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Monday, September 1, 2008

Grading the Game

I'd like to make this a regular Sunday feature, but let's just say my first game day in Athens made me a little sleepy for my first day-after game day in Athens. So, sorry if it's a bit late, but here's my breakdown of Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Southern game:

PASSING GAME: Matthew Stafford notched a career high 275 yards and although he wasn't perfect, he looked sharp throughout. "Perfection is what we're looking for and what he wants in his performance," head coach Mark Richt said of Stafford. "He could have had a much bigger day, but he played well, he handled things beautifully. He's got total command of what we're trying to do, he's just got to be a little bit sharper."

Joe Cox filled in nicely as well, getting some time on an early drive that ended with a Richard Samuel fumble, but leading a scoring drive late in which he hit A.J. Green on a beautiful play for Georgia's final TD. Together Cox and Stafford completed 17-of-27 passes for 323 yards and three TDs.

Speaking of Green, the receivers looked good. For the first time since the Reggie Brown-Fred Gibson era, the WR corps might be listed as a real strength for the Dawgs. Mohamed Massaquoi caught a 47-yard pass to finish with three catches for 55 yards, Kris Durham had a 61-yard TD, Knowshon Moreno came out of the backfield to take a pass 37 yards, Michael Moore had a 32-yard reception, Green's first catch went for 36, and Tripp Chandler had a 26-yard catch. That's A LOT of big-play ability against a Georgia Southern secondary that came into the game as one of the Eagles' strengths.

There weren't many drops -- and the couple that did happen were far from perfectly thrown balls -- and the emergence of Durham and Green in the game could spell trouble for opponents. Having two guys with their size and ability would create some exciting mismatches for the Bulldogs this year.

Overall Grade: A

RUSHING GAME: Hard to criticize 220 yards on the ground, as the Dawgs would surely take that any Saturday. Samuel's fumble on his first career carry was clearly the low point, but he showed real mental toughness getting back on the field and running hard on five more carries, netting 33 yards after the fumble.

"When your first plays a fumble, that's when I saw him, so yeah, he looked a little uptight there," Richt said of Samuel. "But after the fumble, he was in the tank, but I just said, Look, you're going to get another chance. Don't worry about it.' And luckily he was able to get a few more carries, and he did a fine job."

Knowshon looked impressive as usual, averaging 7.4 yards per carry, and racking up three TDs. His long run of 24 yards went for a score, but he pulled up with a leg cramp in the end zone, ending his day.

The real story of the afternoon had to be Caleb King, who didn't play much early, but led the charge in the second half. King racked up 100 yards -- netting 95 -- and averaged nearly 8 yards per carry. He ran with a lot of energy and chose his holes wisely. For all the talk about him falling down the depth chart in the preseason, he put on a heck of a show Saturday.

Fullback Shaun Chapas received high marks from Richt filling in for an injured Brannan Southerland as well.

The one concern you might have is that there really weren't a lot of opportunities for the young guys -- King and Samuel -- to show they were ready to pick up blocks. That is always the big question for young running backs, and it's one we'll have to wait on an answer for.

Overall grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE: As Vince Vance told me, 200-plus rushing yards and 300-plus passing yards pretty much makes it a good day for the offensive line. Considering the group started four first-time starters and had only been playing together for less than two weeks, I'd call it better than good.

Freshman Cordy Glenn showed he wasn't just a camp phenom by looking good in game conditions. Vance held up well, as did Chris Davis. The two tackles were clearly under the microscope the most, however, and it looks like it will be Josh Davis who loses his starting gig this week when Clint Boling returns from suspension.

"(Josh Davis) played like he practiced which has been very good," Richt said. "We're not disappointed in any way but we also liked what Bean (Anderson) did at tackle. He made some mistakes but he certainly has the ability and he's making progress. Moving Josh back to left, between him and Kiante, those guys can play the left side."

Richt said he wasn't sure whether Tripp or Davis would get the starting nod at LT, but I'd be shocked to see Davis win the job. Anderson did see playing time and will serve as the primary backup on the right side the rest of the way. Ben Jones played some center in the game, too, spelling Chris Davis. Jones did a nice job, particularly when Georgia was backed up against its own goal line.

Overall, it wasn't a perfect performance, but all things considered, the Bulldogs had to be pretty happy with how things went.

"They switched into a couple things we kind of got shaky on. We worked it out, but we just need to get more sure of ourselves," Vance said. "I think just something that happens sometimes. We could have had Fernando (Velasco) out there, but every now and then you get something thrown at you you aren't ready for at a certain point."

Overall grade: B+

DEFENSIVE LINE: For the unit to react well after losing Jeff Owens early in the game was impressive. For sub Corvey Irvin to step up with a sack, two TFLs, and lead Georgia in tackles -- well that was downright encouraging.

The Bulldogs had three sacks in the game -- all coming from the D-line -- while adding five more TFLs and five pass break-ups. The pressure on Georgia Southern's QBs was pretty consistent, at least through the first three quarters. The Eagles only averaged 2.9 yards per rush, as well.

A handful of penalties did help keep a few drives going, however, but these are the typical kinks you figure will get worked out as the year goes on.

Overall grade: B+

LINEBACKERS: Darryl Gamble, Dannell Ellerbe and Akeem Dent all looked impressive when on the field. Against a Georgia Southern attack that tried to spread the field, the linebackers held up well and were quick to the ball. Given that neither Dent or Gamble were established starters, the strong performances were a good indication of what's to come. Ellerbe also had the game's only interception.

Overall grade: A

SECONDARY: Georgia Southern hardly shredded the secondary of Georgia, but there were some problems. Reshad Jones knocked a sure interception away from Darryl Gamble early in the game trying to make a play on the ball himself, and playing against two inexperienced QBs, the secondary didn't create a single turnover.

