Posted by: thinkingbulldog | August 21, 2009

August 2002 vs. August 2009: a Comparison (defense)

99_BossBailey

Georgia’s leading returner in interceptions
in 2002: Boss Bailey (2 interceptions in 2001).

In August of 2002, Georgia’s returning leader in sacks was Jonathan Sullivan, with all of 4 sacks. The defensive unit returned 5 lonely starters, Sullivan and David Jacobs at tackle, Tony Gilbert and Boss Bailey at linebacker, and only running-back-turned-corner Bruce Thornton. We all have concerns about the defense in 2009, but in 2002 there were even more questions. Again, quotes are from a Standard Conventional Wisdom piece dated Summer 2002:

STRENGTHS: Defensive Tackle, Linebacker, Punter. CONCERNS: Defensive End, Defensive Back

The injury bug…had a way of reeking [sic] havoc in 2001 up front as a consistent combination of starters could never really be found. Only a few players return with any starting experience except for some of the hogs in on the inside.

Sound familiar? In 2002, most would be comfortable with the prospect of a Sullivan, Jacobs, Ken Veal & Shed Wynn rotation, and it turned out dominant. But I certainly feel just as good if not better about Jeff Owens, Kade Weston, Geno Atkins, the emerging Abry Jones and other depth at the position. I think here it is safe to say: August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparision: 2009, slightly.

The playing time logged at defensive end is short. Replacing some top-notch talent will be quite a task with the departures of [Josh] Mallard and [Charles] Grant. If the coaching staff has any hopes of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, they may have to look to the linebackers. David Pollack looks to play end in 2002 after garnering some All-American attention from the spot on a few long lists.

Sound familiar? Now of course, nobody would’ve dared hope in August 2002 that we’d have a 3-time all-american defensive end in our midst. Could that be the case in 2009? (Answer: No.) At defensive end it’s impossible to overlook the history of Pollock, Will Thompson, Robert Geathers, et al, and equally impossible to overlook last year’s dismal performance at the position. In 2002 DE was a big question, but not as big as this year. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: 2002, comfortably.

The defense starts at linebacker with two solid senior performers, Tony Gilbert and Boss Bailey. Tony was the leading tackler from last year’s ball club and both bring valuable experience to the heart of the group. Look for a great competition this coming August to find out who figures into the depth chart rotations.

Sound Familiar? The comparison at linebacker is strikingly similar, with plenty of depth, talent and experience to go around. In August 2002 whispers were heard about a great JUCO transfer named Odell Thurman. Would you trade Rennie Curran for Tony Gilbert or Boss Bailey? I don’t think I would, but I might take both of them for Curran and Gamble. Neither unit has a clear advantage to me. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: Push.

If pressure can’t be found up front, passing situations could become quite a task as the Bulldogs have a difficult challenge of finding new replacements for three open spots vacated by some key names from the 2001 squad. Both interception leaders are gone. Only one cornerback, Bruce Thornton, dots the roster with any real playing experience. The corners should be fine if Decory Bryant can continue as a solid cover man. This area has to be one of the biggest mysteries facing the relatively new coaching staff. If the Bulldogs are going to have any success at competing with the SEC frontrunners, this unit will need to learn quickly. Claiming the backfield does not possess any talent may not be suitable; there is just no starting experience.

Luckily for the 2002 team, all of Kentrell Curry, Decory Bryant, and Sean Jones emerged as a solid secondary with Thornton. Depth in the secondary is, compared to 2002, much less of a concern this fall. While 2009 has just as many questions as 2002 (can Reshad Jones be a leader? Will Bryan Evans be effective at free safety? Will we have an effective corner rotation?), I argue that the concerns going into 2002 were greater. In 2002 then-secondary coach Willie Martinez built a strong unit from a very talented group. Here’s hoping history repeats itself. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: Push, if not slightly 2009.

Senior punter Jonathan Kilgo was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award and returns to give the defense a little support in the field position department.

