Sunday, December 6, 2009

Florida Remains "Un-Perfect"

Sure, the Gators of the past five years have been the best of the best in college football. This is especially impressive, given the landscape of college football, where more teams than ever have the funds, facilities, and fan base to compete on a very high level. They've also had one of the greatest players of all time at QB for the past four years (starting for three). The two National Championships, two SEC Championships, and three SEC East Championships since 2006 are simply remarkable. Having said all that, and given credit where credit is due, Gator-haters will be able to take comfort in the fact that Florida has still never had a perfect season. Obviously, a small bit of comfort in an otherwise tough pill to swallow for Dawg fans.

Searels Proves His Worth

For much of the season, Georgia's offensive line struggled to open up holes for Georgia's young running backs. When starting offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant was lost for the year, Searels was forced to play musical chairs in an attempt to find a lineup that would function as a cohesive unit. The line's ineffectiveness had some instant-analysis Georgia fans wondering if Searels was all he was cracked up to be. In its last four games, however, Georgia averaged 252 yds on the ground. Granted, that included a game against lowly Tennessee Tech, but clearly there was a marked improvement from Georgia's first 8 games, during which Georgia topped the 125 yard mark only once.

Timing Of Martinez Firing Good From Personnel Standpoint

Putting all the specific reasons why defensive coordinator Willie Martinez was let go, the timing of it could work out nicely from the viewpoint that Georgia's defense is going to lose several starters after this year. If you assume that both Rennie Curran and Reshad Jones will leave for the NFL, the Dawgs will lose 6 starters on defense. A good time for a new coordinator and new position coaches to not have to break the colts, so to speak.

Every Program Has Its Down Years

Just take a look at USC. The mighty Trojans, with their consistently ridiculous recruiting classes, and playing in a traditionally weak conference, finished 5th in the Pac-10 this year, and showed no improvement over the course of the season, losing three out of their last five games. You never want to "accept" a down cycle, and coaches/athletic departments need to be mindful of any trends and changes that may need to be made, but the bottom line is that it happens. The really good programs can get it turned around. Florida was average under Zook, and Bama was below average during the coaching merry-go-round of the late 90's/early 00's. With the Dawgs bringing in a new defensive coordinator, starting a reshirt freshman QB next year, and boasting a solid base of young talent at other skill positions, there is reason for optimism. Changes are a'coming, and hopefully they'll turn out for the better.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Looking Back, With Fabris and Willie and the Boys

Sorry for the poor country music reference.

To the delight of many Bulldog fans around the globe, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez exited stage left earlier this week, taking with him several years of a defense in decline.

What was so astounding about Georgia's defense was the general feeling it gave the fans and, presumably, the opposing offense on a given day. Where it used to be nothing short of surprising when an opponent put together a 12 play, 85 yd TD drive against the Dawgs' D, it had now become surprising for Georgia to get a 3-and-out, never mind a turnover.

To channel my inner Christopher Walken (no, not another stinkin' cowbell joke), do you know why the New York Yankees always win? It's because of those damn pinstripes.

Clearly, they've got great players, coaches, etc, but there's just something so key about the intimidation factor. Where teams used to fear the Bulldog defense, and knew they would be lucky to score 20 pts, they could now be confident that they would have a field day.

That is a big reason a change was necessary. Ostensibly, a new DC equals a new defense. Even if Willie was on the right track toward improving the D, it would still be difficult to get that fear factor back.

I'll also go on record as saying that I don't believe Willie was an idiot, a fool, a moron, a clown, or any other expletive-laden disparaging word he may have been called. That's not to say he wasn't out-coached on occasion, but the main problem was not that he didn't know how to stop opposing offenses. The main problem was that he wasn't able to convey his knowledge and ideas down the line to where they would translate to on-the-field success.

I think that, beyond loyalty and not wanting to fire people that he's worked tens of thousands of hours beside, that's why it took Richt so long to let Martinez go. I just get the feeling that Martinez would sit down and do a heck of a job explaining why a game plan will work, and in too many cases, why it should have worked.

In the end (which is where Georgia's defense took it too many times), there just needed to be some new voices shouting on the practice field and from the sideline. Talent is important, and maybe Georgia did not have the talent to be a top 10 defense this year, but they'll always have enough talent to finish better than 10th in the SEC in scoring defense.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Win Over Georgia Tech a Microcosm of What Could Have Been

OK, so Georgia was not going to finish 11-1 this year, earn a trip to the SEC Championship, and play in a BCS bowl. There simply wasn't a strong enough combination of experience and talent. Nonetheless, beating a very good Georgia Tech team on the road (well, "The Flats" may not be the most intimidating place to play) in such a physically impressive fashion showed that there was enough to work with to mount better than a 7-5 season.

For all the innovations, fads, and rule changes football has seen over the years, the basic formula is still quite similar to what it was during the time of leather helmets and goal posts placed in the middle of the end zone: Run the ball, play solid defense, and win the turnover battle.

The Dawgs haven't rushed so effectively or so often in years. RBs Washaun Ealey and Caleb King both topped the century mark for the first time in years. The defense, while still giving up a couple of big plays and, quite frankly, catching a break with a dropped pass late in the fourth quarter, shut down the Tech attack in the first half, and played well enough in the second half. However, it was winning the turnover battle that was the most astonishing thing to see.

Georgia was on the plus side in turnover margin in a game for the first time this year. In most other games, Georgia was in the red in this department (and often by more than one), and only managed to break even a couple of times.

Turnovers happen, and sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way. But, in a year when the Bulldogs were not quite as far ahead of the curve in terms of overall experience and talent, not turning the ball over and causing turnovers were the two things that Georgia could have benefited from the most.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Georgia vs. Florida: Preview

Despite Florida's dominance of the series over the past couple of decades, the annual border war between the Gators and the Dawgs remains one of the best rivalries in college football.

The two squads enter the contest in vastly different situations. The Bulldogs, already in the throes of a disappointing season, are coming off a much-needed bye week after putting together their most complete game of the season, albeit against a very weak Vanderbilt team. Meanwhile, the Gators come in as perhaps the most embattled #1 ranked undefeated team we've seen in quite some time.

Florida struggled mightily during the past two weeks against a couple of mediocre teams in Arkansas and Mississippi State. While the defense remains outstanding (they are "the superb defense" in the SEC in both scoring and total defense), the offense has been largely ineffective, and has been turning the ball over like mad.

QB Tim Tebow is obviously the Alpha and the Omega of the Gator offense. Although still one of the best players in all of college football and on the verge of setting the SEC's all-time rushing TD record, the phenomenal senior has seen his production dip since his Heisman-winning sophomore campaign. ESPN correspondents and sportscasters around the country are on suicide watch as we speak. He's already equaled his interception total from last year in fewer than half the pass attempts, and has seen his passer rating drop by more than 20 pts from his previous two seasons. The culmination of this, if there can be a "culmination" half-way through the season, came last week against the MSU Bulldogs, when he threw for just 127 yds w/ 0 TDs and 2 INTs. All that being said, it would be fool-hearty to even suggest that he's no longer capable of putting the team on his shoulders the rest of the way.

The Tim Tebow Collectible Figurine

For all the disgruntlement with the UF offense, the Gators still lead the SEC in total offense, due predominately to the potent rushing attack. While Tebow has been keeping the ball on the read-option a bit more than in the past, Florida still spreads the wealth on the ground as well as ever. Speed is the name of the game with tailbacks Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Both are in the 5'9, 180 lbs. range, and both can take it the distance at any time. They'll also utilize USC transfer Emmanuel Moody as a more traditional running back (6', 210lbs). Demps, Rainey, and Moody are averaging an obnoxious 7.9, 6.9, and 8.4 ypc respectively.

The passing game has been a bit less explosive this year for the Gators. With WRs Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy gone to the NFL, Florida has been unable to find a consistent deep threat to replace them and loosen up defenses. Riley Cooper has been fine, but far from dominant. TE Aaron Hernandez, who is also used on some inside shovel passes, is outstanding at his position, but averages just 11.9 yards per catch. David Nelson just hasn't improved upon a nice junior year, and Deonte Thompson, while considered a deep threat, seems to disappear during games.

The Gator offensive line, as always, is big and athletic. They've done a marvelous job controlling things in the running game, but have come under fire of late in their pass protection. Led by the Pouncey brothers in the middle (two of those players who seem to have been at Florida for 8 years already, but still only juniors), and the mammoth Carl Johnson at left tackle, they are very experienced, and know coach Urban Meyer's system to a tee.

For Georgia defensively, it's sadly become a running joke that the Georgia D is a career day waiting to happen for opposing QBs. Three of the five SEC QBs the Dawgs have faced this year have had their best days against Georgia. With the Gators out of sync in the passing game lately, the Bulldogs absolutely cannot afford to allow them to dink and dunk their way down the field all day. Pressure is always a key, but the Dawgs will need to play more press coverage than they have in the past. Tebow has not thrown the deep ball particularly well this season, so if Georgia takes away the underneath stuff and gets beat deep, so be it. The Florida QB is as good as there's ever been at picking up 3rd and 4th and less than 2 yds, so forcing 3rd and 4+ yds will be a must. Turnovers were also the main reason why both Arkansas and Miss. St. were able to make things close, so the Dawgs will need to be on the lookout for errant passes and loose balls (mind out of the gutter, folks), and not miss takeaway opportunities.

The Gator defense led the SEC in scoring defense last season, and is even better in 2009. They're able to get pressure off the edges with DEs Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap, and will rotate DTs in and out with no drop-off.

LB Brandon Spikes is an All-American, and while he's been hobbled the past couple of weeks, he's expected to be back at full-speed this Saturday. While there's no single linebacker that just racks up tackles, they can all run and defend the underneath passing game as well as any corps in the country.

