Before we get to the grades, a few links I figured I'd share...
-- Mark Bradley offers perhaps the most stinging indictment of Mark Richt yet from a major media outlet. Quite frankly, it'll take more than a 5-1 campaign in the pillow-fight conference to convince me that Paul Johnson just wants it more than Richt does, but for UGA fans, the use of Tech as the basis for criticism of the Dawgs has to hurt.
-- David Fox at Rivals essentially says there's no way Mark Richt can avoid making staff changes now. The fact that the message-board memes about Richt and Willie Martinez and Mike Bobo are now out there in mainstream media outlets should really say something.
-- Every Day Should Be Saturday does a nice job of summarizing the Georgia secondary, "American Beauty" style.
-- Senator Blutarsky points out two more of the message-board memes that still remain a little silly. Although, I'll admit, the idea of Aaron Murray seeing action could still be pretty realistic.
-- Georgia's defense made Johnathan Crompton the SEC offensive player of the week . If Willie does get canned, that should be his epitaph.
-- Now this is some good casting on the part of "How I Met Your Mother."
-- And finally, in honor of Mr. Crompton, the Boston Globe has an in-depth story on the curious exile of the American mustache.
Now, to the grades for this week...
First off, a disclaimer: Throughout the rest of this week, I'm sure I'll have plenty of notes from players discussing the issues at hand for Georgia, and I'm sure I'll have some more in-depth analysis of specific problems. But as for dissecting this particular loss or running up the numbers for why Willie or Bobo or anyone else should be fired... I'm simply over it.
If you've watched Georgia football for the past two seasons, you've seen enough evidence on one side or the other to have already come to a conclusion, and there's probably not much I can do to sway you in one direction or the other. Nor do I want to.
And I don't think I need to take the time to put into perspective just how far Georgia has or has not fallen with respect to its chief rivals. You'll see plenty of columnists, like Bradley, do that this week and in the weeks to come. It's not my place.
What I am interested in are these questions: Why has Georgia struggled, what are the players going to do about it and what changes will the coaches be making -- or more to the point, should they be making -- in the weeks to come.
No one is getting fired tomorrow. Georgia can't go sign a few free agents to help the defense. There's not much point in debating any of that until there is actually something to be debated.
On to the grades...
QUARTERBACKS: The funny thing is, for as bad as Joe Cox played, he started out with what appeared to be a good game plan and a measured amount of success.
Tennessee decided they weren't going to let Cox beat them deep, so the short passes were wide open. Cox completed his first six passes -- for gains of 8, 7, 9, 7, 4 and 7. Considering this had been the area Georgia's offense had struggled most this this season, and given the ridiculous number of short drives the Bulldogs have had so far, it was a stellar game plan and impressive early success.
But two things happened on Georgia's first two drives that proved crucial to undertanding where things went wrong.
On Georgia's first drive, the Bulldogs had a third-and-inches at their own 10-yard line. It might have been a great time for a play-action, but backed up that deep, Georgia couldn't risk it. More over, I'm not sure Monte Kiffin repsected Georgia's run enough to bite on it anyway. Instead, Cox handed off to Richard Samuel, who ran straight up the middle behind his fullback and got nowhere. A punt followed.
On Georgia's next drive, Cox's short passes had picked up three first downs already when Georgia faced a second-and-three at the Tennessee 42. Cox went back to what worked, hitting a wide open Rantavious Wooten with a good throw, but Wooten dropped it. It would be the first of at least five drops by Georgia receivers in the game -- nearly all of which could have been big plays.
On third-and-three, a good offense would have considered running the ball. It was a short-yardage situation at a position on the field where going for it on fourth down would have made some sense. But looking back at the struggles of the running game and Samuel's failure on third-and-inches on the previous drive, Georgia elected to throw. Cox's pass was batted at the line of scrimmage and intercepted Chris Walker. It was the beginning of the end.
Hard to blame Cox for any of that. If Samuel picks up 6 inches and a first down or if Wooten hangs on to an easy reception and picks up another first down, who knows how things pan out. Maybe Tennessee has to adjust its approach and things open up downfield for Green. Maybe Georgia dinks and dunks all game, dominating time of possession for a change, and the defense gets a relaxing afternoon rather than being torn to shreds by Johnathan Crompton. Maybe.
