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Post Leonard’s Loser: Alabama

Tuesday September 29, 2015

Courtesy of Georgia ‘net legend redclayhound (a very apt moniker in this case) comes a bit of history from the unforgettable 21-0 Georgia win over Alabama in 1976. Leonard’s not around anymore (RIP), but we’ll take another result like this.

Leonard’s Losers–1976 Georgia vs Alabama

The Super Detergent Salesmen from Tusculoosa will visit the Sanford Kennels to try out a new Flea and Tick Soap on Vince Dooley’s K-9s, and if the Dogs ain’t ready for this wash job they could get a sudsing they’ll remember for a long time. The Water Walker from Alabama is famous for puttin’ a hurtin’ on the Bulldogs, and he has the equipment to do it again, but the Bear might be surprised by the new Bulldog Breed he’ll run into on his trip to Athens. The Red Clay Hounds are hungry and fond of Elephant meat, so I’m inclined to think the Pachyderms will get lightened up considerably in their hind quarters. Leonard’s Loser: Bama by 7

Post Packaged plays come to Georgia

Tuesday September 29, 2015

Chris Brown of Grantland and Smart Football wrote during the summer of 2013 about an emerging approach to offense called “packaged plays”. Offenses combined options for run and pass within a single play that could lead to very different decisions and outcomes based on what the defense showed. The concept allows for offenses to push tempo by keeping play calls simple (or even unchanged) while keeping the defense guessing. Brown illustrated with just one play from Ole Miss that included all of the following:

Ole Miss combined a five-yard hitch route to the single receiver to the left, an inside zone, a quarterback read-option keep, and a receiver screen to the offense’s right. And as a final wrinkle, their tight end ran an “arc” release to block an outside linebacker.

We’ve seen these plays spread throughout college football and even the NFL, and variants like the pop pass are some of the most well-known / infamous / notorious plays in college football’s recent history. Now it appears to be Georgia’s turn. Whether you call it a “packaged play” or an “RPO” (run-pass option) in Schottenheimer’s NFL-flavored playbook, the idea is the same. Of course as the Senator points out, Lambert’s lack of mobility reduces (but doesn’t entirely eliminate) the QB run option, but Georgia’s variety is more likely to be a handoff combined with the option for a quick slant or WR screen – exactly what we saw against South Carolina.

Post Georgia 48 – Southern 6: A somber win

Tuesday September 29, 2015

Georgia 48 – Southern 6

Most importantly, our prayers are with Devon Gales, his family, and the Southern community. There was some encouraging news on Sunday, but it’s telling that reports are mentioning movement only in the upper body. He has a long fight ahead, but we know that the treatment and rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries has come a long way. The Georgia program has gone the extra mile in this situation, and we’d expect nothing less.

Not much to take from the game itself. Georgia got pushed around on the line of scrimmage in the first half, woke up for the third quarter, and emptied the bench for the last 15 minutes. The Dawgs got off to a quick start thanks in large part to field position, but there was a bit of fool’s gold there. Georgia wasn’t effective running the ball at any point in the half, racking up just 35 yards on the ground in the first half.

The message delivered at halftime had its desired effect as Chubb equaled Georgia’s first half rushing total on the first three plays of the second half. The Dawgs rebounded with 226 second half rushing yards and scored 28 points in the third quarter. Greyson Lambert, meanwhile, had another extremely efficient day with 9-for-10 passing and 14.6 yards per attempt.

Just a few more points before we move on to Alabama.

