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Monday, November 9, 2009

Grading the Game: Tennessee Tech

Did we learn much this week? No. But we don't have much to complain about either, and that's at least a worthwhile addition to the season at this point. Look how many teams across the country were caught in trap games or played down to their competition last week. Georgia wasn't one of them. The Dawgs were dominant, which is as much as they could accomplish on a day like that.

Let's get to the grades...

QUARTERBACKS: Georgia didn't have to throw much. The passing game was responsible for just 31 percent of the offensive plays for Georgia on Saturday, and when the Dawgs did go to the air, it was generally successful.

Joe Cox played his first interception-free game of the season and completed his first 10 passes -- not missing on one until nearly 10 minutes into the third quarter.

But hey, who was there to see Joe Cox? He may have been the starter, but he was clearly second banana in terms of public interest. The headliner was Logan Gray.

Gray was promised at least one series in the first half and as it turned out, it came on the sixth series for the Dawgs, with Georgia leading 31-0. So the pressure wasn't exactly ratcheted up too high. Oh, and he came in after a 27-yard punt gave Georgia the ball at the Tech 45.

But Mike Bobo did put the drive in Gray's hands. He ran once on the drive -- on second down -- picking up 1 yard (or the Logan Gray Special as it's come to be known). On third down, he hit Orson Charles for a 4-yard pickup -- a yard shy of a first. It was a decent enough throw, but against Tennessee Tech, it's not particularly impressive to see a QB fail to throw the ball past the first-down line in a spot like that. But Bobo still wanted to see more, so Washaun Ealey came in to pick up the first down with a run on fourth, and Gray went back to work once again.

What followed was one of the ugliest passes of the season. Gray threw for Israel Troupe in the end zone. Troupe has double covered. The ball hung and was thrown short. The interception was a piece of cake.

In the end, it was meaningless to the final score, but it wasn't exactly an encouraging moment for a quarterback hoping to build some confidence.

Gray did get back into the game in the fourth quarter, however, and he looked better, if not great. He completed his final three passes and finally managed to accomplish something in the running game, picking up 31 yards total including a 20-yard run. And that's the thing with the Wildcat. You can roll the dice once and maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. But if you keep at it and run it when it has its best chance to succeed, it's a matter of time before you break a big one. But until that fourth-quarter work, Gray's runs had essentially been telegraphed to the defense and stood virtually no chance. He's fast by quarterback standards, but not by linebacker standards.

Anyway, the bad news is that Gray didn't lead Georgia to points and he threw the game's only interception. But the good news is that he did get some work, and maybe that's enough of a foundation to build from.

“It feels really good because being in a game situation is a lot different than practice," Gray said. "You’ve got to adjust and make plays, and it was nice to get used to that rhythm and the style and speed of how things happen out there.”

True. That's probably a lesson Joe Cox learned the hard way this season, too.

Final Grade: B

RUNNING BACKS: Yes, it was just Tennessee Tech, but even Richt admitted he wasn't expecting to dominate in the running game as much as they did. The 304 yards on the ground was the most by the Dawgs since thumping Ole Miss in 2007. And that team had a guy by the name of Knowshon Moreno carrying the rock along with a couple of accomplished seniors. This year's unit showed no signs of a game this good.

But again, it was just Tennessee Tech. So it's not reason to celebrate just yet. But after an unbalanced effort with signs of life against Vandy, a consistent and improved effort against Florida and a dominant performance Saturday, it's fair to say that the running game is at least trending upward.

Richard Samuel is making a habit out of finishing the fourth quarter strong the past few weeks, but it's clear he has fallen toward the bottom of the depth chart. At this point, I'll be surprised if he stays at tailback next year.

The top two runners are clearly Caleb King and Washaun Ealey. Richt again praised King's performance -- 12 carries for 71 yards, 2 catches for 10 yards -- and said he assumed King would remain the starter. The third-year sophomore is definitely the Bulldogs' most well-rounded runner, and he continues to play well in pass protection. It is also worth noting that, despite the fact that he's been on a liquid diet for the past month, King didn't have a single run go for negative yards.

