Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post WLOCP thoughts along I-16

Thursday October 31, 2013

Not much to do but think along this stretch of road…

1) Georgia’s defensive line

Florida has put its offense under the microscope during the bye week, and the offensive line has received special scrutiny. The Gators were already considering a switch at right tackle to JUCO Trenton Brown (who was a Georgia commitment before switching to the Gators.) Earlier this week Florida starting left tackle D.J. Humphries injured his knee. So the Gators will move the right tackle that was going to be benched in favor of Brown over to left tackle, and Brown will make his first start.

That’s not great news for a unit that has given up 10 sacks in the past 2 games. Georgia’s defense hasn’t put up much resistance this year, but one area that could be considered a strength is the defensive line. Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey have played well up front, and they’re anchored by the senior Garrison Smith. With active outside linebackers like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, despite its shortcomings elsewhere on defense, isn’t far behind Missouri in generating sacks. Jarvis Jones stole the show the past couple of years, but last year’s Florida game could be considered the coming out party for Jenkins.

The Dawgs are also among the top third of the conference against the run, and that will be an important battle in this game. Florida, perhaps even moreso than Georgia, will want to establish the run and reduce the workload for Tyler Murphy. If Florida is forced to lean on its passing game, Georgia’s defensive front should have some opportunities against a shaky line and a quarterback battling shoulder problems.

2) Florida’s cornerbacks

The Gator defensive backfield has been relatively (though not completely) injury-free, and it’s the strength of a very good defense. If Georgia is only swapping Bennett for Conley, they will still trot out a diminished group of receivers. If Florida finds success covering the Georgia receiving options one-on-one, that frees up a lot of bodies for the SEC’s leading rushing defense to throw at the line of scrimmage. The Gators don’t get a ton of sacks – only 11 on the season so far – but they are tops in the league on third down. Expect Florida to pay a lot of attention to Todd Gurley and force Aaron Murray to make plays against some tight coverage.

3) Murray’s performance

Can Murray make those plays to loosen up the line of scrimmage? For a guy who’s 2-1 as a starter in this game, Murray has had some shaky outings in Jacksonville. In those three games, he’s been 45-of-95. His best performance came as a freshman in 2010 where he led a frenzied comeback and finished with 313 yards. He’s only totaled 319 yards and 5.5 yards per attempt in the two games since, but he’s connected on three dramatic touchdown passes that made the difference in those wins.

Florida’s great defense could make for another messy day for even a good quarterback like Murray. If he can overcome that for another South Carolina-like performance, it will be a great day for Georgia. But more likely, considering the depleted receivers, Murray will face some struggles. While it will be necessary for him to make some big throws – whether smaller drive-sustaining passes or touchdown passes – it’s just as important for him to avoid turnovers. What we don’t want is to give a struggling Florida offense a shot in the arm with good field position after a turnover. The Dawgs overcame Murray’s three interceptions last year in large part because they forced six turnovers of their own. Georgia’s defense hasn’t been as effective at creating turnovers in 2013, so each Georgia mistake – by the offense or special teams – will be magnified. It’s fine if a drive stalls; it’s going to happen against this good of a defense. Make sure Florida has to drive and earn what points they get.

4) Matching Florida’s urgency

We know that Muschamp has circled the wagons over the past two weeks. Is he coaching for his job? Probably not, but he’s not in the clear either. Not only is Muschamp under personal pressure to win, but Florida also is in danger of seeing the series flip on them. Three Georgia wins in a row would be significant, and some longer-term trends in the series could swing Georgia’s way too. Desperation and urgency doesn’t always mean a win (Georgia was plenty desperate over the past two decades), but we should at least expect Florida to throw everything they have into this game. The Dawgs were caught off-guard by Florida’s changes in 2010. Can they be more prepared this time, and can they bring a focus and urgency of their own?

Post Bye week transformations

Friday October 25, 2013

You wouldn’t expect much to change over two weeks, but both Georgia and Florida have used the bye week in recent years to get an edge for the WLOCP.

In 2007, Georgia needed a late fumble and field goal to escape Vanderbilt with a 20-17 win. At that point in the season the Dawgs were 5-2 and just off a humbling blowout loss at Tennessee and a near-loss to Vandy. In fact, the last-second win at Vanderbilt snapped a six-game losing streak against SEC East opponents.

Two things changed for Georgia going into the 2007 Florida game. One, the celebration, we’ll never forget. The other, more substantive, change was a renewed running game. Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno had only one 100+ yard game before Vandy, and he never had more than 20 carries. Moreno broke out against the Commodores with 28 carries and 157 yards. Though Georgia hit a couple of big pass plays for scores against Florida, Moreno stole the show with 33 carries, 188 yards, and three touchdowns. He rolled off five straight games over 100 yards as Georgia salvaged the season with a Sugar Bowl bid.

In 2010, Florida was going through some tough times on offense. They had lost three in a row going into the bye, and their latest 10-7 loss to Mississippi State was just ugly. Injuries in the backfield left the running game ineffective, and new quarterback John Brantley was straining to carry the offense.

Florida’s offensive coaches spent the bye week installing an up-tempo package that featured freshman Trey Burton rotating in to take snaps. The Gators rotated quarterbacks based on what they saw from the defense and found a ground game with Burton who ran for a career best 17 carries, 110 yards, and 2 TDs. As if two quarterbacks weren’t enough, the Gators added Jordan Reed to the mix for a couple of power runs from the quraterback spot. Georgia’s defense was confused by the rotation, and the tempo gassed the Dawgs. The Gators racked up 450 yards of offense, 231 of which came on the ground.

Georgia’s 2012 bye came two weeks before the Florida game, and the Dawgs had to survive a trip to Kentucky first. The transformation was just as dramatic though. Shawn Williams’ public challenge to his teammates between the Kentucky and Florida games helped to bring about a much different defense in Jacksonville that maintained a high level for the rest of the season. Georgia found themselves in an ugly physical game against Florida, and a less tough team wouldn’t have made it out with a win.

