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Monday, September 14, 2009

Grading the Game: South Carolina

Sorry for the lack of posts today. I was in Charlotte on Sunday for the Eagles game against the Panthers and din't make it back to Athens until this afternoon. But hopefully this extended post recapping Georgia's 41-37 win over South Carolina will make up for the brief absence.

QUARTERBACK: For the second straight week, Joe Cox entered the game with plenty of questions lingering about his health and ability to lead Georgia's offense. Unlike last week, however, he provided some encouraging answers this time around.

Cox finished 17-of-24 passing for 201 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Unlike his forgettable debut against Oklahoma State, his passes had a good bit more zip on them and his timing was significantly better, leading his receivers rather than throwing behind them and getting rid of the ball quickly.

And while all the talk before the game surrounded just how long Cox could stay on the field before giving way to backup Logan Gray, the answer was emphatic -- Gray took just one snap.

“He handled it tremendously,” wide receiver Tavarres King said of the controversy surrounding Cox leading up to game day. “He handled all the things coming at him, came out confident in himself and confident in us. We put our confidence in him, and you saw what happened. He just balled out.”

I'm less than familiar with the term "balled out" but I assume it's a good thing, and Cox certainly showed why Mark Richt has stuck by him as the QB.

It wasn't all pretty. Cox telegraphed a pass to Eric Norwood with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter that Norwood returned for a touchdown that could have tied the game. A blocked extra point saved the day for Georgia. Even Cox admitted he's not sure what he was thinking on the play.

The turnover was ugly, but beyond that Cox exhibited all qualities coaches have praised him for since January, most notably his strong leadership which was absolutely crucial to getting the offense back in gear after sitting on the sideline for nearly the entire first quarter and trailing 17-7 by the time the unit took its third snap of the game.

"I was very proud of him," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He came out and played ball and had fun. You can't get caught up in everything that's going on."

Final Grade: B

RUNNING BACKS: Georgia finished with just 107 yards rushing on 29 carries (3.7 ypc) which might not seem too shabby. The problem, however, is that 61 of those yards came on just one play. Take away Branden Smith's touchdown, and the numbers are much less encouraging -- a 1.64 yards per carry average. Even if you add back the 21 yards the team lost after Carlton Thomas recovered a fumble by Cox, the Bulldogs still averaged fewer than 2.5 yards per rush.

Of course, the numbers can be a bit deceiving. Richard Samuel tallied just 65 yards on 15 carries, but he looked much better than he did a week ago. Rather than hitting the ground at first contact, Samuel ran hard, and while he never broke a long one -- his high was just 11 yards -- he did pick up some hard-earned yards to keep drives going.

So if Samuel did well, but the running game struggled beyond that, why the heck didn't we see more of him? On Georgia's first scoring drive, Samuel had rushes of 11 and 6 yards and caught a pass for a 16-yard gain before capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown with 1:56 to play. He looked impressive, but he didn't touch the football again for 15 minutes of game action spanning three Georgia drives.

Bobo gets a pass for the first drive, on which Smith scored on the second play. There might be a rationale to why Samuel wasn't on the field on the next drive, too. A chop-block penalty put Georgia in a second-and-long situation and the Bulldogs didn't run again -- but isn't Samuel a superior pass blocker, too? Then the third drive without Samuel was utterly perplexing. South Carolina had just closed to within four and Georgia's offense needed to move the football. Instead, a Thomas run went nowhere and a short pass to Tavarres King left Georgia in a third-and-four. Rather than handoff to the bruising tailback, Thomas remained in the game and Cox ran the third-down play from the shotgun, throwing incomplete to Mike Moore to finish a three-and-out.

South Carolina scored again on its next drive to pull to within 1, but once again Thomas was on the field for Georgia's first play. Mercifully, Bobo went back to Samuel again on second down -- a full 15 minutes of game time after his last touch -- and the sophomore tailback rumbled 11 yards on second down.

Clearly Samuel is a weapon, and Richt has explicitly said Samuel is the type of back who gets better as the game progresses. So why keep him off the field for so long?

