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Monday, November 3, 2008

Grading the Game: UGA-Florida

As a longtime Cubs and Eagles fan, I've suffered through a lot of painful losses, and the last thing I want to do afterward is rehash the mess. I haven't read a story about the Cubs since Game 2 against the Dodgers, and I probably won't until Spring Training starts. So I apologize to all the Georgia fans who have no desire to read this. I actually even thought about not doing it, but I think there are some aspects of the game that deserve further discussion.

Anyway, if you are already working on moving on, then by all means, skip this post. If you don't mind wallowing in a little self pity from time to time, then read on...

(Quick aside: Paul Dehner and Blutarski both have good post-game analysis of some of Georgia's key problems on their blogs. I highly recommend giving them a read.)

PASSING: I've been pretty critical of Matthew Stafford, but I can't pin a whole lot of this loss on him. The truth is, when the play calling favored a good matchup, Stafford took advantage nearly 100 percent of the time. The problem was, the play calling was shortsighted at times, and the execution from receivers was poor at other times.

Stafford routinely exploited Florida's biggest weakness -- its secondary -- and moved the ball at will throughout the first 40 minutes of action. For the game, he thew for 265 yards, despite not playing much of the fourth quarter. Most of his passes were right on target, despite the fact that he had a pass rush in his face more than he had in any game since Alabama. All in all, it wasn't a terrible performance by Stafford by any means.

But here's the problem: Georgia failed to challenge Florida's DBs enough. They went to too many screens, short out patterns and (for the love of God can we please stop with this) QB draws. When Stafford went deep, it worked. But he didn't do it enough.

Other times, his passes were on target, but the receivers weren't. Kenneth Harris dropped a wide open pass over the middle that could have easily gone for six. Tripp Chandler fell down on a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone. Even Stafford's first interception was probably A.J. Green's fault. Stafford threw short and Joe Haden made a good read on it and picked it off, but watching it, it looked like Stafford was expecting Green to break back on the ball. After the game, the QB took full responsibility for the pick, but clearly there was more going on there than just an underthrown pass.

That, of course, doesn't excuse the other two interceptions, but in truth, they were a result of Georgia grasping at straws. The lack of touchdowns in the first half and Stafford's first interception were Georgia's undoing, and the rest was just gravy for Florida.

On a small bright note, kudos to Joe Cox for engineering the only impressive drive of the game for Georgia, albeit one that came against Florida's second-team D. It was also good to see the tight ends get involved again. The group was targeted five times, and each of the three tight ends caught a pass.

Hats off, too, to Mo Massaquoi who showed what a real senior leader can do. Massaquoi never quit in the game, came down with a number of extremely tough passes that involved getting hit hard afterward, finished with 112 yards receiving and, although it didn't mean much in the end, tracked down Haden at the 1 after an 88-yard return. If Stafford and Moreno come back next year, Georgia's offense will be great, no doubt, but they are really going to miss Mo, who is one of the few players on this roster that you can honestly say hasn't taken a single play off this season.

GRADE: C

RUSHING:
It's easy to forget that Knowshon Moreno was actually averaging nearly 5 yards per carry in the first half. When the Bulldogs were still in the game and the WRs were still running past defenders downfield, Moreno looked pretty good. Once things began to unravel in the second half, however, it became a near perfect replica of the Alabama game in terms of the Bulldogs' running game.

Moreno finished with 65 yards on 17 carries, including 15 yards lost behind the line of scrimmage. He was really not a factor at all in the second half. He also allowed a potential touchdown pass bounce off his hands in the end zone.

The bigger problem for the running backs Saturday was the lack of pass protection. The offensive line didn't have its best game, but the backs didn't help much. The most egregious mistake came courtesy of Caleb King, who missed a block on a second-and-2 passing play that resulted in a bad sack that effectively killed a scoring drive for the Bulldogs. Now, the case can be made that the play call in that situation was awful (it was), but regardless, that's a block you have to make.