Here’s hoping Drew Butler has an outstanding year. But for our purposes, this position is cut and dried. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: 2002, clearly.

Conclusion: there is simply no way that the stars could align on defense in 2009 as they did in 2002, with the emergence of Pollack as a dominant defender, Boss Bailey as another leader, and a suffocating secondary seemingly from nowhere. That being said, the 2009 defense is crammed with senior leadership (in which I include Curran) within each unit. As an overall defense, I don’t think Georgia has the level of concern that it did in 2002 from a talent standpoint, but with the stench of the 2007 meltdowns still in the air, it’s a hard case to make. Further, in 2002 we didn’t realize who we had in Van Gorder, whereas in 2009 we are all too aware of the abilities of our current defensive coordinator. I think Martinez gets more blame than he deserves (and have written as much previously), but like it or not it is a make-or-break year for the defense.

Will 2009 be another 2002? Here’s hoping. The thing about 2002 was that Georgia got the right answers to all of the preseason questions, along with the lucky breaks and miracle plays that it takes to win the SEC. But looking back seven years, the preseason questions, strengths & weaknesses are virtually identical to today.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | August 21, 2009

August 2002 vs. August 2009: a Comparison (Offense)

jon_stinchcomb2

“Jon Stinchcomb leads the offensive line as a
consistent All-American and All-Conference vote getter.”

I read with much interest VineyardDawg’s excellent post at Dawg Sports this morning, which is a position-by-position rundown of this year’s Georgia squad vs. the 2005 SEC Champion team. The results are disappointing. However it allows me the opportunity to make what I believe to be (how’s that for wordy, T. Kyle King?) a more applicable and encouraging comparison: this year’s team compared to the 2002 Bulldogs. Now, one fault I find with Vineyard’s assessment is that, by and large, he compares the August 2009 squad against the December 2005 squad, which is not a fair comparison. Let’s go back to 2002, and you’ll see this year’s team faces pretty much the exact same problems.

I found what I believe to be a good Standard Conventional Wisdom analysis of the 2002 Georgia Bulldogs (ranked #13 by coincidence), and the quotes are from the piece.

2002 Offense:  STRENGTHS: Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Quarterback, Kicker.  CONCERNS:  Tight End, Running Back

Last season young David Greene set freshman records in Athens in passing yards and touchdowns, and started all 12 games for the Bulldogs, which earned him SEC Freshman of the Year honors. However, depth at quarterback through the spring has created a heated battle at the position. Redshirt freshman D.J. Shockley was a heralded recruit out of high school and is pushing hard for the job. Cory Phillips is another incumbent in the rotation. Phillips has the edge in experience over Shockley after starting five games in 2000. The cupboard is totally full for second year Coach Mark Richt with his signal callers.

At quarterback in 2002, Georgia brought back David Greene for his sophomore season. Greene had a solid but uneven performance in 2001, partially due to a new coaching staff and offense. Greene was a system quarterback without the great physical tools but made correct decisions, and Richt, then offensive coordinator, called plays that fell within Greene’s abilities. Now, with the benefit of hindsight it’s impossible to say Cox will outproduce Green, but Cox shares virtually all of Greene’s advantages, as well as his limitations.  At least Cox has 4 years in the system and a smattering of game experience.   Logan Gray compares favorably with DJ Shockley as well, and like 2002, Gray will make his first appearances under live fire this year.  I like the comparison of Greene/Shockley to Cox/Gray very much. The key here, in fact the key to the whole season in my opinion, will be whether Cox can maintain his composure on the field and execute within his abilities as Greene did.   I for one believe that he will.  August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison:  2002, somewhat reluctantly.

The veteran wide receiver group is led by senior Terrance Edwards, who is in line to paste himself inside the Georgia Receiving Record Book. On the other side is returning starter Damien Gary, but the person most talked about seems to be Fred Gibson, who sat out the spring with a separated shoulder. Gibson has all the tools necessary to become a great asset.