Ealey had his finest game of the season, too. He picked up 89 yards on just seven carries and scored twice. It was a breakthrough performance, but it was hardly a surprise. The kid has all the natural instincts that Samuel has lacked, and he hits the hole hard. He needs to continue working on the subtleties of his craft, but credit the coaches who are continuing to allow him to do that on the field while not asking him to carry the weight of the offense at the same time. I do wonder, however, why Richt and company wouldn't give him at least one or two more touches to see if he could get to 100 yards. I know it's just a number, but in a game like that, what's wrong with giving nice statistical bonus to a kid who has worked incredibly hard to get on the field?

More than anything, however, I like how the tailbacks were used Saturday. It wasn't just a theory of: Caleb gets this series, Washaun gets the next one, Carlton Thomas comes in for a gadget play, etc., etc. Mike Bobo swapped in personnel based on the situation, not a pre-ordained script, and it paid off with a big day. The addition of Branden Smith in the wildcat was a nice touch, too, and I think it benefits Georgia to continue to give the speedy two-way player some looks -- and more importantly, some different looks than what the opposition has already seen on film.

Also of note: Richt called this the best game of Fred Munzenmaier's career. The junior isn't close to overtaking Shaun Chapas on the depth chart, but he has clearly taken a step forward this season and has the complete confidence of the coaching staff.

Final Grade: A

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Against Auburn in 2005, Leonard Pope hauled in seven catches and Martrez Milner chipped in with one more. Both players went on to the NFL, and both had impressive careers at Georgia, so an eight-catch day might not have been particularly memorable, particularly given that Georgia lost that day.

But while the performance didn't stick in anyone's mind afterward, nearly four years would go by before Georgia's tight ends combined for that many receptions in the same game again. The streak came to an end Saturday as Orson Charles (3 catches), Aron White (2) and Arthur Lynch (2) tallied seven catches in Georgia's win, including a touchdown grab by Charles.

Charles and White both talked extensively this preseason about restoring the tradition of Tight End U at Georgia, and the goal has met with mixed results so far. Both players have had their highlights, but consistency has been an issue. But with A.J. Green missing the game while healing from a bruised lung, it was clear that Georgia's next best options in the passing game were the tight ends.

In fact, for the season, the tight ends have 26 receptions. The non-A.J. wide receivers have accounted for just 44.

That probably says as much about the receivers as anything. Michael Moore caught his fourth touchdown of the season, but without Green on the field, none of the receivers made much of an impact. Rantavious Wooten got his first start and led the way with two receptions. He also fumbled the football out of bounds after his first grab.

Tavarres King, walk-on Vernon Spellman and Moore each had one grab apiece.

The names noticeably absent from that are Marlon Brown and Israel Troupe.

Troupe was targeted in the end zone on the throw by Gray that was intercepted by Tennessee Tech. Brown didn't even see action until late in the second half.

There weren't a lot of throws made in this game, but you have to think it would have benefited Georgia to at least get a handful in Brown's direction, if nothing else than to help boost some confidence. Instead, nada. I'm not saying Brown should be on the field routinely if he's not ready, but if he can't get targets (or, really, playing time) against Tennessee Tech, who will he play against?

And that leads me to ask a question that I don't really know the answer to: Does Richt need to have a talk with Tony Ball about how he handles his young players?

The general consensus this season has been that A.) Ball was a big improvement over John Eason, whose approach to coaching was more big-picture and less technical, and B.) Ball has been missed among the tailbacks as young Bryan McClendon has struggled to get his unit going.

But let's rethink this:

-- Outside of Green, Georgia's receivers have done little this season.

-- Marlon Brown can't get on the field, and while he hasn't admitted any anger about it, he has routinely stated that he feels he's ready, he's been healthy and he's been surprised that he hasn't gotten more time.

-- Troupe and Brown haven't seen action despite there being just four other scholarship receivers on the roster.

