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Monday, September 1, 2008

Grading the Game

I'd like to make this a regular Sunday feature, but let's just say my first game day in Athens made me a little sleepy for my first day-after game day in Athens. So, sorry if it's a bit late, but here's my breakdown of Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Southern game:

PASSING GAME: Matthew Stafford notched a career high 275 yards and although he wasn't perfect, he looked sharp throughout. "Perfection is what we're looking for and what he wants in his performance," head coach Mark Richt said of Stafford. "He could have had a much bigger day, but he played well, he handled things beautifully. He's got total command of what we're trying to do, he's just got to be a little bit sharper."

Joe Cox filled in nicely as well, getting some time on an early drive that ended with a Richard Samuel fumble, but leading a scoring drive late in which he hit A.J. Green on a beautiful play for Georgia's final TD. Together Cox and Stafford completed 17-of-27 passes for 323 yards and three TDs.

Speaking of Green, the receivers looked good. For the first time since the Reggie Brown-Fred Gibson era, the WR corps might be listed as a real strength for the Dawgs. Mohamed Massaquoi caught a 47-yard pass to finish with three catches for 55 yards, Kris Durham had a 61-yard TD, Knowshon Moreno came out of the backfield to take a pass 37 yards, Michael Moore had a 32-yard reception, Green's first catch went for 36, and Tripp Chandler had a 26-yard catch. That's A LOT of big-play ability against a Georgia Southern secondary that came into the game as one of the Eagles' strengths.

There weren't many drops -- and the couple that did happen were far from perfectly thrown balls -- and the emergence of Durham and Green in the game could spell trouble for opponents. Having two guys with their size and ability would create some exciting mismatches for the Bulldogs this year.

Overall Grade: A

RUSHING GAME: Hard to criticize 220 yards on the ground, as the Dawgs would surely take that any Saturday. Samuel's fumble on his first career carry was clearly the low point, but he showed real mental toughness getting back on the field and running hard on five more carries, netting 33 yards after the fumble.

"When your first plays a fumble, that's when I saw him, so yeah, he looked a little uptight there," Richt said of Samuel. "But after the fumble, he was in the tank, but I just said, Look, you're going to get another chance. Don't worry about it.' And luckily he was able to get a few more carries, and he did a fine job."

Knowshon looked impressive as usual, averaging 7.4 yards per carry, and racking up three TDs. His long run of 24 yards went for a score, but he pulled up with a leg cramp in the end zone, ending his day.

The real story of the afternoon had to be Caleb King, who didn't play much early, but led the charge in the second half. King racked up 100 yards -- netting 95 -- and averaged nearly 8 yards per carry. He ran with a lot of energy and chose his holes wisely. For all the talk about him falling down the depth chart in the preseason, he put on a heck of a show Saturday.

Fullback Shaun Chapas received high marks from Richt filling in for an injured Brannan Southerland as well.

The one concern you might have is that there really weren't a lot of opportunities for the young guys -- King and Samuel -- to show they were ready to pick up blocks. That is always the big question for young running backs, and it's one we'll have to wait on an answer for.

Overall grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE: As Vince Vance told me, 200-plus rushing yards and 300-plus passing yards pretty much makes it a good day for the offensive line. Considering the group started four first-time starters and had only been playing together for less than two weeks, I'd call it better than good.

Freshman Cordy Glenn showed he wasn't just a camp phenom by looking good in game conditions. Vance held up well, as did Chris Davis. The two tackles were clearly under the microscope the most, however, and it looks like it will be Josh Davis who loses his starting gig this week when Clint Boling returns from suspension.

"(Josh Davis) played like he practiced which has been very good," Richt said. "We're not disappointed in any way but we also liked what Bean (Anderson) did at tackle. He made some mistakes but he certainly has the ability and he's making progress. Moving Josh back to left, between him and Kiante, those guys can play the left side."

Richt said he wasn't sure whether Tripp or Davis would get the starting nod at LT, but I'd be shocked to see Davis win the job. Anderson did see playing time and will serve as the primary backup on the right side the rest of the way. Ben Jones played some center in the game, too, spelling Chris Davis. Jones did a nice job, particularly when Georgia was backed up against its own goal line.

Overall, it wasn't a perfect performance, but all things considered, the Bulldogs had to be pretty happy with how things went.

"They switched into a couple things we kind of got shaky on. We worked it out, but we just need to get more sure of ourselves," Vance said. "I think just something that happens sometimes. We could have had Fernando (Velasco) out there, but every now and then you get something thrown at you you aren't ready for at a certain point."

Overall grade: B+

DEFENSIVE LINE: For the unit to react well after losing Jeff Owens early in the game was impressive. For sub Corvey Irvin to step up with a sack, two TFLs, and lead Georgia in tackles -- well that was downright encouraging.

The Bulldogs had three sacks in the game -- all coming from the D-line -- while adding five more TFLs and five pass break-ups. The pressure on Georgia Southern's QBs was pretty consistent, at least through the first three quarters. The Eagles only averaged 2.9 yards per rush, as well.

