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Monday, October 20, 2008

Grading the Game: UGA vs. Vandy

Another week, another win, another round of complaints. Really, the Arizona State game was the only contest this year in which Georgia was roundly praised for putting a complete game together, which is a bit troubling, but it's still good to see the underlying performances have been strong. Looking ahead, however, the Bulldogs cannot afford to keep leaving so many points on the field. They'll play the past two national champions in the next two weeks, but first, let's take a look back at how the Dawgs graded out against Vandy.

PASSING: Let me start by saying that A.J. Green is amazing. The freshman receiver leads the SEC in catches and receiving yards. In fact, his 573 yards would have led Georgia's team in two of the past three seasons. He has made at least six catches in each of the past four games. Green is on pace to haul in 67 catches and 1,064 yards -- assuming he doesn't pad those numbers a bit more in an SEC championship game. Not convinced those numbers are that impressive? The 67 catches would be the second-highest total in Georgia history and the receiving yards would set the school's all-time record -- BY SIXTY YARDS! The only other 1,000-yard receiver the Bulldogs have had was Terrence Edwards in 2002, his senior year. Green is a true freshman. Folks, it doesn't get much better than that.

Now that I've buttered you all up praising the freshman phenom, I'll now type my next sentence and prepare for the imminent backlash: I'm not convinced Matthew Stafford is that good. I covered him his freshman year and this year, and while he is a better quarterback now, it's not the gargantuan leap you might expect -- particularly given the fact he has a Heisman candidate in his backfield and two of the 10 best receivers in the conference to throw to.

Against Vandy, Stafford's numbers were nice enough -- 13-of-23 for 194 yards and two scores, but for the second game in a row, he threw two interceptions. For the season, he's completing just a shade over 61 percent of his throws, which is an improvement, but not exactly the standard you're looking for given all his weapons. While I'll grant you that SEC defenses are significantly better than what the Big 12 has to offer, compare Stafford's growth to that of Texas' Colt McCoy, and there's no discussion as to who is the better college quarterback right now.

I'm not saying Stafford stinks -- that's clearly not true. He has done a great job of avoiding pressure, getting rid of the football rather than taking a sack or forcing a bad pass to a blanketed receiver -- but there are other nuances that you'd think a guy with 26 consecutive starts under his belt. For all the talk of his big arm, he has underthrown open receivers downfield on a number of occasions this season, and his ball placement on some throws -- like the big completion along the sideline to Green in the first half against Vandy -- hasn't been what you'd like to see. He led Green out of bounds on the throw for a big gain, but Green had wide open field in front of him and could have taken it to the house. Given Green's size and speed, he really hasn't had many yards after the catch this season, and at least part of that has to be blamed on Stafford. Again, I'm not completely bashing Stafford here -- I'm just saying I don't see a No. 1 draft pick under center right now. I see a good quarterback who could be better.

Couple other complaints about the passing game: With Tavarres King still working his way back into the lineup and Kris Durham out, people were expecting Michael Moore to step up over the past two games, particularly given the strong start he had to the season. He has responded with one catch for eight yards.

Moreover, the lack of inclusion of the tight ends in the passing game has been troubling. Mark Richt has tried to keep some more max protect packages on the field, and given the youth on the offensive line, it makes sense that the tight ends would be used more to block, but this is being taken to the extreme. For the second straight week, Georgia did not target its tight ends against Vandy, and removing that wrinkle from the offense only makes the game plan that much easier for opposing defenses. I know with injuries and inexperience, Georgia's not exactly living in the Ben Watson or Leonard Pope era, but it seems silly not to at least maintain the threat of the tight end after it has been such a big part of your offense for years.

(A+++ for Green)

This is what we get for starting to use sentences that include the words "Knowshon" and "struggle" without the phrase "makes defenses" in between. It's true though that Moreno was averaging less than 4 yards per carry in SEC games this year, and running room had been hard to find of late.

Consider the mini-slump over. Moreno broke out with a season-high 172 yards rushing, while adding another 10 yards on one catch. He looked as sharp as ever, breaking several long runs and scoring for the first time in nearly two full games. His touchdown was fun to watch, as he ran around the right end for an 11-yard score that was overturned after a review showed his knee scraped the ground near the line of scrimmage. So what did he do for an encore? The exact same run around the left side -- this time making it in to the end zone without his knee coming close to the ground.

Caleb King came off the bench to have a nice performance, too, carrying 11 times for 40 yards. Those numbers are a bit skewed, since King had a six-yard loss on one carry.

Brannan Southerland continued to show why his return to offense was so eagerly anticipated with another great game blocking and leading the way for Moreno, but it has been Shaun Chapas that has really impressed since Southerland's return. Chapas had 27 yards on just three touches in the game and has been spectacular in the blocking game. Chapas has really picked up the torch Georgia has taken from the tight ends becoming a nice threat in the passing game out of the backfield.

