(NOTE: You can read my game story from Georgia's win over Vanderbilt HERE.)
With his offense struggling to find its way the past three weeks, Mike Bobo decided he needed to take on a more personal approach to play calling.
For the first time since becoming Georgia’s offensive coordinator in 2007, Bobo watched Georgia’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt from the sideline rather than the press box – a change that seemed to spark the offense.
“I think he just wanted more energy on the sideline,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “He wanted to celebrate when we made plays, and even on the defensive side of the ball, he was getting us into the game the way he was cheering for the defense. It was great to have him on the sideline.”
The move came as a surprise to virtually everyone on Georgia’s sideline other than head coach Mark Richt and the Bulldogs’ quarterbacks, whom Bobo had informed of his plans last Thursday.
It wasn’t exactly a comfortable surrounding for Bobo, but it was a chance to get a more personal feel for the action.
“I just really didn’t have a good feel for our football team and have been thinking about it all year,” Bobo said. “We hadn’t played well the last two weeks and kind of put it on the backburner. It’s more to look into their eyes and try to get a feel for how we’re doing and hopefully relax a little better.”
From his bird’s-eye view in the press box, Bobo said he can get a better look at the types of defenses the opposition employs, but he thought the experience of being surrounded by his players outweighed the drawbacks.
“It’s a little more difficult to see the play unfold,” Bobo said, “but you really get an idea of what they’re in. It was pretty evident to see what their game plan was. They were going to play two deep to our base personal, and we had to be able to run the ball.”
The move paid dividends as the Bulldogs racked up 399 yards of total offense – nearly double their tally from a week earlier. Georgia found the end zone four times, too, including twice in the red zone, after failing to move the ball inside Tennessee’s 35-yard line last week.
While the offensive execution wasn’t always perfect, it was a vast improvement, and Bobo’s presence on the sideline had a lot to do with the increased production, Cox said.
“He’s a real competitive guy and he coaches with a lot of energy,” Cox said. “He wants his players to play with a fire and a passion, too, and I think it was good to have that on the sideline where he could convey that to us instead of being up in the booth and having to talk to individuals one after another.”
Bobo’s move to the field left just linebackers coach John Jancek and receivers coach Tony Ball in the press box, but Jancek said the small contingent of coaches upstairs didn’t have any ill effects.
Richt had told Bobo that if the plan wasn’t working out by halftime, he could return to the press box for the remainder of the game, but an in-game adjustment proved unnecessary.
“I think it’s up to the coordinator to decide where he’ll be most effective,” Richt said. “Do I think it was a positive thing to be down on the field? I think it was, and I’m assuming he’ll want to do that in the future.”
GROUND GAME GETS GOING
It was the drive Georgia had been waiting for all season, even if it didn’t prove crucial to the game’s outcome.
The Bulldogs’ had already secured their win over Vanderbilt – the final tally was 34-10 – but it was that last touchdown that really gave the team something to celebrate.
Georgia’s struggling running game had mustered just 53 yards on 20 carries through three quarters, despite Vanderbilt ranking as one of the worst run defenses in the league. The Bulldogs’ final scoring drive, however, represented a turning point.
Georgia drove 68 yards on 10 plays – all runs – and capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run by fullback Fred Munzenmaier on fourth down.
“That eats up a lot of clock, and it gives you a lot of confidence in your running game when you say, we’re going to run the ball right at you at the end of the game,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “When you do it all the way down the field and put points on the board, it’s a great feeling. I think we needed that probably more than any other drive.”
The drive was anchored by a 33-yard run by freshman Washaun Ealey, but Carlton Thomas and Munzenmaier each contributed key yardage, too.
For the game, six Georgia running backs totaled at least 10 yards apiece, and the dedication to running the football was a key in the Bulldogs’ increased offensive output.
“It felt good that we ran the ball,” receiver A.J. Green said. “Success is running the ball, and that opens up the passing game. We did that (Saturday), and it felt good.”
Georgia finished with 37 rushes for 173 yards – its highest total of the season.
The success was crucial for the stagnant Bulldogs’ offense, which ranked last in the SEC and 104th nationally in rushing entering Saturday’s contest.
“We want to run the ball, we have good backs, and we have a good line,” Cox said. “We just needed to get it working. We don’t need to give up on it if it’s not working in the first half, and I’m glad we stuck with it. It turned out to be big for us.”
HIS PLAY DOES THE TALKING
Sophomore tailback Caleb King had been waiting a long time to get his first touchdown of the season, but when the moment finally arrived, he couldn’t do much celebrating.
“They tell me I can’t really talk that much,” said King, who is still recovering from a broken jaw suffered two weeks ago in a loss to LSU.
King was fitted with a special protective facemask and a mouth guard with additional padding to ensure he would make it through the game without doing additional damage to his jaw.
He missed last week’s game while recovering from the injury along with a concussion that occurred on the same play, another stumbling block in what has been a difficult season for King. He also missed the first two games of the season along with much of preseason practice with a hamstring injury.
“I thought this was my year, and then the injuries came,” King said. “It was tough just sitting down and watching the game, but I knew I could contribute to the team.”
King was a key contributor in Saturday’s win, picking up 35 yards on six touches, including two touchdowns.
His first score was a two-yard rumble into the end zone, and his second came on a screen pass that went 21 yards.
“It was the perfect call at the perfect time, and the line was out there blocking, so I just followed them straight to the end zone,” King said of the latter touchdown.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE
Joe Cox had a career-long 65-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter Saturday, one he’ll probably tell his kids about one day.
Just don’t expect him to go into too much detail.
The score came on a short dump to receiver A.J. Green, who made people miss on the way to the end zone, and a personal career-best for himself too.