On a lighter note, how great was it when Shaun Chapas tried to return Blair Walsh's missed field goal off the upright for a touchdown? Poor guy wants to get in the end zone so bad. Seriously though, it was funny and all, but it's good to see a guy being that heads up.

GRADE: D+

OFFENSIVE LINE:
Mark Richt isn't one to make excuses, but he sure mentions the youth on the O line a lot after bad games. I'm not begrudging him the argument -- they are young, they are inexperienced and against good teams, they are simply overmatched. Just saying that when Georgia loses, the line is young. When they win, they're veterans who have half a season under their belt.

The line allowed just two sacks in the game, but that was the first time even that many had been given up since the Alabama game. More over, Stafford was under pressure throughout the game, and the blocking in the red zone was particularly poor.

Georgia has been strong between the 20s all year, but the short-yardage and red-zone problems are a direct result of the offensive line not creating openings for the Bulldogs to pick up the tough yards.

That's a fact more than a criticism. Georgia is currently starting an interior line that features two true freshmen and a guy with a hip injury that during any other season would have him on the sideline. Unfortunately for Chris Davis, the injuries to Vince Vance and Trinton Sturdivant haven't afforded him that luxury this season.

More over, Justin Anderson has looked like a rookie at times -- including the boneheaded personal foul against LSU -- and Clint Boling has played admirably at left tackle, but that's not where he belongs. Add to that that you're playing three tight ends with shoulder injuries that make blocking painful, and it's easy to see why the line has struggled.

Having said all that, this is too far into the season for all the false start penalties, and the coaching staff should also know the limitations of its line by now and call plays accordingly. The problems on the O line are a valid excuse, but at this point, no one wants to hear excuses. They want results.

GRADE: D

DEFENSIVE LINE:
Another game of no sacks by the D line. There was virtually no pressure on Tim Tebow in the second half. Nearly all of Tebow's runs were telegraphed from a mile away, and the line still was helpless to stop him. Tebow ran for 39 yards and three touchdowns himself, but the Gators combined for 185 rushing yards in the game. That's the second straight game in which the Bulldogs have allowed more than 180 yards on the ground -- an astounding feat considering how well they had played against the run through the first seven games of the year.

The truth is, Georgia's line has little trouble slowing down the speedy-but-small backs. Outside of a 20-yard run by Percy Harvin, none of Florida's hybrid backs had much success. But Tebow and Moody were hard for Georgia to slow down and met with nearly as much success as LSU's Charles Scott a week ago.

I won't even get into the roughing the passer flag against Jarius Wynn other than to say that, despite the final score being a blow out, I think that play more than anything else cost Georgia the game. And after weeks of working on avoiding exactly that penalty, I just don't know how you can account for allowing it to happen again.

GRADE: F

LINEBACKERS:
Any time you give up 49 points, it's hard to argue the defense had a good game, but the truth is, Georgia didn't do that bad a job stopping Florida. The linebackers did a nice job in pursuit and rarely allowed Florida's insane speed to find big holes.

Dannell Ellerbe returned to action and played a good bit, getting Georgia's only sack of Tebow. Rennie Curran had a solid if not spectacular game, finishing second on the team with five tackles. Akeem Dent didn't figure to get a ton of playing time with Ellerbe back in the lineup and the Sam LB off the field often against Florida's spread, but he finished with four tackles, including one for a loss.

My biggest concern heading into this game was that the Gators would routinely exploit the soft zone over the middle, but Georgia's LBs played a nice game overall. Would Florida have won without all the turnovers? Maybe, but it wouldn't have been nearly as easy, and that's in part due to an fundamentally sound game by the LBs.

GRADE: B

SECONDARY:
No Florida receiver had more than 52 yards receiving, and Georgia was rarely beat deep. Asher Allen probably had his worst game of the season, but was only beat badly once. Overall, the secondary at least made Tebow work for the deep ball.

