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
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.
Thursday October 10, 2013
Georgia’s defensive woes have crystallized around third and fourth down. In the past two games, opponents are converting third and fourth down at a 55.5% (20-for-36) clip. That’s not good, and it’s been the subject of more than one article recently.
But getting less attention is the fact that Georgia’s high-powered, explosive, and talent-laden offense has its own third down issues. This offense producing so many points and yards is 12th in the SEC in third down conversion at 37.5%. Only Mississippi State and Kentucky have had less success moving the chains. (In fairness, the Dawgs are a successful 6-for-8 on the year on fourth down.)
The Tennessee game didn’t do much for Georgia’s conversion rate. The Dawgs were 4-for-13, but that doesn’t tell the story. Prior to the final drive, the Dawgs had converted a single third down: a 3rd-and-1 from the Tennessee 13 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive. Georgia was 1-for-10 on third downs for the first 58 minutes of the game.
Georgia’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation was remarkable for many reasons: Murray’s poise, the contribution of true freshmen in a pressure situation, and the ability to execute after so much had gone wrong. Most remarkable might have been how Georgia flipped its third down difficulties into drive-sustaining big plays. Georgia was a perfect 3-for-3 on third down on that drive, and all three plays did a lot more than just move the sticks. On the first, Green used good vision to find the initial hole and then showed a great cut back to the right to turn a small gain on 3rd-and-1 into a 17-yard run. On the second, Murray went to Douglas on a swing pass that turned into a 32-yard pickup down the left sideline. That’s a play we’ve seen before with Marshall, but this big play depended on a freshman tailback who had just dropped a hot pass across the middle. The third conversion was the payoff: Murray fit a pass into the smallest of windows, and Wooten, who was covered, did a great job to make himself available and secure the touchdown reception.
Is Georgia a bit of a feast-or-famine offense? When they’re clicking, which has been often, third downs are rare. On Georgia’s first four drives that led to points at Tennessee, they faced a grand total of two third downs – each of which were 3rd-and-1. We saw them fly down the field on the first and last drives against LSU without getting to third down once. When you have a fleet of receivers and backs capable of big plays, inefficiency on third down is an occasional nuisance. It’s not an exact science of course; we’ve seen Georgia grind out scoring drives too. The numbers suggest though that if you can get Georgia to third down, you stand a fair chance of slowing down this potent offense.
What does that mean going forward? With so many weapons out injured, it’s reasonable that Georgia might get fewer explosive plays. That would mean they’d have to drive in smaller chunks which would lead to a few more third downs. Doing a better job of converting those downs then will be what allows Georgia’s offense to maintain its scoring pace. You might expect more drives like the final one at Tennessee where 2, 3, or more third down conversions are required to get into the endzone. The focus changes from the big explosive plays to sustaining drives. If it comes to it, is that an adjustment the Georgia offense can make with its reserve skill players?
Monday October 7, 2013
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the Georgia charter flight didn’t crash on its way back to Athens Saturday night. There’s plenty to chew on in Georgia’s thrilling 34-31 comeback overtime win at Tennessee, but three injuries to key contributors cast a dark shadow on a hard-earned win that kept Georgia’s SEC and national hopes alive.
The Dawgs jumped out to a solid 17-3 halftime lead on the back of two Aaron Murray touchdown passes. The Vols managed a field goal on their only deep drive of the half, but the Georgia defense put together one of its best 30 minutes on the season. There was effective pressure against a very good offensive line, and Tennessee couldn’t manage enough big plays to sustain any other scoring chances.
Georgia missed a great opportunity to put the game away early in the third quarter. A long run by J.J. Green set the Dawgs up in the red zone, but two ineffective runs, an incomplete pass, and another delay of game penalty led to a missed field goal. Tennessee took the ball and drove for their first touchdown of the day to cut the Georgia advantage to seven points. The Vols blocked a punt a few series later to tie the game, and the stage was set for a finish that included another late Murray-led scoring drive, a fumble out of the end zone on Tennessee’s overtime possession, and a clutch field goal by Marshall Morgan to claim the win.
