The 2011 season, in a nutshell

I’m hard pressed to summarize last year any better than this:

I caught a replay of the Florida-Georgia game the other night. It reminded me of a few things about the Dawgs. They have a great college quarterback in Aaron Murray. When he’s on, the Dawgs are as explosive as any outfit. He made several big third and fourth down throws in that game as Georgia climbed out of a 17-3 hole to take the lead. But he also has innacurate bouts bogging down the offense. During the meat of the second half in that Florida game when the Dawgs had several chances to put some distance between themselves and the Gators, he misfired on nine straight throws and took a sack, enabling Florida to stay in striking range the whole way. In Michigan terms, he really knows how to sprinkle in a little of 2003 John Navarre with 2002 John Navarre to make things interesting. Their special teams were rotten and need to dramatically improve for a better season. Why did they give up a combined 155 points to Boise, South Carolina, LSU and Michigan State? Mostly because of ill timed poor special team gaffes. In the points allowed category, it crushed an otherwise stellar effort from UGA’s D, which sees nine starters back this year. But the bottomline is those were the best four teams the Dawgs played a year ago, and Georgia lost them all.

For all the fretting we’ve done about the offensive line and the offseason suspensions in the secondary, it’s worth considering that if Murray can cut down on the valleys in his play (and, yes, some of that ties back into the o-line’s work) and special teams play can rise merely to the ranks of the competent, this year’s team stands a decent chance on improving what was accomplished in 2011.

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29 Comments

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29 responses to “The 2011 season, in a nutshell

  1. rocksalt

    So, are the Special Teams this year’s “Return to the Mean”?

    • fuelk2

      That implies that the poor special teams play was random. Hardly. Belin showed that it’s not a talent issue that hurts us on kickoffs. The personnel he worked with was no better than anyone else’s. On punt coverage, we just have to hope to kick it high and short this year, I guess.

  2. paul

    Aaron Murray is a talented young man who is smart and works hard. Overall, his statistics are better than good. They’re very good. However, to date, he simply has not been a big game quarterback. That’s not all his fault. But we haven’t won the big games with Murray under center. Yet. At least so far, when Aaron decides he needs to put the team on his shoulders, he’s far more likely to fumble or throw an interception than make a spectacular play. Perhaps the key for him is to learn to stay within himself.

    • I mostly agree with your take, but I only take exception to this type of commentary that’s been floating around the last couple of years:

      But we haven’t won the big games with Murray under center. Yet.

      He’s .500 or better against all of our biggest rivals except the Gamecocks. Those are some pretty danged big games to me. He also led the team on a 10 game winning streak last year when every single game was a big game. Big in the sense that a loss would either prevent a trip to Atlanta or potentially end Mark Richt’s tenure in Athens.

      There’s certainly no defense to the charge that he’s not brought his A game against the best teams we’ve seen, but he definitely came up big last year when the team’s collective back was up against the wall after the loss in Week 2.

      • paul

        Well I would agree that last year our biggest games last year were Boise, South Carolina, LSU and Michigan State. Only one of those would be considered a traditional rival. The year before I believe our biggest games were South Carolina, Arkansas, Auburn and Florida. Three of which are considered traditional rivals. Fact of the matter is we lost all eight of those games. While the ten game streak was unexpected and quite impressive, it included Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, New Mexico State, Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. Name one of those teams we shouldn’t have beat. Were any of those big games? I think not. The highest quality opponent on that list was Vanderbilt. I still believe Murray hasn’t won the big games. Yet.

    • Now that I think of it though, my take could be a classic case of Bill Clinton syndrome.

      AuditDawg – “Depends on what your definition of big is…”. :)

      • The Lone Stranger

        And yet, as a TEAM the Dawgs are 4-12 in their most recent games against ranked opponents. Somehow they must pull it together for the “high profile” tilts. This season there may only be 4 of those. Win 3-of-4 and I’ll be convinced.

  3. AthensHomerDawg

    ” he misfired on nine straight throws and took a sack, ” In all fairness to Murray that happened after he took a big shot to his thigh trying to scramble out of trouble. He ended up on the exercise bike after that series trying to keep that leg from tightening up. The same thing happened against Auburn. We watched the DB turn Murray upside down.

  4. Bevo

    I agree with the nutshell summary and the Senator’s conclusions. Pretty much spot on. One thing that wasn’t mentioned that I think would help Murray a ton — and also ties back to the performance of the offensive line — is a running game. Our ground game wasn’t anything to write home about in any of those games, except maybe South Carolina. There were other games in which our running game sucked as well, but since we’re just talking about the losses, a legitimate running threat would help Murray to.

    On special teams, we’ve got to get it together already. That simple. Special teams and offensive valleys/turnovers (especially against decent defenses) were responsible for our losses last season, and almost cost us a couple other wins. I’ve been beating that drum ad nauseum. Defense is going to be great again. Will the others get upgraded to good or even decent?

    • Ginny

      Totally agree about the running game. I don’t know why it’s not getting more attention. A solid running game will solve most if not all of Aaron Murray’s issues.

    • Will the others get upgraded to good or even decent?

      I’m sure the fanbase will figure out a way to Dawgrade them if they do.

  5. Comin' Down The Track

    Isn’t the elephant in the room the breaking in of two new kickers?

