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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's the Coaching

What's the cause of Georgia's problems this year -- the coaches or the players?

I asked Mark Richt the question yesterday, and I didn't exactly get a clear reply.

So rather than settle for a non-answer, I figured we could use some stats to come to an educated guess instead.

First, Chip Towers did some of the heavy lifting yesterday by comparing the recruiting classes from Georgia and Florida.

That's obviously not a foolproof valuation, but it gives us a basic foundation to work from. While Florida (or Alabama or LSU or Tennessee) could potentially have more talent than Georgia, that gap shouldn't be huge. And regardless, Georgia's players should be talented enough that they can improve with proper coaching.

That's assumption No. 1. Assumption No. 2 is that good coaching identifies problems and addresses them. So in theory, a good team with flaws sees improvement in those flaws as the season goes along.

So what are the most pressing problems for Georgia this season?

Here's my quick list: Too many turnovers, not enough takeaways, bad QB play, poor passing defense, problems in the running game, soft defense and too many penalties.

Perhaps that's not a complete list, but it's certainly pretty close (and there's really not a stat to illustrate the problem with using Logan Gray to return punts).

Of those issues, many were concerns before the season even began. The biggest story of the preseason was the question of who would handle tailback duties. Following last season's problems on defense, more veteran leadership was supposed to be addressing the issues. Plenty of fans wondered what to expect from Joe Cox as he stepped into the starting job. Remember how the quarterbacks (though we were told it was mostly the freshmen) kept throwing too many picks in the preseason? Or how the defense was spending tons of time working on their pass catching skills in order to create more turnovers? Or how the penalties were such a concern that Richt told his coaches they weren't to argue with practice refs when a flag was thrown and players had to do up-downs immediately after committing a penalty?

Pretty much every major problem this season was something that was, to some degree, being addressed way back in August or earlier.

So, has Georgia made progress on any of those seven major areas of concern throughout this season?

Let's take a look...

UGA Comp% Opp Comp%
Yds Allow
OSU 3 0 50 50
3.2 307 7
SC 3 1 71 59 3.7 427 13
Ark. 3 1 72 54 4.3 485 14
ASU 3 1 55 31 3.0 204 7
LSU 1 1 53 67 1.9 368 7
TEN 3 1 50 74 4.0 472 9
Vandy 1 1 52 50 4.7 296 8
Fla. 4 0 48 71 3.7 374 9

Boy, it sure doesn't look like a ton of progress has been made anywhere. In fact, it's a little eerie how similar the stats are between Week 1 and Week 8 offensively and it's almost shocking how much worse the defensive numbers look.

In six of eight games, Georgia has turned the ball over at least three times, including two of the past three.

At no point has Georgia created more than one takeaway. In fact, last year, Georgia had players in position to make a play, but they either failed to haul in the INT or had it overturned by a flag. This year, Georgia has pretty much capitalized on their opportunities -- they've just rarely been in position to make a play.

At quarterback, Joe Cox had two strong performances early in the season -- oddly, both in night games, which perhaps bodes well for the Auburn game, a 7 p.m. kickoff -- but in every other game this season, the completion percentage for Georgia's QBs have been remarkably consistent. Consistently bad, that is -- between 48 and 55 percent. In fact, Georgia has seen its team completion percentage drop in four of the past five games.

On the other side, Georgia's beleaguered secondary actually did a nice job of holding the opposing quarterback's completion percentage down early, but that has grown progressively worse of late. Three of the past four opponents have completed at least two-third of their passes.

The running game has shown a slight uptick in the past two games, but not drastically better than it was at the start of the season. And with Caleb King slated to start this week against Tennessee Tech, Georgia appears no closer to identifying its starting tailback now than it was way back on Aug. 1.

As far as that defense goes, it has faced its share of adversity. When the offense is turning the ball over three times a game, there's only so much that can be expected of the defense when it comes to keeping points off the scoreboard.

