Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Georgia 59 – Kentucky 17: End of an era

Wednesday November 27, 2013

It’s a cruel game sometimes. Just outcomes aren’t guaranteed or even promised, and the strongest wills and characters are subject to the limits of the human body. Aaron Murray’s career as a Georgia Bulldog is over, and it – or his senior season – won’t end the way he or his teammates had hoped. It says a lot about how drama-free the game was that we’re able to focus on and celebrate Murray’s career. With Kentucky inviting the pass, Murray was en route to a big day and had already posted four touchdowns and 183 yards by the time that he left the game in the second quarter.

The 2012 Kentucky game was a frustrating escape against a team not much better than the one Georgia beat on Saturday. The performance, especially on defense, was so lifeless that it inspired Shawn Williams’ season-turning rant against and challenge to his teammates. The Dawgs had to bank a field goal attempt off the upright just to claim a narrow halftime lead, and they had to hold off a late rally to secure the win.

I know Georgia was a 20+ point favorite on Saturday, but the Dawgs hadn’t had a margin of victory greater than 13 points over Kentucky since 2005. Call it setting the bar low, but I was impressed with the outcome and more impressed with how the team arrived at the outcome. The offense set the tone with its fast start, and the defense was aggressive and effective. Several times this year we’ve seen one big play or turnover turn into an avalanche of negative momentum, but the team did a good job of isolating those few mistakes and kept applying pressure on both sides of the ball.

The precision of the first drive was so impressive that it got me thinking about Georgia’s disastrous first drive just a week ago at Auburn. This isn’t to compare Auburn and Kentucky, but it brought out something that you might accept as a trend or dismiss as trivia. Georgia has received the opening kickoff four times this year (LSU, Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky.) Each time, they’ve come away with points. On three of those four opening drives, Georgia rolled down the field for touchdowns. The impressive opening drives against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky came after Georgia received the opening kickoff.

When the Dawgs open the game by kicking off, the results of their first drive have been much more mixed. Georgia has had the game’s second possession in seven of its games. They’ve scored on just three of those possessions: touchdowns against South Carolina and App. St. and a field goal against Vanderbilt. In the other four games where Georgia kicks off, they’ve gone three-and-out on their first series.

The default when you win the coin toss is to defer until the second half. The Dawgs have bigger things to think about in their preparation for Georgia Tech, but – given the choice – do you put Mason and the offense out there first?

  • Georgia’s quick start meant that the game wouldn’t be on Mason’s shoulders, but it was still good to see him get a chance to run the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Of course having Gurley on the end of your screen pass will make a lot of quarterbacks look great.
  • The screen was Georgia’s weapon of choice in the first half. Executing a screen hasn’t been one of Georgia’s strengths during the Murray era, but they were deadly in this game. We saw both traditional outside screens that got Gurley into space, and we also saw a nice inside screen to Douglas that nearly scored.
  • What a senior night for McGowan. He led the team with 7 receptions and 90 yards. Several of his receptions came from Murray, but it’s also possible that there’s a comfort factor between he and Mason after working together for several years on the scout and second teams.
  • Several defensive standouts – Harvey-Clemons shook off the end of the Auburn game and was all over the field. Garrison Smith was a force from the defensive end spot. Wilson continues to use speed to his advantage to chase down lateral plays. With Matthews injured, Mauger looked more and more comfortable on the field.
  • Encouraging to see the defense create and pounce on several fumbles. Tech likes to put the ball on the ground, so keeping this up will be huge in the next game.
  • Bernie has a good point here. Kentucky’s long touchdown run gets lost in the blowout, but that’s exactly the kind of play Tech can execute if Georgia’a safeties get caught up inside as they did here. Georgia’s defense did well to prevent Kentucky’s offense from additional big plays, but in a close game it only takes one or two.

It was a successful senior night and one of the most impressive all-around performances of the season. Murray’s injury overshadows a lot of the positive, but the team he helped to build is rounding into good form just in time for the big rivalry game.