  • Kickoffs: You can tell there was some work done during the week. There were a fair number of touchbacks and some nice tackles early in the return. Even when a very capable return man got into space, Georgia usually had it contained. Still some things to work on but an improvement from South Carolina.
  • McKenzie took a few more risks – maybe it was a casual attitude towards the opponent, maybe just a bad day. His first return was a dangerous Family Circus-style jog around the field for an eventual four-yard return. His last return turned out even worse. There was some interference as the ball landed near Briscoe engaged with a defender, and no one seemed quite sure what to do. Maybe this is the trade-off for the “human joystick” plays, but in some situations there’s no shame in a fair catch.
  • It wasn’t just the offensive line that looked sluggish. Georgia recorded only one sack, and that came in the fourth quarter. The Dawgs tried a few blitzes, and pressure was a big part of ending an early Southern drive that ended with a missed field goal. It was a fairly quiet day for the outside linebackers – with Bellamy injured, Carter and Jenkins combined for only four tackles, two QB hits, and no sacks or tackles for loss.
  • There were only two Georgia penalties, but they were costly. Jenkins lined up offsides, giving him a head start on the hit that led to an interception. Houston was too deep in the backfield on a beautiful touchdown pass to Mitchell, but Malcolm scored two plays later anyway.
  • Mitchell is looking like his 2011 and 2012 self not just in terms of health and explosiveness but also dependability. He was one of the top receivers in the SEC as a true freshman in terms of catch rate, and he was a nice security blanket for a young quarterback to have. Lambert and Mitchell are really starting to click.
  • Again, the coaches gave Lambert some quick passes to get comfortable, but he was as sharp as he was a week ago. Georgia was able to lean on the passing game before the run blocking kicked into gear.
  • We were trying to think of the last time we saw Georgia go five-wide with no one in the backfield. It’s not a common thing for sure. The interesting thing about that look: Georgia can show that spread look with five receivers split out and without changing personnel come back on the next play with a tighter ace formation as Blazevich moves back next to the tackle and Michel returns to the backfield. That’s a difficult defensive adjustment if Georgia’s pushing the tempo.
  • Sony seems to have at least one of these physical get-off-me runs every game lately, doesn’t he?
  • The downside of the shortened ULM game was the missed opportunity to play even more freshman than Georgia managed to play in three quarters. They got their chance against Southern. Jayson Stanley cracked the box score with a couple of catches. Faton Bauta is no freshman, but we were glad to see him get his first snaps of the season. (Would have been nice to have seen Bauta run the ball himself.) The defensive reserves had a nice moment late in the game forcing a turnover on downs after McKenzie’s fumble. Trenton Thompson and D’Andre Walker punctuated the defense’s stand with a fourth down sack.
  • It seemed unfair to put Trenton Thompson in. “Hey, tired and beaten opponent…we’ll empty our bench now. That guy? Just a 5-star prospect with incredible speed for his size and position.” Thompson’s emphatic tackle was the cherry on top of the South Carolina game, but we got to see a lot more from him on Saturday. He’ll have a more significant debut on a bigger stage soon, but this was our first good look at a bright future.
  • Brice Ramsey actually ended up attempting more passes than Lambert and finished 11-for-14. Two of those incompletions were nearly interceptions – an overthrown pass that went through the safety’s hands and then an underthrown deep ball that fell short of a sliding defender. He did a good job though of running the second team offense and getting the ball to a diverse set of receivers that included Keith Marshall, Glenn Welch, Jayson Stanley, and Kenneth Towns.

Post Return of the Chubb Broadcasting Station

Monday September 28, 2015

Georgia’s October 10th game at Tennessee will be at 3:30 on CBS. It will be Georgia’s third appearance in the SEC’s marquee slot. Another scheduled CBS broadcast for the Florida game means that at least half of Georgia’s SEC games will be on CBS. Three remaining SEC games (Missouri, Kentucky, and Auburn) haven’t been picked up by any network yet.

Post Second Down Defense

Friday September 25, 2015

I wanted to see how Jeremy Pruitt and the defense would approach the South Carolina game after giving up 38 points last year. But when the offense operates nearly flawlessly and puts up 52 points, it’s not exactly the best crucible in which to test the defense under pressure. Still, the defense had an important role in the big win – especially in the third quarter when Georgia blew it open.

Before the game fades away, I wanted to look at a specific situation Pruitt identified as a problem in 2014: second down.

The main problem, as (Pruitt) saw it, was South Carolina having too much success in second-and-long. There were a lot of long completions by the Gamecocks, many on second down, and Pruitt said there was only one “bust in the secondary”: The second play of the game.

You don’t have to dig deep into the 2015 stats to know that Georgia didn’t give up big plays on any down. South Carolina’s longest gain of the day was for 17 yards, and they had no plays longer than 15 yards. The Gamecocks had limited weapons relative to last season, especially at quarterback and tailback once Wilds went out, but the defense still had to contend with Jerell Adams, Pharoh Cooper, and a playcaller who has had some success against Pruitt.

The Gamecocks started out fairly well on second down, getting at least six yards on three of their first four attempts. Pharoh Cooper’s longest gain of the day came on the game’s second play: a 13-yard run to the left side. Orth completed two second down passes on South Carolina’s second drive that led to a field goal. That was as much second down success as they’d have until the fourth quarter with the game decided.

If South Carolina had the slightest bit of success on second down in the first half, Georgia shut it down in the third quarter. South Carolina faced five second down plays in the third quarter. They had an incompletion and four runs that totaled just seven yards. The Georgia defense took complete control of the game in this quarter and that included second down.

The Dawgs allowed a total of 81 yards on second down Saturday and only 19 through the air. It happens that both South Carolina touchdowns came on second down, but those were short-yardage carries.

This year’s South Carolina game surely gave Pruitt some different things to work on, but he has to be much happier with how the defense prevented long (or even moderate) gains on all downs and improved in the area with which Pruitt was most frustrated in Columbia last year.

South Carolina’s Second Down Plays

  • Run: 13 (<5 yds: 9, 5-10 yds: 1, 10+ yds: 3, 2 TD, 62 yards total)
  • Pass: 7 (3-7, 19 yards)

Post Georgia 52 – South Carolina 20. That’s right…5-2.

Tuesday September 22, 2015

That was fun. Every so often Sanford Stadium gives us one of these games – Clemson 1991…51-7…the 2007 blackout…2013 LSU – and Saturday’s trouncing of South Carolina belongs up there. Whether or not it was Steve Spurrier’s last visit to Athens, this one will leave a mark, and Georgia fans will remember this game for a long time.

