Thursday October 10, 2013
Georgia’s defensive woes have crystallized around third and fourth down. In the past two games, opponents are converting third and fourth down at a 55.5% (20-for-36) clip. That’s not good, and it’s been the subject of more than one article recently.
But getting less attention is the fact that Georgia’s high-powered, explosive, and talent-laden offense has its own third down issues. This offense producing so many points and yards is 12th in the SEC in third down conversion at 37.5%. Only Mississippi State and Kentucky have had less success moving the chains. (In fairness, the Dawgs are a successful 6-for-8 on the year on fourth down.)
The Tennessee game didn’t do much for Georgia’s conversion rate. The Dawgs were 4-for-13, but that doesn’t tell the story. Prior to the final drive, the Dawgs had converted a single third down: a 3rd-and-1 from the Tennessee 13 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive. Georgia was 1-for-10 on third downs for the first 58 minutes of the game.
Georgia’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation was remarkable for many reasons: Murray’s poise, the contribution of true freshmen in a pressure situation, and the ability to execute after so much had gone wrong. Most remarkable might have been how Georgia flipped its third down difficulties into drive-sustaining big plays. Georgia was a perfect 3-for-3 on third down on that drive, and all three plays did a lot more than just move the sticks. On the first, Green used good vision to find the initial hole and then showed a great cut back to the right to turn a small gain on 3rd-and-1 into a 17-yard run. On the second, Murray went to Douglas on a swing pass that turned into a 32-yard pickup down the left sideline. That’s a play we’ve seen before with Marshall, but this big play depended on a freshman tailback who had just dropped a hot pass across the middle. The third conversion was the payoff: Murray fit a pass into the smallest of windows, and Wooten, who was covered, did a great job to make himself available and secure the touchdown reception.
Is Georgia a bit of a feast-or-famine offense? When they’re clicking, which has been often, third downs are rare. On Georgia’s first four drives that led to points at Tennessee, they faced a grand total of two third downs – each of which were 3rd-and-1. We saw them fly down the field on the first and last drives against LSU without getting to third down once. When you have a fleet of receivers and backs capable of big plays, inefficiency on third down is an occasional nuisance. It’s not an exact science of course; we’ve seen Georgia grind out scoring drives too. The numbers suggest though that if you can get Georgia to third down, you stand a fair chance of slowing down this potent offense.
What does that mean going forward? With so many weapons out injured, it’s reasonable that Georgia might get fewer explosive plays. That would mean they’d have to drive in smaller chunks which would lead to a few more third downs. Doing a better job of converting those downs then will be what allows Georgia’s offense to maintain its scoring pace. You might expect more drives like the final one at Tennessee where 2, 3, or more third down conversions are required to get into the endzone. The focus changes from the big explosive plays to sustaining drives. If it comes to it, is that an adjustment the Georgia offense can make with its reserve skill players?
Monday October 7, 2013
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the Georgia charter flight didn’t crash on its way back to Athens Saturday night. There’s plenty to chew on in Georgia’s thrilling 34-31 comeback overtime win at Tennessee, but three injuries to key contributors cast a dark shadow on a hard-earned win that kept Georgia’s SEC and national hopes alive.
The Dawgs jumped out to a solid 17-3 halftime lead on the back of two Aaron Murray touchdown passes. The Vols managed a field goal on their only deep drive of the half, but the Georgia defense put together one of its best 30 minutes on the season. There was effective pressure against a very good offensive line, and Tennessee couldn’t manage enough big plays to sustain any other scoring chances.
Georgia missed a great opportunity to put the game away early in the third quarter. A long run by J.J. Green set the Dawgs up in the red zone, but two ineffective runs, an incomplete pass, and another delay of game penalty led to a missed field goal. Tennessee took the ball and drove for their first touchdown of the day to cut the Georgia advantage to seven points. The Vols blocked a punt a few series later to tie the game, and the stage was set for a finish that included another late Murray-led scoring drive, a fumble out of the end zone on Tennessee’s overtime possession, and a clutch field goal by Marshall Morgan to claim the win.
- If you had to point to one reason why Georgia couldn’t put the game away earlier, going 4-of-13 on third downs should be near the top of the list. As has often been the case, the Dawgs rarely needed third down on their scoring drives – they only faced two on their first half scoring possessions, and both of those were 3rd-and-1. If Tennessee could get Georgia to third down, they were able to get off the field and keep Georgia from running away with the game.