For the game, Georgia tallied an impressive 231 rushing yards -- a nearly six yard per carry average. It was a game in which the Bulldogs were supposed to be the more physical team, but it's still a performance to be impressed by. The only minor problem I have is the continued lack of yards between the tackles. In short-yardage and goal-line situations, this is going to be a problem, and while Georgia was able to leave points on the field and still win the past two ballgames, that won't happen in the future.


After taking a big step forward against Tennessee two weeks ago, there were a lot of questions as to whether the young offensive line could continue the momentum against Vandy. They did that, and then some.

For the second straight game, the line did not allow a sack, while taking another step forward in opening up running lanes for Georgia's tailbacks. With Vince Vance out, Clint Boling continued to look good at left tackle, despite the fact that he really isn't particularly comfortable playing there. Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn continued to grow, and Chris Davis battled through a painful hip injury that has bothered him all season, to turn in a strong performance. (Davis did need to leave the game briefly -- he was replaced by Josh Davis -- but returned to action soon after.)

The deep balls Georgia threw early to Green did help eliminate some of the added pressyre Vandy likes to bring, but considering the Commodores came in as one of the best pass rushing teams in the conference, this has to be considered a big win up front for the Bulldogs. The line probably needs to continue to improve physically up the middle, but their speed and athleticism has really shown the past two weeks.


The stat sheet shows zero sacks once again, but the stat sheet really doesn't tell the story of how well the D line played against Vanderbilt.

Rod Battle made his return to the starting lineup this week, which added some needed experience and depth to the pass rush. Corvey Irvin had a monster game, routinely getting pressure up the middle and chipping in to slow the run. Geno Atkins looked sharp as well.

True, the Bulldogs couldn't bring down the quarterback, but that was due in large part to an exceptional job of avoiding the sack by Mackenzi Adams. Adams' primary strength is his mobility, and he had many opportunities to show it off because the Dawgs had him on the run throughout the game. Adams threw away several passes just before being brought down, he tossed no fewer than five passes to defenders because his throws were rushed, and three other passes were broken up by Georgia's defense.

While the line didn't do quite as good a job shutting down the run as it did a week earlier, Vandy never was able to get a nice drive going on the ground, and given that the Commodores were starting a second-string QB, the run defense did a good job of unbalancing Vandy's game plan.


It was the second -- and hopefully last -- game without Dannell Ellerbe, but once again, the linebackers looked sharp. Georgia's LBs have been the glue that has held this defense together throughout the season, playing well in coverage and exceptional on run defense.

Rennie Curran once again led the team in tackles with eight. Darryl Gamble filled in admirably at Mike linebacker once again and chipped in with seven tackles. But the most impressive performance of the day? That belongs to Darius Dewberry, who has been dying for a chance to get on the field this year after a suspension took the first two games of the season from him and spread offenses kept him on the sideline with regularity after that. Dewberry picked off a pass, had two tackles (double his season total), nearly intercepted another pass, too. It was good to see a lot of hard work on Dewberry's part pay off.

"When you know you ve worked hard and put a lot of time into things, you expect to get results, and sometimes it doesn t work out like that," Curran said of Dewberry. "But he s kept a great attitude, kept focus, and he s bounced back, shown resilience through everything."


This is the toughest grade to give, and the secondary is a perfect microcosm of the game Georgia played. The DBs were great throughout, but missed too many opportunities to put the game away with a big play.

Reshad Jones had the best game of his career Saturday. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, was exceptional at coming up to stop the run, picked off a pass from Adams, and was stellar in coverage. When you look at the defense overall, I think Jones is the guy most likely to take a major step forward as the season progresses. (I'd say Rennie would be, but how much better can that guy get?)

Asher Allen had a very nice game as well, but dropped an interception and probably could have had a second along the sideline where he had the ball tip off his fingers as he tried to catch it in bounds. As he said after the game, however, they don't review dropped interceptions. His tackle of Jamie Graham on fourth down in the fourth quarter, however, put the final nail in Vandy's coffin, and six total tackles were good for fourth on the team. Vandy probably challenged Allen more than any other team had this season, and he responded well.

CJ Byrd and Prince Miller both had solid games, and while Vance Cuff will be remembered for having as easy an interception as you'll ever see bounce off his chest, that overshadows what was a pretty strong second half by the sophomore.

Chances are, we're going to be seeing a lot more of Cuff, too. Bryan Evans is really struggling and was beaten twice by Graham for touchdowns. To paraphrase a line from "A Christmas Story," Evans waved his arms like a hummingbird -- it was his only defense.

After Graham's second touchdown, Evans rarely saw the field, and Cuff played the rest of the way on nickel packages. Brandon Boykin could see some time, too, which might be a very good thing for Georgia. In talking to players, Boykin has been routinely called the player most likely to break out in the second half.