Will 2013 see a bye-week transformation from either team? Injuries will play a big part in that answer. Florida is one of the few schools that can put up an injury report comparable to Georgia’s. The Gators expect to get a couple of defensive starters, Damien Jacobs and Ronald Powell, back for Jacksonville. Georgia anticipates the returns of starters Todd Gurley, Michael Bennett, and Tray Matthews.

In terms of strategy, Will Muschamp has pulled his coaching staff off the recruiting trail for a bit of introspection. There’s only so much that can be done at this point, but one area Muschamp identified is along the offensive line. The Gators have allowed ten sacks over their past two games and have rushed for a total of 170 yards in those losses. Muschamp might dip into his reserves – a JUCO transfer and a freshman – and “he also anticipates using more seven- and eight-man protection schemes.”

For Georgia’s part, the bye week priorities are getting as many people back from the injury list as possible and then shoring up the defense and special teams. The special teams problems aren’t really an issue of personnel or strategy – it’s just going to be a question of execution in the game. The defense has shown a bit of improvement over the past two games, but it hasn’t taken much for the wheels to come off. The most critical area to watch on the defense will be in the secondary. Whether or not Josh Harvey-Clemons is able to play, there are some personnel questions to answer. Is Swann kept as the nickel (star) defensive back where he looked more comfortable at Vanderbilt? Does Sheldon Dawson earn more time at cornerback? What the heck happened to Langley?

Whether it’s through simplification, a return to health, or improved execution, Georgia’s defense is going to have to play a larger role due to the injuries on offense. It’s not quite as simple as the toughness challenge a year ago, but a large part of Georgia’s chances in Jacksonville depend on the Georgia defense making sure that Florida continues to struggle on offense.

It’s hard to believe that one of these preseason top 10 teams will leave Jacksonville with a three-game losing streak and a .500 record, but that’s the kind of month it’s been. I am interested though to see what both teams come up with during the bye – either team’s season could be salvaged or lost, and these coaches know how much emphasis fans put on the game.

Post Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was practice?

Wednesday October 23, 2013


Post Georgia 27 – Vanderbilt 31: The wheels come off

Wednesday October 23, 2013

There was a bit of uneasiness in our section when Georgia’s field goal midway through the third quarter put the Bulldogs up 27-14. It was nice to get the three points, but people sensed that coming out of the drive without a touchdown left the door open for some fluky play to get Vandy to within one possession of the lead. Sure enough, Swann’s muffed fair catch was the play that opened the door and started the downward spiral that led to Georgia’s first loss to an unranked team since 2010. If college football were a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this would be the other outcome of Georgia’s 2011 trip to Nashville.

You’ve had a late fourth quarter special teams mistake at Vanderbilt in a one-possession game!
If your punter makes a tackle to prevent the return of a blocked punt and you hold off a couple of desperation passes from your own 25, turn to page 2011.
If you snap the ball over the head of your punter, give up the go-ahead score, and then fumble away your last meaningful chance to score, turn to page 2013.

To be sure, that fourth quarter collapse was a team effort. Georgia’s offense struggled to put up less than 100 yards in the second half. Following that third quarter field goal, the only first down Georgia managed was fumbled away by Douglas. They ran a total of 14 plays in the fourth quarter and netted 13 yards, keeping the ball for just over 4 minutes of playing time. I don’t know if Georgia had a deep threat; I’m not sure if there were any pass plays longer than a couple of 15-yard outs to Conley and Davis. Without anything to worry about down the field, Vanderbilt squeezed Georgia’s offense closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.

Tyler makes a good point here: Georgia’s defense played pretty well for three quarters. They were finally creating turnovers, gave up few big gains, got good pressure, and kept Matthews from having a big game. They (Wiggins, to be precise) stuck it to Vandy when the Commodores got cute with an unconventional formation. But for a unit that has been so shaky, any success is fragile. A huge fourth down stop by Ramik Wilson was negated by a horrible targeting call, and the defense never really recovered. There were some nice individual moments late in the game – Wilson came up with a crushing sack and Swann saved a touchdown – but the unit that took the field following the high punt snap looked shell-shocked and put up little resistance against the game-winning run.

Then there’s special teams. I started to break them down individually, but it’s enough to say that Georgia had three special teams errors and Vandy scored three touchdowns as a result. I appreciate Mark Richt’s explanation for why Swann was fielding that game-changing punt, and Richt is right in one sense: no amount of coaching can make a guy catch a punt or snap the ball on target. It’s a lot harder to stomach when we see these mistakes repeated throughout the season. Georgia’s special teams have waxed and waned throughout Richt’s 13 seasons without a designated coordinator, so that whole discussion is pointless to me. What concerns me is that whatever is taught and practiced isn’t being executed in games, and these little details have kept Georgia from one and maybe two more wins.

Back to the game – Georgia went into lead-management mode with a 13-point second half lead. That might’ve been sound strategy without the special teams miscues, but the result was to put the outcome on the team’s least-consistent unit: the defense. Georgia’s parade of three-and-outs and punt misadventures put the defense on the field for nearly 11 minutes of the final quarter. There’s a lot they could have done better, but I just can’t see this game as a step backwards for the defense. We knew they would do well just to tread water this year, and they crumbled when the offense more or less took a knee for the last quarter and a half.

