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Monday, September 8, 2008

Grading the Game: UGA vs. Central Michigan

Another week and another big win for Georgia. Much like Week 1's victory over Georgia Southern though, there are some causes for concern that the 56-17 score didn't exactly illustrate. Here's my breakdown on how each unit fared:

PASSING GAME: The numbers for Matthew Stafford won't blow anyone away. Stafford completed 18-of-28 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns, impressive but not earth-shattering. What really stood out was how in command of the game Stafford was.

On nearly 90 percent of the plays, Stafford said he checked at the line of scrimmage, and the results were impressive. Central Michigan's defense never seemed to have an answer for Georgia, which converted nine-of-12 third downs and scored touchdowns on eight of its 13 drives. For the second straight game, the Bulldogs topped 500 yards of offense, and a lot of that had to do with Stafford's impressive decision making.

"I checked out some last year, but these last two games, I've been really checking a lot, which has been good," Stafford said. "Trying to get us in the right play at the right time."

The wide receivers looked impressive again, too. The group looks far deeper than anyone could have expected at this point. Seven different receivers caught passes against Central Michigan, including Tavarres King and Israel Troupe, who both made the first receptions of their careers.

Mo Massaquoi showed why he's the No. 1 target for Stafford, catching five balls for 79 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown. Stafford actually just missed hitting Massaquoi in stride on another reception that could have easily gone for six.

"They've got a bunch of confidence from working hard in practice, and it's paying off on game day," Stafford said. "A bunch of guys are in there making plays and that's a testament to those guys working hard and gaining the coaches' trust to put them in the game."

Tight end Tripp Chandler and last week's star WR Kris Durham were virtually non-existent in the offense against Central Michigan, but that seemed far more of a symptom of Stafford's decision to spread the ball around than any shortcomings in their games.

Overall Grade: A

RUNNING GAME: Who's this Knowshon character the Bulldogs have? I hadn't heard much about him on "SportsCenter" or anything, but it looks like he might be pretty good. (Is the sarcasm coming through?)

Moreno is just amazing. There's really not much more to say. The third-year sophomore added three more touchdowns to his season total. Knowshon now has six scores on 26 carries. I'm no mathematician, but I believe that means that he finds the end zone almost once every four times he's handed the football.

Knowshon showed he could pound the rock -- scoring on a 1-yarder -- and break the long one, adding a 52-yarder TD, too. Of course, what we'll all remember was "the hurdle," which highlighted a 29-yard run in the third quarter.

"Knowshon does his thing day after day, even in practice," left guard Vince Vance said. "He's something special. He surprises everybody every day, jumping over somebody, whatever."

Behind Moreno, both Caleb King and Richard Samuel scored their first career touchdowns -- both on 1-yard runs. Samuel, in particular, had some hard runs in which he drove defenders forward. King doesn't seem shy about contact, but he's definitely shown a propensity for making some nifty moves in traffic. Moreno is clearly the guy, but there's really no relief for defenses even when Knowshon leaves the field. The running backs combined for 240 yards in the game.

Fullback Shaun Chapas caught two passes out of the backfield in his second game as replacement for injured Brannan Southerland, and he nearly found the end zone on one. That sort of multi-dimensional athleticism is what made Southerland such an important part of the offense, so it's good to see Chapas developing.

One place where it was noticeable that Southerland wasn't on the field, however, was on the goal line. Georgia had the ball inside the 5 in goal-to-go situations three times and stuggled to put the ball in the end zone on each -- though it did find paydirt eventually each time. That's where Southerland was a go-to guy in the past, and something the Dawgs will need to focus on down the road.

Overall grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE: Vance said he wasn't sure how well the line played, but 56 points led him to believe they did all right.

Clint Boling returned to action against CMU after a one-week suspension and looked good, and Cordy Glenn had another good game. There were a handful of plays in which there appeared to be some confusion among the linemen, but the Chippewas failed to record a sack and the running game for Georgia had plenty of holes to run through.

Georgia had 11 penalties a week ago against Georgia Southern, most of which came from the O-line, and the numbers didn't improve drastically against Central Michigan. Again, this is a bigger sign of the line still gelling than any major flaw.