Post Georgia will face Arkansas in Little Rock

Tuesday November 26, 2013

We learned earlier in the fall that Arkansas would take LSU’s place on the 2014 football schedule as Georgia’s second SEC West opponent. TV station KATV in Little Rock is reporting that the October 18th Georgia-Arkansas game will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock rather than on campus in Fayetteville. Arkansas had a contract to play two “home” games per season in Little Rock, but the reworked SEC schedule meant that the Hogs could have had as few as two SEC games in Fayetteville under the existing agreement with Little Rock. Under a new agreement that extends the arrangement to 2018, Little Rock will get one game per year.

It will be Georgia’s first game in Little Rock. It’s a bit unfortunate for those hoping to take in the Arkansas campus, and the school has done a nice job with its facilities including Reynolds Razorback Stadium. War Memorial Stadium seats 54,120 versus 72,000 in Fayetteville. On the plus side, it will be a new experience for the road fans, and travel should be much easier. Little Rock is much more convenient to Memphis for those flying and about three hours shorter than Fayetteville by car. With back-to-back trips to Missouri and Arkansas in 2014, any break in travel is welcome.

Post Georgia 38 – Auburn 43: Ouch

Wednesday November 20, 2013

Is this how it works? We trade 1996 and 2002 for 2005 and now 2013?


Auburn didn’t offer much new for the Georgia defense. The read plays and jet sweeps are the bread-and-butter of the Malzahn offense. As CBS pointed out so well, you could place Auburn’s plays from 2010 side-by-side with these and just plug in new players. Georgia wasn’t unprepared, but they were slow to respond and attack. It’s great if your linebackers are racking up tackles, but you’d rather they not get them chasing the play in the style of Keith Brooking.

Setting aside missed tackles and coverages that led to some big gains, the biggest problem for the defense was the lack of negative plays. Auburn was content to stay on schedule and chew up ground and clock. Georgia’s defensive front has been a positive and a reason why they had defended the run well recently, but they got little in the way of a push to disrupt Marshall’s reads. The outside containment was tested right from the first play, but even when assignments were correct, the plays were blocked well and Georgia’s front didn’t do much to get through or around those blocks.

If there’s one thing to be said for the defense in the first three quarters, it’s that they held on just enough to force four short field goal attempts. Auburn was certainly on pace for at least 35 points in the first half and had a chance for the knockout blow early in the fourth quarter. Getting nine points and a blocked field goal rather than 28 points from those drives gave Georgia the faintest glimmer of hope.


I have to credit Herbstreit here. It’s not that it’s a new insight about this team, but he made it a point to focus his preview on the performance of Georgia’s offensive tackles on the road. That proved to be a huge story in this game whether it was problems handling the speed rush from the opening series, false start penalties, or, well, this:

“We came out a little sluggish the first half,” Theus said. “I think they kind of caught us by surprise. They came out with a lot of energy and they were playing really hard…I got beat off the edge and I realized they ain’t no joke. No. 30 (Dee Ford) was a great rusher and had a lot of speed. I realized then I had to pick it up and as the game went on I thought I did better and better.”

I appreciate the honesty, and Murray did have a little more time as the game went on, but…yeah. There are many ways we can dig in to that juicy quote, but I hope it’s just a guy searching for an explanation of why he struggled so much early in the game. I agree that Georgia’s OL coach has to answer for the inconsistent line play, but a line that starts four upperclassmen can’t be surprised than an SEC defensive front will challenge them – especially a defensive line whose position coach might’ve had a little extra motivation for this game.