  • A lot of people wondered where Rumph was, especially when Towns dropped a third down pass. The big JUCO receiver was finally back at practice this week, and it was hoped that his return might give a boost to a depleted receiving corps. He spent a lot of the day on the sideline exercise bike, and given the raw conditions of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if his injured hamstring just stayed tight. Perhaps more likely: it takes more than a week to get ready for your SEC debut.
  • The special teams problems weren’t limited to the obvious fakes and fumbles. A delay getting the extra point team in place just before halftime led to a penalty.
  • It sure would have been nice to have had another timeout or two in the bank down the stretch. Georgia burned another defensive timeout before the fourth down play on which Wilson was flagged. Yes, had the Wilson play stood, the timeout would have been a game-saving stroke of genius.
  • There was near-universal admiration around us for the way Douglas finished his runs. I just hope he doesn’t get a Danny Ware-like stigma for the fumbles.
  • Welcome back, Jordan Jenkins.
  • You too, Sheldon Dawson.
  • A nice moment of redemption for Corey Moore. He got suckered inside on a Vanderbilt run out of the wildcat, and it resulted in a long gain. On the next play Moore was in better position and intercepted a tipped pass. Unfortunately the offense couldn’t do much of anything with Moore’s pick.
  • It’s moot, but I’m still trying to figure out the wisdom of Vanderbilt’s field goal attempt in the last minute.

As positive and forward-looking as we were at the end of September, we end October in a dark place. Though the larger goals are slipping away, there’s still much to play for. At the very least, there are three huge rivalry games left, and Georgia holds a winning streak in all of them. There have been some pretty dramatic bye weeks heading into Florida in recent years, and I’m curious to see how this team can respond given some time to process the past month and get some key pieces back in place.

Post AT&T looking to boost Sanford Stadium signal

Monday October 21, 2013

Some good news for AT&T subscribers, but you’ll have to wait until the 2014 season. AT&T will install equipment this spring in Sanford Stadium that should result in “10 to 12 times greater data capacity” on football Saturdays. The work could be done in time for G-Day, but there’s no firm date.

These improvements won’t do much for those who subscribe to Verizon or other wireless carriers, but those companies, like AT&T, are looking at technology for similar investments across the country. We imagine they’ll follow suit in Athens.

Now if someone wants to invest in a high-density Wi-Fi network that can support any Sanford Stadium patron with a smartphone, there’s already a working model in the state.

Post Ray Drew’s AMA

Monday October 21, 2013

Georgia defensive end Ray Drew stopped by reddit’s college football group (/r/CFB) on Monday night for an AMAA (ask me almost anything). Ray’s a bright guy, so he’s not going to go off on the refs for his ejection on Saturday or talk about the dump truck full of money that [rival school] offered him. Still, enjoy.

Post Once more into Vanderbilt

Thursday October 17, 2013

Georgia gets ready to head to Nashville this weekend looking to beat Vanderbilt and get back into the win column. There are a surprising number of storylines for a game against an opponent that’s winless in SEC play. Though Georgia dominated Vandy 48-3 a year ago in Athens, it’s almost as if that game never happened. All anyone wants to talk about is Georgia’s narrow escape two years ago. Seth Emerson does a nice job of capturing the tense finish, the season-saving tackle by Drew Butler on a blocked punt, and the feeling afterwards that was much more relief than joy.

So if that’s what people want to talk about, we’ll talk about it. Before last season’s game, we went back to look at that 2011 game to see if we could take anything from it. Georgia gave a master class in how to keep an underdog in the game: “They settled for field goals, failed to cash in on other chances, and made the mental mistakes that allowed a team that was 11-of-31 passing the ball to end up with 28 points against one of the SEC’s better defenses.”

If the 2011 game was a lesson in how to let a team hang around, the 2012 game showed how to put away an upset-minded team. Georgia was efficient and productive on offense, forced Vanderbilt to become a one-dimensional offense, and didn’t make the turnovers and mistakes that gave the visitors an opportunity to get back into the game.

Looking back at 2011 again, is there anything to focus on? Special teams jumps out. We don’t need to remind you what an adventure special teams has been in 2013, but Georgia nearly hit all of the squares on the special teams bingo card in 2011. You have the mundane (missed field goal attempts), the jaw-dropping (a kickoff returned for a touchdown), the baffling (a fake punt from a center-eligible formation), and the terrifying (a blocked punt with seven seconds remaining.) It’s kind of sad to say again, but I’d feel really, really good about Georgia’s chances with just a neutral special teams performance – touchbacks, fair catches, punt-safe, and so on. Just neutral special teams gives Georgia at least 14 fewer points in that game, and we barely remember the 2011 Vandy game.

Then there are the field goal attempts. Georgia attempted six in 2011 – the results of drives that came up just short. It’s something you have to think about now with the hobbled offense, especially at the tailback position. Can Georgia punch it in? Two of the biggest plays in the Missouri game led to scoring chances inside the Missouri 20, but the Dawgs had to settle for a field goal each time. At least Morgan got the three points each time, but Vandy would be very happy to hold the powerful Georgia offense to more than a couple of field goal attempts again. Bulldog running backs had 7 rushing touchdowns through the first three games but have had just one rushing touchdown since Gurley went down against LSU.

The 2011 game also saw Georgia become a bit unglued. Whether or not Vandy was baiting them, there were some dumb penalties and other mental mistakes that Vandy used to their advantage. Those mental errors began trickling into the play of Georgia’s defense as they started to lose discipline like an enraged fighter swinging at air (unfortunately mirroring the composure of their coordinator.) I’m not so much concerned about that this year – I’ll take what aggression I can get from this defense. You do expect Vanderbilt to give Georgia’s defense a lot to think about – shifts, play-action, etc. Fortunately the new quarterback isn’t as much of a running threat as Rodgers was.

If there’s one thing Georgia can hope to duplicate from last season’s big win in Athens, it’s taking away the Vandy rushing game. The Commodores were held to only 106 yards on 36 carries. Georgia’s quick start put a lot of pressure on Vanderbilt’s offense, but the Georgia run defense was still solid. The dangerous Zac Stacey had a benign 83 yards, and no Vanderbilt carry went for over 15 yards. Vandy is currently 13th in the SEC in rushing offense, so taking away the run is an attainable and necessary goal for Georgia. The Commodores will present enough of a challenge in the passing game – it will be a frustrating afternoon if they can get anything going on the ground.

