Monday December 2, 2013
Fans expecting (hoping?) that Georgia would join the likes of Florida and others announcing staff changes after the end of the regular season can stop waiting. Head coach Mark Richt confirmed Sunday that “everybody should be back” when asked about the future of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “We’ve got some things we’ve certainly got to get better at but the continuity is a good thing for Georgia,” Richt added.
Richt’s definitive answer means that Georgia won’t be firing anyone. He left open the possibility of changes happening on their own. “I mean, everybody’s got to do what they’ve got to do as far as if they have opportunities and all that kind of thing,” Richt said.
Grantham sought such an opportunity just after Signing Day in February when he interviewed with the New Orleans Saints, and Chip Towers notes that Grantham “has entertained offers each of his four seasons in Athens.” Towers goes on to add that only an NFL coordinator position or a college head coaching job could nullify Grantham’s contract without a buyout.
Wednesday November 27, 2013
It’s a cruel game sometimes. Just outcomes aren’t guaranteed or even promised, and the strongest wills and characters are subject to the limits of the human body. Aaron Murray’s career as a Georgia Bulldog is over, and it – or his senior season – won’t end the way he or his teammates had hoped. It says a lot about how drama-free the game was that we’re able to focus on and celebrate Murray’s career. With Kentucky inviting the pass, Murray was en route to a big day and had already posted four touchdowns and 183 yards by the time that he left the game in the second quarter.
The 2012 Kentucky game was a frustrating escape against a team not much better than the one Georgia beat on Saturday. The performance, especially on defense, was so lifeless that it inspired Shawn Williams’ season-turning rant against and challenge to his teammates. The Dawgs had to bank a field goal attempt off the upright just to claim a narrow halftime lead, and they had to hold off a late rally to secure the win.
I know Georgia was a 20+ point favorite on Saturday, but the Dawgs hadn’t had a margin of victory greater than 13 points over Kentucky since 2005. Call it setting the bar low, but I was impressed with the outcome and more impressed with how the team arrived at the outcome. The offense set the tone with its fast start, and the defense was aggressive and effective. Several times this year we’ve seen one big play or turnover turn into an avalanche of negative momentum, but the team did a good job of isolating those few mistakes and kept applying pressure on both sides of the ball.
The precision of the first drive was so impressive that it got me thinking about Georgia’s disastrous first drive just a week ago at Auburn. This isn’t to compare Auburn and Kentucky, but it brought out something that you might accept as a trend or dismiss as trivia. Georgia has received the opening kickoff four times this year (LSU, Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky.) Each time, they’ve come away with points. On three of those four opening drives, Georgia rolled down the field for touchdowns. The impressive opening drives against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky came after Georgia received the opening kickoff.
When the Dawgs open the game by kicking off, the results of their first drive have been much more mixed. Georgia has had the game’s second possession in seven of its games. They’ve scored on just three of those possessions: touchdowns against South Carolina and App. St. and a field goal against Vanderbilt. In the other four games where Georgia kicks off, they’ve gone three-and-out on their first series.
The default when you win the coin toss is to defer until the second half. The Dawgs have bigger things to think about in their preparation for Georgia Tech, but – given the choice – do you put Mason and the offense out there first?
- Georgia’s quick start meant that the game wouldn’t be on Mason’s shoulders, but it was still good to see him get a chance to run the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Of course having Gurley on the end of your screen pass will make a lot of quarterbacks look great.
- The screen was Georgia’s weapon of choice in the first half. Executing a screen hasn’t been one of Georgia’s strengths during the Murray era, but they were deadly in this game. We saw both traditional outside screens that got Gurley into space, and we also saw a nice inside screen to Douglas that nearly scored.
- What a senior night for McGowan. He led the team with 7 receptions and 90 yards. Several of his receptions came from Murray, but it’s also possible that there’s a comfort factor between he and Mason after working together for several years on the scout and second teams.
- Several defensive standouts – Harvey-Clemons shook off the end of the Auburn game and was all over the field. Garrison Smith was a force from the defensive end spot. Wilson continues to use speed to his advantage to chase down lateral plays. With Matthews injured, Mauger looked more and more comfortable on the field.
- Encouraging to see the defense create and pounce on several fumbles. Tech likes to put the ball on the ground, so keeping this up will be huge in the next game.
- Bernie has a good point here. Kentucky’s long touchdown run gets lost in the blowout, but that’s exactly the kind of play Tech can execute if Georgia’a safeties get caught up inside as they did here. Georgia’s defense did well to prevent Kentucky’s offense from additional big plays, but in a close game it only takes one or two.
It was a successful senior night and one of the most impressive all-around performances of the season. Murray’s injury overshadows a lot of the positive, but the team he helped to build is rounding into good form just in time for the big rivalry game.
