Spurrier on Georgia: right for the wrong reasons?

Bill Connelly’s preview of South Carolina is posted here.  It’s worth a read, even if Bill thinks the Gamecocks’ future this season is uncertain (hint:  the threat of regression to the mean rears its ugly head in an area or two).  What I’m intrigued about, though, isn’t the overall picture, but the inferences that might be drawn from certain factual points he lays out.

Take this bit about South Carolina’s great running back:

South Carolina rode Marcus Lattimore to a huge win over Georgia, and he saved them in an upset bid by Navy. Then they got incredibly average totals from him for four weeks and struggled. Then they lost him for the season and, in terms of overall quality, didn’t regress at all.

This, about Alshon Jeffery:

The Gamecocks saw significant regression from their No. 1 receiver, Alshon Jeffery, whose games generally fit into three categories: 1) Dominance (he caught nine of 12 passes for 233 yards against Georgia and Nebraska), 2) Short Stuff Only (he caught 13 of 19 passes versus Mississippi State, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida, but for only 77 yards), and 3) Disappearing Act (he caught four of 13 passes for 63 yards versus Vanderbilt and Clemson).

And, finally, this about the defense:

The uncertainty does not stop on offense. Despite a mediocre run defense (49th in Rushing S&P+, 88th in Adj. Line Yards), South Carolina fielded a wonderfully successful defense primarily because nobody could throw the ball on them. The Gamecocks ranked fourth in the country in Passing S&P+, and they were absolutely devastating after the first couple of weeks of the season.

That’s not an understatement.  A look at last year’s game log of SC’s defensive passer rating reveals only one game all season where the Cocks didn’t show up:  Georgia, which posted a 175.98.  All the slagging Aaron Murray took for his turnovers in that game obscures the fact that he was the only quarterback who ripped that defense (South Carolina held nine teams under 100 last season; check out Kentucky’s passer rating).   It’s the mother of all outliers.  Honestly, the Georgia game colored my perception of the Gamecock defense.

Bottom line – the Dawgs played the Bizarro ‘Cocks last season.  The question I’ve got is how much of that was due to suspensions (“I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”) and how much of it can we chalk up to timing?  Georgia fans have always felt that playing South Carolina early in the season meant Georgia was getting its best punch, although to Spurrier’s credit, his team has played more formidable late season ball in the past two years.  Lattimore’s and Jeffrey’s numbers would seem to suggest that factor was still in play.  Is it reasonable to wonder if a game later in the season might tone the offensive numbers down somewhat?

Ah, you say, but it’s the opposite story with the Carolina passing defense.  The low point was in that second week Georgia game.  True.  But, first, it’s still an effort that’s seriously out of line with what was accomplished the rest of the year (although you can argue the ‘Cocks didn’t see many above average passing attacks besides Georgia in 2011) and, second, a few things have changed since then.

Consider it a red flag, then, that a defense so reliant on its pass defense must replace its best defensive end (Melvin Ingram: 15.0 tackles for loss, 10 sacks), its best defensive tackle (Travian Robertson: 8.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), its most successful attacking linebacker (Antonio Allen: 9.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, four forced fumbles), and its top three cornerbacks, including star Stephon Gilmore (four interceptions, seven passes broken up). Is there star power returning? Absolutely. But when you have a rather one-dimensional defense, and you lose a lot from that dimension, it is cause for concern.

I’m like Bill in one regard; I don’t know exactly what to expect from Spurrier’s team this season.  As Bill points out, for all the ups and downs, South Carolina’s story in 2011 was that it was able to keep on keeping on.  But I’m wondering if the move to the sixth week of the season might give Grantham’s defense a leg up and wind up being the real scheduling story of the 2012 edition of the SEC East.

Some better special teams play wouldn’t hurt, of course.

67 Comments

Filed under 'Cock Envy, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

67 responses to “Spurrier on Georgia: right for the wrong reasons?

  1. Nice post Senator. I’ve always gotten a sense that with USC (can I say that?) we have to work out the early season kinks mid-game and hold on for dear life if we have the lead (or struggle back into it).

    Will be interesting to see what UGA can do this year with a little more visibility into what kind of team Spurrier will be fielding.

  2. NRBQ

    They just lost another cornerback, too (Auguste).

