Monday November 23, 2015
By now you’ve probably seen teams use a punt return tactic that uses a decoy to draw the coverage to the wrong side of the field. When executed correctly, it leaves the actual returner with a clear field ahead of him. If you haven’t seen it in action, this NFL highlight shows the Rams pulling off this decoy for a touchdown.
Seth Emerson reports that Georgia Southern attempted this play on Saturday. Mark Richt admits that “it would’ve been a touchdown.” But this would-be back-breaking return became a forgettable downed punt because snapper Nathan Theus recalled a coaching point from earlier in the season and broke off to cover the play. GSU’s returner decided to let the ball bounce instead, and we yawned and went to commercial break.
At the time Georgia trailed 14-7. I can’t imagine how devastating a special teams score on the heels of their defensive touchdown would have been.
You can see the return being set up here. Most of the blockers and a return man are drifting towards the GSU sideline. A lone GSU player is positioning himself towards the lower left of the screen where the punt is actually headed.
Even the camera is fooled. The shot focuses on the decoy return, but you can just see Theus’s helmet at the bottom where he’s recognized what was happening and had broken off to cover the real return.
On Georgia’s next punt, Theus was once again involved in recovering the fumbled punt. Only two weeks ago he made a fantastic individual play to push aside a Kentucky return man and recover another botched return. Those were both significant plays in those wins, but this disastrous play that wasn’t could wind up being the senior’s biggest play.
Tuesday November 17, 2015
By now we should understand that, for better or worse, this is Georgia’s team. The formula hasn’t changed much since the Missouri game. I expect that this was how the coaches hoped the Florida game would go. Georgia quickly ditched the Bauta experiment for a wildcat package, but the plan is the same: run, manage, defend, win. It’s worked in three out of four games.
Greyson Lambert’s final pass attempt was a failed screen to Michel right after that weak pass interference call on Malcolm Mitchell. These were the second and third plays of the fourth quarter. I saw some fans complaining about the conservative playcalling after Jenkins forced the fumble, but it was evident that there was no way the coaches were going to risk a pass, especially with a lead and a reasonable chance to extend that lead to ten points. For the second straight week we heard talk of two quarterbacks seeing action, but again when faced with a close game and a defense performing well, the coaches stayed the course and trusted Lambert just enough to see things through.
Auburn lacked that patience, and it cost them. Though the Tigers struggled to pass the ball in the first half, they were at least competent moving the ball on the ground. Only one of their first half drives failed to reach midfield. Their quarterback shuffle in the third quarter was intended to spark the passing game, but it took away the one thing they were doing well. By the time Jeremy Johnson returned, Auburn was playing from behind without any momentum.
That second half quarterback experiment was red meat held in front of Georgia’s defensive front. It’s been an up-and-down season for the heralded outside linebackers – some injuries, some position uncertainty, and some things we’ll probably never hear about. But as a unit, this was possibly their best game of the season. There have been better individual moments – Jenkins at Vandy, Floyd against Missouri. Floyd, Jenkins, and Carter all performed well at Auburn. Carter’s forced fumble was nearly a carbon copy of Jarvis Jones’ game-saving play against Florida in 2012.
That same defense had a rough start but found a way to keep Georgia in the game. Georgia couldn’t possibly survive a high-scoring game, but it looked as if things were headed that way after Auburn scored with relative ease on their opening drive. It was the first touchdown the defense has allowed in the first quarter all season. The defense, aided by a fantastic acrobatic interception by Parrish, kept Auburn from tacking on more points while the offense sputtered along. Holding the Tigers to three just before halftime proved to be significant. Climbing back from 14-3 would have changed Georgia’s approach to offense in the second half (and might have even resulted in the quarterback shuffle we saw from Auburn.)
It was that ability to plug away that stood out. The team remained tough and determined. There weren’t the second quarter implosions that changed the Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida games. The defense did enough, the offense and special teams avoided mistakes, and finally Georgia was able to flip the game in the third quarter.
I’m still impressed by the number of things that went Georgia’s way in this game.
- Auburn had only lost two fumbles entering the game. They doubled that on Saturday.
- Auburn also enjoyed a much better turnover margin on the season than Georgia, and they had widened that margin recently after a poor start. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense has now scored six takeaways in two seasons against Auburn. This year’s three weren’t flukey bobbled snaps – Parrish’s INT, Jenkins’ sack, and Carter’s strip were all turnovers created by outstanding individual plays.
- According to Mark Richt in his Tuesday press conference, “only four punts (had) been returned on (Auburn) all year. They’re doing a super job on placing the ball in the right spot as far as their punter and their kicker and also doing a great job of covering those kicks.” McKenzie had just enough of an opening to set up a return, and he made the most of it.
- Lambert, not known for his running, converted a 3rd-and-3 with a 13-yard scramble that kept alive Georgia’s only offensive touchdown drive. Lambert earlier took a sack on a 3rd-and-1 play-action pass, but this bit of improvisation prevented another third down disaster right after Georgia was forced to use a timeout.
- Georgia had the better game on special teams. Davis’s fumble on the first kickoff had things off to a rocky start, but that was the end of the special teams drama. Morgan’s kicks were true. Kickoffs didn’t reach the endzone, but they were covered well with only one returned beyond the 25. Punting was consistent and pinned Auburn deep a few times.
Mark Richt has now won 10 out of his 15 games against Auburn and 8 out of the last 10. For a contested rivalry that’s been as even as this one for over a century, that kind of advantage for Richt over Auburn is one of his top accomplishments.
- The most puzzling coaching decision of the game was Auburn bringing zero pressure against Ramsey’s punt from the endzone. This was Ramsey’s first punt in these circumstances since he took over, and Auburn chose to not put any heat on him. Perhaps they were hoping for their own big return, and they did end up with decent field position, but there wasn’t much of a downside to going all-out for a block there. The payoff would have been points or at least a much shorter field and valuable time saved.