- What’s remarkable then about the drive that sent the game into overtime was that Georgia converted three third downs. 75% of Georgia’s third down conversions came on that one drive, including the Murray-to-Wooten touchdown pass in close quarters with just eight seconds left in regulation. That was a great time to start making plays to keep a drive alive.
- If there’s a key play from the first half, it might be the fourth down conversion on Georgia’s second quarter scoring drive. Tennessee had just kicked a field goal to trim Georgia’s lead to seven, and they had stoned Georgia on a telegraphed run up the middle on 3rd-and-1. Instead of another long field goal attempt, Georgia went for it. Murray’s pass was tipped ever-so-slightly at the line, but it remained on target to Chris Conley slanting in from the outside. The conversion led to a touchdown, and that completion made Murray the SEC’s career leader in passing yardage.
- On the flip side, Tennessee converted 10-of-20 third and fourth attempts. Their three fourth down conversions were all very short yardage, and it might even be fair to point to what happened on third down to set up those conversions. Regardless, the ability of Tennessee to move the chains kept them in the game, and it leaves Georgia dead last in the SEC in opponent third down conversions.
- Allowing 10 points through three quarters is a pretty good job by the defense, but that fourth quarter was terrible. Georgia should feel fortunate that Tennessee scored early enough to leave plenty of time to drive for the tie. Tennessee’s last drive of regulation felt like the Georgia drive that ended the South Carolina game – the defense looked powerless.
- If there was a bright spot on defense, it was the defensive line. Garrison Smith played well, but Ray Drew continued to stand out. He’s drawing double-teams and is still getting into the backfield. That pressure became less effective as the game went on, though, and Tennessee’s stout offensive line took over.
- Special teams was its usual good and bad. What’s another blocked punt? The missed block by Hicks was clear enough. The real mystery on special teams was the punt returns. I’m hoping the Tennessee punter just had the game of his life, because there’s no other decent explanation for having to go backwards to field a punt more than once.
- Newcomers continue to learn lessons under fire. Hicks has to follow through with every block, and he can’t coast on what he did in the first two games. Leonard Floyd is a beast rushing the passer, but his discipline setting the edge needs a lot of work. We saw it on goalline plays against LSU, and it came up again on the long run to the outside on a 4th-and-1. Quincy Mauger looked promising in his first start, but he too got caught looking in on another fourth down conversion.
- Aaron Murray now has fourth quarter touchdown passes in three of Georgia’s four wins that could individually define a season and a career. He’s always had the numbers, but now those numbers are tied to some huge moments. It’s asking a lot to go back to this well nearly every week, but it’s clear now that even more will be asked of Murray and the players left standing.
- That QB run is something Murray has shown a time or two, and it was great to see him reach the point where he’d usually slide and instead decide to say “screw it” and power on. It was, considering the context and the way momentum had swung, every bit as meaningful and spectacular of a play as Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010.
- Murray’s run also makes you wonder if some zone read might be a way to get some more mileage out of Georgia’s running game with its top two options sidelined. You wouldn’t want to run Murray more than a couple of times, but that’s all it would take to get defenses thinking.
- We also have to tip the cap to Green and Douglas. Green put up over 100 yards in a little more than three quarters. Douglas shook off a drop on the final drive to reel off that important third down swing pass that set up the tying score. 62 of the 75 yards on that final drive came from these two true freshmen.
We’ll end by sending our best thoughts and prayers to Marshall, Bennett, and Scott-Wesley. The CBS shots of both the injuries and their reactions were heartbreaking. It had to be ten times as rattling to their teammates. Kudos to them for salvaging the game and to those who stepped up when their number was called. The coming weeks will tax the creativity of the staff and the readiness of some inexperienced players. Georgia’s goals are still intact and reachable, but the climb just got a lot tougher.
Wednesday October 2, 2013
Anyone who’s watched Georgia’s defense this year has noticed broken coverages and pre-snap confusion. It’s no surprise then that on the subject of communication, the Georgia players and coaches don’t seem to be on the same page.
As it turns out, it gets loud at big college football games. The players are pointing to a need for improved pre-snap communication, claiming that hand and verbal signals don’t always make it through the entire unit.
“Our coaches always get on us about communicating in practice,” freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins. “It’s different in a game than practice, a game is louder, so we hear most of the calls, and we learn the signals every day. But we just have to do a better job of communicating in the secondary.”
