Daily Archives: January 5, 2017

No justice, no peace

So much for avoiding that pissing match.

On the first day of spring semester classes at Georgia, the parents of Bulldogs walk-on kicker Rodrigo Blankenship issued a statement Thursday going public with why they feel like coach Kirby Smart should have put their son on scholarship after his redshirt freshman season.

It came the same day they said their son paid for his spring semester tuition.

“Our son being refused a scholarship is an injustice to him as well as a crushing hardship for his family,” Ken and Izabel Blankenship said in an email to some media outlets, including OnlineAthens.com.

… The family said Smart didn’t mention scholarship limitations to them in the meeting as the reason why Blankenship isn’t going on scholarship now but did say that “he never puts anyone on scholarship mid-year.” They pointed to scholarships that opened with the departures of transfers Shaquery Wilson, Juwaun Briscoe, Kirby Choates, Shaun McGee, Rico McGraw as well as Isaiah McKenzie declaring for the NFL draft.

“Since there will be about a half-dozen brand-new Georgia Bulldogs riding on the scholarship gravy train on Jan. 5 (as early enrollees and transfers), we beg to differ with that statement,” the family said. “…It it is very distressing to us that our son, who has ALREADY made fairly significant, valid and measurable contributions to this program commands a lower priority than those who have yet to provide a single play or single point for that same program. Isn’t Rodrigo a somewhat viable candidate for future contributions? Has he not established a somewhat impressive track record on which to base future projections?”

Ken Blankenship said Smart said in the meeting he wasn’t sure he could “trust Rodrigo to be the player we want in that position,” and questioning “practice injuries,” he had.

The year is already getting off to a bang for Kirby and we’re not even out of the first week.

At least Ken doesn’t think Smart holds a grudge.

The father said he didn’t think acrimony with Smart would jeopardize his son’s standing on the team.

“He said in that meeting he wouldn’t do anything like that to retaliate because he wasn’t given any scholarship,” Ken Blankenship said. “I don’t know if he meant that but that’s what he says. We have to agree to disagree. …Rodrigo’s not saying any of that. It’s us. We think this decision was not fair or just.”

Stage parents.  What are you gonna do?

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Filed under Georgia Football

A penny saved, a dollar borrowed

Do you ever get the feeling that players do a better job managing their money than certain academic institutions do?

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Filed under It's Just Bidness

They say it’s a defensive conference.

But maybe it’s just that most SEC offenses blew chunks this season.

Only one SEC school – Missouri, which finished rock bottom in the SEC East standings – ranked among the top 20 in the FBS in total offense. The Tigers placed 13th overall with 500.5 yards per game.

Conversely, three teams, including SEC East champion Florida, ranked outside the nation’s top 100 – among the 20 least productive units in the country.

It’s the first time since 2011 that no SEC school has made the top 10 nationally in total offense, and the first time since 2005 that no team currently in the conference has earned a top-10 offensive ranking…

… The Crimson Tide placed a fully-respectable 31st in total offense at 460.9 yards per game…

The rest of the bunch: Texas A&M (24th), Ole Miss (26th), Tennessee (40th), Auburn (43rd), Mississippi State (44th), Arkansas (54th), LSU (59th), Kentucky (61st), Georgia (87th), Vanderbilt (110th), South Carolina (115th) and – bringing up the rear – Florida (116th).

Jeez.

A couple of things there — one, Florida winning nine games with one of the worst offenses in the country seems nearly miraculous, and while Jim McElwain deserves kudos for pulling that off, you have to wonder how long he can manage to keep that kind of balancing act in the air.

Two, as I said in the comments, maybe we should be keeping a quiet eye on Missouri’s chances in 2017.  The Tigers certainly weren’t without their flaws…

The key to Missouri’s statistical success was its passing attack with quarterback Drew Lock, which averaged more than 295 yards per game. But the reasons for Missouri’s lack of real-life success included shaky ball control (28 fumbles in 12 games), special teams miscues (only six made field goals, as well as poor kick coverage) and a woeful defense that gave up points faster than the Tigers could score them. The result: a 4-8 season.

