For the second straight week, Georgia gave me a lot to review before handing out grades. Once again, the offense looked tough, young playmakers took a step forward, and the defense… well, that wasn't so good.
But without any further a do, let's get right to the grades.
QUARTERBACKS: Never let it be said that I'm unwilling to admit when I'm wrong. I wrote last week that I thought Georgia would benefit in the long run by letting Logan Gray or Aaron Murray get a taste of playing time. At this point, however, there is absolutely no reason Joe Cox should ever be standing on the sideline. My bad, Joe.
I still think it'd be nice for Georgia to put away Arizona State early this week the way they should, thus giving Gray some opportunities to get acclimated, but in the meantime, Cox has clearly developed into a weapon offensively.
In the first week against Oklahoma State, there were legitimate questions about how well he could throw the ball and if he could put enough zip on his passes to stretch the field. Clearly, however, it was the flu that kept him in check, not the Okie State defense, the shoulder injury or any natural physical limitations.
Cox completed 18-of-26 passes for 375 yards and five touchdowns, throwing one INT against Arkansas this week -- racking up his first 300-yard passing day in 23 fewer starts than it took his predecessor, Matthew Stafford. Ten of Cox's 18 completions were for 20 yards or longer, which is astounding considering how much criticism he got for his lack of arm strength during the offseason.
(Side note: Cox said he didn't get calls or texts from Stafford, David Greene or DJ Shockley, whom he now shares the record for most TDs in a game with. I expected at least a snarky comment or two. Lame.)
As important as the big plays, however, was Cox's decision making. The lone interception was probably a pass he shouldn't have made, but it was a straight down-the-middle throw on third-and-long that, when combined with a penalty on Arkansas, effectively worked as a punt. Beyond that, Cox was sharp, never giving the Razorbacks a chance to make a play, but putting his playmakers -- namely Orson Charles and A.J. Green -- in perfect position to do what they do best. Cox's reads were perfect throughout the game, and while Arkansas' defense didn't necessarily give him a big challenge, Cox made the most out of the opportunities given.
Off the field, I think it's time to pat Cox on the back for being that fiery leader we heard so much about during the offseason. For one, he has completely shaken off a ton of criticism and handled himself well. His confidence never wavered, and despite the illness and the injury and the inexperience around him, he has never made one excuse. Georgia fans should be showing Cox a lot of love this week, because he absolutely is everything they're asking the defense and the coaches to be right now in terms of maturity, leadership and accountability.
Moreover, Georgia has fallen behind early in each of the past two games against teams that were moving the ball well. That puts a lot of pressure on an offense, and Cox has handled that pressure with ease. In fact, it was awesome to hear the comments from his receivers after the game about Cox's approach in the huddle:
From Orson Charles: “My feeling was that we couldn’t be stopped, and Joe got in the huddle and said, ‘We can keep going, they won’t stop us.’”
From A.J. Green: "We just got rolling and we never looked back. It's fun just throwing it up there knowing any play can be a big play. Joe doesn't let anybody bring him down, and Joe was bringing it."
From Mike Moore: "Joe’s a fighter, and this just shows what type of guy he is. He had his back against the wall the last two games, and he went out and had big games."
And from Cox, himself: “I think we had a perfect game plan for everything they were doing and we knew we had them on their heels. We knew if we executed and made plays that we weren’t going to be stopped, and that was how it was the whole night. It was a fun feeling.”
Oh, and one more thing I learned from Green on Sunday night: It was Cox who informed him about Arkansas' trash talk during the week, so credit the Georgia QB for adding a bit of motivation for the already otherworldly receiver.
RUNNING BACKS: I wrote about the work done by Richard Samuel and Caleb King in this morning's post, so I won't get into the nitty gritty on them here.
A few points worth noting regarding the backfield, however:
-- For those of you who want Samuel to switch positions because his athleticism might make him a natural fit elsewhere, I have two words for you: Kiante Tripp. That kid is every bit as naturally gifted at what he does as Samuel is, and the coaching staff has essentially derailed his career by moving him from one position to another. Samuel can be a great running back. Give him a little time to continue to develop. That series against South Carolina looked so good for a reason. Now he just needs to learn to do it more consistently.
-- The vertical game was working so well against Arkansas that there was no need to think much about Shaun Chapas, but it's worth noting how little he's been involved in the offense -- particularly as a receiver -- so far this year. It says a lot about the number of playmakers Georgia has that he's, at best, a fifth or sixth option, but it'll be interesting to see how his role develops as the season progresses. It wouldn't surprise me to see him have a big day against Arizona State this week. Remember, it's the anniversary of the time he fell down in the end zone on a wide-open TD pass last year. In fact, I'll be sure to remind him of that this week.