Tuesday November 26, 2013
We learned earlier in the fall that Arkansas would take LSU’s place on the 2014 football schedule as Georgia’s second SEC West opponent. TV station KATV in Little Rock is reporting that the October 18th Georgia-Arkansas game will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock rather than on campus in Fayetteville. Arkansas had a contract to play two “home” games per season in Little Rock, but the reworked SEC schedule meant that the Hogs could have had as few as two SEC games in Fayetteville under the existing agreement with Little Rock. Under a new agreement that extends the arrangement to 2018, Little Rock will get one game per year.
It will be Georgia’s first game in Little Rock. It’s a bit unfortunate for those hoping to take in the Arkansas campus, and the school has done a nice job with its facilities including Reynolds Razorback Stadium. War Memorial Stadium seats 54,120 versus 72,000 in Fayetteville. On the plus side, it will be a new experience for the road fans, and travel should be much easier. Little Rock is much more convenient to Memphis for those flying and about three hours shorter than Fayetteville by car. With back-to-back trips to Missouri and Arkansas in 2014, any break in travel is welcome.
Friday November 15, 2013
I don’t want to play the “no respect” card here, it’s been amazing how little emphasis has been placed on this game in Auburn’s inevitable march to the winner-take-all Iron Bowl. Georgia’s gone from being a dinged-up title contender with two top-10 wins under its belt to “pesky.” While Georgia still does have a division and conference title to play for, the buildup to this game has as much to do with momentum than anything else.
Auburn is the team that went into College Station and beat A&M. Georgia is the team that lost to Vanderbilt. Auburn hasn’t lost since September. Georgia spent October in the emergency room.
I don’t begrudge Auburn the attention or anything else that’s come their way. They’ve earned it with a one-loss record, and it’s one of the most impressive turnarounds I’ve seen in any sport. I’m thinking more about Georgia. This was a team sure of itself at the end of September – confident enough to shrug off an injury to their starting tailback and still survive a shootout with LSU. It was mentally tough enough to watch player after player fall at Tennessee and piece together a last-second drive to force overtime.
Georgia has paid the price for its midseason setbacks, and the team is far from healthy. Still, the defense is more or less intact, and the offense has as many of its pieces available as it’s had since the first half of the Tennessee game. The challenge posed by Auburn is significant, but Georgia spent the first month of the season facing similar challenges.
The difference now is the context. For the first time this season, Georgia enters a game as the underdog. We all want to know whether the defensive improvement is real and sustainable, but it might be even more important for the offense to remind everyone why Georgia started the year where Auburn currently resides. With a win, Georgia can make sure that the spotlight is back on the Bulldogs.
Friday November 15, 2013
I’m going to be watching the outside linebackers as one position that can make or break Georgia’s defense against the Auburn running game. Drew, Smith, et. al. are going to cause problems up the middle, and the inside linebackers are both among the top 4 in the SEC in tackles. You’ll get occasional run support from the safeties (though hopefully that’s by choice rather than a sign of the front seven not getting it done.) But it’s going to be the job of the outside linebackers to set the edge and force Marshall, Mason, and the other ballcarriers back inside to the strength of the defense.
If there’s one area where Georgia’s otherwise stout rush defense has been vulnerable, it’s a tendency, especially for Floyd, to get caught inside and allow those plays to bounce outside. Jordan Jenkins outlines their job:
“We’ve just got to try to not get ourselves out-leveraged by the quarterback (Nick Marshall),” Jenkins said after practice Wednesday. “If I do, and he goes inside, I can’t go inside because I’ve got other guys helping me. If he goes outside, it’s just me and one other person. He can get me on the edge. (Marshall) is a fast cat.”
It sounds clear enough, but it’s easier said than done. When you’re a top-level pass rusher whose instinct is to fly to the ball and get after the quarterback, that aggressiveness can be used against you by teams that have read or option plays. The discipline to trust an assignment or a gap can seem counter-intuitive and has to be practiced and mastered.
And as if these guys don’t have enough to worry about in the running game, guess whose job it often is to cover the dreaded wheel route?
Tuesday November 12, 2013
It’s Auburn week, so we’ll make this brief.
If there can be a turning point in a game like this, it was Aaron Murray’s scramble midway through the third quarter. After two and a half quarters, this was still just a 17-6 game. Murray had lit into the offense on the sideline, but they still bogged down and settled for a field goal to open the second half. Murray’s 23-yard run – like his long run at Tennessee – lasted longer than you thought it would as he made some moves rather than sliding to avoid contact. It got the crowd back into the game and put a little jolt into the team also. From there, Murray put the game away himself with a few quick passes to Bennett to set up a score followed by another quick scoring drive. On a day where Murray would become the SEC’s career passing touchdown leader, it was fitting that he’d be the one to decide enough was enough and clear the decks for his backup to get playing time.
