Daily Archives: January 3, 2012

While we’re on the subject of questionable game management…

it’s not like Mark Richt had a monopoly on it yesterday.

You could argue that Shaw’s decision-making was even iffier, because he had Andrew Luck playing lights out as his non-kicking option.

On the other hand, this was Shaw’s first dance at the rodeo; Richt’s had more than a few chances to learn from.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

Surrender, Dooley.

Looks like SOD’s had a change of heart.

Maybe Barbara convinced him to remove his head from his ass on this one.

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Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange

I’m shocked, shocked to find that relying on the kicker is going on in here.

Michael Elkon and I exchanged a few observations on Twitter yesterday as the debacle unfolded.  I was kind of amused to see that he was more angry about the outcome than I was (he’s got more invested in MSU than I do, but then, again, Beyond Crompton resonates more with me than with him).  That being said, it’s hard to argue with his logic here:

… I feel no such compunction this morning after referring to Georgia’s decisions in the first overtime against Michigan State as “the dumbest playcalling of all-time,” an episode of “epic stupidity,” and Georgia “voluntarily castrating themselves.” Mark Richt’s course of action was just that bad. College football implemented its new overtime rules in 1996 and over that 15-year time period, I cannot recall any team getting the ball in the bottom half of an inning and settling for a field goal without making any attempt to get the ball any closer than 25 yards out. And the funny thing is that there have been plenty of college coaches who did not have kickers who finished dead-last in their conferences in field goal percentage and those coaches have all said to themselves “you know what, a 42-yard field goal is not a gimme for a college coach; maybe I should try to get 15 yards or so so that the odds of making this field goal go up significantly.”

Richt’s decision just reeked of timidity. He was so scared of a turnover that he chose to put Blair Walsh in a difficult position. Coaches do this all the time, knowing on a conscious or subconscious level* that if a kicker misses, the fans and media will usually blame the kicker instead of the coach. In this instance, Richt should and probably will get the vast majority of the criticism. Walsh missed 12 kicks this year on 31 attempts. Georgia lost 22 turnovers in 945 plays. In essence, Richt was so concerned about the 2.3 percent chance of a turnover on a given play that he chose the 38.7 percent chance of Walsh missing a field goal. I may have been a liberal arts major in college who dropped Statistics 402 within a week, but even I can figure out that Richt’s decision was obviously bone-headed by a wide margin.

As I’ve already mentioned, the odds for a successful Walsh field goal improve dramatically once Georgia moves inside the 23, but Michael’s point is still well taken.  Richt was way too passive at that point, and it backfired on him dramatically.

But that takes me to his bigger point:  “Mark Richt made an indefensible decision in the overtime period against Michigan State.  How much weight should we give to that mistake in evaluating Richt?”

Judging from some of the comments I’ve seen, there are some folks who think the answer to that question is plenty.  You can shoot me, but I’m not nearly so convinced.  Deferring to the field goal is what Mark Richt does and what he’s done since he set foot in Athens.  He’s a conservative game manager, come hell or high water.

He’s also the head coach, come hell or high water.  Which means the issue isn’t about changing his tactics/approach to the game – because that’s not in the cards, folks, no matter how much you may wish otherwise – but rather, it’s about what other steps he takes to offset the downside to his game management skills.

Elkon says as much with this:

Richt’s shockingly [Ed. note:  not really] conservative disposition during the end-game of the Outback Bowl was and remains indefensible, but the passage of time reminds me of one truism: we all overrate the importance of late game decisions when evaluating a coach. When it comes to determining whether a program wins or loses, late game strategery is the easiest factor for fans to judge. We can put percentages on various courses of action, such as the odds of a turnover versus missing a 42-yard field goal. Additionally, because late game play-calling is the last impression that we have of a team for a week (or, in this case, for eight months), it sticks out in the memory and the recency effect takes over. However, this factor isn’t nearly as important as the other things that a head coach does.

Recruiting is much more important and Richt has done a very good job in that department such that we can have the sense that Georgia had too much talent to go down the way it did yesterday. Managing a staff is more important and Georgia fans are pretty much united in their affection for Todd Grantham (and well they should be in light of the defense’s performance this year). As the demises of Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno have shown this year, the CEO functions performed by a head coach are also critical. Dawg fans should have no concerns about Richt making the right decision if he were confronted with a potentially incriminating e-mail or a (alleged) pedophile assistant coach. Making timid decisions at the end of a close game is annoying, but in the grand scheme of things, it is only a small portion of the pie chart when evaluating a head coach.

And that’s the issue we really ought to be addressing.  If we have to hold our noses and take the dumb moment in a tight game as part of the price, what should we hold Richt accountable for such that the program can succeed in spite of that?  I’d argue the following:

  • Consistently excellent recruiting.  As we’ve seen, talent doesn’t always overcome, but I’d rather take my chances with it than without it.  Georgia needs the highly skilled talent and the overall depth that comes with top classes year after year.
  • A top-notch defensive staff.  It’s the one area of the program that Richt doesn’t directly involve himself with, and it has to be there to carry the weight.  It’s one of the sure ways to offset Richt’s innate conservatism on offense.
  • Competent special teams.  If you’re going to rely on your field goal kicker to save your bacon on occasion, best make sure he’s capable of doing that.  Good punting and coverage teams allow Richt to play the field position game that’s part of his conservatism.
  • Dominant offensive line play.  This one almost goes without saying.
  • Emphasis on fundamentals.  If your team is fundamentally sound, there’s that much less of a chance it will beat itself.

