We talk a lot about narrative and its role in everything from the presentation to the discussion of sports. The steady drumbeat of a story creates its own momentum. While Johnny Manziel’s Heisman win on Saturday was hardly dramatic, his candidacy was noteworthy for being a relatively recent development. As recently as mid-October, when A&M was struggling to beat Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss and went dormant in the second half against LSU, Manziel was the walking definition of a novelty – an entertaining new quarterback in a new system whose coach was at a new school in its first season in a new conference.
It might be argued that Manziel won the Heisman in three games. That’s not true of course; he emerged as a special player from the opening week in a near-upset of Florida. But it did only take three games to turn novelty to narrative.
I remember driving back from Jacksonville to the beach listening to A&M-Auburn. Texts, calls, and tweets were flying as people marveled at the complete destruction going on at Jordan-Hare. It was 42-7 by halftime. We knew Auburn was bad, but this was the SEC’s version of the Oregon-Colorado score we were tracking during the WLOCP. The actual score soon took backseat to the image of an 85,000-seat stadium that had all but emptied early in the third quarter. Manziel’s five touchdowns got the buzz going again after A&M’s first laugher in a month after three nail-biters.
Beating up on Auburn and Arkansas was one thing, but the following week gave A&M a challenge they hadn’t done well with: beat a ranked team. Mississippi State was still in the top 20 after coming back to earth against Alabama. As we waited for a 3:30 Homecoming kickoff, it didn’t take long to see that 1) Mississippi State was still over-rated and 2) Manziel and A&M were on to something. For the second straight week, they had beaten and demoralized an SEC West opponent by halftime.
Suddenly the “A&M will give Alabama as much trouble as LSU” talk had some teeth. But even then the quarterback getting much of a Heisman push was McCarron. Alabama’s dramatic prime-time win at LSU was as big of a moment as there had been in college football in 2012, and McCarron was flawless on the game-winning drive.
Big performances in big games can win a player the Heisman. That’s nothing new. Often that turning point can even be a single play – like Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010 or Desmond Howard’s punt return against Ohio State. If you had to point to a single play that flipped the 2012 race, it was the early touchdown pass where Manziel was pressured, escaped, ran into his own guy, fumbled, caught the fumble in the air, and found a wide-open receiver in the endzone.
Between the A&M win an multiple interceptions by McCarron, the door had been opened for Manziel. That seemed to be the story of the season – one by one, players who seemed like reasonable Heisman candidates found it impossible to get traction and fell away. The emergence of Manziel and A&M that took place from the last week in October was perfectly-timed to fill this void, and all it needed to go over the top was knocking off the nation’s #1 team.
If you go to most any preseason Heisman list, you’ll find names like:
Matt Barkley (Southern Cal): Started the year as the Heisman frontrunner and leader of the preseason #1 team. Yikes.
Tyrann Mathieu (LSU): Remember him?
Geno Smith (West Virginia): He was the frontrunner after September, and it wasn’t even close. Then he went to Lubbock.
Denard Robinson (Michigan): Robinson was an electrifying player who didn’t quite fit in his offense, but he could have been a career-achievement type of winner with a strong season. His awful line vs. Alabama eliminated him in week 1.
Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina): I don’t know if he was having a Heisman-type season before his injury, but he would have likely stolen some votes from Manziel in the South and mid-Atlantic and made the overall tally much more interesting.
Landry Jones (Oklahoma): Like McCarron and A&M, Jones lost his shot when he faltered against Klein and Kansas St.
Tyler Wilson (Arkansas): His chances were pretty much finished when Petrino flamed out. Like Barkley, coming back for that senior year didn’t quite turn out as expected. Wilson’s production was down only slightly, but his interceptions soared.
Montee Ball (Wisc): Ball finished fourth last year and was the returning player with the most 2011 votes. Three September games with less than 100 yards took him out of the running early.
What the 2007 season was to the BCS, the 2012 season was to the Heisman. As the preseason and early-season favorites stumbled time and again, a freshman and a defensive player stood out as fairly consistent outstanding players. Manziel deserves his award. He was the best player left standing, and his performances were exciting to watch while having a real impact on the outcome of the 2012 season. Just as the circumstances that put a two-loss team through in 2007 don’t come around very often, the circumstances that led to this season’s finalists are fairly rare. There was no George Rogers to his Herschel Walker. It’s to a freshman’s credit that he was ready to make the most of the opportunity.
There will be plenty of time to take a longer look at the game – if we can bring ourselves to re-live that. Even in a loss, it was one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen from a Georgia team, and everyone involved has nothing to apologize for. Especially this guy:
Glory be to God in everything no matter how much it hurts. I may have fallen short but I will be back and better for it. Sorry DawgNation.
Chris Conley will do many big things over the next two seasons, and no one faults him for doing what every receiver has trained his life to do – catch a pass. Georgia played their tails off in a man’s game, and it was probably the best “big game” on a national level since the Texas-USC 2006 Rose Bowl. Damn.
And a big thanks to the students and fans who gave this team the reception they deserved back in Athens.
If you’re thinking clearly on a morning like this, hats off to you. I can’t do more than snag a couple of the million random things zipping around my head the past few days.
I just hope they show up. I hate going into such a big game with that negative thought in the back of my head, but I imagine that a lot of Bulldog fans have had that thought pop up this week. Was the Florida game a one-time emotional response, or has this team figured out how to play ranked opponents in big showcase games? If they have, we can buckle in for a competitive game. Their play over the last month leads me to think (hope?) that it’s a different team, but they still have a lot to prove, especially to themselves.
Make sure strengths are strengths. We started the season assuming that a strong defense was a given. It wasn’t and still isn’t a given. The defense discovered that performing as a unit at a top level requires the effort, attitude, and commitment we’ve seen down the stretch. Georgia needs its strengths to show up in order to have a chance. That includes strengths at the macro level – defense – and also at the individual level. Murray must look like one of the nation’s most efficient passers. Jones and Ogletree must look like elite linebackers. Gurley must find a way to create tough yards against a good defense. Good performances in areas of strength will elevate the rest of the team.
Cash in on opportunities. We remember how close Georgia came to a big lead against LSU last year, and we also remember how quickly things turned once those opportunities went away with only 10 points to show. You won’t get many chances against a good team like Alabama, and you have to make them count. Passes have to be caught, placekicks have to be made, fumbles have to be recovered, and catchable interceptions have to be secured. It’s not about an impossible requirement of being perfect for the entire game. It’s about executing at exactly the biggest moments. When Richt’s Georgia team throttled Saban’s LSU squad in Athens in 2004, David Greene was only 10-of-19 for 172 yards. But 5 of his 10 completions were for touchdowns. Make the big plays when they present themselves. The Dawgs were wonderful at capitalizing on short fields last week, but this is a different challenge.
