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Monday, November 3, 2008

Grading the Game: UGA-Florida

As a longtime Cubs and Eagles fan, I've suffered through a lot of painful losses, and the last thing I want to do afterward is rehash the mess. I haven't read a story about the Cubs since Game 2 against the Dodgers, and I probably won't until Spring Training starts. So I apologize to all the Georgia fans who have no desire to read this. I actually even thought about not doing it, but I think there are some aspects of the game that deserve further discussion.

Anyway, if you are already working on moving on, then by all means, skip this post. If you don't mind wallowing in a little self pity from time to time, then read on...

(Quick aside: Paul Dehner and Blutarski both have good post-game analysis of some of Georgia's key problems on their blogs. I highly recommend giving them a read.)

PASSING: I've been pretty critical of Matthew Stafford, but I can't pin a whole lot of this loss on him. The truth is, when the play calling favored a good matchup, Stafford took advantage nearly 100 percent of the time. The problem was, the play calling was shortsighted at times, and the execution from receivers was poor at other times.

Stafford routinely exploited Florida's biggest weakness -- its secondary -- and moved the ball at will throughout the first 40 minutes of action. For the game, he thew for 265 yards, despite not playing much of the fourth quarter. Most of his passes were right on target, despite the fact that he had a pass rush in his face more than he had in any game since Alabama. All in all, it wasn't a terrible performance by Stafford by any means.

But here's the problem: Georgia failed to challenge Florida's DBs enough. They went to too many screens, short out patterns and (for the love of God can we please stop with this) QB draws. When Stafford went deep, it worked. But he didn't do it enough.

Other times, his passes were on target, but the receivers weren't. Kenneth Harris dropped a wide open pass over the middle that could have easily gone for six. Tripp Chandler fell down on a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone. Even Stafford's first interception was probably A.J. Green's fault. Stafford threw short and Joe Haden made a good read on it and picked it off, but watching it, it looked like Stafford was expecting Green to break back on the ball. After the game, the QB took full responsibility for the pick, but clearly there was more going on there than just an underthrown pass.

That, of course, doesn't excuse the other two interceptions, but in truth, they were a result of Georgia grasping at straws. The lack of touchdowns in the first half and Stafford's first interception were Georgia's undoing, and the rest was just gravy for Florida.

On a small bright note, kudos to Joe Cox for engineering the only impressive drive of the game for Georgia, albeit one that came against Florida's second-team D. It was also good to see the tight ends get involved again. The group was targeted five times, and each of the three tight ends caught a pass.

Hats off, too, to Mo Massaquoi who showed what a real senior leader can do. Massaquoi never quit in the game, came down with a number of extremely tough passes that involved getting hit hard afterward, finished with 112 yards receiving and, although it didn't mean much in the end, tracked down Haden at the 1 after an 88-yard return. If Stafford and Moreno come back next year, Georgia's offense will be great, no doubt, but they are really going to miss Mo, who is one of the few players on this roster that you can honestly say hasn't taken a single play off this season.

GRADE: C

RUSHING:
It's easy to forget that Knowshon Moreno was actually averaging nearly 5 yards per carry in the first half. When the Bulldogs were still in the game and the WRs were still running past defenders downfield, Moreno looked pretty good. Once things began to unravel in the second half, however, it became a near perfect replica of the Alabama game in terms of the Bulldogs' running game.

Moreno finished with 65 yards on 17 carries, including 15 yards lost behind the line of scrimmage. He was really not a factor at all in the second half. He also allowed a potential touchdown pass bounce off his hands in the end zone.

The bigger problem for the running backs Saturday was the lack of pass protection. The offensive line didn't have its best game, but the backs didn't help much. The most egregious mistake came courtesy of Caleb King, who missed a block on a second-and-2 passing play that resulted in a bad sack that effectively killed a scoring drive for the Bulldogs. Now, the case can be made that the play call in that situation was awful (it was), but regardless, that's a block you have to make.