As good as Florida's front seven is, what makes the defense so exceptional is really the secondary. CBs Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins represent the best cornerback tandem in the country. They're both decently sized at 5'11, 190lbs, but their quickness, hips, and ball awareness are second to none. Florida is able to play man coverage whenever they choose, which is a huge advantage for the linebackers and safeties to play the running game and short underneath passes. The Gators will also leave S Will Hill or Major Wright about as deep as you will see, often positioning one 15+ yds down field, making it difficult for opposing offenses to throw deep.

For Georgia offensively, just get #8 the damn ball. You can bet Florida will be doing what they can to limit that, but AJ Green is so good that it often doesn't matter. Florida is 12th in the nation in rushing defense, and the Bulldogs haven't run the ball with any consistency anyway (103rd in the nation), so while you still have to try to run the ball a bit, it would be foolish to expect to have success on the ground. The Dawgs have done a nice job protecting Joe Cox in the pocket (10th in the nation in sacks allowed, w/ just 6), so they'll need to take their chances through the air. This will be especially true when looking at 3rd and longs, which Georgia often finds itself in. No team this year has really had any sustained 70-80 yd drives against Florida, so the Dawgs' best shot will be hooking up for some big plays, and AJ Green has shown that he can make plays that basically no other receiver can.

Overall, it would be silly for me to sit here and actually predict that Georgia will win. That being said, a lot of things have set up nicely for the Dawgs to potentially pull off the upset.

First, the bye week is no joke. In the UF-UGA series, the last 8 times one team had a bye when the other didn't, the team with the bye is 8-0 (UGA is 2-0, UF is 6-0). Meanwhile, the Gators were just involved in two slug-fests, with last week's being a late game on the road. The rest and the added time to prepare gives the Dawgs a decided edge.

Second, Florida has been struggling, at least offensively. Since Georgia will most likely have trouble putting together long scoring drives, turnovers and short fields will be a must if the Bulldogs are to have any shot. Florida has obliged opposing teams in this regard lately, so hopefully that will continue.

Last, there really should be a "nothing to lose" attitude for Georgia. Typically, this game goes a long way toward determining Georgia's fate in the SEC East. This year, though, they lost the ability to control their own destiny with the loss to Tennessee. Where Georgia often shows signs of being tight and even nervous, this year they can go in knowing that a loss doesn't really have an effect on their SEC championship hopes. Just let it all hang out and see what happens.

Again, a win by the Dawgs would be a long shot, but ruining the Gators' season would sure take some of the sting out of an otherwise disappointing year. I think that if Georgia gets a few breaks and makes a few big plays, they could pull this one out on the order of, say, 23-20. Here's hoping...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Can the Dawgs "Man Up" Against 'Dores?

Forget about a supposed dip in talent level. Forget about being out-schemed. When the Bulldogs take the field in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores, many a Georgia fan would simply like to see them just be plum nasty (until the whistle blows, that is).

I like kickoff returns for TDs and 50 yd bombs through the air as much as the next out-of-the-arena guy, but this Saturday, I'd most like to see the Dawgs show just a modicum of the old junkyard dog, "we're better than you" attitude, if even for only a few hours. It's "just" Vanderbilt (granted, UGA has hardly dominated the 'Dores recently, losing once and escaping by the skin of its teeth a couple of other times). A strong performance, especially on the lines of scrimmage, is not going to erase the shortcomings this team has, nor will it put out of mind the embarrassing loss to UT last week. But, for me at least, it would offer a bit of escapism in a thus far disappointing season.

Look, if you're half as fanatically rabid about Georgia football as I, you've got to realize that we start counting down the days to football season the day after the G-Day game. Cliched though it most certainly is, the players are taking the rest of the season one game at a time. It's a good idea to do that as a fan, too. So, when the Dawgs and 'Dores tee it up at 12:21 EST, let's see some real passion and pride, but more importantly, let's see that mean, nasty attitude that the better Georgia teams over the past half-century have displayed. Just for this afternoon, regardless of the opponent. Then we can go back to deciding who should have a job next year.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Excogitations on Where Georgia is, Where it's Going

Georgia is just not very good right now. There are certainly plenty of worse teams out there, but I don't think anybody would suggest that the 2009 version of the Bulldogs measures up to what we as fans are used to thus far, nor what we expect.

To quickly hash out some basic, yet telling statistics, the Dawgs are just 9-6 going back to the 2008 Alabama game (a somewhat random place to begin, but nonetheless indicative). Out of those 15 games, Georgia has given up 37 or more points 8 times. The offense has been a bit better, but has still failed to score more than 20 points 5 times during that stretch.

These numbers represent what can only be described as an overall lack of preparedness on the part of the offense and/or defense in a given game, but it goes deeper than that.

Offensively, Joe Cox has had his problems, but right now, way too much is being put on his (weakened) shoulder. Primarily, the complete lack of a running game, where the Bulldogs rank 104th in the nation (ahead of only some downright terrible teams, and some pass-happy offenses like Bowling Green, Hawaii, and Texas Tech), has led to numerous 3rd and long situations. In the passing game itself, outside of AJ Green, there is only one WR/TE with any meaningful playing experience whatsoever.

On defense, well, what more can be said? I've often maintained that the unit coached by Willie Martinez has been put in far too many bad spots by the offense and special teams. Regardless, Georgia's best defensive efforts have come against only the most offensively inept teams around. For example, what looked to be a nice job against LSU was thrown into sharp relief when the Tigers managed just 3 points at home against Florida, where they managed just 162 yards of offense. The run defense has been OK for the most part, but the lack of a consistent pass rush and a secondary reminiscent of the old vibrating electronic football games has been cause for concern for quite some time.

Running to Stand Still

Beyond coaching, there seem to be precious few "difference makers" on either side of the ball, and some downright poor play as well. Obviously, AJ Green is one of the best WRs in the country. Beyond him, there's not a single player with any experience that would seem to have that "it" factor. Some true freshmen and redshirt freshment may yet become stars, but by and large, injuries and simply "missing" on some recruits has left Georgia in a hole.

Likewise on defense. Where there's experience, there's little talent/playmaking ability, and where there is talent, there is little experience. Georgia's best CBs would seem to be a true sophomore and a true freshmen at these point as far as talent goes. Then there's the Bryan Evans/Baccari Rambo situation at safety. Rambo has already shown a penchant for making plays (2 int's in limited time thus far), but is a reshirt freshman. Senior Bryan Evans, supposedly one of the fastest players on the team, has just never figured it out, either as a corner or a safety.

As far as personnel goes, there's some reason for optimism. As I mentioned, many of Georgia's best players on both sides of the ball are freshmen and sophomores, and others, such as WRs Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wootentheballcarrier may be good ones.

So, what happens going forward?

First, it would make little sense to start handing various coaches their walking papers in the middle of the season. Georgia is not as bad as its performance against Tennessee might indicate. While there's likely no SEC East crown in store for the Dawgs this season, a 9-4 or 8-5 year is still well within the realm of possibility (which is not to say that that's what I'm predicting). At year's end, though, Richt is going to have some tough decisions to make.

There are some questions that need asking.

"Which coaches have done as well as anyone could expect given what they had to work with?"

"Which areas of our team have either declined or been mired in mediocrity over the past few years?"

Lastly, and this is a dangerous question, because you never want to settle for being average, but "Is this just one of those years?"

The bottom line is, nothing lasts forever. Perhaps the various coaching techniques and types of players recruited just don't work as well as they used to. Perhaps the Dawgs just need some new voices and attitudes around the practice field, in the gym, etc.

Whatever the case, I implore you to remember the success Georgia has enjoyed up until this season under Mark Richt. High expectations usually come as a result of great success in previous years.

In the short term, I believe the Dawgs will work their tails off to win as many games as possible this year, but the coaches will need to take a good look at which younger players they can build next year's team around.

At season's end, Richt may be forced to come to grips with the fact that friendships, loyalties, and trust are not always in the best interests of a major college football program.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dawgs' Reputation for Undisciplined Play Home to Roost?

It's no secret that, particularly over the past few years, Georgia has been one of the most penalized teams in the country. Although I don't suspect officiating crews actually concern themselves with exactly where Georgia ranks consistently, there's little doubt that they are aware of Georgia's penchant for committing the odd late hit, or excessive celebration.

I'm not going to sit here and complain that the "celebration" penalty against LSU cost Georgia the game, nor will I say that the "illegal hit" by Reshad Jones against OSU cost them that game. I can tell you that what those penalties did do was seal Georgia's fate in those games. Neither was a legitimate penalty.

Neither am I going to tell you that there is a conspiracy against Georgia. There's not. Officials screw up sometimes because they're still human beings. That doesn't make the atrocious penalties called against the Bulldogs any easier to stomach for fans, but c'est la vie.

Going back a few years, Georgia has had many a text-book personal foul or celebration (see the GA-FL game in '07) penalty called against them. Add that to the over-abundance of in-game penalties such as offsides, false starts, etc, and the Bulldogs had become known as a team that did not follow the rules, so to speak. Because the refs are human beings, no matter how hard they might try to take each game as it comes regardless of who's playing, they're going to drop hankie on Georgia any time they're on the fence about a call. It's a predisposition borne of Georgia's recent past.

Penalties breed penalties, and however unfair it may be, Georgia made its own bed. It's imperative that the Dawgs play a cleaner brand of football starting right now, not just for the disadvantages it causes directly, but also to rid themselves of the stigma with which they seem to have been branded.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Georgia Is, And What Georgia Is Not

Almost halfway through the 2009 season, it's relatively safe to identify trends and arrive at certain conclusions. Here are a few...

