Friday June 19, 2015
One of the first topics that came up during our roundtable discussion was our concerns for the upcoming season. “What keeps you up at night?” was the way the question was put. I went right for the familiar answers – quarterback, receiver, even defensive back (side note – is it me, or has the secondary kind of been lost in the shuffle?). When I had some time to think about it though, there’s something else that this team is going to have to work through that’s bigger than any one position.
What keeps me up at night? October.
It’s not just the schedule, though that’s a big part of it. October has not been kind to Georgia over the past couple of seasons. You can go back to the shocking implosion at South Carolina in 2012 setting off a couple of shaky weeks that threatened to derail the season until Shawn Williams spoke his mind. Georgia was riding high after the LSU win in 2013, but October brought injuries and losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt(!) that all but erased the momentum from two big wins in September. Last season of course we spent October dealing with the drama of the Gurley investigation and suspension, and the bombshell at the end of the month that the suspension would be four games rather than two was not the best way to head into the WLOCP.
So…October. A tough rematch with South Carolina is the biggest obstacle between Georgia and an undefeated September. But even if Georgia can navigate the first month of the season, they’ll then have a stretch of three weeks featuring:
- The most hyped game in Athens since 2013 LSU (and probably another Gameday visit)
- A trip to face Tennessee in a classic letdown situation
- A return home to play the defending SEC East champs in front of a sleepy Homecoming crowd
That’s enough of a potential roller coaster even without the additional handicap of injuries or suspensions or whatever curveballs October has thrown at us lately. Top it off with a trip to Jacksonville with the unknown of a new Gator coach and the memory of last season’s horror still fresh, and it all makes for a lot of sleepless nights – and an exciting challenge.
Friday June 19, 2015
Many thanks to Marc Weiszer and Fletcher Page of the Athens Banner-Herald for having me on the first summer installment of their Bulldog Bytes podcast blogger roundtable. Bernie and I talk about the upcoming season, our expectations for Mark Richt, and our thoughts on out-of-conference scheduling.
You can head over to Dawg Sports Radio to catch the podcast – and listen to other episodes too.
UPDATE: You can also catch Part 2 of the roundtable with the guys from the Georgia Sports Blog and Get the Picture.
Wednesday November 20, 2013
Is this how it works? We trade 1996 and 2002 for 2005 and now 2013?
Auburn didn’t offer much new for the Georgia defense. The read plays and jet sweeps are the bread-and-butter of the Malzahn offense. As CBS pointed out so well, you could place Auburn’s plays from 2010 side-by-side with these and just plug in new players. Georgia wasn’t unprepared, but they were slow to respond and attack. It’s great if your linebackers are racking up tackles, but you’d rather they not get them chasing the play in the style of Keith Brooking.
Setting aside missed tackles and coverages that led to some big gains, the biggest problem for the defense was the lack of negative plays. Auburn was content to stay on schedule and chew up ground and clock. Georgia’s defensive front has been a positive and a reason why they had defended the run well recently, but they got little in the way of a push to disrupt Marshall’s reads. The outside containment was tested right from the first play, but even when assignments were correct, the plays were blocked well and Georgia’s front didn’t do much to get through or around those blocks.
If there’s one thing to be said for the defense in the first three quarters, it’s that they held on just enough to force four short field goal attempts. Auburn was certainly on pace for at least 35 points in the first half and had a chance for the knockout blow early in the fourth quarter. Getting nine points and a blocked field goal rather than 28 points from those drives gave Georgia the faintest glimmer of hope.
I have to credit Herbstreit here. It’s not that it’s a new insight about this team, but he made it a point to focus his preview on the performance of Georgia’s offensive tackles on the road. That proved to be a huge story in this game whether it was problems handling the speed rush from the opening series, false start penalties, or, well, this:
“We came out a little sluggish the first half,” Theus said. “I think they kind of caught us by surprise. They came out with a lot of energy and they were playing really hard…I got beat off the edge and I realized they ain’t no joke. No. 30 (Dee Ford) was a great rusher and had a lot of speed. I realized then I had to pick it up and as the game went on I thought I did better and better.”
I appreciate the honesty, and Murray did have a little more time as the game went on, but…yeah. There are many ways we can dig in to that juicy quote, but I hope it’s just a guy searching for an explanation of why he struggled so much early in the game. I agree that Georgia’s OL coach has to answer for the inconsistent line play, but a line that starts four upperclassmen can’t be surprised than an SEC defensive front will challenge them – especially a defensive line whose position coach might’ve had a little extra motivation for this game.
- Auburn’s playcalling on their penultimate series opened the door for Georgia to take the lead. With momentum draining away to the Bulldogs, an Auburn team that put up 323 rushing yards went away from their advantage and called three consecutive passing plays. Georgia brought pressure on all three plays and came away with incompletions and a sack. Even with the time lost after Wilson’s sack, the drive only ate up a little more than a minute and left plenty of time and good field position for Georgia’s offense. (Of course in hindsight it also left enough time for Auburn to have one more shot.)