And let us not forget the great Michael Johnson; not exactly a lot of preseason buzz about him in August 2002.  AJ Green certainly is an acceptable substitute for a senior Terrance Edwards in my view, but does Michael Moore or the other returners (Troupe, Wooten, T. King, et al) fill the possession receiver role of Damien Gary? The role of Fred Gibson will be played by Marlon Brown.  Can Brown be as good as Gibson? Let’s hope the bar will be set a bit higher than that.  August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison:   Slight 2002 advantage.

Possibly the most shining group will be the offensive line as the Dawgs return four starters from a 2001 season that only allowed 15 sacks and was a large reason for the success last year in the running game as well. Jon Stinchcomb leads the group as a consistent All-American and All-Conference vote getter.

The 2002 starting five were, George Foster, Alex Jackson, Russ Tanner, Kevin Breedlove, & John Stinchcomb.  In 2002 there was no second string line to speak of (Ian Knight?  Chris Hewitt?).  With all the depth and relative health so far, I think I will take a healthy Sturdivant, Davis/Vance, Jones, Glen & Boling over that squad. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: 2009 comfortably.

Gone is the leading rusher from last year in Verron Hayes. His apparent replacement is super recruit Musa Smith, who still continues to have the injury bug follow him around in Athens. Musa really started out strong to start last season and became one of the leading rushers, only to be stifled by lack of durability. If he could stay healthy, people would really see big things from this gifted athlete. In that regards, it is tough to paper stamp the running back position a major need for concern.

Sound familiar?  It would sound even moreso if Caleb had himself a healthy fall camp.  However note the following:  in 2002, our second string backfield was Mike Gilliam at Tailback behind Musa, and Braxton Snyder behind J.T. Wall at Fullback. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: 2009 comfortably.

The early departure of Randy McMichael at tight end is cause for the most apprehension. The spot is wide open and is a battle between a few candidates.

In August of 2002 nobody would’ve dared wish for the production we got out of Big Ben Watson. Was he a JUCO transfer? I can’t remember. Anyway our current crop of TEs look to be an effective bunch, especially if Orson Charles or Arthur Lynch pan out. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison:   Slight 2009 advantage.

The kicking game looks good. Kicker Billy Bennet set a school record by hitting six field goals in the win over Georgia Tech.

Here the analogy breaks down somewhat, but again with the benefit of hindsight we know Bennett would be an all-timer for Georgia. Blair Walsh, here’s your shot in year 2. August 2002 vs. August 2009 comparison: 2002.

Outlook: this comparison reveals the essential questions we have about the offense this year: Will Cox be the calm field general? Who will help AJ Green at WR? Who totes the rock? Will an effective TE emerge? Can we count on the kicking game? We got the right answers in 2002.  What gives the 2009 offense the edge to me is a significantly deeper team at running back and offensive line.

Back with Defense later.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | August 9, 2009

Rich Man, Poor Man

t1_meyertrophy17I don’t know but I’ve been told
it’s hard to run with the weight of gold

It must be nice to be a Florida fan these days. Tim Tebow gets all of the press, but what really must have the Gator faithful resting easy at night is its Charlie Strong-led defense returning basically everybody on the two-deep. In fact, with a defense that stands to dominate every opponent, Urban Meyer would be wise to focus on a more run-oriented attack, as the abounding rumors say. They simply are not going to need that many points to win each game this year.

Only Ole Miss sports a more cream puff schedule than the Gators, and although the talking heads point toward the LSU game in Baton Rouge as the big test for that team, it’s actually the only game on the schedule that they really don’t have to win.  Even with an LSU loss, they’ll probably have victories over 5 teams with winning records (assuming wins over UGA, FSU, and whoever wins the West, and at least two of UT, UK, the Hogs or the Cocks will likely stitch together winning records).   So as usual the pundits have it exactly wrong:  LSU in Baton Rouge is actually the one game on the schedule that the Gators can afford to lose.