No, Cox did not play his best game on Saturday. Not by a long shot. And his numbers are not just trending downward, they've fallen off a cliff. But those first two drives are a perfect illustration of how difficult Cox's job -- or Logan Gray's or Aaron Murray's job, should they eventually take over -- actually is.
No running game, only one reliable receiver, and an offensive line that isn't getting it done. To paraphrase Indiana Jones (I'm dumb) Sean Connery, Cox is essentially bringing a knife to a gun fight every time out.
Blame Cox if you must -- and certainly he deserves some of it -- but if you think any other QB is going to step in and find much more success, you're ignoring the obvious.
And for those who are craving a taste of Logan Gray leading the offense, you finally got a sneak peak. Gray came in on Georgia's final two drives when the game was clearly out of hand and Tennessee was simply waiting for the game to end. He did help Georgia pick up two first downs, but both were on running plays. His final numbers: 1-of-4 for 6 yards.
Now, I'll ramble on for hours about the dangers of making decisions based off small samples, so I'm hardly endorsing the notion of giving up on Gray after two drives. But you probably should keep the performance in mind as you beg for Cox, who completed 10 of his first 13 passes (and would have been 12-of-14 if not for drops by Wooten and A.J. Green) to be benched.
NOTE: I didn't mention the clock management at the end of the first half. I'll get to that in the "Coaching" section of the grades.
Final Grade: C-
RUNNING BACKS: Richard Samuel is the next Knowshon Moreno!
Whoops, no he's not.
Caleb King is the answer to Georgia's running woes!
Whoops, no he's not.
Washaun Ealey is the answer to Georgia's running woes!
Um, nope. Wrong again.
Hey, Carlton Thomas had 30 yards on just three carries against Tennessee! He's the answer!
God bless all of you who have said that. As a Cubs fan, I know exactly what you're thinking. I once convinced myself Hee Seop Choi was going to be the answer to the Cubs' problems. Those were the days.
Anyway, Thomas did have a few nice runs and was probably Georgia's best offensive weapon overall, picking up 40 yards on five touches. But all it really did was underscore how mis-used he's been all season. His runs came in space, going around the tackle and busting it outside. He didn't go up the middle where he clearly is overmatched. So if the kid is capable of doing one thing well and struggles at another thing, isn't it imperitive upon the coaches to put him in his best position to succeed on game day and worry about coaching him up at the other stuff during the week?
But I digress.
What else to say about the Georgia running game?
Well, obviously it has been bad, but I think we might be failing to realize just how bad.
For the season, Georgia is averaging 3.39 yards per carry. That's ugly. But the real numbers are even worse.
Assume for a moment that a defensive breakdown is bound to happen at least once per game, so any team is capable of at least one good run. So, let's set aside Georgia's longest run of each game.
To be fair, however, sack yardage is added into the rushing totals, so let's sit that aside, too.
Now, what we're looking at is Georgia's true numbers without its best play and it's sacks. Here's what we come up with:
|Opponent||Rushes||Yards||Long||Sack||Avg.|| Avg w/o long|
| Okie State||30||95|| 19 (Samuel)||1-9||3.17||3.03|
|S Carolina||29||107|| 61 (Smith)||2-21||3.69||2.58|
|Arkansas||36||155|| 80 (Samuel)||2-9||4.31||2.55|
|Ariz State||31||92|| 18 (King)||0-0||2.97||2.47|
|LSU||24||45|| 8 (Ealey)||0-0||1.88||1.61|
|Tennessee||22||89|| 17 (Thomas)||0-0||4.05||3.43|
So, aside from the occasional big play -- and really, we're talking about little more than the reverse by Branden Smith against South Carolina and the untouched 80-yarder by Richard Samuel against Arkansas -- the Bulldogs are averaging a woeful 2.62 yards per carry.
Now, I didn't take the time to weed out the long runs and sacks from every other team, but on pure aggregate numbers, only Washington State, San Jose State and Bowling Green are averaging less yardage per carry than Georgia's 2.62. The combined record of those three teams? 4-13 (and they aren't exactly playing Georgia's schedule, either).
Heck, maybe we should be crediting Joe Cox for doing as well as he has given these numbers rather than bashing his inconsistency.
Moreover, look at the long runs. In six games, those numbers have belonged to five different players. There's absolutely no consistency whatsoever.
Again, blame Cox if you must, but with numbers like these, no quarterback is going to succeed.
Final Grade: F (although credit Thomas, he made the most of his garbage-time efforts)
RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Let's start with the tight ends for a change. They have virtually disappeared from the offense in the past few weeks.