But this isn't about points, it's about yards. In fact, all those short fields the opposition has gotten courtesy of Georgia's offense should actually help to suppress total yards, even if it hurts the Bulldogs on the scoreboard.

That's not what seems to be happening though. Only twice has Georgia's defense had a better performance than it did in Week 1, and those came against easily the two worst offenses the team has played all season. Against even a marginal opponent, the defense has been almost guaranteed to allow 370-plus yards.

And finally, what about those penalties? No, the Dawgs aren't hitting double digits like they did in Weeks 2 and 3, but the numbers the past three games have been a bit worse than they had been before. Regardless, there certainly hasn't been a marked improvement. And beyond the quantity of the flags or the yards they've cost Georgia, it's the timing of those penalties. The Florida game was a perfect example, but as Georgia Sports Blog pointed out in July, this is hardly a new problem.

What's perhaps most striking about all the stats listed above is how few outliers there are. The two strong games for Cox passing the ball, the really bad running day against LSU and the strong defensive performance against Arizona State -- those are really the only numbers that diverge from the norm.

Richt and the players have lamented how inconsistent this team has been this season, but that's not true. Georgia has actually been remarkably consistent -- just consistently mediocre.

So to recap: Georgia has enough talented players that they should be able to be coached up. Georgia's coaches have clearly known about the key problems, not just for a few games, but since the preseason began. And from Week 1 to Week 8, Georgia has not seen anything close to a measurable or consistent improvement in even one of its primary areas of concern.

If it were just one or two players continuing with the same struggles, that would be one thing. But it's teamwide. If it were problems that cropped up unexpectedly, that would be one thing. But they are issues that were identified months ago. If it were a matter of rookie mistakes, that might be understandable. But many of the players responsible for these stats are the same ones coaches pointed to as the leaders in the preseason.

It's hard to see how that can add up to anything other than a significant flaw in the approach of the coaching staff. That's not necessarily saying that these are bad coaches, but it does seem to say that the steps they're taking aren't working.

Richt's answer to my original question essentially came down to looking forward rather than lamenting mistakes. Here's what he said:

"If something happens that is not good -- first of all, you know bad things are going to happen in a game. No one plays a perfect game. It never goes exactly the way you want. So if something bad happens, my personality has always been, I'm going to focus on where are we now and what do we have to do to win. I've stated that before. It's served me and Georgia and Florida State pretty well over the years."

There's nothing wrong with that policy, but if your solutions aren't making the next play better than the last, you need to look back at what you've done and figure out why that's not working. Because clearly, it hasn't been working.


jferg said...

With the money our ath dept has, we should buy top notch coaches to continue the positive trend CMR has going (since 2001). I would like new LB and DB coach it too early to make my Christmas wish list?

Agree 100 percent: its the coaching, stupid!

Robert K. Burnham said...

It is definitely the coaching , and it begins at the top. I love Coach Richt, but he should clean house (surgically - just demote Bobo to QB Coach) and hire major assistants, take the Lane Kiffin approach and have a first rate staff that can kick ass and take names. We've got the money .

Greg said...


That sounds like a season's worth of frustration/confusion with this coaching staff coming out all at once.

I thought it was odd in your blog yesterday that CMR went off on a tangent about fumbles when you asked a similar question.

These coaches are becoming professional bullet-dodgers and I stand by my opinion that it goes back to the beginning of last year. These coaches have NO IDEA how to deal with adversity or criticism.

They figured out how to build a mansion and they don't quite realize that theres a monumental task to keep the mansion up and running and that you can never let up.

Also- How could Tommy Tuberville be so sympathetic to Willie Martinez and what he is doing with this defense? Since when has being a "fundamentalist" who focuses on technique and seemingly not on results been a good thing?

Im perplexed.

Anonymous said...

I for one support CMR, and think he has done a great job. I remember the program under the last two coaches, and I think the program is in much better shape today. I think that we need to rally behind this team and coach. I am concerned that we are going to run CMR out of town. I think that all the negativity only hurts the team, and hurts us with recruits.