Tebow’s biggest asset for the Gators is not his arm or his legs, it’s his superstardom. Because of Tebow, a 12-1 SEC Champion Florida is in the BCS title unless there are somehow two undefeated teams, i.e., USC and the Big 12 Champ, which seems about impossible to me.  With one loss, the human polls will put Tebow in the BCS title game even if the computers dock them for scheduling.

One thin reed upon which to hang any hope of Florida losing two games is turnover margin. Last year Florida had a staggering +22 T/O margin. Surely this will return to more normalized levels (it better, especially on Halloween), and even “average good” turnover margin of +5 or so will mean that Florida will be in more close games.   A thin reed indeed with that defense, but really the stat to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.

The expectations game also works heavily against the Gators. Everybody has them penciled in for the BCS title game, and they will be at least two touchdown favorites in 11 of 12 games on the schedule and possibly the SEC Championship game as well. Just like Georgia last year, focus and discipline will be key.  Unfortunately I have great confidence that Florida, unlike Georgia last season, can act like they’ve been there before, because it ain’t acting.

Absent a true mental breakdown, the only thing that can stop the Gators juggernaut is the little ol’ Bulldogs from Athens. Florida can stomach a loss in the West (and did in 06 and 08), but some team from the east has to manage to not only beat Florida, but also manage to lose only 1 other conference game all season. That would knock the Gators out of the SEC championship, and thereby the BCS title game. No other team in the East has a prayer of accomplishing both of these feats except the Dawgs.  Surely Florida’s coach, Mr. Smilin-Laughin-Jokin-Around Guy, knows this. Georgia’s the only team that can keep them out of Atlanta.  The hopes and dreams of the civilized, non-jean-short world rest upon those little ol’ pups from the piedmont.

090205-kiffin-hmed-1p.hmediumOn the other hand I’ve heard it said
it’s just as hard with the weight of lead

Meanwhile way up north on I-75 there’s a new sheriff in town who ostensibly has only 1 bullet in his gun, namely Eric Berry.  I disagree.  The Vols will be a good team this year because they have a very talented defense and simply have to be better on offense.  The real problem for Kiffin & Co. is the schedule, where they’ve dropped Mississippi State in the West and pick up Ole Miss on the road.  Also on the road:  Florida and Alabama.  But the key games for the Vols have to be a very dangerous UCLA team, along with Auburn and South Carolina.  With their defensive talent, all three are winnable home games that will define Kiffin’s initial success in Knoxville, not Florida or Georgia or Alabama.

But my how things change.  Recall that Saturday afternoon in October 2007, when the Vols came out and blew heavily favored Georgia away in the first half on the way to a remarkably easy victory.  Fulmer had saved his job it appeared, and in the meantime had pocketed 3 wins in the past 4 years against Georgia.  It appeared there might be a shift in the power structure of the East, as South Carolina, Vandy & Kentucky all found a way to lose and got Fulmer into the Dome.  Fulmer then went on to lose 8 of his last 13 games.

Once the clock starts running, toe meets leather, eta al, I don’t think much can be made of Kiffin’s antics in recruiting and other offseason distractions.  Yes, Kiffin has managed to make himself thoroughly unlikable by virtually all SEC fans and some in his very own base.  I’d like to think he’s just playing this game to keep the focus on him and not his players.  However, once he gets himself into a post-game presser after a humiliating defeat, the guy could well blow a circuit.  I’m not betting on it but wouldn’t be surprised (read:  here’s hoping).

I’m not sure what to make of the Vols this year other than I really doubt they will be home for the holidays again.  I figure they’ll do like most teams with new head coaches:  win a few they have no business winning, and lose a few they have no business losing.  Enough of the former and few enough of the latter can sew up third place in the East and maybe a Peach Bowl trip if they beat Auburn & UCLA, or Shreveport if they lose both.

