Friday January 9, 2015
The Georgia football program announced on Wednesday the selection of Brian Schottenheimer as the team’s new offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer will replace Mike Bobo who took the Colorado State head coaching position back in December. Schottenheimer, who served as the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, had considered other opportunities to coach college ball in the South and finally pulled the trigger when the Georgia position became available.
I have to admit that my first reaction was reflexively negative – perhaps it had to do with an aversion on principle to NFL coaches, or as Dawg Sports put it, “Schottenheimer joins the ranks of other NFL offensive coordinators who have gone on to have great careers as offensive coordinators in the SEC, such as ________. And _______.” Or, in the words of Blutarsky, “Bobo’s departure doesn’t come as a relief.” I was in no rush to see Bobo leave the program and would have been just fine paying him Schottenheimer-level money* to keep the status quo.
(* – We don’t know yet the terms of Schottenheimer’s deal, but this was a guy making $1.5-2 million as an NFL coordinator. He might be willing to take a cut to get his foot in the door of the right situation if coaching college ball is his objective, but he still figures to command a deal worth more than Georgia has been paying its coordinator. It will be interesting to learn, if we ever do, whether Bobo was indeed offered a similar deal to remain in Athens or if the rumors that Georgia didn’t do much in the way of a counter-offer are true.)
So after the mixed results with Grantham and after watching Weis flame out at Florida, we are understandably jaded about plucking another coach from the NFL. He might well be the exception to the rule – I am only aware in the most general sense of his track record in New York and St. Louis, the personnel issues he dealt with in both situations, and the coaches for whom he worked. One benefit of our Grantham experience is the learned lesson that an NFL resume in itself is no talisman. The college game has its own unique demands and challenges, and there’s not much to go on when we try to map Schottenheimer’s experience to our expectations for what he’ll do at Georgia.
One of the key dynamics to watch will be the Schottenheimer-Richt collaboration. Schottenheimer’s head coaches in New York and St. Louis were defensive guys who (within reason) delegated the offense. It’s the opposite at Georgia. Richt has (again, within reason) been hands-off with his defense and even allowed fundamental scheme changes like the switch to a 3-4 system in 2010. That’s not happening on offense. Richt was clear heading into this hire that “were gonna continue to do what we do offensively.” Though Richt may have handed over playcalling over eight years ago, he still has very specific expectations for the offense, and anything Georgia runs will have Richt’s stamp of approval and oversight.
Will that dynamic constrain Schottenheimer or will it allow him to grow? Richt has always run a “pro-style” offense, but that vague label has applied even as the offense evolved during the Richt-Bobo partnership. Of course there was plenty of the usual I-formation or shotgun, but we’ve also seen the use of pistol and wildcat. We’ve seen the use of tempo as a strategy. Those are just a few of the wrinkles that gave Georgia the flexibility to go from featuring one of the conference’s most prolific passers to producing eye-popping results on the ground without skipping a beat. So even as Richt insists on a certain identity, there’s still room for creativity,innovation, and growth within that framework.
With scheme more or less settled, there are a few other challenges for the newcomer.
Jeremy Pruitt has gone on a tear restocking the defensive side of the roster. He’s pretty much had to – attrition and recruiting shortcomings had left things in a state where walk-ons and freshmen have been forced into action. Schottenheimer comes into a better short-term situation. The tailback position looks great, there are returning veterans at receiver and tight end, the line will be about as seasoned as it gets, and there will be a good pool of quarterback candidates.
Schottenheimer will have a similar opportunity to recruit the next wave of stars for Georgia’s offense, but, again, Richt has established the parameters. “The skill sets that we’ve recruited for, they have nothing to worry about, because we’re gonna use them to their fullest.” Schottenheimer’s first job is holding together some important 2015 and 2016 commitments, and Richt’s promise is a none-too-subtle message to reinforce Georgia’s position with those commitments and prospects. The recruiting services have already reached out to those prospects, and the responses have been positive for Georgia and Schottenheimer.
Bobo’s role as a recruiter was about as important to Georgia as his playcalling role. The Thomasville native had the connections to make deep inroads for the program into South Georgia. Bobo wasn’t only involved with quarterbacks and other offensive skill prospects; he was Georgia’s man for many high-profile South Georgia defenders from Ray Drew to Trenton Thompson. It’s going to be tough for Schottenheimer to take over without the same homegrown network, and it’s going to take a collaborative effort to maintain Georgia’s advantages in that important area of the state.
