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Monday, October 19, 2009

Grading the Game: Vanderbilt Commodores

A few quick emails first...

Anonymous writes: Sitting here reading the comments with ESPN on the TV in the background. Ironically, the ESPN Gameday commercial comes on. Herbstreit and the gang playing "cornhole" with Coach Meyers. They are discussing iconic outfits like Tressel's sweater vest and Spurrier's visor. Freaking Urban boasts about his two national champion rings and fist bumps Chris Fowler. If you think for a second that they are not in bed together, well then you are wrong. The refs, whether consciously or subconsciously, give them the benefit of the doubt. The lack of celebration calls against Tebow, the b.s. defensive pass interference, the ridiculous personal foul on the Ark lineman who was just protecting himself, and the no call on the offensive pass ineterfernce by Cooper in the endzone are embarrasing and dishonest. They can't lose with the refs and ESPN in their pocket. Sickening. By the way, could you ever see Richt fist bumping Corso, Herbstreit or Fowler while bragging about rings. Me either...

David: Isn't it odd? I mean, Ron Jawarski isn't allowed to make a prediction for Monday Night Football when he's a guest on "PTI," but Chris Fowler can fist bump Urban Meyer in a commercial? And ESPN's stake in college football is just going to get bigger and bigger.

Here's the thing: It doesn't matter what's reality and what's a conspiracy theory. The problem is perception, and right now, college football has a major perception problem. What's worse is that they seem uninterested in fixing it.

C Fowler writes: I was qiuite surprised that Vandy declined penelties. I think one of them we were 2nd and 10 or 11. I think that spoke volumes that Vandy felt very secure in the Dawgs not picking up any yardage at all.

David: That was odd, wasn't it? I thought it was just me.

Vandy declined two penalties, choosing to take the down over the lost yardage. I've never done the math (and that's probably because I'm not smart enough to do that sort of math) but my guess is that taking the down over yardage is virtually always a wise decision, however, assuming that the down resulted in no more than a small 1- or 2-yard gain.

And, you know, those Vandy folks are pretty smart.

And now, for my hate mail of the week...

simplemanpdg writes: Mr. Hale, since you and Ronnie Curran seemed to be connected at the hip, is he the only one there who can speak? Lets here from the 5th year Senior who is still majoring in pre journalism,,,who according to your own article transfered from Tech. By the way where are all those bulldog fans who always seem to is on sale everywhere.

David: First, let me say that I'm honored that I'm now being harassed by Tech fans, too. Or, at least I'm assuming that's who this guy is. Hard to make heads or tails of this comment that was posted on my game story on

First… Ronnie Curran? Nice.

Second, I quoted at least five other people in my story, so I'm a little lost on why quoting "Ronnie" is an issue.

Third, I don't know who the heck he is talking about when he mentions the "5th year senior."

Fourth, I definitely didn't mention anyone transferring from Tech.

Fifth, he used the wrong version of "here."

Sixth, he spelled "transfered" wrong.

Seventh, I figured if you weren't already enjoying the win, you could at least enjoy a truly idiotic response from a Tech fan. It's the little things, right?

OK, moving on...

I'm furloughed this week, so the grades had to be written Sunday and had to be abbreviated. Hopefully you can find something else to kill the majority of your afternoon. Anyway, here goes…

QUARTERBACKS: Joe Cox did enough to win the game, and once again he suffered from a lackluster running game early and drops by his receivers. That's a tough situation in which to succeed. Still, he threw his ninth INT of the year, and he has thrown at least one pick in every game this season, and his best play was a simple quick throw to A.J. Green at the line of scrimmage, and Green did the rest for a 65-yard TD. Cox also opened the game 3-of-11 passing and he finished just 16-of-31, meaning his completion percentage dropped for the fourth straight game.

Logan Gray saw action on the team's final drive, successfully handing off the football three straight times. Seems like he probably could have been in a drive earlier when Cox handed off 10 straight times.

Final Grade: C

RUNNING BACKS: Georgia finally got its running game going late, picking up a season-high 173 yards rushing. But the bulk of those runs came on the team's final two drives which included 13 straight runs. Prior to that, Georgia was averaging just a bit better than two-and-a-half yards per carry against one of the worst run defenses the Dawgs will face all year.