For a while, it looked as if we’d miss another chance to see Mason and the second team in action. That was one of the more frustrating parts of the North Texas outcome, but those two scores at the end of the third quarter opened the door. I was glad that the staff let Mason air it out – he had earned the opportunity. His decisions were generally good (I doubt the forced pass on 4th down happens in a more meaningful situation), but it was his touch that really impressed. Granted that he was going up against a gassed defense that knew it was beat, but it was a good performance that should give Georgia fans at least a little bit of confidence about the position for 2014.
Georgia’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown, looked solid against the run, and became much more stingy in the second half. It was a tough first quarter though as Appalachian State dominated time of possession and the Georgia defense couldn’t get off the field. Georgia’s defense did well not to allow any big plays, and the visitors faced a fairly high 18 third downs. They converted seven of those third downs, all in the first three quarters. The defense didn’t break, but its bending kept the ball out of the hands of the offense and kept the game close for more than a half.
Appalachian State did all of that by attacking the middle of the field with quick passes that neutralized Georgia’s pass rush. It’s been a tried and true tactic this season to attack Georgia’s linebackers with the pass, and it worked for a while on Saturday. Georgia, to their credit, tightened up the middle of the field, and Herrera even got in front of one of those passes for an interception. With the running game bottled up and the downfield pass not much of an option, Georgia’s coverage could afford to get tighter and tighter across the middle. Again, they avoided the big scoring play and did a good job of holding the line at the red zone.
- I was a bit disappointed not to see some sort of recognition of Murray’s accomplishment during the game. I don’t mean stop the game and bring his family down out of the stands or anything, but even a nice graphic on the video board during a timeout would have been appropriate. I get the sense that everyone was a bit tired of talking about Murray’s march towards the records, and Richt was certainly in no mood to discuss it going into the locker room. We’ll have the opportunity to show our appreciation on Senior Day in two weeks, and I hope the fans turn out to do so.
- False start, Appalachian State.
- It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves with Rumph, and he was going against a secondary that had been worked over by Georgia’s passing game for three quarters. Still, you got a sense of what the anticipation was about and the hope that his G-Day performance wasn’t just a spring fluke. If he kept his balance, he was open enough to turn a long Mason pass into a touchdown.
- Some around me compared Reggie Davis’s third quarter catch to one that A.J. Green would have made, but to me that was vintage Fred Gibson.
- Special teams mistakes weren’t costly, but other than Morgan’s placekicking (and the nice blocked field goal), there’s not much to be happy about. Georgia seems to have settled on Dawson as a kickoff returner, and that’s fine, but a touchback still seems to be the best plan. Georgia’s own kick coverage was hit and miss – there were a few returns that were stopped well short of the 25, and two that came very close to breaking open. The less said about the fake punt attempt, the better.
- False start, Appalachian State.
Wednesday November 6, 2013
Has the series turned? Three wins in a row certainly makes it seem so. I have to admit that, as someone who became a fan in 1991, this is rare and unfamiliar air. I don’t know what being on the other side of this series feels like. This might seem like an unnecessary appeal for style points, but I was looking for Georgia’s version of a 2008-style stomping before declaring all of the demons exorcised.
It seemed after one quarter as if the Dawgs were well on their way to that cathartic win. I wasn’t sure that exchanging Bennett for Conley would make that much of a difference, but Murray’s comfort level with Bennett was obvious. It took one play to see the impact of Todd Gurley’s return. With most of the stadium and the Florida defense expecting Gurley to get the ball, Murray had acres in front of him on the read option.
The first drive was a well-balanced mix of run and pass, and it showcased Gurley both in the ground game and catching the ball out of the backfield. The second drive was much shorter, but the touchdown play was a smart counter to Florida’s pressure. Murray caught Florida in a blitz on Mitchell’s big touchdown reception last year, and he again burned them by finding Gurley with only one safety to beat.
The rest of the first half was a story of missed opportunities to put the game away. There’s Bailey’s dropped interception. Wooten was open for two touchdown receptions – the first was on-target and bobbled, and the second just a touch overthrown. With Florida fans sarcastically cheering their only first half points, it wouldn’t have taken too much more on the Georgia side of the scoreboard to send them back to tailgate.
We didn’t really like to settle for field goals there since it opened the door for Florida’s eventual comeback, but it’s significant that Georgia got any points from those drives. There are a lot of little things that have to change in order to flip such a lopsided series, and field goals were huge in this game. As recently as 2008, Richt’s kickers were 5-for-12 (42%) on field goal attempts inside of 40 yards. Since 2009, Georgia kickers are 70% from all distances in Jacksonville, and Morgan was a perfect 3-for-3 on Saturday. Even when iced at the end of the half, Morgan drilled his second attempt as accurately as he had kicked his first. For once it was nice to see Florida with the kicking struggles in Jacksonville, and Marshall’s three makes along with Florida’s two misses determined the outcome.
