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Monday, November 10, 2008

Grading the Game: UGA vs. Kentucky

I'm a bit under the weather today -- I annoyed everyone in the press box in Lexington by sneezing for three straight hours -- so I'm not chock full of energy for this recap. I feel pretty confident it has been thoroughly dissected by a number of different folks already, though, so I'll just chime in with my one-and-a-half cents, and you'll have to make due. As always, I welcome comments and feedback.

PASSING GAME: Matthew Stafford has had better moments, and he has won bigger games, but I feel pretty confident in saying Saturday's was the best total performance of his career at Georgia. He completed 17-of-27 passes for a career-high 376 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His pocket presence was exceptional. He was sacked twice, but could easily have gone down at least four more times had he not used his athleticism to thwart a relentless pass rush, with the best example being on his game-winning touchdown pass when he scrambled outside the pocket to find A.J. Green in the back of the end zone.

The game was clearly on Stafford's shoulders, and he willed the Bulldogs to a win. Say what you will about that final pass -- it was ill-advised to say the least -- but it says something, too, about a quarterback who simply won't accept losing and has supreme confidence in his ability and the ability of his teammates to get the job done.

I think it speaks volumes of Stafford's leadership, too, that he went right back to Mohamed Massaquoi after those two fourth-quarter fumbles on a play that was probably the most important of the game.

It speaks volumes of Massaquoi, too. The senior has been the backbone of this offense all season. He is the only senior to have started every game on offense this season, and his ability to shake off two of the worst mistakes of his career to come up with that game-changing reception says all you need to know about his character.

"It was just a quick frustration," Massaquoi said. "I was just frustrated I put the defense in a bad situation. But at the same time, I knew that I had to be composed, that the young guys were looking at me, and that I had to get over it."

Credit A.J. Green, too. He has shown tremendous patience the past few weeks when defenses have blanketed him in the first half. He has responded with some tremendous second halves, and the fact that Stafford had enough confidence in him to go up and get that final TD grab is a testament to all Green has accomplished this season.

GRADE: A+

RUNNING GAME:
First and foremost, hats off to fullback Shaun Chapas for his first career TD. It was a long time coming.

Secondly, great game by Knowshon Moreno. He won't ever come out and say it, but I'd guarantee you that he played with a chip on his shoulder after all the criticism last week that he was out of shape and pulled himself out of games in key situations.

The offensive line did not have a great day, yet Moreno carried the ball 22 times and not one carry was for a loss. He rarely came off the field at all, and Richard Samuel's lone first-half carry was the only rush by a back not named Moreno.

Knowshon cracked the 1,000-yard mark with his first carry of the game, becoming just the second Georgia RB in history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and his 123 rushing yards and three TDs don't even come close to telling the story of just how hard he ran against Kentucky.

"Knowshon gives us energy," head coach Mark Richt said. "He gives us confidence. He practiced unbelievably well from Tuesday on, and I'm just unbelievably proud of how he led all week long with his effort. It was not one of those games where the yards came easy running the ball. The yards don't come easy running the ball against Kentucky. He just willed his way to making some great runs."

Interesting to note, too, that Caleb King didn't see the field Saturday other than on special teams, and Richt didn't seem too likely to change that status when asked about it Sunday.

GRADE: A

OFFENSIVE LINE:
The line played good enough to win, but Kentucky's pass rush played on Georgia's side of the line of scrimmage far too often.

It's hard to criticize, however, when yet again, the line was shaken up by injury. Justin Anderson left the game in the first half with a foot injury -- he won't play this week -- and Josh Davis was forced into action. Chris Davis continues to battle a painful hip injury, too, and head coach Mark Richt said things are getting awfully thin on the line.

Kiante Tripp played some against Kentucky, but Richt wouldn't promise any snaps for the sophomore during his Sunday teleconference. That seems a bit odd considering Tripp was supposed to be the starting right tackle even before all these injuries occurred. If he has really been passed by Josh Davis and Tanner Strickland on the depth chart, there has to be more wrong there than Georgia's coaches are letting on.

GRADE: C

DEFENSIVE LINE:
The good news was that Demarcus Dobbs made a ridiculous play and that Andrew Gully got to start. The bad news was almost everything else.

Once again, Georgia's D-ends went without a sack. Worse, the D-line was torched by UK quarterback Randall Cobb, who gained 102 yards in the game (although he finished with just 82 when lost yardage from sacks, etc. are figured in).

"Early on they had success with the option," linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. "The quarterback was pitching the ball and the fullback was cutting our pitch guy, so they were having success with that. The quarterback, he's a runner, and he was getting out in the open field. It was just a tough day."