Conversely, Georgia has to make Alabama work. Of course that means avoiding turnovers, but special teams is also important here. Coverage units on both punts and kickoffs can’t allow long returns. Barber has been very good with his punts lately, and I wouldn’t mind Jamie Lindley continuing to put kicks through the endzone. The offense also has a role here – three-and-outs can be as costly in field position as a shanked punt or a midfield turnover.
Create opportunities. Sometimes in big games you have to make your own luck. We saw the onside kick against LSU last year. Richt’s two SEC championship game wins have both featured a pivotal blocked punt. Georgia’s attempts at trick plays this year have pretty much been a flop, and they always come with big risks. Will Georgia have something along these lines ready, and will they need it?
Watch the screen. There’s nothing like a well-executed screen to slow down and burn an aggressive defense. Right, LSU? Alabama loves to run them, and we’ll see them on all downs. Sniffing them out can lead to big losses and even turnovers. Forgetting about them will have you watching an Alabama player’s taillights.
Is this Murray’s McCarron moment? Heading into the national title game last year, there were still questions about AJ McCarron’s ability to shoulder the burden of leading the Alabama offense. The Tide were content to lean on Richardson and use the passing game conservatively. McCarron was turned loose in the BCS championship game and completed 23 of 34 attempts to lead a much more potent Alabama offense than they had showed in an earlier meeting with LSU. With Murray, it’s not so much a question of turning him loose and throwing 25-30 times. It’s more about rising to the occasion. His self-prescribed isolation this week shows that he recognizes the importance of the moment and his role in it. Will that recognition lead to a tight performance, or is he ready to shine in the biggest game of his career?
This one is for 2002 and 2007. Those great Bulldog teams came on strong at the end, but they never got the breaks they needed to rise above their flaws from earlier in the year. We’ll always wonder how it would have turned out if those teams had a chance to play for the national title. This team has that chance. What will they do with it?
Our team, our time, no regrets. As we prepare for another game, let all the Bulldog faithful rally behind the men who now wear the red and black with two words — two simple words which express the sentiments of the entire Bulldog nation: Go Dawgs!
The first job when facing a dominant and elite opponent like Alabama is to not lose the game before it starts. It’s easy for lesser teams to be intimidated and awed, and Alabama is very good at making those teams pay by building large leads before the opponent is able to compose itself. We saw that ourselves in 2008.
A year ago LSU came into the SEC Championship with a great deal of mystique around their team. It’s not just that they were undefeated and had a great defense. After they won in Tuscaloosa, they carried a sense of inevitability. You might get them in a close game thanks to a weak LSU passing game, but it was only a matter of time until Mathieu made a play or a punt return to secure the win. Georgia, to their credit, came out on the attack and wasn’t scared or intimidated; to the contrary, they were the aggressor. As soon as Mathieu returned a first half punt for a touchdown, LSU began to turn the game. The Georgia defense held out as long as it could, but Georgia’s mistakes and turnovers began to pile up.
Once they toppled LSU in last season’s rematch, Alabama carried the same mantle of invincibility into this year. Despite losing much of a stellar defense and one of the best tailbacks in the nation, the Tide roared through the first two months of the season. They were so dominant that they were “boring”, and it was a better use of time to compare them against NFL teams rather than upcoming opponents.
A lot has happened over the past month. Once again, LSU plays a large role in the story. The Tide had LSU down 14-3 at halftime, and it looked as if Alabama was well on its way to another easy win. We know how that game turned out, and the nation saw Mettenberger look like Peyton Manning for a while. Texas A&M continued to chip away at Alabama’s invincibility and left Tuscaloosa with the win. The Tide are still an excellent team, but the aura of invincibility is gone. Is it Tyson-after-Douglas gone? We’ll find out Saturday.
So I’m not surprised to see Mark Richt let his players jaw a little this week. Alabama should be respected but not feared or cowered to. I love the mutual respect and appreciation for each team’s style of football. Each defense thinks it’s better, and they’ll get a chance to prove it.
There’s no doubt that Georgia is the big underdog and should be, and they’ll have to execute better and cleaner than they have all year in order to have a shot. But Georgia seems to be in good shape getting through the first challenge of the game: they’ll come in confident and believing they can win. Will that last after a physical Alabama team hits back?
The story around the SEC this week is the three high-profile programs (plus Auburn) looking for a new coach. The stories of the collapses at Arkansas, Tennessee, and Auburn – as well as Kentucky’s backslide from modest success with Rich Brooks – have all meant much enjoyable drama and schadenfreude for the rest of the conference. A conference is only as good as its coaches though. As spectacular as some of those flameouts were, it’s really been a good year for coaching in the SEC. There are at least seven if not eight of the remaining ten coaches who have left smiles on the faces of their fans after the regular season. This isn’t really a “best coaches” list…this is how I’d stack them up in a “coach of the year” poll for this season. There were a lot of tough calls.
Sumlin (Texas A&M): First-year coach, first-year QB, and no one in the nation wants to touch this team right now. Expectations will be sky-high next year, and he’ll have a hot product to sell on the recruiting trail. We’ll see if Sumlin can continue to evolve as he manages those expectations and attempts to bring the defense up to SEC standards.
Saban (Alabama): Like his “boring” team, it’s tempting to overlook what Saban does every year and talk about other coaches first. Alabama lost most of a defense plus the amazing Trent Richardson to the NFL, and they’re in a position to repeat as national champs. Successful coaching is about program management as much as it is game management, and few do the former as well as Saban.
Franklin (Vanderbilt): Vandy has improved on the field, but – like Saban – the program management really makes Franklin stand out. He had an enormous challenge of low expectations to overcome, and he followed up a nice debut with a solid eight wins and very competitive home losses to South Carolina and Florida. With head-turning success in recruiting, he should be able to continue to back up his bombastic ambitions for the program.
Richt (Georgia): The “lost control” and hot-seat memes that are punchlines now were no joke after the 2010 season. Richt now has consecutive division titles, and his transformation of several areas of the program from S&C to defense have the Dawgs on the cusp of a national title game appearance. He, along with his players, were able to hold the team and season together after a loss so complete that it could’ve easily undone the gains made over the past two seasons, but we have to hold the coach responsible for a team that failed to show up in such a big game. The Dawgs enter the postseason playing as well as anyone in the nation on both sides of the ball and have earned another shot at their goals. Will Richt’s team be better prepared for a Gameday showcase the second time around?
Spurrier (South Carolina): Spurrier’s scheme and playcalling need no discussion, but South Carolina’s ability to plug the next guy in has been one of the underrated stories of the past two seasons. In the season opener it looked as if the Gamecocks were adrift without Connor Shaw. By the end of the year, the Gamecocks could go to Clemson without Shaw or Lattimore and play as if that were the plan all along. Despite injuries at two critical positions on offense and despite some big departures from 2011, Spurrier put together another impressive 10-2 season.