As the quarterbacks coach Schottenheimer will be asked to continue what’s become the golden age of Georgia quarterbacking. Four of the seven quarterbacks who started for Bobo and Richt earned an NFL roster spot, and even in the transitional seasons of 2009 and 2014 Georgia won at least nine games. Georgia’s top five quarterbacks in terms of career efficiency have all been from this era (Murray, Mason, Shockley, Greene, Cox). Georgia might be blessed with a fleet of tailbacks, but it’s no coincidence that Richt found a coordinator with experience working with quarterbacks. Modern offenses require competent quarterback play first and foremost, and Schottenheimer has a high standard to follow at Georgia.
Former boss Jeff Fisher calls Schottenheimer an “excellent teacher.” Even though that’s said in the context of defending an embattled coordinator, it’s worth something that Fisher would single out that attribute. Similarly, Schottenheimer is praised for his organization, and he’ll have to be organized to get the most out of limited practice opportunities. He’s worked with some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’s been able to involve new talent (like Tre Mason this season) quickly.
There are adjustments for an NFL coach making the transition to college. Near the top of the list is the understanding that most college players don’t start with a basic fluency in fundamentals. When Pruitt began a year ago, he had to spend time stressing even the most mundane details. The time required just to build that fundamental foundation means that what’s build on that foundation can’t be particularly complex. Adding to the time crunch are the built-in NCAA time limits, the requirements and distractions of college life, and the fact that you’re instructing nearly twice as many players as you would with a 53-man NFL roster.
A year ago, there was nearly universal accord for Georgia’s new defensive coordinator. We were ready to move on from the predecessor, and Pruitt had done exactly the same job for the national champion. There seems to be a lot more wait-and-see with this hire, and we’ve outlined some of the reasons for that above. Considering the recent success of the Georgia offense, I imagine that anyone hired to follow Bobo would make us a little nervous. In his favor, Schottenheimer is more than qualified for the position. He’ll have some of the best talent in the nation with which to work and all of the resources he’ll need. He’ll have input into the hiring of a new offensive line coach. If Schottenheimer is ready to prove himself at the college level, he’s set up for success.
Wednesday December 17, 2014
We were thrilled to hear that Leonard Floyd would be among those returning to UGA next season. Floyd’s been considered a top draft prospect since well before the season, and getting him back for another year should be considered a pleasant surprise and a big shot in the arm for the defense.
Now we’ve learned something that might shed a little light on Floyd’s motivation to sit out this draft:
Floyd’s shoulder was a minor story in November, and many figured that his limited playing time against Kentucky had more to do with a poor performance against Florida. The injury has been a legitimate issue for a while now, and it’s significant enough to require surgery. No way would he be ready for the combine and NFL camps with that kind of an injury lingering, so it’s a wise choice to get the surgery now, recover, and add to the highlight reel in 2015.
Floyd’s absence will clear the way for Lorenzo Carter to start against Louisville. The true freshman stepped up in a big way at Kentucky when Floyd was out, and he’ll be going against an offense that’s given up 37 sacks in 2014.
Wednesday December 17, 2014
Finally some closure in the saga of Jack Bauerle. If you need a refresher, start here. The story revolves around the eligibility of a male swimmer and the steps taken to get a passing grade in a course during fall semester 2013. Bauerle has remained on some form of suspension since January when the UGA compliance staff discovered the incident. University officials met with the NCAA in October (at the same time as the Gurley investigation), and the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued their ruling today.
You can read the NCAA’s summary here, but the penalties (all directed at Baurle and not UGA) boil down to:
- A $5,000 fine and repayment of legal fees.
- A continued suspension lasting for the first nine meets of the current season.
- A show-cause penalty that prohibits Bauerle from recruiting through the 2014-2015 season.
With the facts of the case generally accepted as reported back in April, the panel ruled that Bauerle “failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance.” Bauerle argued that this academic course of action was available to any student and didn’t constitute an improper benefit. The panel disagreed, noting that Bauerle pulled some strings with “a psychology professor, whom he had known for a long time, and asked that professor to permit a
freshman student-athlete to add an upper-level independent study.” Further, Bauerle “should have allowed the academic
and athletics compliance staff to address the student-athlete’s situation without his interference.”