That Vanderbilt passing game is a bit like LSU in the way it distributes the ball. No one will confuse Austyn Carta-Samuels with Zach Mettenberger, but the Vandy QB has a good arm and can get the ball to his targets. Like LSU, Vandy relies on two main receiving threats. Jordan Matthews is as good as it gets anywhere in the nation. Even if you dedicate safety help, he finds ways to get open and make catches. With so much attention paid to Matthews, senior Jonathan Krause has thrived with 24 catches and 430 yards after finishing 2012 with just 69 yards.

So how to slow down this passing game? Pressure. Vandy is last in the league with 16 sacks allowed. Georgia’s defensive line, led by the emerging Ray Drew, and the pass rushing specialists at outside linebacker have to disrupt pass plays and not allow Carta-Samuels to get comfortable playing pitch-and-catch with Matthews. The Commodores are feeling confident about their ability to get to Aaron Murray, but the pass rush should be a plus for Georgia as well. Pressure can and has caused mistakes – Carta-Samuels has been intercepted six times this season, and he can be streaky. Can Georgia’s turnover-starved defense finally make some plays?

Post Media predict a step back for Georgia’s basketball teams

Thursday October 17, 2013

The media have spoken, and they expect Georgia’s basketball teams to spend the 2013-2014 season doing some rebuilding. The men are pegged to finish 11th in the 14-team SEC, and the Lady Dogs are expected to place 6th.

The Georgia men finished 9th in the league last season, posting a 9-9 conference record. They graduated three seniors, guards Vincent Williams and Sherrard Brantley and center John Florveus, and of course leading scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opted for the NBA Draft. The men have some depth, but they’ll need to find some combination of consistent scoring from the backcourt to replace Caldwell-Pope’s production.

The Lady Dogs finished 3rd in the SEC with 12-4 conference record and were an overtime loss away from advancing to the Final Four. The team lost seven seniors from last season’s team including four regular contibutors, three of which were multiple-year starters who went on to spend time on WNBA rosters. The most significant challenges for the Lady Dogs come in the frontcourt. Sophomore Merritt Hempe spent most of last season limited by a foot injury, leaving small forwards Shacobia Barbee and Krista Donald as the only returning frontcourt players with significant experience. Georgia is a little better off in the backcourt with Erika Ford, Khaalidah Miller, and Tiara Griffin returning, but finding a point guard to replace Jasmine James is high on the to-do list.

Post SEC hoops will call Nashville home

Monday October 14, 2013

According to The Tennessean, the SEC will announce a long-term deal to host 12 straight SEC tournaments in Nashville starting in 2015. The deal will cover nine men’s tournaments and three women’s tournaments. The SEC’s basketball media days will be held this week in Birmingham, so we’ll hear much more about this story and others as we prepare to start the basketball season in less than a month.

The 2014 tournaments will be held in Georgia. The men will play at the Georgia Dome on March 12-16, 2014, and the women will play at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth on March 5-9, 2014.

Post Georgia 26 – Missouri 41: Show Me Showed Us

Monday October 14, 2013

Missouri spent much of the offseason taking a lot of grief for their lackluster SEC debut in 2012. Even a 5-0 start against a lightweight schedule didn’t do much to move the needle. No more. A win on Saturday in Athens over a top 10 Georgia team that hadn’t lost a home game in 2 seasons has the Tigers sitting undefeated and alone atop the SEC East. They took control of the game in the second quarter with contributions from both their offense and defense, withstood a Georgia comeback, rallied behind their backup quarterback, and they deserved the win.

For Georgia’s part, Seth Emerson has it right. The game proved what we had sensed for a while: Georgia isn’t a national title contender. Yes, it’s the inexperience. Yes, it’s the injuries. But it’s mostly about a team that just doesn’t do the little things right. It’s not just blocking/tackling/coverage. Details like special teams operations, personnel groupings, and sideline communication have caused and continue to cause problems. So far in the season, they’d more or less gotten away with it. So long as you had Aaron Murray and a few minutes on the clock, you could have inconsistent offensive line play, disorganization on the defense, or special teams breakdowns. When Missouri missed their late extra point, there was supreme confidence that Georgia could go to that well again and count on Murray to bail the team out again. But Murray, sensing the weight on his shoulders, forced a pass into tight coverage. There would be no miracle escape, and Georgia is left in the position of needing some help to repeat as SEC East champs.

There are many moments from the game you can single out, but one sticks out to me. Following the score that brought Georgia to within two points, the defense that had come to life in the second half kept it up on Missouri’s first two downs. The Tigers faced a 3rd-and-9, and the crowd was at full throat anticipating another stop. For whatever reason, Georgia called timeout. I’m still not sure why. There wasn’t a numbers issue; 11 Dawgs were out there. I guess someone saw something they didn’t like. The timeout gave Missouri a chance to gather itself after two unsuccessful downs, and the crowd was half of what it was before the timeout. Missouri converted, and they were on their way to another score.

It’s not that this moment was some larger metaphor for the way the season has gone. It’s just that with things finally going well on defense, some little thing – confusion about where to line up, a question about who was covering whom, or some other personnel issue – derailed a great chance to make a stand deep in Missouri’s end that would’ve given the ball back to Georgia’s rejuvenated offense with good field position and only down two.

And the defense badly needed something to go well. They struggled to stop Missouri in the first half but had strung together enough stops in the third quarter to bring Georgia to the brink of tying the game. They held Missouri around 100 yards below their season average on the ground. They notched four sacks. They held a good third down offense under 50%. But given a chance to help a gutted offense turn the game around in the fourth quarter, the floodgates opened again.

