Okay, so the suspensions, both real and threatened, are of concern, especially given the caliber of Missouri’s passing attack. But maybe the Georgia defense deserves a little benefit of the doubt. It’s not like it’s the first rodeo.
Georgia’s top-five defense used 13 different starting lineups last season, never sending out the same starters in back-to-back games all season.
Grantham is having to move around the deck chairs again with starting cornerback Sanders Commings and projected starting outside linebacker Chase Vasser suspended the first two games and All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and playmaking inside linebacker Alec Ogletree expected to be suspended to start the season, which begins today against Buffalo.
“We’ve got a couple of guys missing, but at the same time we’re one team,” cornerback Branden Smith said when asked about defensive backs missing. “Whoever’s out, the next guy’s got to step up.”
Georgia players can find comfort knowing that they rolled with the punches last season.
They point to the assortment of different lineups Georgia started on defense to think they can get through the loss of key players this time, too. The only games last year there were identical starting lineups were Games 9 and 11 against New Mexico State and Kentucky.
Some of you may remember this angst-ridden post of mine after the Tennessee debacle in 2009. I fretted about a team undergoing a crisis of faith: “the coaches lack faith in the players to execute and the players lack faith in the coaches’ ability to deploy them efficiently and effectively.” Say what you will about this flaw or that affecting this year’s team, it’s fair to note Grantham’s taken this defense a long way from that bad place.
UPDATE: It looks like Grantham’s got another spot to account for.
Is this the quintessential Vanderbilt moment, or what?
Of course, let’s keep that in perspective: even if the official had flagged Carolina on the play, it still meant Vanderbilt had to cover about half the field in about 100 seconds. That was anything but a given for a team that amassed less than 300 total yards on the night.
Still, it helps make for a nice, warm moral victory.
On to a few specifics:
- The game was closer than I thought it would be, for two reasons, both of which should be troubling to South Carolina. First, the injury to Connor Shaw. It’s funny – all those years we watched Stephen Garcia run recklessly and never get hurt and Shaw, a gamer who runs with a much more organized purpose than Garcia ever did, gets banged up. The Gamecock offense, which wasn’t exactly lighting things up before Shaw was hurt, completely shut down in his absence. And it’s not like Shaw won’t be facing a few formidable front sevens in October. It’s a little scary to consider how much is going to be left of him after the Florida game.
- The second reason, the shocker of the night, was how much South Carolina missed Alshon Jeffery. Especially the threat of Alshon Jeffery. The ‘Cocks gained a whopping 67 yards through the air. Their leading receiver was Marcus Lattimore. Shaw couldn’t throw anything longer than an intermediate-level pass with any authority, even before his injury. (There was only one completion of as much as 20 yards and that was to the tight end.)
- Lattimore wasn’t 100 percent, but he was still the best player on the field. The Vanderbilt defense keyed on him, which allowed Shaw to rack up almost 100 yards rushing, but still, when it came down to crunch time, Lattimore showed he had it in him to take over a game. He’s got some rust to shake off, but he’ll get better. He’ll have to.
- For all the smart-assery we’ve heard from the OBC about the schedule, I bet he’s not too unhappy right now about Georgia not being his week two opponent.
- The South Carolina secondary is definitely the weak link on the defense. And there are some passing attacks that are going to take advantage of that.
- The “SEC – Year of the Quarterback” meme took a hit last night. I’ve already mentioned Shaw’s deficiencies. Rodgers looked like the same erratic passer he was last year. He did have that nice 78-yard hookup with Jordan Matthews, but he had more than his fair share of head scratchers.
- I really, really like Vanderbilt’s coaches. Despite being obviously overmatched on both lines, they did everything they could to scratch, claw and compensate for that. The Vandy defense, in particular, looks like it’s going to be a pain in the ass to deal with.
- And I thought Lorenzo Ward did a competent job masking the weakness of his secondary. Take away that one busted play in coverage that allowed Vandy’s touchdown of the night and there wasn’t a whole bunch else. He’ll do all right this year.