The panel concluded that the incident involved “Level II violations” which lie somewhere between secondary violations and the “egregious” violations that could bring the program down. The report states that mitigating factors – Georgia’s prompt acknowledgement and self-reporting of the incident as well as “exemplary cooperation” – got the University and athletic department off the hook. The penalties are in line with those findings: there is no reduction in scholarships or probation for the program, and the weight of the penalties will come down on Bauerle.
As we noted back in April, few, if any, Georgia programs have produced more academic standouts than swimming and diving. This past year alone Georgia had five Academic All-Americans. This wasn’t a culture opposed to academic standards or success. In this instance though Bauerle went against both policy and advice, and it resulted in a serious NCAA infraction that could have put his position and 30+ year legacy in jeopardy. The good news though is that Bauerle is cleared to remain as Georgia’s coach and will be available for the SEC and NCAA postseasons.
Wednesday December 17, 2014
Really good idea here from the athletic department: Dollars spent on Belk Bowl tickets bought through the school will be converted into Hartman Fund points. We know that Georgia would rather we buy through them, but the school’s allotment is not always the best seats, and there might be cheaper tickets on the street. Now there’s a nice incentive to go the official route and get your tickets through Georgia.
To receive credit, orders must be placed through the UGA Ticket Office online or by calling 877-542-1231. Hartman Fund points awarded won’t count toward your annual contribution (if your seat requires a $250 donation you must still donate $250), but they’ll be applied to your Hartman Fund balance.
Wednesday December 17, 2014
At the year-end football gala on Saturday, Mark Richt announced that nearly all of Georgia’s potential early NFL entrants would return for their senior seasons:
- WR Malcolm Mitchell
- LB Leonard Floyd
- LB Jordan Jenkins*
- OT John Theus
* UGA officials later clarified that Jenkins would “most likely” be returning. That’s a reminder that these proclamations are nice but non-binding until the NFL’s deadline to announce passes in about a month.
Combined with the news that Kolton Houston had been granted a sixth year of eligibility, and it seems as if Georgia will have a very solid core of upperclassmen next season. We should include Keith Marshall among that group as well.
Tuesday December 9, 2014
If there was a common dread after the Tech game (other than the whole losing to Tech thing), it was a resignation that Georgia had cost itself a spot in one of the new “access bowls” whose participants would be parceled out by the playoff committee. Instead, it looked as if Georgia would slip back into the familiar world of a Florida bowl versus a Big 10 opponent, and jokes about a rubber match against Nebraska seemed a lot less funny. Greg McGarity even had to take to the news and assure us that Georgia would not be facing Nebraska nor playing in Jacksonville again.
Georgia did more than avoid Nebraska and Jacksonville. They’ve managed to avoid Big 10 conference and the state of Florida entirely this bowl season. The Dawgs will instead head to Charlotte to face Louisville in the Belk Bowl on Tuesday evening, December 30.
So instead of complaining about the same old, same old in Florida, those Georgia fans can now gripe about being passed over for New Year’s Day bowls in warmer climes for an earlier bowl with a lower payout.
The stories generate themselves instantly. Grantham. The slew of players dismissed from Georgia who are now sitting out their transfer season at Louisville. A planned series between the two programs was shelved a couple of years ago so that Georgia could play Boise State in 2011. Georgia finally gets to face Louisville in a new bowl, new stadium, and new city. For everyone tired of the bowl rut, here you go.
Personally, I’m more interested in this game than I would have been in a game against, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin. If prestige is an issue, things have changed: with the Peach Bowl becoming one of the new “access bowls,” this is the new Peach Bowl. You have two ranked teams from the ACC and SEC. The payout and everything else needs to catch up, but most of the payout gets split by the conference anyway. It’s a reasonable 4-hour drive from Atlanta and Athens, and the Dawgs will play a game in the state that’s given the program Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Jeb Blazevich, and Mohammed Massaquoi – among others. Certainly the weather won’t be as nice as it would have been in Florida – hopefully we can get something a little more typical of a November home game rather than something more like the 2001 Music City Bowl.
Though you’ll hear more than you can stomach about Grantham, know that this is a talented defense mostly recruited and trained by Charlie Strong. They have a sound rushing defense and lead the nation with 25 interceptions, mostly thanks to safety Gerod Holliman who tied the NCAA record with 14 picks in 2014. As we saw in 2011 and 2012, Grantham can get results with a talented roster, and Louisville has played solid defense for much of the 2014 season. Football Outsiders has their defense rated 5th best in the nation.