"First game, there was some mistakes we made, penalties," Moreno said of the line. "There were some mistakes this week, but they're working hard throughout the week and getting better."

Stafford was forced to make a few plays with his feet, and there were two fumbled snaps (one recovered, one lost), so there is still work to be done. But given how little time this group has had to gel, the line is probably ahead of where anyone could expect at this point.

"To this point," Richt said, "they've provided a lot of space for our runners, given our quarterbacks a lot of time to throw the ball, so you'd have to say they've done a nice job to this point."

Overall grade: B+

DEFENSIVE LINE: There was little doubt Georgia was going to miss Jeff Owens, the D-line's senior leader. But the line really did not play particularly well, and the ends were more responsible for the problems than Owens' vacated tackle spot.

"Any time you lose Jeffrey you lose a very good football player," Richt said. "Jeff's an outstanding pass rusher and a great run stopper. They didn't really try to run the ball that much, and thankfully we did have enough depth to keep rotating people, but you miss not only Jeff's play, but his energy and leadership."

Georgia managed just one sack in the game, and CMU QB Dan LeFevour managed to get quite a few throws off without a lot of pressure. LeFevour completed 23-of-43 passes for 250 yards, including a few long passes in which receivers got free after LeFevour was able to sit in the pocket.

"We need more pressure from the edge," Richt said. "We were disappointed in the pass rush from the outside. We had a couple times where we had good pressure up the gut and we lost contain. If you don't get the guy, make him step up in the pocket and make him run into some of the big men up front who are doing well. It was a disappointing day for that."

The line did a strong job of stopping the run -- though the score dictated CMU to attack through the air. The Chippewas mustered just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground -- a particularly strong number for the defense given LeFevour's propensity to run the ball.

Bonus points also go to Demarcus Dobbs for his 78-yard TD. The play was actually created by a Prince Miller tip, but Dobbs did a great job of putting himself in position to make the play and managed to look nimble enough on the return to find the end zone.

"Demarcus, that was awesome," Stafford said. "He's an unbelievable athlete. He's seriously one of the most athletic guys on our team for his size, and he showed it. It was awesome to see how many guys we had trying to hustle down field to throw a block, too."

Overall grade: C+

LINEBACKERS: Against CMU's spread, Georgia played most of the game in a nickel package, keeping the Sam linebacker off the field, but the other linebackers played a heck of a football game.

The kudos have to start with Rennie Curran, who led the team with 11 tackles -- eight solo -- and recorded the Bulldogs' only sack. He had two tackles for a loss in the game and was a monster throughout. Curran lives in the shadow of All-SEC middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but he has really emerged as an impressive playmaker.

Another encouraging sign for the linebackers was how well the backups played. Even without injured Charles White, the linebacking corps is looking pretty deep. Akeem Dent finished third on the team in tackles, while Marcus Dowtin and Darryl Gamble also looked sharp.

Overall grade: A

SECONDARY: It's hard to lay all of the blame for CMU's passing success on Georgia's DBs, as the pressure never came from the line and LeFevour was able to extend plays, putting the secondary in a bad situation. Still, several of the DBs were beat badly on a number of occasions in the third quarter as Central Michigan drove into Georgia territory on five straight drives.

"There was some times I was disappointed they were able to make some of the vertical throws they did," Richt said. "We didn't do a great job in our cover-two a couple times. I don't think we rerouted the receiver, jamming just a little bit better on the line of scrimmage. And i think a couple of times our safeties didn't get off the hash as good as they should."

LeFevour is a good quarterback, so getting beat on a few plays isn't the worst thing in the world, but here's a concern: So far the Bulldogs have played two clearly overmatched opponents, one without a true starting QB. Both of those opponents were clearly out of their element in front of the energetic Sanford Stadium crowd. Both games were lopsided, forcing those opponents to throw the ball in a desperate attempt to play catch up. And yet, with all that favoring Georgia's secondary, the DBs have yet to record a single interception.