Muschamp (Florida): You’d think that a 1-loss coach would rate higher, but Florida has walked the edge a little too much in 2012. The defense has been excellent, but the offensive transformation has been slow to come about. At least they’ve had the sense to lean on the strengths of their players on offense, and that alone is an improvement. It’s to Muschamp’s credit that nearly all of those close games have gone his way, but there’s still work to do.
Miles (LSU): Yes, Miles has built a program good enough to contend for the BCS despite the circus around Mathieu and continued questions at quarterback. The Tigers have very quality wins over A&M and South Carolina, and they nearly clamed Bama’s scalp. A program with a goal of national titles just can’t continue to be deficient at such a key position. Miles’ quirkiness and must-see press conferences are great fun, but they’re not great coaching.
Freeze (Ole Miss): A very impressive debut effort. The program was in such a state that it was enough just to post an SEC win, but Freeze and his offense delivered a .500 season and a bowl bid. A dominant win in the Egg Bowl was a significant bonus and gives Freeze a huge amount of legitimacy in the state. The same questions apply for Freeze as for Sumlin: with such a successful debut, expectations will adjust for Year 2. Can he manage them?
Mullen (Miss. St.): Some programs should be very careful about rolling their eyes at 8 wins. Yes, the 7-0 start was fool’s gold. The question now is whether Mullen has reached his ceiling at MSU or if anyone could do more there.
Pinkel (Missouri): Pinkel has produced some excellent teams over the years, but this one was overmatched for its debut campaign in the SEC. It was a bad enough season that rumors circulated about his departure, but he seems to have weathered the bloodletting of the past few days. He’ll be charged with building his program’s talent and depth up to competitive levels, and he’ll need the school’s commitment to match his effort.
The folks over at the reddit CFB community have done some legwork on a topic I’ve been obsessing over interested in all season. Have the new kickoff rules changed the thinking about how teams approach both the kick and the return?
Click through for the details, but here’s the summary:
As you’d expect, touchbacks are much more frequent this year.
Returns starting from the endzone only get to the 25 or better less than a third of the time. (Georgia’s experience shows even smaller odds.)
If you try to land the ball at the 1 and force a return, the gain in field position is negligible and you slightly increase the chances of the opponent getting a return past the 25.
Kickoffs originated from the 35-yard line prior to 2007 (as they do now), but the touchback rate is still a good bit higher now (36% now versus 31% in 2005). Can touchbacks coming out to the 25-yard line account for the difference?. If the average return out of the endzone before 2007 was close to the current 23.9 yards, then a return made sense under the pre-2007 rules: you gained a few yards of field position, on average, on each return from the endzone since a touchback only came out to the 20. Now with touchbacks coming out to the 25, that same return results in an average loss of a yard or so of field position.
Some additional good observations from the comments: only 5% of returns from the endzone result in big returns to at least a team’s own 45. On the other hand, over 40% of returns from the endzone don’t even make it to a team’s own 20. That large risk for relatively little reward likely plays into a team’s approach to returns even more than the average starting position.
There’s also a thought about injuries: one of the driving reasons behind these rules changes was the intent to reduce the injury rate on one of the most dangerous plays in a game. I haven’t seen any data about injuries on kick returns, but (going way off the scientific path here) I don’t recall many from the games I’ve watched. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been concussions and other injuries where a guy isn’t helped off the field – I just haven’t seen them. That’s no basis from which to draw any kind of conclusion, but we just don’t have the data yet one way or the other.
I blame Munson. We spent all week coming up with reasons how the Auburn game could go wrong – Georgia always plays down to their competition. It’s a rivalry game, so you can throw out the records. Auburn has 457 player from the state of Georgia, so they’ll play us better than they’ve played anyone all year. Remember what happened in 19 aught 7. Every time we’d see a pundit take this outcome for granted, we’d shake our heads and remind ourselves that they just don’t understand Georgia football or this series.
So the big news from Auburn Saturday night is that things went…exactly to plan. Auburn really isn’t all that good. Georgia really can get out in front of and put away a weaker opponent. The defense really is on to something. There wasn’t even the awkward start of the FAU or Ole Miss games to gripe about, and there wasn’t going to a repeat of the comedy of errors that let Tennessee back in the game. From start to finish, it just went as it would have if you had let your most delusional Disney Dawg buddy draw up the script. Shutout? Check. Gurshall going for 100+ each? Check. Murray in complete control? Yep. The Auburn stands empty by the fourth quarter? Can’t blame them.
Though Auburn’s season means that Georgia shouldn’t and won’t move the meter much by dispatching the Tigers, Georgia fans can at least appreciate a job well done. The win might’ve been all but a sure thing, but the plan and execution on both sides of the ball showed that the team approached and prepared for the game with the right focus and the goal of a divisional title in mind. On the night that the Dawgs claimed a championship, they looked like a champion.
With such a complete win, there’s not much to dig into. Just a few notes…
Welcome back, Gurshall. I was a little surprised to see that Marshall hadn’t had a carry for more than nine yards since the Tennessee game, but that explained why he had only run for a total 92 yards since. His third quarter 62-yard sprint put him back over the century mark and finished the scoring. But my favorite Marshall play came on the final drive of the first half: facing 3rd-and-20 after a sack, Marshall took a draw from the pistol and scurried for 21 yards to erase one of Auburn’s best defensive plays of the first half. I’m sure my section wasn’t the only one who had a few people referencing “third and Willie.”
No stat is going to be the factor in a game that lopsided, but third downs say it as well as anything else. As Georgia build their lead in the first half, they were 5-of-6 on third downs. Auburn was just 1-of-6 on third downs in the first half. The Dawgs were only able to build a quick lead because the defense just did manage a three-and-out on Auburn’s first possession. A conversion there wouldn’t have done much to change the outcome, but Mason coming up a few inches short gave Georgia the opportunity to take control early.
The receivers were challenged with the loss of two top contributors, but the unit stepped up at Auburn. King did #15 proud and had his best game since Kentucky – that touchdown catch was as good as it gets. Mitchell’s reputation is built on his athleticism, but his reliability is even more important. With a catch rate pushing 80%, Mitchell has become (or still is?) the guy you look to when you need a catch. I’m not surprised that Conley made some plays. Georgia’s other receivers didn’t record any catches, but this wasn’t going to be a pass-heavy game after Georgia established a lead.
Murray didn’t spread it around as much as he did against Ole Miss, but, again, there weren’t that many catches to be had. A third of receptions still went to tight ends and backs, and there would have been at least two more without drops by Lynch and Hicks. Rome now has five catches over the past two games after recording only two receptions in the first eight games. Murray again showed a willingness to use his speed and get yards on the ground. We like that, but you see Murray get hit hard (on a standard pass play) and head to the bench, and you remember why he doesn’t and shouldn’t leave the pocket much.
