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Monday, October 5, 2009

Cox Isn't Georgia's Problem

As someone who has watched Andy Reid appear to purposefully lose at least a dozen big games in my time as an Eagles fan, I empathize with the Georgia faithful who are quite upset today. They're frustrated, and they simply want answers. I get it.

But here's the one guy being held accountable by so many fans who has no business being in your line of fire today: Joe Cox.

I'm not going to try to convince you that Cox had the best game of his career on Saturday. Clearly he didn't. He finished 18-of-34 for 229 yards and two touchdowns with a late INT to boot, but as I'm sure you all will point out, those aren't the problematic numbers. No, it was his first half that was the problem. Through two quarters, Cox had completed just 3-of-9 passes for 31 yards -- and 27 of them came on one throw.

But look at what Cox is working with. First, LSU's secondary is one of the best units in the country. There's a reason why dozens of stories were written about Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson matchup against A.J. Green this week. Second, Mike Bobo's play calling was curious at best throughout the first half. Third, the running game offered Cox absolutely nothing in the way of support. Fourth, as good as some of his young receivers have been, Cox is playing with Green, Moore and a cast of guys who still have to ask him what to do before nearly every play. And Moore has been milk-carton material for the past two games.

Let's look at two sets of numbers, OK.

Player A: 61.4% completion percentage, 153.54 QB rating, 2.5:1 TD-to-INT ratio
Player B: 58.6% completion percentage, 145.42 QB rating, 1.83:1 TD-to-INT ratio

Player A is obviously better, but the margin is pretty small. The variance is nothing that couldn't swing in the other direction with one particularly good game by Player B or one bad one by Player A.

I'm sure by now you've figured out that Player A is Matthew Stafford a year ago, and Player B is Cox through five games this season. So, yes, we can officially say Cox was a step back from Stafford -- but by how much? My guess is it's a lot less than most fans worried it might be back in January when Stafford announced he was leaving.

And keep in mind, Stafford posted those numbers in his third year as a starter with Knowshon Moreno in his backfield and two star wide receivers to throw to. In his first two seasons, Stafford didn't come anywhere close to Cox's numbers.

Ah, but that first half, you say. One first down? No points? That's inexcusable, right?

Let's look back to last season when the future No. 1 pick in the NFL draft was Georgia's quarterback.

vs. South Carolina: Six points in the first half
vs. Alabama: Zero points in the first half
vs. Florida: Three points in the first half
vs. Auburn: Seven points in the first half
vs. Michigan State: Three points in the first half

Georgia was losing all but one of those games at the half, too.

Again, that was with Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Green on offense and the No. 1 QB in the draft throwing the passes.

OK, but you don't think Cox can stretch the field, right? Actually, he's among the best quarterbacks in the country at completing the deep ball. He hit five more passes for 20 yards or longer against LSU.

Oh, but he threw behind a couple of receivers and overthrew Green on a deep ball, right? Do you remember what it was like playing with Stafford last year? The kid had a cannon arm, but he didn't always know where it was going.

And here's another stat I came across (and damned if I can remember where I stole it from): Arizona State is ranked No. 8 in the country in QB rating allowed. LSU is No. 10. South Carolina is No. 12 in the nation in pass defense.

Cox hasn't played cake opponents (Arkansas notwithstanding).

But here are the two biggest reasons Georgia cannot make a change at QB.

No. 1: Logan Gray simply isn't ready to take over the job, and the games have been too close to trust him with even a series or two per half. Look, I said I thought Gray or Murray needed to see action this season a few weeks ago, so I'm on board with making sure the Dawgs have someone with experience in 2010. But at this point, if Georgia wins out, they'll still be the SEC East champions, and until that's not the case, Mark Richt & Co. are not going to risk giving away a game with their second- or third-best QB running the show. Not going to happen.

No. 2: While you'll point to the handful of bad throws that Cox made, his real value is in all the things you'll never see. Do you realize how many kids are in the offensive huddle this season? It's Joe, Moore and a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.

And yet, Georgia has been behind for four straight weeks and Cox has rallied his troops and regained the lead every time. That's character. That's leadership. That's accountability. On a team like this, those are as important as any amount of arm strength.