On a lighter note, how great was it when Shaun Chapas tried to return Blair Walsh's missed field goal off the upright for a touchdown? Poor guy wants to get in the end zone so bad. Seriously though, it was funny and all, but it's good to see a guy being that heads up.

GRADE: D+

OFFENSIVE LINE:
Mark Richt isn't one to make excuses, but he sure mentions the youth on the O line a lot after bad games. I'm not begrudging him the argument -- they are young, they are inexperienced and against good teams, they are simply overmatched. Just saying that when Georgia loses, the line is young. When they win, they're veterans who have half a season under their belt.

The line allowed just two sacks in the game, but that was the first time even that many had been given up since the Alabama game. More over, Stafford was under pressure throughout the game, and the blocking in the red zone was particularly poor.

Georgia has been strong between the 20s all year, but the short-yardage and red-zone problems are a direct result of the offensive line not creating openings for the Bulldogs to pick up the tough yards.

That's a fact more than a criticism. Georgia is currently starting an interior line that features two true freshmen and a guy with a hip injury that during any other season would have him on the sideline. Unfortunately for Chris Davis, the injuries to Vince Vance and Trinton Sturdivant haven't afforded him that luxury this season.

More over, Justin Anderson has looked like a rookie at times -- including the boneheaded personal foul against LSU -- and Clint Boling has played admirably at left tackle, but that's not where he belongs. Add to that that you're playing three tight ends with shoulder injuries that make blocking painful, and it's easy to see why the line has struggled.

Having said all that, this is too far into the season for all the false start penalties, and the coaching staff should also know the limitations of its line by now and call plays accordingly. The problems on the O line are a valid excuse, but at this point, no one wants to hear excuses. They want results.

GRADE: D

DEFENSIVE LINE:
Another game of no sacks by the D line. There was virtually no pressure on Tim Tebow in the second half. Nearly all of Tebow's runs were telegraphed from a mile away, and the line still was helpless to stop him. Tebow ran for 39 yards and three touchdowns himself, but the Gators combined for 185 rushing yards in the game. That's the second straight game in which the Bulldogs have allowed more than 180 yards on the ground -- an astounding feat considering how well they had played against the run through the first seven games of the year.

The truth is, Georgia's line has little trouble slowing down the speedy-but-small backs. Outside of a 20-yard run by Percy Harvin, none of Florida's hybrid backs had much success. But Tebow and Moody were hard for Georgia to slow down and met with nearly as much success as LSU's Charles Scott a week ago.

I won't even get into the roughing the passer flag against Jarius Wynn other than to say that, despite the final score being a blow out, I think that play more than anything else cost Georgia the game. And after weeks of working on avoiding exactly that penalty, I just don't know how you can account for allowing it to happen again.

GRADE: F

LINEBACKERS:
Any time you give up 49 points, it's hard to argue the defense had a good game, but the truth is, Georgia didn't do that bad a job stopping Florida. The linebackers did a nice job in pursuit and rarely allowed Florida's insane speed to find big holes.

Dannell Ellerbe returned to action and played a good bit, getting Georgia's only sack of Tebow. Rennie Curran had a solid if not spectacular game, finishing second on the team with five tackles. Akeem Dent didn't figure to get a ton of playing time with Ellerbe back in the lineup and the Sam LB off the field often against Florida's spread, but he finished with four tackles, including one for a loss.

My biggest concern heading into this game was that the Gators would routinely exploit the soft zone over the middle, but Georgia's LBs played a nice game overall. Would Florida have won without all the turnovers? Maybe, but it wouldn't have been nearly as easy, and that's in part due to an fundamentally sound game by the LBs.

GRADE: B

SECONDARY:
No Florida receiver had more than 52 yards receiving, and Georgia was rarely beat deep. Asher Allen probably had his worst game of the season, but was only beat badly once. Overall, the secondary at least made Tebow work for the deep ball.

