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.
Thursday October 17, 2013
The media have spoken, and they expect Georgia’s basketball teams to spend the 2013-2014 season doing some rebuilding. The men are pegged to finish 11th in the 14-team SEC, and the Lady Dogs are expected to place 6th.
The Georgia men finished 9th in the league last season, posting a 9-9 conference record. They graduated three seniors, guards Vincent Williams and Sherrard Brantley and center John Florveus, and of course leading scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opted for the NBA Draft. The men have some depth, but they’ll need to find some combination of consistent scoring from the backcourt to replace Caldwell-Pope’s production.
The Lady Dogs finished 3rd in the SEC with 12-4 conference record and were an overtime loss away from advancing to the Final Four. The team lost seven seniors from last season’s team including four regular contibutors, three of which were multiple-year starters who went on to spend time on WNBA rosters. The most significant challenges for the Lady Dogs come in the frontcourt. Sophomore Merritt Hempe spent most of last season limited by a foot injury, leaving small forwards Shacobia Barbee and Krista Donald as the only returning frontcourt players with significant experience. Georgia is a little better off in the backcourt with Erika Ford, Khaalidah Miller, and Tiara Griffin returning, but finding a point guard to replace Jasmine James is high on the to-do list.
Monday October 14, 2013
According to The Tennessean, the SEC will announce a long-term deal to host 12 straight SEC tournaments in Nashville starting in 2015. The deal will cover nine men’s tournaments and three women’s tournaments. The SEC’s basketball media days will be held this week in Birmingham, so we’ll hear much more about this story and others as we prepare to start the basketball season in less than a month.
The 2014 tournaments will be held in Georgia. The men will play at the Georgia Dome on March 12-16, 2014, and the women will play at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth on March 5-9, 2014.
Monday October 14, 2013
Missouri spent much of the offseason taking a lot of grief for their lackluster SEC debut in 2012. Even a 5-0 start against a lightweight schedule didn’t do much to move the needle. No more. A win on Saturday in Athens over a top 10 Georgia team that hadn’t lost a home game in 2 seasons has the Tigers sitting undefeated and alone atop the SEC East. They took control of the game in the second quarter with contributions from both their offense and defense, withstood a Georgia comeback, rallied behind their backup quarterback, and they deserved the win.
For Georgia’s part, Seth Emerson has it right. The game proved what we had sensed for a while: Georgia isn’t a national title contender. Yes, it’s the inexperience. Yes, it’s the injuries. But it’s mostly about a team that just doesn’t do the little things right. It’s not just blocking/tackling/coverage. Details like special teams operations, personnel groupings, and sideline communication have caused and continue to cause problems. So far in the season, they’d more or less gotten away with it. So long as you had Aaron Murray and a few minutes on the clock, you could have inconsistent offensive line play, disorganization on the defense, or special teams breakdowns. When Missouri missed their late extra point, there was supreme confidence that Georgia could go to that well again and count on Murray to bail the team out again. But Murray, sensing the weight on his shoulders, forced a pass into tight coverage. There would be no miracle escape, and Georgia is left in the position of needing some help to repeat as SEC East champs.
There are many moments from the game you can single out, but one sticks out to me. Following the score that brought Georgia to within two points, the defense that had come to life in the second half kept it up on Missouri’s first two downs. The Tigers faced a 3rd-and-9, and the crowd was at full throat anticipating another stop. For whatever reason, Georgia called timeout. I’m still not sure why. There wasn’t a numbers issue; 11 Dawgs were out there. I guess someone saw something they didn’t like. The timeout gave Missouri a chance to gather itself after two unsuccessful downs, and the crowd was half of what it was before the timeout. Missouri converted, and they were on their way to another score.
It’s not that this moment was some larger metaphor for the way the season has gone. It’s just that with things finally going well on defense, some little thing – confusion about where to line up, a question about who was covering whom, or some other personnel issue – derailed a great chance to make a stand deep in Missouri’s end that would’ve given the ball back to Georgia’s rejuvenated offense with good field position and only down two.
And the defense badly needed something to go well. They struggled to stop Missouri in the first half but had strung together enough stops in the third quarter to bring Georgia to the brink of tying the game. They held Missouri around 100 yards below their season average on the ground. They notched four sacks. They held a good third down offense under 50%. But given a chance to help a gutted offense turn the game around in the fourth quarter, the floodgates opened again.
