  It’s been a few years since that’s happened. Georgia forced the game’s only turnover, but it came at an important time in the third quarter.  It stopped a promising Gamecock drive and led to a field goal that put Georgia out in front for good.
  • The game day experience was generally pretty good.  The ticket scanning made for a logjam at entry, and I hope people keep that in mind for the LSU game.  The only big disappointment was that the score came down off the scoreboard immediately after the game.  If ever you wanted a few shots at a scoreboard picture, this was the game.
  • And the crowd.  Wow.  Even with the problems at the gates, the fans showed up.  The second quarter rally by the visitors put a damper on things, but the fans had an impact through the end of the game.  It helped that the Dawgs, as they did at Clemson, were outstanding at answering scores. 

What a difference a week makes.  That’s not just a comment on the progress made since the Clemson loss.  It’s also a reminder that with 10 games still left, each win has to be earned all over again. 

Post South Carolina thoughts: shaking it off

Friday September 6, 2013

Snap out of it, Dawg fans. There’s still this funk hanging over a lot of us, and that’s not what we need on Saturday. If you saw the game last year in Columbia you know how a home crowd can contribute to steamrolling an opponent. I can’t remember the coaches and players ever being this persistent about asking for a good crowd on Saturday. You can tell what this game means to them, and I hope it means enough to us to put aside the post-Clemson blues and do what we can from the Dawg Walk through pregame through all four quarters.

Countering Clowney

A great player like Clowney is disruptive by nature, so it’s foolish just to go about things as if he’s just another defensive end. At the same time, focusing too much on an individual can keep you on the defensive and take you out of plays that might find success against parts of the defense that are less strong. You can’t play scared. There was that whole subplot a few weeks ago about which quarterbacks played scared against Clowney. “Scared” is a loaded term. What happens is that a quarterback – an entire offense, even – becomes so aware of a player that you rush things or throw out entire elements of your playbook. Short, quick passes are fine, but do you entirely give up on the vertical game? (See “asinine sideline swing screen.”) The diversity of what Georgia can do on offense is one of its strengths; becoming a predictable draw or screen offense makes the field more compact and can even make things easier for the player you’re so worried about.

Last week, Georgia was a disappointing 4-of-14 on third down. It didn’t help that nine of those 14 third down attempts came with at least five yards to go. If you want to lessen the impact of a dominant defensive end, limiting obvious passing situations is a good place to start. Georgia has to be more effective on first and second down and either avoid third downs or make the distance as manageable as possible. The barrage of ineffective counter draws last week set up some nice play-action possibilities (especially the long reception by Hicks), but is it worth the numerous long-yardage situations if you’re only going to set up one or two plays out of it?

In the end, there is no play that doesn’t depend on blocking and execution. Georgia can call up the most brilliant scheme to counter the South Carolina defensive line, but it won’t matter without a better effort from the line.


Georgia threw the ball to its running backs a few times last week. There was the brilliant play-action catch and rumble by Hicks. Murray checked down to Gurley on the very first play. Marshall made a nice catch on a swing pass. But Georgia, for whatever reason, still struggles to execute the screen pass. It might just be my own confirmation bias, but I just don’t think of the screen as a play Georgia runs well. The Dawgs had a couple of well-timed screens go awry at Clemson. Gurley was set up with blockers and a lot of open field ahead, but Murray’s pass was tipped and nearly intercepted. Georgia later ran the mirror image of the famous Nebraska inside screen to Conley, but Murray had to sidestep and ended up making an inaccurate throw for an incompletion.

Murray’s height is always going to come up. I’m sure that can be a factor, but even Joe Flacco at 6’6″ is going to have a tough time seeing over a leaping 6’4″ defensive end only a few feet away. A well-executed screen is a balance between holding the defensive pressure long enough for the play to develop and then releasing in time to trap the pressure behind the play. If you wait too long to release, there are no blockers for the receiver, and the receiver is likely to be caught in a traffic jam near the line of scrimmage. If you release too soon, you give a quick defender like Clowney a clear path to the quarterback before the quarterback can even drop back. That leads to unpleasant outcomes like this:

Yes, the coup de grace of the 2011 loss to South Carolina came when Clowney blew up an attempted screen. We know that screens can be great ways to counter aggressive defenses. I’m just hesitant to go all-in with screens in this game because 1) Georgia has problems executing them, 2) you’re playing with fire when you invite a speedy rusher into the backfield, and 3) is South Carolina’s defense all that aggressive? By that, I mean their defensive line is good enough that they can get the pressure they need with just the front four. Watch these last two videos from their UNC game. Sacks from simple straight-ahead four-man rushes. Not even a stunt to be found.

That strength along the line creates a big luxury for the defense. You can drop everyone else into coverage and be fairly certain that you’ll get enough pressure if you can cover just competently for a few seconds. So even if you’re able to get off a screen behind that line, know that you’ll still have seven defenders behind the line to deal with. This goes back to what I was saying about how playing scared can make you do things contrary to what you might do best. A screen is a logical counter to a good pass rush, but does it attack the weaknesses of the South Carolina defense? Or does the very presence of Clowney bait Georgia into doing something they don’t do all that well? Is a win against Clowney necessarily a win for the offense?