- If you had to point to one reason why Georgia couldn’t put the game away earlier, going 4-of-13 on third downs should be near the top of the list. As has often been the case, the Dawgs rarely needed third down on their scoring drives – they only faced two on their first half scoring possessions, and both of those were 3rd-and-1. If Tennessee could get Georgia to third down, they were able to get off the field and keep Georgia from running away with the game.
- What’s remarkable then about the drive that sent the game into overtime was that Georgia converted three third downs. 75% of Georgia’s third down conversions came on that one drive, including the Murray-to-Wooten touchdown pass in close quarters with just eight seconds left in regulation. That was a great time to start making plays to keep a drive alive.
- If there’s a key play from the first half, it might be the fourth down conversion on Georgia’s second quarter scoring drive. Tennessee had just kicked a field goal to trim Georgia’s lead to seven, and they had stoned Georgia on a telegraphed run up the middle on 3rd-and-1. Instead of another long field goal attempt, Georgia went for it. Murray’s pass was tipped ever-so-slightly at the line, but it remained on target to Chris Conley slanting in from the outside. The conversion led to a touchdown, and that completion made Murray the SEC’s career leader in passing yardage.
- On the flip side, Tennessee converted 10-of-20 third and fourth attempts. Their three fourth down conversions were all very short yardage, and it might even be fair to point to what happened on third down to set up those conversions. Regardless, the ability of Tennessee to move the chains kept them in the game, and it leaves Georgia dead last in the SEC in opponent third down conversions.
- Allowing 10 points through three quarters is a pretty good job by the defense, but that fourth quarter was terrible. Georgia should feel fortunate that Tennessee scored early enough to leave plenty of time to drive for the tie. Tennessee’s last drive of regulation felt like the Georgia drive that ended the South Carolina game – the defense looked powerless.
- If there was a bright spot on defense, it was the defensive line. Garrison Smith played well, but Ray Drew continued to stand out. He’s drawing double-teams and is still getting into the backfield. That pressure became less effective as the game went on, though, and Tennessee’s stout offensive line took over.
- Special teams was its usual good and bad. What’s another blocked punt? The missed block by Hicks was clear enough. The real mystery on special teams was the punt returns. I’m hoping the Tennessee punter just had the game of his life, because there’s no other decent explanation for having to go backwards to field a punt more than once.
- Newcomers continue to learn lessons under fire. Hicks has to follow through with every block, and he can’t coast on what he did in the first two games. Leonard Floyd is a beast rushing the passer, but his discipline setting the edge needs a lot of work. We saw it on goalline plays against LSU, and it came up again on the long run to the outside on a 4th-and-1. Quincy Mauger looked promising in his first start, but he too got caught looking in on another fourth down conversion.
- Aaron Murray now has fourth quarter touchdown passes in three of Georgia’s four wins that could individually define a season and a career. He’s always had the numbers, but now those numbers are tied to some huge moments. It’s asking a lot to go back to this well nearly every week, but it’s clear now that even more will be asked of Murray and the players left standing.
- That QB run is something Murray has shown a time or two, and it was great to see him reach the point where he’d usually slide and instead decide to say “screw it” and power on. It was, considering the context and the way momentum had swung, every bit as meaningful and spectacular of a play as Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010.
- Murray’s run also makes you wonder if some zone read might be a way to get some more mileage out of Georgia’s running game with its top two options sidelined. You wouldn’t want to run Murray more than a couple of times, but that’s all it would take to get defenses thinking.
- We also have to tip the cap to Green and Douglas. Green put up over 100 yards in a little more than three quarters. Douglas shook off a drop on the final drive to reel off that important third down swing pass that set up the tying score. 62 of the 75 yards on that final drive came from these two true freshmen.
We’ll end by sending our best thoughts and prayers to Marshall, Bennett, and Scott-Wesley. The CBS shots of both the injuries and their reactions were heartbreaking. It had to be ten times as rattling to their teammates. Kudos to them for salvaging the game and to those who stepped up when their number was called. The coming weeks will tax the creativity of the staff and the readiness of some inexperienced players. Georgia’s goals are still intact and reachable, but the climb just got a lot tougher.
