Taking stock, midseason edition

It strikes me that Chris Low’s midseason assessment of Georgia is a fair one.  It’s hard to argue with this:

… The Bulldogs ended their skid Saturday with an impressive 41-14 battering of Tennessee, and getting Green back has made a huge difference on offense. The offensive line has not been up to par, at least not to the level that was expected out of this veteran group. Georgia went with a new lineup against Tennessee, including true freshman Kenarious Gates at guard. The primary problem on defense has been that the Bulldogs are allowing too many big plays. That and a defensive front that lacks size. Still, this is a team that’s talented enough to turn it around during the second half of the season…

Speaking as somebody who thought the Dawgs would be no worse than 4-2 by now, I thought it might be useful to go back and explore some of my preseason assumptions, as well as look at some of the in season developments to see if I can get a handle on where things are headed over the second half of 2010.

First, my preseason worries and expectations:

  1. Georgia Tech 2009 as a template for the offense. Line up behind an experienced offensive line, don’t ask a green redshirt freshman quarterback to do too much and grind your way to victory:  the coaches thought this, the pundits thought this and I did, too.  There’s no other way to say it except to acknowledge that last year’s result in Atlanta turned out to be a complete mirage.  The offensive line, as Low notes, has been a disappointment and the running backs have been inconsistent for several reasons (including suspensions).  Carlton Thomas, who averages more than a half yard less a carry than Ealey and more than a yard and a half less a carry than King, continued to get significant carries until his injury.  He’s simply not an every down back and it’s foolish for the coaches to insist otherwise.  The result is that Georgia is tenth in the SEC in rushing and only Arkansas has scored fewer touchdowns on the ground. Second half prediction: Fuggedaboutit.  As solid as the win over Tennessee was, the ground game was nothing special.  Going forward, Georgia’s best chance to produce offensively lies with its quarterback, not its running backs, which leads us into the next point.
  2. Starting a redshirt freshman quarterback will cost Georgia a game or two. I think it has, but not for the reason most thought would be the case before the season.  About the precocious Murray, Low says this:  “There’s not a more promising young quarterback in this league.” He’s right.  What’s hurt Georgia in the won-loss department is that it’s taken several games for his coaches to realize that and adjust the game plan accordingly.  The adjustments we saw last Saturday would have made a difference against South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State, all of which successfully attacked Georgia’s I-formation running game with gap-stuffing run blitzes.  Georgia looked better using the pass to set up the run and playing out of multiple formations.  Second half prediction: The Tennessee game plan hinted that Richt and Bobo understand where the strength of the offense lies, with that quarterback we were all concerned with in August.  If they commit to Murray the playmaker and the reshuffled offensive line settles in, the offense has a chance to be pretty good, even with King missing the next two games.  (It helps that the Dawgs are playing the two worst run defenses in the conference while he’s out.)
  3. New defensive scheme and new defensive coaches meant a work-in-progress defense with early season lapses. The third big preseason assumption has pretty much been spot on.  The problems have been both in personnel, as Low notes in his comment about the d-line (can you imagine what Atkins could have done in Grantham’s scheme this year?), and in execution, most glaringly reflected in Georgia’s abysmal rank at the bottom of the SEC in opponents’ third down conversion percentage.  That stat is even more stark when you break it down:  31% in the wins and 50% in the losses (for some perspective, that latter figure on its own would rank 113th nationally, with the likes of San Jose State and Akron).  Safety play in pass coverage has been especially disappointing. Second half prediction: Hell, your guess is as good as mine.  The linebackers have been consistent, but that obviously hasn’t been enough for the defense to succeed.  The d-line had its best game of the season on Saturday, but how much of that was due to Tennessee’s weak o-line?  The safeties are going to continue to be exposed in the absence of a consistent pass rush, and right now, the only player who you can call consistent in that department is Justin Houston, whom Low is right to call the first half defensive MVP.  One good thing is that there’s only one offense the Dawgs look to face in the remaining six games that you can label scary.  It’s doubtful that’s enough to hang your hat on, though.
  4. Special teams, baby! Surprisingly, it’s been a mixed bag.  If anything, Blair Walsh is having a better year than last season.  Showing Fabris the door has paid off handsomely in the kickoff game, as Georgia ranks third in the conference in opponents’ kickoff returns.  But Drew Butler isn’t dominating the conference as he did in 2009.  The punt return game hasn’t been anything special.  Neither has the kickoff return game.  Overall, nothing’s been particularly bad, but it hasn’t been what I hoped.  Second half prediction: I’m optimistic.  There isn’t an area that’s been as horrible as kickoffs were last season and I have to think that Boykin is too good at what he does not to break out sooner or later.  If I have to bitch about something, it would be how passive the team is in punt blocking, but that’s something the coaches seem to be comfortable with, for some reason.
  5. Regression to the mean. They’re currently +0.33 per game in turnover margin, which sure beats where they were last year.  The surprise is that it hasn’t made a dent in the won-loss record.  That’s partly due to bad timing:  Georgia’s fumbling on offense at a lower rate than last season, but when the Dawgs fumble, it’s sure been a doozy, hasn’t it?  For all the talk about being more aggressive, the defense still isn’t doing better at fumble recovery than was the case in 2009.  But the other thing is that, unlike last year, other areas of the team haven’t been picking up the slack, as Georgia hasn’t won a game so far in which it hasn’t had an advantage in turnover margin.  Second half prediction: They’ve replaced the Cox turnover machine with Murray, which has been huge, but Ealey needs to get his act together.  On defense, it all comes back to getting pressure on the quarterback – can they get more than Houston to contribute?  They’ll finish much better than last year, so you have to think it’ll wind up adding to the win column sooner or later.