  • We have to start with Greyson Lambert. Nitpicking Lambert’s game must be what it feels like to criticize dishes on a Top Chef finale. Even the incompletion wasn’t a bad pass – Blazevich was covered, and the throw was high enough so that only the taller tight end would catch it or no one would. We weren’t surprised to see Georgia come out throwing, but the ease of passing the ball quickly turned even the most “run the damn ball” spectator into an Air Raid advocate. We didn’t even bat an eye when Schottenheimer called the slant to Godwin rather than a run on 3rd and 2 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive.
  • Many of Lambert’s throws were easy enough to be extended handoffs. Georgia ran the same curl to Malcolm Mitchell on consecutive plays early in the second half. And why not? Those were free yards. Still, there were a few throws later in the game that required either a well-placed pass (over the top to Rome), a great catch (Mitchell’s back shoulder reception), or both (Davis along the sideline).
  • It’s a bit of a relief – these were ideal conditions, and Lambert ate it up. He’s not likely to see a rush that anemic, coverage that soft, and tackling that poor again. Had Lambert seen this defense and struggled, we’d have more to talk about. He’ll face more intense pressure, tighter coverage, and more difficult decisions. Little things that didn’t matter in this game will become more magnified in those situations, but for now it was Lambert’s night. He made the most of a great opportunity, and at least we know that the ceiling might be higher than we thought.
  • Kudos to Tyler who saw this gameplan coming a week ago. Even if the plan was obvious, sometimes you have to credit coaches for accepting what’s there for the taking rather than overcomplicating things. Georgia’s quick scoring drive to open the second half was a statement against a defense that hadn’t allowed a second half point all season.
  • It wasn’t even a question of opening up a vanilla offense. Certainly Georgia placed a heavier emphasis on the passing game, but these were largely versions of the same plays we’ve seen all season – power/counter/iso runs and play-action/slants/curls in the passing game. There wasn’t anything exotic; this was a straightforward offense executed well against a poor defense. Schottenheimer did well to identify and go after the weak spots, and he put Lambert in position to get into an early groove.
  • It was a treat to see attention paid to Georgia’s playmakers lead to tough choices for the SC defense. The defense keyed on Michel releasing into the flat, so Lambert found Jay Rome over the top on a flag route. Later the defense bit on Mitchell coming inside on a slant, and that left Michel open just long enough for a swing pass and a short touchdown.
  • ALERT THE MESSAGE BOARDS! Georgia was a woeful 25% on third downs. (Fun with stats!) I still can’t get over Georgia going from their opening drive to a 45-13 lead facing a single third down. That efficiency is as impressive as Lambert’s completion percentage. When I questioned the use of tempo last week, I hedged it by saying “they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.” I’d say that was the case on Saturday. As it turned out, both teams ran under 70 plays – totals skewed by Georgia’s clock management for the last quarter and a half. You can run at whatever pace you like if you’re cashing in on nearly every drive.
  • You’d expect a good defense to have success against an offense with few weapons that was missing its starting quarterback and, eventually, its starting tailback. For the most part, Georgia’s defense did perform well. They allowed 17 points (the end-of-half FG was not on the defense), 7 of which came against the reserves. It wasn’t shutdown defense – South Carolina didn’t go three-and-out until the third quarter – but it didn’t have to be. South Carolina wasn’t going to put up a big number unless the Georgia defense allowed big plays, and the four-man rush kept everything contained to small chunks of yardage. South Carolina had only one play from scrimmage longer than 15 yards.
  • If there was a dim bright spot for South Carolina, it was the running of young backup quarterback Nunez. It’s possible that Georgia didn’t have much for him in their game plan, but Pruitt didn’t look especially happy after Nunez scored after a fairly easy drive in the fourth quarter. We’ll take the backup QB as South Carolina’s leading rusher any day, but it’s another data point to file away for when Georgia faces other mobile quarterbacks later on the schedule.
  • One player the Georgia game plan did account for was Pharoh Cooper. As expected, we saw Cooper line up seemingly everywhere. The Dawgs did an outstanding job against a dangerous playmaker: Cooper finished with only 34 yards rushing and one reception. His longest gain was 13 yards on South Carolina’s first possession, and he had a nice reception to move the chains on their first field goal drive. Other than those meager gains, he was a non-factor. With Wilds unfortunately injured in the first half, South Carolina’s biggest playmakers were neutralized.
  • Georgia’s edge rush wasn’t especially effective thanks to Brandon Shell and company more or less holding their own against Carter and Jenkins. The solution was to bring pressure inside against a freshman center, and we saw those twists and stunts play a big part in Georgia’s third quarter success. Even when the pressure didn’t get to the quarterback – Georgia generally rushed four – it still forced bad throws including the high pass that Sanders picked off.
  • South Carolina only accounted for 84 passing yards, but two of Georgia’s best defensive plays were pass break-ups that prevented a couple of big downfield receptions. Aaron Davis steered Pharoh Cooper out of bounds before Cooper could get a foot down on a nice catch near the Georgia goal line. Malkom Parrish got his hand in on a pass that was all but caught and separated the ball from the receiver. Georgia’s coverage did a good job all night preventing the big play.
  • Yeah, kick coverage. It starts of course with there being a return in the first place. South Carolina, based on the first two touchbacks, didn’t seem interested on returning any ball that reached the endzone. Morgan and Barber just couldn’t get it there. Barber kicked off just before halftime, brought in presumably because Morgan’s previous few kicks fell short of the endzone. Barber came up just short too. Not going to go into each coverage breakdown, but one saw freshman Natrez Patrick miss badly. Patrick had an impressive body-slam later in the game, but special teams can humble even the most promising freshman.
  • Is Georgia the only team that gets called for offsides on kickoffs? That’s twice already this year.
  • Best special teams moonlighting gig: Marshall Morgan tackling or Brice Ramsey punting?
  • I was glad to see the targeting penalty reversed. That’s good for the game – hopefully future uses of that penalty can be as equitable. By the way – nice catch, Reggie.