But as much as we’ll hear about Grantham, I’m almost more interested in the other coordinator matchup: Petrino vs. Pruitt. Each has had a season to re-tool his side of the ball in his own image, and there will be challenges for both of them. Louisville lost starting quarterback and Georgia native Will Gardner late in the season but have still finished strong, scoring 31 and 44 points in the final two games of the season. Pruitt has had to piece together a secondary still hemorrhaging players, and the Georgia defense has managed several impressive performances against some quality opponents. Georgia’s secondary hasn’t been tested by a strong passing attack since perhaps even the Tennessee game, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Pruitt and Petrino scheme against one another. Louisville’s 37 sacks allowed ranks near the bottom of the FBS, so Georgia’s pass rush will be a big part of the game plan.
Tuesday December 9, 2014
Georgia has given J.J. Green his unconditional release, and that’s a good policy – student-athletes aren’t chattel. It’s a tough policy to stomach though when, as the Senator points out, that policy isn’t reciprocated and puts Georgia at a disadvantage. Where have we heard that before?
As for Green, he was an important part of the story in 2013 and a big reason why Georgia won at Tennessee. But considering the course he’s said to be choosing, that’s about as far as the pleasantries will go.
Tuesday December 9, 2014
It was a very important Sunday for Georgia’s basketball teams. Within the span of six hours at Stegeman Coliseum, both teams posted their most significant wins to date in this young season. The men blew open a tie game at the end of the first half and had to hold on to beat 5-1 Colorado 64-57. Thornton was solid inside, and Frazier was perfect from both the field and the foul line. Frazier’s contribution off the bench was necessary because starting guard Kenny Gaines left the game early in the second half with a shoulder injury on a hustle play. Gaines should be OK, and he’ll have two weeks to recover before Georgia’s next game.
Two hours after the men’s game ended, the #19 Lady Dogs took the court against #16 Michigan State. The Spartans survived an overtime challenge from Georgia Tech on Thursday and were playing their first road game of the season. Georgia took control of the game from the start and raced out to a 23-point lead behind effective defense and an energetic tempo. Things became sloppy at the end of the half though, and Michigan State ended the period on an 8-0 run. They had erased a double-digit deficit against Tech and seemed poised to do the same in Athens. The visitors made several runs in the second half to close within single digits, but Georgia responded each time to push the lead back to a more comfortable margin. Michigan State eventually drew within five points, but Georgia was clutch at the foul line in the final minutes. With the 69-60 win, Georgia’s undefeated season continues, and the Lady Dogs became the first team in the nation to reach 10 wins.
Both programs have an extended break ahead for exams. Neither team will play until the weekend before Christmas, giving the players a chance to finish the semester and rest up from the first month of the regular season.
Tuesday December 2, 2014
Offseason changes have already begun for the Georgia football program. Longtime staffer and recently installed strength coach Joe Tereshinski Jr. will step down after the bowl game.
Tereshinski played for Georgia from 1972-1976 and started at center from 1975-1976, serving as a captain of the 1976 SEC champions. He joined the Georgia staff in 1982 and has served in a number of roles before he was tapped to head the strength and conditioning program after the 2010 season.
There are a number of theories as to why Tereshinski might step down now, but it’s also the case that he’s put in over 30 years with the program and might just be ready to enjoy his pension and move on. Tereshinski has also been in charge of the video and game analysis, and he’s been the organizer of the year-end Gala since 1998. Through his longevity, Tereshinski has had an important role passing down the traditions and rivalries of Georgia football to each new group of players. Georgia might and probably will find a better candidate to head the strength program, but they’ll have a much bigger job finding someone who can teach the love of the school and the team that Tereshinski had.
Tuesday December 2, 2014
Another defensive back is out the door. Brendan Langley spent 2013 as a cornerback, moved to receiver for 2014, and moved back to the secondary when attrition took its toll. Now Langley is a part of that attrition: citing playing time, he’ll be looking to continue his career at another school.
Langley saw his first start of 2014 in the shutout of Missouri, and we were encouraged by how well the secondary performed and looked with him in the lineup. But Langley’s role in the secondary diminished as the season continued, and he wasn’t a factor in the final few games. Langley, a 4-star prospect in the 2013 class, was considered an important piece of the recruiting class when he flipped from South Carolina in November of 2012. He made four starts out of the gate as a true freshman in 2013 but eventually gave way to a rotation of other cornerbacks.
