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.
Thursday September 26, 2013
Georgia is honored to host ESPN’s coverage of LSU football. Is this a sign of what to expect Saturday morning?
Wednesday September 18, 2013
The NFL is increasing the price of its most expensive Super Bowl tickets in order to “close the gap between the face value of the ticket and its true value as reflected on the secondary market.” You can see why they’d want to do this: if a $1,250 ticket is going to end up fetching aver $2,500 on the secondary market, why not try to capture some of that difference in the primary market?
Thanks to the online secondary marketplace, we’re getting a much better and transparent sense of the true value of a ticket. Some are worth almost half of face value (if that). Others sell for many times the original asking price. As schools continue to partner with these secondary brokers, they should be gathering quite a bit of data about the demand for their tickets.
In a day when schools are squeezing all of the money they can out of their football programs, will they use this data to adjust future prices? Differential ticket pricing is already done at this level, but it’s still somewhat crude. Several of our opponents already place Georgia in a premium tier. More attractive opponents create higher demand, and prices are set higher. But how much higher? If we know that a visit from Alabama brings resale prices to over $200, why stop at a premium price of $90? Of course you have to balance maximizing revenue with selling out the stadium (not necessarily the same thing), but you’ll at least start with a more precise idea of what the price should be.
Any tinkering with ticket prices will be a slow process. You have an entrenched fan base used to a certain system, and there will be a negative reaction if too much is done too soon – especially if similar adjustments aren’t made at the bottom end of the scale for less-attractive games. But as the data builds and schools get an exact picture of the demand for their tickets, it will be very tempting to transfer those premiums from the secondary markets into the coffers of the teams. As with the NFL and the Super Bowl, I’d expect this to start with the CFB playoff where the potential gap between primary and secondary markets is the highest. Just don’t be surprised to see it from individual conferences and schools down the road.
Monday September 9, 2013
Georgia fans probably felt a little helpless watching Spurrier target a few inexperienced or weak spots in the Georgia defense on Saturday. Fortunately, Spurrier wasn’t the only coach who had done his homework. As Gamecock (and former Bulldog) beat writer Josh Kendall reports, “Mike Bobo told (Blackledge) last week that Georgia had an advantage due to the new linebackers’ relative lack of experience and size.”
What lack of size? While the South Carolina defensive line is stout, the Gamecock linebackers are, on average, over 25 pounds lighter than the unit that shut down Georgia’s running game a year ago in Columbia.
In 2012, when South Carolina’s starting linebackers weighed an average of 239.7 pounds, Georgia rushed for 115 yards.
On Saturday, when the Gamecocks’ starting linebackers weighed an average of 213.7 pounds, the Bulldogs rushed for 227 yards and whipped South Carolina 41-30.
Follow the link for some more good observations from Josh.
Monday September 9, 2013
Georgia’s September 21 game against North Texas will start at 12:21 p.m. Your local SEC Network affiliate will have the broadcast. Fans in the Atlanta market will find the game on Peachtree TV as usual. SEC Network affiliates in other markets can be found here.
For the complete slate of September 21 SEC start times, use this link. Florida/Tennessee is the 3:30 CBS game of the week.
Monday September 9, 2013
Sometimes after a loss we’ll get a comment from a coach claiming that the plan was sound but that the execution was lacking. Go back to the 2007 loss to South Carolina, and Mark Richt deflected criticism of Mike Bobo by saying, "I think we had plenty of opportunities to score touchdowns. We’ve got to execute." Other times it’s the plan that’s lacking. A timid attack in Columbia last year didn’t do much to stem the Gamecocks’ explosive start.
On Saturday we saw what happens when a good plan is executed well. Georgia’s plan certainly tipped its cap to the abilities of Jadeveon Clowney* – the passes were usually quick and short, and runs often went away from him. But any plan would have failed without good blocking, tough running, accurate throws, and big catches. The execution we saw from the Georgia offense was what we had hoped for and expected from such a loaded and experience unit. It was a high level of performance from everyone from the backs to the line to the quarterback to the receivers. And it’s a good thing – this was a battle between two very good teams that came down to inches in the fourth quarter. Georgia had very little room for error when it had the ball, and fortunately the errors were few.
