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Monday, September 14, 2009

Grading the Game: South Carolina

Sorry for the lack of posts today. I was in Charlotte on Sunday for the Eagles game against the Panthers and din't make it back to Athens until this afternoon. But hopefully this extended post recapping Georgia's 41-37 win over South Carolina will make up for the brief absence.

QUARTERBACK: For the second straight week, Joe Cox entered the game with plenty of questions lingering about his health and ability to lead Georgia's offense. Unlike last week, however, he provided some encouraging answers this time around.

Cox finished 17-of-24 passing for 201 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Unlike his forgettable debut against Oklahoma State, his passes had a good bit more zip on them and his timing was significantly better, leading his receivers rather than throwing behind them and getting rid of the ball quickly.

And while all the talk before the game surrounded just how long Cox could stay on the field before giving way to backup Logan Gray, the answer was emphatic -- Gray took just one snap.

“He handled it tremendously,” wide receiver Tavarres King said of the controversy surrounding Cox leading up to game day. “He handled all the things coming at him, came out confident in himself and confident in us. We put our confidence in him, and you saw what happened. He just balled out.”

I'm less than familiar with the term "balled out" but I assume it's a good thing, and Cox certainly showed why Mark Richt has stuck by him as the QB.

It wasn't all pretty. Cox telegraphed a pass to Eric Norwood with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter that Norwood returned for a touchdown that could have tied the game. A blocked extra point saved the day for Georgia. Even Cox admitted he's not sure what he was thinking on the play.

The turnover was ugly, but beyond that Cox exhibited all qualities coaches have praised him for since January, most notably his strong leadership which was absolutely crucial to getting the offense back in gear after sitting on the sideline for nearly the entire first quarter and trailing 17-7 by the time the unit took its third snap of the game.

"I was very proud of him," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He came out and played ball and had fun. You can't get caught up in everything that's going on."

Final Grade: B

RUNNING BACKS: Georgia finished with just 107 yards rushing on 29 carries (3.7 ypc) which might not seem too shabby. The problem, however, is that 61 of those yards came on just one play. Take away Branden Smith's touchdown, and the numbers are much less encouraging -- a 1.64 yards per carry average. Even if you add back the 21 yards the team lost after Carlton Thomas recovered a fumble by Cox, the Bulldogs still averaged fewer than 2.5 yards per rush.

Of course, the numbers can be a bit deceiving. Richard Samuel tallied just 65 yards on 15 carries, but he looked much better than he did a week ago. Rather than hitting the ground at first contact, Samuel ran hard, and while he never broke a long one -- his high was just 11 yards -- he did pick up some hard-earned yards to keep drives going.

So if Samuel did well, but the running game struggled beyond that, why the heck didn't we see more of him? On Georgia's first scoring drive, Samuel had rushes of 11 and 6 yards and caught a pass for a 16-yard gain before capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown with 1:56 to play. He looked impressive, but he didn't touch the football again for 15 minutes of game action spanning three Georgia drives.

Bobo gets a pass for the first drive, on which Smith scored on the second play. There might be a rationale to why Samuel wasn't on the field on the next drive, too. A chop-block penalty put Georgia in a second-and-long situation and the Bulldogs didn't run again -- but isn't Samuel a superior pass blocker, too? Then the third drive without Samuel was utterly perplexing. South Carolina had just closed to within four and Georgia's offense needed to move the football. Instead, a Thomas run went nowhere and a short pass to Tavarres King left Georgia in a third-and-four. Rather than handoff to the bruising tailback, Thomas remained in the game and Cox ran the third-down play from the shotgun, throwing incomplete to Mike Moore to finish a three-and-out.

South Carolina scored again on its next drive to pull to within 1, but once again Thomas was on the field for Georgia's first play. Mercifully, Bobo went back to Samuel again on second down -- a full 15 minutes of game time after his last touch -- and the sophomore tailback rumbled 11 yards on second down.