I’ve seen a bit of talk about leaving the defensive starters in so long. Yes, there’s the risk of injury, but that would be my only concern. If you have an opportunity for a shutout, I’m not going to complain about making a little extra effort to keep it going. But there’s a more important reason for leaving them in. If Georgia has a chance in the SEC championship game, it’s going to be a physical game every bit as demanding on the defense as the Florida game was. The defense needs to be conditioned to play at top form all four quarters, and it’s not helping them to sit. I expect we’ll see them play longer than we’d expect against Georgia Southern also. If you want to see an excellent defense not used to finishing games, look at Bama over the past two weeks.
I can’t end without acknowledging the special teams. Yes, the return game was pretty much neutral. The kicking was outstanding. Morgan wasn’t challenged by range, but his placement was perfect on all extra points and a tricky short field goal from an extreme angle. He’s been solid on extra points over the past three games, and we hope that’s a sign that his earlier adventures are behind him. Barber has just been great lately. He (and we should include Erickson with his spot-on pooch punt) was on his game at Auburn as any element of the team. Kickoff coverage was as good as it’s been all year. It was the best performance of the season for Georgia’s most maligned unit.
It was a perfect day outside for the bye week – which, of course, meant 12+ hours of football on TV.
I was just thinking that Les Miles hadn’t been all that Les Miles-ey lately, and the gambles you anticipated in such a close game never materialized. It was a fairly conservative and close-to-the-vest game on both sides, actually. Miles didn’t disappoint though with the quote of the night: “That was Death Valley. That was the place where opponents’ dreams go to die.”
The home field was definitely big for LSU as it was for South Carolina a week earlier. It’s not that the Gamecocks were overwhelmed by the Tiger Stadium crowd, but they didn’t have the tidal wave of energy on which they thrived in their win over Georgia. With home field playing such a large role over the past couple of weeks, I was reminded that Georgia only has two true road games remaining, and those come against teams with some pretty demoralized fan bases. It’s hard to imagine running into a buzzsaw of a crowd in either of those games.
Aside from home field, line play was the biggest difference in South Carolina’s games against Georgia and LSU. The Gamecock offensive line isn’t as good as Georgia made them out to be, and LSU was often able to get good penetration with just a four-man rush. On the other side, LSU’s makeshift offensive line performed better than expected. South Carolina was still able to tip countless passes at the line, but Mettenberger largely stayed upright, and the Tigers eventually found some success with the run. Georgia fans couldn’t have been happy with the relative success of both LSU lines.
LSU also had success running to the outside. Georgia had a nice outside run by Gurley on their first play a week ago, but we didn’t see much of it afterwards. The Tigers hit on a few screens too which reminded me how much trouble the Dawgs have executing that basic play. I’m not talking about the quick passes to receivers that we saw too much of last week or the plays where a back flares out. Just your garden-variety screen. The backs seem to have trouble separating, and the throws are rarely in a good place. I can’t explain it, but for all Murray does well, the screen has never been a strong point with him as the starter. It’s unfortunate because LSU showed how the play can counter South Carolina’s aggressive defense.
There have been far too many comparisons of Texas to Georgia on the air and around the Web since Saturday. I can’t find much to disagree with though.
Stanford got screwed. Usually that wouldn’t bother me so much, but that blown call was all that stood between us and more “WAKE UP THE ECHOS” nonsense for a team whose most successful passing plays were pass interference calls.
At the same time, Stanford got what they deserved. They stubbornly advertised the intention to line up and run it straight at a good rushing defense. The Irish got penetration each time because they could afford to sell out on a play they knew was coming. It’s a shame that a game with such bad offense was one of the most-watched games of the weekend.
Ole Miss had a drive against Auburn similar to Georgia’s quick field goal drive against Tennessee just before halftime. Auburn had shaken off a disaster of a 14-0 deficit to take the lead. The host’s field goal right before halftime tied the score and calmed things down. Ole Miss wasn’t quite able to put Auburn away until the final minutes, but the Ole Miss defense in the second half was more than enough to keep a weak Auburn offense at bay.
But, man…Auburn. You almost feel for quality, likeable players like McCalebb and Lutzenkirchen. Almost.
Smart move by Dan Mullen to run a play on his final fourth down. It’s gravy that the play resulted in one of the best catches of the weekend for a touchdown. Even if the play had failed, the Vols still would’ve started around their 10-yard line down by three with just enough time to run about two plays. A field goal there gives you very little, and Cordarrelle Patterson demonstrated on that last kickoff (as he had already done earlier in the game) that Tennessee’s best chance for late points was from the return game.
Along with Lattimore, I’m hoping that Tennessee’s Hunter and Patterson have long and successful NFL careers beginning with the 2013 season.
Not much to say about Kentucky-Arkansas, but congrats to the Wildcats for playing the role of Savannah State in a weather-shortened blowout. I hope they at least got a check out of it. Is Arkansas starting to get some things together? Wins over Auburn and Kentucky aren’t necessarily a sign of greatness, but they were solid and convincing wins. And they still have time to make some noise in the conference…
Smith then makes note of another scheduling issue if Georgia does play at Auburn in 2013. The Bulldogs currently play at Georgia Tech in odd years and may not want to play both late-season rivalry games in that manner….The Yellow Jackets could be in favor of switching their 2013 game to Athens.
So it’s possible that Georgia could offset consecutive trips to Auburn by hosting Tech in consecutive seasons. Before you dismiss the thought as crazy talk and say Tech would never go for it, Kevin Kelley hasn’t lost it. It’s actually along the lines of an idea Tech brought up last year.
Remember back when Georgia was rearranging its schedule to drop Louisville and add a Georgia Dome game against Boise State for 2011? That matchup with Boise was about the fourth option considered by Gary Stokan when he was lining up teams for the 2011 opening game in Atlanta. One of the other options was trying to move the Georgia-Georgia Tech game to the opening week of the season and playing it in the Dome.
The catch of moving the Tech game, other than the tradition of the Thanksgiving weekend date, was that Georgia would have given up its 2012 home game against Tech. The 2011 game would have been in the Dome, and the 2012 game would have been on-campus in Atlanta while returning to home-and-home. You can see why Georgia would balk at the idea. But why was Tech so gung-ho over moving its home game with Georgia to even years?
Tech’s current home schedule in even years stinks on ice. Look at it. What’s the best home game there? Virginia? Miami? BYU? There’s nothing close to what you’d consider a rivalry game. There are few, if any opponents with large groups of road fans. Now look at an example of an odd-year schedule for Tech. Carolina. Virginia Tech. Clemson. Georgia. From a Tech perspective, that’s relatively loaded and a lot easier to sell.
It makes sense for Tech to really want to move one of its big odd-year games to even years. The ACC schedule is more or less locked in, and going to a nine-game conference schedule once Pitt and Syracuse join the ACC won’t change things much. Notre Dame might make an occasional appearance, but so far there’s not much talk of Tech’s base conference schedule changing. That leaves Georgia, and the Dawgs aren’t going to be charitable with a valuable home game.