Todd Grantham isn’t buying the excuse. “That’s bull. Everybody knows the signals, they need to get ‘em,” he insists. “I don’t know who was saying that but that’s part of your youth too, so they need to take it on themselves to get the call.”
It’s true that Georgia is young and inexperienced on defense, especially in the secondary. The pace and complexity of a major college defense has to have the heads of some of these newcomers spinning at times.
The thing is, communication was also identified as an issue by last season’s veteran and talent-laden defense.
Linebacker Christian Robinson also said poor communication is a problem….
…Jordan Jenkins said the communication problems are “one of the main things we’re trying to fix this week.”
“Everybody is guessing, well not guessing, but just some people don’t prepare well enough like some others do,” (Bacarri) Rambo said. “It’s just like they thought we were going to be in this call and one person said we’re going to be in this call, so everybody is on different pages.”
I expect that the defense will improve as the instincts of the newcomers improve and the game begins to slow down. Still, it’s going to take a bit more convincing to make me accept that the issues on defense are largely a factor of experience. This is just too much of the same stuff we heard last season. For one reason or another, both 2012 veterans and 2013 rookies are running into similar difficulties with the defensive calls.
I’m probably making this sound more dire than it is. LSU folks are talking about the same exact issues this week, and facing a good offense (or several of them as Georgia has) will make you question the very nature of your defense. If there’s one bright spot, it’s the universal agreement that Herrera is doing just fine getting the calls in and “is doing his part.” If you recall, this responsibility was one of the things that kept him from seeing more playing time last season.
Tuesday October 1, 2013
Georgia’s Homecoming game against Appalachian State on November 9th has been announced as a 12:30 kickoff. The game will be broadcast by Atlanta’s WSB-TV.
If you’re outside of Atlanta, I imagine it will be like last season’s Georgia Southern game. WSB-TV will be the only standard television option, but the game should be available as part of ESPN’s Gameplan package and also available only at ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app.
Tuesday October 1, 2013
Junior receiver Chris Conley has been a favorite since making some big catches against Florida as a freshman. He’s since become a student leader and represents the SEC on the NCAA Division Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Conley is now an experienced upperclassman and a starting receiver for the Georgia offense.
Follow this link to see a segment with Conley mic’d up on the practice field. You’ll get an idea of some of the receiver drills, see Coach Ball in action, and even see Conley mentoring younger receivers.
Monday September 30, 2013
Georgia next home game (October 12 vs. Missouri) will kick off at noon and will be televised by ESPN. (Note that this is high noon and not the 12:21 SEC Network game.)
The complete October 12 TV schedule is here.
We’ve seen how fans and students can turn out for a big national late-afternoon game. We’ll need a great crowd again for this important SEC game even with the earliest possible start time.
Monday September 23, 2013
Georgia football: the team with a long-snapper controversy.
Credit a letdown, looking ahead, the weather, or whatever works for you – not many of us expected North Texas to take possession of the ball in the third quarter with a chance to take the lead. It wasn’t a disaster and really wasn’t ever in danger of becoming another UAB game. The offense was moving the ball well enough and the defense was stingy enough that things came fairly easily, even as the rain grew steadier, once Georgia stopped shooting themselves in the foot.
But there’s the rub. Georgia’s mistakes could be explained away as typical for the opponent and conditions if they were isolated to this game. Some were, others weren’t. The offensive line looked more like what we saw at Clemson than against South Carolina. Linebackers in pass coverage still scare you a little. Then there are some others:
- In all three games, Georgia has had a special teams mistake cost points. I don’t think we need to say much more.
- The Dawgs have had the first possession of the second half in all three games. They’ve had a net loss of nine yards on those three possessions, all of which ended with a three-and-out. The high point was a six-yard gain against South Carolina. The blocked punt by UNT was the cherry on top of a series that saw Murray bounce two passes to open receivers.
- We’ve also seen the second quarter become a bit of an adventure in all three games. The Dawgs have given up less than 20 total points in each of the first (17), third (17), and fourth (13) quarters, but they’ve given up a total of 42 second quarter points. Even in the Clemson game where Georgia only gave up 7 points, that was a stretch when the Dawgs missed a chance to build a lead and instead saw Clemson pull even.
I’ll stop dwelling on the negative because it shouldn’t overshadow some positive developments. It was just another day at the office for Aaron Murray. 400+ yards, over 70%, a slew of touchdown passes, and grumbling fans. Now Murray wasn’t as sharp as he was two weeks ago. The intercepted pass was forced, and he had another shaky pass into coverage intended for Lynch. There were some unforced errors like the short-hopped passes to start the second half. Still, with North Texas using their safeties in run support, Georgia’s senior quarterback had few problems carrying the offense to an extremely productive day.