Remember A.J. Green's big catch that happened on third down on Georgia's game-winning drive against Arizona State? He had man coverage because the ASU defense chose to bring the safety over to double Orson Charles. The tight ends were getting respect, and it was opening things up for A.J.
In the two games since then, Georgia's tight ends have combined for three catches and 23 yards -- including being shut out against Tennessee. In fact, Charles and Aron White each had drops vs. the Vols.
Remember how the tight ends were going to be a bigger part of the offense this season? Those numbers won't get it done. Of course, I'm sorta curious -- how much more are the TEs being held in to block recently due to the problems on the O line? I haven't paid close enough attention during the games, but I will ask Mike Bobo tomorrow.
As far as the receivers go, this was hardly a pretty performance for them either.
Georgia's longest passing play was a 21-yarder to Green. After that, no reception was for more than 14 yards.
With Tavarres King out, Marlon Brown got more playing time and showed why he hasn't been a featured part of the offense so far. He had two catches for 15 yards and another drop that was negated by a false start on Green. (SIDE NOTE: Boooooo! to Tennessee fans for booing Brown. Classless.)
Michael Moore finally showed up, making six grabs, but all were for short gains except for that 14-yarder. He also fumbled a reception to set up another Tennessee touchdown.
And what's left to say about Israel Troupe? The kid barely saw playing time even when Georgia only had four other scholarship receivers to work with -- and two of them were true freshmen. I covered Troupe in high school, and if you'd told me then that he would have this much trouble seeing the field in college, I would have said you were crazy.
As for Green, he did all he could, but he was held to little more than a few short catches. Take away his 21-yarder, and he averaged 5.6 yards per catch and had one crucial drop. He was held out of the end zone for the first time since the Oklahoma State opener. Hard to find much room when no one is doing anything around you.
Final Grade: F+ (I can never give an official 'F' to a unit with A.J. on it)
OFFENSIVE LINE: Remember last week when you could at least say the pass blocking was good? Fond memories.
No, Cox wasn't sacked, but he was running for his life on every five-step drop and the pressure directly related to both interceptions -- one with a tip at the line of scrimmage with hands in his face and the other coming when he threw a ball up for grabs to avoid a sack. Granted, the ultimate responsibility for both of those falls on Cox, but it was the line that put him in a position to fail.
And the running game… I don't even know what to say on this. Instead, I'll just ask a simple question: Aside from Samuel's 80-yarder vs. Arkansas, when can you remember a running back going between the tackles for more than a 3-yard gain all season?
There's no push, no aggressiveness, nothing remotely close to the dominant unit we were expecting to see. And it looks like the line play is getting worse each week.
One final note on the blocking: The tight ends and fullbacks are not holding up their ends of things either, so this can't all fall on the line. We knew coming into the season that the tight ends might have some problems, but Shaun Chapas' struggles are really perplexing. I think Georgia also missed Caleb King's ability to pass block this week, too.
Final Grade: F
DEFENSIVE LINE: The previous two weeks: 18 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. Against Tennessee: Three tackles for a loss and no sacks.
Only Justin Houston showed much of anything, tallying one-and-a-half tackles for a loss. Beyond that, the defensive line looked confused, unable to stop the run, and was utterly useless against Johnathan Crompton's repeated bootlegs.
For the first 30 minutes of action, the D line actually held up fairly well against the run. Tennessee had just 48 yards on 16 carries.
In the second half, Tennessee made things look easy. That's bad.
Tennessee made things look easy with a makeshift offensive line that features two former walk-ons. That's really bad.
Final Grade: D
LINEBACKERS: Even Rennie Curran couldn't escape the ineptitude of Georgia's defensive effort on Saturday. He missed badly on a tackle of Denarius Moore along the sideline that allowed Moore to dash another 30 yards an in for Tennessee's second touchdown of the game. After picking up 16 tackles a week ago against LSU, Curran had just eight against Tennessee. That still led the team.
Among the other linebackers, there wasn't much to speak of. Darius Dewberry had five tackles, but he was also usually in coverage on tight end Luke Stocker, who had four big catches for a total of 68 yards -- all of which went for a first down. Dewberry did force a fumble by Kevin Cooper, but Tennessee recovered.