In fact, here's what Joe said about finding out in the middle of the third quarter that true freshman Washaun Ealey was taking over at tailback: "I was about to go in the game and they said '24' is in. I had no clue they were thinking about doing that. I was excited for him. It was during a TV timeout, and we were sitting there in the huddle and everyone was telling him what to do -- 'Oh, make sure you hold on to the ball,' blah, blah, blah. I was just like, man, let him run. He knows how to run."

The senior leader on offense was told just a few seconds before taking the field midway through the third quarter that he would have yet another true freshman to look out for, and the first thing he does is take all the pressure off Ealey and tell him to just go play his game. I talked to Ealey on Sunday, too, and he said that Cox's leadership was absolutely crucial for him.

All due respect to Gray and Murray, but they aren't handling that situation the way Cox did.

And one last point: If the refs hadn't been insane, the kickoff team knew how to cover, and the defense had made a stop, what would you be saying about Joe Cox today? Because none of those things that happened after Georgia's go-ahead touchdown were his fault, so your synopsis of his performance shouldn't be swayed by the things that happened when he wasn't even on the field.

Folks, Cox is not the problem.

27 comments:

ChattaDawg said...

I agree 100 Percent David. I like Joe Cox..if we did not have him, no way are we 3-2. Out Freshman QB's will be good but leadership is so important to our young team! I will say this..If Stafford had been in the same situation Saturday, I am not sure we get the late touchdown.
Glad to see Cox has confidence in Ealy. Hope to see a lot more of him against the vols! You want to be ticked..where is our offensive line? We have to run the ball!

Anonymous said...

Well said!!

Anonymous said...

Cox is not the problem, the coaching staff is the problem!!! How many currant assistant coaches could be head coaches at D1 programs? Now look back at Pete Carroll's coaching staff the last few years. This is the reason Mark Richt will never win a NC at UGA and take us among the elite programs! Why else do we have 3 walk on players and a 2nd string QB on that final kickoff??? Open your eyes Dawg Nation, it wasn't the refs that cost us the game, coaching did.

WFdawg said...

David, you bring sanity to the blogosphere. This post is spot-on. Cox is far down on my list of things to worry about this season. Maintaining a consistent pass rush? Sure. Special teams atrocities? Yep. Finding a running game. Absolutely. But Cox at QB? Nah. He's actually out-performed my expectations at this point.

He's not Stafford in 2008. But we all knew he wouldn't be. On the other hand, he's also a whole lot better than Stafford in 2006 or Tereshinski. Cox is quietly putting together a David Greene-esque season. And the only reason he's catching so much flak for it is because he's the guy who inevitably had to replace Stafford. You want to find a guy who's given us a monumental drop-off in production from his successor? His name isn't Joe Cox; it's Richard Samuel. Given his play up to this point, Cox doesn't deserve to be in the cross-hairs.

Now, John Fabris on the other hand...

Chillbo said...

Love, love, love the blog. Read it more than is really healthy. So please know I apporach this with the utmost of respect. But I have to say this argument has a logical hole in it. Your argument seems to be that we shouldn't be concerned or upset about Cox's performance because Stafford was pretty much as erratic/disappointing. "Oh, but he threw behind a couple of receivers and overthrew Green on a deep ball, right? Do you remember what it was like playing with Stafford last year? The kid had a cannon arm, but he didn't always know where it was going."
Yes, we do. And it was a problem then. Just because it happened before doesn't mean we should be ok with it happening again. Both were problematic and the presence of the problem before does not excuse the presence of the problem now. Ray Goff oversaw many humiliating beatdowns by Florida. Does that mean we should be ok when it happens again, like last year?
I think the real point is that criticism of Cox needs to be more nuanced. You make very valid points about his valuable leadership skills and I really believe that we would be a 3-4 loss team without him at QB. He probably deserves the mos credit for our penchant for comebacks. But I also think it ok for people to point out that he is not the most accurate QB and in the first half against LSU, blew several opportunities, which could have changed the game. He also never saw numerous wide-open receivers, instead locking in on more difficult targets. And on the interception at the end, after seeing the CBS camera angle from behind the QB, you really had to wonder what he thought he saw that would make him throw that pass.
In the end, though, you are also right that he got little help from the playcalling and the lack of a running game. And if UGA had any semblence of kickoff coverage, we might not be talking about this at all. Furthermore, while folks are probably justified in pointing out his flaws as a Qb, perspective should always be maintained. He is an amatuer athelete, who from all accounts, seems like a good guy doing the best he can. Still a Joe fan and a Dave fan, but felt like I needed to point out the problem with the logic of saying because Stafford did it, it's ok for others who follow.