So what do we take from this game? Should we be concerned that Georgia looked awful running the ball yet again for the bulk of the game? Or should we be encouraged because at the end of the game, when Vandy knew that Georgia wasn't going to throw the ball and was geared up entirely to stop the run, the Bulldogs still engineered a 10-play scoring drive completely on the ground?

I'd say maybe it's a bit of both. There are still concerns here, but the game also showed that there's still reason to be excited about Washaun Ealey and the combination of Caleb King, Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas have enough talent that they can find success if given enough opportunities. The question then becomes, how many more games will Georgia have the option of giving its tailbacks so many opportunities?

Two big gold stars here go to Caleb King, who had a couple of nice runs (one coming on a screen pass) and scored two touchdowns despite playing with a broken jaw, and to fullback Fred Munzenmaier, who started the first game of his career and turned in a nice performance. He ran twice for 10 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run on fourth down. He also added three receptions for 21 yards, showing the kind of versatility that made Shaun Chapas such a weapon last year. With as much as Chapas has struggled this year, perhaps we should see a little more of Munzenmaier even when the incumbent is healthy.

Final Grade: B

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: I remember watching "South Park" when it first came on way back in the mid-1990s and thinking, "Man, this show goes all out to shock you. They'll never be able to keep this up." Now here we are a decade-and-a-half later and "South Park" continues to push the envelope.

That's sort of how I feel about A.J. Green. He was so impressive early that I figured I'd get desensitized to his greatness, and yet each week, he continues to do something else to impress me. His 65-yard TD run was the latest, but I'll never call it the greatest. I promise he has more to tricks up his sleeve that we haven't seen yet.

The rest of Georgia's receiving corps had mixed results, with a few more drops being added to a growing trend of dubious hands and no one other than Green proved a consistent threat. Still, two strong signs: 1.) Ten different players caught a pass, and that type of diversity can only help Georgia's offense, and 2.) For the first time in weeks, the tight ends got involved in the offense again. Aron White and Orson Charles only had three catches for 35 yards, but that essentially matched their total from the past two games and both were targeted several times.

Final Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: Like the running game, this was sort of a mixed bag.

Joe Cox was sacked for the first time in more than a month and just the sixth time all season, but overall it seemed like the line did a much better job of pass protection than it had last week when Cox was continuously under pressure.

The running game struggled early, but the line opened up some nice holes late, and as head coach Mark Richt pointed out, there appeared to be some more room on several of the early runs, too, but the tailbacks didn't do the best job of reading their blocks.

Overall, a mixed bag, but definitely a big step forward from last week's debacle.

Final Grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE: This was one of the D-line's best performances of the season overall. Vandy QB Larry Smith was under pressure throughout, Georgia had three sacks of an athletic quarterback, and all three came from D linemen. Justin Houston continues to make a big impact, picking up another sack and making four tackles. Overall, Georgia had nine tackles for a loss.

Geno Atkins returned to form this week, picking up 8 tackles, including one for a loss, and Demarcus Dobbs had probably the best game of his season, recording 1.5 tackles for a loss, four tackles overall, and he nearly picked off Smith's first pass of the game.

Vandy did have a few pretty impressive runs against the Georgia defensive front, but neither Warren Norman nor Zac Stacy managed to average better than 4 yards per carry and, despite one 21-yard run, the line kept containment on Smith well.

Final Grade: A-

LINEBACKERS: Christian Robinson continues to get a bunch of playing time with Marcus Dowtin and Akeem Dent out of action. Both should be back in two weeks against Florida, but Robinson filled in admirably. He had three tackles in the game.

Rennie Curran led the Dawgs in tackles for the seventh time in seven games this season, recording nine take-downs. Curiously though, Curran was off the field in many key situations, including the defensive series immediately following Georgia's first touchdown and two of Vandy's three fourth-down attempts.

Darryl Gamble chipped in with six tackles and Darius Dewberry had three.

Final Grade: B+

DEFENSIVE BACKS: First off, it was great to see Quintin Banks back out on the field for just his second game in the past two years. He made two tackles, including one for a loss.