The issue then is how badly Tech wants to balance its schedule. The Georgia game is sure to be a sell-out in any year, and the additional season ticket sales would provide badly-needed and consistent revenue in the down years between more favorable ACC schedules. Would Tech bite the bullet and give up another year without a visit from Georgia? They’ll still have a respectable home schedule to market in 2013, but it would still be realistically an economic sacrifice and certainly won’t be an advantage for their football team. If the Jackets are willing to pay this price to gain their optimal schedule, expect Georgia to be receptive to the idea should the SEC force the Dawgs to alter their own series with Auburn.
Georgia has won 15 straight regular season games. South Carolina hasn’t lost an SEC East game since their 2010 trip to Kentucky and haven’t lost a home game to an SEC East team since #1 Florida came calling in 2009. Georgia likewise hasn’t lost an SEC road game since 2010.
Georgia has never lost three in a row to the Gamecocks. The Dawgs have scored at least 40 in every game so far. South Carolina hasn’t allowed 40 points at home since 2007. In fact, the Dawgs haven’t scored over 20 points in Columbia since Hines Ward’s debut in 1994.
In that sense, it reminds me a little of the Florida game. The focus in Jacksonville has usually been on the high-profile coach and his offense and its stars. But Georgia’s bigger problem was getting in the endzone itself. So it is here, at least when the series heads to Columbia. It’s not that South Carolina’s defense is an afterthought; how could it be? But the first things that probably pop into your head about the Gamecocks are Spurrier and Lattimore. Yes, it’s of great importance to play great defense against a capable offense. But it would be nice to see if the new Williams-Brice video board can handle a visitor’s score in the 30s.
How is the game going to flow?
The last two meetings in Athens have been barnburners: South Carolina’s 45-42 win last year and Georgia’s 41-37 victory in 2009. The games in Columbia have been much lower-scoring: South Carolina didn’t put the finishing touches on their 2010 17-6 win until late, and Georgia had to hold on to win 14-7 in 2008. Even in Georgia’s more successful outings to Columbia, such as 2006, they didn’t manage more than 18 points.
It’s tough to get a read on what to expect from this game. We’ve seen both teams put up points in SEC games, and we’ve seen both teams grind out games (lest you forget the pace of the Georgia-Missouri game before the turnovers kicked in.) Georgia’s balance and the versatility of Shaw lead you to think that this might be higher-scoring than your typical Georgia-South Carolina game in Columbia. Both defenses are capable enough that a score comparable to last season’s would again take some turnovers or special teams plays.
Can Georgia overcome its big game trends?
Aaron Murray as a starter has yet to lead Georgia to a win over a top 20 team. It’s a stat you’re likely to hear a lot between now and game time. No, it isn’t fair to put some of those losses on him. We won’t beat him up any more over it, but the quotes this week do tell us that the magnitude of the game might be on his mind. We know he has a habit of coming out a little amped up early in games (a habit, we note gratefully, that’s been absent the past two games.)
Concerns over Murray are a proxy for larger concerns about the ability of this team to avoid the costly mistakes that have done them in over the past three seasons. The interceptions, the ball security, the special teams breakdowns, the missed blocks – all things that will let a lesser team like Tennessee hang around and a comparable team like South Carolina walk away with a win.
Georgia’s defense also faces a step-it-up moment: the defense earned a stellar reputation a year ago, but that reputation didn’t come from the team’s biggest games. Georgia gave up 35 to Boise, 45 to South Carolina, 42 to LSU, and 33 to Michigan State. You’ll correctly object that not all of those points were on the defense. Most were though. More troubling was that in those four losses an average of 30 points per game came after halftime. Georgia led in two of those games at intermission, and they were within a score in the other two.
The Bulldog defense has finished well in close games so far in 2012. They turned it up and put away the Missouri game. The finished the Tennessee game by causing turnovers on three consecutive series. That will be important against someone like Marcus Lattimore who, despite his recovery from knee surgery, still shows that valuable ability to get stronger as a game wears on.
EDSBS has come up with a metric called the Spike Factor where they look at what percentage of plays a team would have been better off just spiking the football.
Saturday’s game inspired me to look at a similar metric for Georgia’s return game against Tennessee: the fair catch factor (FCF). What would the impact have been had Georgia just taken a knee on every kickoff or called for the fair catch on every punt?
UT Kickoff: Mitchell returned 16 yards from the endzone rather than take the touchback. FCF: -9 yards.
UT Punt: Mitchell return for no gain. Tackled immediately. FCF: 0 yards (Cumulative -9 yards).
UT Kickoff: Touchback. FCF: 0 yards (Cumulative -9 yards).
UT Kickoff: Touchback. FCF: 0 yards (Cumulative -9 yards).
UT Punt: Downed on the 1. The punt bounced on the 16. FCF: -15 yards (Cumulative -24 yards).
UT Kickoff: Nathan Theus fair catch made at the 19 on a short kickoff. Fair catch factor: 0 yards (Cumulative -24 yards).
UT Kickoff: Todd Gurley fielded the kick around the two-yard line and stepped out of bounds. The kick landed in the field of play, so it was a live ball. Still, it landed on about the one – it would have rolled into the endzone for a touchback. Typically a returner would have no problem returning a kick from the 1-yard line, but Gurley had to play this ball near the sideline on the run after sprinting over from the middle of the field. His momentum carried him awkwardly over to the sideline. We’ll say that the right play was to let it roll into the endzone for a touchback and give an FCF of -23 yards (Cumulative -47 yards).
UT Kickoff: Richard Samuel fielded another short kickoff and advanced the ball 10 yards. FCF: +10 yards (Cumulative -37 yards).
UT Punt: Ball punted out of bounds, no return. FCF: 0 yards (Cumulative -37 yards).
UT Punt: PUNT BLOCKED! No return, but well done Marc Deas! FCF: 0 yards (Cumulative -37 yards).
UT Kickoff: Kick to the 7 yard line returned by Mitchell to the 19. Not a great return, but there was no chance of a touchback. FCF: +12 yards (Cumulative -25 yards).
UT Kickoff: Touchback. FCF: 0 yards (Cumulative -25 yards).
Tennessee’s final three possessions ended on turnovers, so there were no more punts or kickoffs. Georgia had two field-able punts in the game. Mitchell fielded the first under pressure, and it’s not unusual to see a fumble after a returner is hit that quickly. The net result was the same as a fair catch, and he would have saved himself a big hit. The second punt was the disaster. Mitchell was lined up at the 10, and the ball hit around the 16. At that point Mitchell was wise not to try to pick it up, but he could have easily made a fair catch before the ball landed.
Only three of Tennessee’s kickoffs gave a reasonable chance for a return. The opening kick was just across the goal line, and it was a reasonable call to bring it out. But Mitchell couldn’t get it past the 20. Mitchell had another opportunity in the second half on a kick to the 7 – no decision to make there; it had to be returned. Still, the return team was unable to break the 20. The Vols also kicked a few deep enough to be obvious touchbacks, and they tried a few pooch kicks to the upbacks. The kick fielded by Theus was effective – again Georgia started inside its own 20, and the Vols were in good field position when they forced a fumble. The second short kick was less successful. It only went to the 25, and Richard Samuel knows what to do with the ball in his hands. He advanced it out to the 35, and Georgia was in good shape with a much shorter distance to drive for their tying field goal.
