With college football kicking off in a week, I thought I'd use the last bit of down time to compile a short list of things that must happen (or must not happen, as the case may be) for Georgia to have a "successful" season. Successful...Unlike many years, not winning the SEC East will, in my opinion, not constitute an unsuccessful season. That was almost like a quadruple negative. Florida, as you might have heard, brings nearly everybody back, two deep, from last year's National Championship squad. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs lose two of their most prolific offensive players ever in Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. So, for our purposes here, let's define a successful season as one in which Georgia plays in a New Year's Day bowl, and beats at least two of the "big four" in Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech, with one of those wins being against Georgia Tech. Having said that, this is still Georgia, and there's no reason to at least hope for anything less than an SEC Championship.
So, in no order of importance...
1. Get Back To Fundamentals
The Dawgs hampered themselves defensively with an abundance of missed tackles, missed assignments, and missed opportunities. The coaching staff insists that, due to a bevy of injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, the defense was coddled during fall practice so as not to risk any further injuries to key personnel. OK, I can buy that, and practice reports suggest that the Dawg D has been pushed to the limit. Sets up nicely for the excuse machine if there's no improvement (Oh, well, our defense wore down because we may have pushed them too hard in the fall). Whatever the case, the tackling was bar-none the worst I'd seen from a Georgia defense in over a decade. Got to shore it up.
As far as penalties go, Georgia committed the second-most total penalties in all of Div. I-A football. However, the key is not necessarily just limiting the number of penalties. In fact, Florida and Oklahoma, who played for the BCS Championship, tied for seventh most. An agressive, hungry defense is going to commit penalties, and you don't want to curb that. Nonetheless, the Dawgs need to limit their "stupid" penalties, such as false starts, illegal formations, and late hits.
2. Make Things Uncomfortable for the Opponent's Offensive Backfield
(Walken Voice) Where's Sack?! Sure, everybody loves to talk about sacks, and they are obviously important. After all, losing, say, 6 yards and a down on the same play is a virtual drive-killer. What's more important, though, is getting consistent pressure on QBs, and closing running lanes for RBs. A passing game is about rhythm and timing. A collapsing pocket and hands in a QB's face throw that timing off. While Georgia was basically middle-of-the-pack in the SEC in total sacks, it was the putrid lack of consistent pressure that was missed most.
3. Make Things Comfortable for Georgia's Offensive Backfield
This is important to any offense, but more so for the Dawgs this year, as Joe Cox will be taking the field for the first time knowing this is his team (a lone start in '06 vs. Ole Miss notwithstanding), and Georgia must look for a new go-to guy (or guys) at tailback. The offensive line is expected to be the relative strength of the offense, but as we learned last year, expectations count for little. If the Bulldog offense is to find any sustained success, it must be created by the hogs up front. Cox might also feel a bit more comfortable if somebody at Sports Illustrated had bothered to proof their pictures of him before publication. You know what I'm talking about.
4. Ride Your Horse
It's neither a secret to fans nor opposing defenses that, if Georgia has one known superstar on offense, it's AJ Green. Conventional wisdom would then tell you that defenses will do what they can to keep Georgia's best player from beating them. Let them try. Clearly, I'm not advocating the abandonment of all other players or forcing the ball to him, but Green is as good a receiver as Moreno was a running back. When the chips are down, if you have to lose, do so betting on your best hand. Let other young players' talents come to the field in due time, and don't get too cute. Come on ride the horse...Ride it.
5. Win Field Position
Georgia faltered in this area on two fronts last season: A poor kickoff game, and in losing the turnover battle. Most Dawg fans have just about had it with Georgia's directional kicking scheme. I have no problem with it if, and here's the key, it accomplishes what you're trying to do. Georgia ranked 11th in the SEC in kickoff coverage, which was due to both short kicks and kickoffs out of bounds (resulting in opponents starting at the 40 yd line). Therefore, it's not a stretch to say it didn't work as intended. However Richt and ST coach Jon Fabris decide to approach the kicking game this season, that must be improved.
As for turnovers, they can be a funny thing as far as stats are concerned. We tend to say that a team "forced" x amount of turnovers in a game, but sometimes it was just the recipient of a botched snap or a mishandled exchange. Regardless, when an opportunity to get a turnover arises, it mustn't be squandered, and Georgia's offense must continue to protect the ball. The top three teams in turnover margin in the SEC were Florida, Vanderbilt, and Alabama. Florida played Bama in the SEC title game, and Vandy broke a string of 27 straight losing seasons, and won its first bowl game since Marty McFly played at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.
So, there are five keys to a successful season as I see them. I'm sure you can find other keys to the season, but being that they're not listed here, they're probably not that important. See ya next week with the first week's preview against the OSU Cowpokes.