Having said that, Tebow was still 10-of-13 passing, which means that when he needed a completion, there was usually someone open. As well as Reshad Jones and CJ Byrd played -- and they did have decent games -- no one stepped up and made a play when it was absolutely necessary. Well, no one except Prince Miller, and we don't need to get into that again.

GRADE: C+

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Two very quick points on special teams: 1.) Blair Walsh is no Brandon Coutu. Not yet anyway. You just have to hope that these problems don't get into his head. 2.) Richard Samuel has his moments on kick returns, but far too often, he looks lost. At one point, Shaun Chapas had to nearly tackle him to keep him from bringing a return out from eight yards deep in the end zone. It's time to give up on that experiment -- for now at least.

I'll discuss the onside kick in the next section.

GRADE: D

COACHING:
I've already covered the playcalling decisions, the sack on second-and-2 and some of the defensive shortcomings, so I won't get into that again. Instead, I have two points to address -- one big picture, and one small.

First the small: The on-side kick. I've heard the argument that it wasn't a bad decision. I haven't heard it often, but I've heard it.

I might agree that it was a risk worth taking, but here's why it was stupid:

1.) An on-side kick is a good call when you either a.) want to grab momentum or b.) want to add a nail to the coffin. In this case, the game was still very close, Georgia was moving the ball at will between the 20s, and the Dawgs had just scored. There was no reason to risk the bit of momentum you already had on a play that was 50/50 at best to work out. It was just poor timing.

2.) I know what you're saying... but Dave, aren't the odds of a recovery at that point better than 50/50? In a macro sense, yes, they are. But in a micro sense -- i.e. IN THIS CASE -- they are not. Walsh was already struggling, and you have to wonder if his missed field goal might have been in his head a bit. Secondly, Walsh hadn't executed an on-side kick all year. If you recall Georgia's previous attempts against Alabama were executed by Jamie Lindley, not Walsh. And third, Walsh is a true freshman.

So in a game you are still in, but are probably one TD away from being buried in a deep hole, you choose to have your true freshman kicker who just missed a gimme field goal minutes earlier execute the first on-side kick of his career? I don't care how good Brandon James is, that was a bad decision.

Now the big-picture issue: Between the first half of the Alabama game and the second half of this one, Georgia has been outscored 66-7. Going back years, you can find this trend happen over and over. When things start to get away from the Bulldogs, they spiral out of control quickly.

More over, the Dawgs seem to lack that killer instinct. I'm not saying guys don't care about winning, they simply haven't shown an ability to put the hammer down when they need to. Just look at how the second half unfolded against LSU last week. That game could have easily gone the other way if not for Darryl Gamble's heroics. In the two games before that, Georgia dominated but won close contests.

In virtually every game, Georgia's numbers either show the loss should have been closer than it ended up being or the win should have been by a bigger score than it was. Why is that? The number of missed opportunities this year is simply astounding, and part of the blame for that has to fall on the coaching staff.

Having said all that, this is still a good group of coaches. Something is missing from this team, and maybe it is simply senior leadership or experience or passion. I don't know, and apparently the coaches aren't sure either. But I don't think it's time to start calling for jobs. It's just a good time for some of the coaches to look in the mirror and re-evaluate the way they are doing things.

GRADE: F

JACKSONVILLE:
I hate Jacksonville. I have covered four games there now (including the ACC title game two years ago) and it has been an unmitigated disaster each time. The city is too spread out without enough accommodations or transportation for large crowds. Go back and read the reviews of the city after it held the Super Bowl there a few years ago. A cab from the hotel where I stayed to downtown was $45. To the beach would have been nearly double that. How are you supposed to be in town for a fun evening (which ostensibly is why fans are there) when you can't stay anywhere that doesn't require you to either drive drunk or take out a second mortgage for cab fare?