-- The top two players being counted on in the backfield for Georgia this year were Richard Samuel and Caleb King, both of whom have spent their entire careers working under Ball. King was quite clearly set back mentally by how he was handled last season, which was widely pinned on him for not being tough enough, but perceptions don't always mirror reality. Both King and Samuel were benched for long periods of time last season (i.e. multiple games) after singular bad plays (Samuel missing a hole near the goal line vs. South Carolina, King missing a block that went for a sack against Florida).

-- Georgia's best tailback, Washaun Ealey, is the one who hasn't spent a single practice working under Ball.

-- Ball was the tailbacks coach who decided Knowshon Moreno needed to be redshirted in 2006 because his pass blocking wasn't good enough. Yes, the ultimate decision was Richt's, but as Richt has repeatedly said, he counts on his position coaches for the majority of the input on personnel issues. (Remember him saying he had to check with Stacy Searels about the O line personnel after the Florida game?)

I'm not trying to offer a definitive indictment of Ball's coaching ability, but he's been the point man on one of the worst personnel decisions of the Richt administration and has overseen the significantly problematic development of three very highly recruited players in King, Samuel and Brown.

From a technical standpoint, I'm certain Ball is an exceptional coach. But perhaps he's a bit too worried about those technicalities and not worried enough about building some confidence in his youngsters along the way. I'll add this comment from Mike Bobo about the running game as context, too:

"We’re getting more confidence up front, and we’re on a roll now. Confidence has a lot to do with what you’re doing as a football team, and those guys got a little confidence and that’s good.”

Final Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: If any stat deserves the "it was only Tennessee Tech" preface, it's probably the ones that came from the work at the line of scrimmage, where Georgia was dominant. But the fact remains: In the first seven games of the season, Georgia averaged 3.95 yards per carry, if you factor out the yardage from sacks. In the past two games since reshuffling the offensive line and moving Clint Boling to left tackle and Cordy Glenn back to guard, that number is up to 6.52 yards per carry.

The idea was simple enough: Mark Richt figures he can cover for some problems at the tackle position in pass protection, but it's tough to help out the guards up the middle to open holes between the tackles. Cordy Glenn is big and he's good, so moving him inside has helped open things up. Makes sense.

Now, the real questions are these: What has happened to Vince Vance and Justin Anderson? Both saw plenty of playing time against Tennessee Tech, but the obvious implication is that it has been Josh Davis' return that has allowed Boling to move back to left tackle because neither Vance nor Anderson could handle right tackle duties. And both players have lost their starting jobs since Davis got healthy.

Considering both were being counted upon to provide experienced, quality play, they have to rank pretty highly on the "most disappointing" list.

Speaking of disappointments, how about six false starts against an FCS opponent? So let me get this straight: Tennessee Tech was mimicking Joe Cox's cadence, forcing Georgia's linemen to jump. And they did this six times. And it kept working. And Cox didn't change his cadence or the linemen didn't say, "Hey, these guys aren't very good, why are we working so hard to get this quick start?"

Richt thinks his new penalty policy of yanking a player from the rest of the series after a flag caused the line to be tense. I think the line might be at a serious deficiency when it comes to the mental battle against even less talented opponents.

The bottom line: Georgia can make any excuses it wants, but it's hard to take them seriously when you have six false starts against a team as clearly overmatched at the line of scrimmage as Tennessee Tech was.

Final Grade: B (They did have 300-plus yards rushing, after all)

DEFENSIVE LINE: Fifteen tackles for a loss. Six sacks. Negative 13 yards rushing.

The opposition might not have been great, but Georgia's defensive line sure was.

And that was without Justin Houston, who missed the game with an injury.

While the receivers failed to distinguish themselves without Green, Georgia's reserve defensive ends burst onto the scene while Houston relaxed on the sideline. Freshman Montez Robinson earned SEC lineman of the week honors after a five-tackle, two-sack performance that may have been much bigger than the impact it had on the field. Robinson was getting awfully homesick, Richt said, but the big game can do a lot of changing a weary freshman's perspective.

Cornelius Washington had a strong start to this season, but his performance had fallen off over the past few weeks. He returned to form with five tackles and one for a loss Saturday. Between Washington, Robinson, Houston and Demarcus Dobbs, who also had a sack, Georgia's big weakness entering the season on D could actually be a huge strength next year.