-- As several of you pointed out in the comments to this morning's post, the coaches are really not doing a good job of properly utilizing Carlton Thomas. I'm convinced he's a weapon if they can get him in space, but through three games, that really hasn't happened. Of course, with King just now returning from injury, there really hasn't been a time in which Georgia knew what it had to work with in the backfield. Let's see how this week goes.
-- The pass protection against Arkansas from both Samuel and King was exceptional. It was a big focus for both during the offseason, and it's obvious they both took big steps forward.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Tavarres King joked on Sunday that he might start telling A.J. Green that the opposing defensive backs talked smack on him before every game because when Green gets revenge, he doesn't shortchange anyone.
The sophomore receiver said Arkansas rolled the safety over to his side routinely and offered as many double teams as he's seen all season, but the results for the Razorbacks were ugly. Green had seven catches for 137 yards. The astonishing fact is that it was just the third 100-yard game of Green's career and it was the second-highest total for him -- the best being his 159-yard day against Arizona State last year.
While Green hauled in a touchdown in the first half, it was his second TD reception that came in the fourth quarter that essentially iced the game. Between the scoring grabs, however, he had a ton of big receptions to help Georgia move the chains, and it's obvious he's going to be a weapon regardless of how much attention defenses give him.
Of course, this was hardly just an A.J. Green show. Michael Moore quietly racked up six catches for 91 yards, and nearly every grab was crucial. His 20-yarder with 30 seconds left in the half put Georgia in field-goal range, and he had two 20+ yard receptions in the second half that completely shifted field position on scoring drives.
Tavarres King has made huge leaps in each of his first three games, with Saturday being by far his finest performance. He had two catches for 64 yards in the game, including a 50-yard grab for a touchdown that was the first of his career. Of course, King will lament his two drops as much as the two receptions. He had an easy third down conversion hit him in the chest before falling incomplete in the second half, and he had what would have been a second long TD one play earlier that tipped off King's fingers. The redshirt freshman said he turned around to look for the ball a second too soon, and that cost him the reception. Still, it was a great step forward for him, and he's starting to look like he can be the guy to take the pressure off Green in the passing game.
The offensive explosiveness that was so clearly missing from the tight end position last season returned in spades against Arkansas, too. Orson Charles looks like he will be a dominant force for Georgia this year, and while he had just two catches -- coming on back-to-back plays -- his TD reception of 44 yards shows how much of a weapon he'll be. Aron White had a nice day, too, catching a 21-yard touchdown pass over the middle to open the scoring for Georgia and hauling in another long reception that was overturned by a penalty. Arthur Lynch played a good bit and was flagged for a false start on one third-down play.
Finally, we saw a good bit of Rantavious Wooten in this game, and the coaches even gave him a touch as a runner, which is probably a smart play that we'll see more of. Wooten isn't quite Branden Smith in terms of speed, but he's not too far off either. If the Bulldogs can run that misdirection they've done with Smith with a guy like Wooten as well, that's going to be a nightmare for defensive coaches.
Still little work for Marlon Brown, which should probably tell you that the coaches are clearly not thrilled with where he's at in his development. But he has seen increased snaps in each game, and there's every reason to believe he can be another weapon on offense in the coming weeks -- and that should scare the heck out of defensive coordinators.
Yes, Arkansas' defense was not very good in this game, but big plays just just happen because they're open. It takes a rapport between quarterback and receiver, it takes gutsy play calling on the part of the coaches, and it takes strong blocking on the part of the line and running backs to give the receiver time to get downfield. All of that was executed perfectly time and time again for Georgia this week. While it's easy to bash the Razorbacks' secondary, there's no doubt that Cox and his receivers deserve a lot of credit for completing those passes when the opportunities arose. Three weeks ago, it was fair to wonder how many playmakers Georgia had. Now I think it's safe to say that this offense has a chance to be far more dynamic and versatile than it was even last season.
OFFENSIVE LINE: It would be easy to give the line a glowing review considering that the offense racked up 530 yards, was successful both running and passing, and Cox was sacked just once. That sounds like the work of a very strong unit.