As for in season surprises,

  1. The A.J. Green suspension. I’m not sure which was bigger, that Green missed four games, or that the Colorado game showed how much the team missed him.  I initially pooh-poohed the suggestion that his absence was the difference in any of the first three losses, but what happened on the field in Boulder made me rethink that.  And as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t think his return and Aaron Murray’s passer rating improvement are coincidental. Second half prediction: Well, I doubt he’ll be suspended again, so as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be big.
  2. Personnel changes. One thing about a spectacularly crappy start – you’ve got a lot less to lose by exploring other options.  I didn’t expect to see a true freshman starting on the offensive line, but there you go.  I’ll be curious to see how much of a difference it makes this week trotting the same five guys out.  On defense, it’s Geathers and Ogletree that I wonder about.  Second half prediction: It can’t hurt.

Overall, running the table seems unrealistic, if only because I don’t see how they can deal with Cam Newton.  But if they continue to get traction with the next two games – and they’re clearly more talented than either Vandy or Kentucky – then at least they can roll into Jax and play a team that’s got to be questioning itself right now as much as Georgia is.

If there’s one heartening thing to take from a disappointing first half, it’s that as unfocused and uninspired as this team has played at times in the losses, it hasn’t been blown out of a game as was the case in every one of the last three seasons.  Maybe you think that’s small consolation for a 2-4 record, and I won’t argue with that, but to me it hints that Grantham, in particular, is making more headway on his side of the ball than we care to recognize.

About these ads

24 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football

24 responses to “Taking stock, midseason edition

  1. TennesseeDawg

    I wouldn’t read much into the Tennessee win, they are horrible. The Volnuts actually think Dooley is some kind of Georgia plant that will be offered the Georgia job if Richt is fired. Look for bumbling play calling and mediocre defense to return.

    • Newt

      The one thing I would take from the Tennessee win, and it’s something the Senator alluded to, is that Richt & Bobo finally seemed to realize the strength of this offense is Murray and used the pass to set up the run. Say what you will about Tennessee, but they’ve got a good, young DC in Wilcox. Our game was the only SEC game where they didn’t at least hang around due to a strong 1st half by their D. How much of that was due to UGA’s offense and how much was the LSU hangover is up for debate.