Tuesday December 2, 2014
Like many, I stood there unable to move for several minutes after Huston Mason’s interception ended the game. Going back and watching the scene on the broadcast confirms what I remember: a stunned crowd and team trying to make sense of what happened. I’m still trying. To help focus myself, I’ll reply to a handful of tweets I sent out just before the game.
I asked this question for two reasons: first, big pass plays helped Tech jump out 20-0 on Georgia last year. I wondered if Johnson would test Georgia’s secondary again. Second, Tech came into the game with one of the top-ten rated passing attacks (a spot ahead of Georgia, in fact.) Though they were completing just over 50% of passes, they were getting a lot from the passes they did complete.
As it turned out, Tech’s passing game played only a minor role in the outcome. They completed 6 of 16 passes for just 64 yards and one score coming at the end of the first half. But it’s the split that tells the story. Tech attempted just two passes after halftime. As with Florida completing just 3 of 6 pass attempts, Tech didn’t need to throw in the second half because their running game was functioning so well.
The Georgia defense did a fair job against the run in the first half, but they couldn’t sustain it. Whether it was fatigue, the return of bad habits, or Tech finding and exploiting a weakness, Georgia’s line was overmatched against the dive. Though Ray Drew played the game of his life, the dive often went off-tackle to the side opposite Drew where the defensive linemen were less effective. Georgia’s interior linebackers recorded a staggering number of tackles, but many of those came chasing down a guy who had broken through the line. Tech put together a string where five out of six drives went at least eight plays. Georgia had only three possessions in the entire second half (true, there was a nice fumble return in there too.) That’s a lot of time for the defense to be out there, and they just couldn’t get off the field. It became classic option water torture.
Oh did turnovers play a part in the game. Georgia’s three red zone turnovers were crippling. Tech’s two fumbles led to 14 Georgia points. I’d go so far as to consider the blocked placekicks by both teams as turnovers. There were huge swings in momentum all day. It must’ve made for an entertaining game for neutral watchers. Tech and Georgia fans had to be dizzy. For Georgia, both fumbles came when backs made extra effort near the goal line. With so many fumbles bouncing back Georgia’s way throughout the season, the ledger adjusted itself at the worst possible time.
Both sides of the coin in that tweet. Yes, Georgia got out to a much better start this year. They marched down the field with relative ease, scored, and then forced Tech to punt. Georgia’s defense was playing well enough that the Dawgs had a fair chance to go up by three scores in the first half. They never trailed until late in the 4th quarter. But then there’s the “make the most of every possession” detail. Georgia had seven possessions inside of the Georgia Tech 40 that generated a total of 17 points. Five of those possessions resulted in only three points. The three red zone turnovers are obvious enough, but two other scoring chances were significant. The outstanding field position earned on the possession after Swann’s fumble return resulted in two yards gained and a blocked field goal instead of a two-possession lead. The five futile cracks at the endzone after Morgan’s brilliant fake field goal set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Ugh. Is it a cop-out to say that Mason’s legacy is still incomplete? Or would ambiguous be the better choice of words? It would have been much more tidy of course had Georgia’s final touchdown held up, but the interception that ended the game is burned in our memories now – never mind that it was his first interception since Vanderbilt. Even before those moments, the game was a mixed bag for Mason. He missed a couple of third down throws that should have extended drives. But given the ball with two minutes and incredible pressure, he orchestrated what should have been the winning drive.
A year after Mason passed for nearly 300 yards in Atlanta, Georgia’s approach to the passing game on Saturday was much different. Pass plays were short and intermediate and heavy on screens. That was fine so long as the running game was working – the space was there for a short pass to turn into more as it did for Chubb on the opening drive. But as Tech tightened up against the run (and Georgia’s line became less effective), there wasn’t much of a response from the Georgia offense. We didn’t see a real test downfield until an incomplete pass just beyond Conley well into the third quarter. We didn’t even see Conley targeted until the third quarter. Georgia’s senior receivers – Bennett and Conley – combined for 12 catches, 182 yards, and a touchdown in Atlanta a year ago. On Saturday Conley didn’t record a catch until Georgia’s final drive of regulation, and Bennett was shut out. Not to take anything away from Malcolm Mitchell’s outstanding game (holding on to that go-ahead touchdown was no small thing), but I just can’t process that two accomplished senior receivers weren’t a bigger part of the plan. I don’t put that on Mason or Bennett or Conley, and it’s not as if the final passing stats were that far from a typical 2014 Georgia game. And, again, the offense generated enough scoring chances to win. The approach just had a very strange feel to it.