Cobb was one of three UK runners to rack up at least 60 yards, and the five Kentucky rushing TDs were a season-high against Georgia.

"It was just frustrating at points," defensive end Rod Battle said. "We kind of knew what they were doing, but they were doing a great job executing their plays."

Kentucky's chop blocking kept the D line from getting off blocks throughout the game, and that has been a routine problem for the Bulldogs all year.

For the second straight game, Jarius Wynn had a killer penalty at a crucial time. The difference Saturday was A.) replays showed no penalty should have been called, and B.) the Georgia defense rebounded with a big play to make up for the flag.

Some credit should go to Battle, who had his best game of the season. He finished with five tackles, two for a loss, and forced two fumbles.

GRADE: D

LINEBACKERS:
Once again Rennie Curran was all over the place, leading the team with 15 tackles in the game.

Once again, however, it was Curran and the secondary making all the tackles.

More importantly, Georgia's defense didn't have a successful stop in the red zone until Dobbs' final INT.

"We're playing hard in the red zone," Curran said. "We're giving a lot of great effort, but it's always just one thing missing -- maybe a gap missed here or outside progression out there -- something little that keeps us from overcoming when we're in the red zone. Everybody's working hard and everybody's playing hard; we've just got to play smart."

Ellerbe returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the Alabama game and finished with five tackles, including one for a loss, while Darryl Gamble chipped in with six tackles, one for a loss. Akeem Dent had four tackles, including Georgia's only sack.

GRADE: B

SECONDARY:
Georgia's secondary wasn't tested often. Cobb threw just 20 passes, completing 12 for 105 yards. It was the first game all season in which Georgia did not allow a passing touchdown.

Prince Miller finished second on the team with 11 tackles, while Asher Allen, Reshad Jones and CJ Byrd added a combined 22 tackles as well. That, of course, speaks to just how many Kentucky runs made it into Georgia's secondary.

GRADE: B

COACHING:
I think this has been parsed over pretty well, so I'm not going to get into any further criticism. I'll simply say this, in defense of the defense.

Willie Martinez is the same coach who has presided over the defense for the past three seasons, and each year the unit has been pretty strong.

The defense the past two games was put in one bad situation after another due to mistakes by the offense and special teams.

Against LSU, the ugliness didn't really start until late in the third quarter when Georgia was already up 21. I think that was more a matter of losing focus than a bad game plan.

Georgia's best defender entering the season -- Ellerbe -- has basically only been healthy for five games this season, and Georgia won all of them.

The Georgia defense hasn't had any sort of a pass rush from its defensive ends all season, and regardless of what scheme you'd like to see called, it's hard to win consistently when you get little or no pressure from your front four.

Georgia has basically been forced to have its top two safeties play 90 percent of the snaps this season due to a lack of depth at the position and the injury to Quintin Banks.

All of that being said, it has been a century since Georgia last allowed 38 points in three straight games. The Bulldogs have also allowed touchdowns in 14 of 17 red-zone chances in the past three games. That's just not going to get it done.

And more importantly, in the Dawgs' two losses this season, Georgia has allowed a combined 90 points. I know fans would be disappointed with losses no matter what, but it's the way the Bulldogs have lost those games that has turned dejection into anger.

I still don't think that firing a coordinator solves this problem, and I don't think it's the right answer. But something needs to change, and a stubborn consistency is no solution either.

GRADE: C-

I'm all for your thoughts, though let's try to remain civil. And again, my general rule of thumb: If you call for someone's job, you should also have a rational answer to the question: Who ya gonna get to replace him?

ADDENDUM: I'm an idiot and totally forgot to grade special teams. I think anyone who watched the game knows what grade I would have given though.

1 comment:

chazington said...

I am sure that WM knows schemes and designs defenses as well as any other D coordinator. Richt made that point in defense of him.

I have 2 problems with his defenses:

1. He is slow to make adjustments. UK was running a straight option to the outside and a QB draw most of the time. No one took the pitchman for 2 quarters. We were always out of position. Same thing with WV in the Sugar Bowl. How many catches did SC's sole reciever Jared Cook get and WM never switched coverages?

2. The D plays with no mean streak. Where is the anger and maliciousness of the D? There's never the mentality of "this team is not going to get another yard on us today." WM celebrates "bend but don't break" and sends the message that bending is acceptable, so the D follows suit.

There is plenty of talent on that D. Where is Geno Atkins and Cade Weston? It's up to WM to get the best out of the players and he has clearly failed to do so.