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Monday, October 12, 2009

Can't Fight Against the Youth

I posted a still photo of Georgia's final kickoff against LSU last week, hoping to better illustrate the problems in the execution of the play. While the photo certainly showed some coverage issues, it also showed something else.

All week, following the loss to LSU, Mark Richt had talked about how young his kickoff coverage team was this year, and young teams tend to struggle. Well, as one of my readers pointed out, that's not exactly what the photo showed. In fact, here are the six coverage guys shown in the photo: Stephen Braue (Sr.), Shawn Williams (Fr.), Rennie Curran (Jr.), Prince Miller (Sr.), Baccari Rambo (RFr.) and Nick Williams (So.).

Only one true freshman, which sort of undermined the argument that youth is the reason for the problems on the unit.

That got me to thinking about the rest of the team. I know that, particularly on offense, Georgia has a lot of young players getting significant reps. But is that the reason for the team's struggles?

I quickly put together a rough list of all the key juniors and seniors on both sides of the ball this year and provided a quick analysis of their play thus far...

Joe Cox -- It's not Cox's ability that has been disconcerting. Aside from the flu-ridden Oklahoma State game, Cox's arm has been better than advertised in terms of connecting on deep balls. It's his decision making that has been the bigger issue, and that goes against everything we heard about him in the preseason. His decisions to throw to his primary receiver rather than check down have resulted in two pick sixes, his choice to throw away balls before taking a sack finally -- but not surprisingly -- came back to haunt him when Dennis Rogan picked one off at Tennessee, and while I put the majority of the onus for the chaos of spiking it with a second left before the half on the coaching staff, Cox has to know how to handle those situations, too. On top of that, his completion percentage and passing yards have dipped in each game the past three weeks.

Shaun Chapas -- The problems with the running game can be pinned on any number of players, but Chapas was supposed to be a strength, and instead he's done almost nothing. His blocking has been suspect on offense and he hasn't been the same weapon in the passing game he was last year. Meanwhile, as one of the real veterans on special teams, he stole a kick return away from Brandon Boykin, and he twice let Branden Smith run kicks out of the end zone early in the season… mental breakdowns, all of them.

Mike Moore -- Moore virtually disappeared from the offense for two weeks following a strong performance against Arkansas before returning with six catches against Tennessee. Still, none of his catches were for anything resembling a big gain, and on his last one, he fumbled, leading to another Tennessee touchdown. He's had two or fewer catches in four of six games this year, has cracked 50 yards receiving just once, and all of that is with the best receiver in college football on the other side of the field getting double teamed.

The entire O line -- Before the season, this unit was considered one of the best in the country and pretty easily the best in the SEC. Six games into the season, they're not anywhere close to being as good as they were last year when they had a different lineup each week and three freshmen starting. The run blocking has been abysmal all year, in Weeks 1 and 6, the pass blocking was as brutal as we've seen in a while, and add to that the huge number of penalties that have been called on the line, and you have to wonder if it's really Stacy Searels under that sweat-soaked sweatshirt during practice or if it's just some guy who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Geno Atkins & Jeff Owens -- If either of these guys had left for the NFL following their junior seasons, they'd probably have been first-day draft picks. In Atkins' case, he would have been a first-rounder last season. Instead, the two have combined for 26 tackles and one-half of a sack. On top of that, Atkins hasn't even started the past three games, effectively passed on the depth chart by Kade Weston because of Weston's better practice habits.

Bryan Evans -- He's a great kid, but his coverage skills are beyond bad. Evans has seen playing time in almost every game for the past two years without an interception. Baccari Rambo has seen significant action in just the past three games, and he has two picks.

Prince Miller -- How many times has he been burned in coverage this season? Saturday was easily his worst effort, but there have been others -- too many others. It says something when opposing QBs are picking on your senior, three-year starter at about a 2-to-1 clip over the sophomore, first-year starter at corner. But worse is the punt return situation. First, Georgia essentially punts on the idea of returning punts against LSU, with Logan Gray in the game to decide whether a kick should be fair caught or allowed to bounce behind him. Then, Miller finally gets in during one of these "punt safe" situations, and he catches and returns a kick from his own 1-yard line. When you do something so awful that the decision to use Gray as a punt returner looks smart by comparison, that's bad.

Add to that: Akeem Dent (has only played in two games), Vance Cuff (minimal action the past three weeks), Darius Dewberry (missed three games), Demarcus Dobbs (just 12 tackles and 1 sack so far) and Reshad Jones (much improved tackling, but zero INTs so far).

If you look at the above list, it could easily be titled, "Most Disappointing Players: 2009."

The only veterans that have had any measurable impact on a consistent basis have been Rennie Curran, Kade Weston and Darryl Gamble -- and each of them have had some down moments as well.

Then look at the youngsters. I'd venture to say the combination of A.J. Green, Brandon Boykin, Baccari Rambo, Tavarres King, Branden Smith, Marcus Dowtin and Justin Houston have been responsible for about 90 percent of the big plays Georgia has had this season, and all are freshmen or sophomores.

Sure, Boykin and Smith and the rest have had their share of mistakes, too, but they've at least begun to balance out the errors with big plays, too. With the exception of the young running backs, you'd have to argue that virtually every one of Georgia's freshmen and sophomore contributors has met or exceeded preseason expectations.