    • The Realist

      I really wish there was some grand conspiracy against Mike Hamilton that we all were in on. Unfortunately, he is just doing it to himself.

      And, there is no way in hell Dooley would be hired at UGA under any remotely feasible circumstances.

  2. jferg

    I believe you/I could make the case that Dent, not Houston, is the MVP of the D so far this season…

    The evolution on both lines will be interesting. I hope Geathers, Thornton, and Abry contiue getting more and more snaps. I look for Ogletree to make a nice push on Rambo as well. Competition is a good thing and Rambo has had the luxury of coaches deeming him “solid #1″ since spring…and his play seems to have reflected that comfort (or he’s still dealing with that collision from last year more than anyone’s admitting).

    • DWH

      Rambo’s play just perplexes me. The guy is a completely different player after that concussion.

      • somedude

        We CANNOT sleep on either Vandy or KY. The coaches have GOT to get our guys psyched and ready to play for both of those games.

        We are currently favored by (16) from what I’ve seen against Vandy and unless Vandy plays as sloppy as TN did I would not expect us to cover. In fact, I expect them to come out, hit us in the mouth, and we have to claw our way back early. I’m not 100% confident that we will beat Vandy, but still think we get it done since we are at home.

        I am even less confident that we can beat KY, especially since the game is in Lexington.. They are a good, fast team who hung around with Auburn and have Cobb who can beat us by himself. Remember all of those weekly offensive awards we’ve given up recently? Expect Cobb to receive one at our expense. Also, Joker Phillips is looking for his first “big win” at KY and we seem to love being “big wins” for inferior programs.

        Chalk FL up as a loss…until we prove that they don’t have a mental edge over us I refuse to pick us to win that game.

        Hopefully we can get better as we continue the season and get some experience for guys who will make a difference next year. Who knows, maybe we will even get some surprise wins along the way.

  3. Biggus Rickus

    They’ve allowed 23.5 points per game in the losses this season. This despite having little offensive production in three of the four games (aside from a 4th quarter flurry against Arkansas). That’s marked defensive improvement. The offensive line’s underperformance crippled them offensively, and it probably (0bviously?) did take them too long to truly open up the offense.

    With a little luck this team could easily be 4-2, if not 5-1, and if they were, some of the changes we’ve seen recently wouldn’t have been made. If there are major coaching deficiencies on the staff that this start also brought to light, we may end up viewing it as a blessing in disguise.

    As for the second half, I don’t see this team winning out either. It’s a remote possibility, but there are too many teams capable of beating them. And while I was heartened by the effort and execution against what had been a competitive Tennessee team, I doubt they will play as well every week for the rest of the season. I do think they’ll get to Florida at 4-4. From there, I expect them to close out the season 2-2. Basically, this season will suck, but it won’t be as bad as I feared after the Colorado loss.

  4. Josh

    Bobo’s inability to recognize soon enough that the offense needed to open up is just another example of why he’s overemployed. No crime in entering the season assuming we’d run first, pass later… we all thought that. But it became glaringly obvious soon enough what the book on us was… load the box and make Murray beat you. Until Colorado (and the return of Green), Bobo didn’t really give him the chance. That speaks to the overall timidity of our coaching staff.

    Carlton Thomas… I’m sure he’s a great guy. He’s just not producing given his (admittedly limited) opportunities. We’re not really a scatback-friendly offense… not sure (from either perspective) why he ended up at UGA.

    For that matter, none of our backs are true game-changers. Ealey and King run hard, and given good line play will produce, but this is an area we need to address in recruiting (that Crowell kid would help).

    Good call on Grantham making headway. Our safety play is a definite weakness now, even moreso than the D-line. Rambo is a big liability in pass coverage… hopefully it will click with him sometime. I expect Ogletree to get meaningful scrimmage snaps before it’s all done this year.

    • Russ

      I think Thomas could be successful running wide. However, we continue to think he can blast it up the middle into a packed line. We could use Thomas differently and, well, it couldn’t be worse.