Clearly Samuel is a weapon, and Richt has explicitly said Samuel is the type of back who gets better as the game progresses. So why keep him off the field for so long?

Of course, before I bury Georgia for poor personnel decisions, I have to applaud the coaching staff for keeping confidence in Smith. He had five touches last week but had few results. Against South Carolina, however, the reverse to Smith was executed to perfection, and his 61-yard run would have been "SportsCenter" material most nights if he hadn't been upstaged by Brandon Boykin's 100-yard return.

Caleb King missed a second straight game, but he was dressed and should be back this week. That's a good sign for Georgia, particularly given Thomas' lack of success running between the tackles.

Final Grade: B-

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: After an absolutely dismal performance in Georgia's opener, the Bulldogs' receivers looked dramatically improved against South Carolina, but the unit looks like it's still going to have some issues.

Tavarres King had a nice game, catching three passes for 27 yards, and Mike Moore hauled in two catches, including his second four-yard TD reception of the season. But it was mostly the A.J. Green show. The sophomore caught six passes for 86 yards, including a few acrobatic grabs that add to the legacy he's building in Athens. Cox's 9-yard touchdown pass to Green in the back of the end zone before the half was reminiscent of the Matthew Stafford-to-Green TD to win the Kentucky game last year -- a thing of beauty. Of course, some points have to be deducted for Green's fumble on the second offensive play of the game, too.

Orson Charles looked solid, too. He's clearly a matchup problem and he has looked respectable in the blocking game as well. He had two grabs for 38 yards against South Carolina, and the truth is, he probably needs more looks.

Aron White was shut out, and while Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten did see action, the two freshmen combined for just three snaps in the game.

The coaches talked about a need for increased diversity on offense, and they found some of that Saturday, but not enough.

Final Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: The O line was supposed to be dominant in Week 1 against the undersized Oklahoma State front four, but instead it struggled.

Breaking in a new left tackle against South Carolina's dominating pass rush, it looked as if the Bulldogs might struggle last week. Instead, the unit looked good.

No, the running game wasn't dominant, but the line opened some holes and for the most part protected Cox well. The Gamecocks had two sacks, but for the most part Cox had the time he needed to throw downfield.

It wasn't a perfect performance, but it was a step forward against a far better opponent.

Also of note, Clint Boling earned the SEC's lineman of the week award.

Final Grade: B+

DEFENSIVE LINE: Justin Houston returns from a two-game suspension this week, and the timing couldn't be better. Rod Battle went down with a season-ending knee injury which hurt the depth at an already shallow position. Geno Atkins and Marcus Washington continued to see snaps at defensive end while also rotating to other positions, and Cornelius Washington saw the most action of his career, earning his first career sack.

While the Bulldogs' line managed to stifle South Carolina's running game, holding the Gamecocks' tailbacks to just 3 yards per carry. Unfortunately, they couldn't do the same with quarterback Stephen Garcia.

Containment problems persisted throughout the game with Garcia routinely being able to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush and either dump off a short lob pass or use his legs to pick up some big gains. Garcia had 58 yards rushing in the game (not including the yards lost from Georgia's two sacks) and was able to keep drives going by avoiding the rush.

Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said Battle's loss throughout most of the game played a role in the poor containment of Garcia, but clearly this is a problem as it was a year ago against mobile quarterbacks.

"He was making plays, and they were catching the ball. He got away from our pass rush, we lost contain at times, and a lot of it was because of his ability to do it. But we didn't want to give up the deep balls, the vertical game. We wanted to keep everything in front of us, and he scrambled a couple of times to make some big-time plays."

On the upside, however, Georgia was exceptional in the red zone and that started with the line's ability to control the running game, and of course any assessment of the defense's performance -- particularly the guys up front -- should come with the caveat that the were on the field for 30 more plays than South Carolina's defense.