Lynch’s dropped lateral was the turning point, of course, but Muschamp’s decision on a late second quarter 4th down helped to provide Georgia’s eventual margin of victory. Facing 4th and 10 at the Georgia 40, Muschamp went for it to try to take a little momentum into halftime. The Gators came up short (actually lost yards), and the Dawgs had the ball near midfield with over a minute left on the clock. Had Florida punted, it’s not likely that Georgia would have attempted a drive of 80 or more yards with no timeouts left. Murray completed just enough passes to set up Marshall for Georgia’s final points of the game.
After the Vandy game, we noted how fragile momentum had been for the defense during the rough month of October. At Tennessee, all it took was a missed field goal to start to turn things. The Swann fumble and Wilson penalty at Vandy changed that game. You sensed an immediate shift after the dropped lateral. The Gator side had come alive, and Georgia’s fans could only manage a few half-hearted cheers in response. Florida didn’t have far to go on their two touchdown drives, but Georgia’s defense didn’t offer much resistance either.
I liked the fourth down call early in the fourth quarter. It was an attempt to recapture momentum, and I get that. A healthy Gurley probably makes the cut that gets the yard, but Florida also had three guys converging on the play. It was a good idea and well-defended.
That play put the ball back in the hands of Florida’s offense with good field position, but those 15 yards from the personal foul gave the defense enough breathing room to survive that unforgivable substitution blunder. Corey Moore’s well-timed safety blitz and sack on third down ended Florida’s final possession, but the first down following that substitution penalty deserves mention, too. Swann came across the middle of the field tracking Solomon Patton, and Georgia was in great position to stop a speed option for a loss. The play on first down forced Florida into passing situations, and pressure forced an off-target deep throw and then notched the sack.
Georgia’s final clock-killing drive was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t just Gurley grinding out yards on the ground. The drive started with a pass to Wooten. You had Gurley and Douglas moving the chains on the ground. The drive dies without two catches and a great effort play by McGowan. It was McGowan’s second important third down conversion of the game. He caught a pass in tight quarters on 3rd and 22, and the half likely would have ended had McGowan not twisted for an additional couple of yards to secure the first down and allow Georgia enough time to spike the ball and set up for the field goal.
Last season’s Florida win was considered a statement game for a troubled defense. The Dawgs only gave up 53 more yards this year (319 to 266.) Murphy was only 13/29 for just 6 yards per attempt even with the harmless long completion on the first Florida series. They didn’t respond especially well after the turnover and safety, but they were able to gather themselves for a single big fourth quarter stop.
The biggest difference from a year ago was in the turnover column. Georgia had decent pressure and forced some errant throws, but the defense went from six takeaways a year ago to zero on Saturday. They had a few chances – Bailey needs to make that pick, and Ramik Wilson was a step away from blowing up the handoff that turned into the horsecollar penalty.
Georgia’s defense still has trouble setting the edge at times. Runs forced to the middle were usually handled well and pursuit was excellent, but there has to be better discipline on outside runs and especially read plays. Auburn and Tech run the kinds of offenses that can target and attack those weaknesses and tendencies in the run defense.
- Aaron Murray had one of his better Florida games. The totals weren’t what they were in 2010, but Georgia’s offense didn’t have enough possession in the second half to put up any kind of numbers when Murray attempted only four passes – three of which came on the final drive. Most importantly, Murray made few mistakes. This was his first Florida game without an interception. Several of his incompletions were drops, and another – essentially throwing the ball away at the goal line – might’ve been forced and intercepted in earlier games. Georgia had to settle for a field goal, but it’s a good thing they got those three points.
- Murray and the rest of the offense proved to be clutch. They converted 58% of third downs against a defense averaging 31%. The quick drive and third down conversion at the end of the first half ended up providing the margin of victory. Murray was a perfect 3-for-3 on the final drive as Georgia moved the chains time and again to kill the clock.
- Jonathon Rumph exists! Hopefully it won’t be a Marlon Brown type of waste, but there won’t be a redshirt for the JUCO receiver. Rumph didn’t have any receptions or targets in the game, but he got in both early and late in the game. Hopefully we’ll see him a bit more involved in the offense now that the redshirt is off.
- We were glad to see Michael Bennett doing whatever it took to win, but it was a little scary seeing a guy just off a knee injury asked to more or less be a fullback and block a defensive end on Georgia’s final drive. Bennett did well just to get in the way, but that couldn’t have been a pleasant assignment.
- If you want to know why Georgia’s offense seemed to disappear, look at Florida’s drives in the second and third quarter. The Gators had consecutive drives of 12, 13, and 13 plays that took over 18 minutes off the clock. It’s to the defense’s credit that the Gators only came up with three points from those three long drives, but the toll they took showed up later during Florida’s comeback. Until the final 15-play series that ended the game, the Dawgs only had one drive of more than 6 plays after the first quarter, and that came in 67 seconds at the end of the first half.