blackertai said...

I don't hear to many people on the ground here in Athens complaining about Joe. It's more reading the blogs from out of town that I see complaints all the time. However, that doesn't mean there aren't VALID complaints about the way the team is being run this year. You looked at the kicking issues, but coaching in general is lackluster. People complain about Martinez and Bobo, but that's because Saint Richt has too much goodwill stored up with the fans to take any heat himself. Richt is ultimately responsible for what this team does, and he's been failing at it now on a number of fronts for the last two years. Our team had no heart last year, and this year we have very little help for a group of talented young players. Joe Cox is doing a better job of coaching the offense than it seems the PAID coaches are at times. I say Richt needs his feet in the fire a bit himself so that he starts to recognize that going to Church every Sunday is not enough to justify him being the coach at Georgia for as long as he wants to stay. He might actually have to attempt coaching at some point.

blackertai said...

And that is not to say that I don't appreciate the fact that we have a great MAN as a coach. But I'd love to have a great COACH as a Coach, as well as a great man. What's there to say he can't be a great human being AND a great coach? If fans didn't focus so 100% all the time on the fact that he's such a good person and such a mediocre (recently) coach, we might see more response from the coaches in regards to the position they're constantly putting the players in.

David Hale said...

Chillbo -- you're right, and I probably approached this piece more as a defense of Cox regarding the "get the guy on the bench" commentary. I guess I was trying to say that no one wanted Stafford benched last year for providing essentially the same results (at least statistically). Having said that, you are absolutely correct that there are things Cox needs to work on, accuracy chief among them.

I'd also point out though that problems with accuracy can be as much a function of what the other guys on the field are doing as it is with the QB himself. Or at least that's the line they always gave us about Stafford.

Anonymous said...

Agree.

The major problem on offense is with the line.

There are many issues here.

1. It is easy to read the run vs. pass keys by looking at their stance and weight distribution.

2. Their pad level on run blocking is too high. This problem is almost universal across the line.

3. They are not firing out on the linebackers. They are zone blocking on the line of scrimmage and as a result, there are very few lanes for the backs to run.

4. They are not getting much blocking support from the tight end position. The edge is not getting sealed off and our off tackle runs and sweeps are getting pushed outside. I don't know what kind of shape Bruce Figgins is in, but he could help here if healthy and ready to go.

Pass blocking has been good, but run blocking has been extraordinarily poor.

Anonymous said...

Amen, David. Joe Cox is for all intents and purposes a fifth year senior in knowledge and a true freshman in experience. I think he's played astoundingly well given our schedule and we would be 1-4 or even 0-5 without him. I agree Gray or Murray (or both) should get snaps if possible, but since we've had to battle in every game just to have a chance to win, there hasn't been a good chance to give them quality snaps.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the failed experiment at OC, the moron coaching special teams, and their timid mouse of a boss.

Knoxdawg said...

Great job David. What has happened to our O line ? They were supposed to be the best in the conference ! What's going on ?? Our running game is EMBARRASING. I'm afraid we will come into Knoxville flat and get beat this Saturday.

Silver Dawg said...

I thought I was the only Cox fan left.

Thanks for pointing out those comparisons to King Stafford, Sir David.

Silver Dawg said...

I have considered elevating you from Sir to King, Sir David. Because of columns like this one. But, not today.

King David does have a nice biblical ring.

Selah.

Dawgy said...

Joe Cox is a problem to this Georgia team like a runny nose is a problem to a person with cancer.