I certainly hope that UGA won’t be Laner’s season-defining win, but Georgia should be pretty well tapped out by week 7, having played LSU the preceding weekend and already having taken two road trips west of the Mississippi before heading to Knoxville.  The Tennessee trip will very, very dangerous indeed.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | August 6, 2009

A few blog roll additions.

I finally got around to attaching my twitter feed at right, and also added and subtracted a few names from the blog roll.   Some are new and some are old, but each has made my bookmarks bar in the last year.  Welcome, folks:

The Absolutely Fabulous 2009 Dawgbone.  The clearinghouse for UGA sports news.  Welcome back, Gentlemen.

Bulldogs Blog by David Hale.  Essential reading from the Macon Telegraph’s UGA beat writer.

Roughing the Kicker.  Insightful commentary by the great Rex Robinson.

Mark Bradley’s AJC Blog.  I’ve grown to respect Bradley quite a bit since following him on Twitter.  Actually replies to random snarks from the G-Pop.

Jeff Schultz AJC Blog.  Ditto.

Dawgs Blogging Under the Influence.  An exceptionally well done blog by Mike in Valdosta.

Bernie’s Dawg Blog.

The Chapel Bell.

Dawg Stephen’s Blog.

Blogging Pantsless.

Football on the Brain.

Catfish & Cornbread.

Stuff of Legend.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | August 6, 2009

Final Comments on the Stafford Era

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November 4, 2006:  The Stafford Era–Nadir

As the 2006 season approached the Dawgs and their fans had bittersweet feelings, with an SEC championship season in 2005, and only a 1-point loss on a miracle play by Auburn from a legitimate shot at the national title, tempered by a disturbing defensive meltdown in the Sugar Bowl against West Virginia (helped by 3 first half turnovers by the offense, mind you).  Much like the 2008 Tech loss, a razor-thin defeat was characterized as a blowout loss by Georgia that would ostensibly effect a permanent change of the football landscape.   Unfortunately, it turned out they were right, for the most part, about that Sugar Bowl.

In 2006 Georgia was ranked its typical #15 in preseason and looking for answers at quarterback. After disposing of its first 3 opponents in 2006 by a combined 100-12 with two shutouts, cracks began to appear. 4-touchdown favorite Georgia was plagued by poor execution and crucial penalties against Colorado, Stafford was benched, Joe Cox saved the day, and a trend that we couldn’t quite see or expect yet was born.  Cox, landing the starting job thanks to his heroics, fared no better than Stafford as the starter as 18-point favorite Georgia struggled to a 14-9 victory in Oxford (I recall watching this game face down on the sofa with a pillow over my head, much like last year’s Auburn fiasco).

The ship seemed to right by halftime against #13 Tennessee, but suddenly it was West Virginia all over again, and when the dust cleared the Vowels had hung 51 on the Dawgs at home.   Tack on to the second half of UT a 2 point loss, again at home, to 14-point underdog Vandy, and a 3 point win on the road against 17 point underdog Mississippi State, and you have the worst 10 quarters of the Richt Era.  But that was not even the bottom, which occurred in Lexington the week following a spirited, yet ultimately unsuccessful, effort in Jacksonville.  Georgia left Kentucky a 24-20 loser, its fourth straight to an SEC East foe, and the program was officially in crisis.

I was really not looking forward to the Auburn game, not only because Georgia was in a flat spin death spiral, but the game was also on my birthday, and the last thing I wanted to do on my birthday was watch my favorite team get pasted by #5-ranked Auburn on the Plains.   In the bleak days of early November 2006, with the hated Gators heading toward the national championship, I decided the game would be barely worth watching, much less attending, so I figured I’d sit down and watch the first drive or two then head outside for some exercise.