Then there’s Gurley’s botched return. Gurley has been Georgia’s most productive kick returner this year, so I was happy to finally see him sent out there in the second quarter. It was a well-placed kick in that it forced Gurley to make a decision: it was close enough to the goal line that it might be a touchback, but it was far enough away from where Gurley had started that he had a lot of work to do in order to return it. It was also short of the goal line, so you had the tiniest chance of Tennessee recovering the kick if you just let it roll and die short of the goal line (it wouldn’t have). The result wasn’t quite Orwin Smith or Xavier Carter territory, but it was close.
So with an FCF of -15 yards on punts and a net of -10 yards on kickoffs, Georgia finished the game with an FCF of -25 yards. They would have saved themselves a net of 25 yards’ worth of field position by just playing for the fair catch or the touchback. Those decisions also contributed to Georgia’s awful second quarter field position, so it’s possible that the fair catch strategy might have saved Georgia’s defense some points as well.
It didn’t take long for Mark Richt to turn the clock back eight years when he talked about his team’s mental state for this Saturday’s game against Tennessee. The 2004 Dawgs were feeling pretty good about themselves after a 45-16 demolition of Nick Saban’s defending national champion LSU team a week earlier. Georgia, after unspectacular wins over South Carolina and Marshall, finally looked like the team that was ranked a consensus #3 entering the 2004 season.
Tennessee’s outlook couldn’t have been more different. They were coming off a humiliating 34-10 home loss to Auburn. Freshman quarterback Erik Ainge looked his age and had been responsible for five turnovers. The Vols were still a very good team and came in ranked in the top 20, but now they had to take a freshman quarterback on the road for the first time and face the #3 team that was fresh off a near-flawless evisceration of LSU.
Of course Tennessee shocked the Dawgs 19-14 on a frustrating day for the Georgia offense. The same Georgia offense that passed for five touchdowns a week earlier managed just 265 yards of total offense. It was Georgia’s senior quarterback who looked like the rookie, throwing 15-of-34 and not finding the endzone once. David Greene was able to exploit the outside vulnerabilities against Saban’s LSU defense, but Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis used more zone to frustrate Greene and get the Georgia offense off the field.
It ended up being the game that decided the SEC East: both teams would lose to Auburn during the regular season, and Tennessee avoided any additional stumbles en route to a 7-1 conference record and a spot in the SEC Championship. Georgia’s stellar senior class saw its 17-game home winning streak broken and would not take its third straight SEC East title.
That 2004 game is useful for Richt not just as a warning that “we better get our minds right” all over again. It also shows some very basic areas of the game that can go wrong and lead to a tough afternoon for a favorite. Georgia took care of the basics last week against Vanderbilt, and the underdogs didn’t have the talent to stay in the game without help from Georgia. Here’s a breakdown of what went wrong in 2004:
No credible rushing threat. The 2004 Dawgs had an average SEC rushing attack with 156.8 YPG placing them squarely in the middle of the pack. The Vols held Georgia to 100 yards below average – just 56 rushing yards. With the running game bottled up and Greene under pressure, Georgia was forced into longer second and third down situations and threw the ball 40 times in the game. Tennessee’s success against the run let Chavis drop defenders into his zone coverage, and Georgia had a tough time sustaining anything.
Protection issues. Along with difficulty establishing the run, the line also struggled in pass protection. The same hurries, knockdowns, and sacks that plagued Georgia’s line in 2003 returned for this game. Georgia’s net rushing yardage included the lost yardage from 5 sacks of David Greene. Several of his incompletions were intentional as he avoided pressure. A promising drive to start the third quarter ended with a grounding penalty after Tennessee covered a planned screen pass.
Penalties. In a loss like this, you can usually find examples of a team shooting itself in the foot. Georgia was whistled for 12 penalties in the game which cost them 82 yards. Against LSU a week earlier, Georgia was flagged only once. That yardage total doesn’t tell the story though: the biggest penalty of the day was a holding call during a Bryan McClendon kickoff return after Tennessee had gone up 13-7. McClendon’s return brought the ball to the Tennessee 2-yard line. Thanks to the holding call, Georgia started from their own 20.
Slow start on both sides of the ball. It was 10-0 Tennessee before Georgia managed a first down. The Dawgs managed just seven first quarter yards. Georgia’s strong defense saw two blown coverages by its safeties result in two big third down conversions and a touchdown on Tennessee’s opening drive. The defense more or less settled down after the first quarter, but the offense never really got going after its slow start.
Special teams. The unforgettable play from this game was the attempted fake punt in the third quarter. In hindsight, of course it was a bad decision. At that point in the game, Georgia was stuck in neutral. It’s possible that the drive would have stalled out on the next set of downs even if Tereshinski had moved the chains. It’s hard to call it a turning point when the Vols led from start to finish, but the failed attempt and the resulting Tennessee scoring drive completely changed the approach to the fourth quarter.
Squandered opportunities. There was another special teams miscue that cost the Dawgs points. Georgia recovered a Tennessee fumble on the Vol 13-yard line and had a chance to take the lead with a touchdown. The Dawgs managed just one yard on the next three plays with a short run and two incompletions. To top it off, Andy Bailey shanked a 29-yard chip shot of a field goal that would have at least moved Georgia to within three points. Tennessee then went on a 10-play drive that ate up much of the third quarter. Georgia’s next possession ended with the fake punt, and it’s very likely that frustration over the failure of the previous drive led to the decision.
Force the opponent to drive the field for its points. Until late in the 3rd quarter with the game well in hand, Vanderbilt’s best starting position was its own 26 yard line. The Commodores hit on the occasional pass, but their poor starting field position meant that even their best drives ended up outside of scoring position.
Avoid the devastating plays that sustain the underdog’s hope. Last year’s game offered no shortage of big plays keeping Vanderbilt in the game: the fake punt, the halfback pass for a touchdown, the kickoff returned for the touchdown, Rodgers’ 40-yard scramble, and the blocked punt. Georgia didn’t just reduce those plays on Saturday; they eliminated them. Vanderbilt got nothing outside of their conventional offense.
Take away what the opponent does best. Jordan Rodgers gave Georgia fits last season by adding a running and scrambling threat under center. Combined with the dangerous tailback Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt finished with 200 yards on the ground and hurt Georgia in the second half by breaking some long runs. Though Stacy finished with a respectable 83 yards on Saturday, Georgia held Rodgers to only 9 net rushing yards and the Vanderbilt team to only 106 total rushing yards. With Rodgers bottled up, the result was to force Vanderbilt to a more predictable game that did little damage.