Special teams are embarrassing.

The offensive line cannot run block.

Penalties are out of control.

The defense is schizophrenic.

Joe Cox is the least of our problems.

Anonymous said...

LSU had the same penalty, yet they started their drive in UGA territory...we started at a pretty average spot...Special Teams was the difference

Texas_Dawg said...

I guess I was trying to say that no one wanted Stafford benched last year for providing essentially the same results (at least statistically).

1) Those aren't essentially the same results. There's a pretty solid difference. The kind that can make the difference in 3-2 and 4-1 or 5-0.

2) Cox has an OL greatly improved in its pass blocking (though not run blocking) and an AJ Green noticeably better than last year. He also has TE options, a huge weapon in our pro-set offense and something Stafford never had.

(Fwiw, I'm not a "bench Cox" guy. He's pretty much what I expected and obviously the best option we have. Which is an average CFB QB (playing in a conference with above average defenses), all that silly anti-Stafford/Moreno off-season talk about "new and improved leadership" not withstanding.)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with this article. I do think Cox is missing the open receivers but then again so did Stafford. I think it’s time for us to get new coordinators, the talent is there but unfortunately the coaching staff isn’t.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with this article. I do think Cox is missing the open receivers but then again so did Stafford. I think it’s time for us to get new coordinators, the talent is there but unfortunately the coaching staff isn’t.

WiseDawg said...

Amen Coach Hale. From my vantage point in Section 208, LSU was step faster on defense, better kick returns and coverages, its running back was faster and quicker, and its QB was faster and very mobile. LSU's only weakness appeared to be its pass protection. Overall, LSU looked like the better team.

Most dawgs fans knew going into this season that it was going to be a rebuilding season. Everyone including the national media has said this will be a rebuilding season for GA. Some dawg fans can't see past that. It's not coaching.

Anonymous said the special teams coach is a moron. I don't buy that because he can only work with the talent he is given. Yes, the last kickoff coverage was unacceptable but it was a player that missed his assignment.

So the solution to the special teams problem is to put better talent on the field? What would happen if we had AJ Green returning punts and he is leveled like Damon Gary in 2003? Or, what about Curan, Boykin, B. Smith, Dewberry tearing their ACL on a kick off coverage? We would call CMR a moron for putting his best talent on special teams. Would you want to see one of these players being carted off the field on a stretcher? Give me a break.

Warren T said...

Chillbo and Hale's follow-up illustrate my main complaint about the situation. Hale said: "there are things Cox needs to work on, accuracy chief among them."

Maybe I wouldn't be so frustrated with the inaccuracy problems (which there are arguable excuses/reasons for, as Hale went on to discuss) if the coaches didn't go on and on during the off-season about how Cox would be successful because of his accuracy! I think I remember a line from Richt or Bobo about how (paraphrased) "Joe doesn't have as much of a cannon as Stafford did [no one does], but he is a lot more accurate." What was preached to us as a strength of Jox Cox has failed to live up to my expectations.

Which is not to say I think he is wholly inaccurate: certainly there are times when he's putting it on the money. But if seems like when he misses he misses big (see interceptions against ASU, the first pass of LSU that sailed over Green's head).

So, that's part of my complaint: I feel like we didn't get what we were promised.

Todd said...

I wish Stafford would have had an oppurtunity to have the time in the pocket that Cox has. I know Cox would have liked to have had Moreno with him too.

At what point does talent outweigh experience. When Stafford took over for Joe. T, we all knew Joe T. knew the playbook backwords and foward. Stafford had better talent. I believe the need to develop Murray is paramount. I think everybody needs to take off the red and black glasses and ask themselves this: If your son was a D1 prospect, would you want him to go to Georgia? After watching the last couple of years of poor coaching, I would say no.
The talent on defense is not there. Is Owens and Atkins really what we thought they were? Reshad Jones, Bryan Evans, Prince Miller really going to hurt Georgia when they graduate? Where is Makri Pugh?
Special teams aren't too special. By putting Logan Gray to receive punts, the coaching staff is playing scared. Instead of playing to win, they are playing not to lose. You see this philosophy on defense also.