* – The Clowney backlash has been something to behold. I get why fans relish getting the best of someone like Clowney – sticking it to Tebow was one of the joys of the 2007 Florida win, after all. But Georgia’s success had a lot more to do with the rest of the defense than it had to do with a sub-par performance from a great player. Georgia was magnificent at frustrating him, and other teams will try to do the same until the rest of the defense can respond. That doesn’t diminish Clowney as a player or pro prospect, but it does show why the Heisman was never going to happen.
Any talk about Georgia’s execution starts with Murray. He set the tone on the opening series. With Clowney hanging on to him, Murray was somehow able to launch a pass in the general direction of Michael Bennett. It wasn’t, and it couldn’t have been, right on the money, but it was a strong response by a quarterback who was supposed to be in fear of the guy hanging off of him. Murray’s stats – even with the drops – were as good as it gets, and his numbers through two games are even ahead of last season’s pace. As important, he avoided any kind of mistake that could have turned such a close game.
When I heard that Murray had watched the Clemson film six or seven times, I was a little worried about the psychology major. Was he overthinking things? When you’re so analytical and obsessed with perfection, it can be easy to press, and that can lead to some of the mistakes and early jitters we’ve seen. South Carolina’s pass rush might’ve been a blessing for Murray in that he didn’t have much time to think. The plan called for a large helping of slants, passes to the backs, and other plays that showed that Georgia’s offense was very aware of timing. Some of Murray’s most successful passes – the first lob to Bennett, the touchdown to Gurley, and the last toss to Justin Scott-Wesley – were improvised or rushed. Murray’s talent and instincts are just fine, and he turned them loose in one of the best performances of the year.
More from a bright and sunny home opener:
- Was anyone else surprised that Spurrier ended the game eating two timeouts?
- The trend of booing injured players is on the rise, and I’m disappointed that it showed up at Sanford Stadium yesterday. It wasn’t to the degree that we saw at Clemson last week, but it was there. It’s ridiculous that we had to spend time last Sunday producing video evidence of a legitimate injury. Whether or not these stoppages are meant to slow momentum, the benefit of the doubt used to be with the injured player. It needs to be that way again.
- The wonderful closing drive meant that the defense never had to take the field after its crucial goal-line stop, so we won’t know for a while whether it’s going to mark a turning point for the defense. South Carolina found success with that speed option from their opening drive, and they kept going back to it. It’s the play that they scored on early in the fourth quarter. In fact, Herrera had a chance to stop the pitch on that scoring play and couldn’t complete the tackle. After Ray Drew’s stop on third down just inches short of the goal line, the Dawgs were ready, and South Carolina went to the well one too many times. Shaw was met immediately by Jenkins and forced the quick pitch. Herrera was up to the job this time and slowed Mike Davis long enough for Wilson and several other defenders to finish the job.
- Speaking of Herrera and Wilson, what a test for them. You had a tough runner in Davis, an elusive quarterback to contain, and Wilson in particular was picked on almost as much in the passing game as Langley was. But they had enough left in the tank to suck it up for the big stop. The next few weeks will be about developing depth across the board, but few positions could use depth as much as inside linebacker. It’s a big three weeks for Kimbrough and Carter.
- And on Langley, be patient with him. He’s out there for a reason, and he’ll continue to learn and improve. It’s said that offensive line and cornerback are two of the toughest positions for freshmen, and we saw a master probing the weak spots of Georgia’s defense yesterday.
- Jordan Jenkins through two games has six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and zero sacks. Is that representative of Georgia’s pass rush so far?
- I could go overboard gushing about Gurley, Hicks, and the rest of the backs. It’s enough to say that, with Murray and the backs, Georgia is deploying an NFL backfield in the college game.