I never did get off the couch.  It was a good birthday, after all. As one would never expect anywhere but in the most confounding of all sports ever devised, Georgia won 18 of its next 20 games after the loss in Lexington.

howard_mvp

January 1, 2008:  The Stafford Era–Zenith

Summaries and analysis of 2008 are legion, but the upshot is that the football program was not ready to handle being the preseason #1 team.  It seemed like something wasn’t quite right in Columbia, but when Alabama handed Georgia the most humiliating defeat I’ve witnessed in my lifetime (and I’ve witnessed some humiliating defeats, by God), it became clear that what wasn’t quite right was that nothing had really changed since the Sugar Bowl against West Virginia.

By the 2nd half of 08 the team was out of gas, out of personnel, and out of motivation. In Georgia’s last 5 games of 2008, the defense gave up an average of 31.4 points per game, and the team’s turnover margin was (-6).  Absent the greatest catch of A.J. Green’s young career in Lexington and a well-defensed last play of the day on the Plains, the Dawgs could very well have ended 7-5 and in Shreveport.

In conclusion:  what characterized the Stafford Era, particularly from Auburn 2006 through the Michigan State victory, was flashes of brilliance followed by reversion to a mean, the mean being what we’ve talked about all summer: discipline problems on and off the field, dropped passes (and interceptions), drive-killing penalties (and drive-sustaining penalties), questionable special teams, and lack of leadership on defense (often due to injuries).

The brilliant victories (Auburn 06, Oklahoma St., Florida, Auburn & Hawaii in 07, Arizona State & LSU in 08) were interspersed with staggeringly bitter defeats (Chickens & Tennessee 07, Bama, Florida, & Tech in 08) and head scratching, why-do-I-bother games such as Vanderbilt 07 and most of the victories last year.

So, now that I’ve beaten the Stafford Era to a bloody pulp, will this year be any different?

Almost Certainly.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | July 30, 2009

The Prevent Offense: More Long-winded Thoughts on the Stafford Era

What gets the most chatter about the past 3 years is obviously the 30 Minute Meltdowns defensively, which showed up in all of the Dawgs losses in 2008 (1st Half Alabama, 2nd Half Florida, 2nd Half of Tech), 1 of the two losses in 07 (1st half Tennessee), as well as the disastrous 2nd half vs. UT in 2006.  This is where the coaching ability of Martinez and his assistants come into play, when things get out of hand quickly and order cannot be restored.  Even a team as depleted by injury as Georgia was should not give up 31 points in a half, or 26 points in one quarter, on its home field, and purport to be a top 10 program.  Let us also not forget the complete inability to stop Kentucky in the 4th quarter in 2006 with the game on the line.

More insidious than the defensive meltdowns (okay, not more, but also) has been the inability of the offense to show up and put the hammer down on opponents when the defense actually did come to play.  Has anyone ever been less thrilled about a victory over Tennessee than last year’s 26-14 slop-fest?  Was I the only one desiring to claw out my own eyes at the 14-7 quaalude of a victory in Columbia?  Clinging to a 4 point lead against a truly bad Auburn squad in the closing seconds?

Instrumental in the Dawgs offensive struggles against bad teams, to me, is Richt and Bobo’s overall strategic approach to inferior competition.  We repeatedly see an effective first half effort from a play calling standpoint returned to the play book when a two-score lead is achieved.  The offensive attack becomes conservative, with an eye towards “milking the clock” via first downs on the ground.  Unless the defense can produce takeaways (not a strong suit lately), this strategy merely keeps the opponent in the game for longer than necessary.

From my seat, an opponent down less than three scores is desperate to make a stop and get the ball back, and will therefore take more risks, as literally the clock is ticking.  And a defense taking risks (especially with inferior talent) is far more likely to expose itself to big plays.  When a team is down two touchdowns in the second half, does their defense become more conservative?  Of course not.  Therefore, a conservative offense plays right into the defense’s hands, giving them a greater likelihood of achieving their goal of a quick stop and possibly a negative yardage possession.  I’d like to see Georgia exploit the vulnerabilities created by this risk-taking.  The objective here is not to run up the score (though in our poll-driven system it never hurts) but to amass a comfortable-enough lead to pull the starters and allow the substitutes more playing time, which improves depth of experience for the long run.

