David Cutcliffe’s advice

In beating Georgia Tech Saturday, Duke ended a six-game losing streak.  They did it without the benefit of a bye week to get them ready to play Tech’s triple option, although in playing Army the week before, they did get their defense plenty of reps to prepare for Johnson’s offense.

Interestingly enough, when asked what Duke’s secret of success was, Cutcliffe didn’t resort to the usual explanations you hear about how to defend Tech.  Instead, he came at it from the other side of the ball.

“You’ve got to take the challenge on yourself to try to outrush a team,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “And about the only way you’re going to outrush a Georgia Tech team is to be on the field more than they are. We accomplished that.”

“I told them, ‘When you’re playing an option team, prepare to play from behind at some point,’” Cutcliffe said. “To play these teams, you have to catch up to the speed of that offense. It’s not a scout team. So it takes you awhile to get your sea legs.”

… Cutcliffe spoke during the week about the importance of making the most out of their drives, since Georgia Tech’s run offense could take time off the clock and limit possessions. Duke did that, scoring on its first seven possessions and eight of their 10 possessions for the game.

I can think of another team that’s going to try to outrush Georgia Tech.

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Observations from the 35, last tango in Athens edition

I had two questions going into the game:  would Georgia still be suffering from an Auburn hangover? and if so, would it make a difference?

Answers:  yes and no.

The team definitely looked flat coming out of the gate, on both sides of the ball.  Still, even as it was trying to claw its way out of the fog, the defense gave an early indication it wasn’t going to allow Kentucky to have a big day when it held the ‘Cats to a field goal after Fromm’s admittedly awful interception.

The offense responded to a roughing the kicker penalty called on UK by taking the ball in for its first touchdown, and then added two more before the first half came to a close.  When Kentucky came out in the second half with an easy touchdown drive, the offense responded with its own easy touchdown.  At that point, I briefly had a vision of one of those shootouts with Kentucky that Georgia seems to have every so often — not that it ever felt like the Dawgs were being threatened — but from there on out, the defense asserted itself for good, Nick and Sony added two more touchdown runs and the game essentially became a rout.

All in all, not a bad way to wrap up the home schedule.  Bullet points, maestro.

  • I can’t start anywhere else but with the days Chubb and Michel enjoyed, and I mean that in both senses of the word.  It became clear when the line play wasn’t particularly effective blocking against Kentucky’s loaded sets that they weren’t having any of that.  Both ran hard and on several plays managed to make something out of very little.  Two runs in particular were my favorite plays of the day.  Michel’s touchdown run to put the Dawgs up 21-6 last in the second quarter was sheer determination; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Sony run harder on a play than that one.  As far as Chubb goes, if you had even a sliver of doubt remaining whether he was fully recovered from the knee injury, that fourth quarter 55-yard TD scoot should have eliminated that for good.  He’s never run faster in the open field than he did on that play.
  • Jake Fromm has a security blanket, and his name is Javon Wims.  Of Fromm’s nine completions, six went to Wims.  He’s really come on to become a legitimate weapon, not just a big body to heave a ball to on occasion.
  • Fromm’s start was a little rocky, and maybe after what he went through at Auburn, that’s understandable.  After a bad pick and a couple of questionable throws, he settled down and had a decent game.  Hopefully, he’s got that out of his system for at least a week.
  • Godwin only had one catch and Hardman two, but each of them made theirs count.
  • Very much a mixed bag from the offensive line.  Cleveland was fairly steady in his first start, but Thomas was up and down, while Baker had a rough day (one of those plays where Chubb had to make something out of nothing came when Baker’s man drove him four yards into the backfield and Chubb had to detour around the both of them; a couple of plays later, a clearly rattled Baker was whistled for a motion penalty).  It helped immensely that both Wynn and Gaillard had solid games.
  • The other thing that helped was that the tight ends, who were largely ignored in the passing game, had their best game of the season blocking, particularly Blazevich and Woerner.
  • How amazing is it to have Holyfield as the fifth-string tailback?
  • The defense struggled at times early on, but never really got stung badly.  The primary reason for that — surprise! — was Roquan Smith, who was doing his usual Superman act.  He was the glue that held things together when it looked like the Kentucky offense might get rolling.
  • The line play was better than it was at Auburn — a low bar, I know — but it was uneven.  Kentucky was able to open more holes up the middle than I expected, although that tightened up as the game went along.  Thompson did have a couple of disruptive plays, which is hopefully a sign that he’s starting to round back into form after his injury.
  • Outside linebacking was also a bit hit or miss.  It wasn’t one of Bellamy’s better games.  Carter was consistent, although kind of quiet.  D’Andre Walker showed once again that he’s disruptive both in a good sense, forcing a fumble on a savage take down of Johnson, and in a bad one, as he racked up another stupid personal foul.  Walter Grant shows me every week that the best is yet to come for him.
  • As far as the defensive backfield goes, it was great to see Aaron Davis recover from his poor game at Auburn with one of his best efforts of the season.  It’s clear that offenses are going after Malkom Parrish this season; I can’t figure out how he whiffed on that long completion that led to UK’s second field goal.
  • I left the game with two concerns about the defense.  The poor tackling that marred the Auburn game was still evident, although perhaps not as much.  It was also disconcerting to see the defense repeatedly fail to set the edge and hold contain for a second straight week.  If that doesn’t get cleaned up this week, the defense is going to get eaten up by the triple option.
  • I probably sound a little more harsh about the defense than I should.  Kentucky was held to under 300 yards and a lot of those were meaningless.  There was a long first half drive where the ‘Cats wound up punting and another first half drive when they turned the ball over on downs.  They were largely ineffective on third down all day.
  • They also shot themselves in the foot with a bad trick play call when it seemed like Snell was starting to get up a head of steam running the ball.
  • Big rebound on special teams from last week’s debacle.  Nizialek turned in a terrific performance, averaging 48 yards on his two punts with zero return yards.  (He also managed 51 yards on the punt when he was roughed.)  Blankenship didn’t attempt a field goal, but hit all six of his extra points and had, I believe, four touchbacks on the day.  Hardman continues to develop into a real weapon as a return specialist; it’s a matter of time before he returns something for a touchdown.
  • Job One for Tucker was to rein in Benny Snell and his players did a fairly respectable, if not great, job of that.  They were much more effective containing Kentucky’s passing game.  Take away that one fluke catch Parrish should have broken up, and the ‘Cats managed less than 100 yards through the air.
  • I’ve already posted about Chaney’s day.  He stuck with what’s gotten Georgia to this point, patiently waited for Chubb and Michel to take over and directed traffic to the tune of 42 points and over 500 yards.  Hard to complain about that.
  • As for Smart, his main task was to get his team over the funk of the Auburn loss and focused on the task at hand.  While that did take a little while to accomplish, his team eventually got there.  That’s another good day as far as I’m concerned.