- I wasn’t down on Marshall after the Clemson game, but his impact was limited. You can’t say that about this game. Keith reminded us of what he can do running the ball, but his speed on those swing passes was magical. What a weapon.
- All hail Sol. The third-quarter sun saved Georgia at least once.
- The Dawgs were a little better at third downs in this game (6-14 vs. 4-14 a week ago). Georgia’s success at sustaining drives was helped by two fourth down conversions. That early 4th-and-13 pass to Scott-Wesley was both important and outstanding.
- With Morgan available going forward, you wonder if we make the same call on 4th-and-13 from the opponent’s 31. I hope so.
- South Carolina got zero points directly from its defense or special teams (excepting placekicks of course). They had the short field thanks to the botched punt, but that’s as much help as Georgia gave them. It’s been a few years since that’s happened. Georgia forced the game’s only turnover, but it came at an important time in the third quarter. It stopped a promising Gamecock drive and led to a field goal that put Georgia out in front for good.
- The game day experience was generally pretty good. The ticket scanning made for a logjam at entry, and I hope people keep that in mind for the LSU game. The only big disappointment was that the score came down off the scoreboard immediately after the game. If ever you wanted a few shots at a scoreboard picture, this was the game.
- And the crowd. Wow. Even with the problems at the gates, the fans showed up. The second quarter rally by the visitors put a damper on things, but the fans had an impact through the end of the game. It helped that the Dawgs, as they did at Clemson, were outstanding at answering scores.
What a difference a week makes. That’s not just a comment on the progress made since the Clemson loss. It’s also a reminder that with 10 games still left, each win has to be earned all over again.
Friday September 6, 2013
Snap out of it, Dawg fans. There’s still this funk hanging over a lot of us, and that’s not what we need on Saturday. If you saw the game last year in Columbia you know how a home crowd can contribute to steamrolling an opponent. I can’t remember the coaches and players ever being this persistent about asking for a good crowd on Saturday. You can tell what this game means to them, and I hope it means enough to us to put aside the post-Clemson blues and do what we can from the Dawg Walk through pregame through all four quarters.
A great player like Clowney is disruptive by nature, so it’s foolish just to go about things as if he’s just another defensive end. At the same time, focusing too much on an individual can keep you on the defensive and take you out of plays that might find success against parts of the defense that are less strong. You can’t play scared. There was that whole subplot a few weeks ago about which quarterbacks played scared against Clowney. “Scared” is a loaded term. What happens is that a quarterback – an entire offense, even – becomes so aware of a player that you rush things or throw out entire elements of your playbook. Short, quick passes are fine, but do you entirely give up on the vertical game? (See “asinine sideline swing screen.”) The diversity of what Georgia can do on offense is one of its strengths; becoming a predictable draw or screen offense makes the field more compact and can even make things easier for the player you’re so worried about.
Last week, Georgia was a disappointing 4-of-14 on third down. It didn’t help that nine of those 14 third down attempts came with at least five yards to go. If you want to lessen the impact of a dominant defensive end, limiting obvious passing situations is a good place to start. Georgia has to be more effective on first and second down and either avoid third downs or make the distance as manageable as possible. The barrage of ineffective counter draws last week set up some nice play-action possibilities (especially the long reception by Hicks), but is it worth the numerous long-yardage situations if you’re only going to set up one or two plays out of it?
In the end, there is no play that doesn’t depend on blocking and execution. Georgia can call up the most brilliant scheme to counter the South Carolina defensive line, but it won’t matter without a better effort from the line.
Georgia threw the ball to its running backs a few times last week. There was the brilliant play-action catch and rumble by Hicks. Murray checked down to Gurley on the very first play. Marshall made a nice catch on a swing pass. But Georgia, for whatever reason, still struggles to execute the screen pass. It might just be my own confirmation bias, but I just don’t think of the screen as a play Georgia runs well. The Dawgs had a couple of well-timed screens go awry at Clemson. Gurley was set up with blockers and a lot of open field ahead, but Murray’s pass was tipped and nearly intercepted. Georgia later ran the mirror image of the famous Nebraska inside screen to Conley, but Murray had to sidestep and ended up making an inaccurate throw for an incompletion.