Shawn Williams isn’t walking through that door. Last year it took a public challenge by one of their own to light a fire under an under-performing defense loaded with NFL talent. That’s not likely this year; there’s a lot more to it than an attitude adjustment. It’s unfair to the offense, but the performance of the defense means that every mistake, turnover, and penalty by the offense are magnified. Every drive without points feels like a service break in tennis.
Yet as dire as things seem, many of Georgia’s goals remain. South Carolina, Missouri, and Florida must all play each other. There’s still some shaking out to do. Of Georgia’s first four SEC opponents, only one (Tennessee) isn’t among the top half of SEC scoring offenses. Only one remaining opponent (Auburn) is. It’s not reasonable to expect some huge awakening on defense, but the schedule lends itself to some marginal improvement. The offense will soon add some important pieces. It will be a challenge each week, but this is still a potential champion – just not a national one.
- If all he were asked to do is defend the flats, Shaq Wiggins would be an all-American. He’s a solid tackler, aggressive to the ball, and still has a lot to work on in coverage. Once that comes around, he’ll be a very solid corner.
- I doubt we’ll ever get a straight answer, but the Dawson/Bowman disappearance in the secondary annoys me probably more than it should. I get if true freshman like Langley and Wiggins are better options, but something stinks there.
- Injuries and youth do have their place in this discussion, but this loss got contributions from the veterans too. Gates and Lynch combined to miss the block that led to Murray’s fumble. Herrera’s dumb late hit ended another chance for a late stop. Swann…we’re all pulling for him to become the leader that the secondary needs.
- Douglas and Green did fairly well. Douglas’s fumble hurt, but I can’t fault a guy for fighting for yards. Georgia actually gained more yards on the ground Saturday than they did at Missouri a year ago with a healthy backfield. Missouri’s large lead forced Georgia to throw the ball more than they wanted, but the comeback featured some key runs by both tailbacks. Missouri’s coverage forced Murray to check down often, and Douglas in particular made some nice plays to get extra yards on short passes.
- I also liked seeing Murray keep it a time or two on the read option. It doesn’t need to happen often, but it’s enough to give defenses something to think about, and it makes use of a skill Murray has.
- Even with all of the turnovers and defensive woes, Georgia’s offense hurt itself by not cashing out in the red zone on two of the day’s biggest plays. The first half strike to Wooten was a shoestring away from being a touchdown, but Georgia had to settle for a field goal. When the teams were trading touchdowns, that put them behind the pace. Same thing on the first drive of the second half. Green’s creative long run gave Georgia a chance to start their comeback in grand style with little time off the clock. Again they settled for the field goal.
- Finally, a tip of the cap to Missouri’s Maty Mauk. He’s the redshirt freshman stuck into a tight SEC road game in the fourth quarter and asked to manage a two-point lead with momentum on Georgia’s side. His first play was a keeper on 3rd and 6. He shook off first contact (Herrera I believe) and fell forward to move the chains. Mauk didn’t have to do much more, though he had a nice pass to Green-Beckham to set up Missouri’s final score. Still, he held the team together in a tight spot and the offense put up two game-clinching scores under his direction.
Friday October 11, 2013
I guess we’ll find enough players to put together a team and take the field. Suddenly a game most of us overlooked has become a potential turning point for the season and a contest to remain atop the SEC East.
Missouri has to come in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They struggled through 2012 with a 5-7 record. Many SEC partisans scoffed at their results and questioned whether they belonged in the league. But that Missouri team was hit with significant injuries from the start, and they were never firing at full strength. That’s changed in 2013. They’ve started strong, they’re fairly healthy, and they’ve been able to cruise to a perfect 5-0 record entering this weekend’s game at Georgia. Now a program that was mocked and patronized for much of last season has a chance to turn the SEC East on its head midway through the season. It’s the beginning of a tough stretch of consecutive games against Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. They’ll be plenty worn down and tested by the end of October, but they come to Athens riding high and confident.