- Georgia’s decision to stick with Ramsey in that situation was itself an interesting call. Barber of course has much more experience with punting from any spot on the field, but Barber also has some bad experiences with punts from the endzone (Bama this year, Tennessee 2013). Ramsey did well, pressure or not.
- The LSU-style quick toss in close quarters (like the one Michel fumbled on second down at the goal line) isn’t a bad call per se, but I do question it when the recipient of the toss has one good hand and a cast on the other. Do you really gain that much over a straight handoff?
- Is the shotgun with one yard to go just an admission of defeat?
- The offense actually moved the ball at the beginning of the game. They left points on the board at the goal line and missed another opportunity that Morgan salvaged with a field goal, but Georgia controlled possession after Auburn’s initial score. The plays that stalled those drives though were dreadful.
- I’m glad to see it get mention on other sites – Douglas’ run on 3rd-and-forever seemed futile, but how important did that field position end up being?
Tuesday November 17, 2015
It’s no surprise to Georgia fans, but Tennessee has had to answer for the condition of its field after recent home games against South Carolina and North Texas. Maybe they’ll have it figured out before Georgia’s next visit in 2017.
Saturday November 14, 2015
I see two teams trying to do the same thing – establish early leads with the run and force the other team to play from behind with the weaker part of their offense – the passing game. Each team will try to get there with different tactics: Auburn will push tempo and use plenty of option. Georgia will be more deliberate and pro-style but will still show some of its own option look with the newly-installed wildcat package. Both teams would prefer to use the passing game as a counter-punch whether through play-action or as an option on a packaged play.
Most of us wrote off last week’s win because of Kentucky’s swan dive, but it really was the best blueprint for a win going forward. Get out on top, turn things over to the defense, let the running game wear down the opponent and build the lead, and put the offense in the hands of a quarterback who’s less likely to turn it over. Georgia isn’t built to win many games if things unfold differently.
Before the Kentucky game coaches talked about seeing time for both Lambert and Ramsey, and we did see both in the first half. But as it became obvious that the defense could keep Kentucky off the board and that the running game was starting to break longer runs, Lambert was the only quarterback used. Coaches seem to believe, and I tend to agree, that Lambert is least likely to make the mistakes that could erase a carefully-crafted lead. That might be damning with faint praise, but isn’t that what most “defense + Chubb” preseason analysis boiled down to? We’re hearing the same talk of multiple quarterbacks this week, but the flow of the game will affect who we see. If Georgia again gets a lead and is running the ball well, I expect Lambert to remain in the game to manage the lead. If Georgia’s in a hole, that might be when we throw caution to the wind and see more of Ramsey.
Georgia’s offense certainly isn’t built for the three-touchdown comeback we saw in 2013. We’re not going to win a shootout in the 30s without a lot of help from defense and special teams (as at Tennessee.) The Georgia defense was overwhelmed by this offense two seasons ago before making just enough stops in the second half to facilitate the comeback. But that was a different defense and a different coordinator. The Dawgs didn’t exactly stop Auburn last year, but they made enough plays and forced enough turnovers to allow the offense to pull away. The Dawgs only posted 123 passing yards on 19 attempts last year, and that’s exactly how they’d like things to look on Saturday.
Auburn is probably a little better structured for a comeback. They’ve already come back from 14 down at Arkansas to force overtime. Passing is definitely the weaker part of their offense, but they do have the ability to go vertical and find Louis downfield. They’ll also try to stretch the field horizontally with quick receiver screens and jet sweeps as elements of their option. A good tackler like Parrish could be poised to make some big plays on the outside.
The ideal offensive strategy for each team seems to play into the strength of the opposing defense. Georgia has been better against the run (Tennessee notwithstanding), and Auburn’s defensive line has a couple of legitimate stars in Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson. Each team has welcomed back an injured defensive lineman – Lawson has made a huge difference over the past two games, and Chris Mayes played a significant role in Georgia’s shutdown of Kentucky. Speaking of Tennessee, I wonder if Malzahn doesn’t try to get Jeremy Johnson a little more involved in the running game after seeing what Dobbs was able to do to Georgia. Johnson has only run the ball 26 times for a net of 75 yards this year, but he is second on the team in rushing touchdowns.
It will be a much more difficult challenge for Georgia’s shuffled offensive line. The crowd noise will be a factor, though the noon kickoff beats a later start. Georgia’s tackles were abused by the Auburn outside rush two years ago, and Lawson will present another tough assignment wherever he lines up – especially if it’s opposite Wynn who will be making just his second start at left tackle. That dominant Auburn line two years ago took away the run, but the Dawgs more than made up for it a year ago in Athens with 289 yards on the ground. Last year it was Gurley and Chubb chewing up yards on the ground. Now Michel, Marshall, and even Godwin, Hicks, Douglas, and others will hope to have similar results.
Friday November 13, 2015
The spring retirement of Andy Landers shook the women’s basketball nation. One of the country’s winningest coaches and a member of the sport’s Hall of Fame stepped aside after 36 seasons. The announcement of assistant Joni Crenshaw (now Taylor) as Landers’ replacement came as a surprise – not because she was unqualified but because of her role in a Georgia program that had started to slide the wrong way.
Now as the head coach Taylor must draw from and build on the deep tradition of the program while giving it a fresh and energetic new image. She’ll have to rebuild the talent level of the program and convince elite recruits, especially from the state of Georgia, to come to Athens. With established and ascendant contenders plentiful in the SEC and the region, it will be a big challenge to build the kind of roster that would have Georgia back competing for SEC and national honors. She’ll be asked to do it while maintaining the academic and character standards that were a hallmark of the program she inherits.
Taylor is under immediate pressure to keep one long-standing program streak alive. Georgia hasn’t missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments since 1980 and 1981, Landers’ first two seasons. That kind of streak shows what the expectations are here. Taylor, a member of the staff since 2011, understands those expectations and has embraced them. Her no-nonsense style has helped her establish authority with the returning team and assured that there won’t be any slacking off in accountability just because Landers has stepped aside.