Georgia’s offense handling a mid-major opponent didn’t surprise anyone. Could the defense? The Georgia defense put an emphatic stop to a streak of poor performances against the run and held the visitors to negative rushing yardage until garbage time. Chris Mayes did well on the inside in his first opportunity, but it was truly a team effort to stuff the run and create pressure. We saw our first interception and the first sack by an outside linebacker.
The defense had two important moments in the second half. Georgia had scored to re-take the lead at 28-21, but UNT responded with a 30-yard pass to the tailback and were in position to get some points back. There was fortunately some miscommunication on a pass play, but Tray Matthews had to make a really nice play on the errant pass in order to claim his first interception. The Dawgs preserved their lead, and the offense took over for another scoring drive that gave them some much-needed breathing room.
The second moment came a little later – early in the fourth quarter. Gurley fumbled, and UNT took over on Georgia’s 34 trailing by two scores with plenty of time left. Georgia’s defense stood firm, forced two incompletions, and actually drove UNT back a yard in three plays. The visitors lined up for a long field goal but ended up with an awful 12-yard pooch punt. That was the last serious challenge by the North Texas offense, and the Dawgs used the rest of the fourth quarter to put the game away.
There’s still a lot to work on before Georgia faces another SEC opponent. Third down defense was better (UNT was 4-of-16), but several of those conversions came on their lone scoring drive. Georgia was also fortunate that a couple of open seam passes and one wheel route in particular fell incomplete. But on the whole it was encouraging to see the defense gain confidence and make plays against an opponent with an experienced quarterback and an offense with couple of weapons. Floyd continues to get comfortable, and you could start to see things clicking for Harvey-Clemons and Matthews.
A few short points before we move on to bigger things this weekend…
- If there’s one thing to be disappointed in from Saturday, it’s that the way the game unfolded didn’t allow Georgia to pull the starters until very late. We saw a pretty good rotation along the defensive line, and Quincy Mauger saw time at safety early in the game. There was less of a rotation at linebacker. Wilson and Herrera played quite a bit at inside linebacker again, and we didn’t see much of Carter or Kimbrough. Carter’s most significant moment was an unfortunate one as he got out of his lane on UNT’s kickoff return touchdown.
- Special teams were generally poor, but I was encouraged to see Swann take a few more risks on his punt returns. The fair catch signal on his first and best return of the day was a mistake, but he did make some things happen on other returns.
- It was one of those days for the stadium operations crew too. Stats on the scoreboard were useless for much of the game, sound was in and out and sometimes WAY TOO LOUD, and of course the malfunctioning clock meant that we spent the last few minutes in heavy rain with narration by Penn Wagers.
- Wooten the ballthrowa! Wooten did several things well to make that trick play come off. He had to scoop up an underthrown pass that messed up the play’s timing, he had to avoid a UNT defender leaping at him, and he threw a nice-looking pass deep enough that Lynch could go up for it. There was interference on the play, but credit Lynch with a nice catch too.
- I’d like to see Reggie Davis, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley, and the receiver of your choice on a four verts route. (Also…it was only used as a decoy on a run play, but the sight of Davis coming on an end around got my attention.)
- Jenkins was active behind the line and was a big factor in Georgia’s pressure, but the lack of a sack has to be eating at him. I look for him to be very aggressive against LSU – and hopefully under control.
Saturday September 21, 2013
It’s official – for the second time in four games, ESPN Gameday will broadcast from the site of a Georgia game. It’s Gameday’s first visit to Athens since 2008 and the third in the history of the program.
Dawg fans tend to be a little(?!) angst-y when it comes to Gameday, but that might be with good reason. The Dawgs are 0-2 when Gameday visits Athens and 3-12 overall when its game is featured. But after navigating the first two weeks of the season, another big game and the national spotlight should be nothing new for this team. Let’s put on a great show and play ball.
Wednesday September 18, 2013
The NFL is increasing the price of its most expensive Super Bowl tickets in order to “close the gap between the face value of the ticket and its true value as reflected on the secondary market.” You can see why they’d want to do this: if a $1,250 ticket is going to end up fetching aver $2,500 on the secondary market, why not try to capture some of that difference in the primary market?