Anonymous said...

MR's references to his past record/successes remind of the responses we heard from General Motors & Chrysler about their past successes. Unfortunatly, their is no bail out money available for the football team.

David said...

It's college football. It is ALWAYS coaching. Richt vs. Donnan, Zook vs. Meyer, Shula vs. Saban, Hacket vs. Carroll (USC). These guys inherited the players and got way more out of the than the other coach ever did.

CWM (maybe even Richt) has lost it at UGA. The players are not buying what he is selling, and if they are it is worse than Chinese dog food. It is time to add UGA to his resume and move on.

Bill said...

*) I agree on paying up for good coaches. UT has 4 assistants making over $1MM

*) We need for FSU and Miami to become relevant again. If FLA continues to capture 19 out of the top 20 in that state, everyone else in D-1 will be playing for #2.

Anonymous said...

I understand the use of numbers to come to a conclusion that Georgia's problems are due to coaching. You are using "numbers" and results from the 8 games. Last year was the year I had all these questions that are now being asked. Here is my thouhgts about the coaches. First, I really do not think they are aggressive enough in the game and the game transitions. I think Bobo may have a clue by going to the sideline. Martinez, Gardner, Janek, and Fabris are not there and may not get there. The secondary suffers because the DC is involved too much with the D. Gardner's D line does not create another pressure (rush and closing gaps) and this is a very experienced line time wise. Gardner is an issue for me. Why has it taken Searels so long with this line. Count the starters and how much they have played verse the rest. Gardner and Searels ... recruits past two years...where are they for depth. I think the problem with game performance lies in their practice routinue. Speed, execution, and time. I do not think that is happening in practice. Also, I think we have dropped off in conditioning and strength the past two years. Why did they go to the Sunday practice and off on Monday. Is a player restored after a Saturday night game or late Sat pm + travel. Also, I think Fox is head of Richt and Perno. I have had a lot of issues with Evans...the Fox hire momentarily stopped some of that. Now how much did that wardrobe change cost us with days off and furloughs in the University system. Coaching, thinking, planning, and maturity.

Anonymous said...

i like cmr but he will never beat fl,tn,al,or tech again in his career at uga. can't teach an old dawg new tricks. we are stuck on the 1960's i backfield and the slow reaction soft defense.

Anonymous said...

Le Moyne?? Really?

Anonymous said...

Cue the music...

"It's about acountability."

If a coach or scheme is ineffective, SPEAK UP and make a change.

"It's about ownership."

If a coach's area of responsibility continues to be ineffective, BRING IN a new coach, attitude, and perspective.

"It's about improvement."

If the game changes, BRING IN new people, experts, learn, and innovate.

"It's about performance."

If a player does not perform, REPLACE HIM with one who will.

"It's about competition."

Play the player who HAS EARNED the position through his play on the field.

"It's about confidence."

Speak in absolutes. DO NOT TOLERATE excuses. Intervene where necessary.

"It's about toughness."

Teams who CONDITION AND PRACTICE more physically than the competition, PLAY more physically than the competition.

"It's about tradition."

Your predecessors demonstrated winning traits and attitudes. EMBRACE them, bring them in, wear the uniform, be a part of it.

"It's about discipline."

Focus the task at hand. There is a time for work and a time for fun. Fun is earned. ESTABLISH CONSEQUENCES for those who do not not focus appropriately.

"It's about leadership."

State the objective, principles and strategy in absolute terms. Let all team members know if they do not live by it, they will NO LONGER be a part of it. This goes all the way to the Athletic Director.

"It's Saturday."

Anonymous said...

Maybe an early call but Anon 11:02 has an insurmountable lead for "dumbest poster of the day". This in spite of intense competition these days from the negators.

JRL said...

Great coaches see potential problems before the become real problems and make adjustments.

Good coaches see the real problems and make adjustments before they destroy the team.