Reshad Jones hauled in his first INT of the year, and Georgia turned the take-away into a touchdown on the other end after Cox's 65-yard touchdown pass to Green.

Brandon Boykin was picked on fairly often by Vandy, but he never allowed the big play. He finished with five tackles and was solid throughout the day.

Prince Miller got an early pass-interference flag, but beyond that, he had a quiet afternoon -- and that's a good thing.

The real issue in the secondary continues to be the playing time split between Baccari Rambo and Bryan Evans. Rambo had another strong day, recording three tackles and coming up just short of picking off his third INT of the year. Evans had three tackles, too, but he was burned on what was probably the biggest offensive play of the game for Vandy -- a 25-yard completion to Collin Ashley on third-and-8 that set up a Commodores' touchdown. It was the longest passing play of the game for Vandy.

Rambo may not be a great player yet, and perhaps with increased playing time, he'd have his weaknesses exposed to a greater degree. But the bottom line is that he is already ahead of Evans in terms of his ability, and Richt should be concerned with little more than ensuring the best players are on the field for the most time. And knowing what a good team-first guy Evans is, I'm certain there wouldn't be any complaints from him about giving up some PT if it meant Georgia would have a better shot at earning a 'W.'

Overall, nice job by the much-maligned secondary. Smith finished the game just 11-of-26 passing and was eventually lifted for Mackenzi Adams. It wasn't the toughest test the secondary will face, but we probably would have said that about last week's game against Tennessee, too. At least this week, they passed the test with flying colors.

Final Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS: Finally we get to see some performance from Prince Miller in the punt-return game. Miller had two big returns and picked up a total 95 yards.

And yet, it might be the Logan Gray return of minus-2 yards that we'll remember. Ugh.

Oh, and I'll get to the fake punt in a bit.

I mentioned this yesterday in my "Fleeting Thoughts" post, but we also need to take a moment and appreciate how good Blair Walsh has been this season. It's not his fault that Georgia too often employs a flawed strategy or bad execution on kick coverage, but he continues to boot touchbacks at a high level and he is money in the bank on field goals and PATs.

Final Grade: B

COACHING: I'll preface this section by saying that the coaches did an exceptional job of having their team ready for a game that meant everything in terms of morale and they did it in the face of as much adversity in terms of public criticism as a Mark Richt staff has ever faced. Richt said he wanted everyone focused on beating Vandy, and it sure looked like everyone bought in. Kudos to the coaches for doing a great job with that.

Now the bad news.

What do these three things have in common?

-- Georgia is flagged for an illegal formation with 49 seconds left in the first half.
-- Georgia allows Vandy to convert a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from the UGA 47 midway through the second quarter.
-- Georgia allows Vandy to march 80 yards on 11 plays for its lone touchdown -- the longest scoring drive of the year for the Commodores.

If your first guess is that all three of those things make the Georgia coaching staff look bad, you'd be right.

But if you guessed that all three of those things either followed a Georgia timeout or halftime -- i.e. points in which the coaches had JUST given instructions or adjustments to the players -- you'd be even more right.

From an emotional standpoint, Georgia's coaches had the team well-prepared, but when you come out of a timeout or the half and do something stupid three times in one game, that has to be a reflection on the coaching staff, right?

The fake punt, of course, was the most egregious, particularly since it has happened so many times to Georgia and it was the perfect down, distance and timing for Vandy to do it.

"We should have been in a punt-safe mode when they faked, and that was my call to make," Richt said. "That field position and that short, there was not much chance of a return anyway, we should have been in punt safe, and that was my fault for not making sure we did that."

Did you catch that last part? He didn't MAKE SURE they were in it. That's a lot different than the first part of his quote when he says it was "my call." So I don't know where the fault lies for not being on the ball, but regardless, this cannot keep happening.

One final note on the coaching: I'm not sure how much Mike Bobo's presence on the sideline rather than the press box really mattered. Maybe it was a case of attributing a causal relationship where there wasn't one. Maybe the better play was psychosomatic and Bobo didn't really DO anything but the notion of him being on the sideline caused him players to BELIEVE he was doing something. Regardless, it worked, and he deserves some measure of credit for it. Add to that the fact that he did one of his best jobs of play calling all season, and Bobo grades out pretty well.