Georgia lost two fan favorites to graduation. Forward Krista Donald and guard Erika Ford were important contributors during their four seasons, and the Lady Dogs will especially miss Donald’s toughness inside. Ford was a streaky shooter but became instant offense when she was on. That kind of production – the defense and rebounding of Donald and the scoring of Ford – is what you expect to lose from four-year veterans, but they leave vacant some significant roles.
Two other players no longer appear on the roster. Forward Nasheema Oliver missed most of the year with an injury and transferred to Georgia State during the offseason. Guard Jasmine Carter struggled with recurring symptoms after a couple of concussions, and I wouldn’t blame her if she hung up the sneakers.
Georgia welcomes three new faces to the team. Shanea Armbrister is a 6’2″ JUCO transfer wing who is expected to help the offense. She’s picked up international experience over the past two years representing the Bahamas and had over 15 PPG to lead her team to a gold medal at this summer’s Caribbean Basketball Confederation Championship. Unfortunately she’s battling knee issues and probably won’t be available until later in the season.
The lone frontcourt signee is 6’3″ Caliya Robinson from Marietta, a top-50 national recruit. Robinson can bang inside and rebound but also run the court and score with the jumpshot. Like Armbrister, Robinson has been limited by a past knee injury and might be limited early in the season. The Lady Dogs do have a bit of frontcourt depth, but they’d like to bring Robinson along this year as Hempe and Barbee prepare to graduate. Former coach Andy Landers called incoming guard Amber Skidgel a “pure shooter.” She’s a three-point specialist who will help Georgia’s perimeter game but must work to round out the rest of her game.
Four seniors highlight a deep returning cast. Point guard Marjorie Butler enters her second season running the point. Shooting guard Tiaria Griffin will be a key player on offense and must improve her consistency and ball-handling. Forwards Merritt Hempe and Shacobia Barbee were sidelined for significant stretches last season, and the team missed them. Hempe missed several weeks battling mono and returned for the postseason. Barbee was lost for a longer time with a broken leg, and the Lady Dogs went 2-9 down the stretch without her. Barbee had emerged as the team’s top scorer, rebounder, and defender, and that production was never quite replaced. Hempe likewise was making strides as a junior before her illness. She’s become a potent inside scoring threat but must avoid unnecessary fouls, especially away from the basket.
Georgia returns several experienced underclassmen as well. Mackenzie Engram had an immediate impact as a freshman and ended up starting seven games. Her versatility will be counted on again. Halle Washington is Georgia’s other interior option and made progress during Hempe’s absence. Like Hempe, foul trouble has proven to be Washington’s nemesis and will be the chief obstacle in the way of continued development. Haley Clark saw time as a freshman backing up Butler at the point and even earned a few starts. She was able to push the tempo a bit more than Butler, and tempo has been one of the points stressed by Coach Taylor during the preseason.
Strengths and weaknesses
The continuity of the four seniors is this team’s biggest strength. Taylor will have a built-in leadership group for her debut season. Barbee is a potential all-conference player, and Hempe or Griffin could carry the team on a given night. The team will be strongest up front with Barbee, Hempe, Engram, and Washington. If the posts can manage foul trouble, and especially if Caliya Robinson can contribute, Georgia could prove formidable inside.
One key question is at point guard. Butler can be steady but deliberate running the point. If Taylor wants to push the ball, Butler will have to work faster than the tempo with which she was most comfortable last year. Clark showed promise but still looked very much like a freshman. Her offseason development will determine Taylor’s options running the offense. Either way, offensive production from the point guard position must increase.
For several seasons the biggest challenge for the Lady Dogs has been scoring points. They’ve tried to compensate with defense, but eventually you must score. The shocking 26-point output against Auburn last season was the low point, but many of the same players will be tasked with turning it around. Barbee will likely be the focal point, but the team needs more balance from outside. The team has hovered around 28-30% from behind the arc for several seasons, and the three-point shot has been too big a part of the offense with a percentage like that. Skidgel will have her moments off the bench, but much of the backcourt production will have to come from Griffin and Butler with Barbee, Engram, and even Hempe occasionally stepping outside.
Ideally, the team would prefer to generate easier transition baskets through pressure defense. That was the formula that took Andy Landers to the Hall of Fame, but the team has gotten away from it. Fouls, depth, and simply ability led Landers to use more zone, and even the most active zone won’t produce the transition opportunities that a good press will. Taylor’s ability to get the team’s style of play turned back around will determine how different this season is from the past several. Whether she has the personnel to play her preferred style is a big uncertainty though.
Georgia will be tested immediately in the nonconference schedule. Within the first three games, the Lady Dogs will travel to #24 Michigan State and host rival Georgia Tech. There’s a Thanksgiving tournament in California and then an important early December home game against Seton Hall. The rest of the nonconference slate is manageable, and only a trip to Wright State will break up a long homestand that takes the team into conference play. Including SEC foes, Georgia will play a total of six teams ranked in the preseason AP poll.
The SEC rotation sets up so that Georgia will play South Carolina and Tennessee just once. Unfortunately each of those games is on the road, so Lady Dog fans won’t have an opportunity to see the top SEC contenders in Athens. The Lady Dogs will have home-and-home SEC games with Florida, LSU, and Missouri. The conference schedule is book-ended by some tough opponents: Texas A&M and Kentucky will be two of the first three SEC opponents. South Carolina and Tennessee appear at the tail end of the season.
The SEC Tournament will be in Jacksonville for the first time. South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State were picked by the coaches to finish 1-4 in the SEC.