Shawn Williams isn’t walking through that door. Last year it took a public challenge by one of their own to light a fire under an under-performing defense loaded with NFL talent. That’s not likely this year; there’s a lot more to it than an attitude adjustment. It’s unfair to the offense, but the performance of the defense means that every mistake, turnover, and penalty by the offense are magnified. Every drive without points feels like a service break in tennis.

Yet as dire as things seem, many of Georgia’s goals remain. South Carolina, Missouri, and Florida must all play each other. There’s still some shaking out to do. Of Georgia’s first four SEC opponents, only one (Tennessee) isn’t among the top half of SEC scoring offenses. Only one remaining opponent (Auburn) is. It’s not reasonable to expect some huge awakening on defense, but the schedule lends itself to some marginal improvement. The offense will soon add some important pieces. It will be a challenge each week, but this is still a potential champion – just not a national one.

  • If all he were asked to do is defend the flats, Shaq Wiggins would be an all-American. He’s a solid tackler, aggressive to the ball, and still has a lot to work on in coverage. Once that comes around, he’ll be a very solid corner.
  • I doubt we’ll ever get a straight answer, but the Dawson/Bowman disappearance in the secondary annoys me probably more than it should. I get if true freshman like Langley and Wiggins are better options, but something stinks there.
  • Injuries and youth do have their place in this discussion, but this loss got contributions from the veterans too. Gates and Lynch combined to miss the block that led to Murray’s fumble. Herrera’s dumb late hit ended another chance for a late stop. Swann…we’re all pulling for him to become the leader that the secondary needs.
  • Douglas and Green did fairly well. Douglas’s fumble hurt, but I can’t fault a guy for fighting for yards. Georgia actually gained more yards on the ground Saturday than they did at Missouri a year ago with a healthy backfield. Missouri’s large lead forced Georgia to throw the ball more than they wanted, but the comeback featured some key runs by both tailbacks. Missouri’s coverage forced Murray to check down often, and Douglas in particular made some nice plays to get extra yards on short passes.
  • I also liked seeing Murray keep it a time or two on the read option. It doesn’t need to happen often, but it’s enough to give defenses something to think about, and it makes use of a skill Murray has.
  • Even with all of the turnovers and defensive woes, Georgia’s offense hurt itself by not cashing out in the red zone on two of the day’s biggest plays. The first half strike to Wooten was a shoestring away from being a touchdown, but Georgia had to settle for a field goal. When the teams were trading touchdowns, that put them behind the pace. Same thing on the first drive of the second half. Green’s creative long run gave Georgia a chance to start their comeback in grand style with little time off the clock. Again they settled for the field goal.
  • Finally, a tip of the cap to Missouri’s Maty Mauk. He’s the redshirt freshman stuck into a tight SEC road game in the fourth quarter and asked to manage a two-point lead with momentum on Georgia’s side. His first play was a keeper on 3rd and 6. He shook off first contact (Herrera I believe) and fell forward to move the chains. Mauk didn’t have to do much more, though he had a nice pass to Green-Beckham to set up Missouri’s final score. Still, he held the team together in a tight spot and the offense put up two game-clinching scores under his direction.

Post The next biggest game of the year

Friday October 11, 2013

I guess we’ll find enough players to put together a team and take the field. Suddenly a game most of us overlooked has become a potential turning point for the season and a contest to remain atop the SEC East.

Missouri has to come in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They struggled through 2012 with a 5-7 record. Many SEC partisans scoffed at their results and questioned whether they belonged in the league. But that Missouri team was hit with significant injuries from the start, and they were never firing at full strength. That’s changed in 2013. They’ve started strong, they’re fairly healthy, and they’ve been able to cruise to a perfect 5-0 record entering this weekend’s game at Georgia. Now a program that was mocked and patronized for much of last season has a chance to turn the SEC East on its head midway through the season. It’s the beginning of a tough stretch of consecutive games against Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. They’ll be plenty worn down and tested by the end of October, but they come to Athens riding high and confident.

The Crowd

I think we all know how noon kickoffs usually go. There’s usually not much at stake – it’s Homecoming or a cupcake opponent or something. Mark Richt knows it too. He’s spent more time than usual this week imploring fans – especially students – to show up early and in force. It’s a reflection of two things. One is the magnitude of the game. Missouri became yet another ranked opponent, and the winner will remain undefeated in the division and the conference. The other is a tacit admission that Georgia needs every edge they can get in this game, and the crowd could be the kind of factor it was in the LSU game. I expect that the stands will have some openings at kickoff, but those who do show up will be in full voice.

The Mindset

One thing is sure after the escape at Tennessee and the magnitude of the injuries: there’s no overlooking this game. A few weeks ago we’d describe this as a trap game – a potential upset of a complacent favorite with a sleepy noon kickoff. That’s out the window. The potential for the upset is still there of course, but Georgia’s gone from any possibility of complacency to a situation of triage and survival. The injuries on offense have raised the stakes for the defense, and they’ve spend all week hearing about their problems and the threat posed by the Missouri offense. Aaron Murray and his next wave of receivers have had to stay after practice to hold a crash course in the routes and timing they’ll depend on in the game.

So I don’t worry about Georgia’s mental edge or focus. I also think they’ve had time to get over the shell-shock of what happened at Tennessee. What does concern you is the physical and mental exhaustion. Not only have they played consecutive down-to-the-wire SEC games, but several key guys will be playing a lot more than they’re used to this week. On one hand, the team is about as battle-tested as you can get. On the other hand, Missouri hasn’t had to bloody themselves much so far.

