Tuesday January 7, 2014
You can campaign all you want for the first official polls to be released mid-season, but the positioning for the 2014 season started last night:
The consensus is already building and the narratives are already forming.
(Both of those polls have Georgia around 10 or 11. With the returning talent on offense, a year’s growth by the defense, and a more favorable schedule, that seems like a good starting point.)
Monday December 16, 2013
Dawg fans got a lesson in bowl politics when both their likely destination and opponent changed last Sunday evening. A Georgia-Michigan pairing in the Gator Bowl had been a possibility since Georgia’s loss at Auburn in mid-November. On Sunday we began to hear rumors of renewed interest by the Chick-fil-A Bowl in a Georgia-Miami matchup, especially if the Outback Bowl chose Texas A&M.
The ACC reportedly applied pressure on the bowl to take its runner-up, Duke, knocking Miami down to a lesser bowl. With the Georgia-Miami game no longer possible and LSU headed to the Outback Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Bowl chose to extend a bid to Texas A&M. It’s the Aggies’ first trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it will likely be the final collegiate game for Heisman quarterback Johnny Manziel.
That dropped Georgia to the Gator bowl which is 1) what we had expected and 2) reasonable considering Georgia’s record. The surprise was Georgia’s opponent. The final Big 12 results pushed Kansas State to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Arizona with Nebraska the expected opponent. The talk is that Kansas State coach Bill Snyder objected to a pairing with Nebraska (he and Bo Pelini have some bad blood), so the bowl selected a Big 10 team with a worse record, Michigan. That left the Gator with little choice but to arrange a sub-optimal rematch between Georgia and Nebraska.
Fun stuff, right? Two bowls that could have had interesting pairings – the Snyder/Pelini angle in Arizona and a rare Georgia/Michigan battle in Jacksonville – instead end up with games that no one wanted. Fans and players alike responded with outright repulsion, and administrators were left to contort themselves into ridiculous half-hearted sales pitches for a game with higher ticket prices than Georgia-Florida.
That was last week. Georgia still has a game to play. This time of year, more emphasis (probably too much) is put on motivation. Which team wants to be there, and which team has one eye on the swag their buddies in the BCS bowl got? Georgia might seem at a disadvantage there, but Nebraska isn’t in great shape after being passed over for the bowl they expected to get. Add in the instability of their coaching situation, and the Huskers also have some things to work through with their therapist over the break.
Both teams have changed a good bit from the last meeting. They’ll each be without their starting quarterback. The Murray-Martinez rematch is now Mason versus whichever backup Nebraska goes with. The Georgia defense that struggled to stop Nebraska’s offense a year ago is gone, and its replacement has had its own issues. That Nebraska offense is different, too, with the quarterback injured, dynamic back Rex Burkhead gone, and turnovers a big problem.
The Huskers now lean more than ever on outstanding tailback Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah had 6.9 yards per carry while sharing the load with Burkhead against Georgia last year, and he’s put up over 1,500 yards this season as the featured back. He put up over 120 yards and 5.6 yards per carry against an incredibly good Michigan State defense just a few weeks ago, and he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 of Nebraska’s 12 games.
Georgia has played the tougher schedule by far – Nebraska has faced only two ranked opponents (UCLA and Michigan State) and lost both by double-digits. In fact, it’s been a rough stretch for the Huskers since midseason. They started the year 5-1 but are just 3-3 since as they’ve had to go three deep at the quarterback position. Those three wins include a Hail Mary pass to beat Northwestern, an ugly 17-13 win over a struggling Michigan team, and an overtime win against overmatched Penn State. As you might expect with uncertainty under center, turnovers have become an issue – Nebraska has turned it over 10 times in their final three regular season games.
Nebraska’s late-season problems might seem to give Georgia the advantage, and the Dawgs are about a 10-point favorite as bowl practice begins.
Friday December 6, 2013
From a Georgia perspective, we know that there are two good teams going at it in Saturday’s SEC Championship. Both Missouri and Auburn raced out to big first half leads against the Dawgs, gave them up in the second half, and pulled out fourth quarter wins. I’d say that Missouri’s win was slightly more impressive and more all-around complete, but it’s not enough to give them a clear edge in the championship game. Both teams have explosive offenses and dangerous pass rushers. I’d give Missouri an advantage in the defensive backfield, and that could be enough to make a difference.
Intangibles? Auburn has to believe they are destined for the title after their past two games. That belief can make a team play above their talent, and they’ll fight until the end confident that the ball will bounce their way. Missouri comes in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder – the outcome of the Iron Bowl was so shocking that Missouri’s business-like handling of Texas A&M was all but overlooked. Mizzou has to be a little irritated at the Auburn what-if game being played at their expense all week.
That brings me to this – call it the Tuberville Effect. In October of 2006, Auburn was undefeated and ranked #2 in the AP and #3 in the coaches. Tuberville started complaining about the unfairness of the BCS, anticipating another Auburn snub. He went so far as to say that a playoff system was just about the only thing that could give an SEC team a shot at the BCS championship game. “We all understand in our conference how tough it is,” he explained. “In our conference, that’s about the only chance we’d have to make it.”