SEC media and coaches predicted a ninth-place finish for the Lady Dogs. That’s where they finished last season, and it implies an SEC record around or just below .500. That’s usually marginal for an NCAA Tournament bid and often on the wrong side of the bubble. This is as meaningless as any preseason poll, but it does serve to help set expectations: ESPN’s preseason bracket does not include Georgia. In that light, a return to the postseason would seem to exceed expectations. But in the context of Georgia’s tradition, it’s almost an imperative. Failure to reach the NCAA Tournament would put the program in a position it hasn’t known in over 30 years, but earning a bid and returning Georgia to the postseason would be an important feather in the cap for a coach who needs every advantage she can get to make an immediate impact on the recruiting trail.
As with last season, the in-conference performance will make or break the season. The nonconference slate, even with a couple of tougher opponents, lends itself to a good record entering SEC play. A .500 record or better in the league should get the Lady Dogs into the postseason. Things were headed in that direction last season before the injuries hit, and Georgia’s core should be good enough to get them there this year without another onslaught of setbacks.
Tuesday November 3, 2015
Florida came into the 2010 Georgia game winless in October with a punchless offense that had scored a combined 13 points in losses to Alabama and Mississippi State. Urban Meyer’s response to that slump might sound a little familiar.
The Gators used their bye week to tweak their floundering offense. They got running back Jeff Demps healthy, worked Chris Rainey into the mix and used several different looks with John Brantley, (Trey) Burton and Jordan Reed lining up at quarterback.
Of all the changes, a greater role for the freshman Burton proved to be the most effective. He ran for 110 yards on 17 carries and two scores from the quarterback position including a 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
When we heard that Faton Bauta was, if not starting, poised to take on a larger role in Georgia’s offense against Florida, my mind first went to Burton and 2010. With a running back (Michel) getting healthy and McKenzie available, Georgia’s version of the Demps/Rainey/Burton trio was taking shape. It didn’t preclude using Lambert; Brantley still had a role in the 2010 game. It seemed reasonable to shake things up given Georgia’s unproductive October offense, and so there was a little excitement to see what the coaches could do with Bauta given a bye week and some talent at the skill positions.
Alas, we overestimated a few things. First and foremost was the creativity of the coaches. Bauta’s mobility was largely limited to play-action rollouts, and after a tantalizing look on Georgia’s first snap, we saw very little difference in Georgia’s offense. Is Bauta really that capable of a runner? We may never know.
But beyond the offense Bauta and his teammates were asked to run, they still had to execute those plays. As much as we all have problems with the playcalling, some big plays were left on the table. Rome missed two potential touchdown catches – one was dropped, but another was thrown behind him. A devastating stop-and-go by Mitchell was wide-open, but Houston couldn’t protect the back side. Georgia had two penalties on its first possession, and one erased an electrifying run by Michel that could have given Georgia some early confidence and momentum. Both penalties were committed by seniors. It’s those details – accuracy, sure catching, blocks, penalties – that can come to define a game or a season or a coach.
I’ll say this for the passing game – there were more open receivers than I can recall seeing in a while. The tight ends were more involved. The cat-and-mouse game Bauta played with a defender before lobbing the ball to Rome for a first down was a good example of what you can get with a more mobile quarterback. But the highlights were few and far between the poorly-executed plays. Perhaps that’s to be expected when a quarterback who’s been taking third-string reps all season gets the nod. Then again, perhaps that’s why he was third string. Did the coaches put him in the best position to succeed with so many pass attempts and so few runs?
While the passing game teased us, the running game just disappointed. When a few bursts by Marshall have everyone discussing more playing time for him, you know there wasn’t much else going on. We know now that Michel played most of the game with a broken hand, and no one can question his toughness. There’s talk of shaking up the offensive line now, but it has to be asked how many problems dominant backs like Gurley and Chubb covered up.
I thought the defense did a good job of building on their success against Missouri. Georgia did a much better job containing the run this year, though a few leaked out late especially after the deflating interception that ended Georgia’s best scoring chance. But containment isn’t just about the running game. Though Georgia’s pressure was as good as it’s been all season, it continued to have difficulties finishing off the play. Several of Florida’s biggest passing plays, both in terms of yardage and significance, came after Harris eluded initial pressure. That’s going to happen from time to time with any mobile quarterback, but Georgia was in the backfield far too often to only come away with two sacks.
The defense did what they could to stop the bleeding in the second half. They caused a rare Florida turnover that gave the offense a short field, and a fourth down stop near the Georgia goal line started the team’s last stand that ultimately fell short. Individuals like Bellamy and Ganus played outstanding games. But so many turnovers and another special teams error made these individual efforts almost futile.
Wednesday October 28, 2015
You haven’t heard this much about containment outside of Cold War foreign policy. Yes, setting the edge and avoiding last year’s staggering failure against the run is important. Georgia’s done fairly well over the past couple of games limiting a couple of capable tailbacks. Jalen Hurd was held to 80 yards, and Russell Hansbrough was a non-factor.
The issue then becomes Treon Harris. While Georgia was bottling up Hurd in Knoxville, Josh Dobbs ran for over 100 yards and accounted for over 400 yards of total offense. He did his damage on straight running plays but also bought himself time until receivers came open. Harris, while not as experienced or polished as Dobbs, is capable of similar production if Georgia pays too much attention to Kelvin Taylor.
Harris wasn’t asked to do much against Georgia last year, and why would he have been? His backs were doing just fine. Harris still ended up with 5 yards per carry on six rushing attempts. You’d expect him to be a little more involved this year in an improved Florida offense. With the running game struggling against LSU, Harris threw for 271 yards against a suspect Tiger secondary. He was aided by his receivers turning receptions into long gains: all six Florida players who caught a pass had at least one reception over 15 yards, and three players had a reception go for at least 30 yards.
Georgia received some good news along the defensive front this week – Jordan Jenkins, Chris Mayes, and John Atkins seem likely to return to action. Leonard Floyd turned it up at the end of the Missouri game and seems to be back home outside. The shoulder that limited Floyd at the end of 2014 was already a factor in the 2014 Florida game, but he’s in good health now. There’s quality depth too: Bellamy, DeLoach, and Bailey are veterans, and Trent Thompson seems to get better weekly.