Georgia is a pretty good team that cannot overcome opponents and refs alike. You always hear "Great teams overcome bad calls and bad situations." Exactly. Georgia is not a great team. The bogus unsportsmanlike penalty called after scoring the go-ahead TD Saturday against LSU is a microcosm. A great team would have still stopped LSU around the 35 yd line on the handicapped kickoff, and would have slowed down LSU enough to at least force them to try a desperation 60 yd field goal as time expired.

Georgia's offensive line is a dichotomy insofar as its pass-blocking is above average, and its run-blocking is below average. Without hashing out the x's and o's, the skills and techniques for each varies quite a bit. You've also got to credit some of the D-Lines the Dawgs have faced for making things difficult in the running game, no doubt. Nonetheless, Georgia's inability to consistently create space to run the ball is probably the number one reason for the offense's inconsistent play. Very few offenses are going to have many sustained drives when they're looking at 2nd and 10's and 3rd and 9's all day long. (Note: this is not intended to grand absolution to other players or coaches)

By and large, Georgia is most talented where they are least experienced. There are a few exceptions (Rennie Curran is both talented and experienced, for example), but you see it all over. CB Brandon Boykin, Georgia's best corner right now, made a great interception, and then foolishly tried to run it out of the end zone amidst traffic. That's something he probably doesn't do, except that he's only started a few games in his career, and still has that mentality that he has to score a TD every time he has the ball.

Finally, Joe Cox is Joe Cox. A few bad balls notwithstanding (missing AJ Green for what was a sure TD early on was flat-out awful), he's more than serviceable when he's got options down field. It's difficult for any QB to consistently pick up 3rd and longs, but more so for one that does not have a particularly strong arm or innate play-making abilities.

Make no mistake, there is still plenty to play for this season (TECHNICALLY SPEAKING the Dawgs still control their own destiny in the SEC). But, Georgia is no longer a team that can afford to trust experience over talent. There's not been anywhere near enough consistency, and certainly not enough plays being made by most of the experienced guys. Slowly but surely (we're seeing this happen already), more young players must be given a chance to learn on the job. At this point, it's better to have someone who can make a game-changing play for the good, even if he might make a game-changing play for the bad.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. LSU

The Dawgs host the 4th ranked LSU Tigers this Saturday at 3:30 in Athens, in a nationally televised game with national ranking implications. First, though, we'll take a look back at Georgia's 20-17 over Arizona State last Saturday.

By and large, the Bulldogs had the Sun Devils out manned and outgunned, and through a soggy first half, the score generally reflected as much. Georgia was hardly perfect, but given the conditions, a 14-3 lead at the half seemed comfortable. And, guess what? The Dawgs did not turn the ball over in the first half. AJ Green was unstoppable, and the defense was certainly competent.

Then, Georgia's old friends, turnovers and penalties, reared their ugly mugs.

A fumble by Caleb King (who appeared to really be asserting himself) and a pick six thrown by Joe Cox led directly to 14 points for ASU, and the Bulldogs found themselves down by 3 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Dawgs quickly answered to tie the score early in the 4th quarter, but a 2nd interception by Cox seemed like it would doom Georgia. As it had the previous two games, though, the Dawg "D" made a late stand, culminating in a clutch blocked field goal by AJ Green, who was inserted on the play on a hunch by coach John Jancek.

Georgia converted a huge 3rd down to freshman Rantavious Wooten, and on the next play, Cox found AJ Green for an acrobatic 36 yard grab down the sideline to set up a game-winning field goal. Blair Walsh nailed it as time expired to remain perfect on the season, and the Dawgs moved to 3-1 on the not-so-young season.

Offensive Player of the Game: I said Caleb King to try to be somewhat original. He looked good outside of the fumble, but AJ Green saved the day in more ways than one, with a blocked FG, and 8 catches for 153 yds and a TD.

Defensive Player of the Game:
I thought Cornelius Washington would continue his good work, but we saw Justin Houston get off the schneid in his 2nd game back from suspension. The Statesboro native was everywhere, recording a sack, 2 tackles for loss, a pass break-up, and just generally being a disruptive force for most of the night.

Thought for the Game: Despite being 3-1, Georgia has only outscored its opponents by 4 points. I'll take it, but I'm not sure my heart can.

So, on to this week's match-up between #4 LSU, and #14 Georgia.

Dating back to 2002 and including this year, these two programs have won the most games in the SEC, with Georgia holding a slight edge, 77-76. Credit current Bama coach Nick Saban for righting the LSU ship and returning the program to national prominence. Coach Les Miles has certainly continued the school's success, although his arrogance, eccentricities, and lackluster 2008 season have left some wondering just how good he really is. Last week, the Tigers had to stop Mississippi State four times at the goal line to pull out a victory against the improved, but still mediocre MSU team. That, despite getting four turnovers and a punt return for a touchdown.

How Many Corn Dogs Can You Spot?

Offensively, the Bayou Bengals have settled on Jordan Jefferson as the starting QB after a bit of a merry-go-round last season. The sophomore has been inconsistent at times, but he's done a fine job of distributing the ball to his play-makers, and more importantly, not turning the ball over, throwing just one pick in 101 attempts on the season. Jefferson is mobile enough, and while he'll have perhaps a couple of designed runs, he's more adept at scrambling for yardage if nothing's open down field. LSU has also been using freshman QB Russell Sheppard out of the ubiquitous "Wildcat" formation. He's yet to throw a pass, but has rushed for 74 yds on 11 carries, and both he and the staff are growing more confident in his abilities with every passing game.

The Tiger running game has been somewhat enigmatic so far this year. LSU always features a plethora of talented backs, but they've yet to get untracked thus far. No untracked backs in the rushing attack. Charles Scott was a beast last season, and while he still leads the team in attempts, he's also being used as a fullback when RB Keiland Williams' number is called. Also, keep an eye out for Trindon Holliday. The diminutive speedster (5'5, 164) is used at pretty much every skill position on offense, and is easily one of the fastest players in the country.

At wideout, LSU boasts great size and athleticism. WR Brandon LaFell is perhaps the SEC's best possession receiver (though he can certainly burn you deep), and led the SEC in receptions a year ago. Terrance Toliver (6'4, 200lbs) has emerged as a big-play threat. TE Ricard Dickson (yes, Dick Dickson) is steady, if not flashy. While I wouldn't expect too much out of him in this game due to his inexperience, freshman WR Rueben Randle will be a star before his career is done.

The Tiger O-Line, as always, is big and experienced. Tackle Ciron Black has seemingly started for 17 years, as has right tackle Joseph Barksdale. As big and athletic as the line is, it's curious that they've not had quite the success running the ball as they probably envisioned. Perhaps the reason is on first-year starting center T-Bob Hebert. He's the son of former Atlanta Falcon QB Bobby Hebert, and clearly has one of the greatest names in the SEC.

For Georgia defensively, the Dawgs have been relatively stout against the run. More importantly, though, it's the one area on defense where they've at least been consistent. LSU is more than likely going to try to establish the run early, and while they've only had limited success, they are still dangerous. Mississippi State crowded the box last week, and held the Tigers to 30 yds net rushing. LSU QB Jordan Jefferson is still relatively inexperienced, and his most erratic games this season have come on the road. Early on, it's okay for the Bulldogs to give up some underneath stuff, but they need to avoid any big plays. We've been seeing hints of Georgia's D-Line coming around, both inside and off the edge. They'll need to get after Jefferson early in the hopes of rattling the young QB.

The Tiger defense, typically one of the finest in the land, has not been overly impressive the past two years. This year, they brought in former Tennessee Defensive Coordinator John Chavis. They do rank 23rd in the country in scoring D, and 49th in total defense, but given the completely inept offenses they've faced to this point, that's not particularly impressive.

Up front, Al Woods is a monster at defensive tackle, and DE Rahim Alem (formerly Al Jones; Rahim Alem means "Merciful Leader," just so you know) is a force off the edge. It's surprising, given the talent up front, that LSU, like Georgia, has struggled lately to apply consistent pressure in the backfield. The Tigers are actually tied with the Dawgs for 89th in the country in sacks.

The LSU linebacking corps can certainly run, but it's their size that makes them so formidable. At an average size of 6'3, 240lbs, they're big even for NFL standards. Senior Perry Riley leads the group, along with Kelvin Sheppard. They both hail from Stephenson High School in Atlanta, in the "ones-that-got-away" category.

Although only average against the pass statistically speaking, the LSU secondary is up there with Florida as the most talented Georgia will face this year. Sophomore CB Patrick Peterson has really asserted himself this year, and is as big a pure corner as you'll see in the league, at 6'1, 211 lbs. Safety Chad Jones (brother of Rahim Alem) is not the fastest safety in the country, but he has a nose for the ball, and is really built like a linebacker. Their main problem (when they've had problems) has been caused by lack of pressure up front.

For the Dawgs on offense, well, you know the drill. Stop turning the dang ball over. Georgia is averaging a perfectly respectable 30.75 ppg against solid competition, despite giving the ball up 3 times in every game this year. Not to play the woulda, coulda, shoulda game, but last week, MSU lost the turnover battle 4-0, and still was within a foot of beating the Tigers. Just imagine what might have been had they held on to the ball. Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo was somewhat conservative in his play calling last week, but given the first half conditions and the fact that ASU's offense couldn't do much before Georgia starting turning the ball over, you can understand it. This week, don't expect him to hold anything back. LSU will certainly try to bottle up AJ Green, so other receivers will need to be ready to play. I have a feeling RB Caleb King will be the go-to back early, and if he can get off, the Dawgs will be in good shape with some play action passing. Also, TE Orson Charles was basically an afterthought last week. He's a mismatch for pretty much any linebacker out there, and I expect him to be an integral part of the offense this week along with TE Aron White, as Bobo looks for ways to take advantage of the double-coverage Green is likely to see.