That was nothing compared to the actual game conditions. I know this is nothing that affects any of you as fans, but trust me when I tell you the conditions in the press box are abhorrent for a big-time college football game like that one. As I'm sure you're aware, it takes hours just to get from the interstate to the stadium. The press box is angled so you're watching the game from the 10-yard line. The press box meals are beyond disgusting.

A few friends and I were joking about how bad it must be to cover BYU because the Mormons don't allow caffeine. Well, we found out. The folks in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium didn't have regular coffee throughout the game. They also didn't have sodas -- apparently the machines couldn't carbonate anything.

To top it all off, there was no Internet access for any media members for the entirety of the game. So if you missed the live blog, please send your complaints to Jacksonville. How they stage NFL games there and can't manage to pull this off is beyond me.

Again, if this was a one-time thing, I'd say no big deal. But this is now four straight times, and I wasn't alone. Everyone in the press box was complaining -- well, complaining more than they usually do.

Of course, as I said, that doesn't mean much to any of you. You don't have to cover the game and I'm sure you aren't shedding any tears over the fact that the free food for media members was gross.

But more than that, this neutral-site game has an effect on the outcome. It's an hour drive for Florida. It's a plane flight for Georgia. Call it anything you want, but that's an advantage for the Gators.

Beyond that, the best part of college football is the campus environment. I like the NFL, but I'd rather attend a college game any day of the week simply because it's so much more fun to be on campus for a big game. You just don't get that feel in Jacksonville. It feels like an NFL game, with the exception of the crowd being split right down the middle.

If I were the type of person with initiative, I'd happily start a petition to move the game back to a home-and-home series. Since I'm not, I'll just cross my fingers that Damon Evans and company make it happen anyway.

GRADE: F- (I'd give it a Z if that were a real grade)

So, any of you still feel like rehashing all of this? If so, I'm all ears for your thoughts on whether you agree, disagree or just think I'm an idiot. More to the point, rather than talk about the problems, what do you think the solutions should be? (And if your answer is that someone should be fired, I suggest having a good idea of a reasonable replacement for that person.)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Question on Moreno: Why does he take himnself out of the game in key situations? For example, every time we reached the red zone in the first half. This is not a one game deal. It has been happenning alot recently.

Chazington said...

Your two comments about coaching, that: 1) the team has a tendency to spiral out of control; and 2) the team lacks a killer instinct are not mysteries. The first problem relates to poor defense and the second to offensive philosophy.

A game "spirals out of control" because your defense gives up a lot of points very rapidly. Last weekend's game wasn't out of control because UGA missed some redzone opportunities. It was out of control because we got behind by too many points. This never happened when Van Gorder was DC. It has only happened with WM as DC, particularly since WV 05. He plays a soft zone that dosen't attack the opponent and dosen't create turnovers. When the D is exploited, he is slow to make adjustments (See UT 06' and WV '05). Beyond Xs and Os, I don't see players ready to "run through a wall" for WM. I don't know why that is, but our D does not play relentless, physical defense. I understand that turnovers can create bad situations for defenses, but just because the other team has the ball in your territory, dosen't mean you have to let them score. Why can't we shut down teams in the red zone too?

On offense, scoring enough points and putting teams away has always been a problem for Richt's offenses. To me, this seems to relate to Richt's teams' inexplicable ineptitude in the red zone. His red zone offense has been bad since the day he arrived and has not gotten better. When the field is compressed, your players have to execute better because there is less space. Blocking fundamentals and technique becomes paramount. Richt's offenses don't execute in the red zone because they are undisciplined and weak fundamentally. In response, Bobo has tried to fool teams with "creative" playcalling. This works sometimes and backfires sometimes.

I do think there needs to be a coaching change. I think Richt should replace Willie Martinez. Given the problems with the OL, I have to give Richt and Bobo a pass, although the lack of recruiting on the OL while Calloway was here was Richt's fault too.

Richt has shown the ability to adapt his coaching style during the past year or two. I am hopeful he will continue. If not, these problems won't get corrected and Richt may eventually go the way of Phil Fulmer.