The challenge now is consistency. Any team can put it together for a single emotional game. Georgia has a breather coming up this week but a difficult SEC stretch soon to come. Maintaining that high level of play will be tough to do, but a Georgia team that can execute that well on both sides of the ball should realize what could be possible if they approach each game like this one.

Post Key matchup to watch this weekend

Tuesday September 22, 2015

With the outcome Saturday not in much doubt, the matchup of the week is between your Sudler Trophy-winning Redcoat Band…

And the electrifying Southern University Human Jukebox…

Both bands are definitely looking forward to the opportunity to share the field, and each has something new and special ready to go for the occasion.

Post Georgia vs. South Carolina: Pruitt in the spotlight

Friday September 18, 2015

Georgia’s a double-digit home favorite against a team coming off a home loss to Kentucky and starting a backup former walk-on at quarterback. So naturally, we’re all biting our nails.

Is “redemption” too strong of a word? Jeremy Pruitt is 0-2 as a coach against Steve Spurrier, and his secondaries have been put on the spot in both of those losses. He blamed himself for putting the defense in poor position on “10-15 plays” in last season’s loss. Can he get the better of Spurrier this time? It is at least an opportunity for Pruitt to show his growth against one of the better playcallers.

Expect Spurrier to use everything at his disposal, especially given their quarterback situation. We’ll see some wildcat, and they can and will pass from that look. It won’t be just Wilds and Williams running the ball – seven players had at least one rush in the UNC game, and they’ll involve quarterbacks and receivers. As we know from Lambert’s touchdown in the Vanderbilt game, even a pocket passer can make a big play on the read option if everyone keys on the tailback. The Gamecocks do that too.

A matchup to watch will be SC left tackle Brandon Shell against Georgia’s pass rush. It might or might not be Jordan Jenkins going against Shell – it all depends on Georgia’s defensive alignment on a given play. South Carolina’s new starting quarterback, in his first true road game, can’t be allowed to get comfortable. It will be nice to have Lorenzo Carter back – hope he sticks around for a while.

We saw Spurrier fake a punt inside his own 20 in the opener. The rugby-style punter will have to be watched until he gets the kick off. South Carolina’s fake punt in 2011 was devastating. Special teams, in the form of two missed field goals, played a role in Georgia’s 2014 loss in Columbia.

This is usually an obvious point, but jumping out to a lead seems more urgent in this game. Bernie’s post shows why that might be the case. Do you get a feeling when a team misses its chance to take control of a game? In South Carolina’s opener against UNC, the Tar Heels could have built a big lead early. They got a touchdown but dropped a sure pick-six and had the first of two endzone interceptions. With the early scoring window closed, South Carolina got the big play they needed to win.

A similar thing happened in Columbia last year: after the lightning-quick score on their first possession, Georgia managed just six more first half points on several good scoring opportunities. Lorenzo Carter recovered a fumble on the South Carolina 26 following Georgia’s first score, and the Dawgs had to settle for a field goal. The Dawgs had another drive end with a field goal and yet another end on a missed field goal. They also had a long Gurley touchdown run called back for holding, and that drive ended with a punt. Five chances to put points on the board in the first half led to just 13 points. South Carolina turned that missed field goal into a scoring drive to close the first half, and Georgia was in the position of playing catch-up for the rest of the game.

If Georgia does build a lead, they’ll likely face the same kind of desperate comeback we saw from South Carolina against Kentucky last week. I’m glad we got a little gut check from Vanderbilt last week. Georgia had just enough margin to play with, but the defense still had several occasions to make a late stand. At the same time, I hope the offense (and those calling the plays) don’t pack it in just because there’s some second half breathing room.

Post Should Georgia ease off the gas?

Friday September 18, 2015

This might be purely selective memory, but one recollection from the Vanderbilt game was that Georgia’s use of tempo didn’t work all that well. Not that it was a failure – it just didn’t move the needle much. Gary Danielson has never been a big proponent of up-tempo offense, but I admit to sharing his puzzlement after Georgia pushed the tempo following Chubb’s longest run of the day. Chubb even had to come out of the game after the subsequent first down play, and Georgia’s first good scoring chance fizzled with a missed field goal.

That in itself isn’t a reason to doubt the effectiveness of changing tempo, but it did make me wonder about its value as it applies to this particular team. Speeding things up has its advantages, but it does have one big disadvantage: failure to sustain drives just gives the ball back to the opponent that much faster. Georgia converted just 4 of 13 third downs, helping Vanderbilt run over 90 plays (who fortunately didn’t do much with them.) If the Dawgs want to continue to push the tempo, they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.