      • Josh

        Yeah, but the problem is that if you only ever run Thomas wide, and he only plays certain snaps, that’s called a tendency. Opposing DCs get paid to notice stuff like that.

        For better or worse, we don’t run the spread… we don’t have 50 different ways to line up a guy like Thomas and get him the ball in space. He’s either gonna be dotting the I and doing a poor Herschel imitation, or offset in the shotgun and either attempting to block a DE that outweighs him by 75 pounds, or (and I don’t recall ever seeing this) moving out as a safety valve. Every blue moon we’ll throw a screen in there, but you can’t live on that (again, unless you’re a true spread team).

        So, my point… I don’t see why we recruited a 175 pound tailback for a pro-style offense.

        I sometimes get the impression (not just from this) that Bobo/Richt have grand ideas about “being multiple” and “opening things up”, which causes them to talk big during spring practice, recruit scatback guys like Thomas or hybrid TEs like Charles (who would be great flexed out but again we rarely do stuff like that). But when it comes down to it they’re too conservative and always seem to go back to their core tendencies. Not that that stuff *never* works, but you’re unlikely to run with the big dogs unless you mix a bit of new with the tried and true.

        • NRBQ

          I said it before, and I’ll say it again.

          What might UGA’s record be if all the Thomas attempts up the middle had instead been plays from the shotgun (or with some element of a spread)?

        • 69Dawg

          C Thomas was suppose to be our Warwick Dunn. Richt said as much when we recruited him. Well he’s not so there goes that evaluation process again.

          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            I’m not so sure how successful Warrick Dunn would be in 2010 in the SEC running that offense. D players are bigger and faster now than they were 10-15 years ago.

  5. Carolinadawg

    I don’t buy the argument that we’re undersized on the DL. Geathers and Anderson both weigh 325. Tyson, A. Jones and Wood range from 287 to 297. Atkins weighed 290, for comparison.

    And I love the statement “…running the table seems unrealistic…” LOL Ya think?!

    • W Cobb Dawg

      I agree. Other than Dobbs the D line isn’t undersized at all. Plus they were all 4 star recruits!

      The D line underproduces just like most other parts of the team.

      • Scorpio Jones, III

        Not to Bulldog Joe Mr. Low, but maybe his reference in size is Mr. Cody.

        “Ain’t it great to pass out stars with no accountability….” Jamie Newberg

  6. Scorpio Jones, III

    Far be it from me to question my obvious betters, but is it not possible that “opening up the playbook” is something that naturally happens as a young quarterback progresses during the season?

    I realize that the acceptance of this premise requires the admission that Bobo knows stuff and sees stuff we don’t know, and can’t see: which could not possibly be true, right?

    It is also true, unfortunately, that Vandy IS better than UT. So is Kentucky, and I hope I don’t need to point out that the rest of them are in a different league.

    My mid-season assessment: The sky sure is more blue this morning than it was last Wednesday, and I will sure as hell take that.

  7. 69Dawg

    This season may get better but the potential is there for it to end ugly and I mean 4-8 ugly.

  8. W Cobb Dawg

    The first half has been an absolute disaster. I expect, and will be very thankful for, a few wins in the 2nd half. But I’m sorry, I can’t look upon the chaos in this program and declare the sun is breaking through – even after beating the hated UT.

  9. Russ The Temporary Mascot

    It’s a shame we didn’t go 1’s vs. 1’s in the summer to determine who was ready for SEC competition and who was not.

    It’s also a shame all the suspensions and the petty injuries on offense destroyed any timing and teamwork advantage we held in returning ten starters.

    These are all self-inflicted wounds which delivered our season D.O.A.

    I was just a pup in 2006, but I remember we set the stage for a very good 2007 season with that second half in Jacksonville.

    Perhaps we can look at last Monday’s physical practice as our turning point for the 2011 season.

    Time will tell.

    Russ.

  10. dudetheplayer

    To channel my ole’ buddy “sh” from back in the day…

    Just beat Florida.

  11. Mayor of Dawgtown

    I’ll be pulling for Mississippi State to beat the Gators, too.