Overall, Georgia has dominated the Tigers of late, going 3-0 over the last three, all games that weren't really even close. As a matter of fact, Georgia is the only SEC team that LSU has not beaten under Les Miles (if you subscribe to the law of averages, that does not bode well for the Dawgs). Even if Georgia is simply turnover-prone, you've got to believe that they'll have a clean game sooner or later. I refuse to predict that they will until I see it, so this one should remain close. I think the Dawgs take it on a late field goal, 31-30.

Offensive Player of the Game: I'll go with Tavarres King. He, Mike Moore, and Orson Charles need to step up. I think King, with his exceptional speed, makes a couple of big plays.

Defensive Player of the Game:
DT Jeff Owens has been a bit slow to return to form after recovering from a torn ACL. He's been solid, but I think this is the game where he looks more like the Owens of old.

Thought for the Game: Hey, look at that! Georgia's got a day game! As good as LSU usually is, they are one of the few teams that tends to play more games under the lights. They often don't play their best ball during the day, so we'll see if that holds true this Saturday.

Well, that's what I've got for you this week. It's getting to be that time of year when polls and style points begin to count less and less. Winning this one, no matter what it looks like, would be huge for either team. The forecast calls for an absolutely picture-perfect day for football. See ya Between the Hedges. Go Dawgs!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Turnovers, Penalties the Norm for Dawgs

You gotta coach 'em up.

A true enough statement. The ultimate responsibilities of coaches are to get the most out of available talent, and to get all 11 players on the field to function as a unit on every play. Beyond that, penalties and turnovers are going to happen, and it's on the coaches to do everything within their power to minimize them...but to what extent?

There's the age old saying, "I am as God made me," which was later, and perhaps more eloquently echoed by Popeye's "I yam what I yam." As a coach, to correct and/or limit foot-shooting mistakes like turnovers and penalties, you can basically do two things: Teach fundamentals and technique over and over, and you can offer up punitive responses ranging from running stadiums and gassers to limiting or denying playing time for a player. I have no doubt Georgia coaches are doing both these things, short of completely denying playing time (they've only got so many players to work with). It seems, to this point at least, that Georgia's most talented and capable players are somehow innately prone to turning the ball over or committing foolish penalties.

Take starting right tackle Clint Boling. Here's a two-year starter that was even named the SEC's offensive lineman of the week after the Arkansas game. He was simply out of sync on Saturday night, committing an unforgivable false start that really hamstrung a drive for the Dawgs. He knows what to do and how to do it, but it didn't stop him from having simple lapses in concentration a few times. As a matter of fact, the whole offensive line was "starting falsely" for seemingly the entire night, after committing 6 such infractions the week before against Arkansas. This from a unit coached by Stacey Searels, who is widely regarded as one of the finest O-Line coaches in the nation.

Then there's RB Caleb King. He was well on his way to earning even more playing time, as RB Richard Samuel was less than impressive, and King was running with quickness and determination. Although one of his own linemen got pushed into him, King allowed the ball to get away from his body, resulting in a fumble.

Should Georgia bring on Jimmy Caan as
an anti-turnover consultant?

It begs the question, can anything really be done to correct it?

The only possible solution I can see would be to immediately bench a player for the ensuing series if he commits a foolish penalty (false start, lining up in the neutral zone, illegal formation, etc), or turning the ball over. The issue here is that coaches would be forced to implement a double-standard of sorts. If AJ Green happened to commit a false start (for argument's sake), would you really want him riding the pine for the next series in a tight game? Suppose two different offensive linemen committed false starts on a series. Would you really want a walk-on or two playing the next series?

Georgia has been both lucky and unlucky to have escaped with wins the past three weeks in spite of all its turnovers and penalties. Lucky, because, well, the Dawgs are 3-1, and 2-0 in the SEC. Unlucky, because a lack of lessons learned could be resulting.

With LSU looming, and by barely escaping against a team that, I think, Georgia's players and coaches felt they should have easily handled, last week was the final straw. If we see another penalty and turnover-laden game, you pretty much just have to say, "This is what these guys are."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. Arizona St.

Georgia plays the back-end of a home-and-home series with Arizona St. in what should be an exciting, albeit soggy Saturday night in Athens. First, though, let's take a look back at the Bulldogs' 52-41 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks last weekend in Fayetteville.

The Bulldogs entered the game at 1-0 in the SEC, but with several questions still lingering on offense, defense, and special teams.

QB Joe Cox certainly did his part to answer some offensive questions. In just his 4th career start, the Red Knight completed 72% of his passes for 375 yds and 5 TDs, good for a passer rating of 256. WR AJ Green had his best game of the season despite some double coverage by the Hogs, but we got to see several other WRs and TEs step up and contribute mightily to the cause. On the ground, Richard Samuel ran through a gargantuan hole and showed the speed we've heard so much about, while Caleb King looked impressive, getting his first carries of the season after sitting out the first two games with a bum hamstring. Although Arkansas is still known for a porous defense, the Dawgs basically scored at will.

As for the bad...Georgia still continues to get smoked in the turnover battle, and continues to put the defense in bad spots. After thwarting the Razorbacks on their initial series, the Bulldogs appeared to be running a Chinese Fire Drill on the punt return, muffing the punt and giving it right back to Arkansas. A botched pitch by RB Richard Samuel a couple of series later gave the Hogs great field position again. Then, there was the issue of absolutely horrid play by the secondary. A combination of simply getting burned by Arkansas WRs, and just plain not covering receivers at all resulted in some huge gains through the air. Give credit to Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, though, as he'll be playing on Sundays.

In the end, the Dogs were able to put enough points up to secure the victory late, and despite a pitiful game over the first three quarters, Georgia's defense was able to hold Mallett to just 2-8 passing in the fourth quarter, and held the Razorback defense to just 6 points over the final 20 minutes of play. Not pretty, at least defensively, penalty-wise, or turnover-wise, but any road win in the SEC is a good win.

Offensive Player of the Game: I said Richard Samuel. While he did show his speed and get a quick TD early, the two fumbles (one lost) nearly negated that. QB Joe Cox tied the school record w/ 5 TDs, and earned National Offensive Player of the Week honors. Being named Georgia Bullblawg's Offensive Player of the Game surely eclipses that for Mighty Joe Cox.

Defensive Player of the Game: Is there one? I said DE Justin Houston. While he had a solid game (7 tackles, .5 TFL, QB Hurry), I'm going to give it to Kade Weston. The mammoth senior DT really began to assert himself in the second half, finishing w/ half a sack, but an impressive 5 QB hurries.

Thought for the Game: The defense is not good right now, to put it mildly. That being the case, the turnovers are putting an already weak unit in terrible positions, which is making a bad defense even worse. Just once (well, more than once), I'd like to see how the defense looks when it's able to defend 65-85 yard fields all day vs. 5-25 yard fields. It still might not be pretty, but it couldn't be any worse.

On to this weekend's match-up with the Arizona St. Sun Devils, who, surprisingly, have not been forced to change their mascot's name to the Sun Warriors, Sun Storm, or Sun Rays.

In 2008, this game was a trendy upset pick, being that the Dawgs hadn't been that far west in decades, and ASU Head Coach Dennis Erickson had assembled some solid talent. However, the Bulldogs calmly and steadily built a comfortable lead, and beat the Sun Devils 27-10, though the game really wasn't even that close.

Dennis Erickson's squad is at a fork in the road.

For the Sun Devils offensively, they, like the Dawgs, have had to replace one of their most prolific passers in school history in Rudy Carpenter. And, like the Dawgs, they've done so with a 5th year senior in Danny Sullivan. At 6'5, 238lbs, he's a big kid with an above average arm. He's been effective, though not particularly accurate in his limited time over the years.

At tailback, the lion's share of the carries will go to Dimitri Nance, who I don't believe is of Russian descent. He's an absolute load at about 5'10, 220lbs. He doesn't possess great speed or quickness, but runs with exceptional balance, and is tough to bring down once he gets going.

ASU's WR corps is very experienced and talented. Kyle Williams is their main play-maker (he's also leading the Pac-10 in punt return avg). Chris McGaha is a bit more of a possession receiver, but he compliments Williams nicely, and should not be overlooked on underneath routes by the Georgia secondary (read: Uh-oh).

The ASU offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year. They will, perhaps, be the smallest line Georgia will face this season. However, although size is nice (no "that's what she said" jokes, please), O-Line play is much more about cohesion and proper technique, which the Sun Devils have in spades.

For Georgia defensively, it's time to just hit the reset button. In the last two games, Georgia has been both dinked-n-dunked to death, and burned deep. There have been some signs of improvement, though, on the offensive line. The Dawgs continue to play the run well, and play makers are beginning to step up at the DE position. Cornelius Washington, after seeing minimal playing time in game 1, now leads the Dawgs with 2 sacks and is second with 6 QB pressures. DE Justin Houston has had a game to get his feet wet, and should only become more of a force as the season progresses. Georgia should have an easier time covering the ASU receivers, and against the smaller ASU front five, the interior ought to be able to collapse the pocket against a relatively inexperienced QB. Backup CB Vance Cuff is currently listed as probable after straining an MCL, so hopefully he'll be ready to go.

On Defense, Arizona State has a legitimate threat off the edge with DE Dexter Davis. Davis is quickly moving up the all-time sack list at ASU. They'll rely on quickness and stunts up the middle with Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola at the DT positions. Guy is still a bit undersized, but he's just a sophomore, and has shown monumental improvement from last year.

Their LB corps is perhaps not the fastest Georgia will face this year, but they are big and physical, and have shown a penchant for making big plays. LB Mike Nixon already has 3 interceptions on the year, after finishing with 5 in '08.

The secondary is led by CB Omar Bolden, who also handles kick returns for the Sun Devils. Safeties Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy are not exceptionally quick, but have excellent size, and can really hit when they get a receiver or running back in their sights.