Final Grade: C

LINEBACKERS: This was not the best day for Georgia's linebackers not named Rennie Curran. Both Darius Dewberry and Nick Williams missed the game, leaving Georgia with little depth at Sam linebacker, and the results were obvious.

Marcus Washington was forced to return to linebacker for the first time since spring practice, and South Carolina exploited Georgia's weak linebacker play by finding tight end Weslye Saunders over and over and over.

Saunders had eight catches for 96 yards and was open all night. It was the go-to play for Garcia, who would survey the field, then step up to avoid the rush and dump a short lob to Saunders over the middle for crucial gains.

But it's hard to throw the linebackers under the bus too much when you factor in the work that Curran did. Before the game, he gave an impassioned speech that had the team ready to play. During the game, he was dominant, finishing with a career-best 15 tackles. And on the Gamecocks' final play, he once again made the play that ended South Carolina's comeback attempt.

As impressive as Curran's deflection of Garcia's final pass was, it's even more impressive when you remember that Garcia had been killing Georgia with his legs all night and could have easily ran up the middle and picked up the first down, too. Curran was forced into no-man's land, but made the right choice staying on his receiver and making the crucial deflection at the goal line.

“There’s something about this game and the goal line," Curran said, "I’m just always there in the right place at the right time. It feels good though.”

Darryl Gamble had a solid game, too, finishing with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, while Marcus Dowtin finished with six tackles, a nice follow-up to his strong performance in Georgia's opener against Oklahoma State.

Final Grade: B

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Martinez said the game plan was to shut down South Carolina's vertical attack, but the Gamecocks probably did a better job of that than the Bulldogs did. It it weren't for several crucial penalties that negated big plays, Prince Miller would have had a long night. Tori Gurley had two touchdown receptions overturned because of flags on the Gamecocks' offense.

Penalties were a problem for Georgia, too. The Bulldogs were flagged 13 times for 108 yards in the game, and the DBs played a big role, including two 15-yard penalties on Vance Cuff and another personal foul call on Reshad Jones.

Brandon Boykin was once again the highlight of the secondary. He was exceptional in coverage and came down with Georgia's first -- and to this point, only -- turnover of the season, a brilliant interception of Garcia in which the South Carolina QB clearly under-estimated Boykin's leaping ability.

"He made a couple other great plays when they were trying to throw the ball deep," Martinez said. "He's got an unbelievable vertical jump, he's a great athlete and it was good to see him play so well."

Richt said Boykin has introduced an interesting new presume ritual the past two weeks. When the players finish warm ups and run back toward Richt, Boykin leaps up and Richt said the cornerback's feet get up to the coach's eye line.

"He's a tremendous athlete," Richt said of Boykin. "I wish we had about three of him. He's an outstanding cover guy, he's tough enough to play the boundary corner which we expect them to support the run, he can return kicks as you saw. He can do so much."

Kudos to Bryan Evans, by the way. After so many really ugly coverage performances, his breakup of Garcia's pass in the end zone intended for D.L. Moore was a game saver.

Final Grade: C

SPECIAL TEAMS: Where to begin?

On one hand, you have Boykin's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

On the other hand, you have Branden Smith's fumble to set up a South Carolina score.

Of course, Smith also had another long return, and Georgia managed a school-record 252 kick return yards.

Of course, there were some problems in the punting game, where a bad snap from Ty Frix turned into the first safety allowed by Georgia since 2006.

Balir Wash was actually able to kick deep this week and responded with two touchbacks and the Gamecocks began their first five drives following kickoffs at the 22 or worse. Walsh also booted two field goals, including his second 50+ yarder of the season.

But Chris Culliver also returned Walsh's seventh kickoff 57 yards to set up a South Carolina field goal.

And then you have the fake punt that South Carolina ran in the second quarter turned a three-and-out into a field goal for the Gamecocks -- one of five in the game for Lanning.