Darryl Gamble continues to be on the field, but I can't remember actually seeing him do anything this year. Gamble's and Demarcus Dobbs' important play-to-overall number of plays ratio is at about zero. They haven't really screwed up much, but they're not bringing a whole lot to the table, either. Of course, in a game as bad as this one was, I suppose you have to be pretty happy with a zero-sum effort by a player.
Christian Robinson had one tackle for a loss in the game, but he was also flagged for an offsides call and, curiously, he was on the field a good bit for Rennie Curran in the second half, including following the touchdown by Baccari Rambo when Georgia pulled to within 5.
The Dawgs have to hope Marcus Dowtin will be ready to return next week.
Final Grade: D
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Baccari Rambo took advantage of a bad pass by Crompton and returned it for a touchdown at a time when it still mattered. Kudos to Rambo.
No one else in the secondary deserves even a cursory mention for anything positive in this game.
In fact, I'm going to keep them as far away from this post as they were from most of Tennessee's receivers throughout the game.
Final Grade: F-
SPECIAL TEAMS: People will remember the special teams as one of the few silver linings in this game, and rightfully so.
Brandon Boykin is a star as a kick returner, picking up his second 100-yard return for a touchdown of the season. The kid is extremely dangerous, and if he gets any sort of blocking from his wedge, he can take it to the house. He'll be fun to watch the rest of the way, and his kick return in the second quarter was a huge momentum swing.
Of course, that was followed by another ridiculous directional kickoff that Tennessee returned 37 yards. A facemask flag on Richard Samuel accompanied the run, giving the Vols the ball at the UGA 45. Three plays later, Crompton threw his second TD pass of the game. And I added it to "The List."
Zach Renner returned to prominence, blocking yet another punt -- the third in the last year-and-a-half -- to give Georgia some late momentum in the first half. But Cox's (and the coaches') absurd clock management on the ensuing drive ensured that what could have been a big momentum swing turned into yet another missed opportunity.
Another big day for Drew Butler, too, who has been masterful this year. Blair Walsh connected on his third 50-plus-yard field goal of the season and did boot a couple nice kickoffs. But all that really just begs the bigger question of why, if he leads the SEC in touchbacks, he isn't kicking deep more often.
Add to that a fair catch called by Boykin on a kickoff at the 14 when he had at least 10 yards to run and the absurd return of a punt by Prince Miller when he fielded the kick at his own 1-yard line, and you get a day that wasn't quite as special for the special teams as it might have seemed.
Final Grade: B
COACHING: When I worked for the newspaper in Albany a few years back, I covered the local arena football team during the spring.
The head coach of the team at the time was former Georgia Tech quarterback Donnie Davis. I could tell you some stories, but my journalistic integrity won't allow me to do so. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting season.
The team -- the South Georgia Wildcats, in case you were wondering -- finished the season with a 3-13 record and Davis spent the final six weeks or so under the same kind of microscope as Willie Martinez, only scaled down to Albany, Ga. size.
There were plenty of good reasons to can Davis that season, but there was one that stood out above all the rest. It's a play that everyone who witnessed still talks about today. In fact, it's been a running joke between myself and my friends in Albany for going on five years now.
The Wildcats were down by a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game and were charging down the field, hoping for a late score. As the seconds ticked off the clock, South Georgia was taking open plays in the middle of the field rather than trying to force throws into coverage along the sideline. The quarterback eventually completed a third-down pass to around midfield with about four seconds to play. It wasn't good for a first down, but when the Wildcats got to the line of scrimmage, the QB spiked the football anyway, thus turning the ball over on downs.
It was, until Saturday, the most inexcusable clock management I've ever seen and, to be fair, it probably still is. But what Georgia did as the clock expired on the first half was nearly as absurd.
In any case, I afforded Joe Cox the same opportunity to explain the play as I afforded Davis. Here's what he had to say: "That was tough because I thought if we spiked it fast enough, we might have a chance to get the field-goal team out on the field. You're in such a rush, and you're looking to the sideline and they're telling you what to do, and they were telling us to spike the ball. I think they were thinking we were going to have a couple seconds because when Mike (Moore) caught it and got down, I thought there was like three seconds. But I don't know how we could have handled it any differently. We were just trying to get a chance to get a field goal there before the half. I don't know."
OK, a few things:
1.) Joe's right. Moore did catch the pass with three seconds left, and the clock should have stopped then. But you're on the road, and we all know how timekeepers operate on the road.