The question: if this is going to be a 2003-like approach to game management, where does the no-huddle and up-tempo offense fit in? Vanderbilt got over half their yardage in the fourth quarter. Certainly Georgia emptying the bench contributed to that yardage, but starters saw playing time up until Sanders’s interception return. If your basic philosophy is to run the ball and lean on the defense, putting that defense in a position to face 90+ plays doesn’t make much sense.

Post Georgia 31 – Vanderbilt 14: Your average 17-point win

Monday September 14, 2015

Georgia 31 – Vanderbilt 14

It’s one thing to serve vanilla if you have most of or all 31 flavors ready to go. It’s another if all you’ve got is the freezer-burned carton of vanilla from the back of the freezer. That’s the distinction several of us were discussing after the game. We know there’s more to the playbook, but does it matter if that’s what it looks like when you try to keep things simple?

As we watched a questionable targeting call and then a botched Vanderbilt punt turn into a first down, it didn’t take long for the “here we go again” groans to move through our section. Sure enough, it was going to be another stomach-turning game in Nashville. This time though the Dawgs emerged with a 17-point win. The difference this time? Georgia’s running game and timely defense.

Georgia’s passing game wasn’t much better in 2015 than 2013 (Murray with a depleted receiving corps threw for only 114 yards), but this time Chubb and Michel were more than enough to carry the offense. Chubb on his own nearly passed the team’s 2013 rushing total of 107 yards by halftime. He wasn’t able to maintain his touchdown streak, but his 189 yards on the ground and over 200 yards of total offense gave Georgia the edge they were missing two years ago.

There’s much to say about the Georgia defense, but the biggest is this: in 2013, all three major Georgia special teams breakdowns led to Vanderbilt points. On Saturday there were more special teams adventures but Georgia’s defense held each time. The Dawgs may have been unable to sustain drives or, at times, complete a pass, but at least they weren’t putting points on Vanderbilt’s side of the scoreboard. The responses in particular after the potentially deflating “fake” punt and onside kick recovery saved us from a much closer finish than we would have liked.

Was it really closer than the score indicated? It depends on which part of the fourth quarter you watched. Several minutes into the final quarter, Marshall Morgan lined up for a 43-yard field goal that would have covered the 20.5 point spread, and Georgia’s defense had held Vanderbilt to around 170 yards of total offense. Several minutes later Vanderbilt was eight yards from making it a three-point game. So the final 17-point margin seems about right to me. It reflects that Georgia had fairly good control of most of the game, but it’s also a nod to Vanderbilt making things interesting down the stretch before Georgia made the play that ended the scoring.

Some more thoughts:

  • The defense, with one exception, continued to improve from the opener. Interior run defense was as good as I’ve seen from a Pruitt defense. Ralph Webb, no schlub at tailback, was kept to 2.7 yards per carry and had no gain longer than 12 yards. Georgia got outstanding play on the inside from Mayes but also on the edge from Jenkins, Bailey, and a host of others. Jenkins spoke during the week about the bad taste left in his mouth from the 2013 loss, and he played with the dominant intensity of someone determined to have a better outcome this time.
  • Vanderbilt’s biggest plays came when Georgia lost containment – it even happened on the botched punt. McCrary has decent mobility, and he found himself with lots of room if he was able to elude the initial Georgia pressure. Whether it’s an issue of finishing those potential tackles for loss or better downfield awareness when containment breaks, it’s still something to keep an eye on for the mobile quarterbacks we’ll see later in the season.
  • Vanderbilt gave Georgia’s interior pass defense some work. I think most of us held our breath seeing Floyd isolated on a receiver down the sideline. He kept up, and the pass was incomplete thanks more to a poor throw than anything else. They also tested the seam with Wilkerson an occasional target. I thought Reggie held his own, and there could have been better safety help on a few of those passes. We can expect more opponents to test Georgia’s linebackers and stars in pass coverage.
  • Sanders sealed the win with his pick six, but there were still some moments where I had to remind myself that he’s relatively new to the safety position. Pruitt was in his ear after a couple of breakdowns.
  • Georgia had a +3 turnover margin to improve to +4 for the year, 6th-best in the nation after two games. Of course the margin could have gone much differently in this game. Vanderbilt dropped a sure interception on a horrifying Lambert pass. Lambert fumbled when hit from his blind side, but Georgia recovered. Georgia had opportunities for even more interceptions. When Georgia did create a turnover, it counted. The first interception set up a field goal that made it a two-possession game and got Georgia rolling in the third quarter. Ganus’s pick ended a serious threat, and Sanders took one all the way back to remove all doubt.
  • Jake Ganus has had two solid games and made a quick-thinking catch in the endzone to defuse a very tense moment in the game. I was afraid that we were going to have a mini-Auburn situation there: two other defenders going for the ball tipped it up before Ganus hauled it in.
  • Vanderbilt’s Steven Scheu had a rough game. The senior is one of the best weapons in the Vanderbilt passing game, but he had more drops than receptions. A string of Scheu drops right before halftime ended a big scoring opportunity. Then his day ended after getting knocked silly by Mauger’s knee.
  • It seems as if the team relaxed on both sides of the ball after Lambert’s keeper made it 24-6. Following Georgia’s drive and missed field goal early in the 4th, Vanderbilt posted over 230 of their 400 total yards in less than a quarter. True, backups played heavily, especially on the final drive, but there were plenty of starters in too. Georgia’s ultra-conservative playcalling inside their own five with under seven minutes left almost came back to bite them.
  • Other than McKenzie’s contribution, it felt as if special teams took a step backwards. Morgan had one of his worst games (has Bauta always been the holder?). Morgan also handled kickoffs; there were a couple of touchbacks but also a couple of returns beyond the 25. Barber cleanly got each punt away, but several lacked much hang time. After the punt snafus that occurred at the end of the 2011 and 2013 games, just executing the punt operation was an improvement.

