Steering the car on the early season track

It’s hard to argue with this:

To the extent that Georgia wins this year, it will probably be with what the commentators like to call outscoring the other team (often ignoring that this is actually the way we decide winners in football). The Dawgs return almost all of the top players from a team that led the SEC in per-play yardage, edging out even Texas A&M by a hundredth of a yard. A lot of that has to do with Georgia being the only team in the conference to average 10 yards per pass. Given the fact that Georgia is probably the hardest-hit team in the SEC East when it comes to the division’s well-publicized attrition on defense, it’s fair to assume that there will be times when the offense has to carry the team.

On defense, you could say Georgia’s swapped one problem

The Georgia defense is never not prepared. This doesn’t guarantee victory. The last season, 2012, there were playmakers and headliners. However, there were suspensions and a telling lack of depth. When you work with 29 bodies on defense (which normally has a complement of 40 to 42), then the long season takes it toll. When Abry Jones went down late, this meant that in the SEC championship, Georgia only had five linemen to roll in and out of the game, when you normally and ideally have eight. If Jones had been at playable strength, you would assume he would have been available for at least 30 snaps, giving much needed rest to the big guys — John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. That might have been the difference. One third-down stop in a crucial drive, perhaps. Alabama simply wore the Bulldogs’ defense down late in the game.

… for another.

This year, Grantham is working with 38 scholarship players. There is talent with which to work. He is the first to make note of that. There will be playmakers, maybe not like Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, but there won’t be a drought when it comes to big plays. What he doesn’t have, as everybody including Tajh Boyd knows, is experience. Grantham’s defense, for the most part, is green as a gourd as they say in rural Georgia which is pretty green. Grantham likes his troops and you can easily see that it is inspiring for him to have an opportunity to teach his young charges the nuances of his 3-4 defense.

Sixteen new faces. Some have never seen game action. Never played under the bright lights on the road with national television recording and documenting their every move.

It simply isn’t realistic to expect a defense that will be starting a true freshman at one safety spot and playing a lot of guys in the secondary with little to no starting experience against Clemson’s offense to come out rolling like a smoothly oiled machine.  Toss in special teams play that’s probably best described as questionable at this point and, yeah, the offense damned well better be ready to carry the team opening night.

But what I wonder is how much does Mark Richt adjust his game management strategy based on the resources he has.  Last year, a thin defense justified slowing down the game on offense at times to give defenders a chance to recharge.  However, if a reasonable expectation going into Clemson is that the team will need to win a shoot out – something Georgia’s clearly capable of doing, especially against a defense that doesn’t seem to be any great shakes itself – don’t you want Bobo to keep his foot on the gas for as long as it takes?

Of course, the problem with that approach is that it risks playing into Clemson’s strategy of wanting to run as many plays in the game as possible.  It’s also never struck me as a strategy Mark Richt’s been comfortable with.  So I don’t know.

It would be nice to say afterwards that we watched a bunch of young players grow up in that game.  Some probably will, for that matter.  And there’s too much talent to think that the defense won’t climb that learning curve successfully as the season grinds on.  (In any event, this year’s curve appears less steep than the one Grantham faced in his first season in Athens.)  But early on, Aaron Murray and his mates had better be ready to answer the bell from the get go, whatever pace they’re tasked at.

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62 Comments

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62 responses to “Steering the car on the early season track

  1. section Z alum

    i tend to agree completely, but i always have a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that things get upside down in a hurry. like murray’s first year as a starter the season began with the question was whether the veteran team would be able to support him as he matured, but the reality ended up being that he carried the team until it got settled down.

  2. My objectives on defense would be to 1) Keep Sammy Watkins from getting the home run, and 2) Keep contain on Tajh Boyd. If Clemson can drive down the field running the ball and throwing short to intermediate passes, more power to them. Make them convert first downs, but don’t give it all up on one play.

    You have to think that if you make them earn it, Clemson is going to Clempson at some point. Either a penalty or a sack or a dropped ball or something. That’s when the defense needs to capitalize and turn it into a stop to get the warhorses back on the field. They don’t have to be great yet. If they can just be adequate – preventing the big plays that can kill a young defense – then Georgia should have a good chance to win.

    • The Lone Stranger

      In a weird twist, it would be a gameplan that Willie Mo might have relished. And if AM can master the seamless handoff action to #3/4 all through the night then I feel the Dawgs will be in this thing with a 50/50 chance at the win in the 4th qtr.