The Start

A few weeks ago, we noted that LSU came into the Georgia game with a ridiculous 62-3 edge in first quarter scoring. Missouri’s first quarter edge isn’t as pronounced, but they are still outscoring opponents 64-23 in the first 15 minutes. What’s odd is that this edge is most pronounced against opponents from the major conferences. Missouri jumped on Indiana and Vanderbilt by a combined 34-0 in the first quarter.

Georgia has taken the opening kickoff in the past two weeks and put points on the board. They held their own against LSU in the first quarter (no small feat) and had Tennessee down 10-0. Another strong start won’t guarantee success, but a quick start by Missouri could put a ton of stress on Georgia’s pieced-together offense.

The Line

Georgia’s 42-20 win at Missouri last season was an impressive job, coming on the road against an opponent amped up for its SEC debut. We all had a good laugh over “old man football” and enjoyed tweaking the newbies as they struggled in their first SEC season. We forget though that Missouri held the upper hand for much of the first three quarters, and Georgia didn’t take their first lead until the final minute of the third quarter.

What turned that nailbiter into a runaway win? We can put a lot of it on Jarvis Jones doing Jarvis Jones things. In a more general sense, Georgia’s pressure forced turnovers, and the offense put the game away with a couple of short-field scores.

With so much attention paid to skill players on both teams, it’s easy to overlook line play. Fortunately Georgia has been spared along its lines, and they’ll need all hands on deck. Missouri did a good job against the Georgia run last season, holding the Dawgs to 113 yards on the ground. They’re quietly 3rd in the SEC against the run and give up just under 120 yards per game. But along with a pretty good run defense, Missouri can bring pressure. Only Arkansas has more sacks. With that kind of pressure from relatively few men, Missouri can drop defenders into coverage and leads the SEC with 11 interceptions.

Getting back to last year’s game, can we expect Georgia’s defensive line and pass rush to have the same impact that Jarvis Jones had by himself? That’s asking a lot, but it’s Georgia’s best chance of slowing down the spread passing attack of Missouri. Ray Drew has been very effective at defensive end, and Leonard Floyd has become dangerous off the edge. This would be a really good week for Jordan Jenkins to step up. He had his first sack against LSU and is still among the best on the team at quarterback pressure, but he was relatively anonymous last week.

The Little Things

Some leftover thoughts:

  • We hope the newcomers at tailback and receiver can run and catch well. I’ll also be interested in how well they block. Can Green and Douglas pick up pressure? Will Reggie Davis or Blake Tibbs make the key block that turns a 6-yard run into a 35-yard run? The ability and willingness to block is often what keeps some of these guys on the bench, and so much of our offense depends on blocking by the receivers and backs.
  • Will tight ends Lynch and Rome (whose ankle is now in much better shape) feature more in the passing game with so many receivers out? Or, conversely, if Missouri’s pass rush off the edge is causing problems for the line and tailbacks, will a tight end be forced to stay in for protection?
  • Though the Missouri passing game gets special attention thanks to Georgia’s issues in pass coverage, the Tigers actually lead the SEC in rushing with over 250 yards per game. It’s truly a team effort. No Missouri player is averaging over 76 yards per game, but four players are getting at least 50 yards each game and over 5 yards per carry.
  • Missouri’s rushing attack includes quarterback James Franklin. Franklin was dinged up last season but has emerged in his senior year as one of the SEC’s most dangerous dual threats.
  • Georgia had been doing better against the run in games against North Texas and LSU, but Tennessee put up 189 rushing yards behind a stout offensive line. Missouri presents a slightly different running style – more Clemson and South Carolina than LSU and Tennessee. Can Georgia have better success against a spread running game than they had earlier in the season?

Post Georgia’s other third down issue

Thursday October 10, 2013

Georgia’s defensive woes have crystallized around third and fourth down. In the past two games, opponents are converting third and fourth down at a 55.5% (20-for-36) clip. That’s not good, and it’s been the subject of more than one article recently.

But getting less attention is the fact that Georgia’s high-powered, explosive, and talent-laden offense has its own third down issues. This offense producing so many points and yards is 12th in the SEC in third down conversion at 37.5%. Only Mississippi State and Kentucky have had less success moving the chains. (In fairness, the Dawgs are a successful 6-for-8 on the year on fourth down.)

The Tennessee game didn’t do much for Georgia’s conversion rate. The Dawgs were 4-for-13, but that doesn’t tell the story. Prior to the final drive, the Dawgs had converted a single third down: a 3rd-and-1 from the Tennessee 13 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive. Georgia was 1-for-10 on third downs for the first 58 minutes of the game.

Georgia’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation was remarkable for many reasons: Murray’s poise, the contribution of true freshmen in a pressure situation, and the ability to execute after so much had gone wrong. Most remarkable might have been how Georgia flipped its third down difficulties into drive-sustaining big plays. Georgia was a perfect 3-for-3 on third down on that drive, and all three plays did a lot more than just move the sticks. On the first, Green used good vision to find the initial hole and then showed a great cut back to the right to turn a small gain on 3rd-and-1 into a 17-yard run. On the second, Murray went to Douglas on a swing pass that turned into a 32-yard pickup down the left sideline. That’s a play we’ve seen before with Marshall, but this big play depended on a freshman tailback who had just dropped a hot pass across the middle. The third conversion was the payoff: Murray fit a pass into the smallest of windows, and Wooten, who was covered, did a great job to make himself available and secure the touchdown reception.

Is Georgia a bit of a feast-or-famine offense? When they’re clicking, which has been often, third downs are rare. On Georgia’s first four drives that led to points at Tennessee, they faced a grand total of two third downs – each of which were 3rd-and-1. We saw them fly down the field on the first and last drives against LSU without getting to third down once. When you have a fleet of receivers and backs capable of big plays, inefficiency on third down is an occasional nuisance. It’s not an exact science of course; we’ve seen Georgia grind out scoring drives too. The numbers suggest though that if you can get Georgia to third down, you stand a fair chance of slowing down this potent offense.