… but there’s something to be said about being one of only two SEC East offenses that finished 2016 in the upper half of the conference standings in total offense, especially when the other, Tennessee, has lost its offensive coordinator and most of its skill position talent.  (Also, notice that the East makes up the entirety of the bottom five in total offense.)

If you want to be cynical, it’s another reason to think Georgia’s chances to win the East next season aren’t awful.  After all, if you can’t make headway against this…

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Filed under SEC Football, Stats Geek!

Can a playa get a throw?

Parrish Walton highlights a moment in the bowl game that caught my eye when I saw the play live.

Really, a still shot doesn’t do that moment justice.  The reason it grabbed my attention when it happened was because Michel, if not exactly frantically waving, was certainly making every effort to let it be known by his quarterback that he had a substantial amount of open real estate in front of him after what would have been a simple pass in the flat.

Now it’s easy to say that Eason has to get better at reading the entire field and the simple matter is that he does.  (Michel was far from the only open man Eason didn’t see that game.)  And let’s not forget that the play did result in a completion to (an open) Nauta that set up a touchdown on the next snap.

The hard part is that there are several factors in play behind Eason’s shortcomings.  The biggest one, in my humble opinion,  was a lack of trust in the offensive line’s pass blocking.  There is some justification for that; Georgia finished with 24 sacks allowed, which was a middle of the road finish by SEC standards, but a considerable drop from the 15 allowed in 2015.  (Of course, there’s a certain chicken and egg factor here.  How much of that can be blamed on a tendency to hold the ball too long?)

There are other things, too.  The transition from playing in a shotgun spread attack in high school to a pro-style offense may not have been quite as jarring as what Brice Ramsey was asked to master, but it was significant in its own way.  You also have to wonder how the emphasis on avoiding interceptions, something Eason did a respectable job of as a true freshman, may have restricted his decision making.

The point here is that the burden to improve for next season is as much on Eason’s surrounding cast, including his position coach, as it is on Eason himself.

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Filed under Georgia Football

One thing talented depth will get you

Here’s a little tidbit from a USA Today story about how Dabo Swinney went about fixing Clemson’s special teams’ shortcomings after last year’s national title game.

Though Alabama’s trouble converting field goals over the years receives a disproportionate amount of attention, the Crimson Tide are largely excellent on special teams because the depth of talent allows for Saban to employ several former five-star recruits — some of whom are a year away from being front-line players — on coverage teams. The Crimson Tide haven’t yielded a kickoff return score since the 2014 season opener and only had two punts returned for touchdowns in the last four seasons. Meanwhile, over the same span, Alabama has scored 12 special teams touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide were able to exploit that advantage last year against Clemson, which ranked 115th in kickoff coverage defense and gave up three touchdowns, revealing the overall immaturity of Clemson’s roster as a national contender.

Hey, guess who was 115th in kickoff coverage in 2016?

Therein lies the rub for Kirby Smart, who certainly saw first hand in Tuscaloosa what all that incoming talent built on Alabama’s coverage and return teams.  But as Clemson showed, that doesn’t happen overnight.  Then again, Clemson improved to 48th nationally this season.

Anyway, read the article in its entirety to see what Swinney did last offseason to address the problem.  I don’t doubt that Kirby will take a hard look at shoring up an area of real weakness, one that cost his team a win or two.  Whether the fix takes or not is just another thing we’ll have to watch for.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

One last look at Georgia’s 2016 advanced stats story

Bill Connelly’s numbers for Georgia are in the book and they’re about as mediocre as you might expect, starting with an S&P+ Rk of 68.

It might surprise you to learn that by the narrowest of margins, the team turned in its best percentile performance of the season in the bowl game, but at 77%, it wasn’t exactly anything to write home about.  More surprising is the discovery that the Nicholls game turned out not to be the worst performance of 2016; that honor goes instead to the Ole Miss effort (or, more accurately, lack thereof).