On Offense, Georgia doesn't have a running back...PERIOD. Ealy may be better, but he doesn't have it all down. Bottom line, winners make the pass to Green in the second drive of the game. Cox stares the recievers down like Murray would do. Everybody says don't burn a red shirt on Murray. Well if Georgia is the recruiting machine that they have been, then they wouldn't have a hard time getting another stud qb.

I am tired of the excuses. Last year it was injuries and a young line. This year it is Cox being inexperinced, next year it will be Murray being inexperienced, the year after that it will be AJ Green is gone.

The coaching has been awful the last couple of years. Pure talent has made up for it in the likes of Stafford and Moreno. You are just know seeing what Georgia truly has and it that impressive.

What if Auburn and Kentucky were losses last year? Alabama and Florida recognize problems and solve them with changes. Georgia is slow to recognize and then choose to do nothing. I don't know if South Carolina hasn't passed Georgia.

Coaching + lack of talent = Georgia 2009. If you don't think one recruit can't change a team, look no further than AJ. If AJ wasn't at Georgia, the dawgs would be 0-5. There are major problems in Athens and have been for a couple of years. It is just know being exposed

Ant123 said...

Davd, I am not saying bench Cox permanently. But, when Cox couldn't hit the broadside of a barn in the first half, (And most of the time protection was good and receivers were at least somewhat open) then he should have sat at least a seris or two in the second or third quarters. Not saying we win if he does, Lord knows we had plenty of other problems. But if we score anything in the first half we proably would have won.
That being said, our real problem is coaching. When MR first got here the discipline was one of his most impressive changes he brought to the team. We rarely beat ourselves. Now we just don't have dislipline on the field and often beat ourselves or make ourselves work harder for the win.

Anonymous said...

David,

I really appreciate your hard work and this blog. It is far and away the best coverage of Georgia football. But what I appreciate more is your level-headed approach to your coverage.

I don't know if you have a feel for it or not, but I'm curious about Richt's assistants -- and more to the point -- if he sees what the rest of us see, or think we see.
Special teams is cover-your-eyes horrible. The defense played well against LSU but has looked overmatched more often than not. The play calling is spotty at best.
Do you get any feeling that Richt is concerned? And, do you think there will be changes after the season?
I like Richt, and I hope he stays in Athens for a long time. And I'm realistic. I'd be OK with 3-2 this year if the team was anywhere near consistent. But it's like watching Sybil. It's like watching Sybil off her meds.

Anonymous said...

WiseDawg -

You are not very wise if you think that Georgia is lacking talent to field a decent special teams play.

Also, you can call this a rebuilding year if you want but top tier programs DO NOT rebuild and top tier programs don't produce 46 yards of total offense in the first half of a big time game at home.

Great post as always DH!

WiseDawg said...

Anonymous

Georgia obviously has the talent for special teams they are hesitant to use it. That was my point. For example, the coaches were hesitant to put AJ in the game to block that field goal against ASU because they fear injury. That was a direct quote from one of the coaches. I can't remember which one.

I agree that top tier programs don't rebuild they reload. I get that. However, you have to see that GA is rebuilding. The running game is struggling because KM got most of the snaps last season. Stafford was under center for the bulk of the season, and you can not replace KM and MS, impossible. Losing your starting play caller is tough on any team. Just to name a few, look at USC and Oklahoma.

I'm stealing some poker terms here, but Georgia went "all in" last season and didn't win the hand. This season, we are playing with house money and each win, in my opinion, is like bluffing and winning pots when you don't have the best hand.

bnwdog14 said...

David: I alomost posted those exact same Cox/Staff comparisons on your fleeting thoughts article Sunday. Agreed, unless we reach a point where we no longer control our own destiny in the East, Cox should remain the starter. If by chance we reach a point where that is not the case, playing time for Gray should still be a major consideration, IMHO.

It is time for the DAWGS to MAN UP and go on a 7 game win streak. We have had enough deficiencies in all aspects of the game to know what issues need to be addressed, the key now is fixing them! All is not lost, YET?