The Dawgs have dominated the East.  They’re on their way to the SEC championship game.  The mindset this week is a different one to manage — not looking past the last game of the regular season.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem.

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A sign of confidence

Georgia Tech’s athletic director is working the phones trying to find an opponent to schedule for a twelfth regular season game.  Why?

Tech is 5-5 going into its final scheduled regular-season game against Georgia Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. A win secures bowl eligibility. If Tech were to lose the game, it would be in limbo regarding its bowl status. The Yellow Jackets could conceivably receive a bowl invitation at 5-6, but only if there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams, which may not be known until December 2.

I do hope the genius gets asked about that in his pre-game presser this week.

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It looks like we might need a bigger bag of popcorn.

This sounds like it’s got the potential to be a fun story to watch.

Safety Deontay Anderson, the former four-star recruit who famously committed to Ole Miss in a skydiving video, submitted his request for a full transfer release on Sunday night and will petition to be eligible immediately next year at the school of his choice, including in the SEC.

The grounds for his request are notable because Anderson, via his attorney Tom Mars, says he was recruited to Ole Miss under false pretenses and that both former coach Hugh Freeze and athletics director Ross Bjork misrepresented the status of the school’s NCAA infractions case when he signed in February 2016.

Anderson played last season as a true freshman but voluntarily sat out this season as a redshirt while Ole Miss is under a self-imposed postseason ban. If Anderson isn’t granted a waiver by the NCAA and is forced to sit out next season at a new school, he’d only have two years of eligibility remaining.

What kicks things up a notch is that Anderson’s family has retained the Nuttster’s attorney… you know, the guy who got Hugh Freeze canned.  Given that, one would think granting the kid’s release to get him out of Dodge City before the shooting begins would be the smart thing to do, but this is Ole Miss we’re talking about.

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Seasonal SEC ATS records

Kind of interesting to see which conference teams have exceeded bettors’ expectations…

… and which haven’t.

Kirby’s been doubted, which is only to be expected.  But I think I’m most amazed by Kentucky.  As I mentioned in the latest Power Poll, the ‘Cats are 7-4, despite being underwater in points differential.  It turns out they’ve also flopped against the spread.  How in the hell are they doing that?

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Jim Chaney doesn’t need us to tell him to run the damned ball.

From Seth Emerson’s “By the Numbers”:

1

Tackles-for-loss given up by Georgia’s offense against Kentucky, the only one coming on a sack in the first half.

On the ride back from the game Saturday night, after comparing the outcomes of Georgia’s last two games, it occurred to me that if you’re preparing to play Georgia and decide you have to load the box to stop the run, you’re going to lose.