  • Auburn’s playcalling on their penultimate series opened the door for Georgia to take the lead. With momentum draining away to the Bulldogs, an Auburn team that put up 323 rushing yards went away from their advantage and called three consecutive passing plays. Georgia brought pressure on all three plays and came away with incompletions and a sack. Even with the time lost after Wilson’s sack, the drive only ate up a little more than a minute and left plenty of time and good field position for Georgia’s offense. (Of course in hindsight it also left enough time for Auburn to have one more shot.)
  • Georgia faced a 4th-and-1 from around their own 35 towards the latter part of the second quarter. I was a little surprised to see the decision to punt made as quickly as it was. In hindsight, the poor punt makes the decision that much more questionable. That might’ve been a spot to roll the dice.
  • Georgia’s stop on Auburn’s late two-point conversion needs a mention. It was a tricky play to defend, especially considering what the mental state of the defense must’ve been. But Georgia defended it well and gave the offense the tiniest chance to win the game outright.
  • As good as Wiggins has been against the receiver screen this year, it was jarring to see him miss two opportunities in the flat in the second quarter.
  • Murray spread the ball around to eight receivers with seven of them getting multiple catches. Gurley’s impact running the ball can’t be overstated, but he’s becoming a dangerous target out of the backfield. He had the important touchdown against South Carolina, the catch and run to counter Florida’s blitz, and led the Dawgs with ten receptions at Auburn.
  • The contrast of kickoff styles couldn’t have been more black and white. Still, Georgia’s coverage unit was outstanding.
  • Rumph was in the game at some key moments, but his inexperience is still obvious. His miscommunication with Murray on a fourth down attempt in the third quarter cost the Bulldogs a possession.
  • Speaking of that third quarter series, what a catch by Wooten on one of Georgia’s few deep passes. His touchdown reception was another tough grab in close quarters cut from the same cloth as his game-tying catch at Tennessee.
  • I hate that Murray didn’t have a clean look on the final play. With the way things had been going, he was going to find someone. Most of all, I hate that such a brilliant performance had to be wiped out by a defense slow to adjust and an offensive line that wasn’t ready to play.

The sooner I can put this game in the rearview, the better. Three things going forward (and, yes, I’m already thinking about Tech):

  1. Did the defense gain important experience against this type of offense? Georgia Tech and Auburn don’t run the same offense, but many of the concepts and assignments will be similar as will the downfield threat of play action. Georgia’s defense began to attack rather than respond as the Auburn game wore on, and they got some key stops. Did they learn the value of staying in gaps and finishing tackles, or will they have to make the same adjustments again?
  2. Will the road difficulties of Georgia’s offensive tackles continue in Atlanta? Just so they’re not caught by surprise or anything, Jeremiah Attaochu is a pretty capable defensive end.
  3. The Auburn game was Georgia’s third game out of its last five without a takeaway (bad calls notwithstanding.) The Dawgs are 121 of 123 teams in generating turnovers. Auburn didn’t really have a reputation for turnovers, but Tech does. They’ll put the ball on the ground. It was a Rambo strip near the goal line that established some early momentum last year.

Post Dawgs looking to get their mojo back

Friday November 15, 2013

I don’t want to play the “no respect” card here, it’s been amazing how little emphasis has been placed on this game in Auburn’s inevitable march to the winner-take-all Iron Bowl. Georgia’s gone from being a dinged-up title contender with two top-10 wins under its belt to “pesky.” While Georgia still does have a division and conference title to play for, the buildup to this game has as much to do with momentum than anything else.

Auburn is the team that went into College Station and beat A&M. Georgia is the team that lost to Vanderbilt. Auburn hasn’t lost since September. Georgia spent October in the emergency room.

I don’t begrudge Auburn the attention or anything else that’s come their way. They’ve earned it with a one-loss record, and it’s one of the most impressive turnarounds I’ve seen in any sport. I’m thinking more about Georgia. This was a team sure of itself at the end of September – confident enough to shrug off an injury to their starting tailback and still survive a shootout with LSU. It was mentally tough enough to watch player after player fall at Tennessee and piece together a last-second drive to force overtime.

Georgia has paid the price for its midseason setbacks, and the team is far from healthy. Still, the defense is more or less intact, and the offense has as many of its pieces available as it’s had since the first half of the Tennessee game. The challenge posed by Auburn is significant, but Georgia spent the first month of the season facing similar challenges.

The difference now is the context. For the first time this season, Georgia enters a game as the underdog. We all want to know whether the defensive improvement is real and sustainable, but it might be even more important for the offense to remind everyone why Georgia started the year where Auburn currently resides. With a win, Georgia can make sure that the spotlight is back on the Bulldogs.

Post Georgia’s linebackers put to the test

Friday November 15, 2013

I’m going to be watching the outside linebackers as one position that can make or break Georgia’s defense against the Auburn running game. Drew, Smith, et. al. are going to cause problems up the middle, and the inside linebackers are both among the top 4 in the SEC in tackles. You’ll get occasional run support from the safeties (though hopefully that’s by choice rather than a sign of the front seven not getting it done.) But it’s going to be the job of the outside linebackers to set the edge and force Marshall, Mason, and the other ballcarriers back inside to the strength of the defense.

