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Monday, September 15, 2008

Grading the Game: UGA vs. South Carolina

I'm sure I'm a little late jumping on the bandwagon to offer my critiques of Saturday's games, but despite what it says on my resume, I'm late for a lot of things.

PASSING GAME: A.J. Green looked great in his return to his home state. The rest of the passing attack? Um, not so much. Matthew Stafford avoided the big mistake, but he threw for just 146 yards and has now played nearly three full games against South Carolina without a touchdown pass. He easily could have thrown a killer interception, too, but the play was called back after a South Carolina penalty. Stafford missed open receivers a few times (including a wide open Mo Massaquoi that would have easily gone for a long TD in the third quarter), then over and under-threw targets on a few other occasions.

Of course, the blame for the offense's struggles can hardly be placed completely on Stafford's shoulders. His receivers didn't do much to help. There were five drops in the game, some of which proved critical. Tight end Tripp Chandler let two third-down passes slip through his fingers -- both of which would have gone for first downs to extend drives. Kris Durham, usually exceptionally sure-handed, failed to come up with a catch in the end zone for what would have been Georgia's first toughdown.

"We've got a long way to go," center Chris Davis said. "There were several times we could've put the game away early, and we kind of fluttered out and didn't get the first downs, and I'm kind of pissed about that."

Missed opportunities, however, are probably better than no opportunities, and Georgia's offense did show it could hold its own against an incredibly skilled South Carolina defense. Stafford and company were able to move the ball, they just weren't able to finish the job. Consider it a lesson learned, Massaquoi said.

"It opens your eyes," Massaquoi said. "We're playing SEC ball now. Everybody plays hard, everybody plays fast. We know that. You're going to have mistakes in every game. The thing is, what kind of improvement can you make from one week to the next week, and we're just going to try to make a big jump before next week."


Georgia racked up half what it was averaging on the ground in its first two games, but that doesn't mean the running game wasn't impressive. Knowshon Moreno didn't post any Heisman-worthy stats, but he may have played his best game of the season. Moreno fought for tough yards, broke a couple of semi-long runs, opened up some big-plays (including a long run by Stafford) and had a number of impressive blocks. We spent last week talking about Moreno's highlight-reel runs, but this week was all about the little things. Virtually every one of Knowshon's 79 yards was created on his own. He was forced to go out wide on the majority of his runs, as the line simply didn't open up holes up the middle. On his TD run in the third quarter (the only time Georgia found the end zone in the game), I'm still not sure how he managed to keep his knees off the ground. To use the old cliche, Knowshon simply wanted it more than everyone else. Stafford looked good on two runs, but was stopped quickly when he went to the well one too many times. Caleb King and Richard Samuel failed to impress, particularly on a short pass to Samuel in which he missed a shot at the end zone.


Welcome to SEC play, gentlemen. First, the bad news. The line really didn't protect well (four sacks allowed) or open many running lanes (Georgia averaged 3 yards per rush). There were too many penalties once again. Stafford was under fire much of the contest. All in all, it was a performance even Mark Richt categorized as bad.

"The offensive line struggled, especially if you compare it to the first two games," Richt said. "I don't think anybody was shocked by that. I don't think anybody was surprised. The level of competition was different, and it wasn't going to be the same amount of success up front. We didn't block as well in the running game as a unit. We've got a ways to go."

But this was a far higher level of competition than the O line had seen before. And while they didn't exactly set the world on fire with their performance, they weren't entirely intimidated either.

"They didn't have a look in their eye that they were scared, that's for sure," Davis said of the young players on the line.

It was in no way Georgia's finest performance on the line, but this was also one of its biggest challenges. Considering the Dawgs won, the line's performance can probably be chalked up as a good learning experience.


This is the old good news-bad news discussion. The bad news continues to be Georgia's lack of a pass rush. The Dawgs are simply not getting any pressure without blitzing, and opposing quarterbacks are becoming way too comfortable as the games wear on. The good news is that no one seems to be able to run the ball against them. Georgia's first three opponents have all averaged fewer than 3 yards per carry, with the Gamecocks racking up just 18 yards on 16 rushes. The interior of the line has been spectacular thus far -- and really, they have provided the most pressure in addition to stopping the run -- but the ends are struggling. Against Central Michigan, they had the excuse of playing less aggressively against the Chippewas' cut-blocking scheme. Against South Carolina -- a team that has struggled mightily in the passing game all year -- I'm not sure what the explanation is. Rod Battle missed the game, so that didn't help the Dawgs' cause, but Demarcus Dobbs, Jeremy Lomax and Co. have to step up. Particularly MIA has been Justin Houston, who coaches raved about in camp but has really done very little thus far in the season.