  6. stoopnagle

    I think AM’s year is going to shock a lot of folks because those people are thinking a frosh/soph should play like a senior. That’s very rarely going to happen. But AM is a junior now. He’ll have his best year, I think.

  7. Ron

    Aaron Murray being a junior doesn’t excite me. He’s had two consecutive years to prove to me who he is…. History repeats itself so get ready for some ill-timed turnovers coupled with some questionable play calling. Sprinkle in some great defensive play and you’ve got 2011 redux. 9-3.

    • Joe Schmoe

      This is a ridiculous remark. Typically, QBs experience the biggest jump in performance between their 2nd and 3rd seasons as a starter in an offensive system. I expect Murray to have a his best season so far.

    • King Jericho

      Junior Matt Stafford with a Todd Grantham defense would probably have been a pretty story in 2008. Stafford had a pretty big season after a “good” sophomore campaign.

    • Internal Affairs

      Right. Because no college athlete improves after the first two years.

  8. SRhoades14

    Murray has had some very “clutch” moments along the way. One in particular makes me very optimistic of his ability to win big games.
    In the closing minutes of the UGA-SC game in 2011 (just after I had jumped off the couch yelling, “WTF!”) Murray drove the length of the field with his arm when UGA had to score, get the ball, and score again. Only the first step in that scenario happened… but it happened in 57 seconds. So he did not sink into a depression over his fumble, and he was focused and accurate in a 2 minute drill (without timeouts to save those for stopping SC).
    Murray can perform under pressure.

  9. Joe Schmoe

    Couple of thoughts:
    > The rule change on kickoffs is going to play hugely in UGAs favor as this will (should) eliminate the need to cover a substantial number of kicks this season – one of our biggest weaknesses.
    > I think it is unfair to blame Murray for playing well at times during big games last season as we were a completely one-dimensional offense during large periods of time during those games with no credible running threat. If you look at those 4 games last season (USCe, Boise, LSU, Michigan St.) those were 4 of the best defensive lines that we saw all season and they were basically able to take away the running game. No offense or QB performs all that well when they are one dimensional because the defense knows what’s coming.

  10. CW13

    If UGA held opponents to 32 points or less, went 10-0.
    If UGA gave up 33 points or more, went 0-4.

    It’s all about special teams, and red zone defense. Offense will win games if you don’t let the other guys score 33, 35, 42, 45 points. The red zone defense allowed 10 td’s in 11 red zone attempts against Boise, SC, and LSU. Special teams played terrible in those 4 games against top 10 teams.

    When Murray faces top 10 pass defenses like Florida, LSU, Mich St, the red zone defense and special teams have to play big.

    Fact is, UGA was the easiest team in the SEC to score on in the red zone, and the easiest to score a td on in the red zone. Red zone defense was last in SEC. Defense didn’t force ANY fumbles against ranked teams. And has given up about 400 yards rushing against South Carolina since Grantham came on board.

    Special teams? 11th in SEC in field goal percentage, last in punt return defense, last in SEC in kick return defense.

    Murray was only responsible for 4 bad plays in those 4 games that led directly to points like interceptions for td, and fumble for td. Murray didn’t lose a single game.

    • Bevo

      “Offense will win games if you don’t let the other guys score 33, 35, 42, 45 points.”

      You’re not counting points that the offense gave up as a result of turnovers. We fans too often look at the scoreboard at the end of the game, or months later, and forget that the defense isn’t the only squad that is capable of giving up points.

  11. W Cobb Dawg

    I’m still not convinced our coaching staff is up to the challenge, other than CTG, Olivadotti & Lakatos – who have made huge strides in a short time. Our offense and special teams have been making gaffs that cost us big games for years – the blog story points out the obvious. The paradox is I don’t believe anyone seriously expects us to challenge for the mnc – though we have a strong shot at the secc, and less than 10 wins would be a big disappointment. The D will be fine. I think 2 new kickers and the same ole coaches assures 2012 STs will be much the same as 2011. We’ve all been waiting a long time to see the O improve enough to get us more than 10 wins.

  12. CW13

    Hopefully, the D will improve upon it’s 39 points per game average. Worse than Willie Martinez. The offense will put up points and move the ball, Bobo was 1st in total offense in the conference and 4th in scoring, but the D has got to get more red zone stops.

    And yes, Grantham’s defensive coaches need to really improve on their last place kick return and punt return defense.

    Grnatham is the key, hopefully, his staff really makes strides in 2012.

  13. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Special teams, special teams, special teams.

  14. shane#1

    Murray’s biggest problem is going into big games too amped up. If he has matured in the off season he should be much better in big games. I would keep the ball on the ground on the first couple of series until he burns some of that energy off and gets in a groove. Maybe even throw in a couple of runs for him. Nothing calms you down like that first lick.

  15. CW13

    Bevo, yes, I mentioned Murray had 4 bad plays in those 4 games that led directly to points. Only int’s or fumbles for instant td’s do I hold held directly against the offense. If the defense gets a chance to hold to a field goal or no points in the red zone, that’s on Grantham. If the kickoff or punt return defenses struggle, since it’s Grantham’s staff running those units, that’s also on Grantham. Murray and the offense is responsible for racking up yards and scoring, which they finished #1 in total offense agsainst ranked teams, and #4 in scoring against ranked teams at 27 points a game.