The Florida offensive line is a bit of a miracle considering the shape they were in during the spring, but there still have been some issues with consistency. The line was a big part of their win over Ole Miss, but they’re near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. Early physical play from the Georgia defensive front, especially freshman Jordan Jenkins, set the tone for a hard-fought win in 2012. Georgia didn’t take advantage of a patchwork Tennessee offensive line, and there won’t be many bigger opportunities for redemption.
While Georgia’s performance against the run cost them the game last year, it was the 9th time in 14 games that Georgia had scored 20 or fewer points in Jacksonville. The Dawgs are 4-1 against Florida under Richt when breaking 20 points and 1-8 when they don’t.
The Dawgs got out to a 7-0 lead last season and looked to be rolling, but they couldn’t extend the lead. A 3rd-and-2 Chubb rush at midfield was stuffed. Georgia then forced and recovered a fumble but missed a field goal. Florida took the momentum with their fake field goal and ripped off a quick 14 points. This was still a 14-7 game at halftime, but Georgia’s offense never got going again while the Gator rushing attack took over in the third quarter.
Meanwhile back in 2015, Georgia’s offense hasn’t contributed more than 17 points in a game since Southern a month ago. They’ve had a few weeks now to sort out the approach to the running game without Chubb. Michel was dinged up against Missouri but still ran fairly well and is healthier after a few days off last week. The Dawgs missed those explosive runs though, and hopefully Michel’s hip pointer was the difference. They’ll also have to do a better job of getting to the edge, whether with Michel or with receiver sweeps, and perimeter blocking needs to take a big step forward.
It’s anyone’s guess what we’ll see from the passing game. Not to harp on the midseason injury thing, but Reggie Davis hobbled off after the opening kickoff against Missouri and limited Georgia’s deep threat. Isaiah McKenzie should be back too, and we’ll see if he can contribute anything beyond special teams. Malcolm Mitchell could draw extra attention from Vernon Hargreaves, one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Both teams have talented sets of tight ends, but Florida’s TEs have been far more productive.
It will be a significant challenge to break that 20-point barrier against this Florida defense. The Gators are top four in the SEC in both total defense and scoring defense. Their line, anchored by standout Jonathan Bullard, is third in sacks and will be a stiff test for a Georgia offensive line that has allowed only eight sacks this season.
Wednesday October 28, 2015
Following a combined 7-of-31 conversion rate on third down against Alabama and Tennessee, Georgia made third down a focus in the week leading up to the Missouri game. The Dawgs were a much more respectable 9-of-19 in that game against a very good defense. Let’s have a look.
Georgia was at 50% or better in 3 of 4 quarters, but that third quarter should be no surprise to anyone who watched both teams sputter out of the locker room. Lambert was just 1-of-3 in the quarter with a sack, and the lone completion was a 2-yard pass to Michel when the Dawgs needed four yards. Things picked up after Missouri’s fumbled punt return; Georgia closed the game converting 4 of their final 7 opportunities including a couple of key fourth quarter conversions that moved them into position for the game-winning points.
4 or less: 5-8
As you might expect, Georgia converted at a higher rate closer to the first down marker. (That hasn’t always been the case this year.) If Georgia could get anything positive on first or second down, they moved the chains 9 out of 17 times.
Inside Missouri 20: 0-4
Inside Missouri 40: 3-4
Between the 40s: 4-7
Inside Georgia 40: 2-4
Now we’re getting somewhere. Georgia got most of their third down conversions between the 20s but got shut out in the red zone. That aside, the Dawgs moved the ball fairly well into good field position. That mattered as the second half wore on and it became obvious that points would be scarce. Georgia was only 2-for-4 on their own end of the field, but one of those failed conversions led to the fumbled punt.
7-9 (5 converted), 64 yards, 7.11 YPA, long 16
That’s…not terrible? Georgia converted the first down on five of their nine passing attempts. (Add in two sacks though, and Georgia was 5-for-11 when Lambert intended to throw on third down.) Lambert continued to be unpredictable. His stats coming into the game indicated trouble between 4 and 9 yards to go, but that’s where he had most of his third down success against Missouri. He was just 2-for-17 at that distance coming into the game, but he was 6-for-8 with four conversions against the Tigers. Meanwhile the deep ball that worked well at Tennessee wasn’t a factor against Missouri. Reggie Davis injured himself on the opening kickoff, and that limited Georgia’s emerging deep threat.
Michel: 5 carries, 3 conversions, 16 yards
Douglas: 3 carries, 1 conversion, 4 yards
Lambert: 2 carries, 0 conversions, -12 yards, 2 sacks
Sony Michel was clearly Georgia’s most successful rushing option on third down, but even he was just over 3 yards per carry. If Douglas is now the power back (he also carried on Georgia’s failed fourth down attempt), there’s some work to be done. We never saw Marshall on third down, and Hicks was needed at fullback. Perhaps the return of Christian Payne makes Hicks more of an option now in those short-yardage situations.
All better, right?
Nearly 50% on third down is definitely an improvement, but facing 19 third downs tells you the kind of game Georgia played. Without many of the explosive plays produced by the offense earlier in the year, Georgia had to drive in small chunks, and that required stringing together more than 2 or 3 first downs. When those methodical drives stall inside the opponent’s 20 without any long runs or deep passes, you end up with four field goal attempts.
Should the offense be encouraged? Sure – they moved from under 25% in the previous two games to about 50% in this game against a respectable defense, and moving the chains beats the alternative. Under 4 yards per play on third down is nothing to celebrate though when the team’s average on all downs is over 6 yards per play. The conversion rate is a positive to build on, but there are still problems closer to the goal line against a more compact defense.
Thursday October 22, 2015
See the presumptive Bulldog quarterback of the future in action. Jacob Eason’s Lake Stevens HS will be on ESPNU this Friday evening against divisional rival Kamiak.
The game starts at 10 p.m. ET.