  3. paul

    We really need to grind out a running game on opening night. I’m not saying we won’t win without being able to keep the Clemson offense off the field but it will be a whole lot easier if we can. I think we’ll be seeing our share of Big 12 football from the Dawgs this year. But if the Clemson game turns into one of those “whoever gets the ball last wins” contests I may be watching the fourth quarter from a hospital bed. It’s the big one. I’m coming Elizabeth.

  4. Doug

    I see what you’re saying, Senator, but given that time management in college football is sort of a zero-sum game, I’m fine with slowing the pace down for the simple reason that every second our offense is on the field is a second Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins are cooling their heels on the sidelines. Considering that Georgia’s offense performed at a pretty high level regardless what pace it was setting last year, I’m OK with us not going fast-and-furious on the Tigers unless/until circumstances call out for it.

    • Time is a zero-sum game.

      This is true, but you shouldn’t play slow just because the other team will get more possessions. You should look at talent and depth differentials as well.

      If the advantage UGA’s offense has over Clemson’s defense is greater than the reverse, then you should play to maximize possessions. If you have the depth to play fast-break speed the whole game, but your opponent does not, that’s another reason to play fast. If, by playing fast, you increase the advantage of your offense vs. their defense, you should play fast.

      The only reason I would slow it down is if you don’t have enough depth on defense. If you don’t have enough guys that you can count on to know what is going on in a fast-paced environment (because Clemson is going to go fast regardless), then you have depth issues, and you might need to slow it down and minimize possessions to make sure you have gas in the tank in the fourth quarter. Playing slow on offense isn’t going to make Clemson’s offense run any slower for the young defense.

      • Will (the other one)

        Exactly. Maybe no matter the talent, we’re going to give up 30+. But if we take the approach WVA took against Clemson’s D, that won’t matter. Foot on the gas, and don’t let up (that was something that really bugged me in a rewatch of the UT game from last year. We spent the 4th trying to grind it out instead of build our lead.)

    • AlphaDawg

      This is my opinion too, 40 carries spilt between Gurley and Marshall for 235 yards on the ground and 3/4 rushing TD would be ideal. Keep Boyd off the field as much as possible. Rinse and repeat until the D gets a little more experience.

  5. Dawg93

    One key not mentioned by anyone so far is the heat. Yeah, it’ll be 8pm but it’s going to be hot & humid and we know cramping always comes into play in the first game. And it just takes it’s toll physically. I think with our OL and RBs, we should pound the living hell out of them. It wears Clemson down on defense and keeps their potent offense off the field.

    And one more point – we all know Murray’s penchant for getting too amped up for these big games, which leads to an INT or two. Might as well let him get into the flow of the game first before we start really airing it out.

    • shane#1

      Score early, score often. spread the D to open lanes for the RBs and pile up every point possible in the first half, then a steady diet of 3 and 4 in the second with some play action back shoulder throws down deep. Dawgs need 48 to win and Dooley’s O don’t get it. I am an old fart but I know this ain’t 1980 and Erk is dead. Rookies are all over the place on D and one of the best O’s in the country, play to your strengths.

  6. JRod1229

    I assume we’ll treat this like most games under Grantham in that we want to take away one facet of the game (in this case the run game) and make the team have one dimension. Tahj is great but if we know they can’t run the ball in the 3rd and 4th quarters we’ll slowly get those advantages.

  7. uglydawg

    This is all making me nervous.
    Right now I’m kinda thinking this game may be like UGA-NEB was..only Clemson’s defense won’t be as good as Nebraska’s and Georgia’s defense probably won’t be as good as Georgia’s.

    • Brian Dawg

      I think I understood that….

    • Dawg93

      yeah but I think our guys were a little “hungover” from the SECCG loss and we were super-thin on the DL with John Jenkins being out.

    • AusDawg85

      I agree it should be like the Nebraska game. We probably have 4 big plays, they’ll get 2 and everything else will be pretty sloppy for both teams.

  8. AlphaDawg

    ” Last year, a thin defense justified slowing down the game on offense at times to give defenders a chance to recharge.” I didn’t really see any of this last year. I know there were several times last year where I kept thinking, ‘WOW’ that was a quick score, wish we had taken another couple of plays to give the ‘D’ a breather.

  9. mdcgtp

    I think it is near impossible to project how good we will be on opening day on defense and how that will change through the year. I do know this. Great coaching staffs create a “next man up” culture. They recruit enough quality players, employ sound schemes, and have durable process such that losing players is merely a transition point. Jarvis had a penchant for making enormous plays. He was a fantastic pass rusher and will go down in UGA history as one of our best defenders ever. That said, his talents and physical skills are not unique. My guess is that we are going to see a lot of athletic plays from our OLBs over the next several years.