Friday October 4, 2013
1) Look good on the road. If we go back to last season, Georgia has had five true road games: Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Auburn, and Clemson. They’re 3-2 in those games, and only the win at Auburn could be considered a clean performance. The Dawgs didn’t lead Missouri until the final minute of the third quarter, and they had to sweat out a win over a bad Kentucky team. The Auburn win was an impressive job of taking care of business, but that was against a team and program that had packed it in. It might be time to start thinking about style points, and a conference road win isn’t a bad place to make an impression.
Neyland Stadium won’t resemble what greeted Georgia at South Carolina or Clemson, but it’s still Neyland Stadium. Maybe it’s the ghosts of 2009 spooking me, but that place can become hostile in a hurry even if the natives walk through the gates expecting the worst. Georgia’s defense has been banging away all week about communications issues. Whether they use hand signals, smoke signals, or semaphore, it would be a good time for the coaches and players to get on the same page about lining up in proper position to play defense.
The offense, too, will have to deal with the crowd. There are the obvious things like false start penalties. They can help themselves out by avoiding the classic third-and-long situations when the crowd is most likely to be a factor. When Georgia’s offense has been at its best this season, it rarely gets to third down as it moves down the field.
2) Value possession. The Vols have caused multiple turnovers in all but one game (Oregon). There’s no surer way to put wind in the sails of an underdog than to give up a play to its defense or special teams. It’s not just about giving up points – it’s also the cost of not scoring points. Even when the offense is operating well, you’re only going to have so many possessions. If the defense hasn’t figured things out, you need those possessions to build your cushion (or, worse, just to keep pace.)
The defense has a role too. Not only are turnovers possible if Tennessee’s passes are inaccurate, but the defense could squeeze out two or three more possessions for the offense. Tennessee under Butch Jones is yet another team looking to use tempo to its advantage, but a few quick three-and-outs could backfire for the Vols and give Georgia a few more opportunities to score. That’s the top question for the Georgia defense: can they get off the field on third downs?
3) Don’t let a Tennessee weakness become a strength. For one afternoon in 2009, Jonathan Crompton looked like Tom Brady. The Vols successfully exploited Georgia’s defense with a steady stream of play action and bootlegs. Georgia will have enough to worry about against a good group of tailbacks and a stout offensive line without the Tennessee passing game suddenly coming to life. While the Georgia defense will focus on a third-straight impressive outing against the run, they can’t fall asleep against big plays from the air. Georgia’s pass pressure will be tough to come by against an experienced line whose strength is pass protection, so it will be up to the embattled secondary to cover until the pressure can break through. That job is made even tougher by the possible absence of injured starting safety Tray Matthews.
4) Let September frame the challenge for October. While I’d love to see a result like the Auburn game last season, I know that Tennessee will put up much more of a fight. A more realistic benchmark might be the Ole Miss game where a close game is turned by a big play before Georgia begins to pull away. The danger on the road though is a crowd that becomes increasingly confident and vocal the longer the home team hangs around.
I was impressed at how Georgia handled the draining and physical win against Florida last year and rolled into November to play their best football of the season against a string of underdogs. They’re facing a similar strech after a very difficult but rewarding September. Surviving that month isn’t the end – it just kept the team’s goals alive. It would be a shame for the work that went into those results to be thrown away against lesser opponents. I hope that’s the mindset the team takes into this game and the ones that follow: play with the focus and purpose of a team that realizes that these opponents would like nothing more than to take away everything you earned last month.
Wednesday October 2, 2013
Anyone who’s watched Georgia’s defense this year has noticed broken coverages and pre-snap confusion. It’s no surprise then that on the subject of communication, the Georgia players and coaches don’t seem to be on the same page.
As it turns out, it gets loud at big college football games. The players are pointing to a need for improved pre-snap communication, claiming that hand and verbal signals don’t always make it through the entire unit.