There aren’t many things that jump out at me, but a few items are worth mentioning:  the offense, proving to be neither explosive (96th) nor efficient (82nd); situational stats showing the team lagged in the second quarter all season, but had its best showing in the fourth (does S&C deserve some credit?); and the absolutely putrid yardage numbers turned in by the kick returners (anyone who returned a kickoff out of the end zone committed return malpractice).

There’s a helluva lot to work on this offseason, in other words.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

Pythagoras ain’t played Alabama, PAWWWLLL.

If you’re one of those folks who’ve been consoling themselves with the thought that Georgia was this close to being 10-2 in the just concluded regular season, you’re probably not going to be comforted by this Team Speed Kills post on Pythagorean expectation for the SEC in 2017.

PE, in case you’re wondering, “measures total points scored and points allowed multiplied by the number of games played to get a projected win total (Pythagorean wins)”.  It took the bowl game to accomplish it, but Georgia barely finished in the black in net scoring in 2016, and based on that should have finished just shy of seven wins.

Now, the post’s author goes on to define the spread between Pythagorean and actual wins as “luck”, but I think it’s a little more nuanced than that in some cases.  Good coaches can steal a win here and there; bad coaches can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.  (I’ll leave it to you to decide where the credit lies for Georgia +1.3 win spread.)

As 2016 is in the barn, what’s of interest is what PE says for next season.  As you can probably guess, our old friend regression to the mean is in play.

In short, winning more games than your Pythagorean Expectation tends to mean a team will decline the following season, while falling short of expectations tends to mean a team will improve…

… Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee may all take a step back next season, and it would likely come at the hands of resurging Vandy and Missouri teams.

Yeah, well, let’s slow down and unpack this a bit for a sec.  First, play the caveat.

Pythagorean projection is just one tool for projection. It doesn’t encompasses an unlucky streak of injuries or turnover margin, or account for early departures and new coaching hires, but it’s historically been a more significant way to base future assumptions beyond simple wins and losses.

Urp.  Georgia didn’t suffer an unlikely streak of injuries last season.  The Dawgs finished +8 in turnover margin, tops in the SEC (with one game left for Alabama).   Both of those would feed into an unfavorable regression story for next season.

On the other hand, we know the story about early departures and it’s very favorable.  Georgia has already taken its lumps on the new coaching hires front, and as we saw in this Bill Connelly post, second year coaching time is usually the right time.  So those factors would seem to cut against regression to the mean.

Also working in Georgia’s favor next season is yet another fairly soft schedule.  Maybe things will change — they often do — but from this early vantage point, it doesn’t appear to be loaded with an abundance of ranked opponents.

The wild card, of course, is the relative talent levels of teams in the SEC East.  Georgia, as I’ve already mentioned, has that quartet of returning juniors that’s unmatched by any other team in the division.  Tennessee, in fact, is losing some monster talent early to the NFL draft, and there are other SEC East schools, like Florida and Missouri, also losing contributors.  The other part of this is where the 2017 recruiting class wind up in a month.

Obviously, a lot can happen in a month, but right now…

… the Dawgs are lapping the divisional field.  And, no, even if things held as they project, not every one of those studs would play next season, but you’d have to think Georgia’s odds of finding significant contributors in the next freshman class are better than any other East program’s, simply based on sheer numbers.

Honestly, you can say we’re looking at a half empty/half full glass for 2017, and I get your point.  I still think the two biggest factors for Georgia stepping up are Jacob Eason and Kirby Smart mastering their learning curves and nobody can say for sure how that goes.  But it’s not hard to argue that the program will be facing something of an uphill struggle against regression to the mean; it’ll be up to Smart to come up with enough improvement in other areas to overcome that.

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Filed under Georgia Football, SEC Football, Stats Geek!