Thanks to the online secondary marketplace, we’re getting a much better and transparent sense of the true value of a ticket. Some are worth almost half of face value (if that). Others sell for many times the original asking price. As schools continue to partner with these secondary brokers, they should be gathering quite a bit of data about the demand for their tickets.
In a day when schools are squeezing all of the money they can out of their football programs, will they use this data to adjust future prices? Differential ticket pricing is already done at this level, but it’s still somewhat crude. Several of our opponents already place Georgia in a premium tier. More attractive opponents create higher demand, and prices are set higher. But how much higher? If we know that a visit from Alabama brings resale prices to over $200, why stop at a premium price of $90? Of course you have to balance maximizing revenue with selling out the stadium (not necessarily the same thing), but you’ll at least start with a more precise idea of what the price should be.
Any tinkering with ticket prices will be a slow process. You have an entrenched fan base used to a certain system, and there will be a negative reaction if too much is done too soon – especially if similar adjustments aren’t made at the bottom end of the scale for less-attractive games. But as the data builds and schools get an exact picture of the demand for their tickets, it will be very tempting to transfer those premiums from the secondary markets into the coffers of the teams. As with the NFL and the Super Bowl, I’d expect this to start with the CFB playoff where the potential gap between primary and secondary markets is the highest. Just don’t be surprised to see it from individual conferences and schools down the road.
Monday September 9, 2013
Georgia fans probably felt a little helpless watching Spurrier target a few inexperienced or weak spots in the Georgia defense on Saturday. Fortunately, Spurrier wasn’t the only coach who had done his homework. As Gamecock (and former Bulldog) beat writer Josh Kendall reports, “Mike Bobo told (Blackledge) last week that Georgia had an advantage due to the new linebackers’ relative lack of experience and size.”
What lack of size? While the South Carolina defensive line is stout, the Gamecock linebackers are, on average, over 25 pounds lighter than the unit that shut down Georgia’s running game a year ago in Columbia.
In 2012, when South Carolina’s starting linebackers weighed an average of 239.7 pounds, Georgia rushed for 115 yards.
On Saturday, when the Gamecocks’ starting linebackers weighed an average of 213.7 pounds, the Bulldogs rushed for 227 yards and whipped South Carolina 41-30.
Follow the link for some more good observations from Josh.
Monday September 9, 2013
Georgia’s September 21 game against North Texas will start at 12:21 p.m. Your local SEC Network affiliate will have the broadcast. Fans in the Atlanta market will find the game on Peachtree TV as usual. SEC Network affiliates in other markets can be found here.
For the complete slate of September 21 SEC start times, use this link. Florida/Tennessee is the 3:30 CBS game of the week.
Monday September 9, 2013
Sometimes after a loss we’ll get a comment from a coach claiming that the plan was sound but that the execution was lacking. Go back to the 2007 loss to South Carolina, and Mark Richt deflected criticism of Mike Bobo by saying, "I think we had plenty of opportunities to score touchdowns. We’ve got to execute." Other times it’s the plan that’s lacking. A timid attack in Columbia last year didn’t do much to stem the Gamecocks’ explosive start.
On Saturday we saw what happens when a good plan is executed well. Georgia’s plan certainly tipped its cap to the abilities of Jadeveon Clowney* – the passes were usually quick and short, and runs often went away from him. But any plan would have failed without good blocking, tough running, accurate throws, and big catches. The execution we saw from the Georgia offense was what we had hoped for and expected from such a loaded and experience unit. It was a high level of performance from everyone from the backs to the line to the quarterback to the receivers. And it’s a good thing – this was a battle between two very good teams that came down to inches in the fourth quarter. Georgia had very little room for error when it had the ball, and fortunately the errors were few.
* – The Clowney backlash has been something to behold. I get why fans relish getting the best of someone like Clowney – sticking it to Tebow was one of the joys of the 2007 Florida win, after all. But Georgia’s success had a lot more to do with the rest of the defense than it had to do with a sub-par performance from a great player. Georgia was magnificent at frustrating him, and other teams will try to do the same until the rest of the defense can respond. That doesn’t diminish Clowney as a player or pro prospect, but it does show why the Heisman was never going to happen.
Any talk about Georgia’s execution starts with Murray. He set the tone on the opening series. With Clowney hanging on to him, Murray was somehow able to launch a pass in the general direction of Michael Bennett. It wasn’t, and it couldn’t have been, right on the money, but it was a strong response by a quarterback who was supposed to be in fear of the guy hanging off of him. Murray’s stats – even with the drops – were as good as it gets, and his numbers through two games are even ahead of last season’s pace. As important, he avoided any kind of mistake that could have turned such a close game.