Georgia's offense just needs to keep on keeping on, with the exception of turnovers. The Sun Devils haven't been tested yet this season, so Georgia can really look for the opportunity to go for the throat early and often here. The key will be making sure that Dexter Davis doesn't take over the game for ASU at D-End. That's not to say the ASU defense is weak by any means, but as we've seen throughout college football already this season, teams that have already been battle-tested tend to be more prepared than teams who've not. QB Joe Cox needs to make sure he doesn't let his newly found stardom and success go to his head. I don't expect he will, but if he starts worrying about throwing for 375 yds again, it may lead to some forcing of passes and some inaccuracy. Although RB Richard Samuel is expected to start again, it will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs go about rotating in Caleb King.

Overall, Georgia needs an easy win in the worst way. With LSU coming to Athens next week, the Dawgs could really benefit from being able to relax a bit in the fourth quarter for a change. As always, statistics can be spun to prove or disprove just about anything. Right now, Georgia is near the bottom in all of college football in turnover margin, at 2:0. Conversely, ASU is leading the country in the category at 8:0 (just two games). So, you can say that that bodes ill for the Dawgs, given their early season performances, or you can surmise that the odds dictate this all should even out a bit. I think/hope that Georgia finally turns the ball over fewer than 3 times, and ASU finally turns the ball over. Dawgs take this one relatively easily, 37-17.

Offensive Player of the Game: Really, one could either say AJ Green or Joe Cox from here on out. To be a bit different this week, I think we'll see Caleb King get his first 'great' run as a Dawg.

Defensive Player of the Game: I'm going to stay on the Cornelius Washington bandwagon. I think the redshirt freshman DE has the talent, and now he's starting to get the confidence.

Thought for the Game Last year was supposed to be Dennis Erickson and ASU's giant leap forward with regard to being a quality program. A 5-7 season that included a 6-game losing streak clearly indicated that they weren't there yet. They'll be looking for a signature win to prove that they've arrived, so Georgia better be ready for their best shot.

OK, that's what I've got for you this week. The possibility of a rain-soaked field still looms in Athens, but hopefully that will work in Georgia's favor at home. As always, thanks for reading, and Go Dawgs!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Willie Martinez Question

"Fire Willie Martinez!"

"Martinez is a $?!&$ idiot!"

The cries of much of the Bulldog Nation leave little to the imagination regarding opinions of the embattled Georgia defensive coordinator. It is, after all, incumbent upon him to hold opposing offenses to as few points as possible.

If you're not familiar with the statistics, you're at least familiar with the trend. Georgia's defense has gotten progressively worse since former UGA defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder left after the 2004 season to become the LB coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then left to become the head coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles, and then left to become the DC of the South Carolina Gamecocks, and then left to become the DC of the Atlanta Falcons.

So that you're aware, in 2005 the Dawgs yielded 16.4 ppg (.1 ppg less than they did in '04, Van Gorder's last year). Most people figured that the system was in place, and Martinez (CWM for short) had worked hand in hand with Van Gorder (BVG for short) enough to where there would not be any drop off. However, the first half against West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl was a harbinger of defensive misery. In 2006, Georgia's defense began the season just fine. Then the second half came against a mediocre Tennessee offense, when the Vols scored a ridiculous 37 second-half points. Georgia finished giving up 17.1 ppg that year, 20.2 in '07, 24.2 in '08, and have given up an avg of 30.5 in two games this year.

Somebody Tackle That Man!

OK, those are the statistics. But, as we all know, stats are a good at-a-glance indicator of a performance or trend, and don't always tell the real story.

Certainly, there have been times where offenses have painted CWM's face white, put a big red wig on his head, a big red nose on his face, and big red shoes on his feet. Many times, Willie's been a clown. Be that as it may, one can choose to simply look at the stats and say, "We gave up 44 points. CWM is terrible," or one can peer deeper into the circumstances of a game or season, understand the facts, and then formulate an educated assessment. I prefer the latter.

The Case in Defense of Willie Martinez

If I told you that, in a particular game, Team A throws three interceptions, loses a fumble, and has a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown, and Team B is a solid team with respectable talent, who would you suspect wins that game? That's what happened in the 2006 Tennessee game, and is a microcosm of a significant aspect of Georgia's troubles in limiting the opposition's scoring. Obviously, every team turns the ball over from time to time, but in Georgia's worst games points-wise, problems like these have been prevalent.

Then, there's the actual player performance issue. During the BVG years, the Dawgs had their best Defensive End ever (and one of the top 3 SEC DE's ever) playing on Saturdays in David Pollack. They also had some of the best safeties to ever play for Georgia in Jermaine Phillips, Sean Jones, Thomas Davis, and Greg Blue (though Blue's weaknesses were brought to the surface when he became the undisputed leader of the secondary). The BVG, and by extension, CWM style of defense relies heavily on contributions by the DE's and Safeties (according to the coaches themselves). Georgia has gotten less and less production over the years, particularly in '08, from its DEs. As for the safeties, though they busted their butts and got the most of their talents, the Bulldogs started an undersized former walk-on, and a two-star (if you care about such recruiting ratings) safety whose only other offers were to Southern Miss and Troy. Not to call those players out by any means, but there's been an obvious drop off after having several safeties who are now playing on Sundays.

The Case Against Willie Martinez

Despite being put in several bad positions, there have been several occasions where opposing teams pulled his pants down in front of the whole class and laughed at him.

The first half of the West Virginia game was embarrassing. Although the Mountaineers had been a prolific offense for much of the year, Georgia still had plenty of talent, and was simply carved up. There was no inkling of preparation for what was being thrown at them (with nearly a month to game-plan). The same thing was true in the first half against Alabama last season, against a Crimson Tide team that made its reputation on ball control and defense, and certainly not being an explosive offense. Even just last week against South Carolina, a tight end was left wide open in a soft zone repeatedly, with no apparent desire by Martinez to make any changes. Scheme and preparation issues abound.

To counter the lack of talent-at-certain-positions argument, well, Georgia DOES have talent at certain positions, even if they're not at DE and Safety. A key job of an offensive or defensive coordinator is to find ways to get your best players involved and in positions to make plays. It seems as though CWM is running the same exact type of base defense that was successful with great DEs and Safeties, only he hasn't exactly had great DEs and Safeties. It's not my job to suggest what might be a better plan of attack, but if something is clearly not working, and if a defensive coordinator is worth his salary, he'll at least attempt to devise a different plan of attack that has a chance.

Then there's the fact that no other teams, that we know of, seem to be calling CWM on his mobile phone, or Twittering him to get him to come coach for them. Lesser schools are constantly hiring former offensive and defensive coordinators from bigger, more successful programs as head coaches. I can't foresee CWM becoming the head coach of, say, New Mexico St. anytime soon.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it comes down to this: CWM has caught quite a bit more flack from the Georgia fan base than perhaps he deserves.

Anti-CWM'ers label all the bad spots his defense has been put in as "excuses." An excuse is simply a word that those opposed to a thing use instead of using the word "reason." To the critical eye, it's clear that the lack of success that has befallen Martinez is due to factors beyond his control.

That being said, at some point, no matter whose fault it is, a change in management becomes necessary. Picture a manager of a sales team. There's a recession, he's had half his sales force quit, and there have been several production issues. Sales are waaaaay down. None of those things may be his fault, but he may get canned just the same.

I suspect that, if there aren't some major improvements seen as this season goes on, and if (this part is huge) Richt, Evans, et. al. can identify a potential replacement that they really feel good about, we will have seen the last of Willie Martinez. Just realize that the end of his run may not have been his fault.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Preview: Georgia at Arkansas

The Dawgs travel to the western-most SEC locale to battle the Arkansas Razorbacks this Saturday night in what looks to be a shootout. Georgia will be the first true test for Bobby Petrino's Hogs, as they have only played Missouri State and Bye State U thus far. First, though, let's take a look at last week's 41-37 win at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

What on paper shaped up to be a defensive battle (or offensive struggle) was anything but, as the two teams combined for the second most points in the series. After scoring just 17 points between them in week 1, the Dawgs and Cocks used several big plays to run the score up in a hurry, blowing the 39-point over/under out of the water in the first half.

The Bulldogs continued their appalling trend of turning the ball over deep in their own territory right off the bat, when WR AJ Green coughed the ball up, giving the Cocks possession at the Georgia 23. SC scored a TD six plays later, but on the ensuing kickoff, Brandon Boykin set a school record by returning it 100 yds to even up the score at 7. Then, after scoring a second TD, SC kicked off to Branden Smith, who you'll recall ill-advisedly returned two kicks out of the end zone against OSU. He took a vicious hit from a 3 mph breeze, and fumbled at the Georgia 8. Fortunately, the Dawgs' D stiffened and held SC to a field goal.

With all this happening inside the first 10 minutes of the game, the stage was set for a wild final 50 minutes. Georgia got some spectacular plays from the usual suspects like AJ Green, and we got to see why the Bulldog coaches were so insistent on getting Branden Smith involved on offense. The true freshman took a reverse on his own 39, found a seam, and blew by Cock defenders like the mob had fitted them with cement loafers. Still, the Dawgs were not content to break the trend of close games with SC. A pick six and a safety later, and the Gamecocks were within striking distance for a game-winning TD. Rennie Curran would have none of it, though, swatting a would-be TD pass away at the last second to seal the victory.

There are a few things to take away from this victory.

First, it's evident that the Bulldogs are reloading and rebuilding at the same time. For all the talent on both sides, there is precious little experience at some key positions. Heck, even AJ Green has started less than a season's worth of games. When you have talent and inexperience, you get a great play followed by an atrocious play, and you have to hope the bad plays don't cost you the game. They did in week 1, and didn't last week.