But to watch the game, it really didn't look like the line played particularly well. There were some plays where the Arkansas front four got a good push, Samuel was hit in the backfield or at the line way too often, and beyond the big 80-yard run, most of the ground game was earned by the tailbacks rather than provided by the line.
More concerning, however, were the penalties. Georgia had six false starts and three holding flags in the game, part of a 14-penalty night. I know Mark Richt said he's not going to preach about the flags to the extent that it harms aggressiveness, but this has little to do with aggression. This is simple fundamentals. Obviously a hold is sometimes better than a sack -- particularly if it keeps Cox from being blindsided and coughing up the football -- but the problem is getting guys in the right position to begin with.
Bean Anderson got his second straight start, and from what I saw, he played most of the game. VinceVance did a decent enough job at left tackle as well. But the bottom line is this isn't the same unit that worked together throughout the offseason and fall camp, so perhaps they're still in the process of coming together. Georgia's going to need that process to move quickly, however, because the tests get tougher next month, and while the line has the potential to be great, right now they're nowhere near hitting that mark.
Grade: C+ (Which is, in all fairness, the lowest I can go given all the yards Georgia picked up, and I may be being a bit too harsh. But, man, those penalties...)
DEFENSIVE LINE: The line did an acceptable job of stopping the run once again, holding Arkansas to just 42 yards on the ground in the first three quarters. Then again, why run the ball when throwing it comes so easily?
What's worse is that Georgia really never got significant pressure on Ryan Mallett, recording just two sacks, one of which came during desperation time late in the game. Demarcus Dobbs' sack that caused a fumble was really the only big hit Georgia got on him all day, which is particularly discouraging given that the Bulldogs won't see too many quarterbacks more stationary than Mallett this season.
Justin Houston finally returned after a two-game suspension, and while he did manage seven tackles -- one for a loss -- he wasn't anywhere near dominant.
Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins were supposed to be forces this season up the middle, and so far the results simply haven't been there. They haven't been able to shoot their gaps and disrupt the pocket, and the defensive ends simply aren't good enough to do it by themselves. I offered some leeway to the DTs through two games since both Owens and Atkins were playing as much off the edge as anything, but that wasn't the case against Arkansas, and the duo still didn't get the job done.
I had a comment from a reader on my post earlier today about the defensive problems that I also think needs to be addressed here: "excellent article but I think your missing (imo)the biggest problem on defense.....creating turnovers. Fumbles and interceptions at a +3 per game would drastically reduce the yardage given up by the defense. We can't intercept because of our players seemingly lost on the field and they can't even hit hard enought to cause fumbles. The defense as a whole can't seem to jar the ball from an opposing player. Start causing turnovers and things will improve on defense."
I most definitely agree. Georgia has given the ball away nine times and gotten just two turnovers this year. How the Bulldogs are 2-1 is a borderline miracle with those numbers.
But you can't just say, "Get more turnovers, guys." Creating turnovers doesn't happen the same way as, say, trying to get the ball to A.J. Green more. You can't just WANT it to happen. You have to… well, create them. And that starts with the pass rush.
If the QB is comfortable in the pocket (as Mallett was) or is able to step up to avoid the rush easily (as Stephen Garcia was) then there is not going to be a chance to create those turnovers. It all begins with taking the offense out of its element. There are a few quarterbacks who will simply do something stupid and give the ball away on a bad read or a poorly placed throw, but Georgia only gets to play Tennessee once. When you're going against a smart offensive football team with a successful QB, turnovers are a product of disruption by the front four and opportunistic playmaking by the secondary. Neither has occurred in the first three weeks.
So while I completely agree with the comment, I think the writer has the cause and effect backwards. IF Georgia gets more pressure, THEN the turnovers will come.
One positive note regarding the front four: Cornelius Washington picked up a sack for the second straight game, and he looks like he's really coming on strong. Here's a great quote from Jeff Owens about him: "He plays hard. He plays with a motor that I think a lot of us need to play with. He just runs to the ball, pins his ears back and runs to the ball. I like that. I love that passion, and you can tell he's passionate about playing football. A lot of guys don't play like that, but he does, and that's the most impressive thing about him."
Sounds like maybe the rest of Georgia's line needs to start taking some lessons from Washington.
LINEBACKERS: I touched a bit on the linebacker play in my defensive post earlier today, but the bottom line is that the secondary is taking a lot of heat for some problems in coverage by the LBs.
Again, the problems seem to stem from players having trouble deciding whether to play the pass or run. For a firsthand account of how tough that can be, check out my post talking to Rennie Curran about the final defensive play against South Carolina. It's no easy task, and the Gamecocks continuously caught the linebackers in no-man's land two weeks ago.