  3. Macallanlover

    I agree Senator, for all the discussion of who we play, the biggest story could well be the timing of the SC game. Lattimore having more time to build confidence with the new knee could work against us but the long held perception of us playing them before depth issues arrive, or them being able to focus on UGA all summer will be put to the test, Regardless, I will be one very interested spectator on the Thursday night game against Vandy.

    Maybe I am wrong about Lattimore struggling, perhaps their D will make up for what, I think, will be an average offense for Spurrier, and maybe UGA will not be the balanced team I think we will have. At this point in the pre-season I think UGA will win but I only see us as 7-10 points better so a key injury or two, combined with home field advantage, could make the game a toss-up. I feel SOS’ continual remarks disrespecting UGA’s 2011 East title will work against him, Evil Richt may bring a very focused team to the fairgrounds. On August 30, we will get a much better idea of what we will face. I personally hope they butt-stomp Lil Jimmy’s V andy team, and have success right up until the time we get to shut that Cock smugness and return them to their usual place in the middle of the East.

  4. HobnailedBoots

    We’re gonna fuck ‘em. up. Yeah, I said it.

  5. Sanford222view

    I am just glad to finally read something regarding the SEC East race between USCe and UGA that doesn’t focus on “UGA’s easy schedule.” I made the mistake last night of watching the ESPNU SEC Preview show. I assumed that the schedule break for Georgia would be mentioned but it was all that any person on that show talked about when they previewed UGA. Even Stinchcomb and Pollack focused on it which was quite disappointing. I understand their wanting to seem unbiased but how about defending your team a little bit? Maybe mention the talent returning on defense and the experience returning at QB? The only focus anytime Georgia was discussed was the “easy schedule.” Hell, Luginbill (Techie) even picked Florida to win the East which was a nice way to wrap up the show.

    • The WWL is setting up the meme that we shouldn’t be considered as a national championship contender as the SEC champion if there are multiple unbeaten teams or one unbeaten with multiple 1-loss teams.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        Correctomundo.

        • baddawg

          By the end of the season I wouldn’t doubt if Tenn, USCe, Auburn, Florida, and GT ranked in the top 30-35. That’s a pretty good SOS. Also add in a win over a 7 to 8 win mizzo, and a 6 to 7 win Vandy. That’s 7 bowl teams. Throw in a Alabama or LSU in seccg and I say our team deserves a shot at the big game….. You just can’t argue that

    • Macallanlover

      It really is stupid for them, and SOS, because it is the conference you are blasting, not UGA. If Georgia wins all the confernce games it doesn’t say they are weak, just says they weren’t better than UGA on that day. But when it happens two straight years, it says UGA is the better team. All the whining by the Cocks is a blast on their own program. Tee it up, win. That formula will pay off everytime.

      Bama keeps missing UGA and Florida, why is no one crying about how the two best programs in the East aren’t facing either Arkansas or the Tide? They seem as fortunate as UGA. No one knows who is really good…yet. Arkansas has won 1 or 2 against UGA since joining the conference and they are considered an ogre all of a sudden?

      Pollack and Stinchomb are smarter than that, falling for this doesn’t make them look neutral, makes them look as foolish as the rest of the folks in Bristol when it comes to CFB.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        Pollack and Stinchcomb are obeying their masters at ESPN. They like their jobs and want to keep them.

      • Will (the other one)

        Other than Arkansas and LSU, who they went .500 against (with the second win coming after they had a month to prepare), Bama didn’t play anyone that good last year, but that doesn’t get mentioned either.
        It’ll be interesting how their secondary looks this year. Last year the only good QB Bama faced was Tyler Wilson. Not the case this season.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          If you compare 2011 schedules Bama and UGA played similar SEC schedules. If anything UGA’s overall schedule was tougher because of the OOC games. (UGA got Boise and GA Tech where Bama got Penn State and 3 walkovers). The big differences in their SEC schedules: UGA played LSU once and lost to them (SECCG)–Bama played LSU twice and split with them (regular season and BCSNCG). UGA’s only other regular season conference loss was to South Carolina which Bama didn’t play. (In ’10 Bama did play the Cocks and lost to them.) Bama did play Arkansas which UGA didn’t play. Of course, UGA didn’t have to play Bama, but then, Bama didn’t have to play UGA either. When I say this Bama people I know get really red in the face. They absolutely get apoplectic when I say the UGA is 5-1 against Bama during the Richt era, muttering stuff like “damn Shula” and “before Saban.”