One other player worth discussing is Geno Atkins. He lost his official title of starter after Week 3, and at least statistically, the numbers made it seem like a wise decision to give more time to Kade Weston. But for the past three games, Atkins has been a beast. In Weeks 1 through 6, Atkins had nine tackles, 15 QB hurries and 2.5 tackles for a loss. In the past three, he has 14 tackles, five for a loss, six QB hurries, one forced fumble and one sack. Maybe those NFL scouts won't be so disappointed after all.

Final Grade: A

LINEBACKERS: Richt has said he's not turning to the future until the season is over, but that hasn't been the case at linebacker. Marcus Dowtin, Christian Robinson and Mike Gilliard racked up 15 tackles in the game. The rest of the linebackers combined for eight.

Dowtin, a sophomore, has been fantastic all season. Robinson, a redshirt freshman, has taken a huge leap forward the past four games. Because of a broken arm last season, his time in the weight room was limited, so he still needs to tack on some pounds, but there's no doubt his future looks bright. Gilliard has had his share of mistakes, but he's improving. Add to that sophomore Nick Williams who made his second straight start at Sam linebacker, and you see a position with a lot of young talent.

Of course, the flip side of that is the absence of the veterans. Darryl Gamble and Darius Dewberry didn't have a tackle in the game, and, even Rennie Curran saw limited action against Tennessee Tech, so really there's probably not much to grade here. But it is nice to see some of the younger kids getting their time in and doing the most with it.

Final Grade: A

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The lesson from Willie Martinez for two straight years now is that Georgia hasn't gotten turnovers because they haven't gotten pressure. Well, Georgia had 15 tackles for a loss and six sacks Saturday and once again had zero turnovers.

This week, perhaps there's another excuse. After all, Tennessee Tech didn't throw the ball often. Despite the big defect, the Golden Eagles threw just 16 passes in the game, and by my count, only about six were farther than 10 yards. Baccari Rambo had the best play on any of them but failed to come up with the pick, yet Tech completed just one pass of more than 12 yards. So overall, a decent enough effort.

But let's get back to the lack of takeaways. Let's see the leaders in takeaways from the past two seasons combined:

Iowa leads the nation with 58 takeaways since the start of 2008.

Florida, not surprisingly, is tops in the SEC with 52 takeaways.

(Oddly, Vandy is second with 46 takeaways.)

With it's 22 takeaways, Georgia ranks an impressive 118th out of 119 teams nationally. Only Fresno State (21) is worse. The Dawgs have 13 fewer takeaways than the next worst SEC team (Arkansas, with 35) since the start of last season.

There are two causes that Georgia's coaches have identified.

The first is the pressure, or lack thereof. The thought process is, if you get to the QB more, you force him to throw before he's ready, and he responds with the occasional bad throw that goes for a pick.

As it turns out, yes, Georgia was 10th in the SEC in sacks last year and 10th in TFLs, and not surprisingly finished 10th in takeaways.

But Florida finished third in sacks and 11th in TFLs last season, but still led in takeaways by a wide margin.

And this year, Georgia ranks fourth in sacks in the conference and fourth in TFLs, but is dead last (with fewer than half as many as the next worst team) in takeaways.

Moreover, the pressure numbers were worse last year, but Georgia had more shots at INTs -- the corners just didn't come down with them. The pressure numbers have gone up this year, but the opportunities for interceptions have gone down.

The second explanation is that the ball simply hasn't bounced Georgia's way. The ball is oblong, so fumbles tend to have a life of their own. That, of course, ignores having players in position to recover a fumble, gang tackling, etc., but hey, for the basis of argument, let's just pretend it's all luck.

So, has the ball not bounced Georgia's way?

This year, opponents have coughed up the ball 11 times and Georgia has recovered just one. So, yeah, that seems like bad luck.

But how long does bad luck last? Because last year, opponents coughed up 16 fumbles and Georgia recovered just five of them (31 percent).