We know how that season – and Tuberville’s whining – turned out. Auburn soon got drubbed by Arkansas and later by Georgia, ending any concerns about Auburn in the 2006 BCS. The SEC’s chances in the BCS championship also took a bit of a turn in 2006, and that run of success might’ve been ended by, of all teams, Auburn last weekend.
Now Auburn is back in the spotlight with a bit of work to do for an improbable shot at the national title game. To Auburn AD Jay Jacobs’ credit, it’s at least conference championship weekend and not early October. But there he was earlier this week dutifully making the case for a 1-loss SEC team to jump an undefeated team from a lesser conference into the title game. Missouri, for their part, only has one game on their mind.
Friday December 6, 2013
Congratulations and best of luck Georgia’s volleyball team as they begin their first NCAA tournament in nine years tonight. The volleydawgs won 8 of their final 11 matches to finish with a 22-9 record and earn an at-large bid. Coach Lizzy Stemke has done an impressive turnaround job in three seasons.
They’ll face American in the opening round and, with a win, advance to likely face host Duke on Saturday. It’s one of those random things, but a couple of us road-tripped to Durham in 1994 to support the volleyball team in the NCAA tournament against Duke. Hopefully Durham is kinder to them this time around.
Tuesday December 3, 2013
I have to admit that beating Tech is usually a lot more about relief than joy to me. Occasionally there are the routs like 2002 or 2012 that you can allow yourself to enjoy, but I fall squarely in the camp that considers this the one game Georgia can’t lose. Fortunately the team is rarely as uptight about the Tech game as I am. Georgia leaned on every bit of patience and resolve it had to erase a 20-point deficit and earn a 41-34 double-overtime win over Georgia Tech, Georgia’s fifth-straight win in the series.
Tech had to consider this a great opportunity to notch a win. They had over two weeks to prepare for the game with only a throwaway Alabama A&M warm-up between Clemson on November 14th and the Georgia game. The Dawgs didn’t have a bye week or an option team like Georgia Southern this year ahead of Tech week, and so they’d have to prepare for this offense in less than a week. Tech knew that the Georgia defense was likely to give up yards and points, and when Aaron Murray went down…the stars were aligning.
Whether Tech was licking their chops over all of that or it was just my internal pessimistic monologue, the first quarter did little to hurt Tech’s confidence. Spotted a lead of 17 (and eventually 20) points, Tech had an offense built to chew clock, and Georgia was forced to all but abandon the running game.
As if to prove how tough it would be just to get the ball back in the hands of the Georgia offense, Tech’s first drive of the second quarter was a typical water-torture march that took up over half the quarter. Adam Erickson (who had a solid game) pinned Tech on their own 8 with a 52-yard punt. Georgia’s defense couldn’t take advantage of the field position, and Tech began a 15-play drive that covered 87 yards and used up over 8 minutes.
But the end of that drive began the slow turn of momentum back in Georgia’s favor. Facing a 1st-and-goal, Tech fumbled and recovered on first down. A dive was stuffed on second down. The third down pass was thrown away out of bounds, and for the first time this season Tech didn’t turn 1st-and-goal into a touchdown. The field goal still hurt, but the Georgia defense gained a small amount of traction. They forced a punt on Tech’s next possession and left the offense enough time to finally put a scoring drive together. Tech would only have one more sustained scoring drive in the game, and Georgia’s offense (barely) got the possessions they needed to take the game into overtime.
I hope people got a chance to hear Hutson Mason’s post-game interview on the Fifth Quarter show. A friend summed it up this way: if Murray talks like a coach, Mason talks like a player. The unfiltered joy and blunt honesty in Mason’s comments took us right into the head of a guy starting his first game, and it helped to explain what we saw. Mason noted that Tech put in a few new twists and stunts that didn’t help things early on. He also revealed that it took some time to get used to game speed – experience that can’t be simulated in practice or even in mop-up duty.
When asked to nail down when things began to settle down for him, Mason pointed to the scoring drive before halftime. After a 4-of-8 start that included an interception and three drives ending with punts, Mason led Georgia on five straight scoring drives to take the game into overtime. The first four of those scoring drives each covered at least 63 yards, and the three touchdown drives each went for at least 74 yards. He completed everything from screen passes to a deep ball to Lynch, but he really made his living throwing the 15-yard out.
Mason’s biggest issue was trusting the protection. As he admitted in that post-game interview, he was a bit too quick to give up on plays, and it got him into trouble. But that’s all part of the learning curve. With Tech’s defense intent on bottling up the run and facing an early deficit, Mason had to cram an entire season’s worth of experience into a quarter or so. The running game carried the load in overtime, but Mason had very little margin for error leading the comeback in the second half. He made the throws, had decent protection, and the receivers made enough catches to keep the momentum going.
If Georgia fans were looking to the Tech game as a sign of how the Georgia offense might perform in the post-Murray era, they had to like what they see. Add back in Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, Marshall, and a healthy Gurley – not to mention any newcomers – and Georgia should have another potent offense in 2014.
- What was with the drops? Certainly there’s an adjustment with a new quarterback and the overturning of a long completion to Bennett was just an awful call, but Georgia’s receivers had an unusually tough time coming down with balls they looked to have caught.