David Hale said...

First off, great comment anon... I have been thinking the exact same thing the past few weeks. Richt said Knowshon basically takes himself out when he feels he needs to, and Knowshon's answer is (I'm paraphrasing), "why should i be on the field at less than 100 percent when I believe Caleb and Richard can get the job done?" In theory, that's true, but in key situations, you need your best players on the field, and I wonder if maybe people have been a bit too quick to give Knowshon a pass.

Chaz... I find it hard to blame the defense for what happened against Florida. They were put in a bad position over and over and over. You can win a few of those battles, but you can't win em all. The pick by Miller would have been huge, but that was overturned. The onside kick, the short field after turnovers... there's only so much the D could do.

I do agree on two points though:

1.) The lack of recruitment on the O line in 2005 and 2006 was troubling. It's easy to blame the young O line for your problems now, but that's sort of like McCain blaming Palin for his poll numbers. He picked her, and Richt & Co. were the ones who failed to recruit well enough for two years.

2.) Players don't seem like they will run through a wall for Willie. I can't argue with you on it, and I've thought the same thing since I started covering the team Willie's first season as DC. I remember doing a story on him that season, and I thought it would be an easy sell on how much the players liked him, simply because he's so outgoing on the sideline, etc. But most of the answers I got were half-hearted at best. Granted, that's an outsiders view, but the results on the field seem to reflect that at times. I like Willie quite a bit as a person, and I think he's a capable DC, but perhaps he is not the right person for this team. I'm not saying I endorse getting rid of him, just that I'm not going to fault you for saying so.

Again though -- what's the replacement option? As a general rule of thumb, whenever a fan calls for someone's job, I always ask the same question: Who can you realistically get that's better?

Anonymous said...

Question about the series: Why has the conference scheduled a bye for Florida the week before this game 90% of the time over the past 20 years?

chazington said...

David,

I don't know that you can get someone better than Willie. Lord knows we don't need to adopt the Tommie Tubberville method of replacing coordinators.

Sometimes, however, you have to take a chance. UGA got rid of Donnan and now we have Richt. Calloway left and now we have Searals, which I consider an upgrade.

One thing I give Richt a lot of credit for is surrounding himself with capable assistants. He has shown a knack for finding obscure but talented coaches (Van Gorder) and navigating the politics of managing coaching personalities (Garner).

He could do worse than Martinez for sure. I trust his judgment to bring in a capable man.

I don't know if Richt has the fortitude to replace his friend. He lacks the ruthlessness of Meyer or Saban, which is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

David Hale said...

Very well said.

Matt said...

I totally agree with your comments, with that said, I have a few thoughts-

1) The onside kicks are like bunting a ball in baseball, it usually doesn't work well. I believe that the onside kick completely did the opposite of what the coaches were aiming for. It gave Florida all of the momentum.

2) Passion is gone from the team. Blacking out a stadium will not win you games. Wearing all red or black will not win you games. Where is it? If Georgia doesn't get their act together, Kentucky could get the best of us on their own turf.

3) Good news and bad news about our second loss and next year's schedule- With this season becoming a dissappointment, the likilihood of Stafford going to the pros seems unlikely. Our schedule will be slightly easier, but opening up your first game at Oklahoma State on their turf will not be easy at all. Gameday potential....

David-
I know this is slightly ahead of schedule, but what's your thoughts on GA Tech and how do you think that game will go? Personally, I'm really nervous about that game.

Dawgfan1307 said...

This team lacks 3 things: leadership, passion, brains.

I blame Stafford and Richt for this. Your junior star QB and a coach who has been great for the last 6 years or so and neither seem to be able to fire up their team.

This team lacks passion. You don't see players getting into others faces when things get off track and it is atleast in my opinion that is why you see halves like we've seen against Bama and UF.

Brains... its all about the penalties. False starts, secondary penalties, and in the 2 blow out games UGA had possible game-changing turnovers negated by penalties. It's harder to stop the opponent when you have bullet holes in your foot.