Force the opponent to make a difficult and uncomfortable decision. Though Georgia’s passing game was productive a year ago, the relative lack of a rushing threat led to several drives stalling out. Georgia established the run early in Saturday’s game and gave Vanderbilt a dilemma: bring additional defenders to help an undersized defensive front against the run or keep them back to deal with a very accurate Aaron Murray. It was a no-win decision, and Georgia found success both running and passing as Vanderbilt struggled for answers.
Get touchdowns instead of field goals. Those stalled drives last year resulted in six Georgia field goal attempts. It was definitely important to get those points, but 12 points on those six trips into scoring range kept the deficit manageable for Vanderbilt. Georgia attempted no field goals in Saturday’s masterpiece.
It was unavoidable that composure would be a theme after all of the build-up to this game. Would Georgia be baited into the mental mistakes, turnovers, or dumb penalties that could keep an underdog like Vanderbilt hanging around? Would the “unfinished business” theme of a near-upset a year ago be enough to get Vanderbilt over the hump after its near-miss against South Carolina earlier this month?
Composure was a factor early in the game, but Vanderbilt was the team done in by a lack of composure. The Commodores had three penalties on their first drive that lasted only three plays. They had at least one penalty on each first quarter possession and were flagged a total of six times in the first period. Credit nerves, confusion caused by the Georgia defense, the active and vocal home Georgia crowd, or any combination of those three…Vanderbilt came out as the shakier team.
It was a different story for Georgia. The Dawgs had their share of penalties and even had an occasional mental lapse like the botched extra point snap or Mitchell’s shaky punt return decisions. More often than not they were able to put those mistakes aside and sustain drives. Aaron Murray, notorious for jittery starts, started this game a machine-like 11-for-11. Passes became a counterpunch for a running game that finished with over 300 yards and by halftime had surpassed last season’s 117 yards on the ground. The success of Georgia’s running game let the coaches use the passing game strategically rather than being forced into passing situations by down and distance.
The game showed Georgia what’s possible, and they’ll hear all week about the Georgia teams that came off similar complete games only to fall flat the next week. Good teams can put out efforts like that when they get the right motivation. Great teams find ways to sustain that high level of play over weeks at a time. That was almost too enjoyable to let go, but the SEC schedule requires it. On to a couple of bullets featuring several video clips from ESPN.
My spot in the east endzone is better to see some plays than others, but one thing I love seeing from that perspective is the pulling guard. If you saw a long run down the south sideline in the second quarter, odds are Dallas Lee had pulled out and was clearing the way. Georgia’s offensive line did well against an overmatched Vanderbilt front, and you see the results in the rushing totals and the time Murray had to throw. Line play often goes unnoticed unless something goes wrong, but that’s what I like about a well-designed run that pulls a lineman: everyone gets to see the athleticism of the big man hustling downfield and enjoying the reward of flattening some helpless defender.
Gurley’s touchdown run was a thing of beauty, and we’ll surely see it on the video board for the rest of the year. We saw Georgia continue to test the waters of the pistol formation, and they had better success on Saturday than they did against FAU. Gurley finished the run in impressive fashion, but his initial hole was opened by – wait for it – guard Chris Burnette pulling while the rest of the line blocked down.
Of course the pistol isn’t only a running formation. Here we have a play-action look that pulls the linebackers in and leaves an area roughly the size of Barrow County for Marlon Brown to settle in.
Speaking of Marlon Brown, in two SEC games he’s accounted for 13 catches, 220 yards, and three touchdowns. Let’s hope that form holds against his home-state school.
If there’s a Georgia player you never, ever want to leave unblocked, it’s Jarvis Jones.
It’s inconsequential in hindsight, but it was important at the time to just hold Vanderbilt to a field goal at the end of the first half. Vandy actually had a 2nd-and-5 inside the Georgia 10, but the defense forced the Commodores backwards. A touchdown there still would have left Georgia with a 20-point lead, but you’re not far away from the 23-7 scenario from which Vanderbilt came back a year ago. 27-3 kept the visitors from taking much momentum into halftime, and it didn’t take Georgia long to end all doubt in the third quarter.
I was going to put this in the recap post, but it didn’t really fit. There seems to be a clear and deliberate effort by the administration to improve the experience inside Sanford Stadium. They’ve take advantage of new SEC policies and are showing more replays. The scoreboard is doing a good job keepng up with national and SEC scores. Social media has a presence now. We respect the attention to recycling and litter management (though the whole pass-bottles-down-the-row thing was awkward and unsanitary.) I appreciate the positive direction of these little tweaks.
That brings me to the look-ins from other games on the video board. I thought I’d love this. We know that teams are now competing for attendence against the home experience and ubiquitous TV coverage. Sure enough, it was cool to see how Stanford went ahead of USC. Georgia’s reserves were even watching that one during a very late stoppage. Kentucky’s overtime flop was a shared cringe. So far, so good.
But then there’s the Tennessee-Florida game. With Arkansas rendered irrelevant, the game in Knoxville was the biggest SEC game of the week. It makes sense that we’d want to see what was going on. Fans were checking their phones for the score in between updates. We cared.
Still it bugged me that two of our divisional rivals got that kind of billing in our stadium. Maybe it was the incongruity of sitting in our hallowed stadium enjoying a win by the Dawgs and seeing our huge HD board – the same that might’ve just showed a replay of a nice Gurley run or Bennett catch – used to broadcast the celebrations of big plays by two teams we wished could both lose. A look-in at Florida’s late game-clinching scores gave me no joy…nausea perhaps.
I fully admit this just might be a me thing. This infusion of technology should be right down my alley, and it surprised me how turned off I was at giving a Gator win such exposure. I do hope they are more judicious about the look-ins during more contested conference games when every bit of crowd and player focus needs to be on the action between the hedges. The administration is right to try to enhance the value of the ever-increasing cost of a ticket, but at the same time the stadium isn’t our living room; our role and experience is different and more active than someone passively watching the game(s) at home. I suppose I’ll get used to it, but some schools only deserve a place on our video board during our highlights.
If you left Saturday’s game concerned about the defense, you either had money on the 40-something point spread or you didn’t watch the Missouri game. Georgia, starting a pair of true freshmen in the front seven and a cornerback at safety, figured things out pretty quickly and played lights out in the second half. Against Buffalo we saw a bit of disinterest and lackluster effort in the first half. That was a little alarming for a team that had been focused on the possibilities of this season for months. The early defensive struggles against FAU had nothing to do with effort or focus, and you only had to watch Shawn Williams for a few plays to get that. Like a holding call on Burnette that came after he had driven his man 20 yards downfield, you can live with mistakes of over-aggression a lot more than you can a lack of effort.
Georgia’s piecemeal secondary was tested early and gave up several big pass plays. There was confusion and a little finger-pointing as assignments were figured out on the fly with predictable results. The secondary wasn’t helped by the lack of pressure from a pass rush that typically used no more than four defenders. The base defense rarely changed much with a lot of nickel that put Commings as a lone deep safety and even some dime that had Norman in as a second deep safety.