Forget the debate over Murray for a second. Going back to 2005, South Carolina’s defense and special teams has put points on the board against Georgia seven times. We remember the crushing fumble and fake punt in the 2011 game, but there was also an interception return in there too. It goes without saying that Georgia has to avoid not only crippling turnovers but also the special teams miscues that helped to sink them last week (and last year in Columbia). We also know that it’s not just the direct scores that hurt you. Ealey’s fumble from the SC 3 in 2010 ended Georgia’s best chance to get back in that game. An early Murray INT last season ended Georgia’s only trip into South Carolina territory until late in the second quarter.

There’s the flip side – what can Georgia do to create turnovers and points? South Carolina is fairly stingy with the ball. Shaw only threw seven interceptions in 2012, two of which came playing from behind in the 4th quarter at LSU. In their three-game losing streak to South Carolina, the Dawgs have forced three turnovers – 1 in 2010 and 2 in 2011 – but they’ve done little with those opportunities. A Garcia fumble in 2010 led to a long Georgia drive, but the drive ended on Georgia’s own fumble. Garcia was intercepted twice in 2011 and had a rough first half, but Georgia failed to take control of the game when they had momentum. The kind of opportunity that we saw in the muffed fumble recovery at Clemson have to be cashed in on in games like this.

But before Georgia worries about converting opportunities, they have to create them. Georgia’s lone takeaway last week came on a muffed punt. The defense didn’t have many chances to create turnovers and didn’t come away with any. Grantham’s “biggest complaint to the players was a lack of turnovers.” You wonder if Georgia is going to go with a higher risk/reward approach on Saturday.


  • With Mitchell out for Georgia, I expect South Carolina to focus on Gurley. That means some dense coverage in the short and intermediate passes until Georgia can establish some kind of deep threat. I’d be happy to see an early shot or two, even if unsuccessful, to show some attempt at a vertical passing game. If the SC linebackers are going to help against the run, this is an opportunity for Lynch to have a bigger impact than he had a week ago.
  • While Murray can be “wild in the strike zone” even as he’s completing passes, that’s fine with me. He just could really use a good, confidence-building start. The early pick in Columbia last year deflated the offense, and it took a while to recover.
  • I like Georgia’s matchups against South Carolina’s receivers – as long as they keep those receivers from getting behind them. South Carolina tested Georgia deep just a couple of times last year. The Bulldog defensive backs had good chances to break up those passes (or even intercept them), but they lost the one-on-one battle each time. Hopefully Georgia’s safeties do better this time around.

Post Mitchell out for the season

Monday September 2, 2013

It’s a good thing that receiver is probably Georgia’s deepest position.  Junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL on an awkward landing while celebrating Todd Gurley’s early touchdown run at Clemson.  Mitchell will need surgery and will miss the rest of the 2013 season.  He’ll almost surely qualify for a medical redshirt and still have two years’ of eligibility remaining.  Mitchell will also be qualified to enter the NFL draft following this season, so it’s also a (small) possibility that we’ve seen the last of this talented athlete at Georgia.

The Dawgs had to adjust to the loss of two receivers to knee injuries in 2012, and they’re right back in a similar situation.  Mitchell brought both the deep threat and the explosiveness to turn nearly any catch into a score.  Georgia must piece together those attributes from the depth of the position.  The emergence of Justin Scott-Wesley on Saturday is much more important now – his speed can be useful to stretch the field.  True freshman Reggie Davis was a borderline redshirt candidate, but he’s also likely to get a chance to use his speed on deep routes.

Mitchell was also a dependable target that Murray looked to when trying to sustain drives.  Michael Bennett displayed sure hands on some errant passes at Clemson, and he’ll likely be a favored target now.  Georgia will also add JUCO receiver Jonathan Rumph to the mix, and Rumph’s size will make him a tough matchup for most secondaries.   

Mitchell started Saturday’s game as the kick returner, and Scott-Wesley stepped into that role once Mitchell left the game.  He didn’t get a chance to return any kicks, and we appreciated his restraint to stay in the end zone and take the field position rather than risk a short return.  We’ll have to see if Richt will stick with Scott-Wesley back there or if Gurley or another player will be the permanent replacement for Mitchell.

We wish Malcolm Mitchell the best in his recovery, and we hope to see him back on the field for the 2014 opener.

Post Georgia 35–Clemson 38: Coming up just short again

Monday September 2, 2013

I guess it’s progress.  We’ve come from 4 points, 8 yards, and a tipped pass to 3 points, 3 yards, and a botched chip shot of a field goal. If anything, a team that spent the offseason motivated by the near-miss in last season’s SEC championship game now has a whole new and much more relevant set of missed opportunities to dwell on.  Georgia’s 38-35 loss in the season opener at Clemson was great TV full of explosive plays on both sides from two of the nation’s most potent offenses.   We just didn’t count on the explosive offense blowing up on itself quite so much.