GRADE: C+ (A+ for the DTs, D for the DEs)

LINEBACKERS: This group once again was the highlight for the Dawgs. In coverage, they played well. Against the run, they helped shut down the Gamecocks. Dannell Ellerbe and Rennie Curran were beasts in space, tracking South Carolina runners as they tried to stretch plays out wide and make sure-handed tackles with precision. Curran also caused the Mike Davis' fumble on the goal line that kept Georgia up 7 late in the fourth quarter, and the pressure from linebackers in blitz situations was really the only time Georgia made Chris Smelley really uncomfortable. Curran had one of Georgia's two sacks, and linebacker Darryl Gamble shared the other with Brandon Wood. Curran's strong performance earned him SEC defensive player of the week honors.


It wasn't a perfect game, and Smelley was able to look pretty sharp in the passing game, but the secondary played a nice bend-but-don't-break type of ballgame. There was too much open downfield for Smelley, but part of that can be attributed to the weak pass rush. The DBs never really gave up the big play, save the touchdown pass in which Moe Brown beat Ramarcus Brown down the sideline. More importantly, during South Carolina's final-minute push to tie the game, the secondary clamped down on their half of the field, and Reshad Jones came up with the DBs' first INT of the year to seal the game.


Well, we're not any closer to figuring out the kickoff situation. Blair Walsh booted Georgia's first two kickoffs, while Jamey Lindley handled the final one. None were good, and South Carolina's starting field position after each was its own 35, 38 and 30, respectively. For the year, Georgia's opponents are, on average, starting at their own 33 yard line after a kickoff.

Of course, there's more to the special teams than just kickoffs. We got to see Knowshon return a punt, and he showed why he's perfect for the job. Moreno returned South Carolina's first punt of the game 32 yards, but the drive stalled after Chandler's first drop. Punter Brian Mimbs also impressed in the game, with his highlight being a potentially game-saving 77-yard punt late in the fourth quarter. Georgia had been pinned deep in its own territory, and Mimbs completely changed the field position with one of the best kicks I've seen in a while. Mimbs is rarely talked about as a major strength for Georgia, but in low-scoring, field-position games -- the type you tend to see in the SEC -- a punter like Mimbs can make all the difference. Also of note, Walsh did connect on two field goals, making him 3-of-4 on the year with his only miss a long 56-yarder (which he had the distance but not quite the accuracy on).


You've got to hand it to defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. From a defensive standpoint, this game was planned beautifully. It may not have been executed to perfection at all times, but Georgia knew exactly what to expect from the game and never looked unprepared. In talking to players after the game, they all said the coaching staff had prepared them for precisely the situations they found themselves in, including the phenomenal goal-line stand that ended with an Asher Allen fumble recovery. Georgia expertly took the run game away from South Carolina, making the Gamecocks completely one-dimensional, and while Smelley was able to win a few of the battles, he was never really able to cash in. Even South Carolina's use of Stephen Garcia proved to come as no surprise to the Dawgs' D.

On the offensive side of the ball, things didn't look quite so great. Not sure how much was Mike Bobo's play calling and how much was Matthew Stafford's decision making, but Knowshon disappeared for too many long stretches during the game. There were times in the game when it looked like Georgia was trying to score 20 points on one play. The patience just wasn't there, and I think that may have been a product of frustration because of some missed opportunities and South Carolina's very impressive defense. Georgia has lots of big-play potential, but those big plays are opened up by the patience it displays letting Knowshon carve out a few small chunks of yardage every few snaps. Example No. 1 was Stafford's long run, which was made possible by the Gamecocks' total fear of what Moreno might do to them. In addition to Moreno's underuse, even Richt suggested Green should have gotten the ball more often, and once again the Dawgs refused to employ the fullback in goal-line situations.

GRADE: B (but mostly due to the great defensive game plan)

So, what do you think? Am I way off anywhere? Did you see anything I missed? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, but you're letting Martinez off the hook too easily. A lot of our lack of pass rush is due to poor execution, sure; but it's the DC's job to figure out how to pressure the quarterback whether you have the horses or not. If that means blitzing more, then so be it.

David Hale said...

I agree to an extent, but there's always a trade-off when you blitz. Georgia's secondary has not really dazzled either, and if you bring extra pressure on the blitz without the secondary to support it, you're opening yourself up to the big play. Georgia did a good job of avoiding the big play, which is why they won. Yes, you can do things to get more pressure, but at some point, the DEs need to step up. You just can't blitz all the time.

Anonymous said...

how many times did Smelley take a 7 step drop, and how many times did he take a 3 step drop and just dump the ball? Seems to me that Smelley wasnt setting up in the pocket much. I've heard it said by someone who I think knows his stuff that the late hits were partly a function of the D's inability to get to Smelley before he dumped it off.

If you blitz a 3 step drop passer, how much pressure can you get on him, and how often does he burn you?

I'm not an X and O genius, but S Carolina didnt get any running game going, they didnt score (despite having good field position a few times due to our lousy kickoff coverage, and the defense forced some turnovers. Plus, we won the game. That seems like a decent performance to me.