“We were on the right hash, I threw it further than a yard,” Cox said, laughing. “No, I probably won’t mention that. I’m not going to sit here and act like I made a great play. Everybody saw what A.J. did.”
Green merely provided his weekly addition to his personal highlight reel, making a Vanderbilt defensive back miss in space before weaving his way through the rest of the Commodore defense.
It was a departure from his usual jump-ball touchdown grabs, but hardly surprising.
“That was fun,” Green said. “This right here is just real life for me. I’m loving every minute of it. It’s just getting better each game.”
As for the highlight-reel run, Cox said it was a nice change-of-pace from Green’s usual heroics, but it hardly came as a shock.
“Everybody knows what he can do,” Cox said. “That play he scored on, that was a little crazy, but nothing really surprises me anymore, and that’s why we throw him the ball.”
EALEY BREAKS A LONG ONE
Georgia’s leading rusher was freshman Washaun Ealey, who broke a 33-yarder in the fourth quarter. That was the longest run by a Georgia tailback since Richard Samuel broke an 80-yarder against Arkansas a month ago, and the longest of Ealey’s short career.
“I was just trying to score, hopefully I could get my first big touchdown,” Ealey said. “It didn’t happen, but we’ve got to get some more.”
Ealey finished the game with 71 yards on 13 carries and enjoyed the first start of his career.
“He’s running with a lot of energy right now, that’s the main thing,” Cox said of Ealey. “He wants to run hard, he wants the ball in his hands and he’s been practicing real hard, and that’s what gets guys on the field.”
GARBAGE TIME PROVES PRODUCTIVE
The fourth quarters haven’t been much fun for Georgia this season. The Bulldogs have trailed in every game this year prior to Saturday’s win over Vandy, and there hasn’t been much time for the Bulldogs’ backups to see action.
So when the opportunity finally came for head coach Mark Richt to get some reserves in the game, he was happy to do it.
The Bulldogs final drive was meant to run the final 1 minute, 15 seconds off the clock, but it turned out to be a showcase for some reserve linemen and fifth-string tailback Dontavius Jackson, who picked up 38 yards on just three carries.
“That very last drive, we probably could have taken a knee,” Richt said. “We didn’t call a timeout or anything. We just had some young kids that we were just trying to let them play. We had some offensive linemen that had never played before and Dontavius got a few totes, which was good to see.”
Linemen A.J. Harmon, Kevin Perez and Casey Nickels all saw action for the first time this season on the drive.
KICK BACK AND RELAX
The key to Georgia’s win Saturday was a new relaxed approach, Green said, and the key to the new approach was a liberating realization the team came to during the week.
“We had nothing to lose,” Green said.
Georgia set aside its big-picture goals and simply played for the moment, and the players found a renewed bit of enthusiasm that they hope will follow through into this week’s open date and a looming showdown with No. 1 Florida.
“We got things rolling in the right direction, and we’ve got to use these two weeks to get ready to play our best game,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “People are going to doubt us, and we know people don’t have as much respect for us as Florida – deservingly so. They’ve got the record, they’ve made plays. We’ve got to keep our minds right and do everything it takes to get ready for this game.”
Saturday’s win was a big morale boost, and the bye week should give Georgia plenty of time to prepare for its archrival. But it’s that new attitude that might be the key for the Bulldogs as they mold their strategy for a potentially enormous upset in two weeks.
“The pressure is on them,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said of Florida. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We can just go out there and play as hard as we can, and this momentum from this win, I feel like we’re going to carry that over and continue to get better.”
WALSH’S SECOND SHOT
Blair Walsh continued his torrid start to the season, connecting on two more field goals Saturday. The sophomore kicker is now 10-of-11 on field-goal tries this season, including a perfect 3-for-3 on kicks of 50 yards or longer.
Walsh didn't add to the total on those 50-yarders Saturday, but he did come close.
With the clock about to expire on the first half, Georgia was pinned on a third-down play, and Richt sent Walsh in to attempt a 57-yard field goal. The kick would have been his career long.
Instead, a Vanderbilt defender got his hand on the ball, sending it sideways just as it got off the ground. As it turned out, the Commodores' player was flagged for illegally jumping over the defensive line to block the kick, and Walsh got a second crack at it -- this time from just 42 yards out.
“I thought it was good off my foot," Walsh said of his first try from 57. "But a make is a make, and I’m glad they called it because it wasn’t cool that the guy jumped over the line.”
-- Josh Davis got his first start of the season at right tackle, while Clint Boling opened the game at right guard. Tailback Washaun Ealey and fullback Fred Munzenmaier also got their first career starts Saturday.
-- After failing to record a sack last week, Georgia's defensive front rebounded with three sacks of quarterback Larry Smith -- one each by Kade Weston, Justin Houston and Demarcus Dobbs. Georgia tallied nine tackles for a loss in the game.
-- Rennie Curran led Georgia with nine tackles. He has been the Bulldogs' leading tackler in every game this season.
-- Safety Quintin Banks returned to action after missing all but one game during the past two seasons due to a variety of injuries. He finished with two tackles, including one for a loss.
-- Reshad Jones recorded his first interception of the season for Georgia in the first half, and the Bulldogs turned it into a touchdown on the other end following the long bomb to A.J. Green. It was the first time all season Georgia had more points off turnovers than its opponent. For the season, Georgia has scored 21 points off six turnovers and allowed 71 points following 17 turnovers.
-- Georgia got its first taste of the red zone Saturday, capping an eight-play, 64-yard drive with a two-yard TD by Caleb King, his first of the year. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on another red-zone try in the fourth quarter. Last week against Tennessee, Georgia did not reach the red zone for the first time since the 1990 Clemson game, a span of 232 contests.
* Tyler Estep contributed to this notebook.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
(NOTE: You can read my game story from Georgia's win over Vanderbilt HERE.)