This isn’t the defense we’ll see against Tennessee or even Vandy for that matter, so you can’t evaluate much based on what we saw. There were still a couple of things I took away:
Malcolm Mitchell is still “new” to the cornerback position. He has great skills that are evident in man coverage, but zone assignments are still a work in progress. Combine that with the relative inexperience of Swann and Commings at their respective positions, and you had three of the five guys in a nickel package learning not only their position but also how to play as a unit with other inexperienced guys.
Commings played out of his usual position, but it reminds us that there will still be an adjustment when Rambo and Ogletree return. Even though the suspended players have and will get plenty of practice time, it’s another thing to adjust the instincts of the other defenders that have developed over the first third of the season. This will be worth watching early on against Tennessee as the defense adjusts to a new (and hopefully permanent) normalcy.
Vasser, as you’d expect, had fewer issues and some nice plays returning to his usual position.
Though shaky early on against the pass, the run defense was fine. FAU gained 43 yards on one carry and was held to under 92 yards on 37 other runs (under 2.5/run). That 43-yard touchdown came as two defenders, including a freshman, ended up engaged with the same blocker and left a gap wide open.
I was surprised not to see more Corey Moore at safety especially as the game became decided in the 3rd quarter. I understand that Commings will likely be the answer at safety again against Vanderbilt, so it was important to get him as much work as possible. Still, not much has been done until late in the 4th quarter to develop that depth at safety whether it’s Moore or Harvey-Clemons.
On to the rest of the game…
At the heart of the “old man football” kerfuffle last week was a contrast of styles on offense. Missouri’s spread versus Georgia’s pro-style. Old, boring, predictable, bland, vanilla…all criticisms we’ve heard before, especially from our own fans. Michael Bennett was asked about playing in a “vanilla” offense, and he replied, “If we execute like we know how to do, we can make a vanilla offense look rainbow.” We were treated to 713 yards worth of ROYGBIV on Saturday.
Heavy favorites don’t often show much in games like this unless they’re trying to work on new concepts. So there was the pistol formation – one of the few truly interesting developments from this game. The pistol isn’t new – its roots in Division 1 go back to Nevada in the middle of the last decade. It’s also not a gimmick – we’ve seen it used in offenses as diverse as the Air Raid to Alabama’s stodgy offense. It’s primarily a running formation, though of course there are passes and play-action built in. (If you want a nice introduction to the theory behind the pistol, start here.) For a team with a nice set of tailbacks and a quarterback that can run, the pistol is a very nice tool to have in the shed. It will be an interesting subplot to see how Georgia continues to use the pistol and how (or if) Bobo riffs off of the basics with some play-action or keepers for Murray.
Gurley’s popularity is well-earned, and in every game Gurley has done something to wow us. Against FAU Gurley’s downfield vision and speed through the secondary on his touchdown run was breathtaking. I was glad then to see Marshall get his chance to shine as well. We saw several good examples of the speed and shiftiness that brought him accolades as a prospect. Unlike, say, a quarterback controversy, we’re fortunate that this isn’t an either-or situation. Each had similar stats on 10 carries apiece. It’s going to be fun to watch this combination develop. And then you bring in a legitimate SEC back like Malcome when a defense has chased Gurley and Marshall for a while…
Speaking of backs, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see at least a late carry or two for Samuel. After the play he made at Missouri, he deserved to have his name called and the fans given the chance to show their gratitude. That’s not too much to ask for someone named a captain for the game.
As raw as he is at cornerback, Malcolm Mitchell the receiver is just fine, thanks.
Michael Bennett has become such an important receiver that his few drops at Missouri were noteworthy (and unusual). The FAU game was his moment to shine, and he showed everything from agility laying out on a 3rd down reception to keep Georgia’s first drive alive to speed as he outran the FAU secondary on a long touchdown. We continue to see the depth of the receivers – last week it was Brown’s turn. Wooten had the impressive TD catch in the opener and showed his speed on a reverse against FAU. Conley did what he does best – beat isolated 1-on-1 coverage to set up a score. King is always there for a long reception. Even Justin Scott-Wesley got in on the act this game and raised some eyebrows with his speed on one of LeMay’s few highlights.
Jerome Bettis would have been proud of Georgia’s offense – half of Georgia’s scores came from runs of 1 or 2 yards out after someone else got the ball down to the goal line. Georgia’s quarterbacks had more rushing touchdowns than the tailbacks.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, we’re at an uneasy truce with the backup situation. Give LeMay time in his current role with the understanding that the redshirt would come off of Mason if Murray were unable to go for any extended length of time. Fine. We’d prefer not to think about that scenario right now because either alternative – the shaky LeMay or Mason coming out of cold storage – isn’t reassuring.
The most impressive part of the offense’s record-breaking display was the efficiency. Murray was as effective out of the gate as he’s ever been. Even on the drive ended by Lynch’s fumble, Georgia was moving right down the field again. Consider the competition, but we’ve seen much worse execution against comparable teams.
Can you quibble with coaching decisions in a game like this? Letting 20 seconds run off the clock before deciding to call a timeout with a minute remaining in the first half would have received more scrutiny had FAU not moved the chains.
Every touchdown is worthy of celebrating, but I hope everyone noticed the unfiltered joy the team showed on Lynch’s touchdown. They campaigned for the review, and they made sure the senior wouldn’t forget his first career touchdown. It was a classic tight end rumble worthy of Mark Bavaro, and it took a good deal of skill to stay in-bounds and extend the ball over the pylon while holding off a would-be tackler.
The key block on Lynch’s touchdown? WR Rhett McGowan. McGowan also had a big block on Gurley’s first touchdown against Buffalo. He added the lone bright spot from the punt return game against FAU. I’m sure he’d like a few passes thrown his way, but he’s making some nice plays when given an opportunity to contribute.
The return game was the sore spot on an otherwise good night from the special teams. Coverage was fine, and kickoffs alternated between touchbacks and inconsequential returns. Pooch punts weren’t as successful this time, but one was unlucky as it bounced to the right and into the endzone instead of out of bounds. Morgan didn’t have any field goal opportunities, but extra points were much less of an adventure for the first time. Credit to Geathers for blocking an extra point. The return game is worrisome. Georgia hasn’t settled on a punt returner, though Swann seems to be the default. The opportunity was there for a few longer returns, but the punts were either fumbled or too long based on where the returner set up.
Lastly – and this has nothing at all to do with the FAU game – a tip of the cap to Michael Elkon for an August comparison of 2012 USC to 2008 Georgia. SoCal didn’t have the defensive meltdown that Georgia experienced a few times in 2008 – Stanford isn’t that potent of an offense. The Trojans just couldn’t overcome a poor game from its offense. The offensive skill players are great, but the core is hollow and the defense is soft. Been there.