  6. Billy Mumphrey

    Vandy beats the cocks on 8/30. Mark it down.

    • So, we can go ahead and mark you for the cover in the pick ‘em? I think I may join you.

      USCe usually starts slow out of the gate. They are playing an up-and-comer with something to prove at home on a Thursday night. Sakerlina is the better team, but bizarre things can happen on Thursday nights, under the lights, in… Nashville? Maybe not. Now that it is marked down, USCe will win by 21.

      • Billy Mumphrey

        Well, I’m not in the pick ‘em; however I do think there will be some factors in Vandy’s favor. USC is the better team I could also be looking at it keeping the Dawg’s game in Nashville last year in mind. History also says if I declare something a lock you should run like hell away from it.

      • BMan

        Hell, just pray the lights actually work in Nashville for starters. Then see how South Carolina handles the cut blocking bastards at Vandy. I don’t wish injury on anyone, I’m just saying that the Gamecocks may not come out of that game as healthy as they might have in past years.

    • Heathbar09

      I said the same thing yesterday. I am with you.

  7. (although you can argue the ‘Cocks didn’t see many above average passing attacks besides Georgia in 2011)

    This may be the frontrunner for understatement of the year. USCe’s opponents after Georgia: Two option teams (Citadel & Navy), one team that employed a WR as a quarterback for one of its five victories (Kentucky), one team that has a self-inflicted wound at QB (Nebraska), Bray-less Tennessee, Cam Newton-less Auburn, Mississippi State, Brantley/Weis led Florida, pre-Jordan Rogers Vandy, Clemson with a hobbled Sammy Watkins… and Arkansas.

    They gave up 807 yards (269 ypg) with a 10/3 TD/INT ratio vs. the three most competent, in-tact passing attacks they saw all year (ECU, UGA, Ark). They gave up 905 yards (90.5 ypg) with a 4/16 TD/INT ratio vs. the shameful passing attacks the other ten teams threw at them.

  8. Connor

    How on earth did they lose to Auburn? They picked off 4 passes, at home.

  9. The argument that Georgia will have an advantage due to scheduling because your coaches will have a better idea than usual of what the two teams have goes both ways, because our coaches will have the same benefit. Part of the reason that we struggled against your passing game last year is because you were probably the best passing team we played, but it was also because we were running soft zone coverages that Bobo and Murray picked apart. We made some scheme and personnel changes in the following weeks that made a huge difference. It’s true that some of the teams we shut down couldn’t pass to save their lives, but we also completely shut down Clemson, one of the better offenses in the nation. In short, we can speculate all we want on how the schedule change will affect this game, but I doubt we’ll get very far. There are several potential arguments going both ways.

    FWIW, I think Carolina will have an excellent offense this year. I thought that before the season, and what I’ve heard out of spring practice all suggests that we’ll be even better than I thought we would. The pass defense scares me, though, particularly against a team like UGA. Somebody mentioned Auguste being out for four weeks above, but my understanding is that we’ll be lucky to get anything out of him this year. If we suffer any more injuries at corner, we’re going to be in huge trouble.

    • Cojones

      Agree with you on the scheduling arguments. It cuts both ways.

    • I don’t think the advantage, if there is one, results from greater familiarity. For one thing, what’s not to know about each other at this point?

      I’m just wondering if there’s anything to the conventional wisdom that Georgia tends to get South Carolina’s best shot early in the season.

      • charlottedawg

        Honestly, I think the conventional wisdom is a little overstated. Especially the talking point of USC’s history of bad Novembers. Back when UT and UF ruled the east, of course you’d expect USC to not do well when they played those teams and Arky in the same month. USC didn’t change, the caliber of competition changed.

        • Eh… I’m not so sure about that. Check out SC from 2005 forward.

          • I agree strongly with charlottedawg on this one. (Surprise, surprise.) There were some late-season slides in Spurrier’s early years, but most of them involved our back-loaded schedule and USC losing to teams that we should have lost to. Over the past two years, USC has gotten better while UT and UF have gotten worse. That’s why USC is winning those games now.

