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Monday, September 29, 2008

Grading the Game: Georgia vs. Alabama

Saturday's game wasn't pretty, so obviously, there aren't many good grades to give out. Here's a rundown of my overall thoughts on the game, and feel free to leave your impressions, comments or criticisms (and I'm sure there'll be a few) in the comments section.

PASSING: A look at Matthew Stafford's final numbers makes it seem like Georgia had a good day throwing the football, but 205 of his 274 passing yards came after the half when the Bulldogs were already trailing by a large margin. Georgia simply couldn't stay on the field early, and that might have been the biggest problem for Stafford. The Alabama secondary had his receivers blanketed early, and he ended up throwing a number of bad passes into traffic out of frustration. For much of the game, Stafford far too closely resembled the impetuous quarterback of his first two seasons than the calm and collected leader he had been so far this year. His interception just before the half was really the low point for Georgia. A score on that drive, and this might have been a game. The turnover basically ended any realistic shot the Dawgs had at a comeback.

The receivers certainly didn't make Stafford's job any easier. Even when he had time to throw, he rarely had anyone to throw to -- at least early in the game. There were a number of big drops in the second half, and A.J. Green's fumble after catching a pass that would have given Georgia a crucial first down in the first half were killer. Green did finish with six catches for 88 yards and Michael Moore added five for 65, but most of that was picked up when the Dawgs were well out of contention.


Well, the running game didn't go anywhere in the first half. After that, it was non-existent. The Bulldogs had 32 of their 50 yards on the ground in the first half, but things never got going on the ground. There wasn't much running room for Knowshon Moreno against a fierce Alabama front seven, and once the Dawgs were down by 24, there wasn't many opportunities to run the football. In pass protection, the Dawgs' running backs at least did a decent job of blocking. For the second straight game, Richard Samuel didn't touch the football on offense, but that could change in two weeks against Tennessee if Moreno isn't ready to go.


Really, the grade here is more of an incomplete. The pass protection was shaky but not terrible, but Georgia's early deficit basically killed any chance the offensive line had of posting a good game. The Bulldogs abandon the run early, and Alabama's pass rush was able to pin its ears back, knowing the pass was coming. There weren't many running lanes open early, and Stafford was sacked twice, but all in all, the results could have been worse. Much of the pressure Stafford faced was a result of simply finding no one open downfield, and the running game never really had a chance to get going. No one will look at Saturday's performance as a good one for the offensive line, but considering the inexperience it has and the physically gifted Alabama front, the unit held its own. Perhaps most encouraging was Georgia's ability to continue to throw the football -- particularly the deep ball -- in the second half when everyone knew what was coming. The line improved as the game went on, and that trial-by-fire for the young linemen might be a major benefit as the season wears on.


Just when Georgia thought it had things turned around, the defensive line went back to its old habits. The defensive ends did nothing against Alabama's offensive line, and quarterback John Parker Wilson had all day to throw the football. The interior of the line slowed Alabama's running game but was hardly dominant, and without the pressure coming off the end, it didn't matter. Georgia's ends have routinely struggled against cut blocks -- the same scheme South Carolina employed -- and end up taken out of plays way too quickly. In many respects, Georgia was simply overly aggressive after falling behind, and the D-ends rush to run right into Alabama's cut-block schemes was a perfect example. Both the pass rush and secondary are major concerns for the Dawgs going forward, and while improvement in one area might help the other, neither seems like a simple fix.


Once again, this was the strength of Georgia's defense, but even the linebacking corps didn't have a great game. Rennie Curran was stellar as usual, leading the team with 14 tackles, but the loss of Dannell Ellerbe in the first quarter was big -- and could continue to haunt the Dawgs depending on how much time he'll miss. Akeem Dent's roughing the passer penalty negated a fumble on Alabama's first drive -- a play that, although early, may have swung the game. Dent did have Georgia's only sack (and 10 tackles), but the linebackers were far from spectacular on the blitz. Alabama's offensive line did a tremendous job of buying Wilson just enough time to get the ball out on the blitz, and he had receivers open on mid-level slant patterns often.


Wilson was dominant in this game. Georgia's secondary left far too many open receivers, and combined with the lack of a pass rush, Wilson had both receivers to throw to and time to get them the ball. Prince Miller was beaten on several occasions, and Julio Jones gave Asher Allen fits at times. It's hard to pin all the blame on the secondary when it clearly didn't get much help up front, but when the opposing quarterback is 13-of-16, including hitting on his first seven passes, there's plenty of blame to go around.


Blair Walsh actually began the game with a touchback on the kickoff. After that, it got ugly. Alabama's average starting field position after a punt or kick was its own 36. Brian Mimbs, usually very reliable, was a disaster. He had punts of 29, 19 and 30 yards. Alabama's Javy Arenas had 77 yards on four returns in the game, and the coverage was average at best. Walsh did connect on a 43-yard field goal, and Prince Miller's 92-yard punt return was easily the highlight of the game for Georgia -- rekindling the Bulldogs' faint hopes of a victory to start the fourth quarter.