“Our coaches always get on us about communicating in practice,” freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins. “It’s different in a game than practice, a game is louder, so we hear most of the calls, and we learn the signals every day. But we just have to do a better job of communicating in the secondary.”
Todd Grantham isn’t buying the excuse. “That’s bull. Everybody knows the signals, they need to get ‘em,” he insists. “I don’t know who was saying that but that’s part of your youth too, so they need to take it on themselves to get the call.”
It’s true that Georgia is young and inexperienced on defense, especially in the secondary. The pace and complexity of a major college defense has to have the heads of some of these newcomers spinning at times.
The thing is, communication was also identified as an issue by last season’s veteran and talent-laden defense.
Linebacker Christian Robinson also said poor communication is a problem….
…Jordan Jenkins said the communication problems are “one of the main things we’re trying to fix this week.”
“Everybody is guessing, well not guessing, but just some people don’t prepare well enough like some others do,” (Bacarri) Rambo said. “It’s just like they thought we were going to be in this call and one person said we’re going to be in this call, so everybody is on different pages.”
I expect that the defense will improve as the instincts of the newcomers improve and the game begins to slow down. Still, it’s going to take a bit more convincing to make me accept that the issues on defense are largely a factor of experience. This is just too much of the same stuff we heard last season. For one reason or another, both 2012 veterans and 2013 rookies are running into similar difficulties with the defensive calls.
I’m probably making this sound more dire than it is. LSU folks are talking about the same exact issues this week, and facing a good offense (or several of them as Georgia has) will make you question the very nature of your defense. If there’s one bright spot, it’s the universal agreement that Herrera is doing just fine getting the calls in and “is doing his part.” If you recall, this responsibility was one of the things that kept him from seeing more playing time last season.
Tuesday October 1, 2013
Georgia’s Homecoming game against Appalachian State on November 9th has been announced as a 12:30 kickoff. The game will be broadcast by Atlanta’s WSB-TV.
If you’re outside of Atlanta, I imagine it will be like last season’s Georgia Southern game. WSB-TV will be the only standard television option, but the game should be available as part of ESPN’s Gameplan package and also available only at ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app.
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?
Monday September 23, 2013
Georgia football: the team with a long-snapper controversy.
Credit a letdown, looking ahead, the weather, or whatever works for you – not many of us expected North Texas to take possession of the ball in the third quarter with a chance to take the lead. It wasn’t a disaster and really wasn’t ever in danger of becoming another UAB game. The offense was moving the ball well enough and the defense was stingy enough that things came fairly easily, even as the rain grew steadier, once Georgia stopped shooting themselves in the foot.
But there’s the rub. Georgia’s mistakes could be explained away as typical for the opponent and conditions if they were isolated to this game. Some were, others weren’t. The offensive line looked more like what we saw at Clemson than against South Carolina. Linebackers in pass coverage still scare you a little. Then there are some others:
- In all three games, Georgia has had a special teams mistake cost points. I don’t think we need to say much more.
- The Dawgs have had the first possession of the second half in all three games. They’ve had a net loss of nine yards on those three possessions, all of which ended with a three-and-out. The high point was a six-yard gain against South Carolina. The blocked punt by UNT was the cherry on top of a series that saw Murray bounce two passes to open receivers.
- We’ve also seen the second quarter become a bit of an adventure in all three games. The Dawgs have given up less than 20 total points in each of the first (17), third (17), and fourth (13) quarters, but they’ve given up a total of 42 second quarter points. Even in the Clemson game where Georgia only gave up 7 points, that was a stretch when the Dawgs missed a chance to build a lead and instead saw Clemson pull even.
I’ll stop dwelling on the negative because it shouldn’t overshadow some positive developments. It was just another day at the office for Aaron Murray. 400+ yards, over 70%, a slew of touchdown passes, and grumbling fans. Now Murray wasn’t as sharp as he was two weeks ago. The intercepted pass was forced, and he had another shaky pass into coverage intended for Lynch. There were some unforced errors like the short-hopped passes to start the second half. Still, with North Texas using their safeties in run support, Georgia’s senior quarterback had few problems carrying the offense to an extremely productive day.