            The argument about Georgia getting South Carolina’s best shot is nothing more than a way for you guys to over-rationalize results that don’t sit well with you because you’d like to imagine that your program is head and shoulders above ours and comparable with Florida’s. However, the reason South Carolina has performed better against Georgia than Tenn. and Florida over the past twenty years isn’t because South Carolina plays better against Georgia, for whatever reason. It’s because Tenn. and Florida were generally much better teams than Georgia over this time span. It shouldn’t be that hard to see that, considering that Florida has thoroughly dominated Georgia over this entire period, and UT did until relatively recently.

            There might be some substance to the idea that poor depth has hurt South Carolina’s late-season effort, and improved depth has been a part of our improvement in recent years. But really, 2007 has been the only year where I really felt like that made a big difference in USC’s late-season performance, and that was probably more because we had an ungodly number of injuries on the defensive side that year, not because our depth stunk. Any team would have been hurting with that many injuries to key players. But yeah, maybe we beat UT and Clemson that year with better backups. I’ll give you that one.

            • Dog in Fla

              Looking at this dazzling array of talent, I don’t feel so bad about myself any more

            • The argument about Georgia getting South Carolina’s best shot is nothing more than a way for you guys to over-rationalize results that don’t sit well with you because you’d like to imagine that your program is head and shoulders above ours and comparable with Florida’s.

              You haven’t gotten that impression from me. I had the ‘Cocks ahead of the Dawgs last season in my SEC Power Poll.

              • I was more referring to the past several years, rather than last year. That said, I do think you’re a pretty levelheaded guy on this stuff, so please don’t take offense at anything I say.

                I’m curious: Do you really think scheduling plays a big role in this series? And why, exactly?

                • Steve Taneyhill

                  If you go back in history, even when the ‘Cocks didn’t have teams that had very good final records they played the Dawgs tough and occasionally beat Georgia in an early season game. The ‘Cocks had all summer to get ready for the Dawgs and hadn’t had any injuries yet. Depth has always been a problem for South Carolina, it’s just that 2007 was the most obvious year for that. Now, South Carolina has better depth so it may not be an issue.

                  • I think there might be something to the depth argument, but in most of the years you’re referring to, what happened was that we lost a close game to Georgia and lost by a wider margin to Florida and Tennessee later in the season. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering that in most years over the past couple of decades, Florida and Tennessee have been better than Georgia.

                    I don’t buy the idea that Carolina has had an advantage from prepping for Georgia all summer. Even though we haven’t always been a formidable opponent to you guys, we have generally still been the first game of any consequence that you’ve played, so you’ve probably spent just as much time preparing for us as we have for you. I can think of a few years when we played tuneup in week one while you guys played a tougher game, but I can think of a few years when the opposite was true, as well.

                    • I think there might be something to the depth argument, but in most of the years you’re referring to, what happened was that we lost a close game to Georgia and lost by a wider margin to Florida and Tennessee later in the season. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering that in most years over the past couple of decades, Florida and Tennessee have been better than Georgia.

                      In the Richt era? I don’t think so.

                      And here’s what we’re talking about – look at what’s happened to SC every season in the last ten years in which it’s broken out to five or six wins in its first seven games:

                      2002: 5-2; 5-7
                      2004: 5-2; 6-5
                      2006: 5-2; 8-5
                      2007: 6-1; 6-6
                      2008: 5-2; 7-6
                      2009: 5-2; 7-6
                      2010: 5-2; 9-5
                      2011: 6-1; 11-2

                      Last year is the first time in a decade that South Carolina was able to maintain its first half pace for an entire season. If it were all about Florida and Tennessee, would there really be as many second half losses as the pattern shows?

                    • Mayor of Dawgtown

                      Damn, Senator. There you go again with those troublesome facts shooting down a perfectly nice theory.

                • The other Doug

                  It’s always seemed like Spurrier came out with his best gameplan for the Dawgs. I think he loves embarrassing the Dawgs and knows that the USC team he took over needed some good news early to build offf if they were going to play better. Lately, Spurrier has a better team, so I think he has changed his plan.