Georgia’s problem over the past five years is that it hasn’t always been strong enough in these other areas.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Breaking down the breakdown: Outback Bowl observations

It’s tempting to use yesterday’s game as a metaphor for the season, but I think I’ll reserve that thought for another blog post.

I worried before the game about whether Georgia could avoid imploding with mistakes on special teams and turnovers.  Sadly, the answer was no, as Murray threw a brutal pick-six (his third turnover of the day) and Blair Walsh finished his college career with two missed field goals.  All were costly.

Here’s the rest of what I saw:

  • There’s no question in my mind what the turning point was in the game – Murray’s first interception, which came in the first part of the third quarter.  Gruden blamed it on poor communication on the scramble drill and Tavarres King confirmed that.  MSU had run off seven straight three-and-outs on offense prior to that turnover.  The Spartans would not have another one in regulation.  From that point until overtime, they ran 39 plays to Georgia’s 25.
  • Strangely enough, I had thought before that play that the chemistry between Murray and King was better than it had been all season.  The 80-yard touchdown pass which put the Dawgs up 9-0 was picture perfect – great route running and a gorgeous throw.
  • It’s hard to believe that King’s six-catch, 205 yard-receiving day could be overshadowed, but that’s what happened.  Brandon Boykin notched scores on offense, defense and special teams and was deserving of the rare MVP award in the face of his team’s loss.  Too bad he couldn’t kick field goals.
  • And did anybody notice that Boykin’s TD punt return came on a punt safe formation?
  • Obviously, there are lots of places to point fingers at, but for me the biggest problem yesterday was the offensive line.  MSU had an unbelievable sixteen tackles for loss and four sacks.  Much of that came from breakdowns in blocking assignments, as there were many occasions when a Spartan defender came through untouched.  Georgia couldn’t sustain any traction in its running game.  That in turn meant play action would be largely ineffective, which it was.  The o-line finished the year with two straight ineffective performances; given the departures of three starters, that has to be the biggest area of concern going into next season.
  • Speaking of two straight performances, what are they doing in the locker room at halftime?  Whatever it is, they need to do something different.
  • Outside of Malcome, Georgia’s backs did nothing.  Some of that was due to the ineffective run blocking, as every back had at least one negative-yardage run (considering that Boykin, Smith and Thomas only had two carries apiece and Crowell three, that’s pretty sad), but the lack of speed and aggression was noticeable.  Malcome was the only back who looked like he hit the hole with any authority.  Samuel looked rusty, which wasn’t surprising, but why give him nine carries?  And why wait to use Carlton Thomas so late in the game?
  • I know they were forced to use the tight ends in max protect more than they wanted, but any game plan that results in one catch for Orson Charles and none for Aron White isn’t playing to Georgia’s strength.  Plus, you’d think that a team that blitzed its linebackers as much as MSU did would be susceptible to quick passes to the tight ends.
  • Yeah, it was the Mike Bobo that makes me want to pull my hair out of my head that we saw.  It was clear by the end of the second quarter that Michigan State was having real problems defending the deep throw and that Aaron Murray was making the shots he took work… and that’s the play that disappeared on offense until the fourth quarter, when, natch, it worked again.  Bobo insisted on trying to grind the ball out between the tackles until Malcome ripped off two successive runs right before the pick-six.  And yet he did set up the three deep completions to King beautifully.  The TD pass to Boykin was a nice call.
  • We learned one thing about Grantham’s defense – it’s got some work to do on prevent.  Or, maybe that was just the cumulative effect from the injuries.  Georgia’s ability to defend the run up the middle sagged noticeably after Jenkins’ injury.  But I was proud of the way the defense bowed its back in overtime and kept MSU out of the end zone, even after Walsh’s first demoralizing miss.
  • Ogletree had a phenomenal, phenomenal game, didn’t he?
  • I liked Branden Smith’s effort in coverage.  Thought he showed good technique.
  • My favorite defensive play of the day came on Shawn Williams’ interception.  MSU picked on Commings in coverage all day and Grantham baited Cousins beautifully with the way he rolled the coverage.  Unfortunately, Georgia’s offense couldn’t punch it in from there for a touchdown.
  • I wasn’t disappointed that MSU held Jarvis Jones largely in check in the second half by emphasizing protection his way (or by throwing the screen over him), but I was disappointed that no one else picked up the slack.  Lack of a pass rush really hurt in the second half.
  • By the way, for all the people questioning the purpose of Dantonio’s challenge after the pass interference penalty, getting that thirteen seconds back on the clock turned out to be pretty big.

A strange game in many ways.  Murray made plenty of mistakes, but still outplayed Cousins.  Neither team could run the ball effectively.  There were special teams breakdowns on both sides.  Six turnovers all told, but, in one real difference between the two, the Spartans were able to cash theirs in for two touchdowns, while Georgia settled for a single field goal from the three it received.

That, along with some questionable game management, was the difference in the end.

No question this loss sucked, but the result hasn’t sent me into the kind of existential sulk that, say, the 2009 loss in Knoxville did.  This program still has its share of bad habits to play its way out of.  It was talented enough this season to overcome those against the mediocre and bad teams it played, but not against the better squads.

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