Eventually the clock situation demands a run-it-and-stay-inbounds attack, but this needs to be reserved for the second half of the fourth quarter.  And even then if I had my way only in close, low scoring games.  I’d like to never hear Coach Richt or Bobo admit post-game that they went conservative too early and let somebody back into the game, as happened all too often in the Stafford Era.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | July 28, 2009

The Stafford Era (cont’d)

Yes, Georgia was overrated last year, as I said at the time.  But the team was overrated by the media and the pollsters, not the fans.  I talked to exactly zero fans in August of 2008 who actually thought Georgia was the best team in the country.  That doesn’t mean being #1 wasn’t a thrill while it lasted, but most fans and the coaching staff, I believe, had realistic expectations of a strong run at the SEC East and maybe the chance to pull off something special with a few lucky bounces.   Perhaps I overestimate my Dawg peers.  By the Kentucky game, I turned off the TV in disgust as Georgia blew a 21 point lead in the first half.  That’s probably the only time I’ve done that in the CMR era.

The injury situation was not predictable, though not unexpected, as any team in a given year can be ravaged by injuries.  But preseason expectations are usually within the parameters of a normalized injury situation, which 2008 certainly was not.  What was not predictable or expected in a Richt-coached team was just how damaging the lack of discipline would be, both on and off the field.  Lack of discipline manifested itself in player arrests, excessive penalties, poor tackling, lousy special teams, poor execution in general, and perhaps even contributed to the injury situation.  So, to put a lid on 2008:  the team that walked off the field Capital One Bowl champs on January 1, 2009, was truly no better than the team that ran onto the field against Georgia Southern.  And what if A.J. Green hadn’t panned out!

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | July 27, 2009

We’ll Call it, for the time being, the Stafford Era

The Stafford Era, 2006-08, despite 30 victories, was difficult because not only were the losses enraging, many of the victories were as well.  For instance, Georgia has beaten Vandy the past two years by a combined 13 points;  Florida has beaten Vandy the past two years by a combined 55 points.  The Dawgs have beaten Kentucky the past two years by a combined 15 points;  Florida has beaten the Cats by a combined 66 points.  Last year the Dawgs biggest margin of victory over a BCS school was 17 points against a bad Arizona State team.  6 of the remaining victories were by 10 points or less.   The inability to quicky dispose of inferior competition was Georgia’s biggest consistency in the Stafford Era.  But while given the moniker of “The Stafford Era”, very little of this was #7’s fault (other than the occasional inopportune pick-6 against Florida, Tennessee, and especially Tech last year).  The inability to put away teams rests squarely on poor discipline, the lack of takeaways, and poor special teams play.  5 turnovers, missed FGs, a poorly timed and executed onside kick, gobs of inopportune penalties, and the ubiquitous lack of kickoff coverage will get you a 49-10 loss against a top-10 team.

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Posted by: thinkingbulldog | July 27, 2009

Thinking for the Day: Turnover Margin

What’s the difference between a successful season for Georgia under Richt and an “unsuccessful” one? Check this out:

2002:  +8

2003:  +11

2004:  -2

2005:  +11

2006:  -1

2007:  +9

2008:  -3

This is, of course, Georgia’s turnover margin.

In 02, 03, and 05 the Dawgs won the SEC East, and in 2007 finished #2 in the land.  Average turnover margin:  +10.

2004:  Outback Bowl.  2006:  Peach Bowl.  2008:  Citrus Bowl.  Average turnover margin:  -2.

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This is in response to an outstanding discussion of the issues surrounding the Georgia-Florida rivalry and the Jacksonville issue over at Dawg Sports.  I highly recommend reading all of the comments for all of the arguments on either side of the issue, and the particularly cogent commentary of RationalGator.