Wednesday October 21, 2015
When the line for this game was announced last Sunday, I asked if “17” was the over/under rather than the point spread. It was only half in jest – Missouri’s strength on defense and weakness on offense have been pretty well established at this point in the season. We saw both of those tendencies hold on Saturday. Missouri’s offense sputtered even more than Georgia’s, and the Tiger defense was as stout as advertised.
But as good as the Missouri defense was, Georgia’s was better. You would hope that the defense would show up against one of the SEC’s weaker offenses, but we were just a week removed from allowing an anemic Tennessee passing game to look like Baylor. We have to take improvement when we can get it, and ensuring that a struggling offense continues to struggle represents improvement. It was one of the best performances of the season from the front seven, and enough plays were made in the secondary to prevent the few Missouri successes across the middle from building on each other.
As for the Bulldog offense – Georgia dominated time of possession, ran 82 plays to just 52 for Missouri, and had twice as many scoring opportunities. Following two weeks of dreadful third down performance, the offense converted at a much more respectable 47%. So why only nine points?
The most obvious answer is that the Dawgs failed to finish drives. The offense was far from shut down. We didn’t see nearly as many three-and-outs as in the past couple of weeks, so at the very least the offense was able to help the team with field position. Missouri’s average starting field position was on their own 28.8, nearly 8 yards worse than Georgia’s – and that includes Missouri’s short fields as a result of the interception and onside kick. Georgia’s four field goal attempts were from inside of 40 yards.
The other thing working against the offense was a lack of explosive plays. There was a mid-range pass that Godwin turned into a long gain, but that was about it. (And Georgia came away with nothing on that drive.) Michel was tripped up on the few runs that looked close to breaking open, and for the first time this season there was no Georgia tailback galloping for a huge gain. Georgia’s longest run of the game was 12 yards by Marshall. Not many deep passes were attempted, and Davis’s apparent injury on the opening kickoff might have something to do with that. Missouri’s pressure caused Georgia to use shorter passes like receiver screens, and Missouri’s physical cornerbacks prevented those from turning into small gains (and several losses.) With Georgia forced to move down the field in small chunks, it only took one penalty or failed conversion to end those drives and scoring opportunities.
No one is going to (or should) crow about the aesthetics of the game or feel very positive about the offense in a post-Chubb world. Still, after two miserable weeks, the win is a good note on which to enter the bye week. Georgia should have some players returning from injury, and they’ll have two weeks to think about an opponent that showed them up on both sides of the ball a year ago (not to mention special teams.) A defense that is as committed to tackling and pressure as Georgia showed on Saturday can give you a chance to win. The offense though hasn’t contributed more than 17 points since the Southern game, and the next defense they’ll see isn’t far from the one they just faced.
- Oh, that Leonard Floyd.
- The body paint in the student section spelled out the hashtag “#MISERY.” I don’t think they intended to serve as game commentary.
- As impressive as the Georgia defense was, two of the biggest tackles came from Georgia receivers. Kenneth Towns hustled to save a touchdown on Missouri’s interception of Lambert’s first pass. The four points saved as a result of his effort and the subsequent defensive stand turned out to provide the winning margin. Malcolm Mitchell, subbing in on the punt team after Sanders was ejected, delivered a perfectly-timed hit on the return man to force a fumble that flipped field position and led to Georgia’s tying score.
- The ejection of Sanders (I couldn’t disagree after seeing the endzone angle) not only cost the defense their best defensive back, it also put a lot more pressure on the freshmen. Abram held his own, and Briscoe made several important plays. McGraw’s first half coverage of a slant pass was textbook.
- We have three more years to stop calling him “Abrams.”
- It’s frustrating when the “correct” play call is wrong. If the defense is going to send seven or eight guys, then, yes, those quick receiver screens should work (as should other countermeasures.) But they must be blocked, and Georgia couldn’t handle two of the SEC’s more physical cornerbacks. These are the kinds of plays that Georgia needs to be able to execute with consistency in order to make the defense pay for selling out against the run. But since Georgia couldn’t block with any kind of success on the perimeter, Missouri was able to defend those screens effectively while still crowding the line of scrimmage.
- Missouri ran the speed option a couple of times to test Georgia outside. The Dawgs were ready each time, though it helps that the quarterback wasn’t a big threat to keep the ball.
- It wasn’t a perfect game for the special teams, but the mistakes weren’t backbreakers. Coverage teams had their best games of the season. Godwin was a pleasant surprise returning punts and gave Georgia decent field position on several second half drives. Even the onside kick was a good idea with the execution coming up just a little short. The space was wide open. Fortunately the defense made that error forgettable.
- I can’t be the only one who had a bad feeling about a squib kick after Morgan’s go-ahead FG. But Georgia kicked it deep, covered it well, and the defense got after the Missouri quarterback. It was a good feeling – there was plenty of time left, but neither the Georgia defense or the Missouri offense gave you much reason to worry that the Tigers could throw the ball into position to tie the game. They did come uncomfortably close to converting that fourth down pass though along the sideline.
- Tyler is on to something here. When did Missouri have their best (only?) scoring drive of the game?
Friday October 16, 2015
Earlier this summer Glynn County officials sent word across the state that they’d be cracking down on underage drinking, littering, disorderly conduct, and similar violations during the annual influx of students known as “Frat Beach” during the Georgia-Florida weekend. Trashed beaches – and trashed students – got to a point where the local government felt the need to respond.
Whether because of that crackdown or more general apathy towards Georgia football and the Florida game, there’s definitely been an immediate impact on the local hospitality industry. The Brunswick News reports that hotel reservations for the weekend are down by as much as 30 percent from 2014. The CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau claims that “In the past, we are usually at 100 percent occupancy by now…hotels that are usually sold out by now still have up to 40 rooms available.” The vacancies even extend to beach properties.