What does that mean going forward? With so many weapons out injured, it’s reasonable that Georgia might get fewer explosive plays. That would mean they’d have to drive in smaller chunks which would lead to a few more third downs. Doing a better job of converting those downs then will be what allows Georgia’s offense to maintain its scoring pace. You might expect more drives like the final one at Tennessee where 2, 3, or more third down conversions are required to get into the endzone. The focus changes from the big explosive plays to sustaining drives. If it comes to it, is that an adjustment the Georgia offense can make with its reserve skill players?

Post Georgia 34 – Tennessee 31: A Pyrrhic victory?

Monday October 7, 2013

I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the Georgia charter flight didn’t crash on its way back to Athens Saturday night. There’s plenty to chew on in Georgia’s thrilling 34-31 comeback overtime win at Tennessee, but three injuries to key contributors cast a dark shadow on a hard-earned win that kept Georgia’s SEC and national hopes alive.

The Dawgs jumped out to a solid 17-3 halftime lead on the back of two Aaron Murray touchdown passes. The Vols managed a field goal on their only deep drive of the half, but the Georgia defense put together one of its best 30 minutes on the season. There was effective pressure against a very good offensive line, and Tennessee couldn’t manage enough big plays to sustain any other scoring chances.

Georgia missed a great opportunity to put the game away early in the third quarter. A long run by J.J. Green set the Dawgs up in the red zone, but two ineffective runs, an incomplete pass, and another delay of game penalty led to a missed field goal. Tennessee took the ball and drove for their first touchdown of the day to cut the Georgia advantage to seven points. The Vols blocked a punt a few series later to tie the game, and the stage was set for a finish that included another late Murray-led scoring drive, a fumble out of the end zone on Tennessee’s overtime possession, and a clutch field goal by Marshall Morgan to claim the win.

  • If you had to point to one reason why Georgia couldn’t put the game away earlier, going 4-of-13 on third downs should be near the top of the list. As has often been the case, the Dawgs rarely needed third down on their scoring drives – they only faced two on their first half scoring possessions, and both of those were 3rd-and-1. If Tennessee could get Georgia to third down, they were able to get off the field and keep Georgia from running away with the game.
  • What’s remarkable then about the drive that sent the game into overtime was that Georgia converted three third downs. 75% of Georgia’s third down conversions came on that one drive, including the Murray-to-Wooten touchdown pass in close quarters with just eight seconds left in regulation. That was a great time to start making plays to keep a drive alive.
  • If there’s a key play from the first half, it might be the fourth down conversion on Georgia’s second quarter scoring drive. Tennessee had just kicked a field goal to trim Georgia’s lead to seven, and they had stoned Georgia on a telegraphed run up the middle on 3rd-and-1. Instead of another long field goal attempt, Georgia went for it. Murray’s pass was tipped ever-so-slightly at the line, but it remained on target to Chris Conley slanting in from the outside. The conversion led to a touchdown, and that completion made Murray the SEC’s career leader in passing yardage.
  • On the flip side, Tennessee converted 10-of-20 third and fourth attempts. Their three fourth down conversions were all very short yardage, and it might even be fair to point to what happened on third down to set up those conversions. Regardless, the ability of Tennessee to move the chains kept them in the game, and it leaves Georgia dead last in the SEC in opponent third down conversions.
  • Allowing 10 points through three quarters is a pretty good job by the defense, but that fourth quarter was terrible. Georgia should feel fortunate that Tennessee scored early enough to leave plenty of time to drive for the tie. Tennessee’s last drive of regulation felt like the Georgia drive that ended the South Carolina game – the defense looked powerless.
  • If there was a bright spot on defense, it was the defensive line. Garrison Smith played well, but Ray Drew continued to stand out. He’s drawing double-teams and is still getting into the backfield. That pressure became less effective as the game went on, though, and Tennessee’s stout offensive line took over.
  • Special teams was its usual good and bad. What’s another blocked punt? The missed block by Hicks was clear enough. The real mystery on special teams was the punt returns. I’m hoping the Tennessee punter just had the game of his life, because there’s no other decent explanation for having to go backwards to field a punt more than once.
  • Newcomers continue to learn lessons under fire. Hicks has to follow through with every block, and he can’t coast on what he did in the first two games. Leonard Floyd is a beast rushing the passer, but his discipline setting the edge needs a lot of work. We saw it on goalline plays against LSU, and it came up again on the long run to the outside on a 4th-and-1. Quincy Mauger looked promising in his first start, but he too got caught looking in on another fourth down conversion.
  • Aaron Murray now has fourth quarter touchdown passes in three of Georgia’s four wins that could individually define a season and a career. He’s always had the numbers, but now those numbers are tied to some huge moments. It’s asking a lot to go back to this well nearly every week, but it’s clear now that even more will be asked of Murray and the players left standing.
  • That QB run is something Murray has shown a time or two, and it was great to see him reach the point where he’d usually slide and instead decide to say “screw it” and power on. It was, considering the context and the way momentum had swung, every bit as meaningful and spectacular of a play as Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010.
  • Murray’s run also makes you wonder if some zone read might be a way to get some more mileage out of Georgia’s running game with its top two options sidelined. You wouldn’t want to run Murray more than a couple of times, but that’s all it would take to get defenses thinking.
  • We also have to tip the cap to Green and Douglas. Green put up over 100 yards in a little more than three quarters. Douglas shook off a drop on the final drive to reel off that important third down swing pass that set up the tying score. 62 of the 75 yards on that final drive came from these two true freshmen.

We’ll end by sending our best thoughts and prayers to Marshall, Bennett, and Scott-Wesley. The CBS shots of both the injuries and their reactions were heartbreaking. It had to be ten times as rattling to their teammates. Kudos to them for salvaging the game and to those who stepped up when their number was called. The coming weeks will tax the creativity of the staff and the readiness of some inexperienced players. Georgia’s goals are still intact and reachable, but the climb just got a lot tougher.