    So how does this all relate to the question at hand, I don’t think our talent on defense was particularly unique. The NFL draft PROVED that. What do I mean? Save Jarvis and Ogletree, our guys were not taken that high at their respective positions. I wish all of them well, but EVERY starter on a UGA defense should be drafted. What makes everyone think we had a “talent drain” was the simple fact that we had a concentrated senior class.

    As I look at the defense, I see 2 places with clear dropoff. Jarvis and Commings. Ogletree is and was a freak, and Hererra won’t be soaring 45 inches off the ground to intercept a pass, but he will probably defend the run better…even sideline to sideline. Rambo and Williams were not particualarly outstanding a year ago. We will all place Williams in a special place for leadership, but I have a hard time believing Matthews and JHC won’t be better long term. Rambo was NOT a good tackler, and Williams missed the single most important tackle of the season last year. The question is will they be better in the short term. The DL has a lot of options and very little “elite” production to replace. Throw in a new coach with a bit more energy, and I think we fare well there. So the real question is who handles “big receivers”. Certainly, Sheldon Dawson is going to make plays, and I think the lineage of compact cover corner from wansley to thornton to jennings to asher to boykin to dawson is alive and well, but I loved the fact that we could put Commings on a big receiver and not worry about big plays.

    at any rate, I think the real potential for this team that I wonder about is the OL. I really wonder if we are going to be able to physically wear on very good defenses. IF we can, we will lessen Gurley’s load and make Murray down near illegal.

    • Macallanlover

      Very nice post and observations about the Defense, you articulated why I feel this defense will not be a fall off from last year at all. Yes, we may get burned some because of the new DBs, but I recall that happening last year as well. I don’t see us holding Clemson below 20 points, but I don’t see them shredding us for 41 either. I think our O is better than their D by a larger degree than their O is better than our D. If we don’t make more mistakes and hand it to them, Dawgs should win this one. They are simply not a better football team than us, but I do hate playing them on the road at night. Weird stuff tends to happen in that situation. It is the exciting opening matchup for UGA I can remember in many years, glad I feel good about it because it has been building for so long. Think about it, we only had 2 weeks to think about Bama last season and it didn’t feel “comfy”, we have had 8 months to think about this one.

      • IveyLeaguer

        Nice post yourself. Good point about not giving the game away. In a very real sense, our biggest opponent in this game is ourselves, which is why I worry about the offense.
        ~~~

        • Dog in Fla

          Where am I? I thought we were supposed to be worried about the defense and special teams

          • IveyLeaguer

            LOL … I guess it does seem like The Twilight Zone or something. :) But I really believe it’s more like The Cutting Edge, because it’s a reality view.

            I think everybody is concerned about a young, inexperienced defense and a mediocre kicking game. But we had a good ST scrimmage Monday, and there’s not much chance of the kickers themselves being worse than last year. The defense was discussed above.

            The reason for worrying about the offense running smoothly at Clemson is really simple … a functioning, productive offense in a big opening game is something that hasn’t happened at Georgia in a very long time.
            ~~~

          • IveyLeaguer

            LOL … I guess it does seem like The Twilight Zone or something. :) But I really believe it’s more like The Cutting Edge, because it’s more of a reality view.

            I think everybody is concerned about a young, inexperienced defense and a mediocre kicking game. But we had a good ST scrimmage Monday, and there’s not much chance of the kickers themselves being worse than last year. The defense was discussed above.

            The reason for worrying about the offense running smoothly at Clemson is really simple … a functioning, productive offense in a big opening game is something that hasn’t happened at Georgia in a very long time.
            ~~~

    • AlphaDawg

      “The DL has a lot of options and very little “elite” production to replace. Throw in a new coach with a bit more energy, and I think we fare well there.”—-thats the best observation concerning our D-line i’ve read.

      • Will (the other one)

        Yep. I really don’t see how our DL can’t improve on last season’s truly terrible numbers. Our rush yards/game against last year was worse than any of the Willie Mart years, and, even more alarmingly, worse than the Kevin Ramsey year.
        Our pass #s may take a step back, but no way do we allow that many weak teams to get nearly 200 yds rushing on us another year.

    • IveyLeaguer

      Good post, mdcgtp. I’ve been trying to make these points for a long time, so thanks for another perspective on them.