So good news if you’re still looking for a place for the WLOCP. But Golden Isles businesses who depend on that weekend for a little shot in the arm after the summer tourist season might be reconsidering how much frat they are willing to tolerate on their beaches.
Friday October 16, 2015
Missouri is leading the SEC in scoring defense (13.5 PPG), and that should make any Georgia fan a little nervous. A low-scoring game puts pressure on the Georgia offense of course but also on the defense to keep the opponent off the board while the offense is fighting for every point it gets.
The good news for the defense is that while Missouri’s scoring defense leads the conference, its scoring offense is in the opposite position. The Tigers are averaging only 13.3 points per SEC game, and they managed just 24 points against the South Carolina defense that Georgia lit up. The challenge for Georgia’s defense is to avoid becoming a panacea for the second straight week. At Tennessee we saw a passing game that averaged under 200 yards per game blow past 300 yards.
When a team is struggling on offense, the key to ensuring that they continue to struggle is to make them work for their points. Bernie pointed out one way that Missouri shortens the field: turnovers. “Missouri’s defense…forced three turnovers against South Carolina on Oct. 3 and the team won by two touchdowns. Against Kentucky and Florida, the Tigers didn’t get a takeaway and lost both games.” Missouri got their only second half points against South Carolina on a short 31-yard drive following an interception.
The offense and special teams also have a role in avoiding the short field. Even if Georgia’s offense isn’t scoring, a couple of first downs versus a three-and-out can make a big difference in field position. That puts Barber and the coverage team in the spotlight. Hopefully we’ll get plenty of kickoffs to test that unit too.
Sony Michel: feature back
Can Michel handle the load? We expect to see other backs step up to help, but the focus is and should be squarely on Sony Michel. We know all about his explosive ability running and receiving, but we’re now talking about 20-25 carries per game. The drop-off last week was worrisome: Georgia carried the ball 11 times for 34 yards in the second half of the Tennessee game. Will Georgia’s running game be in a condition to put the game away on the ground in the fourth quarter?
Bill Connelly notes something else about Michel: “He’s more of an all-or-nothing back: whereas 47 percent of Chubb’s carries gained at least five yards, only 30 percent of Michel’s have.” With so much emphasis on third down conversions this week, including the scrutiny of performance on first and second down to make third downs more manageable, that’s a significant stat. Michel can make the big play, but as important are the shorter but still positive gains on earlier downs that keeps the offense ahead of the chains.
The freshman and the senior
The Missouri game usually means worrying about a mobile quarterback like James Franklin and, more recently, Maty Mauk. Mauk remains suspended and the Dawgs will instead face Drew Lock, a stronger pocket passer. Lock isn’t much of a threat to run, though he had an 11-yard scramble at Kentucky. He’s yet to finish a game with positive rushing totals, and Georgia will want to make sure that continues. He’s thrown at least 28 passes in the two games he’s started during Mauk’s suspension, but he’s only averaging 5.57 yards per attempt. The Georgia game will be the true freshman’s first road start, and both the crowd and the Georgia front will have to work to keep him unsettled.
The offense was supposed to be led by Mauk and tailback Russell Hansbrough, now in his 17th season at Missouri. Hansbrough rushed for nearly 1,100 yards in 2014 but has battled an ankle injury this season. He didn’t play against UConn, and the offense was even less productive in that 9-6 victory. Missouri needs him to be at his best in order to do much on offense, and he had his best outing of the season last week against Florida: 74 yards on only 9 carries (8.2 per) with runs of 23 and 26 yards. His carries will still be limited, and Pinkel will continue to bring him back slowly. “We’ll just have to wait and see when that point is where he can play an entire game and rep a little bit more than what we’ve been repping him.” While Hansbrough works back in, the team’s leading rusher is sophomore Ish Witter. No Missouri back has had a 100-yard game this season, but Witter came close with 98 yards against South Carolina. Keeping he and Hansbrough well south of 100 yards should be an objective for the defense.
Tuesday October 13, 2015
October’s a lovely month in Georgia. It’s what we picture when summer gives us a cruel tease of football weather: Low humidity. Pleasant afternoon temperatures. Crisp mornings. Fall color.
But over the past three seasons October has been the most bitter of months for Georgia football. Whether it’s been bad losses on the field, heartbreaking injuries, or scandals off the field, Georgia fans would prefer to forget the tenth month. October 2015 is proving to be no exception. We got off to an early start with the McKenzie distraction and followed it up with two losses that have us asking familiar questions and looking for signs of hope in the SEC tiebreaker scenarios. Oh, and everyone’s favorite player is now out for the rest of the season.
At Tennessee Georgia found itself up 24-3 thanks to big plays from all three units, but it quickly turned into 2006 again. Georgia couldn’t sustain the things that built the lead, and a Tennessee team that moved the ball well all day turned momentum in its favor and rolled to 28 straight points and the lead.
While several of Georgia’s biggest contributors tried to step up and take responsibility for the loss, it took the entire team to drop this game. The offense and defense could spend some time pointing fingers…
Offense: 38 points seems to be the magic number, huh?
Defense: To be fair, we were on the field for over 90 plays. Over 34 minutes. It didn’t help that you were 4-of-14 on third downs and put us right back out on the field time after time.
Offense: Be real. You had plenty of opportunities to get off the field. The Vols had 26 first downs. Tennessee converted eight third downs and had two killer fourth down conversions on top of that. And we were going on about 4th-and-Willie? Make a stop.
Defense: We did more than make a stop. We gave you great field position with an interception right off the bat. And for the second straight week, what did you do with an early turnover? In fact, you had three first half possessions in Tennessee territory with only one field goal to show for it. Yes, we were up 24-3 at one point, but the offense contributed only 10 of those points and didn’t take advantage of some very good chances to put the game away.
Offense: Let’s talk about 24-3. In the first half! We put them in a position to have to throw to come back – right where we wanted them. You’re going to be seeing curl routes in your sleep. Hopefully you will tackle them better there.
