I have to say that I was a little surprised, given the vehemence in much of the commenting that I’ve read here and elsewhere, that watching the broadcast yesterday didn’t drive me to new heights of despair. Usually that’s not the case after I’ve witnessed a bad loss in person.
That’s not to say that it made me feel better – a loss is still a loss, and a game like that, where they scratch and claw their way back into having a chance to beat a team they should beat, only to let it slip away in the end, is painful any way you look at it. But I think I’ve got more of a grasp of where the team’s problems are and I honestly think there’s much that’s fixable… if.
- Special teams. I saw nothing on the broadcast that I didn’t see in person. Basically anything involving Blair Walsh is under control. Neither return team is bringing much to the table, though, and Butler lacks consistency. That’s causing problems with field position for the offense – something that’s always problematic.
- Defense. I’m inclined, more or less, to give Grantham the benefit of the doubt here. We’ve all been screaming for a more aggressive defense and that’s what we’ve got – for the most part. The decision to play soft cover-two at the end of each half was disastrous and cost Georgia big time in the end. Grantham needs to realize that that’s the kind of stuff that got Martinez chased out of town. Most of the spectacular lapses, though, were blown coverages by players who are still learning their way around. It’s clear that Lakatos doesn’t have the kind of physical players in the secondary that he wants and that Georgia’s success in shutting down opponents’ passing attacks is going to be highly dependent on getting a consistent pass rush. The pass rush on Saturday was better than many gave it credit for being, but it wasn’t consistent enough to get Mallett out of his comfort zone throughout the game. On the other hand, the defense was much more physical in the run game than it showed in Columbia, so these kids do listen.
- Offense. I need to refine my criticism of Mike Bobo. It’s not so much that his playcalling is horrible throughout – for example, as they noted on the broadcast, he did take advantage in the second half of what the Arkansas secondary was giving him by dialing up several calls on the skinny post. It’s more of a structural problem, as Ben Dukes writes about in this post. Bobo isn’t doing a particularly good job of designing a game plan to fit his talent right now. He’s got a line that isn’t run blocking consistently (although the broadcast indicated they were better in that department than I originally thought) and struggled with blitz pickup. Yet he was reluctant to spread the defense out by going to a three-wideout set until mid-third quarter (Buck Belue overstates the case for Bobo, by the way). His game plan isn’t taking into account his quarterback’s inexperience in knowing when to get rid of the ball – the coaches can blame Murray all they want for causing some of the sacks, but there were plays where having a hot route or a short option would have helped. Play action was shown so much it became a meaningless threat (boy, compare that to how well Mallett deployed it!). Searels deserves some heat here, too. There’s no excuse for how much the line play has slipped so far this season. That’s a good part of the reason that what Bobo’s drawn up for the first three games hasn’t clicked on all cylinders.
- Third down and four. This deserves a special mention. It’s not just that it was a poorly designed play – why would you expect Washaun Ealey to be able to hold off a defensive end on an obvious passing call for a sufficient time to complete a deep pass? – it’s that it didn’t take into account the situation or the success that Arkansas’ blitz packages had against Georgia’s line all day. A dumb, dumb play call. A Patrick Nix kind of play call.
It’s easy for this to get lost in the anger, panic and frustration, but it’s worth considering that a squad that looked frequently dysfunctional and was missing several key players who would have had an impact was a brain fart or two away from beating the twelfth ranked team in the country. At the ten-minute mark in the fourth quarter, I doubt you would have gotten many takers for the proposition that Georgia would have the ball in its hands with two and a half minutes to go with the chance to win the game. That they let the opportunity slip away is the reason for my hanging “if” above.
Fortunately for the Dawgs, they go into a stretch where they don’t see a dominant quarterback for a while and don’t see a top of the conference rushing attack, either (I like Tauren Poole a lot, but Tennessee’s offensive line has problems). It’s an opportunity to get their sea legs under them and establish some traction. That’s obviously not an automatic, though, as there have been stretches in the past two games that would get this team beat by any of its next five opponents. Coaches need to coach and players need to play. We’ll see this Saturday if they’re ready to do that.