Although the results were a bit different this week, with Arkansas using the vertical game more, the linebackers still had their problems. An early injury to tight end D.J. Williams actually made the LBs' jobs a bit easier, but he came back in the second half and had four catches for 58 yards, including a touchdown.
Rennie Curran was his usual self, racking up 11 tackles and recovering a fumble, but even he had his problems in coverage.
The linebacker blitzes -- which were used sporadically -- were not effective, and Darryl Gamble was the only non-Rennie linebacker to record a solo tackle. Akeem Dent missed the game, as did Darius Dewberry, but this was supposed to be a position of depth, and no one has really stepped up to fill the void during these early season injuries.
As many concerns as there clearly are on defense right now, I think the two biggest are the problems at DT and LB because those were supposed to be the areas of greatest strength. It's one thing to have problems the D needs to fix, but it's particularly concerning if there's no foundation to build from.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Where to begin?
Prince Miller got beat. Bryan Evans got beat. Vance Cuff got beat and got hurt. Branden Smith got beat. Brandon Boykin got beat and then beat again and then beat again. No one played a particularly good game (although let's give some credit to Reshad Jones who really does appear to have taken last year's problems seriously and has played much better).
The big plays killed Georgia in this game, just as they did against Oklahoma State. The coverage has just not been there, but this was by far the worst I've seen in the past few years. I mentioned in my post earlier today about Georgia's focus on the running game, that perhaps the defense was selling out to the run too often. Here's a quote from Bryan Evans on the TD grab he was beaten on: "It was kind of a zone to a man coverage, and one of the receivers ran a take-off. We got caught trailing, looking in the backfield."
That's essentially the point. The defensive backs (and to be fair, the linebackers) are simply not where the need to be often enough. Again, from Evans: "Some plays we're in great position to make plays, we just didn't make them. Other times, we're just lackadaisical at getting to our positions where we're supposed to be at."
How do you really blame Willie Martinez for that? He gave them a scheme on where they needed to be, but they either were there and didn't get the job done or they messed up and didn't get to where they needed to be? At some point, players have to execute, regardless of who the defensive coordinator is.
Of course, having said that, it's the DC who coaches those players during the week and who decides who is on the field on Saturday.
I'm inclined to chalk this up as a learning experience for Boykin, who looked sharp in his first two weeks but was clearly in over his head against Arkansas. I'm willing to bet he learns from the experience.
Prince Miller is what he is. I'm not sure he's the best corner out there, but Georgia simply can't throw two first-year starters out there at corner and expect to win, so they're stuck with Miller.
Again, Jones has played pretty well, so that leaves us with Evans. I'm not saying Martinez should bench him, but maybe it's time to get a bit better look at Baccari Rambo, Makiri Pugh or Sanders Commings to see what they're made of. The results, at this point, can't be much worse.
I'll give some credit, however, to the D for holding Mallett to just 2-of-10 in the fourth quarter and keeping Arkansas out of the end zone when it mattered most.
Some other good news: The Dawgs won't play another QB with as big an arm as Mallett all season; Vance Cuff's injury isn't as bad as it looked on the field; Arizona State should cure a few ills.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Honestly, I just don't have the energy to go through the whole production about the kickoffs again. You guys have heard it enough. You know the drill. You know what Mark Richt and Jon Fabris say, and you know what just about every other person watching the game says. Blair Walsh kicked the ball off out of bounds twice in the second half after big TDs by the offense, and that was exactly the type of momentum changer that doomed the Bulldogs repeatedly last season. I understand what Richt is saying about giving up field position due to low kicks and bad coverage -- but at least make the opposition work for it. For the game, Arkansas started six drives at its own 40 or better and just three inside its own 20 -- all following punts.
Speaking of the punting, however, it was another remarkable game by Drew Butler. To (supposedly) quote Richt, his "yonders" have been exceptional this year, even if his "uppers" still need some work. Butler averaged 55.2 yards per punt, with three going inside the 20 and a long of 64. He's been a huge asset so far this season.
Blair Walsh did look good in his PAT and FG duties again. He was 3-for-3 in the game on field goals, bringing his season total to a perfect 6-of-6. But Walsh started last year strong in this department, too, and as the problems on kickoffs mounted, his field goals went south. Fans have to hope that doesn't happen again this year.