I think we all know how noon kickoffs usually go. There’s usually not much at stake – it’s Homecoming or a cupcake opponent or something. Mark Richt knows it too. He’s spent more time than usual this week imploring fans – especially students – to show up early and in force. It’s a reflection of two things. One is the magnitude of the game. Missouri became yet another ranked opponent, and the winner will remain undefeated in the division and the conference. The other is a tacit admission that Georgia needs every edge they can get in this game, and the crowd could be the kind of factor it was in the LSU game. I expect that the stands will have some openings at kickoff, but those who do show up will be in full voice.
One thing is sure after the escape at Tennessee and the magnitude of the injuries: there’s no overlooking this game. A few weeks ago we’d describe this as a trap game – a potential upset of a complacent favorite with a sleepy noon kickoff. That’s out the window. The potential for the upset is still there of course, but Georgia’s gone from any possibility of complacency to a situation of triage and survival. The injuries on offense have raised the stakes for the defense, and they’ve spend all week hearing about their problems and the threat posed by the Missouri offense. Aaron Murray and his next wave of receivers have had to stay after practice to hold a crash course in the routes and timing they’ll depend on in the game.
So I don’t worry about Georgia’s mental edge or focus. I also think they’ve had time to get over the shell-shock of what happened at Tennessee. What does concern you is the physical and mental exhaustion. Not only have they played consecutive down-to-the-wire SEC games, but several key guys will be playing a lot more than they’re used to this week. On one hand, the team is about as battle-tested as you can get. On the other hand, Missouri hasn’t had to bloody themselves much so far.
A few weeks ago, we noted that LSU came into the Georgia game with a ridiculous 62-3 edge in first quarter scoring. Missouri’s first quarter edge isn’t as pronounced, but they are still outscoring opponents 64-23 in the first 15 minutes. What’s odd is that this edge is most pronounced against opponents from the major conferences. Missouri jumped on Indiana and Vanderbilt by a combined 34-0 in the first quarter.
Georgia has taken the opening kickoff in the past two weeks and put points on the board. They held their own against LSU in the first quarter (no small feat) and had Tennessee down 10-0. Another strong start won’t guarantee success, but a quick start by Missouri could put a ton of stress on Georgia’s pieced-together offense.
Georgia’s 42-20 win at Missouri last season was an impressive job, coming on the road against an opponent amped up for its SEC debut. We all had a good laugh over “old man football” and enjoyed tweaking the newbies as they struggled in their first SEC season. We forget though that Missouri held the upper hand for much of the first three quarters, and Georgia didn’t take their first lead until the final minute of the third quarter.
What turned that nailbiter into a runaway win? We can put a lot of it on Jarvis Jones doing Jarvis Jones things. In a more general sense, Georgia’s pressure forced turnovers, and the offense put the game away with a couple of short-field scores.
With so much attention paid to skill players on both teams, it’s easy to overlook line play. Fortunately Georgia has been spared along its lines, and they’ll need all hands on deck. Missouri did a good job against the Georgia run last season, holding the Dawgs to 113 yards on the ground. They’re quietly 3rd in the SEC against the run and give up just under 120 yards per game. But along with a pretty good run defense, Missouri can bring pressure. Only Arkansas has more sacks. With that kind of pressure from relatively few men, Missouri can drop defenders into coverage and leads the SEC with 11 interceptions.
Getting back to last year’s game, can we expect Georgia’s defensive line and pass rush to have the same impact that Jarvis Jones had by himself? That’s asking a lot, but it’s Georgia’s best chance of slowing down the spread passing attack of Missouri. Ray Drew has been very effective at defensive end, and Leonard Floyd has become dangerous off the edge. This would be a really good week for Jordan Jenkins to step up. He had his first sack against LSU and is still among the best on the team at quarterback pressure, but he was relatively anonymous last week.
The Little Things
Some leftover thoughts:
- We hope the newcomers at tailback and receiver can run and catch well. I’ll also be interested in how well they block. Can Green and Douglas pick up pressure? Will Reggie Davis or Blake Tibbs make the key block that turns a 6-yard run into a 35-yard run? The ability and willingness to block is often what keeps some of these guys on the bench, and so much of our offense depends on blocking by the receivers and backs.
- Will tight ends Lynch and Rome (whose ankle is now in much better shape) feature more in the passing game with so many receivers out? Or, conversely, if Missouri’s pass rush off the edge is causing problems for the line and tailbacks, will a tight end be forced to stay in for protection?