Sure, you may succeed in the short run, as Jim Chaney is going to run his tailbacks into those eight- and nine- man sets early and often, but what’s also going to happen are a couple of things:  one, at some point Jake Fromm is going to get the go-ahead to throw the ball against a defensive backfield lacking numbers and eyeing the run; and, two, those five Georgia running backs are eventually going to wear your ass out and get their yards.

That’s exactly where Kentucky found itself as the game progressed.  The ‘Cats did manage to gum the works up early on, although as the stat Seth disclosed indicates, their defense wasn’t particularly disruptive.  Once Jake Fromm settled in, Chaney turned him loose on Georgia’s second scoring drive.  Two of his three passes, including the 27-yard toss to Wims for the touchdown, were about as easy as completions come.  From there, it was pound the crap out of the defense until submission time.  On the day, the Dawgs ran for 381 yards and averaged close to nine yards a carry.

That’s been the story most of the season.  10-1 Georgia is last in the conference in passing attempts by a wide margin, despite most opponents following the same strategy that Kentucky used against the Dawgs’ running game.  We may find it frustrating to watch at times, but Chaney’s insistence on sticking to the run early has largely been a success.

The exception that proved the rule is Auburn.

The Tigers have been the only team Georgia has faced this season that didn’t need to load the box to disrupt Georgia’s offense.  After an initial series in which Fromm went 3-3 and marched the team down for a touchdown, Chaney stuck with the run for the next couple of series, only to see the offense bog down for the rest of the half.  There was only one pass attempt on first down in the first half.

When Fromm is comfortable, Georgia’s offense is fine.  What we’ve seen this season is that there are two ways to make him comfortable:  establishing the run game to open up the passing game and throwing on downs when the opposing defense is expecting the run.  Auburn took away the first path and Georgia never tried to open the second one.

The good news in the short run is that this week’s opponent is coming off a game in which it gave up over three hundred yards rushing to Duke.  I would expect that Georgia Tech will load the box to stop the run — even in the best of times, Ted Roof has never met a run blitz he didn’t like — and I would expect that will work about as well as it has in every one of Georgia’s wins this season.

The bad news in the intermediate term is that whichever team the Dawgs face in the SECCG won’t be loading the box and will likely be able to disrupt what Georgia likes to do.  The challenge for Chaney is that he can’t stick with the same old, same old if that happens.

That game also represents a bigger challenge for the whole team and staff.  Chaney’s patience with the game plan has largely been a plus this season, and, you could argue, almost a necessity given the true freshman quarterback running the offense and the reshaped offensive line.  The reason Auburn was a disaster was that the special teams mistakes that contributed to the defensive meltdown meant that offensive patience was a luxury that Jim Chaney couldn’t afford.  Georgia’s offense isn’t built for catch up.  If special teams and defense can’t keep the Dawgs in the championship game while the offense tries to establish traction, which is how Georgia held things together in South Bend, it’s going to be another long day.

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SEC Power Poll, Week 12

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Given how mediocre this past week’s schedule was, there should be little surprise that the order remains close to unchanged from Week 11.

  1. Alabama.  Jalen Hurts’ passer rating against Mercer was a ridiculous 457.43.  That’s hard to do even throwing against air.
  2. Auburn.  With a game to go, the Tigers have scored more points in conference play than any other team in the SEC.
  3. Georgia.  When’s the last time one of the traditional powers in the East dominated the division the way it was supposed to?
  4. Mississippi State.  It’s Egg Bowl time, bitchez.
  5. LSU.  A win this week, and LSU is 9-3, 6-2.  Didn’t that kind of record get Les Miles canned?
  6. Texas A&M.  Bruce Feldman notes that since TAMU joined the conference, only three SEC teams (Alabama, LSU and Georgia) have won more games than the Aggies have under Sumlin.
  7. South Carolina.  “Taking care of business against Wofford” is as uninspiring as it sounds.  Still, Boom deserves credit for getting this team to the eight-win mark.
  8. Missouri.  Don’t look now, but these guys haven’t lost since they left Athens.
  9. Florida.  It took going +4 in turnover margin against a team in its second year of re-existence to do it, but the Gators finally snapped their five game losing streak.
  10. Ole Miss.  There appears to be only so much left in the tank, which probably isn’t a good thing going into a bitter rivalry game.
  11. Kentucky.  The ‘Cats are 7-4 with a minus-7 points differential.  I don’t know whether to chalk that up to good coaching or good scheduling.
  12. Arkansas.  Continuing to straddle the line between poor and bad.
  13. Vanderbilt. The SEC’s worst offensive team in conference play squares off against the SEC’s worst defensive team in conference play this week.  Something’s gotta give.
  14. Tennessee.  If the Vols lose to Vandy, it will mark the first season in the history of the program that UT’s gone winless in conference play.

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