      Basically, except for Jarvis, we’re better off having lost these guys. As you indicate, there’s a reason these players, and their predecessors before them, have been drafted in the lower rounds (I predicted correctly, the fall of both Rambo and Reshad Jones). Generally speaking, they were Martinez’ players, and many of them would never have enrolled at Georgia under Grantham.

      I’ve gone into depth before about most of them, how Rambo was not only a bad tackler, but not a good safety, either. And how Ogletree is a freak athlete, but had not yet arrived at ILB. You are right in saying he can be replaced.

      And a great point about Jarvis and Commings. I agree they are the two we’ll miss .. and the only two. At some point, one of the new, long corners will replace Commings, but it may be next year before that happens. And Jordan Jenkins may not be Jarvis, but he’ll make some plays. On the other side, we’ll be a lot better at the Sam.

      DL is much better, though it may take a little time. Wilson will develop most of his players, and do so on time, IMO. That seems to be clear already. ILB’s are a notch above last year as a group, and the four freshmen ILB’s are a notch above the starters, talent-wise.

      Playing a TF Free safety is a dangerous thing, but I’ll take Matthews over the obsessive/compulsive Rambo any day. He may give up some easy scores this year, but I’ll be he doesn’t make it a habit his entire career. Receivers were blowing past Rambo for scores as late as last season, due to freshman-like eye violations. Other big plays were due to missed tackles, bad angles, and just being late.

      Williams was more dependable, but Fluker looks like he can play, and with JHC we shouldn’t drop much at SS, if at all.

      Anyway, the Senator is right, IMO, that the offense should “come out rolling like a smoothly oiled machine”. As I’ve said many times now, there is no reason for that not to happen. None whatsoever. In these circumstances, anything less than that will be unacceptable.

      Nevertheless, like you, my main concern for this game, and similar for SC, is not the defense, but the offense. There’s concern for the defense, sure. But if the offense functions properly, they will give our young defense a great chance to succeed in these early games.
      ~~~

    • Chadwick

      Very good points. I worry about three things. The first being Aaron Murray being neurotic early. The second worry would be a young secondary. Last, “Jarvis had a penchant for making enormous plays”. That’s a fact and he’s really gonna be missed this year.

      Pound the rock and The Classic City Canines win by two td’s.

    • Cosmic Dawg

      Man, you brought up my favorite UGA player ever.

      I miss Boykin’s energy and enthusiasm. When I first saw this picture, I just thought “Now that’s what you want on your football team, right there. That kind of joy at simply being out there and playing ball.”

      http://www.igglesblog.com/.a/6a00d8341c248053ef019104a4657a970c-pi

  10. Agree completely. I think by week 10 this defense could be great (or better). But week 1? No way. UGA needs 38+ if they want to beat Clemson, and 38 may be the minimum.

  11. sUGArdaddy

    38 pts? Nah.

    Hand the ball to Todd Gurley. Hand the ball to Todd Gurley. Hand the ball to Todd Gurley. Fake the ball to Todd Gurley and throw it to Artie Lynch. Pitch the ball to Keith Marshall. Hand the ball to Keith Marshal. Hand the ball to Todd Gurley. Slant to Michael Bennett. Hand the ball to Todd Gurley. Pitch the ball to Keith Marshall. Bomb to Malcom Mitchell just because we can…hand the ball to Todd Gurley.

    #3 and #4 will be the difference in this game…and that difference will be staggering by about 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 31. Gameday Final will consist of, “My Lord, who in the world is going to stop those two guys at Georgia?”

    • uglydawg

      I just slapped my grandmaw!

    • paul

      I agree this is the approach we ought to take. I sure do hope you’re right about the results. But at this point I do think we may need the 38+. Hopefully we’ll be pulling away at the end. The first two games will be very telling. This year we will learn an awful lot about our team very quickly.

      • sUGArdaddy

        Oh, we’ll score 38…we just won’t need them. And we might be a little under due to choking it down a little.

        Clemmons averaged 22.67 PPG vs. 3 SEC opponents and 46.5 vs. their 8 SEC opponents. Unfortunately for them, we will not be trotting out Maryland’s defense on the last day of August.

    • Sounds like a plan. Todd Gurley, Keith Marshal, Michael Bennett, and Malcom Mitchell….Wow…we are going to be great!

    • The Lone Stranger

      So how many acres are you betting?