Of course, before I bury Georgia for poor personnel decisions, I have to applaud the coaching staff for keeping confidence in Smith. He had five touches last week but had few results. Against South Carolina, however, the reverse to Smith was executed to perfection, and his 61-yard run would have been "SportsCenter" material most nights if he hadn't been upstaged by Brandon Boykin's 100-yard return.

Caleb King missed a second straight game, but he was dressed and should be back this week. That's a good sign for Georgia, particularly given Thomas' lack of success running between the tackles.

Final Grade: B-

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: After an absolutely dismal performance in Georgia's opener, the Bulldogs' receivers looked dramatically improved against South Carolina, but the unit looks like it's still going to have some issues.

Tavarres King had a nice game, catching three passes for 27 yards, and Mike Moore hauled in two catches, including his second four-yard TD reception of the season. But it was mostly the A.J. Green show. The sophomore caught six passes for 86 yards, including a few acrobatic grabs that add to the legacy he's building in Athens. Cox's 9-yard touchdown pass to Green in the back of the end zone before the half was reminiscent of the Matthew Stafford-to-Green TD to win the Kentucky game last year -- a thing of beauty. Of course, some points have to be deducted for Green's fumble on the second offensive play of the game, too.

Orson Charles looked solid, too. He's clearly a matchup problem and he has looked respectable in the blocking game as well. He had two grabs for 38 yards against South Carolina, and the truth is, he probably needs more looks.

Aron White was shut out, and while Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten did see action, the two freshmen combined for just three snaps in the game.

The coaches talked about a need for increased diversity on offense, and they found some of that Saturday, but not enough.

Final Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: The O line was supposed to be dominant in Week 1 against the undersized Oklahoma State front four, but instead it struggled.

Breaking in a new left tackle against South Carolina's dominating pass rush, it looked as if the Bulldogs might struggle last week. Instead, the unit looked good.

No, the running game wasn't dominant, but the line opened some holes and for the most part protected Cox well. The Gamecocks had two sacks, but for the most part Cox had the time he needed to throw downfield.

It wasn't a perfect performance, but it was a step forward against a far better opponent.

Also of note, Clint Boling earned the SEC's lineman of the week award.

Final Grade: B+

DEFENSIVE LINE: Justin Houston returns from a two-game suspension this week, and the timing couldn't be better. Rod Battle went down with a season-ending knee injury which hurt the depth at an already shallow position. Geno Atkins and Marcus Washington continued to see snaps at defensive end while also rotating to other positions, and Cornelius Washington saw the most action of his career, earning his first career sack.

While the Bulldogs' line managed to stifle South Carolina's running game, holding the Gamecocks' tailbacks to just 3 yards per carry. Unfortunately, they couldn't do the same with quarterback Stephen Garcia.

Containment problems persisted throughout the game with Garcia routinely being able to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush and either dump off a short lob pass or use his legs to pick up some big gains. Garcia had 58 yards rushing in the game (not including the yards lost from Georgia's two sacks) and was able to keep drives going by avoiding the rush.

Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said Battle's loss throughout most of the game played a role in the poor containment of Garcia, but clearly this is a problem as it was a year ago against mobile quarterbacks.

"He was making plays, and they were catching the ball. He got away from our pass rush, we lost contain at times, and a lot of it was because of his ability to do it. But we didn't want to give up the deep balls, the vertical game. We wanted to keep everything in front of us, and he scrambled a couple of times to make some big-time plays."

On the upside, however, Georgia was exceptional in the red zone and that started with the line's ability to control the running game, and of course any assessment of the defense's performance -- particularly the guys up front -- should come with the caveat that the were on the field for 30 more plays than South Carolina's defense.

Final Grade: C

LINEBACKERS: This was not the best day for Georgia's linebackers not named Rennie Curran. Both Darius Dewberry and Nick Williams missed the game, leaving Georgia with little depth at Sam linebacker, and the results were obvious.

Marcus Washington was forced to return to linebacker for the first time since spring practice, and South Carolina exploited Georgia's weak linebacker play by finding tight end Weslye Saunders over and over and over.

Saunders had eight catches for 96 yards and was open all night. It was the go-to play for Garcia, who would survey the field, then step up to avoid the rush and dump a short lob to Saunders over the middle for crucial gains.