There’s something about this game in Nashville that causes an existential crisis for the rest of the year. The 2-0 halftime deficit in 2003, the comeback and last-second win in 2007, and of course the gut-wrenching games of 2011 and 2013 should have made this 17-point win feel like a cakewalk. Usually we’ve had enough context in mid-October to process it, but this is all we’ve seen. Is there really a problem at quarterback? (Maybe so.) Is that all Georgia has on offense? (Likely not.) For now all it means is an SEC road win. We’ll quickly find out the difference between what this team chooses to show and what it’s capable of showing.

Post “What’s the point of having season tickets?”

Friday September 11, 2015

The Banner-Herald highlights an issue I’ve been stewing over for a month or so. I’ve been a season ticket holder for women’s basketball for a little more than ten years. This summer, we received a letter alerting us to a ticketing change:

Season ticket holders will be located in six sections…with general admission seating offered in those sections on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats in those six sections will be reserved for season ticket holders until the five-minute mark of the first quarter.

No more reserved seating. A “season ticket” (at the same price as before) will now only buy you access into certain restricted sections before the game with no guarantee of a specific seat or section. Shortly after tipoff, all sections will become general admission.

The rationale is this: between unsold reserved tickets and no-shows, fans are scattered throughout the seating area. Making tickets general admission should lead to a crowd that is more compact and closer to the court. That should increase crowd involvement and noise and help the homecourt advantage. A “season ticket” that allows access to specific sections prior to tipoff is offered as a premium.

This plan is similar to something Georgia tried during the 2014 NIT. Tickets were sold as general admission, but Basketball Enhancement Fund contributors received priority on seating in Sections D, E, and F. I’ll admit – it worked. Crowds were small but close the court and involved in the games. Still, it was an ad-hoc ticketing plan for a postseason event for which Georgia only had a couple of days to come up with a way to distribute tickets. Men’s basketball went right back to reserved seating for the 2014-2015 regular season.

The difficulties come from how people actually attend games. It’s the difference between fans and administrators who perceive a problem (“we need a better homecourt advantage”) but who attend games with credentials rather than tickets. These are just a few examples of some practical concerns you’d hear from season ticket holders:

  • The most loyal boosters are offered a “chalk talk” before the game where coaches discuss the matchups and state of the team. It’s a fantastic perq. With the new plan, these fans must either claim seats and leave personal items behind or risk losing their seat while away at the chalk talk. These are also the fans most likely to have season tickets, and this booster club was not consulted on the change.
  • Fans coming from the Atlanta metro struggle to make it much before the 7 p.m. weeknight tips. They’re left to take what seats are available.
  • At $40, a season ticket is steep but not out of reach for fans of teams with large followings (think UT or South Carolina) who want to take over premium sections.
  • Fans have built up relationships with those sitting around them year after year. Areas of different sections have even developed their own personalities as groups of friends and families congregate in their familiar locations. Now they must deal with the inconvenience and stress of saving seats, hoping they arrive on time to sit with friends, and accepting that they might have to watch this game from another section.

Yes, these are largely minor inconveniences. But why intentionally inconvenience your best fans? The experience of going to the game is now diminished by the uncertainty of where you’re going to sit and with whom. My friend Red put it well: “What’s the point of having season tickets?” If the concern is filling up the lower bowl, I have much less of a problem with allowing fans to claim unused seats after five minutes.

Decisions like this usually come down to money, but I can’t see how this move will result in more revenue. Fans can now just buy tickets to the subset of games they plan to attend. The timing is odd, too. The program is on shaky ground, there’s a new and unproven head coach, and the last time we saw the team on the Stegeman court they scored a whopping 26 points. At a time when the athletic department should be building excitement for the renewed energy in the program, they unnecessarily piss off the people most likely to buy in.

All that said, I renewed my tickets. I’m willing to still support the program, and I guess we’ll see how this turns out. I expect that a lot of us will gravitate towards the seats we’re used to. I’ve been a fan long enough to know what loyalty will get you, but with more and more games on the SEC Network, I expect I’ll have a tougher decision in a year.

Post Two simple requests for the Vandy game

Friday September 11, 2015

My wife and I love the trip to Nashville. Our last two visits to Vanderbilt Stadium have been less than pleasant as Georgia twice blew double-digit leads leading to some tense finishes and a loss in 2013. It seems as if some of the players who remember that game are also ready to get the bad taste out of their mouths. This time all I ask is two things that should make for a much more relaxing road trip.

Clean special teams: The last two games in Nashville were much closer than necessary thanks to a truckload of special teams breakdowns. There was the center-eligible fake punt in 2011 followed by a kickoff returned for a touchdown and then a blocked punt that brought Vandy within 20 yards of stealing a win.