Average coaches see problems and make excuses.

CWM and CMB either didn't see the weak areas (sign of ineptness) or they just didn't know how to adjust their schemes to compensate. Either of which are grounds for changes.

CWM and CMB seem to be stuck with a scheme that works only when the talent level is off the charts.

Anonymous said...

Good point JRL.

What is also true is:

Great head coaches see potential problems before the become real problems and make adjustments.

Good head coaches see the real problems and make adjustments before they destroy the team.

Average head coaches see problems and make excuses.

Matt said...


I have heard of an "us versus them," mentality on the team this year where fans who criticize the team are marginalized by the players. What do you think after talking to the players?

Anonymous said...

How can anyone saw we are better off than we were . Do you all not realize that Myer, Saban and worst of all, the mad hatter has won more big games and National a shorter amount of time. Why do we accept this...we should not be waiting on a 9-10+ plus yr coach can get us there ... I am tired of waiting and it seems to me the GA faithful keeps wanting to let him figure it out...Enough is enough. If we have to start over next yr...why not with a new staff...and be ready in 20011

Anonymous said...

I keep on asking the question to everyone, "who out there is better?" haven't heard one good answer yet!! i sorda like a coach who isn't going to go public with calling players and asst coaches out, and one who keeps his calm during the storm.. the one storm we've had in a while. we'll be fine. finish 9-4, all the while having a terrible year. and play for the SEC championship the next 3 years.. GO DAWGS.. DON'T LISTEN TO ALL OF THE NEGATIVITY!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Advice to Anonymous 6:41--if you are satisfied with 2 SEC titles, and 4 Eastern titles in 8 years, you had better go to the Big 10 or PAC10 and find a new team. It doesn't get any better than that in the SEC on a regular basis.

And since you probably already know about Santa and the Easter Bunny, guess it is OK to tell you this: there ain't know National Championship, and never has been. Hope to see one in my life time, but for right now there is just this BCS title thing and that is pretty much politics and luck. See UGA 2002 and 2007, plus Auburn 2004 to see how it doesn't depend on your accomplishments.

You will be much much happier with weaker conferences, D1A football where the same teams can win all the time. Ohio State could use a man of your character as a fan.

Anonymous said...

When at FSU, Richt was the beneficiary of a team which often had scores of athletes who were far superior to their competition. Conventional good-but-not-great coaching, with far superior athletes, often was enough for FSU to roll over opponents, and to defeat UF and Miami often enough to remain a Top 5 program. Few programs now, and certainly not Georgia, enjoy such a superior-athlete advantage as did FSU throughout the 1990s.

That said, I believe Richt improved in his early years in Athens. He inherited and learned to use tight ends as he never did at FSU. Richt learned the value of a good fullback in Athens, something he seldom did at FSU. But Richt now appears hopelessly set in his ways insofar as offensive philosophy is concerned.

Other than Shockley, Richt hasn't shown any interest in having a QB who's a real threat to run. Richt has shown no interest in incorporating any option features in his offense, whether at FSU or at Georgia. Other than the occasional reverse, or (yawn) play-action, Richt hsa shown little interest in using much mis-direction in his offense -- again, whether at FSU or at Georgia. I would be very interested in learning if Richt spends much off-season time seriously studying other offensive systems and styles, be they current "cutting edge" or long-forgotten approaches confined to decades-old black-and-white film or to books which were published before 1970. (Don't laugh -- the "wildcat," for example, is little more than a variation of the ancient "single wing.")

For Georgia to hang with and occasionally beat and be among the best, (1) Richt must hire an innovative, bold offensive coordinator and grant him ample leeway, or (2) Richt must be replaced with such a coach. Like it or not, Tech did it with Paul Johnson. So did Florida a few years ago by hiring "the guy from Utah with the gimmicky offense that won't stand up to SEC speed," but would manage to snag a couple of national titles.

And of course, a change in defensive coordinator is overdue. Five years of declining results don't lie.