But it's hard to throw the linebackers under the bus too much when you factor in the work that Curran did. Before the game, he gave an impassioned speech that had the team ready to play. During the game, he was dominant, finishing with a career-best 15 tackles. And on the Gamecocks' final play, he once again made the play that ended South Carolina's comeback attempt.

As impressive as Curran's deflection of Garcia's final pass was, it's even more impressive when you remember that Garcia had been killing Georgia with his legs all night and could have easily ran up the middle and picked up the first down, too. Curran was forced into no-man's land, but made the right choice staying on his receiver and making the crucial deflection at the goal line.

“There’s something about this game and the goal line," Curran said, "I’m just always there in the right place at the right time. It feels good though.”

Darryl Gamble had a solid game, too, finishing with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, while Marcus Dowtin finished with six tackles, a nice follow-up to his strong performance in Georgia's opener against Oklahoma State.

Final Grade: B

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Martinez said the game plan was to shut down South Carolina's vertical attack, but the Gamecocks probably did a better job of that than the Bulldogs did. It it weren't for several crucial penalties that negated big plays, Prince Miller would have had a long night. Tori Gurley had two touchdown receptions overturned because of flags on the Gamecocks' offense.

Penalties were a problem for Georgia, too. The Bulldogs were flagged 13 times for 108 yards in the game, and the DBs played a big role, including two 15-yard penalties on Vance Cuff and another personal foul call on Reshad Jones.

Brandon Boykin was once again the highlight of the secondary. He was exceptional in coverage and came down with Georgia's first -- and to this point, only -- turnover of the season, a brilliant interception of Garcia in which the South Carolina QB clearly under-estimated Boykin's leaping ability.

"He made a couple other great plays when they were trying to throw the ball deep," Martinez said. "He's got an unbelievable vertical jump, he's a great athlete and it was good to see him play so well."

Richt said Boykin has introduced an interesting new presume ritual the past two weeks. When the players finish warm ups and run back toward Richt, Boykin leaps up and Richt said the cornerback's feet get up to the coach's eye line.

"He's a tremendous athlete," Richt said of Boykin. "I wish we had about three of him. He's an outstanding cover guy, he's tough enough to play the boundary corner which we expect them to support the run, he can return kicks as you saw. He can do so much."

Kudos to Bryan Evans, by the way. After so many really ugly coverage performances, his breakup of Garcia's pass in the end zone intended for D.L. Moore was a game saver.

Final Grade: C

SPECIAL TEAMS: Where to begin?

On one hand, you have Boykin's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

On the other hand, you have Branden Smith's fumble to set up a South Carolina score.

Of course, Smith also had another long return, and Georgia managed a school-record 252 kick return yards.

Of course, there were some problems in the punting game, where a bad snap from Ty Frix turned into the first safety allowed by Georgia since 2006.

Balir Wash was actually able to kick deep this week and responded with two touchbacks and the Gamecocks began their first five drives following kickoffs at the 22 or worse. Walsh also booted two field goals, including his second 50+ yarder of the season.

But Chris Culliver also returned Walsh's seventh kickoff 57 yards to set up a South Carolina field goal.

And then you have the fake punt that South Carolina ran in the second quarter turned a three-and-out into a field goal for the Gamecocks -- one of five in the game for Lanning.

And that's all before you get to what might have been the biggest play of the game -- DeAngelo Tyson's block of South Carolina's point-after try following Eric Norwood's pick six. That preserved a one-point lead for Georgia and forced the Gamecocks to go for the touchdown on the game's final drive rather than booting a sixth field goal to tie the score.

So the bottom line is, there were a lot of problems on special teams that can't be repeated next week, but the good definitely outweighed the bad.

Final Grade: B

COACHING: From the Saturday kickoff in Stillwater right up until the kickoff at Sanford Stadium against the Gamecocks, it was clearly not one of the finest weeks in Richt's career. But despite all the problems -- the loss to OSU, the offensive ineptitude, the public questions raised about personnel, the on-the-record contradictions made by various coaches, the report that Cox was going to be benched -- Richt had his troops ready to play Saturday.

More than a few folks, including myself, wondered if Richt didn't need to be a bit more vocal in critiquing the performance against Oklahoma State, but the results of his cool and collected approach were more than enough justification.