If there’s one area where Georgia’s otherwise stout rush defense has been vulnerable, it’s a tendency, especially for Floyd, to get caught inside and allow those plays to bounce outside. Jordan Jenkins outlines their job:

“We’ve just got to try to not get ourselves out-leveraged by the quarterback (Nick Marshall),” Jenkins said after practice Wednesday. “If I do, and he goes inside, I can’t go inside because I’ve got other guys helping me. If he goes outside, it’s just me and one other person. He can get me on the edge. (Marshall) is a fast cat.”

It sounds clear enough, but it’s easier said than done. When you’re a top-level pass rusher whose instinct is to fly to the ball and get after the quarterback, that aggressiveness can be used against you by teams that have read or option plays. The discipline to trust an assignment or a gap can seem counter-intuitive and has to be practiced and mastered.

And as if these guys don’t have enough to worry about in the running game, guess whose job it often is to cover the dreaded wheel route?

Post Georgia 45 – App. St. 6: Murray takes control

Tuesday November 12, 2013

It’s Auburn week, so we’ll make this brief.

If there can be a turning point in a game like this, it was Aaron Murray’s scramble midway through the third quarter. After two and a half quarters, this was still just a 17-6 game. Murray had lit into the offense on the sideline, but they still bogged down and settled for a field goal to open the second half. Murray’s 23-yard run – like his long run at Tennessee – lasted longer than you thought it would as he made some moves rather than sliding to avoid contact. It got the crowd back into the game and put a little jolt into the team also. From there, Murray put the game away himself with a few quick passes to Bennett to set up a score followed by another quick scoring drive. On a day where Murray would become the SEC’s career passing touchdown leader, it was fitting that he’d be the one to decide enough was enough and clear the decks for his backup to get playing time.

For a while, it looked as if we’d miss another chance to see Mason and the second team in action. That was one of the more frustrating parts of the North Texas outcome, but those two scores at the end of the third quarter opened the door. I was glad that the staff let Mason air it out – he had earned the opportunity. His decisions were generally good (I doubt the forced pass on 4th down happens in a more meaningful situation), but it was his touch that really impressed. Granted that he was going up against a gassed defense that knew it was beat, but it was a good performance that should give Georgia fans at least a little bit of confidence about the position for 2014.

Georgia’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown, looked solid against the run, and became much more stingy in the second half. It was a tough first quarter though as Appalachian State dominated time of possession and the Georgia defense couldn’t get off the field. Georgia’s defense did well not to allow any big plays, and the visitors faced a fairly high 18 third downs. They converted seven of those third downs, all in the first three quarters. The defense didn’t break, but its bending kept the ball out of the hands of the offense and kept the game close for more than a half.

Appalachian State did all of that by attacking the middle of the field with quick passes that neutralized Georgia’s pass rush. It’s been a tried and true tactic this season to attack Georgia’s linebackers with the pass, and it worked for a while on Saturday. Georgia, to their credit, tightened up the middle of the field, and Herrera even got in front of one of those passes for an interception. With the running game bottled up and the downfield pass not much of an option, Georgia’s coverage could afford to get tighter and tighter across the middle. Again, they avoided the big scoring play and did a good job of holding the line at the red zone.

  • I was a bit disappointed not to see some sort of recognition of Murray’s accomplishment during the game. I don’t mean stop the game and bring his family down out of the stands or anything, but even a nice graphic on the video board during a timeout would have been appropriate. I get the sense that everyone was a bit tired of talking about Murray’s march towards the records, and Richt was certainly in no mood to discuss it going into the locker room. We’ll have the opportunity to show our appreciation on Senior Day in two weeks, and I hope the fans turn out to do so.
  • False start, Appalachian State.
  • It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves with Rumph, and he was going against a secondary that had been worked over by Georgia’s passing game for three quarters. Still, you got a sense of what the anticipation was about and the hope that his G-Day performance wasn’t just a spring fluke. If he kept his balance, he was open enough to turn a long Mason pass into a touchdown.
  • Some around me compared Reggie Davis’s third quarter catch to one that A.J. Green would have made, but to me that was vintage Fred Gibson.
  • Special teams mistakes weren’t costly, but other than Morgan’s placekicking (and the nice blocked field goal), there’s not much to be happy about. Georgia seems to have settled on Dawson as a kickoff returner, and that’s fine, but a touchback still seems to be the best plan. Georgia’s own kick coverage was hit and miss – there were a few returns that were stopped well short of the 25, and two that came very close to breaking open. The less said about the fake punt attempt, the better.
  • False start, Appalachian State.