Monday November 24, 2014
Not much to note from the game, and that’s a good thing. Georgia tidily put the game away by the end of the first quarter. While that seems like a minor point and probably doesn’t mean much going forward, it’s more than some playoff contenders can say for their performance on Saturday. You mainly want to come out of these games intact, and Georgia seems to have dodged a bullet on the injury front. We’ve got bigger fish to fry this week, so we’ll make this quick.
- We’ve secretly replaced Lee Greenwood with Kenny G. Let’s see if anyone notices.
- I was glad to see Charleston Southern bring the band and let their whole program experience a game at Georgia. The Western Carolina coach was passionate about what these games mean to FCS programs, and we know there were several Georgians on the CSU team for whom this opportunity had extra meaning. We haven’t seen any whining “open letters” yet from the CSU camp, so we hope they all enjoyed the day.
- We only saw Chubb for a brief moment, but the long touchdown and the abuse of a would-be tackler was all anyone needed to see before it was time to go back in bubble wrap.
- Speaking of physical runs, Hicks made the most of his single carry. After he bounced off the line and went outside, Hicks wasn’t going to be denied the endzone.
- Charleston Southern didn’t record a sack, but Mason several times had to elude an oncoming defender and make a play on the run. His touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley was such a play – Mason was flushed to the right by a defender who had gotten past Jay Rome, and Mason led Scott-Wesley nicely for an easy catch.
- Mason looked as sharp as he has all season, and it was good to see him take a few shots downfield. It would have been nice to connect with Mitchell a few times – that combination seems like the missing piece for a Georgia offense that’s already very potent, but it just hasn’t come together yet.
- Ramsey (8-for-12) also looked better than he did in his other extended action versus Troy (4-for-8). The interception wasn’t a great throw, but his touchdown pass to Rumph had some nice touch.
- Enjoyed seeing Rumph and Scott-Wesley make the most of their days with touchdown receptions. Scott-Wesley had his first receptions of the season after a long road back from ACL surgery, and Rumph showed some nice elusiveness on an early catch that he turned into a first down.
- The day belonged to Conley. After some disappointing drops against Auburn, the senior had two touchdown receptions including what could likely be Georgia’s catch of the year. The Redcoats saluted him with the Star Wars theme – a very nice touch.
- We all know how electrifying McKenzie can be in the return game, but he’s still making some freshman mistakes. The returners had to be frustrated by the rugby punts, but it would have really sucked for the top returner to go down with a bad injury trying to field a meaningless second-half punt. He’s also dropped some very catchable passes in back-to-back games, and those are plays he’ll need to make to avoid being pigeonholed as just the return guy.
- Jordan Jenkins had another disruptive game. There aren’t many Bulldogs playing better right now.
- The starting defense performed well and largely kept the option offense from generating many big plays. They were forced to adjust after Sanders went out, and it was a small silver lining that Parrish and Bowman got a lot of work against that kind of offense.
Finally, thank you to all of the veterans in attendance on Saturday and also to those involved with the ceremonies and tributes. Fans were impressed, moved, and humbled by the stories of valor and sacrifice.
Wednesday November 19, 2014
We know Georgia needs Missouri to lose one of its final two games. But how likely is that to happen?
Thankfully, the Football Study Hall has put hard numbers to the likelihood of Missouri running the table. The Tigers have a 22.1% chance of going 2-0 against Tennessee and Arkansas which means that Georgia has about a 78% chance at this point of winning the East. Not a sure thing, but very strong odds.
There’s more: they also run the numbers for the three contenders remaining in the West and give Alabama a 79.2% chance of coming out on top – even slightly higher than Georgia’s odds in the East. When you combine the likely outcomes in both divisions, we currently have about a 62% chance of a Georgia-Alabama rematch in the Dome.
Wednesday November 19, 2014
Yesterday’s extreme cold pushed the Georgia football team indoors to the multi-purpose facility added as part of the most recent Butts-Mehre expansion. That facility has a turf surface but only about 20 yards of space, making it useful only for walk-throughs. It was not intended to be an indoor practice facility (IPF.)
Several coaches, most vocally Jeremy Pruitt, used the occasion to put pressure on the administration to complete a proper indoor practice facility.