- Though the Missouri passing game gets special attention thanks to Georgia’s issues in pass coverage, the Tigers actually lead the SEC in rushing with over 250 yards per game. It’s truly a team effort. No Missouri player is averaging over 76 yards per game, but four players are getting at least 50 yards each game and over 5 yards per carry.
- Missouri’s rushing attack includes quarterback James Franklin. Franklin was dinged up last season but has emerged in his senior year as one of the SEC’s most dangerous dual threats.
- Georgia had been doing better against the run in games against North Texas and LSU, but Tennessee put up 189 rushing yards behind a stout offensive line. Missouri presents a slightly different running style – more Clemson and South Carolina than LSU and Tennessee. Can Georgia have better success against a spread running game than they had earlier in the season?
Tuesday October 1, 2013
Junior receiver Chris Conley has been a favorite since making some big catches against Florida as a freshman. He’s since become a student leader and represents the SEC on the NCAA Division Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Conley is now an experienced upperclassman and a starting receiver for the Georgia offense.
Follow this link to see a segment with Conley mic’d up on the practice field. You’ll get an idea of some of the receiver drills, see Coach Ball in action, and even see Conley mentoring younger receivers.
Monday September 30, 2013
Georgia next home game (October 12 vs. Missouri) will kick off at noon and will be televised by ESPN. (Note that this is high noon and not the 12:21 SEC Network game.)
The complete October 12 TV schedule is here.
We’ve seen how fans and students can turn out for a big national late-afternoon game. We’ll need a great crowd again for this important SEC game even with the earliest possible start time.
Monday September 30, 2013
If you could put a Georgia football game in a time capsule, there’s a strong case for Saturday’s win over LSU.
You can start with the Chamber of Commerce weather. Athens was brilliant under a bright and cool late-September sun. Add in the national attention from a visit by ESPN Gameday. We gripe about Georgia’s record when featured by Gameday, but the turnout was outstanding. Myers Quad was packed and loud, and the show did a great job at showcasing the entire campus. This game, this setting, and this day WAS college football. All that was left to do was win.
I’m not sure Georgia wins this game without the first two. The team was able to put aside the big game hype and Gameday visit because, well, been there, done that. They’d been in two close games against top 10 competition, understood how to take the opponent’s best shot, and had confidence in their ability to measure up. The mental toughness was there, and the coaches honed the physical toughness with a week of practice in full pads.
It was a credit to both offenses that they were able to be so productive with their strengths taken from them. LSU was supposed to attack with a power running game, and Georgia could counter with Gurley. With Gurley lost to an early injury and Georgia doing a surprisingly good job against the run, the ground war never really materialized. Even the subplot of the Copeland/Hicks fullback duel fizzled. Both teams had their moments running the ball of course, but this game didn’t take long to develop into a battle of quarterbacks.
The game was won with Murray’s poise at the end, but it’s worth spending some time looking at the first quarter. Saying that LSU had dominated the first quarter is an understatement. They had been outscoring the opposition 62-3 in the first fifteen minutes. Georgia’s first drive was the picture of precision. The Dawgs didn’t face a single third down. Murray was a perfect 5-for-5 on the drive, topped off with a well-placed ball to Bennett for the score. LSU had allowed its only first quarter touchdown of the season.
But as impressive and important as that first score was, I think Georgia’s second touchdown was even bigger. LSU had responded with two quick scores of their own, the second coming after a Murray interception. If you go back to the 2011 SEC Championship game, a Murray fumble early in the third quarter started a torrent of LSU points. Within five minutes, Georgia had fumbled on their opening possession, went three-and-out, gave up a 47-yard punt return, and saw LSU take a 21-10 lead with drives of 27 and 17 yards. It was imperative that Murray put the interception behind him and that Georgia post some kind of answer to fourteen straight LSU points. The Dawgs turned to Gurley who reeled off a 23-yard run to start the drive. Georgia tailbacks put up 42 yards on the drive, and Murray was again perfect with two completions including the touchdown pass to Conley in the back of the endzone.
As dominant as LSU had been in the first quarter all season, getting off to a 14-14 start almost felt like a win. The Dawgs had overcome their mistake and even capitalized on an LSU turnover later in the game.