                  Do you really think Connor Shaw can carry the load? I don’t see it, but I’ve been wrong before. He looks like a poor man’s Joe Cox.

                • Trust me, I’m not offended. I’m not saying any of this with certainty; I’m simply wondering if there’s anything to our perception. There’s no question that much of what South Carolina did in Athens last year was very different from how it performed throughout the rest of its schedule.

                  Yes, I do think in the Richt era, at least, the schedule has had an impact, for two reasons. One, S. Carolina’s depth issues – which Spurrier has done an admirable job of alleviating of late – often led to late season fades after quick starts. Second, there’s Spurrier himself. You’re not going to tell me that he’s softened his feelings about Georgia since his arrival in Columbia. I don’t know how much of SC’s preseason focus has been on the Dawgs, but I’m skeptical that it has been inconsiderable.

                  • To reply to something you’ve said above, it’s not just about Florida and Tennessee. I’ve been referring to them the most, but it’s also about Arkansas and Clemson, of course. Neither are great programs, but they’ve had some good teams over the years, and have generally been better than South Carolina–as well as closer to Georgia than you guys probably want to believe. You shouldn’t be surprised that Georgia has had similar results against South Carolina compared to these two teams.

                    South Carolina’s schedule has traditionally been backloaded. Prior to 2010, a typical year for South Carolina has featured a close loss / occasional close win over Georgia, followed by several wins over cupcakes, Vandy, and Kentucky. That’s the “quick start” you’re referring to. In the late season, we’ve faded, because we’ve started playing teams that are simply better than us.

                    The main thing that I’m saying is that if you had flipped our schedule and had us start out with Florida, Arkansas, etc., that the result would be the same, only we’d appear to start slow out of the gate and to build up speed at the end of the year. Do you think that we would have performed better against Florida in, say, 2008, if we had played them in the second week of the season? 2007 might have been a bit different, but like I said, we had major injury problems that year. I think 2007 was an exception.

                    Part of what I’m saying is that many of those South Carolina teams that faded down the stretch weren’t good in the first place; they just racked up some early season wins against bad teams and had a midseason record that made the team look better than it was.

                    What I think is a similar misperception exists for Tennessee. In recent years, Tennessee has started slow only to win some games against weak competition late. Then, prognosticators come out and say they’ll be back the following year after improving late in the season. The late-season improvement, though, has ended up being a mirage created by what were only seemingly impressive performances against Kentucky and Vandy.

                    Again, I do think there’s an argument to be made that teams with better depth perform better down the stretch, but I’m not sure if it makes as much of a difference as one might think. We’ve had years when we’ve had good luck with injuries but still struggled down the stretch. The depth usually only becomes an issue in the year when you really got slammed with injuries. Last year was a good example, actually, as good depth helped us overcome some serious midseason setbacks.

                    • … but it’s also about Arkansas and Clemson, of course. Neither are great programs, but they’ve had some good teams over the years, and have generally been better than South Carolina–as well as closer to Georgia than you guys probably want to believe. You shouldn’t be surprised that Georgia has had similar results against South Carolina compared to these two teams.

                      Not sure what you mean here. Georgia’s combined record against those two schools under Richt is 7-1, including a SECCG win and a 30-0 shellacking at Clemson with a number of players out on suspension.

                    • Fair enough on Clemson. But you guys have missed out on playing some of Arkansas’s better teams over the years, while you got to play some of their mid-2000s probation teams. They’ve had their fair share of strong teams. Not as strong of a program as Georgia, but a good one, IMO.

                      If you wanted evidence that South Carolina plays worse late in the season, Clemson might be a good place to start. We’ve had some wonky results against Clemson.

                    • If you mean the Dawgs only caught McFadden once, true ‘dat. But they did handle Arky in one of its two trips to the Dome.

      • Isn’t that what you were saying here, or did I misread: “I’m like Bill in one regard; I don’t know exactly what to expect from Spurrier’s team this season. As Bill points out, for all the ups and downs, South Carolina’s story in 2011 was that it was able to keep on keeping on. But I’m wondering if the move to the sixth week of the season might give Grantham’s defense a leg up and wind up being the real scheduling story of the 2012 edition of the SEC East.”

        I may have misread. Busy day at the office.