- I don’t know what Garrison Smith had to say on the sideline, but he wasn’t just all talk. With nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, and consistent pressure all night, he led on and off the field like a senior who was not willing to lose his final Florida game.
One last thing…it would be wrong for a player to strike anyone on the field – other players, refs, coaches – but if Florida strength coach Jeff Dillman continues to put his hands on players and jump into frays, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got popped someday. If you saw the bald guy in the orange shirt in the middle of almost every play along the Florida sideline, you know what I’m talking about. And it’s not the first time, either.
Thursday October 31, 2013
Not much to do but think along this stretch of road…
1) Georgia’s defensive line
Florida has put its offense under the microscope during the bye week, and the offensive line has received special scrutiny. The Gators were already considering a switch at right tackle to JUCO Trenton Brown (who was a Georgia commitment before switching to the Gators.) Earlier this week Florida starting left tackle D.J. Humphries injured his knee. So the Gators will move the right tackle that was going to be benched in favor of Brown over to left tackle, and Brown will make his first start.
That’s not great news for a unit that has given up 10 sacks in the past 2 games. Georgia’s defense hasn’t put up much resistance this year, but one area that could be considered a strength is the defensive line. Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey have played well up front, and they’re anchored by the senior Garrison Smith. With active outside linebackers like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, despite its shortcomings elsewhere on defense, isn’t far behind Missouri in generating sacks. Jarvis Jones stole the show the past couple of years, but last year’s Florida game could be considered the coming out party for Jenkins.
The Dawgs are also among the top third of the conference against the run, and that will be an important battle in this game. Florida, perhaps even moreso than Georgia, will want to establish the run and reduce the workload for Tyler Murphy. If Florida is forced to lean on its passing game, Georgia’s defensive front should have some opportunities against a shaky line and a quarterback battling shoulder problems.
2) Florida’s cornerbacks
The Gator defensive backfield has been relatively (though not completely) injury-free, and it’s the strength of a very good defense. If Georgia is only swapping Bennett for Conley, they will still trot out a diminished group of receivers. If Florida finds success covering the Georgia receiving options one-on-one, that frees up a lot of bodies for the SEC’s leading rushing defense to throw at the line of scrimmage. The Gators don’t get a ton of sacks – only 11 on the season so far – but they are tops in the league on third down. Expect Florida to pay a lot of attention to Todd Gurley and force Aaron Murray to make plays against some tight coverage.
3) Murray’s performance
Can Murray make those plays to loosen up the line of scrimmage? For a guy who’s 2-1 as a starter in this game, Murray has had some shaky outings in Jacksonville. In those three games, he’s been 45-of-95. His best performance came as a freshman in 2010 where he led a frenzied comeback and finished with 313 yards. He’s only totaled 319 yards and 5.5 yards per attempt in the two games since, but he’s connected on three dramatic touchdown passes that made the difference in those wins.
Florida’s great defense could make for another messy day for even a good quarterback like Murray. If he can overcome that for another South Carolina-like performance, it will be a great day for Georgia. But more likely, considering the depleted receivers, Murray will face some struggles. While it will be necessary for him to make some big throws – whether smaller drive-sustaining passes or touchdown passes – it’s just as important for him to avoid turnovers. What we don’t want is to give a struggling Florida offense a shot in the arm with good field position after a turnover. The Dawgs overcame Murray’s three interceptions last year in large part because they forced six turnovers of their own. Georgia’s defense hasn’t been as effective at creating turnovers in 2013, so each Georgia mistake – by the offense or special teams – will be magnified. It’s fine if a drive stalls; it’s going to happen against this good of a defense. Make sure Florida has to drive and earn what points they get.
4) Matching Florida’s urgency
We know that Muschamp has circled the wagons over the past two weeks. Is he coaching for his job? Probably not, but he’s not in the clear either. Not only is Muschamp under personal pressure to win, but Florida also is in danger of seeing the series flip on them. Three Georgia wins in a row would be significant, and some longer-term trends in the series could swing Georgia’s way too. Desperation and urgency doesn’t always mean a win (Georgia was plenty desperate over the past two decades), but we should at least expect Florida to throw everything they have into this game. The Dawgs were caught off-guard by Florida’s changes in 2010. Can they be more prepared this time, and can they bring a focus and urgency of their own?
Friday October 25, 2013
You wouldn’t expect much to change over two weeks, but both Georgia and Florida have used the bye week in recent years to get an edge for the WLOCP.
In 2007, Georgia needed a late fumble and field goal to escape Vanderbilt with a 20-17 win. At that point in the season the Dawgs were 5-2 and just off a humbling blowout loss at Tennessee and a near-loss to Vandy. In fact, the last-second win at Vanderbilt snapped a six-game losing streak against SEC East opponents.