The fun continued in 2013: Vanderbilt executed a fake field goal to grab a brief first half lead. The game turned late in the third quarter when Damian Swann fumbled a punt return. In what looked like a replay of the 2011 game, another late botched punt operation gave Vanderbilt the ball deep in Georgia territory, and this time the defense yielded the score that sealed Georgia’s loss.

Georgia showed some progress on special teams in the opener – kickoffs were usually boomed into the endzone, coverage was effective, and punt returns were uneventful. Georgia got to one punt and affected another. The day was a win for special teams. If we get more of that in Nashville, Georgia should win comfortably. After the special teams disasters of the past two games in Nashville, it’ll be a positive development if special teams are just a non-factor.

Deliver the knockout blow: Aaron Murray’s 2013 keeper just before halftime gave the Dawgs a decent 24-14 lead going into the locker room. They had several opportunities in the third quarter to extend that lead to at least 17 points but could only manage a field goal during the entire second half.

Georgia got good field position at their own 44 on their first drive of the second half. They moved the ball to set up a first-and-goal at the Vandy 7 but gained only two yards on the next three plays. The field goal gave Georgia a 27-14 lead – a nice margin but still a two-score game that left room for a Vanderbilt comeback.

Vanderbilt’s next series ended on an interception just inside Georgia territory, but the Dawgs couldn’t cash in and went three-and-out. The Georgia defense held again and forced a punt, but Swann muffed the return and set up the Commodores on Georgia’s 36. A few plays and a couple of fourth down conversions later (including the infamous Ramik Wilson penalty), and the Commodores scored to move within six points. With momentum on their side, Vanderbilt chipped away at the lead and pounced on the opportunity presented when a high snap went through Barber’s hands.

It was a different Vanderbilt team last season, but it was still important that Georgia responded with a touchdown just before halftime after Vanderbilt closed to within 21-7. Besides, it gives us a chance to watch Todd Gurley throw the ball again.

Post “A lot of coaches out there aren’t exactly kicking coaches.”

Friday September 11, 2015

Georgia’s adventures with special teams has been a topic of questioning and criticism (and sometimes just bewilderment) as long as Mark Richt has been here. It probably surprised some readers to learn that Georgia’s kicking specialists were sometimes left to work on their own.

CBS’s Jon Solomon has an interesting piece demonstrating how that’s the norm across college football. Even dedicated special teams coaches rarely have experience with kicking – Solomon found that only two special teams coaches at Power Five schools have a kicking background. The article goes deeper into how many top programs approach their special teams coaching and why there are so few kicking coaches in the college game. We usually associate special teams coaches with coverage or returns, but who coaches the kickers? Often it’s themselves.

It explains why we sometimes hear about specialists going back to work with private instructors. They’re just not getting that attention from their college teams. And with so little kicking experience on most staffs, kickers seem to prefer no attention to the wrong kind of attention.

Post SEC Championship remains in Atlanta through 2026

Friday September 11, 2015

For the first decade-plus of the SEC Championship game, there weren’t many other alternatives to Atlanta. The only other SEC town with a dome was New Orleans, and playing on an outdoor field in Nashville or even Jacksonville wasn’t much of an option.

That changed with the SEC’s addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Three more cities – St. Louis, Houston, and of course Dallas – within the SEC footprint had domed stadiums with experience hosting major sporting events. You’d expect a little more competition for the conference’s best event.

It’s significant then that the SEC announced this week that Atlanta would remain the host through at least 2026. The championship game will remain at the Georgia Dome through 2016 and move to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for 2017 and beyond.

The presence of the game in Atlanta has coincided with the rise of SEC football as an athletic and economic powerhouse, and the game hasn’t been so bad for those of us here in Georgia either:

As reported by the GWCCA, the economic impact of the SEC Football Championship Game to the State of Georgia since 1999 is estimated at more than one billion dollars.

Post Georgia 51 – Louisana-Monroe 14: Ride the lightning

Monday September 7, 2015

A review of the season opener coming up just as soon as I change into my Gameday Gown.

Georgia 51 – Louisana-Monroe 14

Let’s get the big stuff out of the way: the Georgia debuts of Brian Schottenheimer and Greyson Lambert went about as well as could be expected. The tailbacks and outside linebackers are everything we thought they were. Special teams has improved. Georgia got out in front and put away a weaker opponent, survived some lapses around both ends of halftime, and responded to put the game away before Mother Nature ended things.

Schottenheimer’s playcalling wasn’t put to the test, but the execution of the plays that were called was solid, and that’s as much on the coordinator as the playcalling is. It’s a low bar to set, but seeing some of the problems other teams around the nation had just running their offense, we’ll take a fairly clean performance. It’s the downside of a runaway win like this that Georgia didn’t have to open it up much. Mitchell’s outstanding touchdown catch was the lone pass attempt downfield, and only two wide receivers caught passes. We knew though that Georgia isn’t going to air it out when they have a tailback roster this deep, and Schottenheimer was able to manage exactly the kind of game he wanted.