And that's all before you get to what might have been the biggest play of the game -- DeAngelo Tyson's block of South Carolina's point-after try following Eric Norwood's pick six. That preserved a one-point lead for Georgia and forced the Gamecocks to go for the touchdown on the game's final drive rather than booting a sixth field goal to tie the score.

So the bottom line is, there were a lot of problems on special teams that can't be repeated next week, but the good definitely outweighed the bad.

Final Grade: B

COACHING: From the Saturday kickoff in Stillwater right up until the kickoff at Sanford Stadium against the Gamecocks, it was clearly not one of the finest weeks in Richt's career. But despite all the problems -- the loss to OSU, the offensive ineptitude, the public questions raised about personnel, the on-the-record contradictions made by various coaches, the report that Cox was going to be benched -- Richt had his troops ready to play Saturday.

More than a few folks, including myself, wondered if Richt didn't need to be a bit more vocal in critiquing the performance against Oklahoma State, but the results of his cool and collected approach were more than enough justification.

On offense, questions still have to be asked about Bobo's personnel decisions, but the game plan was both more diversified and more successful against South Carolina and Bobo deserves some credit for finding ways to get Green open by putting him in motion and moving him around the field more than he did a week earlier. The playcalling was much better this week, however, and the result was three touchdowns on three trips inside South Carolina's 20. (Of course, we didn't see Logan Gray on any of those red-zone snaps, which I thought was supposed to be where the coaching staff wanted to use him.)

"The one thing we talked about all week as an offense was to execute," Bobo said. "We wanted our guys to be aggressive, play with some passion, and I thought they did that tonight. Obviously it wasn't perfect, but whoever had the ball had a mind-set of making a play, and it wasn't just A.J. Green. I'm proud of the way they came back after last week."

There will no doubt be criticisms of Martinez and his unwillingness or inability to adjust, and yes, South Carolina did do essentially the same thing offensively throughout the game to exploit Georgia's zone for short, time-consuming gains. But I think this was probably the right approach for the Bulldogs in this game rather than stubbornness on Martinez's part.

The defense certainly didn't look great, but it got the job done. Martinez did what he could given the injury concerns at linebacker and defensive end. Martinez did a nice job of blitzing linebackers when he could without sacrificing the vertical defense, holding most of the gains South Carolina made in front of the defense, and forced South Carolina to settle for field goals or no points on five of seven trips to the red zone.

“Bottom line is we got it done in the end," Richt said. "There were so many good things, so many bad things. When it came down to it, the red-zone defense was fantastic and that really was the difference.”

Extra credit goes to Martinez's defense for holding up while being on the field for 30 more plays than the offense was.

All the flags should be a concern for Georgia's coaching staff. The Bulldogs got 13 of them Saturday and now rank 109th in the country in penalties. That's discouraging given all the work the team supposedly put in to minimizing the whistles during the offseason. The problems, however, have been offset for the most part by 26 penalties against the opposing team in the first two games.

Turnovers are still a problem, with Georgia giving the ball away three more times Saturday, and while Boykin did muster the first takeaway of the season, South Carolina also put the ball on the ground twice without turning it over. Georgia needs to both create more takeaway opportunities and do a better job of capitalizing on them.

More than anything else, however, the coaching staff earns some kudos for keeping the focus where it needed to be despite all the furor following the team's first 0-1 start in 13 years.

Richt admitted that the players and coaches were all down after the OSU loss, but he said some encouraging words by assistant coach Joe Tereshinski and linebacker Rennie Curran helped to turn the tide and the attitude was as impressive on game day as Richt could remember.

“I think our guys played about as hard as I’ve seen them play in a long time," Richt said. "There was a special energy. I don’t know why. Maybe there was a special sense of urgency at not going 0-2, knowing we’re at home, knowing it was the SEC. There was so many things riding on it, and for whatever reason I think our boys had as much heart and fire, wire to wire, that I’ve ever seen.”

Final Grade: B

12 comments:

jason said...

Hey David - Thanks, once again, for the amazing collection of info.