    • Slaw Dawg

      I agree that should essentially be the O game plan for the first half. Then we essentially flip flop the run vs pass mix in the 3d Q, or maybe mid way thru the 3dQ. Their D will be gassed. So that’s when I’d like to see a lot of Lynch and Rome punctuated by bombs to Mitchell, Conley, Scott-Wesley and/or Rumph. Then the middle will open up like Effie’s on a Saturday night, and if it’s close in the 4th, Gurley and Marshall will scamper. Unless they have more of a running game than I think, I just don’t see how they avoid having their D on the field too long and they’ll be done at that point.

      Speaking of their O, they have to be respected, for sure. They’re going to put up points, and we may be behind at the half. But barring self-committed turnovers, there’ll be a significant scoring disparity in Georgia’s favor the second half.

  12. VidaliaDawg

    I feel we will be fine on the defensive side of the ball. Last year Herrera filled in Tree’s shoes just fine, and we all know what kind of player Jenkins is. The biggest question to me is at nose and of course the secondary. Swann is a ball hawk and hearing everyone talk at camp Matthews is living up to the billing, but last year how many times did we get gassed downfield. Smith, Rambo, and Williams didn’t really live up to the hype.

  13. Path of least resistance…no point in fighting it. Our offense has shown that it’s good enough to go fast or slow, on the ground our through the air.

    If they want to dictate pace, fine….let them. I still don’t see them outscoring us. And, inexperienced or not, I still don’t believe their D is better then ours just like I don’t believe their offense or their coaching is.

    I’m not saying they’re bad but I’ve also not seen anything that tells me they’re better than us either. I just don’t see us losing without losing the turnover and /or penalty battle.

  14. AthensHomerDawg

    It’s gonna be hot and humid. I hope someone remembers the pickle juice. Probably need to stock up on ice too. ;-)

  15. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Both anecdotal as well as a one-game sample….

    but I saw something in that LSU game from Clemson that I have not seen in a Clemson team in a long, long time: the willingness to hit and be hit. Not coincidentally, they overcame a horrendous start in that game. Yes, they benefited from some classic Les late-game strategery, but still… a Clemson team with talent and heart is something very different than what we’re used to seeing.

    I am hoping it was a 1 game anomaly. Not that I worried about an L, just worried about having something left in the tank for the next game.

    • Hogbody Spradlin

      If I recall correctly, LSU was talking trash and Clemson got fired up.

    • Dog in Fla

      The Chick-fil-A Bowl changed everything. First and foremost, when Dabo was met by ESPN reporter Jeannine Edwards, the greatness occurred because she did not immediately start proceedings to have Dabo Ron Franklined when he picked her up and hugged her

      http://fansided.com/2013/01/01/video-clemson-head-coach-dabo-swinneys-emotional-post-game-interview/

      • mdcgtp

        As we know, bowl games can both be indicators of nothing and something. In 2001, a disinterested UGA team lost to BC, which meant nothing in 2002. In 2005, our performance against West Virginia was probably the first real tangible symbol of complacency in the program. I think it is reasonably clear that between the downer of playing in the Peach bowl and LSU entire season, particularly after playing for the national title a year earlier combined with the massive early exodus of Juniors to the the NFL probably had an impact on the outcome of the game. Further, it still took a miracle play and a lot of idiocy from Les Miles for Clemson to win.

        Perhaps Clemson is mentally tougher in 2012-2013 than they were when they were a national joke, but the game still comes down to matchups. Their DL against our running game is NOT a good matchup for them. Further, they gave up gobs of big plays in the secondary. If we do well in the former matchup, the latter could cause the game to blow wide open.

        I think this game sets up A LOT like our game against Ole Miss last year with the obvious difference that our team won’t be hungover from a win in Jax and Clemson has a bit more talent (but probably not an insane amount more) and a very experienced QB. Otherwise, I would not be surprised if the game took on a similar pattern.

        The real challenge is the following week and our defense doing a better job on the zone read running play. We can’t crash the QB at the expense of the RB, but we can’t let Shaw run wild and never face 3rd down. Obviously, Clowney and Sutton are very very good DL, and though they lost LBs, we know that LBs are perhaps the easiest position to replace. We are thinking Clemson, which makes sense where it falls, but the real challenge will be USC (who destroyed Clemson as we know)! That said, hopefully SC destroys UNC and perhaps they get a bit complacent.

  16. MykieSee

    I’m gonna be a Positive Polly and point out the fact that our young defense is practicing against the most potent offense in all of college football. I think the defense will be fine. I think we hit Clempsun in the mouth from the get-go and keep on hittin’.