- It sure looks a lot easier to kick off for a touchback.
- Who thought a Spurrier-coached team would be so boring?
For Vanderbilt, it’s going to be a year when everyone talks about grit, determination and being well-coached. Not so much about winning, though. For all their toughness, the Commodores held a 13-10 second half lead against a team with a one-armed quarterback… and lost. There’s still too much of a talent gap in Nashville. Vandy isn’t going to upset a better team without help on the turnover front, and even then, as last night showed, that’s not always going to happen.
South Carolina is a deeper team than it’s ever been and that helped last night. But you have to wonder how far the Gamecocks can go with that passing attack, even if Shaw stays healthy going forward. You also have to wonder if South Carolina’s front seven can do enough to compensate for the back four against a team with a more consistent passing game than Vanderbilt’s. The OBC would seem to have his work cut out for him.
The coronation will take place before the FAU game.
Here’s a plug for one of those “why didn’t somebody thing of this before?” items – Georgia hats with the design feature of being able to hold securely a pair of sunglasses.
It may be a little hard to tell from that picture, but the hat has side pockets which fit the earpieces and a ridge on the bill against which to set the frames. (You can see how the glasses sit more clearly here.) Anyway, it’s a good quality item that comes in four versions. If it’s something up your alley, check it out.
And a brief shout out to Sawhorse is due for furnishing Hoppy with a bunch of these to pass out to folks after he subjects them to the Montana Project on Saturday. Gracias, guys!
Georgia will wake up tomorrow morning trailing somebody in the East. You can read Jerry Hinnen’s preview here; it’s a good summary of the keys to the game.
One thing Jerry doesn’t mention is how dominant the Gamecocks were in last year’s meeting between the two. Vanderbilt was held to 77 total yards and five first downs on offense. The only reason the score wasn’t more lopsided was because Garcia threw four picks.
But neither team brings back its quarterback from that game. Which gets me to the three things I’ll be watching most closely as an interested party who’s a fan of another SEC East program: (1) Marcus Lattimore’s recovery; (2) Jordan Rodgers’ progress as a passer; and (3) the South Carolina secondary.
My gut tells me that the first item is the most important. If Lattimore is able to come back tonight without missing a beat, it feels like a long night for Vandy. It’s a big season for Spurrier and he’s not screwing around with his preparations for an opener against a conference foe. James Franklin is going to learn what it’s like to be taken seriously in the SEC. If Lattimore is shaking off the rust, I still like the ‘Cocks, but it’ll be a closer time for them.
And speaking of being taken seriously – you can’t sell out a home opener against a division opponent after last season’s momentum? Shame, shame, Vanderbilt.
He doesn’t think Georgia will cover. (PHIL’S FORECAST: GEORGIA 44 BUFFALO 17)
Georgia enters the season with high expectations once again and it will be interesting to see how they handle them just one year after HC Richt was on the hot seat after a 6-7 2010 campaign and a 0-2 start to LY. UGA has won 29 str HG’s by 30 ppg vs non-conf/BCS schools (last loss in the ‘97 opener hosting SM). The Bulldogs are without 4 susp’d players and have a big SEC gm next week with their first road trip to Missouri. On the other side, Buffalo does have 15 returning st’rs and only has Morgan St and a bye on deck but are will be playing without the heart and soul on their D in LB Mack. With a veteran QB the Dawgs will give some playing time to the bkps and expect to see a lot of true frosh in this one incl RB Marshall (PS#2) and OL Theus (PS#3) as UGA rolls.
I can see the defensive backups giving up a late score. I’m not seeing seventeen points, though.
I posted this clip last year on the season’s first day. I haven’t seen anything in the interim that does a better job of expressing why we love college football so much, why we’re willing to tolerate the petty BS, the money-grubbing and the egoism that occupies our attention much of the time, so you get the pleasure of watching it again.
Call it a GTP tradition, if you like. And enjoy tonight’s games.