Georgia’s offense handling a mid-major opponent didn’t surprise anyone. Could the defense? The Georgia defense put an emphatic stop to a streak of poor performances against the run and held the visitors to negative rushing yardage until garbage time. Chris Mayes did well on the inside in his first opportunity, but it was truly a team effort to stuff the run and create pressure. We saw our first interception and the first sack by an outside linebacker.
The defense had two important moments in the second half. Georgia had scored to re-take the lead at 28-21, but UNT responded with a 30-yard pass to the tailback and were in position to get some points back. There was fortunately some miscommunication on a pass play, but Tray Matthews had to make a really nice play on the errant pass in order to claim his first interception. The Dawgs preserved their lead, and the offense took over for another scoring drive that gave them some much-needed breathing room.
The second moment came a little later – early in the fourth quarter. Gurley fumbled, and UNT took over on Georgia’s 34 trailing by two scores with plenty of time left. Georgia’s defense stood firm, forced two incompletions, and actually drove UNT back a yard in three plays. The visitors lined up for a long field goal but ended up with an awful 12-yard pooch punt. That was the last serious challenge by the North Texas offense, and the Dawgs used the rest of the fourth quarter to put the game away.
There’s still a lot to work on before Georgia faces another SEC opponent. Third down defense was better (UNT was 4-of-16), but several of those conversions came on their lone scoring drive. Georgia was also fortunate that a couple of open seam passes and one wheel route in particular fell incomplete. But on the whole it was encouraging to see the defense gain confidence and make plays against an opponent with an experienced quarterback and an offense with couple of weapons. Floyd continues to get comfortable, and you could start to see things clicking for Harvey-Clemons and Matthews.
A few short points before we move on to bigger things this weekend…
- If there’s one thing to be disappointed in from Saturday, it’s that the way the game unfolded didn’t allow Georgia to pull the starters until very late. We saw a pretty good rotation along the defensive line, and Quincy Mauger saw time at safety early in the game. There was less of a rotation at linebacker. Wilson and Herrera played quite a bit at inside linebacker again, and we didn’t see much of Carter or Kimbrough. Carter’s most significant moment was an unfortunate one as he got out of his lane on UNT’s kickoff return touchdown.
- Special teams were generally poor, but I was encouraged to see Swann take a few more risks on his punt returns. The fair catch signal on his first and best return of the day was a mistake, but he did make some things happen on other returns.
- It was one of those days for the stadium operations crew too. Stats on the scoreboard were useless for much of the game, sound was in and out and sometimes WAY TOO LOUD, and of course the malfunctioning clock meant that we spent the last few minutes in heavy rain with narration by Penn Wagers.
- Wooten the ballthrowa! Wooten did several things well to make that trick play come off. He had to scoop up an underthrown pass that messed up the play’s timing, he had to avoid a UNT defender leaping at him, and he threw a nice-looking pass deep enough that Lynch could go up for it. There was interference on the play, but credit Lynch with a nice catch too.
- I’d like to see Reggie Davis, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley, and the receiver of your choice on a four verts route. (Also…it was only used as a decoy on a run play, but the sight of Davis coming on an end around got my attention.)
- Jenkins was active behind the line and was a big factor in Georgia’s pressure, but the lack of a sack has to be eating at him. I look for him to be very aggressive against LSU – and hopefully under control.
Saturday September 21, 2013
It’s official – for the second time in four games, ESPN Gameday will broadcast from the site of a Georgia game. It’s Gameday’s first visit to Athens since 2008 and the third in the history of the program.
Dawg fans tend to be a little(?!) angst-y when it comes to Gameday, but that might be with good reason. The Dawgs are 0-2 when Gameday visits Athens and 3-12 overall when its game is featured. But after navigating the first two weeks of the season, another big game and the national spotlight should be nothing new for this team. Let’s put on a great show and play ball.