Second, the defense had its problems. Primarily, the Cocks were able to find tight ends sneaking out over and over. Although I've not been nearly as critical of Willie Martinez as some, we've seen too many times where an opponent will find a few plays that are wildly successful (that's going to happen), and they'll run them until Martinez figures out how to stop them. Often times, he doesn't. Having said that, you have to realize just how terrible are the spots his defense finds itself in. Three turnovers (two deep in UGA territory, another a INT return for a TD), a fake punt by SC, a safety, and a big return by SC off a kickoff all skewed the score with respect to how the defense played. There are some who would say, "well, how do you explain the 427 yds of total offense?" I just did. Georgia's offense had so many shortened possessions (the Boykin KO return, while obviously a good thing, also put the SC offense right back on the field), that SC simply had more opportunities than normal to rack up the yardage. (I'll have a more in-depth feature on Willie Martinez later this week)

Finally, Joe Cox and Richard Samuel are coming along. Yes, the Cox interception was pitiful, and came at a horrible time, but aside from that one pass, he was remarkably efficient. Even with the pick, his passer rating was 160.4, and you'll take that all season. Samuel looked quicker this week, and more importantly, he was running with more balance and power than I've ever seen him.

Offensive PotG: I said AJ Green. Despite a very costly fumble, I'll still give it to him. He made an amazing leaping/diving grab to keep one drive alive showing his athleticism, and a beautiful leaping catch in the back of the end zone displaying his body control and concentration. He finished with 6 receptions for 86 yds and a score.

Defensive PotG: I thought Reshad Jones might get a pick or two. Clearly, Rennie Curran gets the coveted award, finishing with a career-best 15 total tackles, and the aforementioned game-saving pass break-up.

Thought for the Game: Progress was made from week 1 to week 2. For the most part, individual acts of stupidity caused this game to be close, and not a general problem with offensive or defensive production, although QB containment was an issue. It will be interesting to see what this team can do if/when a few players aren't just flat-out screwing up. "Coach 'em up!" yells the peanut gallery armchair Monday morning QB. The two fumbles, the INT, and the safety were not results of a lack of or bad coaching.

So, on to this weekend's contest in Fayetteville, ArKansas.

The Razorbacks have been a somewhat enigmatic program since joining the SEC in 1991. Possibly due to lacking a solid recruiting base, thereby having to rebuild every few years, the Hogs seem to repeatedly have a few good years followed by a few bad years. When Houston Nutt resigned at the end of the 2007 season amidst a recruiting controversy and cries for his termination from a fan base with unreasonable expectations, he did so compiling the second-best record behind the legendary Frank Broyles. He was replaced by a grade-A slimeball.

Bobby Petrino took over the Arkansas program before finishing out his first season as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Some apparent clandestine meetings, lies, and unsavory agreements were all part of his midnight escape. All this after being involved with some undercover talks with Auburn about possibly replacing then coach Tommy Tuberville. Whatever the case, he has always produced prolific offenses, with his Louisville teams consistently being among the tops in the nation.


Offensively for the Hogs, Petrino has typically used the pass to set up the run, and he's got a QB who's more than willing to do his part. Ryan Mallett was named the starter this season after transferring from Michigan prior to the '08 season, and subsequently sitting out a year per NCAA rules. One of the top recruits in the country out of HS, Mallett has perhaps the strongest arm in the SEC, and is also the biggest QB in the SEC at 6'7, 240lbs. The only real "knock" on him thus far would be his experience. He played a fair amount toward the end of his freshman year at Michigan, but because he sat out all of last season, the only recent film on him is of his performance, albeit an impressive one, against Missouri St. last week.

The Razorbacks have always had some gifted running backs, and while this year's top two are not considered to have quite as much NFL potential, they can still get the job done. Michael Smith is a small, shifty back at 5'9, 180lbs. Used primarily as a third down back until last year, he's averaged 5.7 ypc for his career. He's backed up by freshmen and sophomores who'll play as well, and each brings a different style to prepare for.

The receiving corps for the Hogs is led by Joe Adams and Jarius White. Neither is particularly big, but they were both highly recruited and can run. Petrino's offense has always been defined by his willingness to get everybody involved in the passing game, so look for the backs, receivers, and TE DJ Williams to all be utilized. As mentioned, the Razorbacks played the sisters of the poor in week 1, so they were afforded the opportunity to play a lot of reserves. Nonetheless, completing a pass to 13 different players in just one game is impressive, and indicative of what Arkansas likes to do.

The Arkansas O-Line is big, with not a single starter under 305lbs. That being said, they are more adept at pass blocking and zone blocking, versus past Razorback lines that were geared more toward playing power football. From a pure talent perspective, this could be the Achilles Heel for the offense. I say "could," because they looked just fine last week, but against a vastly inferior opponent.

For Georgia defensively, overall pressure on the QB has improved somewhat, but the Dawgs need to do a better job of collapsing the entire pocket. A good rush from the outside is easily negated if the QB is allowed to step up in the pocket, and a good push up the middle doesn't mean much if the QB is allowed to take a few steps to the side. Although Georgia's DE group took a hit when Rod Battle tore his ACL, it does get back DE Justin Houston from a two-game suspension. The redshirt soph. was hell on wheels in the Georgia spring game, and is considered the most talented DE on the team currently. Given SC's success in the short passing game to the TE last week, the Dawgs better be ready to get away from a soft zone early. The name of the game here is alertness. Georgia needs to be aware of all potential receivers at all times (this includes TEs, RBs, and WRs). Beyond that, Mallett is still young with respect to game experience, and he's not been really touched in over two years. A good hit or two could go far in rattling him, and his mobility has not been tested.

On defense, Arkansas is led up front by senior DT Malcolm Sheppard. The All-SEC DT is a nightmare in the middle, with adequate size (6'2, 291) and exceptional strength and quickness. He tallied 6.5 sacks last year from the inside. Beyond him, the line is looking for some playmakers to step up, w/ DE Adrian Davis being the primary candidate for pressure off the edge.

LB Jerry Franklin is solid, and looks to really come into his own this year. Outside of him, seemingly every Arkansas LB has faced off the field issues of some sort. Freddy Burton got himself a DUI last year, and Wendel Davis started some static with a driver who bumped his scooter. They are none of them particularly fast, but Arkansas has always managed to find LBs that overachieve, so we'll see how this year's group looks.

The Arkansas defensive backfield took a major hit when starting CB Isaac Madison tore his ACL prior during fall practice. He was replaced with JuCo transfer Rudell Crim, leaving CB Ramon Broadway as the only known commodity in the secondary. Safeties Tremain Thomas and Matt Harris aren't particularly big or fast, and will have to rely on their moxie and knowledge of the system to be effective.

Overall, Arkansas was absolutely pitiful last season. They finished dead last in the SEC in total defense, scoring defense (by a LOT), and rushing defense, and 10th in passing defense. Sometimes, it can take a while for a new defense to gel, but the Hogs didn't get a whole lot better as the season went along. However, they have had an extra week to watch and plan for Georgia (probably more, since they knew Missouri St. would not present much of a challenge), the stadium will be rocking for the first home game against a ranked SEC opponent this year.

For the Dawgs offensively, it's time to see what they can be when guys aren't literally and figuratively dropping the ball. QB Joe Cox looked far more comfortable in his second start, and receivers were making plays for him. I'm all for inventive play-calling, and definitely want to see more of Branden Smith, but against a defense that got pushed around a good bit last year, Bobo needs to first see if the Dawgs can line up and hit Arkansas in the mouth. Richard Samuel got a dose of confidence last week, and I think he's poised to have a breakout game (as long as McClendon and/or Bobo don't decide to yank him just when he's getting warmed up, like they appeared to last week). The bottom line is this: Arkansas does not present much of a problem, and the Dawgs must not continue to turn the ball over. A 3 turnovers-per-game average is ridiculous, and a repeat of that will be the only thing stopping Georgia's attack this week.

Overall for this game, it's not the known quantities that scare you, but the unknown. QB Ryan Mallett is super-talented but unproven. Bobby Petrino is a respected offensive mind, but has only had his system in place for a year. What makes this game tough is not just the opponent, but the fact the overall environment the Dawgs are playing in, the relatively long trip to Arkansas, and the extra time the Hogs have had to prepare. Georgia has been mistake-prone so far this year, and this is just the type of game that can unravel on them if those mistakes continue. I think our inexperience continues to diminish, and the Dawgs get a comfortable win, 34-24.

Offensive PotG: Richard Samuel finally breaks a long run (Caleb King is still questionable to doubtful), and gets tough yardage behind a quickly improving offensive line.

Defensive PotG: DE Justin Houston announces his return with some consistent pressure, and maybe a sack or two.

Thought for the Game: Georgia has not lost two true road games in a season under Richt. Obviously, they've already lost one this year, so hopefully that trend continues.

So, that's what I've got for you this week. Every game is important in SEC play. While it's always great to beat the top teams in the league, it's these games that often make or break your season. A "swing" game on the road at night against an improving team. Win it, and the Dawgs are 2-0 and building momentum atop the SEC East. Lose, and you pretty much have to win out to control your own destiny.

As always, thanks for reading, and Go Dawgs!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. South Carolina

The Dawgs host Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday under the lights in Athens. This one is almost always close, and judging by the woeful offensive performances of each team in week 1, it would seem to be heading that way again. But, before we run down what to expect this weekend, we'll briefly revisit last Saturday's 24-10 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

To quote Kramer after pushing a giant ball of oil out the window, "Well, that didn't work."

The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff and, against a defense that was downright pitiful last year, marched 80 yds for a quick and easy TD. RB Richard Samuel ran effectively, and Joe Cox was poised and precise on 3rd downs, with the drive culminating in a seeing-eye TD pass to WR Mike Moore.