Final Grade: C+ (brought down by a few glaring problems, but overall the effort was quite good)

VENUE: Seeing a game at Vandy is just a touch different than seeing a high-school game. I liked it. Very low stress.

Also a big gold star to Castleberry for recommending Pancake Pantry. Mmmmm…..

Final Grade: A


Castleberry said...

Glad you liked the pantry. Will miss your blog during the furlough.

Anonymous said...

I think Rontavius' catch deserves a mention.

Anonymous said...


Regarding the Special Teams/Coaching sections, what about the timeout that we called on fourth down when Vandy was in punt formation? (I'm not positive and haven't watched the tape, but I believe that Vandy ran the fake punt immediately after the timeout.) But back to the reason for the comment, I rewound the tape at the time to see why we called the timeout, and my suspicion was correct, we had 12 men on the field. (If it was the same play as the fake, then Richt's comment about "making sure" is even more egregious.) Our personnel(Rennie and Rambo not being on the field, AJ not on the field for 3rd downs against Arizona State)/game situation/clock management issues rear their ugly heads at the most crucial moments and have been around since the '01 Auburn game (if memory serves me correctly, we were driving for the tying score into the west endzone and ran a running play from inside the five with about ten seconds left and time ran out). You'd think we'd figure at least some of it out at some point.

Anonymous said...

It's a bad sign when a coach has to resort to gimmicks (Bobo moving to the sidelines) to try and improve the performance of his players. It just shows Bobo has no idea what to do from an X's and O's standpoint to improve the offense.

We are going to get beaten down by UF and GT, and struggle against AU and UK.

Can anyone think of any recent examples (within the last 15 years-not Dooley in 1974) in which a head coach has been successful, then seen that success go away, and been able to return his program to greatness?

Will Q said...

Anon 10:31

No, but I would say that is mostly because coaches aren't given the chance to do so. Fulmer and Tuberville are prime examples. Both made attempts to change (coordinators at least, if not basic philosophy), but neither was given the chance to see those changes through.

There may be examples I'm not thinking of, but Richt is an interesting social experiment right now. He's had enough success that he's built a loyal following of fans who are (for the most part) willing to give him the chance to right the ship. I am certain he has the smarts to do so, but many wonder if he has the fortitude. If he does, I think Richt could become a modern Dooley or Bryant that could revitalize a program that has perhaps stagnated a bit.

Ubiquitous GA Alum said...

Anon @ 10:31 AM ... Joe Pa

Anonymous said...

I thought my hate mail to your was pretty pithy and yet it gets no mention today??

I'll try harder next time.

Have a good week.

stevegjohns said...

I'm sure I'll get laughed at by some of you, and I'm not saying this WILL happen, but Richt reminds me of Mack Brown in some respects.

Read his wiki and you'll see the following: "He was often lauded for his recruiting while being criticized for failing to win championships." Brown couldn't even win the conference at first. He was almost run out of town for his failure to win championships and beat his main rival, even though he seemingly had a juggernaut of a program.

Now here we are in 2009. Texas has one BCS championship, and they seem to be right on the outside each and every year. If they win out this year, they'll be in the game again, despite playing out of a brutal Big 12 South.

I haven't done extensive research, and I haven't run the numbers, but to me, the comparison makes sense.

Is Richt perfect? No. Will he turn it around like Mack Brown turned Texas around? I don't know. But I'm still proud to have him as my coach, and I hope people at least give him another season or two to right the ship. He's earned it.

Anonymous said...

"brutal big 12 south"

I hope you meant terrible big 12 south

Anonymous said...

I bet simplemanpdg is just a frustrated FSU grad (NCAA rpt)

Anonymous said...

the thing I loved about this Vandy game was seeing Bobo and Richt on the sideline actually communicating together and coaching the players up. Bobo's presence obviously got everyone on the same page and provided more energy and excitement, a spark that was desperately needed. Bobo needs to be on that sideline for the rest of the year!
I also loved playing ALL of the running backs. at this point, i say Samuel is the worst of the 4 because he cannot hold on to the football, we cannot afford any more fumbles, the ball is too precious for us right now.