When I heard that Murray had watched the Clemson film six or seven times, I was a little worried about the psychology major. Was he overthinking things? When you’re so analytical and obsessed with perfection, it can be easy to press, and that can lead to some of the mistakes and early jitters we’ve seen. South Carolina’s pass rush might’ve been a blessing for Murray in that he didn’t have much time to think. The plan called for a large helping of slants, passes to the backs, and other plays that showed that Georgia’s offense was very aware of timing. Some of Murray’s most successful passes – the first lob to Bennett, the touchdown to Gurley, and the last toss to Justin Scott-Wesley – were improvised or rushed. Murray’s talent and instincts are just fine, and he turned them loose in one of the best performances of the year.
More from a bright and sunny home opener:
- Was anyone else surprised that Spurrier ended the game eating two timeouts?
- The trend of booing injured players is on the rise, and I’m disappointed that it showed up at Sanford Stadium yesterday. It wasn’t to the degree that we saw at Clemson last week, but it was there. It’s ridiculous that we had to spend time last Sunday producing video evidence of a legitimate injury. Whether or not these stoppages are meant to slow momentum, the benefit of the doubt used to be with the injured player. It needs to be that way again.
- The wonderful closing drive meant that the defense never had to take the field after its crucial goal-line stop, so we won’t know for a while whether it’s going to mark a turning point for the defense. South Carolina found success with that speed option from their opening drive, and they kept going back to it. It’s the play that they scored on early in the fourth quarter. In fact, Herrera had a chance to stop the pitch on that scoring play and couldn’t complete the tackle. After Ray Drew’s stop on third down just inches short of the goal line, the Dawgs were ready, and South Carolina went to the well one too many times. Shaw was met immediately by Jenkins and forced the quick pitch. Herrera was up to the job this time and slowed Mike Davis long enough for Wilson and several other defenders to finish the job.
- Speaking of Herrera and Wilson, what a test for them. You had a tough runner in Davis, an elusive quarterback to contain, and Wilson in particular was picked on almost as much in the passing game as Langley was. But they had enough left in the tank to suck it up for the big stop. The next few weeks will be about developing depth across the board, but few positions could use depth as much as inside linebacker. It’s a big three weeks for Kimbrough and Carter.
- And on Langley, be patient with him. He’s out there for a reason, and he’ll continue to learn and improve. It’s said that offensive line and cornerback are two of the toughest positions for freshmen, and we saw a master probing the weak spots of Georgia’s defense yesterday.
- Jordan Jenkins through two games has six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and zero sacks. Is that representative of Georgia’s pass rush so far?
- I could go overboard gushing about Gurley, Hicks, and the rest of the backs. It’s enough to say that, with Murray and the backs, Georgia is deploying an NFL backfield in the college game.
- I wasn’t down on Marshall after the Clemson game, but his impact was limited. You can’t say that about this game. Keith reminded us of what he can do running the ball, but his speed on those swing passes was magical. What a weapon.
- All hail Sol. The third-quarter sun saved Georgia at least once.
- The Dawgs were a little better at third downs in this game (6-14 vs. 4-14 a week ago). Georgia’s success at sustaining drives was helped by two fourth down conversions. That early 4th-and-13 pass to Scott-Wesley was both important and outstanding.
- With Morgan available going forward, you wonder if we make the same call on 4th-and-13 from the opponent’s 31. I hope so.
- South Carolina got zero points directly from its defense or special teams (excepting placekicks of course). They had the short field thanks to the botched punt, but that’s as much help as Georgia gave them. It’s been a few years since that’s happened. Georgia forced the game’s only turnover, but it came at an important time in the third quarter. It stopped a promising Gamecock drive and led to a field goal that put Georgia out in front for good.
- The game day experience was generally pretty good. The ticket scanning made for a logjam at entry, and I hope people keep that in mind for the LSU game. The only big disappointment was that the score came down off the scoreboard immediately after the game. If ever you wanted a few shots at a scoreboard picture, this was the game.
- And the crowd. Wow. Even with the problems at the gates, the fans showed up. The second quarter rally by the visitors put a damper on things, but the fans had an impact through the end of the game. It helped that the Dawgs, as they did at Clemson, were outstanding at answering scores.