Two things changed for Georgia going into the 2007 Florida game. One, the celebration, we’ll never forget. The other, more substantive, change was a renewed running game. Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno had only one 100+ yard game before Vandy, and he never had more than 20 carries. Moreno broke out against the Commodores with 28 carries and 157 yards. Though Georgia hit a couple of big pass plays for scores against Florida, Moreno stole the show with 33 carries, 188 yards, and three touchdowns. He rolled off five straight games over 100 yards as Georgia salvaged the season with a Sugar Bowl bid.
In 2010, Florida was going through some tough times on offense. They had lost three in a row going into the bye, and their latest 10-7 loss to Mississippi State was just ugly. Injuries in the backfield left the running game ineffective, and new quarterback John Brantley was straining to carry the offense.
Florida’s offensive coaches spent the bye week installing an up-tempo package that featured freshman Trey Burton rotating in to take snaps. The Gators rotated quarterbacks based on what they saw from the defense and found a ground game with Burton who ran for a career best 17 carries, 110 yards, and 2 TDs. As if two quarterbacks weren’t enough, the Gators added Jordan Reed to the mix for a couple of power runs from the quraterback spot. Georgia’s defense was confused by the rotation, and the tempo gassed the Dawgs. The Gators racked up 450 yards of offense, 231 of which came on the ground.
Georgia’s 2012 bye came two weeks before the Florida game, and the Dawgs had to survive a trip to Kentucky first. The transformation was just as dramatic though. Shawn Williams’ public challenge to his teammates between the Kentucky and Florida games helped to bring about a much different defense in Jacksonville that maintained a high level for the rest of the season. Georgia found themselves in an ugly physical game against Florida, and a less tough team wouldn’t have made it out with a win.
Will 2013 see a bye-week transformation from either team? Injuries will play a big part in that answer. Florida is one of the few schools that can put up an injury report comparable to Georgia’s. The Gators expect to get a couple of defensive starters, Damien Jacobs and Ronald Powell, back for Jacksonville. Georgia anticipates the returns of starters Todd Gurley, Michael Bennett, and Tray Matthews.
In terms of strategy, Will Muschamp has pulled his coaching staff off the recruiting trail for a bit of introspection. There’s only so much that can be done at this point, but one area Muschamp identified is along the offensive line. The Gators have allowed ten sacks over their past two games and have rushed for a total of 170 yards in those losses. Muschamp might dip into his reserves – a JUCO transfer and a freshman – and “he also anticipates using more seven- and eight-man protection schemes.”
For Georgia’s part, the bye week priorities are getting as many people back from the injury list as possible and then shoring up the defense and special teams. The special teams problems aren’t really an issue of personnel or strategy – it’s just going to be a question of execution in the game. The defense has shown a bit of improvement over the past two games, but it hasn’t taken much for the wheels to come off. The most critical area to watch on the defense will be in the secondary. Whether or not Josh Harvey-Clemons is able to play, there are some personnel questions to answer. Is Swann kept as the nickel (star) defensive back where he looked more comfortable at Vanderbilt? Does Sheldon Dawson earn more time at cornerback? What the heck happened to Langley?
Whether it’s through simplification, a return to health, or improved execution, Georgia’s defense is going to have to play a larger role due to the injuries on offense. It’s not quite as simple as the toughness challenge a year ago, but a large part of Georgia’s chances in Jacksonville depend on the Georgia defense making sure that Florida continues to struggle on offense.
It’s hard to believe that one of these preseason top 10 teams will leave Jacksonville with a three-game losing streak and a .500 record, but that’s the kind of month it’s been. I am interested though to see what both teams come up with during the bye – either team’s season could be salvaged or lost, and these coaches know how much emphasis fans put on the game.
Wednesday October 23, 2013
Wednesday October 23, 2013
There was a bit of uneasiness in our section when Georgia’s field goal midway through the third quarter put the Bulldogs up 27-14. It was nice to get the three points, but people sensed that coming out of the drive without a touchdown left the door open for some fluky play to get Vandy to within one possession of the lead. Sure enough, Swann’s muffed fair catch was the play that opened the door and started the downward spiral that led to Georgia’s first loss to an unranked team since 2010. If college football were a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this would be the other outcome of Georgia’s 2011 trip to Nashville.
You’ve had a late fourth quarter special teams mistake at Vanderbilt in a one-possession game!
If your punter makes a tackle to prevent the return of a blocked punt and you hold off a couple of desperation passes from your own 25, turn to page 2011.
If you snap the ball over the head of your punter, give up the go-ahead score, and then fumble away your last meaningful chance to score, turn to page 2013.