2.) Joe needs to know the game situation, at least taking a glance at the clock as he gets the team to the line of scrimmage.
3.) The coaches DEFINITELY need to know what's going on -- someone has to have seen the clock. And instead, Cox is looking to the sideline for help and he's being told the wrong thing to do.
There's just no excuse for something like this, and if you look at the rushed way the field-goal unit got onto the field for Blair Walsh's miss last week against LSU and the confusion before the half against Arkansas, you have to wonder what the heck is going on with the coaching staff. Don't they practice this stuff? Isn't there someone -- Mark Richt, for example -- who is aware of the game situation at all times. Who is making these decisions?
(SIDE NOTE: A final coda to the Wildcats story -- Each week after the game, the Wildcats held a "media luncheon" similar to what Georgia does each Tuesday. The luncheon consisted of myself, one other writer from the paper, two TV people and a few sponsors, along with Davis, some Wildcats reps and usually a plate of cold spaghetti. Following the game in question, I was eager to show up for that week's meeting because I wanted to find out what the thought process might have been on that final play -- even though it was pretty clear that it was simply an issue of no one knowing what was going on. I asked Davis, "So, Coach, when you spiked it on fourth down, what were you thinking there?" His reply, and I swear I'm not making this up, was, "Well, it was the right play at the time, and I'd do it again." Ladies and gentlemen, former Georgia Tech quarterback Donnie Davis.)
(SECOND SIDE NOTE: Davis was only the second-most-ridiculous coach I covered in Albany. Former New York Mets second-baseman Wally Backman managed the independent league baseball team there and, following numerous suspensions for his on-field histrionics, would sit in the press box and drink souvenir cups full of scotch. Those were good times.)
The rest of the coaching in this game was nearly as bad, but that one play was emblematic of a larger problem. There seems to be no cohesion among coaches, no understanding of what is best for that specific moment, how to adjust to a problem and correct it on the fly.
Richt is fond of saying how he doesn't get angry about a bad play because it can only hurt your preparation for the next play. He's right about that.
But what has all his calm, cool, collected behavior gotten? Georgia's coaches seem as unprepared for crucial situations as they would be if they'd spent the previous 10 minutes searching for correct change for a vending machine in the locker room.
Here's the thing: In the wake of what was without question one of the most embarrassing performances of the Richt era at Georgia, there are a lot of people who are calling for blood.
It's not just message-board posters and anonymous bloggers anymore. It's not even just the local columnists. Georgia is being questioned on a national basis, and that's something Richt could not have expected at this point in his career.
But I have to wonder if perhaps it's the wrong things that are earning scorn from the public. At the end of the day, there is only so much a coach can do to ensure his players perform. I look at it this way: My parents are awesome. They are two of the most wholesome, intelligent, good-hearted people you'll ever meet. They don't drink, don't smoke, and as far as I know they've never done something stupid in their lives. Heck, my mom spends 30 minutes a week chatting with the Jahovah's Witnesses because she's too nice to tell them she's not interested in their religion.
And I can assure you that growing up, my parents imparted all of those values to me and my sister. I assure you that they taught us well, reminded us often, and punished us when we messed up. And yet, we both messed up. A lot.
In truth, there's not much more my parents could have done. Lord knows, they tried it all. At the end of the day, however, we had to want to do the right thing, and I'd like to think we both eventually learned that. But we had to screw up more than a few times before we did, and when it finally happened, it had little to do with my parents. It was simply a matter of me realizing that they were right and I was wrong and I needed to change.
I know most of the fans don't see what they want from Georgia's coaches -- the anger, the fury, the frustration, the yelling and cursing and screaming. But I promise, it does happen. And I also promise, it doesn't necessarily work.
Now, if you want to argue that the offensive play calling has been bad, I'll agree with you on most accounts.
If you want to argue that the defensive scheme gets exploited by anyone with talent, I'd say the fact that Georgia has allowed 37 points or more in seven of its last 12 games would prove that correct.
If you want to tell me that the kickoff situation has gone from simply a bad idea to a reckless bit of stubbornness, well, I think my week of posting on that subject should give you a good indication of where I stand on the issue.
But like Cox at quarterback, sometimes a change won't really matter. At the end of the day, a football team is a fully functioning organism that requires every part to do its job. And right now, there are too many players not doing there jobs, and I'm not sure there's anything any coach can do about it until those players make the decision that what they've been doing simply isn't good enough.
Final Grade: F