On offense, questions still have to be asked about Bobo's personnel decisions, but the game plan was both more diversified and more successful against South Carolina and Bobo deserves some credit for finding ways to get Green open by putting him in motion and moving him around the field more than he did a week earlier. The playcalling was much better this week, however, and the result was three touchdowns on three trips inside South Carolina's 20. (Of course, we didn't see Logan Gray on any of those red-zone snaps, which I thought was supposed to be where the coaching staff wanted to use him.)

"The one thing we talked about all week as an offense was to execute," Bobo said. "We wanted our guys to be aggressive, play with some passion, and I thought they did that tonight. Obviously it wasn't perfect, but whoever had the ball had a mind-set of making a play, and it wasn't just A.J. Green. I'm proud of the way they came back after last week."

There will no doubt be criticisms of Martinez and his unwillingness or inability to adjust, and yes, South Carolina did do essentially the same thing offensively throughout the game to exploit Georgia's zone for short, time-consuming gains. But I think this was probably the right approach for the Bulldogs in this game rather than stubbornness on Martinez's part.

The defense certainly didn't look great, but it got the job done. Martinez did what he could given the injury concerns at linebacker and defensive end. Martinez did a nice job of blitzing linebackers when he could without sacrificing the vertical defense, holding most of the gains South Carolina made in front of the defense, and forced South Carolina to settle for field goals or no points on five of seven trips to the red zone.

“Bottom line is we got it done in the end," Richt said. "There were so many good things, so many bad things. When it came down to it, the red-zone defense was fantastic and that really was the difference.”

Extra credit goes to Martinez's defense for holding up while being on the field for 30 more plays than the offense was.

All the flags should be a concern for Georgia's coaching staff. The Bulldogs got 13 of them Saturday and now rank 109th in the country in penalties. That's discouraging given all the work the team supposedly put in to minimizing the whistles during the offseason. The problems, however, have been offset for the most part by 26 penalties against the opposing team in the first two games.

Turnovers are still a problem, with Georgia giving the ball away three more times Saturday, and while Boykin did muster the first takeaway of the season, South Carolina also put the ball on the ground twice without turning it over. Georgia needs to both create more takeaway opportunities and do a better job of capitalizing on them.

More than anything else, however, the coaching staff earns some kudos for keeping the focus where it needed to be despite all the furor following the team's first 0-1 start in 13 years.

Richt admitted that the players and coaches were all down after the OSU loss, but he said some encouraging words by assistant coach Joe Tereshinski and linebacker Rennie Curran helped to turn the tide and the attitude was as impressive on game day as Richt could remember.

“I think our guys played about as hard as I’ve seen them play in a long time," Richt said. "There was a special energy. I don’t know why. Maybe there was a special sense of urgency at not going 0-2, knowing we’re at home, knowing it was the SEC. There was so many things riding on it, and for whatever reason I think our boys had as much heart and fire, wire to wire, that I’ve ever seen.”

Final Grade: B


jferg said...

Again, I would love to see CWM--at the very least--jam the TE. If we disrupt the TE's timing...the D looks better. This could be critical since Ar-kansas has a great TE.
All in all a very good run down of our team's performance. Plenty to work on but most of it is fixable (is that word?). Let's pray that we are just as focused about not being 1-2 as we were about not being 0-2.

Anonymous said...

Please don't encourage Martinez by giving him credit for "doing the right thing". He has never, that I can recall, made an in-game adjustment to what the opponent is doing. You can pretty much tell early on, if a team is moving the ball we're in trouble. Wille can not adapt. I've tried to give him the benefit of the doubt for a long time, but Martinez is not a good DC.

rbubp said...

I really don't get how you can give the linebackers a B and the secondary a C. To my eyes, the linebackers gave up a whole lot of short-passing yardage AND failed to contain Garcia on several occasions. No one other than Curran got it together; Akeen Dent was so screwed up he many as well have been a scarecrow out in a Georgia cornfield. I'd say the others gets a D but Curran's excellence lifts them a letter grade. This was supposed to be an area of strength, but it sure wasn't on Satrurday.

The secondary was not perfect, but while giving up a few catches and making some mistakes, they were pretty much on all the deep passes when they were attempted and had no significant lapses in deep coverage. The underneath coverage, especially on the RBs, should have been better, for sure; but they made Garcia stay underneath, is how it looked to me. I'd have to give them a B or B- for a pretty successful night on the whole.

rbubp said...