To be sure, that fourth quarter collapse was a team effort. Georgia’s offense struggled to put up less than 100 yards in the second half. Following that third quarter field goal, the only first down Georgia managed was fumbled away by Douglas. They ran a total of 14 plays in the fourth quarter and netted 13 yards, keeping the ball for just over 4 minutes of playing time. I don’t know if Georgia had a deep threat; I’m not sure if there were any pass plays longer than a couple of 15-yard outs to Conley and Davis. Without anything to worry about down the field, Vanderbilt squeezed Georgia’s offense closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.
Tyler makes a good point here: Georgia’s defense played pretty well for three quarters. They were finally creating turnovers, gave up few big gains, got good pressure, and kept Matthews from having a big game. They (Wiggins, to be precise) stuck it to Vandy when the Commodores got cute with an unconventional formation. But for a unit that has been so shaky, any success is fragile. A huge fourth down stop by Ramik Wilson was negated by a horrible targeting call, and the defense never really recovered. There were some nice individual moments late in the game – Wilson came up with a crushing sack and Swann saved a touchdown – but the unit that took the field following the high punt snap looked shell-shocked and put up little resistance against the game-winning run.
Then there’s special teams. I started to break them down individually, but it’s enough to say that Georgia had three special teams errors and Vandy scored three touchdowns as a result. I appreciate Mark Richt’s explanation for why Swann was fielding that game-changing punt, and Richt is right in one sense: no amount of coaching can make a guy catch a punt or snap the ball on target. It’s a lot harder to stomach when we see these mistakes repeated throughout the season. Georgia’s special teams have waxed and waned throughout Richt’s 13 seasons without a designated coordinator, so that whole discussion is pointless to me. What concerns me is that whatever is taught and practiced isn’t being executed in games, and these little details have kept Georgia from one and maybe two more wins.
Back to the game – Georgia went into lead-management mode with a 13-point second half lead. That might’ve been sound strategy without the special teams miscues, but the result was to put the outcome on the team’s least-consistent unit: the defense. Georgia’s parade of three-and-outs and punt misadventures put the defense on the field for nearly 11 minutes of the final quarter. There’s a lot they could have done better, but I just can’t see this game as a step backwards for the defense. We knew they would do well just to tread water this year, and they crumbled when the offense more or less took a knee for the last quarter and a half.
- A lot of people wondered where Rumph was, especially when Towns dropped a third down pass. The big JUCO receiver was finally back at practice this week, and it was hoped that his return might give a boost to a depleted receiving corps. He spent a lot of the day on the sideline exercise bike, and given the raw conditions of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if his injured hamstring just stayed tight. Perhaps more likely: it takes more than a week to get ready for your SEC debut.
- The special teams problems weren’t limited to the obvious fakes and fumbles. A delay getting the extra point team in place just before halftime led to a penalty.
- It sure would have been nice to have had another timeout or two in the bank down the stretch. Georgia burned another defensive timeout before the fourth down play on which Wilson was flagged. Yes, had the Wilson play stood, the timeout would have been a game-saving stroke of genius.
- There was near-universal admiration around us for the way Douglas finished his runs. I just hope he doesn’t get a Danny Ware-like stigma for the fumbles.
- Welcome back, Jordan Jenkins.
- You too, Sheldon Dawson.
- A nice moment of redemption for Corey Moore. He got suckered inside on a Vanderbilt run out of the wildcat, and it resulted in a long gain. On the next play Moore was in better position and intercepted a tipped pass. Unfortunately the offense couldn’t do much of anything with Moore’s pick.
- It’s moot, but I’m still trying to figure out the wisdom of Vanderbilt’s field goal attempt in the last minute.
As positive and forward-looking as we were at the end of September, we end October in a dark place. Though the larger goals are slipping away, there’s still much to play for. At the very least, there are three huge rivalry games left, and Georgia holds a winning streak in all of them. There have been some pretty dramatic bye weeks heading into Florida in recent years, and I’m curious to see how this team can respond given some time to process the past month and get some key pieces back in place.
Monday October 21, 2013
Some good news for AT&T subscribers, but you’ll have to wait until the 2014 season. AT&T will install equipment this spring in Sanford Stadium that should result in “10 to 12 times greater data capacity” on football Saturdays. The work could be done in time for G-Day, but there’s no firm date.
These improvements won’t do much for those who subscribe to Verizon or other wireless carriers, but those companies, like AT&T, are looking at technology for similar investments across the country. We imagine they’ll follow suit in Athens.
Now if someone wants to invest in a high-density Wi-Fi network that can support any Sanford Stadium patron with a smartphone, there’s already a working model in the state.
Monday October 21, 2013
Georgia defensive end Ray Drew stopped by reddit’s college football group (/r/CFB) on Monday night for an AMAA (ask me almost anything). Ray’s a bright guy, so he’s not going to go off on the refs for his ejection on Saturday or talk about the dump truck full of money that [rival school] offered him. Still, enjoy.