Post Georgia 23 – Florida 20: Six Flags Over Florida

Wednesday November 6, 2013

Has the series turned? Three wins in a row certainly makes it seem so. I have to admit that, as someone who became a fan in 1991, this is rare and unfamiliar air. I don’t know what being on the other side of this series feels like. This might seem like an unnecessary appeal for style points, but I was looking for Georgia’s version of a 2008-style stomping before declaring all of the demons exorcised.

It seemed after one quarter as if the Dawgs were well on their way to that cathartic win. I wasn’t sure that exchanging Bennett for Conley would make that much of a difference, but Murray’s comfort level with Bennett was obvious. It took one play to see the impact of Todd Gurley’s return. With most of the stadium and the Florida defense expecting Gurley to get the ball, Murray had acres in front of him on the read option.

The first drive was a well-balanced mix of run and pass, and it showcased Gurley both in the ground game and catching the ball out of the backfield. The second drive was much shorter, but the touchdown play was a smart counter to Florida’s pressure. Murray caught Florida in a blitz on Mitchell’s big touchdown reception last year, and he again burned them by finding Gurley with only one safety to beat.

The rest of the first half was a story of missed opportunities to put the game away. There’s Bailey’s dropped interception. Wooten was open for two touchdown receptions – the first was on-target and bobbled, and the second just a touch overthrown. With Florida fans sarcastically cheering their only first half points, it wouldn’t have taken too much more on the Georgia side of the scoreboard to send them back to tailgate.

We didn’t really like to settle for field goals there since it opened the door for Florida’s eventual comeback, but it’s significant that Georgia got any points from those drives. There are a lot of little things that have to change in order to flip such a lopsided series, and field goals were huge in this game. As recently as 2008, Richt’s kickers were 5-for-12 (42%) on field goal attempts inside of 40 yards. Since 2009, Georgia kickers are 70% from all distances in Jacksonville, and Morgan was a perfect 3-for-3 on Saturday. Even when iced at the end of the half, Morgan drilled his second attempt as accurately as he had kicked his first. For once it was nice to see Florida with the kicking struggles in Jacksonville, and Marshall’s three makes along with Florida’s two misses determined the outcome.

Lynch’s dropped lateral was the turning point, of course, but Muschamp’s decision on a late second quarter 4th down helped to provide Georgia’s eventual margin of victory. Facing 4th and 10 at the Georgia 40, Muschamp went for it to try to take a little momentum into halftime. The Gators came up short (actually lost yards), and the Dawgs had the ball near midfield with over a minute left on the clock. Had Florida punted, it’s not likely that Georgia would have attempted a drive of 80 or more yards with no timeouts left. Murray completed just enough passes to set up Marshall for Georgia’s final points of the game.

After the Vandy game, we noted how fragile momentum had been for the defense during the rough month of October. At Tennessee, all it took was a missed field goal to start to turn things. The Swann fumble and Wilson penalty at Vandy changed that game. You sensed an immediate shift after the dropped lateral. The Gator side had come alive, and Georgia’s fans could only manage a few half-hearted cheers in response. Florida didn’t have far to go on their two touchdown drives, but Georgia’s defense didn’t offer much resistance either.

I liked the fourth down call early in the fourth quarter. It was an attempt to recapture momentum, and I get that. A healthy Gurley probably makes the cut that gets the yard, but Florida also had three guys converging on the play. It was a good idea and well-defended.