Georgia Southern only passed for 188 yards, but the Eagles were able to complete a handful of mid-range or longer passes to extend drives. It was a bit discouraging to see the number of long drives the Eagles put together, including several of nine or more plays.

"I just think that we can't win the games we need to win playing how we played (Saturday)," corner Asher Allen said. "Some people did good, some people did bad, but it's a team game, and we need everybody to play good."

Overall Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS: Blair Walsh had started camp well but faded a bit down the stretch. It didn't keep him from looking sharp -- perfect actually -- on Saturday.

Walsh was perfect on PATs and hit a 52-yard field goal on his only attempt -- a kick that would have easily been good from 60.

"That was probably the greatest feeling of my life," Walsh said. "I had great blocking, got it up, got it in, and that was the end of that story."

Perhaps the only downside in the kicking game, Walsh said, was what happened after his field goal.

"When I saw it, I was like, 'Yeah,' " Walsh said. "But I didn't really get to see the whole kick because Tripp Chandler pretty much drilled me when he picked me up. I thought he broke my ribs."

The return game wasn't perfect, but it was good to actually get some idea of how it might play out. As I predicted last week, Allen took the reins as punt returner, leaving KR duties to Ramarcus Brown. Brown didn't get a single opportunity in the first half, but finished with 49 second-half return yards.

Allen handled three punts, finishing with 54 yards and a long of 37. He had trouble hauling in one kick, but it didn't affect his return. Reshad Jones also got a shot at PR and returned his only kick 32 yards. Logan Gray was deep on Southern's final punt of the game, but the ball went out of bounds preventing Gray from getting a return.

"I don't know if Asher is going to be returning every punt all season," Richt said. "He's the most reliable guy, but it bounced off his chest. Reshad Jones did a fine job with his opportunity, and unfortunately Logan didn't get a chance to field one. I'm sure we'll see all three of them again before it's over."

Overall Grade: A

COACHING: Considering the number of question marks going in, considering the Owens injury early in the first quarter, considering the number of players suspended for the game and considering that 20 freshmen saw action, I think you have to like how Richt and his staff handled the game plan.

With the Dawgs playing a clearly overmatched opponent, the coaching staff took the opportunity to see what they had -- giving the O-line a chance to block on a number of long passing plays, getting tons of freshmen into the game, going to the kids early and often, rotating regularly on both sides of the ball -- and the results were good.

I was particularly impressed by Richt's decision to go back to Samuel so quickly after his fumble and to insert Ben Jones at center with the Dawgs backed up on their own 3-yard line with the game far from locked up. Showing such confidence in your young players at this stage could pay huge dividends down the road -- and Richt knows the kids are going to be important as Georgia moves forward.

Kudos also go to OC Mike Bobo who managed to call a game that showed off Georgia's big-play ability without turning the game into a circus.

Overall grade: A

So, what did you think? Am I way off on any of these? Where do you see the most room for improvement? Were you happy with the results? Anything unexpected?


Anonymous said...

The weakest thing I saw was a our defense. 21 points Southern put on us should have never happened. Regardless if we had young freshmen playing.

It doesn't look that good for us saying we are number 1 when you have Ohio State shutting out their opponent, and USC destroying Virginia and only allowing them to put up 7 points.

Even if we beat South Carolina by week 3, winner of USC and Ohio State game will jump us for number 1, especially if we play sloppy. Just out.

Odell's BBQ said...

Good to see Corvey step up. I'm interested to see if Corvey and Atkins can hold up against the run though. There seemed to be some decent holes in the DL for GSU running lanes. Owens was an anchor against the run. Maybe, Kade can come back and be that guy (if they all can't be).

I thought we could definitely improve on kickoff coverage, which would knock my special teams grade down to a B+ or A-. A lot of those guys are younger though and the coaches know how to correct it.

Finally, I was also disappointed to see UGA sleeping during the game. Kidding aside, it was not perfect...but it didn't have to be.

Anonymous said...

Blair Walsh kickoffs. We try to kick the ball in the corner, cut off the field and force a short return but this strategy does not work. Fla, LSU or Auburn will hust us.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 70 yards for a touchback.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 50 yards returned by Darrel Pasco for 4 yards to the GeoSo 24.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 67 yards returned by Darrel Pasco for 45 yards to the GeoSo 48.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 65 yards returned by Darrel Pasco for 19 yards to the GeoSo 24.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 43 yards returned by Samair Baker for no gain to the GeoSo 27.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 60 yards returned by Darrel Pasco for 20 yards to the GeoSo 30.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 58 yards returned by Samair Baker for 20 yards to the Geo 30, Georgia penalty 15 yard personal foul accepted.

Blair Walsh kickoff for 58 yards returned by Samair Baker for 20 yards to the GeoSo 32.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on the defense. It didn't look consistant. It mostly was a combination of penalties on third down and too much cushion by the CB's, in my opinion.

Can't complain about the Offense. 535 total yards...that's big. The scoring drives were around a minute and a half, to 3 minutes. That is pretty explosive, IMO.

Without Knowshon in the second half, Caleb played fantastic. No TD's but lots of yards. AJ Green, man, can we toss him the ball more? WOW.

Number 1? Who knows? Top 5, yes.

The games just was not as close as the score showed, or ESPN showed.

If you compare their stats with Southern Cal, they are nearly identical.

Total yards: UGA-535 USC-558
Passing yards: UGA-323 USC-340
Rushing yards: UGA-212 USC-218
Third down conversions: UGA-4/9 44.4% USC-5/12 41.6%
Turnovers: UGA-1 USC-2
Total points: UGA-45 USC-52
I'll even throw this in there...Penalties: UGA 11/70yds USC 7/70yds

Looks pretty good, no?

Go Dawgs! Sic'em!