Thursday October 17, 2013
Georgia gets ready to head to Nashville this weekend looking to beat Vanderbilt and get back into the win column. There are a surprising number of storylines for a game against an opponent that’s winless in SEC play. Though Georgia dominated Vandy 48-3 a year ago in Athens, it’s almost as if that game never happened. All anyone wants to talk about is Georgia’s narrow escape two years ago. Seth Emerson does a nice job of capturing the tense finish, the season-saving tackle by Drew Butler on a blocked punt, and the feeling afterwards that was much more relief than joy.
So if that’s what people want to talk about, we’ll talk about it. Before last season’s game, we went back to look at that 2011 game to see if we could take anything from it. Georgia gave a master class in how to keep an underdog in the game: “They settled for field goals, failed to cash in on other chances, and made the mental mistakes that allowed a team that was 11-of-31 passing the ball to end up with 28 points against one of the SEC’s better defenses.”
If the 2011 game was a lesson in how to let a team hang around, the 2012 game showed how to put away an upset-minded team. Georgia was efficient and productive on offense, forced Vanderbilt to become a one-dimensional offense, and didn’t make the turnovers and mistakes that gave the visitors an opportunity to get back into the game.
Looking back at 2011 again, is there anything to focus on? Special teams jumps out. We don’t need to remind you what an adventure special teams has been in 2013, but Georgia nearly hit all of the squares on the special teams bingo card in 2011. You have the mundane (missed field goal attempts), the jaw-dropping (a kickoff returned for a touchdown), the baffling (a fake punt from a center-eligible formation), and the terrifying (a blocked punt with seven seconds remaining.) It’s kind of sad to say again, but I’d feel really, really good about Georgia’s chances with just a neutral special teams performance – touchbacks, fair catches, punt-safe, and so on. Just neutral special teams gives Georgia at least 14 fewer points in that game, and we barely remember the 2011 Vandy game.
Then there are the field goal attempts. Georgia attempted six in 2011 – the results of drives that came up just short. It’s something you have to think about now with the hobbled offense, especially at the tailback position. Can Georgia punch it in? Two of the biggest plays in the Missouri game led to scoring chances inside the Missouri 20, but the Dawgs had to settle for a field goal each time. At least Morgan got the three points each time, but Vandy would be very happy to hold the powerful Georgia offense to more than a couple of field goal attempts again. Bulldog running backs had 7 rushing touchdowns through the first three games but have had just one rushing touchdown since Gurley went down against LSU.
The 2011 game also saw Georgia become a bit unglued. Whether or not Vandy was baiting them, there were some dumb penalties and other mental mistakes that Vandy used to their advantage. Those mental errors began trickling into the play of Georgia’s defense as they started to lose discipline like an enraged fighter swinging at air (unfortunately mirroring the composure of their coordinator.) I’m not so much concerned about that this year – I’ll take what aggression I can get from this defense. You do expect Vanderbilt to give Georgia’s defense a lot to think about – shifts, play-action, etc. Fortunately the new quarterback isn’t as much of a running threat as Rodgers was.
If there’s one thing Georgia can hope to duplicate from last season’s big win in Athens, it’s taking away the Vandy rushing game. The Commodores were held to only 106 yards on 36 carries. Georgia’s quick start put a lot of pressure on Vanderbilt’s offense, but the Georgia run defense was still solid. The dangerous Zac Stacey had a benign 83 yards, and no Vanderbilt carry went for over 15 yards. Vandy is currently 13th in the SEC in rushing offense, so taking away the run is an attainable and necessary goal for Georgia. The Commodores will present enough of a challenge in the passing game – it will be a frustrating afternoon if they can get anything going on the ground.
That Vanderbilt passing game is a bit like LSU in the way it distributes the ball. No one will confuse Austyn Carta-Samuels with Zach Mettenberger, but the Vandy QB has a good arm and can get the ball to his targets. Like LSU, Vandy relies on two main receiving threats. Jordan Matthews is as good as it gets anywhere in the nation. Even if you dedicate safety help, he finds ways to get open and make catches. With so much attention paid to Matthews, senior Jonathan Krause has thrived with 24 catches and 430 yards after finishing 2012 with just 69 yards.
So how to slow down this passing game? Pressure. Vandy is last in the league with 16 sacks allowed. Georgia’s defensive line, led by the emerging Ray Drew, and the pass rushing specialists at outside linebacker have to disrupt pass plays and not allow Carta-Samuels to get comfortable playing pitch-and-catch with Matthews. The Commodores are feeling confident about their ability to get to Aaron Murray, but the pass rush should be a plus for Georgia as well. Pressure can and has caused mistakes – Carta-Samuels has been intercepted six times this season, and he can be streaky. Can Georgia’s turnover-starved defense finally make some plays?
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.