BTW, Anon 6:07, I don't want to sound like a Martinez apologist, but if that's what your criticism is --"he has never made an adjustment"--then I claim that you have never watched a football game. It's outlandishly blind that you even say that.

Just shut up or pay attention. Both would be best.

Will Q said...

Somebody needs to make a Rennie t-shirt that says "Cock Killer."

I'd buy one.

Coondawg said...

My issue with Joe Cox are the mental mistakes he is making. Running out of bounds for a loss against OSU, Intentional grounding, telegraphing his throws... He should be so far past those types of mistakes.

Anonymous said...

rbubp, I've watched plenty of football and Martinez can't adapt. If the other team runs a conventional offense, Willie can hold up fairly well. If they do something unusual or unexpected we have to hope they stop on their own, because by the time Willie adjusts they'll have 40 points.

Willie has managed to put our pass defense squarely in the bottom half of the SEC for two straight years, and he's supposed to be a defensive back specialist. After making Steven Garcia look like a cross between Fran Tarkenton and Joe Montana, I'd say we're a lock for season #3.

SnoopDawg said...


I think you are a bit confused about Willie M. Let me remind you about how good WM is. No other defense in Georgia history has given up more points than our defense under WM. Do you remember games like FL last yr, Tennessee the year before, West Virginia in the Sugar, Alabama last year, Ga Tech last year, Virginia Tech, LSU last year. All of these games we lost or almost lost because professor WM couldn't make adjustments. Van Gorder made adjustments just look now at how much better the Atlanta Falcons defense is. I don't think your watching the games, if you were you would realize we will never move to the elite level until we get someone who knows how to put the great talent we have in the right place to make plays.

Anonymous said...


Great job of reporting over the last week. Hope you enjoyed the day "off" in Charlotte.

Did you happen to get a pic of the guy with Kearse jersey and jean shorts? Have you ordered a Vick jersey yet?

rbubp said...

Fellow Dawg fans,
I did not contend that WM was any good--as a coach, a teacher, a person, a strategist, or as anything else. I did not even claim that his in-game adjustments are any GOOD. I only disputed the idea, as clearly stated by Anon 6:07, that WM "has never, that I can recall, made an in-game adjustment to what the opponent is doing," is a statement that is patently ridiculous.

We should make more sophisticated arguments. As one example, Martinez strategized the game against SC by blitzing the LBs more than he usually does, a standard strategy against Spurrier. When that didn't work, he started leaving the LBs back in coverage.

I AM NOT SAYING IT WORKED. I am only saying that the man DOES make adjustments, so stop acting like you know better, please, unless you can actually see the adjustments he does make and assess those.

Come on, we're all fans, not insiders, players, or coaches. Please recognize that if we were as expert as some of us act that our opinions would be paid for.

Hardy said...

Off subject, but has anyone heard about someone getting beat down by a bike cop downtown after the game in a downtown church parking lot near nowhere bar. Complete police brutality. Please contact me if you have heard about it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This game resembled the game against UK last season. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed for the Arkansas game. The first thing is to tell Branden Smith that when he is 5 yards in the endzone returning a kickoff to kneel it out.

Knowshon4Heisman said...

I've got a nickname suggestion for the combo of Branden smith and Brandon boykin== THE KILLER B'S(killer bulldawgs), i think the name would encourage more aggressive play also, what do ya'll think?

The Realist said...

1) Bulldawgs should never wish to be nicknamed anything that could be confused with bees.

2) Cock Killer is funny. I think Cock Block is also appropriate.

3) We, as a fanbase, have to lay off WillieMart.

Considering the hands they've been dealt in the first two weeks, the defense has played pretty well.

We want him to play man until our corners get toasted. Then we say the corners suck and WM needs to get more pressure on the quarterback. When he plays zone to protect against the big play, we get all up in arms when a historically erratic, impatient quarterback plays the game of his career and takes seven yard gains all night long. In short, we aren't going to be happy until the defense stops every single play for a loss and has 82 3-and-outs in a row. This is the SEC. That ain't gonna happen.

Let's just take a collective deep breath and let things play out.