- Georgia faced a 4th-and-1 from around their own 35 towards the latter part of the second quarter. I was a little surprised to see the decision to punt made as quickly as it was. In hindsight, the poor punt makes the decision that much more questionable. That might’ve been a spot to roll the dice.
- Georgia’s stop on Auburn’s late two-point conversion needs a mention. It was a tricky play to defend, especially considering what the mental state of the defense must’ve been. But Georgia defended it well and gave the offense the tiniest chance to win the game outright.
- As good as Wiggins has been against the receiver screen this year, it was jarring to see him miss two opportunities in the flat in the second quarter.
- Murray spread the ball around to eight receivers with seven of them getting multiple catches. Gurley’s impact running the ball can’t be overstated, but he’s becoming a dangerous target out of the backfield. He had the important touchdown against South Carolina, the catch and run to counter Florida’s blitz, and led the Dawgs with ten receptions at Auburn.
- The contrast of kickoff styles couldn’t have been more black and white. Still, Georgia’s coverage unit was outstanding.
- Rumph was in the game at some key moments, but his inexperience is still obvious. His miscommunication with Murray on a fourth down attempt in the third quarter cost the Bulldogs a possession.
- Speaking of that third quarter series, what a catch by Wooten on one of Georgia’s few deep passes. His touchdown reception was another tough grab in close quarters cut from the same cloth as his game-tying catch at Tennessee.
- I hate that Murray didn’t have a clean look on the final play. With the way things had been going, he was going to find someone. Most of all, I hate that such a brilliant performance had to be wiped out by a defense slow to adjust and an offensive line that wasn’t ready to play.
The sooner I can put this game in the rearview, the better. Three things going forward (and, yes, I’m already thinking about Tech):
- Did the defense gain important experience against this type of offense? Georgia Tech and Auburn don’t run the same offense, but many of the concepts and assignments will be similar as will the downfield threat of play action. Georgia’s defense began to attack rather than respond as the Auburn game wore on, and they got some key stops. Did they learn the value of staying in gaps and finishing tackles, or will they have to make the same adjustments again?
- Will the road difficulties of Georgia’s offensive tackles continue in Atlanta? Just so they’re not caught by surprise or anything, Jeremiah Attaochu is a pretty capable defensive end.
- The Auburn game was Georgia’s third game out of its last five without a takeaway (bad calls notwithstanding.) The Dawgs are 121 of 123 teams in generating turnovers. Auburn didn’t really have a reputation for turnovers, but Tech does. They’ll put the ball on the ground. It was a Rambo strip near the goal line that established some early momentum last year.
Monday November 5, 2012
Though Aaron Murray had a banner day, the defense was what I wanted to see. The thin and young Ole Miss secondary made their pass defense a known liability. Their offense, and QB Bo Wallace in particular, was playing well enough to win consecutive SEC games and nearly knock off Texas A&M. Things might’ve looked shaky down 10-0, but the defense only got better. They began creating turnovers, getting pressure, defending long passes, and soon adjusted to the short swing passes designed to get Ole Miss skill players into space. A decent running game was held over 130 yards below its season average, and when the backup QB is a team’s second-leading rusher, you’ve done well against the run. With the run held in check, Georgia’s defense became more and more suffocating and gave nothing back once the offense claimed the lead. Even with the game more or less in hand for the entire fourth quarter, the defense allowed just 20 yards of total offense in the final period.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who’s done a very impressive job this year bringing the gutted Ole Miss program to the brink of bowl eligibility, admitted that this game was the “first time this season that I felt like we were zapped of our passion.” Georgia’s relentless defense had a lot to do with that, and that’s exactly the kind of follow-up performance you love to see after a physical and draining experience like the Florida game. We were hopeful after one game, we can be much more confident after consecutive outstanding defensive games, and we can declare the defense back if they can keep it up as the Dawgs attempt to clinch the SEC East this weekend.
No one can accuse Murray of being incapable of learning from his mistakes. A week after some poor decisions led to three interceptions and a rough three quarters against Florida, Murray was noticably better at checking down and finding open receivers. His touchdown passes came on big plays, but his successful day was made possible by spreading the ball around to 11 different receivers. His 21 completions included four to tight ends, three to tailbacks, and two to the fullback. Two of the three passes to tailbacks were for first down yardage, and a nice swing pass to Gurley against a blitz went for a long gain that set up the scoring chance at the end of the first half. Murray also pulled the ball down and got positive yards on the ground a couple of times. Even with the pressure he faced early on, these small adjustments helped Murray keep his composure and made him deadly once opportunities began to present themselves.