What a difference a week makes. That’s not just a comment on the progress made since the Clemson loss. It’s also a reminder that with 10 games still left, each win has to be earned all over again.
Friday September 6, 2013
Snap out of it, Dawg fans. There’s still this funk hanging over a lot of us, and that’s not what we need on Saturday. If you saw the game last year in Columbia you know how a home crowd can contribute to steamrolling an opponent. I can’t remember the coaches and players ever being this persistent about asking for a good crowd on Saturday. You can tell what this game means to them, and I hope it means enough to us to put aside the post-Clemson blues and do what we can from the Dawg Walk through pregame through all four quarters.
A great player like Clowney is disruptive by nature, so it’s foolish just to go about things as if he’s just another defensive end. At the same time, focusing too much on an individual can keep you on the defensive and take you out of plays that might find success against parts of the defense that are less strong. You can’t play scared. There was that whole subplot a few weeks ago about which quarterbacks played scared against Clowney. “Scared” is a loaded term. What happens is that a quarterback – an entire offense, even – becomes so aware of a player that you rush things or throw out entire elements of your playbook. Short, quick passes are fine, but do you entirely give up on the vertical game? (See “asinine sideline swing screen.”) The diversity of what Georgia can do on offense is one of its strengths; becoming a predictable draw or screen offense makes the field more compact and can even make things easier for the player you’re so worried about.
Last week, Georgia was a disappointing 4-of-14 on third down. It didn’t help that nine of those 14 third down attempts came with at least five yards to go. If you want to lessen the impact of a dominant defensive end, limiting obvious passing situations is a good place to start. Georgia has to be more effective on first and second down and either avoid third downs or make the distance as manageable as possible. The barrage of ineffective counter draws last week set up some nice play-action possibilities (especially the long reception by Hicks), but is it worth the numerous long-yardage situations if you’re only going to set up one or two plays out of it?
In the end, there is no play that doesn’t depend on blocking and execution. Georgia can call up the most brilliant scheme to counter the South Carolina defensive line, but it won’t matter without a better effort from the line.
Georgia threw the ball to its running backs a few times last week. There was the brilliant play-action catch and rumble by Hicks. Murray checked down to Gurley on the very first play. Marshall made a nice catch on a swing pass. But Georgia, for whatever reason, still struggles to execute the screen pass. It might just be my own confirmation bias, but I just don’t think of the screen as a play Georgia runs well. The Dawgs had a couple of well-timed screens go awry at Clemson. Gurley was set up with blockers and a lot of open field ahead, but Murray’s pass was tipped and nearly intercepted. Georgia later ran the mirror image of the famous Nebraska inside screen to Conley, but Murray had to sidestep and ended up making an inaccurate throw for an incompletion.
Murray’s height is always going to come up. I’m sure that can be a factor, but even Joe Flacco at 6’6″ is going to have a tough time seeing over a leaping 6’4″ defensive end only a few feet away. A well-executed screen is a balance between holding the defensive pressure long enough for the play to develop and then releasing in time to trap the pressure behind the play. If you wait too long to release, there are no blockers for the receiver, and the receiver is likely to be caught in a traffic jam near the line of scrimmage. If you release too soon, you give a quick defender like Clowney a clear path to the quarterback before the quarterback can even drop back. That leads to unpleasant outcomes like this:
Yes, the coup de grace of the 2011 loss to South Carolina came when Clowney blew up an attempted screen. We know that screens can be great ways to counter aggressive defenses. I’m just hesitant to go all-in with screens in this game because 1) Georgia has problems executing them, 2) you’re playing with fire when you invite a speedy rusher into the backfield, and 3) is South Carolina’s defense all that aggressive? By that, I mean their defensive line is good enough that they can get the pressure they need with just the front four. Watch these last two videos from their UNC game. Sacks from simple straight-ahead four-man rushes. Not even a stunt to be found.
That strength along the line creates a big luxury for the defense. You can drop everyone else into coverage and be fairly certain that you’ll get enough pressure if you can cover just competently for a few seconds. So even if you’re able to get off a screen behind that line, know that you’ll still have seven defenders behind the line to deal with. This goes back to what I was saying about how playing scared can make you do things contrary to what you might do best. A screen is a logical counter to a good pass rush, but does it attack the weaknesses of the South Carolina defense? Or does the very presence of Clowney bait Georgia into doing something they don’t do all that well? Is a win against Clowney necessarily a win for the offense?