I'm just going to say this and then brace for the obvious backlash I'll get: This loss cannot be pinned on Willie Martinez. I've been covering Georgia since Martinez's first season as defensive coordinator, and for whatever reason, he has been fan's favorite whipping boy pretty much since Day 1. Numbers don't tell an entire story, I know, but in 2005, Georgia was eighth nationally in scoring defense, in 2006, the Dawgs were eighth in total defense and in 2007, they were 14th. Those are pretty good numbers. On top of that, Martinez gets along great with his players, has produced tons of NFL talent and at no point since I've been covering him has he been anything less than accountable for his team's play.

But that's the past. Let's look at Saturday's game. Does Martinez deserve the blame for Georgia's inability to stop Alabama's offense? Frankly, I just don't see how he does. Every pundit who previewed the game said the same thing: Put the game in John Parker Wilson's hands. That's exactly what Martinez did. Wilson took advantage. Alabama actually ran for less than 3 yards per carry (Georgia actually had a higher YPC) but the defensive ends were never able to pressure Wilson, and he was nearly perfect in dismantling the Bulldogs' defense. It wasn't the game plan that was the problem -- it was the execution.

If I have a criticism of Martinez, it's not that he is a bad game planner, it's that he is often slow to make in-game adjustments. In each game so far this season, the reaction time to the opponents' successes has been a bit too long. It didn't matter in the first four games when Georgia's D was dominant early, but against Alabama, the changes needed to come quicker.

On the other side of the ball, Mike Bobo really didn't seem to have a great game plan going in, but again, it's hard to put all the blame on him. The early hole Georgia found itself in forced Bobo to abandon the run early, and the inexperienced offensive line limited what the Dawgs could do in the passing game against such a talented Alabama defense. Still, there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to much of the play calling -- with the Stafford-to-King-to-Massaquoi-to-Stafford reverse/flea-flicker/halfback pass or whatever you want to call it. Georgia still had a faint glimmer of hope at that point, and that was a perfect example of going all-in with a bad hand.

And, of course, there were the penalties. Georgia is looking more and more like the Oakland Raiders every week. It's sloppy play, mental mistakes and -- worst of all -- the flags seem to come at the most inopportune times. Mark Richt basically said he hasn't done a good enough job of letting his players know how important cutting down the penalties needs to be, but that admission is too little too late. I said last week I couldn't understand why Richt was so quick to downplay the flags. Yes, the officiating in the Arizona State game was dismal, but as a coach, you can't let your players off the hook by blaming the zebras. This needs to be fixed, and if Georgia's staff doesn't spend the entire bye week harping on penalties, then fans really will have something to complain about.

Some credit should also be given to the coaching staff for keeping the players' heads in the game in the second half. It would have been easy to roll over, take their beating and live to fight another day. Instead, Georgia came out in the second half and played aggressively and, frankly, looked a lot more impressive. If only they had shown that mental toughness in the first half.

I'm not going to venture to guess whether Georgia was mentally ready to play Saturday, but I also won't argue with anyone who thinks all the hype overwhelmed the Bulldogs. I'd much prefer to see a coach like Richt who seemed to embrace the moment rather than obsess over it the way someone like Nick Saban would, but there's really little question Alabama was the better coached team Saturday.


I'm adding this as a bonus category once again because I think the fans really deserve some acknowledgment here. There are a lot of teams around the country that would be playing in a half-empty stadium in the second half when the score was 31-0, but Georgia's fans stayed until the bitter end. The "blackout" may have proved to be a bit of a distraction for the players (although, I really think the issue was that a.) Alabama was better and b.) the blackout didn't affect the Tide) but it had the perfect effect on the crowd. I've never heard Sanford Stadium as loud as it was at kickoff Saturday. Unfortunately, it was a long time before there was anything else to cheer about.

"I thought they were phenomenal," Richt said of the fans. "I told the team at halftime, they certainly deserved better than what they saw the first half. When we rolled back out in the second half, they were still there, they were still ready to cheer and did a heck of a job. I'm thankful that we did fight a whole lot better than we did a year ago against Tennessee."



Anonymous said...

I have heard very few people talk about this: UGA loses 31-0 in the first half, and wins 30-10 in the second half.

If we had been able to adjust sooner, could we have won the game? Why didn't we shape up sooner? Just curious and no one seems to be talking about that.

David Hale said...

Your numbers are accurate, but I'm not sure it tells the true story. Yes, Georgia won the second half, but you have to ask how much Bama took its foot off the gas when they were up so big. The only time the game was in question was after Prince's return, and when Georgia desperately needed a stop on Bama's next drive, they weren't able to get it.