Murray’s height is always going to come up. I’m sure that can be a factor, but even Joe Flacco at 6’6″ is going to have a tough time seeing over a leaping 6’4″ defensive end only a few feet away. A well-executed screen is a balance between holding the defensive pressure long enough for the play to develop and then releasing in time to trap the pressure behind the play. If you wait too long to release, there are no blockers for the receiver, and the receiver is likely to be caught in a traffic jam near the line of scrimmage. If you release too soon, you give a quick defender like Clowney a clear path to the quarterback before the quarterback can even drop back. That leads to unpleasant outcomes like this:
Yes, the coup de grace of the 2011 loss to South Carolina came when Clowney blew up an attempted screen. We know that screens can be great ways to counter aggressive defenses. I’m just hesitant to go all-in with screens in this game because 1) Georgia has problems executing them, 2) you’re playing with fire when you invite a speedy rusher into the backfield, and 3) is South Carolina’s defense all that aggressive? By that, I mean their defensive line is good enough that they can get the pressure they need with just the front four. Watch these last two videos from their UNC game. Sacks from simple straight-ahead four-man rushes. Not even a stunt to be found.
That strength along the line creates a big luxury for the defense. You can drop everyone else into coverage and be fairly certain that you’ll get enough pressure if you can cover just competently for a few seconds. So even if you’re able to get off a screen behind that line, know that you’ll still have seven defenders behind the line to deal with. This goes back to what I was saying about how playing scared can make you do things contrary to what you might do best. A screen is a logical counter to a good pass rush, but does it attack the weaknesses of the South Carolina defense? Or does the very presence of Clowney bait Georgia into doing something they don’t do all that well? Is a win against Clowney necessarily a win for the offense?
Forget the debate over Murray for a second. Going back to 2005, South Carolina’s defense and special teams has put points on the board against Georgia seven times. We remember the crushing fumble and fake punt in the 2011 game, but there was also an interception return in there too. It goes without saying that Georgia has to avoid not only crippling turnovers but also the special teams miscues that helped to sink them last week (and last year in Columbia). We also know that it’s not just the direct scores that hurt you. Ealey’s fumble from the SC 3 in 2010 ended Georgia’s best chance to get back in that game. An early Murray INT last season ended Georgia’s only trip into South Carolina territory until late in the second quarter.
There’s the flip side – what can Georgia do to create turnovers and points? South Carolina is fairly stingy with the ball. Shaw only threw seven interceptions in 2012, two of which came playing from behind in the 4th quarter at LSU. In their three-game losing streak to South Carolina, the Dawgs have forced three turnovers – 1 in 2010 and 2 in 2011 – but they’ve done little with those opportunities. A Garcia fumble in 2010 led to a long Georgia drive, but the drive ended on Georgia’s own fumble. Garcia was intercepted twice in 2011 and had a rough first half, but Georgia failed to take control of the game when they had momentum. The kind of opportunity that we saw in the muffed fumble recovery at Clemson have to be cashed in on in games like this.
But before Georgia worries about converting opportunities, they have to create them. Georgia’s lone takeaway last week came on a muffed punt. The defense didn’t have many chances to create turnovers and didn’t come away with any. Grantham’s “biggest complaint to the players was a lack of turnovers.” You wonder if Georgia is going to go with a higher risk/reward approach on Saturday.
- With Mitchell out for Georgia, I expect South Carolina to focus on Gurley. That means some dense coverage in the short and intermediate passes until Georgia can establish some kind of deep threat. I’d be happy to see an early shot or two, even if unsuccessful, to show some attempt at a vertical passing game. If the SC linebackers are going to help against the run, this is an opportunity for Lynch to have a bigger impact than he had a week ago.