But the veterans? It's not just poor play overall, but some really silly mistakes -- the type of stuff you'd expect from, well, freshmen.

I'm sure a few people will look at this and again point to coaching, but I'm not sure I can agree with that. Those veterans, as Mark Richt said on Sunday, are on the field for a reason. They've accomplished things in the past earned them playing time in the present. And those kids, for all their talent, didn't just step off a high school field and know how to suddenly play well in the SEC. They were coached up, although to varying degrees you might argue.

So how then to explain why guys like Brandon Boykin or Tavarres King haven't simply played better than his veteran counterparts, but has played smarter, too?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'll give Joe Cox credit for at least accepting the responsibility of it.

"These younger guys came to Georgia because they wanted to be part of something great," Cox said. "You don't want to feel like you let those guys down, and you don't want them to feel like this is how it's supposed to be. ... We don't want them to be a part of a season that none of us can be proud of. Everybody always talks about playing for the seniors because it's their last shot. But the seniors, the veterans have to play for the younger guys, too, to show them the right way to do things and get them started off on the right foot."

12 comments:

hollywooddawg said...

David, good post. I'll add a little more to the Youth issue. Of the 55 players on our Roster, 30 of them are either FR or SO. Here is the breakdown:

SR - 12 (6 starters)
JR - 12 (7 starters)
SO - 15 (9 starters)
FR - 15 (0 starters)

Jeremy said...

It's another moment of disconnect between what we see and what we hear from the coaching staff.

Similar to the crticism of Blair Walsh---you read how our problems are based on youth and you see that its actually the younger ones performing.

And you wonder, what does CMR and staff believe they are selling us?

MikeInValdosta said...

This was a real pick-me-up. Thanks

Uganewt said...

David-

Great post. I don't like piling on a kid, but Prince has been getting picked on non stop since the Bama game last year. It reminds me of Ronald Bailey. We jokingly assumed he continued to get playing time in the mid-late 90s b/c we wanted to keep a good relationship with the family for Champ and Boss (it turned out to be worth it).

Does Prince have two stud younger brothers we don't know about?

DRM said...

Question. Is there a way to look up the strength numbers of our team , say the offensive line and what there numbers are in regards to weight lifting. Then get those numbers and compare them to say alabama's. I have no idea what we might find I am just curious if our strength numbers are on par with others. Cause we are definitely struggling in the strength department in regards to O-line, D-line, and Fullbacks. And from all the injuries that we have had in last year and a half, I wonder if our strength program has dropped some along with all the other aspects of our coaching.

David Hale said...

I have the strength numbers for UGA, and they're pretty good. I'd have no way of getting them for Bama or UF though.

jferg said...

I think when CMR is referring to "youth being a problem"...he's talking about some of the early-season momentum killers by the young guys. Also, young guys are going to make their fair share of big plays--because they have so much athletic ability and confidence. however, they will also make a lot of bad plays...and our team has proven that we need all 11 players playing well on any given play for that play to succeed. For every one of Orson Charles' great catches, there have been as many or more missed blocks that led to no gain or loss of yards...when otherwise the play was blocked well. This is just one example of how 'youth' can hose your team. When you NEED all these young guys playing--you inherit the risks as well.
This is why CMR likes to redshirt--to limit the BAD plays. And it makes sense.

This being said, it only begs the question of why our upper-classment aren't playing better. One word answer: Coaching.

DAve said...

This is the post I've been waiting to see from a Georgia blogger. Our underclassmen have been making plays and our seniors, with the exception of the ones mentioned, for whatever reason have not.

rbubp said...

jferg makes a good point. the TEs can't block worth a damn. Aron White has not been a reliable contributor, and Orson Charles could not have really been expected to be a force blocker as a true freshman--plus he isn't as big as some we've had in the past. Hopefully the other freshman will be a great blocker, because we need it badly.

Anonymous said...

Aaron White is a wide-out playing tight end. Orson Charles is a wide-out playing tight end. Michael Moore is a dead-end playing wide-out. Joe T. / Joe C. is a career scout-teamer at starting quarterback (By the way, my wife suggested not recruiting any more QBs named Joe). Richard Samuel is a linebacker playing running back. Carlton Thomas is a speedster being asked to run up the middle. Blair Walsh is a power kicker being asked to place-kick. Shawn Chapas is a career second-teamer being used as a starter. Coach McClendon is a wide receiver who is coaching running backs. Coach Ball is a running back who is coaching wide receivers. Logan Gray is an option quarterback who is a punt returner. The punt return team is the regular defensive unit. Please, I could go on and on but my fingers are wearing out. Thank you.

MikeInValdosta said...

The player's lives would be much easier if they would just wear "anonymous" on the back of their jerseys.

dean said...

I'm glad to see someone in the media calling out Stacy Searels for the o-line problems. Has the responsibility of being the "running game coordinator" taken that much of a toll on his coaching ability or did Knowshon (and Stafford) make last years line look better than what it actually was? Most people are quick to blame Bobo for the offensive problems and he deserves the blame as the OC but the complete lack of a running game greatly hinders his play-calling.