“This is gonna be the last football team at Georgia that’s gonna have days where they don’t get better because of not having an indoor facility. Because I know our folks upstairs are gonna get it done,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt explained that he had used the lack of a facility against Georgia in recruiting, and other coaches would continue to do so. “I’ve been on the other side when you recruit against Georgia, and when you don’t practice you don’t get better, so that hurts player development.” Studies have shown that these facilities don’t get used as much as you’d think, but as the stakes start to get much higher in terms of the rivalry game and a possible postseason, every day counts.
It’s rare to see a coach challenge the administration like this, particularly a coordinator. Even linebackers coach Mike Ekeler said, “It’s amazing we don’t have one.” I doubt Pruitt was going rogue though – Mark Richt might not like to air laundry in public like that, but Pruitt is more than happy to speak for the staff.
We know that the wheels are turning – the athletic department approved $400,000 just a couple of months ago for a location study. According to Seth Emerson, “UGA hired an architect for the project last week.” The next step is an update for the board in February. That’s not exactly a glacial pace in the academic world, but it’s also not something on the fast track to be completed in time for next season.
(N.B. the location study isn’t a minor thing. So much hangs on the site selection for this facility. There are tradeoffs between cost, scope, and utility for a facility built near Butts-Mehre versus one out on the Milledge property.)
Pruitt’s challenge and short timetable naturally prompted a response from Greg McGarity. “We’re moving as quickly as possible, but it’s impossible to be ready by 2015. There’s just so much to do.” That seems reasonable – even if the board settles the location, scope, and cost issues and approves the project on the spot in February, it’s not very likely that a project of any size or usefulness could be built in the six months remaining before the season.
At any rate, the project is moving forward and it will happen – perhaps not at Pruitt’s preferred pace, but it won’t be long either. Pruitt’s message was intended much more for recruits than McGarity anyway. It’s no coincidence that the staff is being very public about the coming facility after a chilly weekend on which Georgia hosted one of the most star-studded collection of prospects to visit Sanford Stadium. They’re responding to the messaging that’s being put out by other schools and feedback they’ve received from prospects.
Apparently Georgia’s response is being received loud and clear:
Tuesday November 18, 2014
If the Kentucky game last week was Mike Bobo’s magnum opus for this season, Auburn was Jeremy Pruitt’s. The Georgia defense has played statistically better games and shut out two other opponents, but they’ve never come up so big against an offense of the quality they faced on Saturday. With nearly everyone expecting a shootout, this was instead every bit the overwhelming Georgia win that we saw the last time an Auburn team running the Malzahn offense visited Athens in 2011.
At the risk of sounding nonchalant about another stellar rushing performance, Georgia’s offense lived up to their end of the shootout. It would have been news if Chubb and Gurley weren’t spectacular. They didn’t score quickly with explosive plays (not for lack of trying), but it was more of a steady, consistent buildup towards the final score. Once Georgia got the opening they needed thanks to a fumbled punt return, the Georgia running attack began its stranglehold on the game. Blocking on the edge was excellent from the tackles, fullbacks, tight ends, and receivers, and a national audience now knows who David Andrews and Greg Pyke are.
Georgia was able to take a more deliberate approach to its offense as the game wore on thanks to the defense. Everyone buckled up for the anticipated track meet following Auburn’s opening drive, but the Georgia defense started making stops. There were several big moments for the defense, but the most important might have been Auburn’s second possession. Auburn’s early success and the bad breaks and penalties that cost Georgia three scoring opportunities on their first possession had me a little concerned that we’d soon be looking at 14-0 and digging out of a hole for the rest of the game. After moving the chains, Auburn got seven yards on a first down carry to set up 2nd and 3 – a distance which is almost an automatic conversion for this offense. Instead, Georgia stuffed Cameron Artis-Payne on second down and stopped him just short of the marker on third down. Facing 4th and 1 from their own 37, I was honestly surprised when Malzahn sent the punter out. The Dawgs won a small victory against this offense, and Auburn didn’t cross midfield again in the first half.
It’s water under the bridge now, but things really did seem to hang in the balance midway through the first quarter. You can see Georgia’s slow start in the win probability, and no points from their first two possessions didn’t bode well when we all expected that Georgia would have to keep pace in a high-scoring game. That first defensive stop and then the fumble recovery gave the offense the cover and then the spark they needed to post three straight scoring drives to end the half and gain control of the game. Most of us expected Auburn to catch fire at any time and get back into the game, but the Georgia defense did an outstanding job of making sure that never happened.