Wednesday September 18, 2013
With a relatively unfamiliar opponent and with Georgia so heavily favored in this game, I’m looking at it as a way to measure Georgia against itself. For most of us, that starts with the defense. We’ve accepted that 1) we’ve faced two of the best offenses we’ll see all year and 2) we’re in an era of very productive offenses. Granting all of that, there are still a lot of ways for Georgia’s defense to improve. We can start with individuals – Langley was picked on by South Carolina, owned his performance, and has the attitude you hope for from a young cornerback. There are also some more general and measurable things we’ll look for from the defense:
- Rushing yardage: Only Clemson’s 197 rushing yards are keeping Georgia opponents from a long streak of rushing for at least 200 yards that goes back to last November. Coaches have mentioned several tweaks that might help. There’s a chance for increased playing time for a larger defensive lineman like Chris Mayes. We’ll also see more of some younger inside linebackers. In general, there’s been a greater emphasis on better angles and proper tackling during the bye week. Are any of those a silver bullet? Probably not. Hopefully the sum effect of these changes will be positive. It’s time for Georgia’s defense to shut down an opponent’s running game.
- Turnovers: Georgia’s preseason scrimmage reports featured a fair number of turnovers generated by the defense. So far that defense has generated a single fumble through two games (Georgia’s other takeaway came on special teams.) Georgia and Kentucky are the only SEC teams without an interception this season. There have been dropped interceptions in each game (Herrera at Clemson and Langley against South Carolina.) The Mean Green have already turned the ball over seven times this year, so there should be an opportunity for some takeaways.
- Sacks: Only Alabama has fewer sacks than Georgia. That tells you that sacks aren’t a perfect metric of defensive pressure or ability, but we’ve seen a couple of elusive quarterbacks avoid Georgia pressure and make plays. Georgia’s linebackers have only recorded 1/2 of a sack (by Herrera.) Will Jordan Jenkins record his first sack this week? North Texas has only allowed two sacks through three games, so they should be a fair test of Georgia’s pass pressure.
- Third downs: Georgia’s third-down defense, at 44.4%, has been the worst in the SEC. That’s no surprise if you’ve watched Georgia’s first two shootouts. Can the defense get off the field?
Of course it’s all related and intertwined. Better rushing defense puts opponents in more obvious passing situations. More effective pressure can lead to sacks but also to turnovers. I expect that if we see improvement in one area of the defense, it will show up in other areas as well. A few more areas I’ll be watching:
Inside Linebackers. Are Carter and Kimbrough ready to take on larger roles? Wilson and Herrera are the established vets on the interior, but each has his strengths and weaknesses. Carter, in particular, should get a chance to spell the starters and earn more time for himself.
Offensive Line. We’ve talked mostly about defense, but uf Georgia sleepwalks into this game, I think it’s most likely to show up along the offensive line. Speed doesn’t take a week off, so Georgia’s advantages at the skill positions should remain fairly strong. Georgia’s offensive line wasn’t perfect against South Carolina, but it did improve from week one. If we see a muddled running game or Murray scrambling more often than not, we’ll be back to talking about inconsistency among this experienced group rather than progress.
Routine special teams. Can we make it through a game with clean operations on all kicks? Will the return of Morgan be uneventful? If we can have that much, I’ll take it.
The occasional productive punt return. I’m OK with few or no kickoff returns. You usually don’t end up with better field position than what you get from the touchback. Punts are different. It’s a problem when you’re not forcing many punts to begin with, but the Dawgs have managed only two returns so far for a total of seven yards. Swann made a fair catch on a very returnable punt against South Carolina and later attempted a return against much better coverage – possibly because the coaches got in his ear about the earlier fair catch. I understand Mark Richt’s reasoning – it’s not as if the offense has struggled to drive the ball, and you don’t want to get burned by the fake. Still, it’s frustrating to leave yards on the table if they’re there.
Debuts. We’ll see Morgan’s first action. We still don’t know if Rumph’s health will allow him to go. We might see Hutson Mason’s first snaps in a couple of seasons. Several others have already seen playing time in limited action or on special teams, but we’ll hopefully see a lot more of them in this game. Will anyone stand out?
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.