The lack of turnovers hasn't been a problem against Georgia Southern and Central Michigan, but against more stout opponents, eventually the defense is going to have to make a play or two because the offense can't be counted on for 50 every week.

Overall Grade: C+

Not the best day for Georgia's special teams. Asher Allen and Ramarcus Brown did look good on return duties, though Central Michigan did not kick deep regularly.

Georgia's kicking game, on the other hand, struggled. The Chippewas routinely started with strong field position, while kicker Blair Walsh was unable to get the ball deep enough to force touchbacks. Central Michigan began just two drives inside their own 20, while starting eight beyond the 30. Both Central Michigan TD drives began at their own 40, including one in which Walsh booted the kickoff out of bounds.

"He's not been real consistent with his kickoff yet, and hopefully he will," Richt said.

Richt said he would consider making a switch on kickoffs to give walk-on Jamey Lindley a shot at the job.

"We may go to him, I don't know," Richt said. "I think they're both capable, but right now, we're not consistent. ... A lot of it is just the hang time and giving guys the ability to get under the thing. We've just got to get better at that."

Walsh was perfect again on PATs, but pushed his lone field goal wide right. That's not a major criticism, however, as the kick was from 56 yards out, and it did have plenty of distance. Hard to figure how the kid's leg can look so good on field goal tries but so bad on kickoffs.

Overall Grade: C-

COACHING: Great game plan on both sides of the ball from Georgia's coaches. The defense handled a high-flying spread attack well, even if they didn't always execute to perfection. Central Michigan didn't seem to play the game they wanted to play, and that's a credit to how prepared the Bulldogs were for the Chippewas' attack.

The offensive game plan was superb. This may sound silly, but Stafford said the Dawgs realized they scored TOO easily against Georgia Southern, putting too much pressure on their defense to spend more time on the field. So the game plan coming out the shoot was clearly designed to eat clock and keep CMU's offense on the sideline. Georgia began with drives of 11, 8 and 7 plays and dominated the first-half time of possession.

"We knew their offense is high powered and can really move the ball up and down the field," Stafford said. "Last week, it was the same kind of offense, and we scored on some two- and three-play drives, really putting our defense in a bad way, having to run a bunch of plays out there. So we wanted to really control the ball and work on the running game, and we did that."

Of course, the Chippewas quickly played catch up, and had it not been for Dobbs' big interception return, the game could well have been 21-21 early in the third quarter. So coming out of halftime, Stafford and company decided it was time to take the training wheels off and open things up. The result: Two two-play drives that resulted in TDs.

"I think we came out in the second half on a mission as an offense to really put some drives together and make some plays," Stafford said.

Of course, the Dawgs wanted to show they weren't just a big-play offense, the Dawgs finished off the quarter (and began the fourth) with a back-breaking 99-yard, 11-play drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. The play calling was just terrific throughout. The final numbers for Georgia's offense: 35 running plays, 34 passing plays.

"We were balanced, and that's what we wanted to be today," Stafford said after the game. "We wanted to run the football, and we did a good job."

Overall grade: A

So, what did you think? Am I way off on any of these? Where do you see the most room for improvement? Were you happy with the results? Anything unexpected?


Brandon said...

Someone may correct me, but isn't the problem on kickoffs the hangtime? For a touchback, he has to kick it 75-80 yards consistently. For most kickers to kick that far, it would be more of a line drive kick, so if you miss and kick it short, there will be a good return. For a field goal, hangtime doesn't matter, just get it high enough so it isn't blocked.

I think that's why the coaches prefer to shoot for a 60-65 yard kickoff with lots of hangtime. Obviously, we haven't been consistent either way.

Anonymous said...

Couple things:

1. Donovan Baldwin is a DB, not a linebacker.

2. I think a lot of the success of CMU passing game can be attributed to the poor pass rush rather than poor secondary play. Occasionally we were out of position, but our D line needs to give our db's some help.

David Hale said...

Of course... my bad on Baldwin. Agree completely on the pass rush, but I think there were some concerns in the secondary, too. I think there's time for both units to improve, but Arizona State is the type of team that could take advantage if both units struggle in the desert.

Anonymous said...

Good job