Professor Sentell, the fearsome Torts professor at UGA Law, always cancelled classes the Thursday and Friday before Florida, because that’s where he was headed. “They’ll be jumping off the balconies of the hotel into the pool by 10 AM” he used to say. Anyway, by and large those who favor home-and-home do not attend the game in Jacksonville, while those who do feverishly support keeping the game at the neutral site.  I fall on the latter side, sporting a lifetime 5-6 record in Jax.

The constant references to the 3-16 record over the past years is just another example of media and intellectual (which are mutually exclusive) laziness. As if Spurrier’s dominance over Ray Gump and Dim Jonnan bears any relevance to either program today. Since the departure of Darth Visor, the series has been achingly close. As TKK pointed out, in the 5 games immediately after Spurrier’s departure, the games were decided by an average of less than 4 points.

There’s really no more compelling argument against the theory of  a Gator “advantage” in Jax than CMR’s very own record in enemy stadiums—the team seems at its disciplined, focused best when away from Athens.  And in odd-numbered years, the Dawgs play a second neutral field game on North Avenue in Atlanta, where the number of fans is roughly even, and Georgia seems to do just fine there.

As opposed to the location of the game and the number of supporting fans in the stands, UGAs recent defeats in Jacksonville might be explained by:

  • Dropped passes.
  • Ill-timed and poorly executed trick plays (Joe T notwithstanding).
  • Consistently lousy special teams play, especially field goals.
  • Throwing the football to the guys in the blue jerseys.
  • Giving up multiple long 1st quarter TD drives (yes, Mr. Martinez, I am looking at you).
  • Putting the football on the carpet at the start of the 2nd half (what, 3 times since ‘02?).
  • Do not even get me started on not going for it on 4th and inches on the Florida 1 in 2005.

All of the above are simply the symptoms of an unfocused, unprepared team and coaching staff. The above can also be found in most all UGA defeats in the CMR era, home, away and in Jax. Coach, we have met the enemy, and he is us. And I fail to see how a change of venue would have prevented these errors. 

So why does Georgia consistently play this way against Florida? Because they are in our heads, you moron!

Were I CMR’s sports psychologist (and I should be), I’d tell him this: CMR, my man, Florida is in your head and everyone on the staff and team. You try to avoid it, prevent it, and not admit it, but UF is in your head, and everybody knows it.  You get it all year, from mat drills to spring practice to media days to after most big wins and all through game week:  3-16, 3-16, 3-16.  2-6 against Florida yourself.  You and the team want this one so badly…you resort to the Celebration and onside kicks and halfback passes.  The fans are dying for a win and never let you forget about it.  And Damon certainly has a weed up his rear end about the Gators, too.  That can’t help.  So what do you do?  Work that much harder?  Watch a little more film?  Put Tebow posters in the locka’ room? Get Bill Goldberg to give the team a pep talk?

Actually none of that will help.  Coach, you and the team have a problem, and you need to name it.  You need to EMBRACE the fact that Urban & Co. are in your heads. Welcome Tebow in there. Get an autograph.  Have Mrs. CMR prepare coffee and warm croissants for your sweet little Gator guests and set the thermostat at 72 to make their stay up there as comfortable as possible. Laugh about it.  Be straight with the media: “yes, how could they not be in our heads…they beat us consistently and we always seem to make the worst mistakes at the most critical times against them. Obviously the Gators are up there, how could they not be.  It sucks.”  The first and biggest step is to NAME IT. Shout from the rooftops, ‘yes, the Gators are in our heads.’ Because remarkably, once you name it, it’s out there. And when its out there, it will go away.*

Then you can get back to playing football, tend to your own business, and make the Gators earn every yard and every point. Then I think Jacksonville will be much more to your liking.

*Using this tried-and-true methodology for overcoming fear and anxiety would also have the lovely consequence of driving Urban & Co. absolutely nuts.  There’s nothing more satisfying than being absolutely straight with an enemy, then watching them tie themselves in knots trying to figure out what you’re “really” up to.

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