Forget the debate over Murray for a second. Going back to 2005, South Carolina’s defense and special teams has put points on the board against Georgia seven times. We remember the crushing fumble and fake punt in the 2011 game, but there was also an interception return in there too. It goes without saying that Georgia has to avoid not only crippling turnovers but also the special teams miscues that helped to sink them last week (and last year in Columbia). We also know that it’s not just the direct scores that hurt you. Ealey’s fumble from the SC 3 in 2010 ended Georgia’s best chance to get back in that game. An early Murray INT last season ended Georgia’s only trip into South Carolina territory until late in the second quarter.
There’s the flip side – what can Georgia do to create turnovers and points? South Carolina is fairly stingy with the ball. Shaw only threw seven interceptions in 2012, two of which came playing from behind in the 4th quarter at LSU. In their three-game losing streak to South Carolina, the Dawgs have forced three turnovers – 1 in 2010 and 2 in 2011 – but they’ve done little with those opportunities. A Garcia fumble in 2010 led to a long Georgia drive, but the drive ended on Georgia’s own fumble. Garcia was intercepted twice in 2011 and had a rough first half, but Georgia failed to take control of the game when they had momentum. The kind of opportunity that we saw in the muffed fumble recovery at Clemson have to be cashed in on in games like this.
But before Georgia worries about converting opportunities, they have to create them. Georgia’s lone takeaway last week came on a muffed punt. The defense didn’t have many chances to create turnovers and didn’t come away with any. Grantham’s “biggest complaint to the players was a lack of turnovers.” You wonder if Georgia is going to go with a higher risk/reward approach on Saturday.
- With Mitchell out for Georgia, I expect South Carolina to focus on Gurley. That means some dense coverage in the short and intermediate passes until Georgia can establish some kind of deep threat. I’d be happy to see an early shot or two, even if unsuccessful, to show some attempt at a vertical passing game. If the SC linebackers are going to help against the run, this is an opportunity for Lynch to have a bigger impact than he had a week ago.
- While Murray can be “wild in the strike zone” even as he’s completing passes, that’s fine with me. He just could really use a good, confidence-building start. The early pick in Columbia last year deflated the offense, and it took a while to recover.
- I like Georgia’s matchups against South Carolina’s receivers – as long as they keep those receivers from getting behind them. South Carolina tested Georgia deep just a couple of times last year. The Bulldog defensive backs had good chances to break up those passes (or even intercept them), but they lost the one-on-one battle each time. Hopefully Georgia’s safeties do better this time around.
Monday September 2, 2013
It’s a good thing that receiver is probably Georgia’s deepest position. Junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL on an awkward landing while celebrating Todd Gurley’s early touchdown run at Clemson. Mitchell will need surgery and will miss the rest of the 2013 season. He’ll almost surely qualify for a medical redshirt and still have two years’ of eligibility remaining. Mitchell will also be qualified to enter the NFL draft following this season, so it’s also a (small) possibility that we’ve seen the last of this talented athlete at Georgia.
The Dawgs had to adjust to the loss of two receivers to knee injuries in 2012, and they’re right back in a similar situation. Mitchell brought both the deep threat and the explosiveness to turn nearly any catch into a score. Georgia must piece together those attributes from the depth of the position. The emergence of Justin Scott-Wesley on Saturday is much more important now – his speed can be useful to stretch the field. True freshman Reggie Davis was a borderline redshirt candidate, but he’s also likely to get a chance to use his speed on deep routes.
Mitchell was also a dependable target that Murray looked to when trying to sustain drives. Michael Bennett displayed sure hands on some errant passes at Clemson, and he’ll likely be a favored target now. Georgia will also add JUCO receiver Jonathan Rumph to the mix, and Rumph’s size will make him a tough matchup for most secondaries.
Mitchell started Saturday’s game as the kick returner, and Scott-Wesley stepped into that role once Mitchell left the game. He didn’t get a chance to return any kicks, and we appreciated his restraint to stay in the end zone and take the field position rather than risk a short return. We’ll have to see if Richt will stick with Scott-Wesley back there or if Gurley or another player will be the permanent replacement for Mitchell.
We wish Malcolm Mitchell the best in his recovery, and we hope to see him back on the field for the 2014 opener.
Wednesday August 28, 2013
I really enjoyed this conversation with Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell about the upcoming season over at Grantland. If only most of our fans had this kind of informed and level-headed approach to the team, program, and season.