Lambert also wasn’t asked to do much, but he looked competent running the offense. The two touchdown passes were well-placed throws. He adjusted the formation to set up Chubb’s second touchdown run. Perhaps most important for this type of offense, he didn’t make mistakes that cost the team field position. There were no turnovers or sacks, and even unproductive drives ended in long punts that put ULM deep in their own end. That was enough for the defense and special teams to set up some short early scoring drives and ensure that Georgia would have the lead that would put them in complete control of the game.

Lambert didn’t face much pressure – a positive for him getting comfortable running this offense but a negative if you wanted to see how he’d respond. There were a few plays where he might’ve held on to the ball too long or not pulled the trigger against tight coverage. We’d rather he do that than force bad throws, but hesitation won’t be a virtue when the game is moving much faster against better opponents. The batted passes were a concern for a 6’5″ quarterback. Given a clean pocket though, Lambert showed he could make accurate throws up to 30 yards down the field. The performance was good enough that no one batted an eye when Mark Richt announced postgame that Lambert would remain the starter. No controversy.

That’s a good thing because Brice Ramsey gave us enough in his one series to start a controversy had Lambert opened the door. The sack on second down wasn’t Ramsey’s fault (ULM sent three defenders at two offensive linemen, and neither Hicks nor Chubb picked up the additional rusher), but Ramsey rebounded to throw one of the nicer passes of the day – a laser across the middle to hit Godwin in stride. Ramsey’s touchdown screen pass to Michel was another impressive throw. Ramsey had to be patient against another ULM blitz while the screen set up, and he executed a delicate pass. Georgia fans will be pleased that the screen game is alive and well.

The defense didn’t have as much to prove, but they gave us plenty to talk about. As dominant as they were for much of the first half, they had difficulties against the pass and one specific area of the run. ULM had some success using play action out of a read option to make it a fairly efficient 23-for-29 day for the quarterback. Georgia held ULM to around 7 yards per attempt, so they usually did well to keep these passes short. It was when ULM could string together a few longer passes that they scored. There wasn’t a specific weakness. Sometimes it was a rookie corner like Rico McGraw taking his licks. Other times it was an interior linebacker out of position. These are all areas we should expect to improve with experience and coaching, and the defense more often than not made enough plays to get off the field.

ULM’s offense isn’t going to run the ball much, and Georgia did well to make sure they didn’t get many cheap yards on the ground. The most successful running plays were quarterback keeps on the read option. That’s something we’re likely to see again soon from teams like South Carolina and Tennessee, particularly on third and short.

  • We saw a healthy Marshall and Mitchell. It’s great for the offense but you’re also happy for them personally. The cheer Marshall got from the fans was one of the best moments of the day. Mitchell’s touchdown was a highlight, but his ability to shake the first defender on his other receptions will be a valuable skill.
  • You can’t mention Marshall without Michel. We had seen Sony in the passing game at South Carolina last year, but putting him in the slot with Chubb in the backfield is almost cruel. He beat a cornerback on that long gain, but often he’ll be matched up with a linebacker. As bland as the offense was, Michel was a nice reminder of the possibilities. He looks to be a more physical runner too – both he and Marshall were impressive finishing runs.
  • Again we talked a lot in the preseason about the depth at tight end. We saw plenty of them – at least three touchdowns in the first half came on two-TE sets. Their role in the passing game was more limited – only Blazevich caught a pass.
  • The weather saved us from Georgia killing the clock, but the final delay came at a time when we were just starting to see significant numbers of newcomers take the field. Georgia ended up playing 19 true freshmen, but many of them only got a series or two before the game was called. We might’ve also seen another series for Ramsey (or even Bauta), but it was the young talent on defense that I was most interested to see.
  • That said, freshmen still had a big impact on the game. Godwin was the headliner (just hold onto the ball!) D’Andre Walker had the big special teams play. McGraw took his lumps, but that’s what happens when you’re thrown into the fire as a true freshman starting at cornerback.
  • Floyd had a very good game, but I’m still not sold on him at the star spot (or even ILB.) He’s terrifying coming off the edge and can be very quick in pursuit, but I don’t know about the pass coverage or taking on a big back running downhill. I get moving him around just to get him (and Carter, etc.) on the field, but in certain roles he’s just good rather than exceptional. For this defense and its personnel, “good” might be the best option though.
  • The team should get credit for using the first weather delay to refocus, and they looked sharper once play resumed. But the play before the delay was significant – Parrish fought off a block on a receiver screen and made a tackle for loss that set up a longer third down coming out of the delay. Parrish quietly had a solid day.
  • The up-tempo offense is also alive and well. Georgia sped it up several times during the game.
  • Barber was impressive on kickoffs (except when he wasn’t.) His first punt – after a high snap – was rough, but the rest looked good. Field position mattered throught the game, and Barber was a big part of that. Coverage was exceptional even on the kickoffs that didn’t make it to the endzone. Seeing guys like Lorenzo Carter, Natrez Patrick, and several touted freshmen on special teams is encouraging.
  • Que sure looks the part, doesn’t he?

It was a game settled long before the second lightning delay made it official. There were no significant injuries, no turnovers, and no real controversies going forward about the lineup. Without much else on the line, that outcome is just how Georgia wanted to head into SEC play.