I posted a still photo of Georgia's final kickoff against LSU last week, hoping to better illustrate the problems in the execution of the play. While the photo certainly showed some coverage issues, it also showed something else.
All week, following the loss to LSU, Mark Richt had talked about how young his kickoff coverage team was this year, and young teams tend to struggle. Well, as one of my readers pointed out, that's not exactly what the photo showed. In fact, here are the six coverage guys shown in the photo: Stephen Braue (Sr.), Shawn Williams (Fr.), Rennie Curran (Jr.), Prince Miller (Sr.), Baccari Rambo (RFr.) and Nick Williams (So.).
Only one true freshman, which sort of undermined the argument that youth is the reason for the problems on the unit.
That got me to thinking about the rest of the team. I know that, particularly on offense, Georgia has a lot of young players getting significant reps. But is that the reason for the team's struggles?
I quickly put together a rough list of all the key juniors and seniors on both sides of the ball this year and provided a quick analysis of their play thus far...
Joe Cox -- It's not Cox's ability that has been disconcerting. Aside from the flu-ridden Oklahoma State game, Cox's arm has been better than advertised in terms of connecting on deep balls. It's his decision making that has been the bigger issue, and that goes against everything we heard about him in the preseason. His decisions to throw to his primary receiver rather than check down have resulted in two pick sixes, his choice to throw away balls before taking a sack finally -- but not surprisingly -- came back to haunt him when Dennis Rogan picked one off at Tennessee, and while I put the majority of the onus for the chaos of spiking it with a second left before the half on the coaching staff, Cox has to know how to handle those situations, too. On top of that, his completion percentage and passing yards have dipped in each game the past three weeks.
Shaun Chapas -- The problems with the running game can be pinned on any number of players, but Chapas was supposed to be a strength, and instead he's done almost nothing. His blocking has been suspect on offense and he hasn't been the same weapon in the passing game he was last year. Meanwhile, as one of the real veterans on special teams, he stole a kick return away from Brandon Boykin, and he twice let Branden Smith run kicks out of the end zone early in the season… mental breakdowns, all of them.
Mike Moore -- Moore virtually disappeared from the offense for two weeks following a strong performance against Arkansas before returning with six catches against Tennessee. Still, none of his catches were for anything resembling a big gain, and on his last one, he fumbled, leading to another Tennessee touchdown. He's had two or fewer catches in four of six games this year, has cracked 50 yards receiving just once, and all of that is with the best receiver in college football on the other side of the field getting double teamed.
The entire O line -- Before the season, this unit was considered one of the best in the country and pretty easily the best in the SEC. Six games into the season, they're not anywhere close to being as good as they were last year when they had a different lineup each week and three freshmen starting. The run blocking has been abysmal all year, in Weeks 1 and 6, the pass blocking was as brutal as we've seen in a while, and add to that the huge number of penalties that have been called on the line, and you have to wonder if it's really Stacy Searels under that sweat-soaked sweatshirt during practice or if it's just some guy who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Geno Atkins & Jeff Owens -- If either of these guys had left for the NFL following their junior seasons, they'd probably have been first-day draft picks. In Atkins' case, he would have been a first-rounder last season. Instead, the two have combined for 26 tackles and one-half of a sack. On top of that, Atkins hasn't even started the past three games, effectively passed on the depth chart by Kade Weston because of Weston's better practice habits.
Bryan Evans -- He's a great kid, but his coverage skills are beyond bad. Evans has seen playing time in almost every game for the past two years without an interception. Baccari Rambo has seen significant action in just the past three games, and he has two picks.
Prince Miller -- How many times has he been burned in coverage this season? Saturday was easily his worst effort, but there have been others -- too many others. It says something when opposing QBs are picking on your senior, three-year starter at about a 2-to-1 clip over the sophomore, first-year starter at corner. But worse is the punt return situation. First, Georgia essentially punts on the idea of returning punts against LSU, with Logan Gray in the game to decide whether a kick should be fair caught or allowed to bounce behind him. Then, Miller finally gets in during one of these "punt safe" situations, and he catches and returns a kick from his own 1-yard line. When you do something so awful that the decision to use Gray as a punt returner looks smart by comparison, that's bad.
Add to that: Akeem Dent (has only played in two games), Vance Cuff (minimal action the past three weeks), Darius Dewberry (missed three games), Demarcus Dobbs (just 12 tackles and 1 sack so far) and Reshad Jones (much improved tackling, but zero INTs so far).
If you look at the above list, it could easily be titled, "Most Disappointing Players: 2009."
The only veterans that have had any measurable impact on a consistent basis have been Rennie Curran, Kade Weston and Darryl Gamble -- and each of them have had some down moments as well.
Then look at the youngsters. I'd venture to say the combination of A.J. Green, Brandon Boykin, Baccari Rambo, Tavarres King, Branden Smith, Marcus Dowtin and Justin Houston have been responsible for about 90 percent of the big plays Georgia has had this season, and all are freshmen or sophomores.
Sure, Boykin and Smith and the rest have had their share of mistakes, too, but they've at least begun to balance out the errors with big plays, too. With the exception of the young running backs, you'd have to argue that virtually every one of Georgia's freshmen and sophomore contributors has met or exceeded preseason expectations.
But the veterans? It's not just poor play overall, but some really silly mistakes -- the type of stuff you'd expect from, well, freshmen.
I'm sure a few people will look at this and again point to coaching, but I'm not sure I can agree with that. Those veterans, as Mark Richt said on Sunday, are on the field for a reason. They've accomplished things in the past earned them playing time in the present. And those kids, for all their talent, didn't just step off a high school field and know how to suddenly play well in the SEC. They were coached up, although to varying degrees you might argue.
So how then to explain why guys like Brandon Boykin or Tavarres King haven't simply played better than his veteran counterparts, but has played smarter, too?
I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'll give Joe Cox credit for at least accepting the responsibility of it.
"These younger guys came to Georgia because they wanted to be part of something great," Cox said. "You don't want to feel like you let those guys down, and you don't want them to feel like this is how it's supposed to be. ... We don't want them to be a part of a season that none of us can be proud of. Everybody always talks about playing for the seniors because it's their last shot. But the seniors, the veterans have to play for the younger guys, too, to show them the right way to do things and get them started off on the right foot."