I completely agree that the adjustments came WAY too late in this game, but I also think Alabama was clearly the better team on the field and was going to win that game no matter what.

Anonymous said...

Another comment, I have not heard the coaches say they had a bad plan. All I have heard is that our players got beat. Am I wrong? If you put people in a postion to fail, they will fail.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Martinez. In my mind, some of the defensive problems in the first half were related to the offensive problems. Offense needed to control the ball longer, or keep up somewhat with the shootout. The defense gets more rest, and hopefully Martinez gets more time to make adjustments. A better gameplan from the beginning would've been nice though.

I really didn't understand our offensive plan either. Seemed like there were quite a few downfield throws on first down which go incomplete, then we get only two plays to go 10 yards against a tough defense. Why didn't we attack the edges passing more? Why didn't we try to be more creative with the running game, cause we should've known there would be limited success running through the line.

How about Knowshon taking some snaps and running an option with Caleb King? Something like that. We have weapons. Use them creatively to help make up for our weaknesses!

BTW, is Stafford so easy to read that their safety(ies) could always make it over to our receiver before the ball gets there?

Anonymous said...

Nice assessment David.

This game was too much to handle in the second half. 24 is do-able, 28 is pushing it, 31 is Mt. Everest.

Losing Dannell was huge. Why does it seem like someone important always goes down early in a game?

Was Rennie moved to Mike LB on some plays? I haven't gone back and watched the DVRed game. It's just too hard.

Alabama just camed out and whipped us. There shouldn't be finger-pointing. They lost as a team.

Willie needs to coach our guys up on some man-man, the zones we were playing were WAY too soft. Huge holes were wide open.

Thanks to the Dawgs for coming out and playing with passion in the 2nd half...Thanks to the fans that stayed throughout the game.

Thanks for pointing that out too, DH.

You get an A+ in my book.

Anonymous said...

Ever since WM has been the DC, we have suffered blowouts or even games where it was unexplainably close. There are wide open receivers in every game. Not eveyone gets the ball but it happens so frequently that it is scary when you watch replays. Good teams take advanage of it. No one is sayng WM is not a good person but I would like to believe he (they) learns from our mistakes. The results speak for themselves. We get blown out as if we have no idea what is going on.

I do agree the offense puts the defense in bad situations. Bobo only seems to open it up when we are behind and goes way too conserative when we are ahead so that the other team has a chance to catch up. I personally would try to find some coaches with NFL experience.

Anonymous said...

Offensively, one of our strong suits is Stafford's ability to check off at the line. It seemed Sat. that we were always getting to the line with about 7-8 seconds left and no time for #7 to make adjustments.
Similarly, on Defense, Bama snapped the ball at least 3 times while our players were still looking to the sideline for the play call...what's up with that?

Brandon said...

In general I agree with your assessment of WM. The main problem I have with his overall scheme is his "bend but don't break" philosophy. It works great against most teams, but UGA has better talent than most teams, so of course it will work. Three years in a row we have played a team with a good OL and a veteran QB and three times we've been blown out.

His soft zone philosophy will not work against teams that match up against us skill-wise. Starting the Alabama game in that soft zone allow Wilson to get into a rhythm and gain confidence. Looking a the first few completions for Alabama and see how much room we gave their WRs, then compare that to how they defended us. WM's philosophy allowed Wilson to gain the rhythm and confidence he needed.

Anonymous said...

Bama's O-line and D-line outplayed ours, plain and simple. It seemed like Stafford panicked and stopped trusting his line to protect him, and that cause him to make some bad throws. As usual, we couldn't do the same to JPW.

I didn't think JPW could win this big of a game, but he proved me very wrong.

But I'll say this: RENNIE CURRAN IS A BEAST!

Anonymous said...

Soft zone?
Drop 8.
How do their receivers get that open?
....oops, that is a poor use of words (that insinuates that they have a step on our guys) - there receivers were just plain ALONE. watching the replay, there wasn't a black jersey even within the TV screen

Anonymous said...

I agree. We just looked completely lost at times, offensively and defensively. The last time that we looked like that was Knoxville last year. The coaches appear to be getting the calls in way too late.

Anonymous said...

Another A+ to the fans. With Sat. being our biggest recruiting game, the behavior and support of the crowd was incredible under such disappointment. No booing and everyone staying until the end speaks volumes about our fans.
In earlier years, that receipe could have really backfired on us.

Mike said...

David, I think you are being a little too hard on Stafford. He had no time and no receivers to choose from in the 1st half. In the 2nd half, he was fitting some throws in there that were incredible trying to lead a comeback. The interception before halftime was a bad decision, but I give him credit for trying to make something happen at a time when NOTHING was going right.

Anonymous said...

If an option is your wish, why not Logan Gray (pass/run option) WITH MORENO AND/OR KING (samuel)...BTW we must have a mlb now it's time to CRUSH ut !