Considering the many, many, many conversations about how many dropped INTs the DBs had this year, adding at least three more to the list was not a good thing.

"We ve got to come down with more," Byrd said. "Too many missed opportunities. In a closer game, if we were down or something like that, we ve got to have them. I m sure those guys are down, but they ve got to work that much harder so the next time they don t miss them like that."


Yikes. This was not a good all-around performance. Brian Mimbs had an OK game, averaging 44 yards a punt with good hangtime, but it was hardly a game-changing performance. Beyond Mimbs, however, things were ugly. Blair Walsh missed two kicks of 40 yards or less after being perfect inside 50 all season. He did connect on a 39-yarder with 17 seconds left, but things had gotten so bad that Richt considered just punting the ball out of the end zone instead of sending Walsh out to kick.

The return game was pretty nasty, too. The Richard Samuel experiment didn't last beyond Vandy's first kick, as Ramarcus Brown returned the final two kicks. Georgia's punt returners didn't have a single return yard in the game, and Prince Miller made a brutal error in judgment calling for a fair catch and hauling in a punt at Georgia's five-yard line when he should have let it go over his head. Late in the third quarter, Logan Gray narrowly avoided touching a punt that bounced into the end zone for a touchback, but was just inches away from being a muffed punt.


Overall, the game plan was solid against Vanderbilt. Georgia clearly identified some weaknesses in the Commodores' scheme and exploited them, particularly by opening up running lanes and backing defenders away from the line of scrimmage by hitting Green deep early.

A few criticisms though:

1.) Still too many throws on first down. Georgia continuously threw the ball of first down and routinely found itself in third-and-longs. Not surprisingly, Georgia was 1-of-8 converting third downs.

2.) Not throwing to the tight ends at all. We've covered this topic, so I won't go into it again, but I think it's a problem.

3.) The most inexcusable play calling of the game: With 12 minutes left, Georgia nursing a 7-point lead, and Knowshon having a huge game, the Dawgs threw the ball on first down -- incomplete to Green -- and went three-and-out, running a whopping 70 seconds off the clock. The defense bailed the Dawgs out, but that was just silly. Run the ball. Seriously. Just run it. Particularly after seeing what your line did in the fourth quarter against Tennessee.

Again, overall it was a nice job, but once again, the score didn't reflect the performance. The blame for that has to fall somewhere, and whether it's performance or execution, the coaches take the ultimate responsibility. For 10 straight quarters of football, Georgia has clearly been the better team on the field, but the only time that showed up on the scoreboard was when the Dawgs were already down 31-0.


Feel free to leave comments about what an idiot I am for criticizing Stafford or how wise I am for... well, OK, I won't hold my breath on that.


Anonymous said...


I've kind of been waiting for a beat guy or someone out there to be the first to say aloud what I think a lot of fans see in their heart of hearts. Stafford just hasn't progressed nearly as far as he should have by this point. Leaves a lot of plays on the field. For all of last year, it was his inability to step into throws when pressure came that killed me. He's done great with that this year. Some of the problem comes from bad calls (another screen?), but some mistakes are just poor, poor throws. Time to stop relying just on physical ability and add the skills to truly be an elite QB. Stafford has the capability; I believe he needs another year here to make it a reality. Great, great stuff as always, David.

- jon koncak's thighs

Jon Koncak's Thighs said...

Sorry, I am back for more conversation with myself. Regardless of my complaints, I love having #7 as our QB. When it comes down to it, he just wins big games a whole lot more often than he loses them. He's clutch, he's confident, he has his teammates support and he has their back too. But the talk about being THE number 1 pick is a little much. It's great to see him above 60%, but I would like to see it move up to 65-66% by the end of the season. Either way, I trust him to win us games.

David Hale said...

Agreed -- my point isn't to say they need to bench Stafford or he's terrible, just that given his experience, his ability and the weapons he has on offense, you'd like to see him a little further along than he is. I'd still take him over pretty much any other QB in the SEC.

Anonymous said...

Good call on the play-calling that only took 70 ticks off the clock.

Sometimes it is startling to remember that Bobo tutored under Jim Donn*n and then start looking for similarities.

I remember one game against Ufk (I think) in the late 90's when UGA got the ball with 1:15 left on the clock and punted it away with 1:01 left. That kind of hidden time management is what got us beat a lot under Donn*n, and I am afraid that Bobo has some of those major flaws ingrained in him.

I will not touch on their propensity for calling way, way too many WR screens in a game. That will be left for after consecutive games when a defensive end picks off our QB. Had Vandy's DE held on to his one sure pick, I would be complaining, but I won't.

Anonymous said...

I hope Stafford is taking these games against the Tennessees and Vandys of the world for granted. Then, as we approach LSU and Florida over the next two weeks, he turns it on. Probably wishful thinking.

On another note, I have been in Athens for three years and this is by far the least focused team here that I have seen.