One of my big concerns coming into the game was Georgia’s ability to stop the run with a smaller secondary. Georgia had both the plan and the execution to defend the run:
- The line had one of its best games occupying blockers so that the next level of defenders could, in the words of Mark Richt, “clean up.” The skill players often get the credit in an explosive offense, but we saw how important a dominant lineman like Greg Robinson was for Auburn. Florida’s offensive line was able to push the Georgia front around, and Auburn wasn’t. There’s more to the defense than that, but it’s an essential starting point.
- With the line doing its job, the linebackers had to actually make the stops. Last year Ramik Wilson had a remarkable 18 tackles at Auburn. He was a little less productive this year, but he and Herrera still combined for 20 tackles. Herrera, with 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, and an interception, was outstanding.
- Pruitt addressed three problems by using Leonard Floyd at times in the “star” role usually played by a defensive back. First, he found a way to get Jenkins, Carter, and Floyd on the field and use that abundance of talent and speed at outside linebacker to counter Auburn’s elite skill position talent. Second, the move changed the nature of Floyd’s assignment – he was less responsible for containment, something with which he struggled against Florida. Third, the move shored up Georgia’s lighter back five by putting a 6’4″ 230 lb. outside linebacker where we usually see a 6’0″ sub-200 lb defensive back.
You can see the results in the stats: last year, two of Georgia’s top four tacklers against Auburn were safeties. This year, only one of Georgia’s top five tacklers (Swann) was a defensive back. Jordan Jenkins from the outside and Toby Johnson from the inside each accounted for six tackles. With Herrera and Wilson cleaning up what got past the line, there was a lot less pressure on the secondary to provide run support.
Auburn really missed leading receiver Duke Williams. Not only did his injury limit what Auburn was able to do downfield – they didn’t complete a pass longer than 20 yards until garbage time – but the diminished passing threat let Georgia risk Floyd at star to bolster the run defense where he might’ve struggled in pass coverage. Auburn was able to hit a few passes in the middle of the field to move the chains, but the deep balls that had been so effective for them earlier in the season weren’t there.
Just a few more things…
- The staff let us know right away that we wouldn’t see a repeat of the timid approach to the Florida game. They surely anticipated a higher-scoring game as well and came out swinging. It wasn’t just the fake punt (really nice play, by the way). The deep pass to McKenzie on third down was a high risk/reward play. 15 of Georgia’s 19 pass attempts came in the first half, and several of them were shots into the endzone.
- Georgia’s two most exciting plays of the night were touchdowns that were called back. Gurley’s kickoff return put a cattle prod to a crowd that had been deflated by Auburn’s first score, and the crowd had no reason to pipe down for the rest of the game. Chubb’s touchdown-that-wasn’t was the kind of individual highlight that moves a guy from the Best Supporting Actor category to leading man status. Chubb paid homage to that effort with another tackle-shedding stroll on the final touchdown of the night.
- Going back to Chubb’s touchdown-that-wasn’t, the play featured Chubb and Gurley in the backfield. We had seen that earlier in the game with Chubb at the fullback spot in an I-formation, but on this play each flanked Mason in the shotgun. Gurley sprinting to the left drew a lot of attention, and Chubb was open on the middle screen with a path down the right sideline. It was a very nice play that took advantage of the attention that must be paid to Gurley while getting the ball to Georgia’s other backfield weapon.
- Malcolm Mitchell’s two catches for 13 yards might be the most unassuming significant contribution of the night. With other receivers struggling to hold onto the ball, Mitchell came up with two very difficult catches that led to 14 of Georgia’s 17 first half points. Mitchell’s touchdown reception came on a quick slant where the safety leaned inside just long enough for Mitchell to come open underneath the cornerback. Georgia needed a play to cash in on Auburn’s fumble and tie the game, and they turned to their best receiver. It took a perfectly-thrown pass, and Mitchell still took a good hit before falling into the endzone. Mitchell’s second catch didn’t score points or even move the chains. On 3rd and 7, Mason was flushed from the pocket and rolled right to avoid pressure. I thought he was trying to throw the ball away, but he found Mitchell low and along the sideline to pick up six yards. That tough completion turned a sure field goal attempt into a fourth down decision for Mark Richt, and Nick Chubb soon thundered into the endzone to give Georgia a 7-point lead.
- Malkom Parrish started the game with a big hit on the opening kickoff and all but finished the game with a forced fumble. It was more of him than we’ve seen in a while, and it’s always a good thing to have a guy in the secondary who likes to hit. And if we’re talking about hitting, it’s a joy watching Tim Kimbrough make tackles. Every time.