We’ll come back to the defense, but we pretty much expected that Clemson would put tremendous pressure on the inexperienced defense.  Georgia would have to lean on its veteran offense to carry them.  A unit that posted over 500 yards of offense can’t be accused of failing to do their part.  Instead, it was mistakes more characteristic of a much less-experienced offense that did Georgia in.  The inconsistent line, the penalties, the disastrous start to the second half – it was the first game, yes, but it was hardly the first time these guys had played together. 

It reminded me a bit of the 2011 South Carolina game.  The Dawgs outgained the opponent, they missed some chances to gain an advantage in the first half, a key fumble by Murray led to an important score, and a pivotal special teams play changed the momentum of the game.  There was a lot to like on both sides of the ball, but it just took a handful of plays to make the difference against another quality opponent.

  • I’m not sure what’s more mind-boggling: that Georgia racked up nearly 550 yards of offense and still lost or that Georgia racked up nearly 550 yards of offense despite six consecutive drives in the second and third quarters that resulted in a net loss of nine yards. During that stretch, Georgia saw a lead turn into a tie game at halftime that turned into a deficit.  Georgia started that sequence with the ball and a chance to extend their first lead, and they ended it in the position of having to play catch-up for the rest of the game.
  • If there’s one stat that stands out for the offense as a problem, it’s 4-of-14 on third down.  On the fourth play of the second quarter, Murray improvised and found Wooten on a reception that went to the goal line.  Georgia only converted one third down the rest of the way. 
  • Of Georgia’s 14 third downs, 9 of them had at least 5 yards to go. It’s tough to convert on third down when you’re not making much progress on the first two downs.
  • It was a great crowd and a tough environment to work in.  To their credit, Georgia impressed me with their ability to respond to almost every Clemson score.  The botched field goal came on yet another long drive that came after a Clemson score.  Even with the early scores by Clemson, the turnovers, and the penalties, the fight was there until the onside kick.
  • Even in the loss there were some impressive debuts.  Hicks and Scott-Wesley stepped up.  Floyd might’ve won himself a starting job.  Matthews didn’t have many opportunities to make plays, but he wasn’t a liability against a potent passing game.  He’ll learn to make plays on the ball and avoid the situation that cost him a pass interference penalty.
  • I still can’t get over what Floyd was asked to do in his first game.  Georgia rarely substituted its linebackers and defensive backs.  There was no nickel group – Floyd was forced into the “star” position, often had to cover a receiver, and he really stood out. 
  • As important as the newcomers were the veterans who had to take on a larger role.  Herrera and Wilson were extremely active.  Herrera especially had several big pass break-ups.  On the offense, Bennett didn’t skip a beat from when we last saw him.
  • Speaking of Herrera, the interception he dropped was potentially as important of a turning point as the field goal.  Georgia was up 7 and would have had the ball in Clemson territory.  Instead, Clemson punted, and Murray fumbled three plays later to set Clemson up with the short field to tie the game.
  • It wasn’t just the line that had protection issues.  On the blitz that caused Murray’s fumble, the Clemson pressure so mixed up the Georgia protection scheme that Keith Marshall ended up with no one to block. I was hoping to see a bit more from Marshall.  One of the things I had wondered about was his ability to be something other than a change of pace if Gurley couldn’t go.  Marshall did have some nice plays – the effort on his touchdown was tremendous, and he made a difficult catch on a Murray swing pass.  Still, Marshall ended with 2.7 yards per carry and had a tough time getting through the Clemson front.
  • Though the defense gets a lot of leeway for what they were up against, it was still disappointing to give up 197 yards of rushing.  Georgia went through the Florida, Ole Miss, and Auburn games in 2012 giving up a total of 178 yards of rushing.  Since then, they’ve given up at least that much in every game.  Georgia’s last five opponents have averaged nearly 279 yards on the ground.  Georgia actually did a fair job against the pass on Saturday – removing Watkins’ impressive long run after a poor tackle attempt by Swann, the Tigers were under 200 yards of passing. 

That rushing defense is especially important when we look ahead to South Carolina.  The Gamecocks pounded North Carolina for 228 yards on the ground.  Though this won’t be the up-tempo attack we saw from Clemson, South Carolina will present their own challenges.  They’ll run the zone read with Shaw more than capable of getting yards.  They’ll use play action from that same look to catch Georgia’s linebackers and safeties looking to stop the read play. 

Georgia should feel confident in their chances if they can eliminate some of the correctable mistakes.  The home crowd should help with a few of those.  Still, the opening games left us with the impression of a Gamecock advantage on both sides of the line.  It’s tough to win any SEC game, much less one against an elite SEC team, without winning somewhere along the line of scrimmage.  Georgia must find answers in its pass protection, and they’ll have to be creative in how they attack a big and physical offensive line that will look to drive the ball straight at them.