Following up on a couple of your points, I'm really curious to see if you could get a real answer as to why Samuel was out of the game for so long. Also, after seeing it both in person and on the replay - I have no clue why Reshad was flagged for the personal foul down the sideline. Curious if you have any other info on that play.

Thanks and I'll hang up and listen...

Jason

Anonymous said...

I thought after Cook (TE) went pro early that we would not have the same problems with USC's TEs. They did the same thing with Saunders that they did with Cook last year and we were not able to stop them. This should definitely be a concern.

Love the blog and insightful reporting.

FL Dawg said...

Can't wait to see T King #12 play some more. He is playing real hard and looks real fast like #1&#2. I think he is ready to have a big game soon.

Dog44 said...

Great work as usual, David. I don't know how you were able to do the live blog, write a story for a tight deadline, while at the same time watching the game with this level of insight. But we appreciate it.

And you called it on Brandon Boykin before the season began. He is definitely developing into one of the most fun-to-watch Dawgs on the team. I also thought Samuel had a nice day. I was surprised to see he had less than 90 yards based on how hard he was running.

Highlight of the game for me was Brandon Smith's reverse. I can't remember anyone that fast wearing the red & black since Champ.

(Scratch that... the real highlight was the GA State Troopers' fist bump after Curran's pass break-up. Hilarity personified.)

I think Battle's injury is a big deal. Glad Houston is back this week, but w/out Battle I'm just not sure we have enough horses at DE to consistently get the job done.

Really glad Cox had a good game. Would love to see a bit more of Logan, but I'm glad to have Joe as our man.

Anonymous said...

David: You made a typo.

Balir Walsh hates you.

You told us to tell you.

Just like deer, there could be more.

Silver Dawg said...

Grading the journalist, South Carolina game:

Content, analysis, style: A++ with bonus gold star.

Punctuality of publication: D-

We were jonesin'.

RaleighDawg said...

I don't get the Reshad flag either. It looked the same as the one against AJ Green later in the game when his helmet was torn off. Also the guy running stepped out a little ways back and it doesn't seem anyone noticed it. It should have been called dead before Reshad even got there. I am just so happy he is wrapping up people this year and not just bumping them like last year. I would take more every game if that keeps him hitting and wrapping up guys to the ground.

Michael A said...

RaleighDawg, yes I saw that on the replay too. The receiver clearly stepped out several yards up field from the play. I was hoping the announcers would say something but they were too busy gushing about the emergence of Stephen Garcia as an NCAA quarterback to notice.

Muckbeast said...

Coaching: F

Mike Bobo seems to call offensive plays at random. He doesn't stick with the run when we are dominating. He put Logan Gray in randomly for 1 play, and that entire drive was a complete waste.

Our offense has no identity or imagination, and we never impose our will on the opponent.

Defensively, the only time our players are allowed to be aggressive is when we are at the goal line. The rest of the time we play extremely soft. This tires out the defense, keeps our offense off the field, and puts us in constant danger of having the score run up on us.

Special teams: every time we went back to the directional kick, they got good field position.

Silver Dawg said...

Kudos, Mr. Muckbeast:

"Our offense has no identity or imagination, and we never impose our will on the opponent."

Well played, Sir. Well played.

The 3rd Richt said...

The only guess I have to Bobo pulling Samuel out is to conserve him until we get a reliable backup. Carlton is an asset to the team but not really used effectively and doesn't have the impact that Samuel has. Still know excuse for Bobo's "flip a coin" play calling.
I'm thankful for the win and think folks need to take a step back and realize that we will have more games like this. Love it or hate it but support your team win or lose. We have some weapons on both sides of the ball and it's taking some growing pains to figure it all out.

Anonymous said...

Muckbeast-

We get it. You've been trolling Dawg blogs all week with this stuff.

Grade-F coaching doesn't win a game like that. Like it or not. The staff didn't have their best day, but they did make some solid decisions and the kids played hard.