This season has been disappointing. I know both the teams we've lost to are in the top 5, but the way we lost have been embarressing and humiliating. I'm sure in the future fans will start playing the disrespect card so many of us played earlier this year. Remember this season. Remember Gameday coming to Athens and 31-0 at half. Remember what was hyped to be the greatest cocktail party of all time and 49-10. If we want to be a nat'l championship game we damn well better start learning to not get blown out in games. This year we've been nothing better than the Ohio St. teams we hate so much; ranked high, and when its time to muscle up, we shy away.

joe joe said...

We can sit and knit-pick CWM for his faults against WVU and UT 2007. But the 2006 Sugar Bowl the team was able to adjust and only gave up 10 pts after the first 28 (Offense did have numerous drops and 3 fumbles I believe).

We can look at the bad, but what about the good? Auburn 2006 & 2007, Florida last year, Sugar Bowl last year, Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson sodomizing Sean Glennon in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl 2006. Our fan base is so quick to give up and turn against the coaches and their decisions.

I also think Richt effectively got rid of Calloway by letting Bobo call the plays in 2006. Coach Calloway saw the writing on the wall. It says a lot of a head coach and a program when you are able to retain a majority of your coaching staff year after year and coaches don't leave for lateral positions (Tuberville and Muschamp).

There have been some problems, but these coaches have produced consistent top ten finishes and SEC titles in an era where that is no easy task. We should have faith in their good judgment and not be band wagon hopping, fair weather, wannabe Alabama fans.

Anonymous said...

I live outside of GA in Texas. We are the laughing stock of the big 12. I was told today we could not compete against the top Big 12 Teams based on our pathetic showing in national games. To lose a close game against a top 10 game is one thing, but to be consistently blownout will affect our national standing and recruitment. I doubt any kid (Stafford) will come from Texas to GA now. Once Richt and his staff were given the benefit but now everyone believes we will fold when we face a good team. Who can argue with the results. Either fix the play calling or the defense or be happy with the Capital One Bowl.

Anonymous said...

Laughing stock of the Big 12? What does that mean? Furthermore, I won't cry a river if we never get another player from Texas, save a Rodney Hampton caliber talent. And I guess the Big 12 is the pinnacle of college football, especially since Texas dropped games to A&M and Kansas State in 2007 and Oklahoma lost it's bowl game by 20 last year. "Big Game" Stoops hasn't exactly been tearing up the "national" games in the past six years either. Granted, I am extremely disappointed in the performance Saturday and am alarmed in the number of blowouts and or one sided halves that have taken place since WVU '05, but the last thing I care about is what the Big 12 thinks.

Anonymous said...

Of course no dawg fan is happy with the UF loss or the Al loss. We all have been disappointed at times with the penalties, lack of scoring in the red zone, missed assignments, etc. I suppose everyone, coaches and players, bears responsibility.

I do not agree, however, with the "sky is falling crowd." I still think this is a good football team that was simply not as good as its preseason billing. I never thought UGA was a true #1 team due primarily to a much too young offensive line, one who had already lost its best player before it lined up for its first snap against Ga. Southern. An offense is only as good as its offensive line. Against most opponents Searles troops could hold up well enough. Against the 2teams with strong defensive fronts UGAs young line got whipped its share of times.

I am disappointed with our defense and non-existent pass rush. It is hard to win in the rugged SEC with little or no pass rush. UGA needs a lot of work there. Losing Jeff Owens was a HUGE loss.

But, though disappointed with the way things have gone of late, I still believe in this staff and this team. And, if some things don't improve or get fixed, I am sure that CMR will make changes as necessary. I am very optimistic about the future of UGA football.

You know what, after last years loss to UGA and eventually to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, I seem to recall a lot of UF fans questioning their teams toughness as well as wondering if CUM was really the right guy for UF. They sounded a lot like some of you "the sky is falling" fans.