- Bennett’s double move on his third quarter touchdown was sick. It was about as effective a fake as Stafford’s pump that freed up Massaquoi in 2006.
- Prior to his injury in the LSU game, Todd Gurley had five receptions through four games for 42 yards and 1 TD. In the five games since his return, he’s posted 25 catches for 302 yards and 4 TD. He’s tied for third on the team in receptions and tied with Wooten and Lynch for the most receiving touchdowns. The last few opponents have tried (and mostly succeeded) to limit Gurley’s impact in the running game, but credit to he and the coaches for finding other ways to make big contributions. He’s too good not to be involved in the offense.
- I’m glad to see Gurley nearing some important milestones despite missing so much time. He’s already at 10 rushing touchdowns, and he needs just under 100 yards rushing in the bowl game to post another 1,000 yard season. Let’s get it for him.
- Georgia’s caught some tough breaks with injuries this season, but it was good fortune that both Bennett and Conley were able to come back from their injuries. The Dawgs don’t win this game without them.
I know the story is Tech catching Georgia off-guard by passing the ball, but reality is much more simpler. Tech’s first two passes – a 68-yard completion and a 43-yard completion that accounted for 111 of their 232 passing yards – came on obvious passing downs. These were 3rd downs of 8 yards or more. It wasn’t some unexpected wrinkle of the Tech offense to throw it on 3rd and long; it was the same situation in which the Georgia defense has struggled all season. The only big pass that might be credited to Georgia overplaying the run was the touchdown pass on 1st-and-10 following Mason’s interception and Drew’s facemask.
When it came to actually defending the option, Georgia’s defense wasn’t that poor. Tech was in those 3rd-and-long situations because the defense had put Tech behind schedule after first and second down. Tech had a few big runs but no knockout blow touchdowns. The Dawgs frequently blitzed the middle, and they made several plays behind the line. There was some serious work being done by the front seven – Herrera was great, Floyd and Jenkins were active when the plays went outside, and Chris Mayes backed up his pregame talk. It was that pressure that forced a poor throw in the fourth quarter in the direction of Josh Harvey-Clemons. Harvey-Clemons soared and secured the interception that eluded him at Auburn, setting up Georgia’s game-tying field goal.
Georgia’s biggest shortcomings were, to no one’s surprise, in the secondary. The unit was down two starters, and Tech attacked those areas. It wasn’t all on Dawson – the safeties didn’t do much to support the corners on slant passes. On the other side, Swann had one of his better games. Georgia has called some maddening timeouts before big third and fourth down plays this season, and they called one as Tech faced 3rd and 7 from the Georgia 40 inside of a minute to go. Perhaps Georgia wanted to get a look at Tech’s formation, but it’s also worth noting that Dawson was lined up on the boundary receiver. When the teams lined up after the timeout, Swann had the coverage. Swann kept tight coverage on the play and what looked to be a back shoulder pass fell harmlessly incomplete. Tech was forced to punt, and we were set for overtime. Swann’s best moment might’ve come on the final play. The tipped pass looked to be headed into the arms of Godhigh, but Swann came over the receiver and batted the ball back out of the endzone to end the game.
It’s frustrating that three of Tech’s four biggest pass plays came on 3rd and 7 or longer and led to 17 of their 27 points in regulation. You’d expect these issues that were so prevalent in September to have been cleaned up by the last game. They haven’t been, and so we are still talking about the inconsistency of a defense that can make so many good plays in isolated moments and then reliably fail to get off the field.
- I still don’t know how Mayes didn’t recover the second quarter fumble inside of Georgia’s 10. The defense managed to hold and force another field goal, but those were an important three points. Great play by Mauger to strip the ball.
- Once the defense got out of the first quarter, you can point to several individual moments that helped keep the game in reach. Ramik Wilson covered a third down pass just well enough to force Tech’s first punt late in the second quarter, and Georgia posted their first score on their next possession.
- As big as the final play was, it wouldn’t have happened without the third down that preceded it. Needing just two yards, Tech went wide to the left side. Swann fought off his block and cut off the outside. Floyd shot to the ball. Drew and Harvey-Clemons joined in pursuit. The loss of three yards meant that Tech could no longer consider the dives or keepers that they like to use near the goal line. Georgia hadn’t been great against the pass, but you’d still take Tech passing on 4th and 5 over an option play in short yardage.
- Anyone else fairly certain that Tech would’ve gone for two had they punched it in there?
Even with all of the shortcomings on defense and injuries, Georgia fans will remember this team for its fight. There wasn’t the lifeless blowout loss like the 2012 South Carolina game. Its four losses – and several of its wins – were tense fourth quarter battles. With the season’s goals ended at Auburn, with the starting quarterback added to the pile of injuries, and especially facing an early 20-point deficit, I’m sure a lot of people expected that Georgia would rather just put this season to bed and regroup for 2014. I’m glad they didn’t. I’m glad this game means something to the coaches and the players, especially the seniors who will now receive their personal Governor’s Cup replicas.
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.
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):
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Wednesday October 23, 2013
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.
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.