That play put the ball back in the hands of Florida’s offense with good field position, but those 15 yards from the personal foul gave the defense enough breathing room to survive that unforgivable substitution blunder. Corey Moore’s well-timed safety blitz and sack on third down ended Florida’s final possession, but the first down following that substitution penalty deserves mention, too. Swann came across the middle of the field tracking Solomon Patton, and Georgia was in great position to stop a speed option for a loss. The play on first down forced Florida into passing situations, and pressure forced an off-target deep throw and then notched the sack.

Georgia’s final clock-killing drive was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t just Gurley grinding out yards on the ground. The drive started with a pass to Wooten. You had Gurley and Douglas moving the chains on the ground. The drive dies without two catches and a great effort play by McGowan. It was McGowan’s second important third down conversion of the game. He caught a pass in tight quarters on 3rd and 22, and the half likely would have ended had McGowan not twisted for an additional couple of yards to secure the first down and allow Georgia enough time to spike the ball and set up for the field goal.

Last season’s Florida win was considered a statement game for a troubled defense. The Dawgs only gave up 53 more yards this year (319 to 266.) Murphy was only 13/29 for just 6 yards per attempt even with the harmless long completion on the first Florida series. They didn’t respond especially well after the turnover and safety, but they were able to gather themselves for a single big fourth quarter stop.

The biggest difference from a year ago was in the turnover column. Georgia had decent pressure and forced some errant throws, but the defense went from six takeaways a year ago to zero on Saturday. They had a few chances – Bailey needs to make that pick, and Ramik Wilson was a step away from blowing up the handoff that turned into the horsecollar penalty.

Georgia’s defense still has trouble setting the edge at times. Runs forced to the middle were usually handled well and pursuit was excellent, but there has to be better discipline on outside runs and especially read plays. Auburn and Tech run the kinds of offenses that can target and attack those weaknesses and tendencies in the run defense.

  • Aaron Murray had one of his better Florida games. The totals weren’t what they were in 2010, but Georgia’s offense didn’t have enough possession in the second half to put up any kind of numbers when Murray attempted only four passes – three of which came on the final drive. Most importantly, Murray made few mistakes. This was his first Florida game without an interception. Several of his incompletions were drops, and another – essentially throwing the ball away at the goal line – might’ve been forced and intercepted in earlier games. Georgia had to settle for a field goal, but it’s a good thing they got those three points.
  • Murray and the rest of the offense proved to be clutch. They converted 58% of third downs against a defense averaging 31%. The quick drive and third down conversion at the end of the first half ended up providing the margin of victory. Murray was a perfect 3-for-3 on the final drive as Georgia moved the chains time and again to kill the clock.
  • Jonathon Rumph exists! Hopefully it won’t be a Marlon Brown type of waste, but there won’t be a redshirt for the JUCO receiver. Rumph didn’t have any receptions or targets in the game, but he got in both early and late in the game. Hopefully we’ll see him a bit more involved in the offense now that the redshirt is off.
  • We were glad to see Michael Bennett doing whatever it took to win, but it was a little scary seeing a guy just off a knee injury asked to more or less be a fullback and block a defensive end on Georgia’s final drive. Bennett did well just to get in the way, but that couldn’t have been a pleasant assignment.
  • If you want to know why Georgia’s offense seemed to disappear, look at Florida’s drives in the second and third quarter. The Gators had consecutive drives of 12, 13, and 13 plays that took over 18 minutes off the clock. It’s to the defense’s credit that the Gators only came up with three points from those three long drives, but the toll they took showed up later during Florida’s comeback. Until the final 15-play series that ended the game, the Dawgs only had one drive of more than 6 plays after the first quarter, and that came in 67 seconds at the end of the first half.
  • I don’t know what Garrison Smith had to say on the sideline, but he wasn’t just all talk. With nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, and consistent pressure all night, he led on and off the field like a senior who was not willing to lose his final Florida game.

One last thing…it would be wrong for a player to strike anyone on the field – other players, refs, coaches – but if Florida strength coach Jeff Dillman continues to put his hands on players and jump into frays, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got popped someday. If you saw the bald guy in the orange shirt in the middle of almost every play along the Florida sideline, you know what I’m talking about. And it’s not the first time, either.