  10. Cojones

    Since they don’t have their fine D coordinator of last year, my question would be if they have the same secondary coach, linebacker coach and if those coaches were responsible for using their players in the best places last year? If they made those decisions and not the D coordinator, they could cobble something together that won’t fall apart until the second half of their game with us. If the D coordinator made the decision of who is playing where last year, I opine that Murray will have a grand day. If the line stops Clowney, it will be an even better O day.

    That Vandy game with the Cocks will be more than interesting and telling. Good God! Am I cheering for Franklin?

    Kickoff is next week. Hurry, dammit, hurry!

  11. Mike

    Offensive Edge:
    RB’s- Draw
    OLine- Draw
    QB’s- UGA
    WR’S- UGA

    Defensive Edge:
    DLine- Draw
    LB’s- Georgia
    DB’s- Georgia

    Schedule Edge: Georgia

    • LMAO at the idea that you have the RB edge. Give me a break.

      • Heathbar09

        Agreed. I don’t care how many top 50 RB recruits we brought in, Lattimore alone puts ya’ll ahead in the RB category.

      • “draw” means even. Still, you’re right….Lattimore has to get the nod.

        • Sorry, meant to say “draw.” Wrote too quickly. Still, don’t think this one is really up for debate. I also think we get the advantage in a few other areas, including special teams, which wasn’t mentioned. But those other areas are more debatable than RBs.

          • Really? No smack here, I’m just curious. SC was as bad to mediocre in most special teams categories as Georgia was last year. Where do you see the advantage coming from?

            • We’ve got some problems at punter, but I think we’ll be very good in the other aspects of the special teams game. The return game, especially, showed some promise last year, and I think it’ll come around to be one of the better ones in the SEC this year, with all the key pieces back.

              I can see where you’re coming from, though. I’m not necessarily basing any of this on particularly substantial grounds. Just speculation.

              • FWIW, I pulled out my trusty 2012 Steele. Neither Georgia nor S. Carolina cracks his top 43 in special teams. To give you an idea of how bad that is, Ole Miss is his #16.

                When you go to his conference rankings, he lists Georgia at #13 and the ‘Cocks at #14 on special teams.

                The thing is, Georgia doesn’t have to be great on special teams in Columbia to have a better chance this year. It just has to be equal.

                • The Lone Stranger

                  Right … UGa needs only to avoid the ugly stuff (like a 270# DE floating down the sideline AND OVER a tackler for six!) and not be reliant on FGs to take the game. I think Barber (P) will work out fine, and a punter I doubt has ever lost a game. More so it’s his coverage unit that can let it slip.

                  If the Dawgs have the attacking, sharp defense we envision and SC has the typical developmental uncertainty that comes with a green secondary I’ll bet UGa. The Cocks don’t appear in Steele Top-39 of Defensive Backs either.

      • Hogbody Spradlin

        Well, that’s Gator Mike

      • The other Doug

        It depends on how healthy Lattimore is. If he is 100% then the edge is to USC. If he isn’t 100% it starts towards UGA because we have more depth.

        Personally, I think he might start out a bit rusty, but he will be 100% by the time we play.

    • If Lattimore’s healthy, no way the running backs are a draw.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        I beg to differ. The running back by committee approach has worked many times at many schools. I recall when one Herschel Walker left the UGA team early, the following year (1983) the RB position produced basically the same stats that it had when Herschel was toting the rock the previous season. I like UGA’s backfield right now–a lot. The O-line is the question mark which is, of course, a big part of the running game. So maybe you are right Senator but for a different reason.

        • That’s all great, but we have a deep stable of backs, too. It’s probably our deepest position.

        • The question mark is whether UGA runs power, or puts the tailback in the H-back slot of the shotgun like they did all year 2011 (save the FU game, as you’ll recall).

          Put the tailback deep, use the fullback, run the occasional toss-sweep, and shelve the sprint-draw for eternity. The passing game will fall into place accordingly.

    • Really? South Carolina has the edge at RB. You also left out ‘Coaching’. South Carolina has the edge there as well. Just telling it like it is. They also get us at home. We are at a ‘Draw’ across the board except for QB and LB.

  12. Blue Sox Dawg

    Cojones mentioned the loss of Eliis Johnson which in my opinion will be the most difficult loss for the cocks this year.