- While Murray can be “wild in the strike zone” even as he’s completing passes, that’s fine with me. He just could really use a good, confidence-building start. The early pick in Columbia last year deflated the offense, and it took a while to recover.
- I like Georgia’s matchups against South Carolina’s receivers – as long as they keep those receivers from getting behind them. South Carolina tested Georgia deep just a couple of times last year. The Bulldog defensive backs had good chances to break up those passes (or even intercept them), but they lost the one-on-one battle each time. Hopefully Georgia’s safeties do better this time around.
Wednesday August 28, 2013
I really enjoyed this conversation with Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell about the upcoming season over at Grantland. If only most of our fans had this kind of informed and level-headed approach to the team, program, and season.
Wednesday August 28, 2013
You’ve seen by now that Georgia’s 2-deep on defense is as inexperienced as we feared it could be: 10 players have never played a snap of D-1 football, and 8 are true freshmen. That’s not unexpected, but the approach of the Clemson game gives us a chance to look at some specific ways Georgia will have to deal with their situation.
PWD had a good one here:
The Nebraska game turned out well, but you also remember that scene early in the third quarter when Georgia couldn’t get lined up on the goal line. You wonder how complex Grantham will try to get with such an inexperienced defense. It’s not quite 2010 again, but it’s going to be important to get these new guys into a comfort zone where at least they know what their assignment is before they worry about the offense they’ll see. Georgia’s defensive success in this game will have a lot to do with Grantham’s ability to improvise with what he has versus what he’d prefer to do.
That brings up a related topic – one of the reasons why Herrera didn’t see more time last year at MLB had to do with getting the defense lined up. It’s the job of the middle linebacker to read the offense and adjust the defensive call to match what he sees. Herrera has been a solid linebacker since he was thrown to the fire as a freshman in 2011, but he was still developing the big-picture skills. That gave the coaches a decision and a trade-off – do you put the better defender in or the guy more likely to align the defense correctly? There’s no one ahead of Herrera and Wilson this year, so it’s on them. So we’re not only looking at Grantham getting the call in quicker, we’re also depending on the middle linebackers to improve on a weakness of last season. Fun stuff.
Both Georgia and Clemson are facing big questions in the secondary. Georgia will be without two likely starters thanks to a suspension and an injury. Clemson has also been banged up, and they’re looking to improve on a unit that was sub-par to begin with. So while each team hopes its secondary can step up, they’ll lean on relatively stronger units up front. If either team can generate pressure and chaos along the line, they’ll force more rushed throws and poor decisions that will help the defensive backs.
Tyler had a nice look yesterday at Clemson’s speed and depth along their front seven. That kind of disruption of Georgia’s rushing lanes and timing of passes is just what the secondary is looking for. The Dawgs aren’t as experienced up front, but they will at least have a strong rotation to keep the line fresh. Georgia’s linebacking corps is the most experienced unit on the defense (even that’s relative), and they’ll have to be keys to applying pressure while maintaining the discipline to deal with Clemson’s counters to the pressure.
Each team has ways to derail attempts to bring pressure. For Clemson, it’s tempo and the scrambling ability of Boyd. He can elude initial pressure and create on the run. Georgia’s front six or seven must worry not only about pressure but also containment. Boyd’s running threat also allows Clemson to use option plays from most any formation to freeze Georgia’s front to buy time or make them pay for overaggressiveness. On the Georgia side, you have the tailbacks and play-action. Gurley and Marshall are the quality of tailback that require run support from the secondary. Tyler made an interesting comparison of Clemson’s line to the Boise defense we saw in 2011. The current talent at tailback is one big weapon that Georgia didn’t have to counter what they saw from Boise. If Clemson is aggressive on the line, they’ll open things up for draws, play-action, and screens. We’ve seen Gurley and Marshall put in work in the passing game during the offseason, and this could be a good chance to use them to relieve pressure.