More from a beautiful Homecoming afternoon:
- Pointing to a turning point other than the touchdown at the end of the first half might be trying too hard. But there was another important moment just after halftime. Georgia faced 3rd-and-eight on its opening series of the half. A three-and-out there takes some of the edge off of Georgia’s halftime momentum and gives Ole Miss the ball down only four. Murray found Marlon Brown on a short pass still about seven yards short of the marker. Brown made a defender miss though and turned a minimal gain into a 17-yard play. The Dawgs moved the chains and scored three plays later to open up a double-digit lead.
- If you’re able to defer the opening kickoff, there’s nothing better than scores that bookend halftime. We saw it at Tech last year where Georgia got a field goal right before halftime and a score on their first possession of the second half to turn a tight four-point game into a manageable 14-point Georgia lead without Tech having a meaningful offensive play. Georgia’s score to close the first half against Ole Miss gave them a similar opportunity. Brown’s third down conversion kept the opportunity alive, and Georgia was able to post 14 points without Ole Miss running a play. After the defense forced a 3-and-out, the Dawgs ended up with 21 points and had turned a deficit into a 17-point lead by the time Ole Miss ran four plays.
- As much as the game was about Murray and the defense, Todd Gurley quietly had another 100+ yard game. He’s less than 150 yards from 1,000. He’d be only the second true freshman tailback at Georgia to reach that mark. (You can probably guess who the other guy is.)
- While Gurley has cranked out consecutive 100-yard games, it’s been a quiet month for Keith Marshall. He’s not playing poorly…the long runs just aren’t developing as frequently as they did in September. He’s still a dangerous guy to play along with Gurley and will likely make more noise before the end of the season. Marshall showed some additional utility with a couple of receptions Saturday, and he had important blocks on a pass to Rome and the final touchdown to Wooten.
- It wasn’t a great start from the offensive line, and the coaches put a lot of that on the tackles. Ole Miss was quick off the edge and frustrated Georgia’s ability to get drives going early on. This is one area of the team where “coming out flat” applies – center David Andrews admitted that the early troubles were “just not waking up and going out and playing.” The line could also be dealing with tackle issues against Auburn depending on the availability of guard Chris Burnette. If Burnette can’t go, Mark Beard will get his first start at LT as Ken Gates moves inside. Auburn’s best defensive player might be defensive end Corey Lemonier, so this matchup will be worth watching.
- You don’t ask for a lot of production from the fullback, but it’s something that Zander Ogletree has just about doubled the season production by the position in just two weeks. Ogletree’s run was the last thing anyone would expect in that situation, and he finished off as if he were Gurley. Blocking is still job #1, but Georgia’s had a 100-yard back both times with Ogletree in there. It will be an interesting call if Hall is healthy enough to return, but my untrained eye thinks that Ogletree has done plenty to hold onto the start.
- Turning to the defense, there’s plenty good to say about all three units. Garrison Smith continues to be an important piece of the turnaround on defense. Smith followed up a five-tackle performance against Florida with seven tackles and a sack against the Rebels. A good day by Smith and the rest of the line opened things up for the middle linebackers to close off the center of the field. Alec Ogletree had his best game since returning from suspension with a team-high 11 tackles, one sack, and one impressive interception. Herrera, Gilliard, and Robinson added another nine tackles for the interior linebackers.
- As well as the front seven played, the secondary was outstanding. Williams’ near-miss of the early interception was the lone costly miscue, and he more than atoned for it. The cornerbacks were as visible as they’ve been all year. Swann made big plays in pass coverage and recovered two fumbles. Branden Smith broke up two passes and made some incredibly physical tackles. Aside from the early 51-yard pass that set up their field goal, Ole Miss had only one other reception for over 20 yards. The secondary did a good job of denying the long passes and cleaning up the intermediate completions.
- It was a relatively quiet day for Jenkins and Jones at outside linebacker. Each saw an Ole Miss quarterback elude a sure sack, but largely their lack of productivity had to do with the Ole Miss game plan. The quick out passes attacked Georgia’s pressure off the edge, and they were intially effective. It didn’t take long for Georgia to adjust, and the passes and runs away from Jones put other defenders in positions to make plays. Jones still got his – with his pass rush limited, he became active containing the run and pursued well from the back side. He was instrumental in setting up the safety, and Ogletree and Smith did a great job finishing it off.
- A week ago Georgia held Florida’s top receiver, Frankie Hammond, Jr. without a reception. Against Ole Miss the Dawgs shut out the opponent’s best receiver once again. Donte Moncrief had 18 receptions over the past three games and has 39 receptions on the season, but he doesn’t appear in Saturday’s box score. (In case you’re wondering, Emory Blake is Auburn’s leading receiver.)
Monday April 19, 2010
Even the baseball sweep at Arkansas and the dismissal of a quarterback from the football team doesn’t overshadow the good news for two Georgia programs:
The equestrian team won its fifth overall and third consecutive national title over the weekend in Texas. The program has only existed for eight years and already has five national titles.
Behind overall medalist Russell Henley, the Georgia men’s golf team earned the program’s 7th SEC title in the past 14 years.