Post Tennessee to-do list

Friday October 4, 2013

1) Look good on the road. If we go back to last season, Georgia has had five true road games: Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Auburn, and Clemson. They’re 3-2 in those games, and only the win at Auburn could be considered a clean performance. The Dawgs didn’t lead Missouri until the final minute of the third quarter, and they had to sweat out a win over a bad Kentucky team. The Auburn win was an impressive job of taking care of business, but that was against a team and program that had packed it in. It might be time to start thinking about style points, and a conference road win isn’t a bad place to make an impression.

Neyland Stadium won’t resemble what greeted Georgia at South Carolina or Clemson, but it’s still Neyland Stadium. Maybe it’s the ghosts of 2009 spooking me, but that place can become hostile in a hurry even if the natives walk through the gates expecting the worst. Georgia’s defense has been banging away all week about communications issues. Whether they use hand signals, smoke signals, or semaphore, it would be a good time for the coaches and players to get on the same page about lining up in proper position to play defense.

The offense, too, will have to deal with the crowd. There are the obvious things like false start penalties. They can help themselves out by avoiding the classic third-and-long situations when the crowd is most likely to be a factor. When Georgia’s offense has been at its best this season, it rarely gets to third down as it moves down the field.

2) Value possession. The Vols have caused multiple turnovers in all but one game (Oregon). There’s no surer way to put wind in the sails of an underdog than to give up a play to its defense or special teams. It’s not just about giving up points – it’s also the cost of not scoring points. Even when the offense is operating well, you’re only going to have so many possessions. If the defense hasn’t figured things out, you need those possessions to build your cushion (or, worse, just to keep pace.)

The defense has a role too. Not only are turnovers possible if Tennessee’s passes are inaccurate, but the defense could squeeze out two or three more possessions for the offense. Tennessee under Butch Jones is yet another team looking to use tempo to its advantage, but a few quick three-and-outs could backfire for the Vols and give Georgia a few more opportunities to score. That’s the top question for the Georgia defense: can they get off the field on third downs?

3) Don’t let a Tennessee weakness become a strength. For one afternoon in 2009, Jonathan Crompton looked like Tom Brady. The Vols successfully exploited Georgia’s defense with a steady stream of play action and bootlegs. Georgia will have enough to worry about against a good group of tailbacks and a stout offensive line without the Tennessee passing game suddenly coming to life. While the Georgia defense will focus on a third-straight impressive outing against the run, they can’t fall asleep against big plays from the air. Georgia’s pass pressure will be tough to come by against an experienced line whose strength is pass protection, so it will be up to the embattled secondary to cover until the pressure can break through. That job is made even tougher by the possible absence of injured starting safety Tray Matthews.

4) Let September frame the challenge for October. While I’d love to see a result like the Auburn game last season, I know that Tennessee will put up much more of a fight. A more realistic benchmark might be the Ole Miss game where a close game is turned by a big play before Georgia begins to pull away. The danger on the road though is a crowd that becomes increasingly confident and vocal the longer the home team hangs around.

I was impressed at how Georgia handled the draining and physical win against Florida last year and rolled into November to play their best football of the season against a string of underdogs. They’re facing a similar strech after a very difficult but rewarding September. Surviving that month isn’t the end – it just kept the team’s goals alive. It would be a shame for the work that went into those results to be thrown away against lesser opponents. I hope that’s the mindset the team takes into this game and the ones that follow: play with the focus and purpose of a team that realizes that these opponents would like nothing more than to take away everything you earned last month.

Post Ill communication

Wednesday October 2, 2013

Anyone who’s watched Georgia’s defense this year has noticed broken coverages and pre-snap confusion. It’s no surprise then that on the subject of communication, the Georgia players and coaches don’t seem to be on the same page.

As it turns out, it gets loud at big college football games. The players are pointing to a need for improved pre-snap communication, claiming that hand and verbal signals don’t always make it through the entire unit.

“Our coaches always get on us about communicating in practice,” freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins. “It’s different in a game than practice, a game is louder, so we hear most of the calls, and we learn the signals every day. But we just have to do a better job of communicating in the secondary.”

Todd Grantham isn’t buying the excuse. “That’s bull. Everybody knows the signals, they need to get ’em,” he insists. “I don’t know who was saying that but that’s part of your youth too, so they need to take it on themselves to get the call.”

It’s true that Georgia is young and inexperienced on defense, especially in the secondary. The pace and complexity of a major college defense has to have the heads of some of these newcomers spinning at times.

The thing is, communication was also identified as an issue by last season’s veteran and talent-laden defense.

Linebacker Christian Robinson also said poor communication is a problem….

…Jordan Jenkins said the communication problems are “one of the main things we’re trying to fix this week.”

“Everybody is guessing, well not guessing, but just some people don’t prepare well enough like some others do,” (Bacarri) Rambo said. “It’s just like they thought we were going to be in this call and one person said we’re going to be in this call, so everybody is on different pages.”

I expect that the defense will improve as the instincts of the newcomers improve and the game begins to slow down. Still, it’s going to take a bit more convincing to make me accept that the issues on defense are largely a factor of experience. This is just too much of the same stuff we heard last season. For one reason or another, both 2012 veterans and 2013 rookies are running into similar difficulties with the defensive calls.

I’m probably making this sound more dire than it is. LSU folks are talking about the same exact issues this week, and facing a good offense (or several of them as Georgia has) will make you question the very nature of your defense. If there’s one bright spot, it’s the universal agreement that Herrera is doing just fine getting the calls in and “is doing his part.” If you recall, this responsibility was one of the things that kept him from seeing more playing time last season.