After Georgia's defense held the potent OSU offense and forced a punt, it appeared this one was going to be an easy win. But, as the first half wore on, the Bulldog O seemed to get more and more discombobulated, or less and less combobulated, if you prefer. Play calling seemed to lack purpose, players failed to make plays when opportunities did arise, and the Dawgs found themselves on the short end of some questionable calls and spots by the officials.

In the end, the Dawgs lost the turnover battle 3-0, gave up a big kickoff return resulting in a score, blew a punt return for a TD of their own with an unnecessary penalty, and simply couldn't reestablish the rhythm they had offensively on their first drive.

Georgia fans are blaming just about everybody involved with the loss, including Uga VII, the canine, non-funny version of Steven Wright. Although offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Cox are catching the brunt of the Bulldog Nation's ire, I rather believe it was a case of way too many smaller mistakes and miscues from the coaches on down that kept the Bulldogs from scoring more than a 54 yd field goal over the final 55 minutes. If you watch the game and keep a running list of all the things that went wrong, you really can't point to one thing and say, "If that doesn't happen, we win the game," but you'll definitely have a nice tally by the end.

So, on to Steve Orr Spurrier and the Fighting Fowl from Fresno. OK, the Gamecocks are from Columbia, but it would have been better if they were from an "F" town.

The moniker "Evil Genius" used to strike fear in the hearts of SEC defenses, and nausea in the stomachs of fans. However, the effectiveness of his offenses has faded of late. The Cocks have finished no better than 7th in the SEC in scoring since his vaunted arrival, and Spurrier has yet to develop what could even be considered an above average quarterback out of anyone during his tenure. Having said that, the Gamecocks are, sad though it may be, in the throes of perhaps their best 4 year run in the school's history. This is due, in large part, to a defense that has traditionally started well over the past several seasons. Whatever the case, South Carolina typically plays Georgia tough, so let's see what we've got.

For the Gamecocks offensively, things were 'supposed to' turn around when they signed QB Stephen Garcia, a highly regarded talent out of Florida in 2007. After starting his career by breaking numerous team and societal rules, he's assumed the starting role in this, his redshirt sophomore year. He's strong-armed and mobile, but has yet to put it together in his head. Now, on his head is a different story (see below). Although many young quarterbacks tend to throw the odd interception, Garcia threw an astronomical 8 picks in just 122 attempts in '08. While reports suggested that he'd made some progress during the off-season, his interception and 106 passer rating in week 1 against NC State did little to support that.

Bask in the awesomeness.

At tailback, the Cocks will rely heavily on RB Brian Maddox. Seldom used in '08, Maddox is a powerful, low-to-the-ground runner at 5'11, 225lbs. He wasn't really able to get off the schneid against the Wolfpack, averaging just 2.9 ypc, and you can expect that backup freshmen RBs Jarvis Giles and Kenny Miles, the "iles" brothers, will be used a bit more as quicker, change of pace backs.

South Carolina lost its top two receiving threats last year to the NFL in WR Kenny McKinley and TE Jared Cook (Cook, you may recall, nearly beat Georgia by himself in '08). There is no shortage of experience or ability, though, with WRs Moe Brown and Jason Barnes, and Weslye (correct spelling) Saunders at TE. RS freshman WR Tori Gurley had a solid performance in his first game, and at 6'5, 230lbs, he could be one of the SEC's best before his career is through.

The O-Line is not particularly big, and has been considered problematic for the Gamecocks over the past few years. Spurrier brought in O-Line coach Eric Wolford from Illinois to try to shore things up. After shuffling things around a bit, it seems he's settled on a starting rotation. It should be noted that the Gamecocks have three French-sounding names amongst their two-deep on the line, with Pierre Andrews, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and Rokevious Watkins.

Overall, since the arrival of that little dickens of Gator legend, each year has been met with great expectations of the offense. But, sure as a sequel fails to live up to the original movie, the offense has sputtered. Last week, the Steve Sputterer offense failed to put together a scoring drive of its own, relying on a turnover deep in NC State territory for its only score.

For the Dawgs defensively, giving up 24 points is usually not considered a major triumph, but given the offense it was facing, and given the ridiculously short fields it was trying to defend, a major triumph it was. The key to this game, even more so than in any other, will be to take advantage of turnover opportunities, because they are going to present themselves. I also expect the Dawgs to make Garcia beat them, as they did with QB Chris Smelley a year ago. Georgia's interior D-Line was stout against OSU, so they should be able to more or less shut down the run against the Cocks. Having said that, after one game, the Bulldogs are no better at generating a pass rush without blitzing. Garcia is as Garcia does, but they cannot afford to make life easy for him by allowing him to watch Lonesome Dove in its entirety in the pocket.

Defensively for South Carolina, they are once again big, fast, and can hit. The Cocks get DE Clifton Geathers (brother of former Bulldog Robert Geathers) back from a one game suspension, although he may not be at 100% physically. With him and Cliff Matthews on the ends, the Gamecocks feature one of the best pass rush tandems in the SEC. With standout DT Nathan Pepper, and a more than serviceable Travian Robertson in the middle, the Cock line is a tough nut to crack.

As for linebackers, NFL scouts will be drooling over GA native Eric Norwood. His 9 sacks last year were the most amongst linebackers in the SEC. At 252lbs, Norwood also has plenty of speed, and is the cornerstone of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense. Shaq Wilson holds down the other starting spot, and is almost more like an extra safety than a linebacker.

If there is a chink in the proverbial Cock armor, it is the secondary, but that might be a reach. What they may lack in pure athleticism, they make up for in toughness and fundamentals. Safeties Darian Stewart and Chris Culliver anchor a unit that gave up just 74 yds through the air against NC State.

Overall, this is an extremely well coached defense, and has been for years. Everybody knows their roles, and they work in concert as one unit. They will make you beat them with long, sustained drives, and punish you over the middle. They'll make you get bored, frustrated, and you do something stupid, and they've got you. Just like Iceman in Top Gun.

The Iceman Eateth.

For the Bulldogs offensively, they've got to forget last week, but at the same time remember last week. Hmmm, paradoxical. Bobo and Richt need to come up with a game plan that involves more than one drive and stick with it. For this game, it's got to be a commitment to the run. Obviously, that doesn't mean running on 3rd and 8, but teams that have been most successful against South Carolina's defense have worn them down on the ground. RB Caleb King was expected to return, but now there are reports that he's re-injured his hamstring to the point where he'll be extremely limited (if he is able to go at all). Georgia also got mildly inventive by putting freshman CB Branden Smith in for a few plays on offense last week. That's a good thing, as he is possibly the fastest player on the team, and a threat to break a long gain at any moment. However, Bobo needs not to force things. Pound the ball, throw when you have to, and take the occasional play-action pass shot down field to loosen up South Carolina's defense to allow WR AJ Green to make the sensational play. He is, after all, the best player Georgia has on offense (you'll also see an end-around, a reverse, or an end-around/reverse option pass to/from AJ in this game. I will guarantee it).

In the end, we need to see from Joe Cox what we've been told he's good at. He needs to be accurate, and he needs to know where to go with the football. If Georgia's running the ball as they should, then Cox shouldn't have more than 25 pass attempts (unless SC somehow gets up by several scores before the 4th quarter). Play the blame game all you like, but I don't believe there was a single player on Georgia's offense, not one, that played up to his potential last week. I think the players realize that, and come up with the W here, 20-13.

Offensive Player of the Game: While I said that Georgia needs to have a strong running game, AJ Green needs to get as many chances as the Dawgs can give him. What's more, I think he truly believes in Joe Cox, and the two need to become a viable connection.

Defensive Player of the Game: Safety Reshad Jones got completely hosed on a helmet-to-helmet call last week, but he also missed a sure interception. He won't again this week.

Thought for the Game: Under Mark Richt, Georgia hasn't lost to South Carolina when they've scored at least one touchdown. They've lost twice to SC under Richt, so it's kind of pathetic that they've gone 'touchdownless' in more than one game, but there it is. If the Dawgs score a TD early, g'head and put this one in the W column. That is, unless, they don't score but three points for the final 55 minutes or so, which couldn't possibly happen.

Well, that's what I've got for you this week. While it's easy to think that this is going to be a tough year based on last week's performance, there's not really any point in worrying about all that with 11 games to go. I suggest saving that for week 3 if the Dawgs are 0-2.

As always, thank you for reading. See ya between the hedges. Go Dawgs!!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Importance of Confidence, or the Lack of Knowing You're Mediocre

When division I-A college football gets started Thursday night, most fans will be watching the nationally televised game between NC State and South Carolina. SEC fans, and particularly Dawg fans, will take an interest in this, if for no other reason than to gauge a future opponent.

For the most part, since South Carolina football saw a resurgence (or "surgence" as the case may be) during the end of the 20th century, the Gamecocks have played well to start the season. Additionally, they've given Georgia fits, even managing to steal a few wins here and there. However, they've almost always finished their seasons with the ineptitude usually associated with South Carolina football (see This is South Carolina Football). When Darth Visor took over, you know the whole Gator nation would have been in heaven if Florida went undefeated every year, and South Cackalackee lost but one game every Florida. Those of us not decked in jorts knew better.

One could argue that part of the reason is that, while South Carolina's front-line talent is comparable to the talent of the SEC big boys, they simply don't have the depth to compete on a high level as the season wears on. It could also be argued that their talent is marginal to the point where it's good enough to present a problem up until offensive and/or defensive coordinators have had a few games' worth of film to divine holes and weaknesses.

While both are valid, I really believe that the Cocks simply haven't figured out that they're just not that good by the second game of the season.

When the late, great Jack Palance was hawking stinky aftershave, he coined the phrase, "Confidence is very sexy. Don't you think?" Why, yes Jack, it is. It's also incredibly important for an individual in a contest or competition. If you've ever played any sport, or golf, you know that you fared far better when you pretty much knew you could hit a pitcher's fastball, or take a guy off a dribble. It didn't really matter if it was the truth; you were going to perform at or near your potential.