Having said that, Tebow was still 10-of-13 passing, which means that when he needed a completion, there was usually someone open. As well as Reshad Jones and CJ Byrd played -- and they did have decent games -- no one stepped up and made a play when it was absolutely necessary. Well, no one except Prince Miller, and we don't need to get into that again.

GRADE: C+

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Two very quick points on special teams: 1.) Blair Walsh is no Brandon Coutu. Not yet anyway. You just have to hope that these problems don't get into his head. 2.) Richard Samuel has his moments on kick returns, but far too often, he looks lost. At one point, Shaun Chapas had to nearly tackle him to keep him from bringing a return out from eight yards deep in the end zone. It's time to give up on that experiment -- for now at least.

I'll discuss the onside kick in the next section.

GRADE: D

COACHING:
I've already covered the playcalling decisions, the sack on second-and-2 and some of the defensive shortcomings, so I won't get into that again. Instead, I have two points to address -- one big picture, and one small.

First the small: The on-side kick. I've heard the argument that it wasn't a bad decision. I haven't heard it often, but I've heard it.

I might agree that it was a risk worth taking, but here's why it was stupid:

1.) An on-side kick is a good call when you either a.) want to grab momentum or b.) want to add a nail to the coffin. In this case, the game was still very close, Georgia was moving the ball at will between the 20s, and the Dawgs had just scored. There was no reason to risk the bit of momentum you already had on a play that was 50/50 at best to work out. It was just poor timing.

2.) I know what you're saying... but Dave, aren't the odds of a recovery at that point better than 50/50? In a macro sense, yes, they are. But in a micro sense -- i.e. IN THIS CASE -- they are not. Walsh was already struggling, and you have to wonder if his missed field goal might have been in his head a bit. Secondly, Walsh hadn't executed an on-side kick all year. If you recall Georgia's previous attempts against Alabama were executed by Jamie Lindley, not Walsh. And third, Walsh is a true freshman.

So in a game you are still in, but are probably one TD away from being buried in a deep hole, you choose to have your true freshman kicker who just missed a gimme field goal minutes earlier execute the first on-side kick of his career? I don't care how good Brandon James is, that was a bad decision.

Now the big-picture issue: Between the first half of the Alabama game and the second half of this one, Georgia has been outscored 66-7. Going back years, you can find this trend happen over and over. When things start to get away from the Bulldogs, they spiral out of control quickly.

More over, the Dawgs seem to lack that killer instinct. I'm not saying guys don't care about winning, they simply haven't shown an ability to put the hammer down when they need to. Just look at how the second half unfolded against LSU last week. That game could have easily gone the other way if not for Darryl Gamble's heroics. In the two games before that, Georgia dominated but won close contests.

In virtually every game, Georgia's numbers either show the loss should have been closer than it ended up being or the win should have been by a bigger score than it was. Why is that? The number of missed opportunities this year is simply astounding, and part of the blame for that has to fall on the coaching staff.

Having said all that, this is still a good group of coaches. Something is missing from this team, and maybe it is simply senior leadership or experience or passion. I don't know, and apparently the coaches aren't sure either. But I don't think it's time to start calling for jobs. It's just a good time for some of the coaches to look in the mirror and re-evaluate the way they are doing things.

GRADE: F

JACKSONVILLE:
I hate Jacksonville. I have covered four games there now (including the ACC title game two years ago) and it has been an unmitigated disaster each time. The city is too spread out without enough accommodations or transportation for large crowds. Go back and read the reviews of the city after it held the Super Bowl there a few years ago. A cab from the hotel where I stayed to downtown was $45. To the beach would have been nearly double that. How are you supposed to be in town for a fun evening (which ostensibly is why fans are there) when you can't stay anywhere that doesn't require you to either drive drunk or take out a second mortgage for cab fare?