A handful of penalties did help keep a few drives going, however, but these are the typical kinks you figure will get worked out as the year goes on.

Overall grade: B+

LINEBACKERS: Darryl Gamble, Dannell Ellerbe and Akeem Dent all looked impressive when on the field. Against a Georgia Southern attack that tried to spread the field, the linebackers held up well and were quick to the ball. Given that neither Dent or Gamble were established starters, the strong performances were a good indication of what's to come. Ellerbe also had the game's only interception.

Overall grade: A

SECONDARY: Georgia Southern hardly shredded the secondary of Georgia, but there were some problems. Reshad Jones knocked a sure interception away from Darryl Gamble early in the game trying to make a play on the ball himself, and playing against two inexperienced QBs, the secondary didn't create a single turnover.

Georgia Southern only passed for 188 yards, but the Eagles were able to complete a handful of mid-range or longer passes to extend drives. It was a bit discouraging to see the number of long drives the Eagles put together, including several of nine or more plays.

"I just think that we can't win the games we need to win playing how we played (Saturday)," corner Asher Allen said. "Some people did good, some people did bad, but it's a team game, and we need everybody to play good."

Overall Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS: Blair Walsh had started camp well but faded a bit down the stretch. It didn't keep him from looking sharp -- perfect actually -- on Saturday.

Walsh was perfect on PATs and hit a 52-yard field goal on his only attempt -- a kick that would have easily been good from 60.

"That was probably the greatest feeling of my life," Walsh said. "I had great blocking, got it up, got it in, and that was the end of that story."

Perhaps the only downside in the kicking game, Walsh said, was what happened after his field goal.

"When I saw it, I was like, 'Yeah,' " Walsh said. "But I didn't really get to see the whole kick because Tripp Chandler pretty much drilled me when he picked me up. I thought he broke my ribs."

The return game wasn't perfect, but it was good to actually get some idea of how it might play out. As I predicted last week, Allen took the reins as punt returner, leaving KR duties to Ramarcus Brown. Brown didn't get a single opportunity in the first half, but finished with 49 second-half return yards.

Allen handled three punts, finishing with 54 yards and a long of 37. He had trouble hauling in one kick, but it didn't affect his return. Reshad Jones also got a shot at PR and returned his only kick 32 yards. Logan Gray was deep on Southern's final punt of the game, but the ball went out of bounds preventing Gray from getting a return.

"I don't know if Asher is going to be returning every punt all season," Richt said. "He's the most reliable guy, but it bounced off his chest. Reshad Jones did a fine job with his opportunity, and unfortunately Logan didn't get a chance to field one. I'm sure we'll see all three of them again before it's over."

Overall Grade: A

COACHING: Considering the number of question marks going in, considering the Owens injury early in the first quarter, considering the number of players suspended for the game and considering that 20 freshmen saw action, I think you have to like how Richt and his staff handled the game plan.

With the Dawgs playing a clearly overmatched opponent, the coaching staff took the opportunity to see what they had -- giving the O-line a chance to block on a number of long passing plays, getting tons of freshmen into the game, going to the kids early and often, rotating regularly on both sides of the ball -- and the results were good.

I was particularly impressed by Richt's decision to go back to Samuel so quickly after his fumble and to insert Ben Jones at center with the Dawgs backed up on their own 3-yard line with the game far from locked up. Showing such confidence in your young players at this stage could pay huge dividends down the road -- and Richt knows the kids are going to be important as Georgia moves forward.

Kudos also go to OC Mike Bobo who managed to call a game that showed off Georgia's big-play ability without turning the game into a circus.

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?


Joe said...

Nice observations,
What about Marcus Dowtin at LB? I thought he played a heck of a game and the WR's blocking? They did a great job also. You may want to point out that of the 188 yds passing, much of it came late when the DL was being substituted and we had subs at key positions of the secondary.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Joe, I thought I read a stat that Ga Southern had 205 offensive yards, but they garnered 180 or 185 of those after UGA built a 38-0 lead. That might be wildly inaccurate, but it was clear that when UGA had their 1st teams going they could have named their score.

David Hale said...

Good points, for sure. That's why I was a bit more generous in the grading than the coaching staff was. There was a lot of mixing and matching on the defense, particularly in the second half, though I think most everyone was disappointed to have allowed 21 points to GaSo, regardless of who was on the field when it happened. Still, I think the effort and performance was significantly better than even the final score showed.

carter said...

I only heard the game on radio and read post game reports, but I didn't hear/see Rennie Curran's name at all. Did he get most of the snaps at ROLB?

Check out the Rennie Curran Workout:

Jon Koncak's Thighs said...

Great post and great blog, David. I think the day-after grading is great. I am curious about your thoughts on Rennie, since he didn't get a mention. I didn't see his helmet on the ball as much as we got used to late last season, but I didn't seen many mistakes. Exciting (though in sad circumstances) to see D. Tyson in there, exciting to see Boykin running to the ball, exciting to see Green, Samuel and King! Lots of youth, but it's some damn talented youth, at that. Keep up the terrific work; you're an everyday read already...