Mark Richt often spoke of how Georgia needed to "knock the lid off" the program, a feat more or less accomplished when Greene found Haynes on the famous Hobnail, P-44, awesome. What was he really talking about? He was talking about everybody involved with the program really, truly believing that you can accomplish great things, even when the situation is ostensibly dire. They were not going to mutter, "Here we go again" when things went south.

South Carolina is, record-wise, about where Georgia was mired during the mid-late 90's. They beat most of the teams you'd expect them to beat, and maybe even jump up and bite somebody on the keister here and there. But, as each season moves along, and they inevitably lose two in a row, or maybe three out of four, they return to that mindset of, "Hey, we just can't hang with these guys."

Save 2007, and maybe 2002, the Dawgs haven't simply improved so vastly (in comparison to the improvement made by most good teams during the year) as the season moves along. But, something tells me that if an 8-2 Georgia team played a 7-3 South Carolina team in November, the Dawgs would own that Cock. Not because of personnel or coaching, but because South Carolina would have begun to realize that they are once again playing 3rd trombone in the SEC orchestra.

So, while I personally expect South Carolina to beat the Wolfpack on Thursday night, Dawg fans should hope they lose, so they'll arrive a few weeks ahead of schedule at that place where they always end up. Better than bad, but not so good.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Preview: Georgia vs. Oklahoma State

It’s finally arrived. That day of days that seemingly takes longer to come than Christmas morning, the last day of school, or the announcement of the next Paula Abdul vehicle, post-American Idol. College football is here, and Georgia tops the list of a number of big, or at least intriguing match-ups slated for week one. The Dawgs travel to the Sooner State to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Despite being devoid of Tim Tebow, the game holds a prime spot on national television, and should receive plenty of media attention. So, let’s take a look and see what we’ve got.

(editor’s note: There will be no “I’m a man, I’m forty!” comments henceforth)

Although the Cowboys have a losing record overall, they’ve made some strides of late, appearing in a bowl game 6 times in 7 years – a first for the school. Thanks to the backing of oil baron (some call him a tycoon, or perhaps a mogul) T. Boone Pickens, and the leadership of Les Miles (now with LSU) and current head coach Mike Gundy, the Cowpokes have undergone upgrades in facilities, talent, and exposure. While they’ll never truly step out of the shadow of Oklahoma, OSU is anything but an also-ran in the Big 12 these days. Finishing with a 9-4 record in ’08, the Cowboys return virtually every key contributor from a year ago.

Oil Baron T. Boone Pickens has predicted the final score. 387-24, OSU.

The Cowboys are led by senior QB Zac Robinson. While many ‘dual-threat’ quarterbacks are just running backs playing the QB position, Robinson truly fits the bill. An extremely accurate passer, he’ll also have several designed runs, and will tuck it and run if he’s unable to spot an open receiver (Robinson had ½ as many rush attempts as pass attempts). One thing to keep an eye on will be finding out just how mobile Robinson is to start the season. Reports indicate that he's battled some minor leg problems, and they may be worse than the team has let on.

Robinson’s primary target will be WR Dez Bryant. Outside of maybe AJ Green, you will not find a finer receiver in all of college football. Accounting for ~50% of OSU’s receiving yards a year ago, the junior is a rock-solid 6’2, 220lbs, and is both sure-handed and fast. The Cowboys did lose TE Brandon Pettigrew, who was the 20th overall pick and the first TE taken in the NFL draft. As such, the ‘Pokes are extremely inexperienced aside from Bryant, with no WR or TE in the line-up with more than 3 career receptions, but he's the type of player that can take over a game. It was also just released that starting TE Jamal Mosley has left the team for personal reasons, making the position even more unsettled.

At running back, Kendall Hunter will get the lion’s share of the carries. At 5’8, 197lbs, Hunter has been surprisingly durable, and his elusiveness and speed make him a threat to take it the distance at any moment. He’s averaged 6.5 ypc each of his first two seasons, and is utilized in the passing game from time to time.

The Cowboys will start 4 seniors and a junior on the offensive line. OT Russell Okung leads the group, and might be the best lineman in the country. The line may not be quite as formidable in the middle, but they are big and well-coached.

Overall on offense, OSU is talented, experienced, and balanced. The ‘Pokes finished third in total offense in the Big 12 a year ago, and averaged a gaudy 40.8 points per game, good for 9th nationally. Although there’s no shortage of talent or big play ability on offense, the Cowboys’ real strength is their balance. They totaled an almost identical amount of yards on the ground as through the air a season ago.

For the Bulldogs defensively, I’ll not rehash last year’s miseries, but suffice it to say the unit was a major disappointment. Strategically speaking for this game, the first thing is to keep an eye on WR Dez Bryant. He’s going to catch his share of passes, but Georgia’s corners need to be on the same page as the safeties on any deeper routes. It would also be a bad idea to blitz QB Zac Robinson too frequently. He’s too good a runner to allow him to get past the first wave of defenders. Beyond that, the Dawgs need to play good, hard-nosed football at the line of scrimmage. With Jeff Owens back alongside Geno Atkins in the middle, and the ability to rotate in Kade Weston and DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia should be able to remain fresh and get a good push up the middle. If they’re able to get some pressure off the edge from their DE’s, it becomes that much more important to keep things messy in the middle, or else Robinson will be 8 yards downfield before they know what happened.

The OSU defense has been much maligned over the years, and had one of their worst editions ever in 2008. The Cowboys’ defense yielded 405 yds and 28 pts per game, and amassed just 12 sacks for the whole year. Enter new defensive coordinator and OSU alum Bill Young. Young has served as DC for some of the biggest programs in all of college football, including Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, and Miami. He brings 40 years of experience to a defense looking for some semblance of direction.

Big things were expected out of DE Ugo Chinasa, but he has yet to truly assert himself. Other than him, the D-Line is not particularly big, and not especially talented. They’ve played the run okay, but were completely stonewalled last year in the pass rush.

The linebacking corps is led by seniors Andre Sexton and Patrick Levine, and is the strength of the defense. They are fast and athletic, and make plays when the D-Line is able to hold its own. It's safe to say that DC Bill Young will look for ways to get these guys out in space, and rushing off the edge.

The secondary was absolutely murdered last year. CB Perrish Cox has NFL talent, but he can’t do it all on his own. He’s also one of the most dangerous return men in college football, so the Dawgs will have to be wary when he gets his hands on the ball. Obviously, the lack of a consistent pass rush meant that the defensive backs were forced to cover receivers longer. It should be noted that Perrish Cox was just arrested for driving with a suspended license. There’s been no official word from the school, and while this is not generally something that warrants a suspension, it would certainly hurt what is already a suspect defense.

When Georgia has the ball, there won’t be much of a change from what we saw last season in terms of game plan, save one thing. The Dawgs should have a bit more flexibility with (and reliance on) TEs in the passing game. RB Richard Samuel, who has reportedly really come on during fall camp, will definitely try to set the tone for the offense and take a little pressure off of Joe Cox, but every good offensive coordinator knows that you have to attack the weakness of the defense. That comes in the passing game. When going up against a high-octane offense, you’ll often hear people say that a team should try to play more of a ball-control style in an attempt to bleed the clock and shorten the game. With OSU’s suspect defense, I don’t see the Bulldogs going that route here. If Bobo and Richt have spotted ways to get a quick score here or there, they’re going to go for it, and take their chances with stopping the Cowboys’ offense. Look for Cox to connect on at least one deep post to AJ Green, and keep an eye out for either Carlton Thomas or Rantavious Wooten (or both) to get a couple of big gains on a screen or bubble screen. Also, backup QB Logan Gray is almost assured of some playing time. This could be in some designed run packages, or he may even get a series or two to actually run the show. This is a good idea, but Richt needs to make sure he chooses a time where it won’t throw off any kind of rhythm the Dawgs may have established with Cox behind center.

So, what will happen?

Georgia can win this game by turning it into a slobber-knocker battle in the trenches. OSU thrives on momentum, and keeping the opposing defense on their heels. The Dawgs will be aiming to hit everybody (hopefully in a legal fashion) and take them out of their routine. They won’t need to sack Robinson every time he drops back, but they do need to get the pocket collapsed, and they do need to hit him. If they can get his head on a swivel, so to speak, and make him get rid of the ball quicker than he’d like, they’ll be successful (think Hawaii a couple of years back).

There’ll be plenty of opportunities offensively for the Dawgs, either through their own well-planned play calling, or through the Cowboys’ ineptitude. Georgia needs to make sure they don’t miss out on any easy scores, as this could be a shootout.

In the end, I feel that Georgia’s D-Line will rise to the challenge, and resemble some of the defenses we saw a few years back. The offense makes plenty of big plays, and the Dawgs take this one, 37-24.

Offensive Player of the Game: AJ Green should be able to put up some impressive numbers, but QB Joe Cox will need to be on point for Georgia's offense to thrive. I think he is, and I think it does.

Defensive Player of the Game: LB Darryl Gamble was a bit inconsistent last season, but he really showed up in some huge games with a penchant for the big play. I think that he comes up with one in the first half that really sends the Dawgs on their way.

Thought for the Game: Every season's different, but when you combine Richt's record in opponents' stadiums (30-4) with the fact that the Dawgs have pounded every "upstart" team that was poised to upset the Dawgs (OSU is actually a favorite here), it engenders a certain degree of confidence. The Cowboys will also be christening a brand new stadium, and entering the season with expectations they've not known for 25 years, so the pressure lies squarely on their shoulders.

Well, that's what I've got for you this week. Any season opener is exciting, but this one will be even more so. Enjoy the game, enjoy the season, and welcome back, college football! Go Dawgs!!