That was nothing compared to the actual game conditions. I know this is nothing that affects any of you as fans, but trust me when I tell you the conditions in the press box are abhorrent for a big-time college football game like that one. As I'm sure you're aware, it takes hours just to get from the interstate to the stadium. The press box is angled so you're watching the game from the 10-yard line. The press box meals are beyond disgusting.

A few friends and I were joking about how bad it must be to cover BYU because the Mormons don't allow caffeine. Well, we found out. The folks in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium didn't have regular coffee throughout the game. They also didn't have sodas -- apparently the machines couldn't carbonate anything.

To top it all off, there was no Internet access for any media members for the entirety of the game. So if you missed the live blog, please send your complaints to Jacksonville. How they stage NFL games there and can't manage to pull this off is beyond me.

Again, if this was a one-time thing, I'd say no big deal. But this is now four straight times, and I wasn't alone. Everyone in the press box was complaining -- well, complaining more than they usually do.

Of course, as I said, that doesn't mean much to any of you. You don't have to cover the game and I'm sure you aren't shedding any tears over the fact that the free food for media members was gross.

But more than that, this neutral-site game has an effect on the outcome. It's an hour drive for Florida. It's a plane flight for Georgia. Call it anything you want, but that's an advantage for the Gators.

Beyond that, the best part of college football is the campus environment. I like the NFL, but I'd rather attend a college game any day of the week simply because it's so much more fun to be on campus for a big game. You just don't get that feel in Jacksonville. It feels like an NFL game, with the exception of the crowd being split right down the middle.

If I were the type of person with initiative, I'd happily start a petition to move the game back to a home-and-home series. Since I'm not, I'll just cross my fingers that Damon Evans and company make it happen anyway.

GRADE: F- (I'd give it a Z if that were a real grade)

So, any of you still feel like rehashing all of this? If so, I'm all ears for your thoughts on whether you agree, disagree or just think I'm an idiot. More to the point, rather than talk about the problems, what do you think the solutions should be? (And if your answer is that someone should be fired, I suggest having a good idea of a reasonable replacement for that person.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Officiating "F",
I think Penn and his crew have served revenge on us. Prior to last years UF game we were one of the least penalized teams in the nation, since we are one of the most. Don't think that doesn't come into play. Before we had the benefit of the doubt now we usually get the call against us...and rarely does it go our way. Penn Wagers said in an interview that he took last year's game personally. He should NEVER have been allowed to ref this game with his crew.
Joe Haden should have been called for pass interference, in spite of a bad pass, the point is that he interfered with AJ, that play slammed the door shut for us. What about Asher's jersey getting grabbed and UF WR using that to gain position on Asher? The piss poor spot we challenged which was clearly no first down on the replay. On that play alone there were twopenalties, Rennie Curran being grabbed as he is about to hit Tebow, then he is blocked in the back. Not to mention UF being allowed to taunt throughout the game. NO officiating didn't lose the game for us but it sure played a big part in assisting them on top of our shooting ourselves in the foot.
I hope the SEC refs are done screwing or getting their revenge so we can just worry about football.

Barstool69 said...

Why not alternate between ATL and JAX.

ATL is a plane flight for UF and a 1 hour drive for UGA.

Anonymous said...

Waaah waaah waaah on the officiating. Give me a break. Penn Wagers sucks for both teams. UGA got away with at least ten holding penalties on their O-line. No interference on Haden, that was a badly-underthrown ball and it was a correct no-call. Ellerbe also got away with hands to the face on his sack of Tebow, which should have been an easy 15-yarder for UF. Quit crying already. Your entire team should've been ejected after the dance stunt last year, but you were the benefit of Penn Wagers' cluelessness. Take this loss like a man and stop blaming the officiating.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 7:30,

Your telling me that Hayden didn't interfere? Gary Danielson pointed it out on CBS clear as day.
You can SUCK IT GATOR TRASH!!!
SHELLY MEYER CAN SUCK IT TOO!!!!