- What a great job from start to finish by the fans. The students were as into a game as I’ve ever seen – even moreso than the blackout games. Even when LSU deflated the crowd (3rd-and-22), the fans didn’t fade. I’m not a fan of shakers (they make no noise), but the swirling sea of red was an impressive visual effect.
- Continuing with the fans, I’ll remember the scene after the game for a long time. People just didn’t want to leave. And to have the players come back out to share the moment was a tremendous touch.
- Getting back to the game, it was the best special teams performance of the season. Morgan was clutch. LSU kick returns looked to be a missed tackle away from breaking one, but the Dawgs made the play. I can single out Stripling in particular for a good job of fighting off a block, staying in his lane, and closing off what could have been one big return. It was an interesting experiment for Georgia to put Reggie Davis out there to return kickoffs. I can see why they’d want to use his speed, but he didn’t seem to have the moves to do much more than run straight ahead. I expect kick return duties to continue to be an experiment.
- I guess we have to address the defense. Georgia did fairly well along the line of scrimmage, and more than a few of us were stunned to see LSU with single-digit rushing yardage at halftime. That commitment to stop the run cost Georgia a few times, and some of the struggles at the safety spot had to do with a lot of attention being paid to the LSU backfield.
- Before we get to Georgia’s pass defense, credit to Mettenberger, his receivers, and the LSU offensive coaches. His improvement was as-advertised. Georgia helped him out a few times, but there were many throws made with precision, a couple of ridiculously good catches, and they made Georgia pay when they had time.
- “When they had time” is the key. Georgia did well to pressure Mettenberger and came away with four sacks. The decision to bring pressure or drop men into coverage wasn’t always made correctly, but I’m glad that the Dawgs were aggressive on LSU’s final possession. Jordan Jenkins hurdling a blocker on the final play didn’t quite get him to the quarterback, but it surely contributed to a rushed and inaccurate throw. Anyone who saw it had to think back to this image from the preseason. And congratulations to Jenkins for notching his first sack of the season. His impact has been much bigger than that, but it has to be a load off to get into the stat sheet. Leonard Floyd continues to be a deadly counterpart to Jenkins on the pass rush.
- As good as Floyd is getting into the backfield, teams are still taking advantage of he and the other linebackers in pass coverage. With Quincy Mauger earning more playing time, I wonder if we don’t see the coaches rethink personnel on passing downs. It’s true that there’s a lack of experience across the board, but Georgia does itself no favors to continue to match up linebackers with receivers. Do you replace a middle linebacker in those situations with Harvey-Clemons and add another defensive back?
- Truthfully, I expected a bit more from Grantham in this game. There was no spread offense and no dual-threat QB. With the NFL background of Cam Cameron, this was as close to an NFL offense as Grantham would see almost all year. Georgia was routinely confused by shifts, didn’t adjust to some matchup issues, and several times were caught unprepared before the snap. I credit him with a scheme that looked a lot better against the run, but there’s no reason for receivers to be uncovered at the snap.
- Georgia has been part of the tempo/no-huddle discussion for a while, but LSU used it quite a bit themselves with positive results. With as much as they go against the Georgia offense in practice, and considering all of the preseason preparation for Clemson’s tempo, I’m just disappointed that Georgia seemed to have so much trouble getting lined up when LSU pushed the tempo. Is it a question of coaches taking too long to get the call in? Is it the complexity of the scheme? I’ll grant some of it to young players still figuring out the basics, but that can’t be all of it. Fortunately we won’t see too many other teams able to exploit it that well, but some like Tennessee and Auburn will surely try.
- But when it mattered most, the defense ended with a big positive moment. You can see the glimpses of talent, and the safeties had a couple of impressive hits to separate the ball from a receiver. Guys like Mayes and Drew continue to make plays along the line. I’m looking forward to the continued development of the defense, but the coaches could sure help them out some.
It was a legendary win to wrap up a tough but rewarding and memorable month. The Bulldog Nation might be awake now, but the next few games is no time to doze off. One of the most impressive things about the 2012 season was the month of November. With the Florida win in hand, Georgia just had to hold serve to win the division. They went beyond just going through the motions and went on a run of dominant wins that had them in position for a huge reward when they met Alabama. With the “big game” gauntlet behind them, I want to see how Georgia handles their business in some games that won’t be as hyped but are as dangerous as any SEC game can be.