Defense: We wouldn’t have been at 24-3 without the defense and our weird special friend over there. The offense only managed 17 points all game against a defense that had struggled against both the run and the pass. And what a mixed bag in the passing game. Some great deep balls and an 8.7 yards-per-completion but a completion rate under 50% that made it impossible to sustain drives. Can we get any kind of consistency on offense?
Offense: And you launched the Josh Dobbs for Heisman campaign! Good job to hold Jalen Hurd under 100 yards, but damn – 312 yards passing by a team that averaged under 200 per game? They had that nearly by halftime. And it’s not as if you took away the run. What Hurd didn’t get Dobbs did. Over 400 yards of total offense and five touchdowns. I know we had been nervous about a QB like Dobbs since signs of weakness showed up in the season opener, but we never imagined you’d turn him into Joshy Football.
Defense: Well what happened to our running game? Sony looked great in the first half, but there were diminshing returns. In the second half we ran the ball 11 times for a whopping 34 yards. The longest carry was a 12-yard run by Marshall. Michel had 9 carries for 21 yards after halftime. So it was up to the passing game to shoulder the load in the second half. Where was our dominant line?
Offense: Don’t bring up lines. You got pushed around by a Tennessee OL forced to use two reserve freshmen. There was next to no pass rush even with the Vols throwing the ball down 21. Don’t we have a fleet of NFL-bound pass rushers? Wasn’t Floyd moved back outside for this game to give us more of a presence on the edge?
Defense: Well, didn’t you notice Jordan Jenkins was limited with an injury?
Defense: Oh – right. Sorry, buddy. Look, here comes special teams…
- You wonder where Reggie Davis goes from here. It was simultaneously his best game and his worst moment. It looked as if Godwin had emerged as a second receiving threat, but Davis’s big plays in this game gave Georgia something they had been lacking. His ability to get open deep should give him (and those calling plays) confidence, and you hope that drop doesn’t haunt him.
- So too with Sony Michel. It’s clear that he’ll have to be the feature back now, but his production really trailed off after the fumbled kickoff. Was that coincidence? Fatigue from a player not used to being in the 25 carries per game role? Michel has had costly fumbles in some big moments now – the Tech game last year and now at Tennessee. His longest run of the day ended with a fumble out of bounds. As he moves into the spotlight, this very gifted player will have to put some past mistakes behind him and play with confidence and toughness.
- Michel’s run load along with the rest of the running game will have to be reevaluated in the next week. Of course you want Michel to touch the ball as much as possible, but some redistribution of carries to Marshall (and Douglas) makes sense to keep Michel fresh and available for the occasional pass play where he’s proven extremely dangerous.
- Blazevich is still on the team, isn’t he? As much as we heard about Schottenheimer and his tight ends, the starter hasn’t caught a pass since the Southern game. Rome at least got a few thrown his way.
- Kimbrough was a bright spot in the Alabama game and continued to make plays in this loss. His penetration led to the fumble that got Georgia on the board.
- Credit Tennessee for setting up a big play. They went with receiver screen after receiver screen and popped a TE for a long gain when two Georgia defenders bit on the screen look.
- You can spend a while on special teams breakdowns, but two returns deserve mention. A kick return of over 40 yards gave the Vols life after Davis’s punt return, and they didn’t have far to go before scoring their first touchdown. Those fourth down decisions become much different if the ball is 20 yards towards the Tennessee endzone. Also the Vols were rewarded for an aggressive punt return on Georgia’s final punt. Many teams would have gone with the fair catch around their own 10. The Vols took a risk and got a 20-yard return out over their 30. They got some breathing room and were able to launch an amazing punt that rolled out of bounds on the one-inch line.
Monday October 5, 2015
Georgia’s October 17th Homecoming game against Missouri will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. The network’s lead team of Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor will be on hand to call the game.
It’s the latest kickoff yet this season. Students and many fans will be excited about the night game. That this is Homecoming though takes a bit of the shine off of the late start. Homecoming weekend is important for many student organizations but also for many older fans for whom the late night will be a hardship or just impossible. That’s why Homecoming kickoffs are typically so much earlier. The new experience of a Homecoming game in prime time will be interesting for sure, and you can bet that many groups planning Homecoming activities and tailgates are scrambling right now to deal with the later start.
Monday October 5, 2015
Some advanced stats from Saturday’s game. Nothing too surprising hidden in there, but one unit comes out looking a little better than the others.
- The saddest part is that the advanced stats only go two quarters deep. Nearly the entire second half was garbage time.
- Georgia’s run defense played fairly well. There were breakdowns of course like Henry’s touchdown run, but on the whole the secondary had a much worse day. (This isn’t shown in the stats, but I thought Georgia did an excellent job at sniffing out the few jet sweeps Alabama tried.)
- Though the teams were about equally poor on third down, Alabama had a higher overall success rate on all downs. That means they did their damage largely on first or second down.
- If it wasn’t the roughest passing performance since Hines Ward was thrown to the wolves against Alabama in 1995, it’s right up there.
- Wunderlich observes that Georgia “doesn’t have a really great receiver either outside of Mitchell.” That’s not a bombshell – with Scott-Wesley out, it’s been up to guys like Davis and McKenzie to take on larger roles. Godwin is promising and has already moved into that second spot. The glaring omission here is the absence of tights ends and fullbacks. Georgia’s depth at the other skill positions was supposed to mitigate an inexperienced group of receivers. Welch was the only player from this group even targeted in the first half. It’s possible that Georgia had to keep the tight ends in for pass protection, but Alabama rarely brought pressure, relying on coverage to force Lambert to check down or scramble.
The bit at the end about Georgia’s talent not syncing up is a good one and something we’ve dealt with since Stafford, Moreno, and Green played on the same offense in 2008. Unfortunately that’s not going to begin to change until February (and then the next February…). The question now is whether Georgia can overcome those deficiencies so clearly exposed by Alabama to avoid a tailspin and get the team back on track towards its goals.