One other complaint on the field goals: What was the deal with rushing the kick at the end of the first half, which resulted in what could have been a crucial false-start call as the Bulldogs hurried to get the kick off? It was first down with about 17 seconds left. Cox could have easily come in and spiked the ball and let the special teams unit take their time to get set. In the end, it all worked out, and Walsh drilled a 37-yarder to help Georgia take a six-point lead into the locker room, but geeze, that was more stress than was necessary.
Georgia gets another positive grade for Brandon Boykin in the return game. He racked up 146 yards on six kick returns, giving him 333 return yards in the past two games. Watching the game, every time he touched the ball you could see the possibility for a long run. I'm guaranteeing at least one more touchdown out of him before this season is over. Maybe before this month is over.
Georgia also gets points deducted, however, for a second straight week of a special teams turnover. That probably goes on Boykin, too, who backed into Prince Miller as Miller came up to field a short punt, setting up Arkansas' first touchdown of the game.
Grade: B (Although this is a tough grade because some areas were so good and some, so bad.)
COACHING: I think we covered Willie Martinez pretty well here and in my earlier post.
I mentioned the penalties, but here's a full rundown of all 14, courtesy of reader Warren T (thanks, Warren!)...
false start: 6
personal foul: 1
block in back: 1
illegal formation: 1
Richt can talk all he wants about good teams having a lot of penalties, but good teams do not make these types of mistakes. I'd forgive Reshad Jones' flags in the previous two games if he repeated those plays in every game the rest of the way, but six false starts is absolutely inexcusable. It was loud in Fayetteville, but it wasn't that loud.
Rather than dissect every other aspect of the coaching staff's decisions against Arkansas, let me just give a big kudos to Mike Bobo. Here's what Mike Moore had to say about the game plan: “Coming into the game we knew we could throw the ball on them and Coach (Mike Bobo) said we were going to be pretty aggressive with the play calling. We just went out there and made plays, and Joe was putting the ball on the money.”
Bobo knew how to beat Arkansas, and he never took his foot off the gas. He did a nice job of mixing in the run just enough to keep Arkansas honest but never bowing to his own pressure to be "balanced." He diversified the attack, feeding the ball to a number of players, but in the end he put the game in the hands of the guys he trusted most: Cox, Green and Moore.
I've been as critical of some of Bobo's decisions as anyone, but as the first drive against Okie State showed and as this game absolutely put an exclamation point on -- when he's on, he's as good a schemer as anyone. He just needs to not overthink things, and then let the amazing amount of young talent on this offense go to work. He did that and then some against the Razorbacks.
Grade: B (With Bobo really bringing up the curve)
VENUE: A few tidbits worth mentioning from my trip…
-- The classic rock radio station in Fayetteville is 98.3 KKEG, or "The Keg" as they called themselves. Better yet, they broadcast from the Coors Lite Studios, and the nighttime DJ was named Miller. You can't make that stuff up.
-- I was impressed at how many Georgia fans were out in Arkansas. Seemed like a better turnout than Okie State by a wide margin.
-- Fayetteville seemed like a fun town. I can't say I'd want to live there, but it was definitely a cool place to visit and a fun place to watch some football on Saturdays.
-- Solid press box situation. First of all, it's open air, which all press boxes should be. I absolutely abhor those sterile environments where you can't even hear the crowd. How can you be expected to write about a game when you feel like you're not even there? The press box at Reynolds was right in the middle of the action, and had a perfect vantage point for the game. As an added bonus, they had chicken fingers and mac&cheese before the game (simple, classy) and cookies and thoroughly cooked hot dogs at halftime (a nice pick-me-up after a long first half). Good work by the Arkansas folks.
-- I went out in Stillwater after Okie State won, and the town was pretty dead. Arkansas loses a heartbreaker, and their fans were still out in droves after the game. I respect that.
-- I must have seen at least a dozen Arkansas fans that, if you had told me they used to be the keyboard player for REO Speedwagon in 1987, I would have completely believed you. I think that's the unofficial look of Northwest Arkansas.
-- The excessive use of the "NWA" abbreviation for Northwest Arkansas also made for a lot of good Dr. Dre jokes throughout the weekend.
-- On the way to the hotel Saturday night, we stopped to use the bathroom off the interstate. The town was called "Johnson" and the Exit number was 69. Again, you can't make this stuff up.
So... what did you think? Keep the venom for Willie to PG-13 rated, if you don't mind. We're a family blog... (he says after just referring to Dr. Dre and Johnson, Ark.).