On the other hand, Georgia has fumbled 17 times this year and 19 last, and they failed to recover the football 17 times (47 percent).

So has the ball really just bounced the other way routinely for the past two seasons? Or might that whole bit about being in position and making plays actually have a little bit of a role in all of this?

Final Grade: B

SPECIAL TEAMS: Let's play good news, bad news here...

Good news: Blair Walsh connected on yet another field goal and is 13-of-14 this season. He's good.

Bad news: Brandon Boykin is closing in on the school record for return yards in a season, but didn't get a shot to do anything Saturday.

Good news: Boykin didn't get his shot because Tennessee Tech kicked off just once. That's the downside to a shutout.

Bad news: Logan Gray played so much at QB that he couldn't return punts, too. And once again, it was obvious that he was missed. First, Prince Miller fields a short-hop grounder and got smacked immediately on one punt then backtracked from the 10 to field and return another punt at the 5 as his momentum was taking him toward the end zone. Seriously, how is Gray the only person smart enough to know that if you're standing at the 10 and it goes over your head, you let it go?

Good news: Miller did have one nice return, going 62 yards for a touchdown.

Bad news: That one was called back for a hold on Sanders Commings.

Good news: Tennessee Tech's punter had a six-yard punt in the second quarter. Now that's comedy.

Final Grade: B

COACHING: We've covered a bit of this already, but a few more notes…

-- Credit to Mike Bobo for really mixing things up. He hasn't been great this year, but at least he has continued to show he's willing to do what it takes to get better. He's a work in progress as much as the rest of the offense is, but I've been impressed by the steps he's taken in the face of adversity this year. I think continuing to invest in his future is a smart move by the Bulldogs.

-- Jon Fabris has had his issues in coaching the special teams, but he's done a pretty good job with the defensive ends. Demarcus Dobbs continues to show improvement, Justin Houston is a burgeoning star, and the young guys are coming along. It's easy now to forget how little he had to work with back in August, but this unit has actually turned out to be decent despite the numerous problems along the way. It's not perfect, but the DEs have come a long, long way.

-- I liked Richt's idea about punishing the penalties. But it didn't work. Eleven flags against this type of competition is just unacceptable. I would like to see Richt keep with his hard-line tactics though because it sends a message that he's not just throwing (stuff) against the wall to see what sticks. It sends a message that the penalties are serious and they're going to remain a focus. Richt wants the play on the field to be consistent, and the best way to make that happen is for the coaching staff to be consistent, too.

-- Credit the coaches for mixing in the younger players and giving the vast majority of them a chance to be successful. Except for Marlon Brown, that is.

Final Grade: B+


Anonymous said...

Well-written, David.

You did your homework.


Anonymous said...


Our current OL combination + Ealey and King;


The rushing defense of Auburn (ranked 93), Kentucky (ranked 102) and Georgia Tech (ranked 49);

Have we found our late-season Verron Haynes?

Anonymous said...

If Logan can't get it done against TTU can anyone still believe Cox should be benched? I'm not saying Cox is great, but clearly light years ahead of Logan. Makes me wonder if the reason we haven't seen more of him is because the coaches know Murray is the likely starter next year. I'm sure I'm reading too much into it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the answer is to leave the SEC and join the ohio Valley Conference. Then our coaches would look really good.

Anonymous said...

Funny how Caleb King is "on a liquid diet" but I see him pounding back Chili dogs and the like at Snelling (dining hall) every time he is there. Hmmmm.

David Hale said...

He was moved away from a strict liquid diet last week. When did you see him?

Anonymous said...

Better yet, why not ask an appropriate question of why is the former WR coaching RBs and the former RB coaching WRs???

JRL said...

Luck - When preparation meets opportunity - nothing more nothing less.

Anonymous said...

Believe that's a quote from Darrell K. Royal there, JRL.

JRL said...

You are correct. I have heard it said many times and never knew the source - thanks

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

Anonymous said...

Oh, he's been eating solid foot at the dining halls since the week after his injury. Sorry for not replying sooner, forgot to check and see if you said anything.