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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's the Coaching

What's the cause of Georgia's problems this year -- the coaches or the players?

I asked Mark Richt the question yesterday, and I didn't exactly get a clear reply.

So rather than settle for a non-answer, I figured we could use some stats to come to an educated guess instead.

First, Chip Towers did some of the heavy lifting yesterday by comparing the recruiting classes from Georgia and Florida.

That's obviously not a foolproof valuation, but it gives us a basic foundation to work from. While Florida (or Alabama or LSU or Tennessee) could potentially have more talent than Georgia, that gap shouldn't be huge. And regardless, Georgia's players should be talented enough that they can improve with proper coaching.

That's assumption No. 1. Assumption No. 2 is that good coaching identifies problems and addresses them. So in theory, a good team with flaws sees improvement in those flaws as the season goes along.

So what are the most pressing problems for Georgia this season?

Here's my quick list: Too many turnovers, not enough takeaways, bad QB play, poor passing defense, problems in the running game, soft defense and too many penalties.

Perhaps that's not a complete list, but it's certainly pretty close (and there's really not a stat to illustrate the problem with using Logan Gray to return punts).

Of those issues, many were concerns before the season even began. The biggest story of the preseason was the question of who would handle tailback duties. Following last season's problems on defense, more veteran leadership was supposed to be addressing the issues. Plenty of fans wondered what to expect from Joe Cox as he stepped into the starting job. Remember how the quarterbacks (though we were told it was mostly the freshmen) kept throwing too many picks in the preseason? Or how the defense was spending tons of time working on their pass catching skills in order to create more turnovers? Or how the penalties were such a concern that Richt told his coaches they weren't to argue with practice refs when a flag was thrown and players had to do up-downs immediately after committing a penalty?

Pretty much every major problem this season was something that was, to some degree, being addressed way back in August or earlier.

So, has Georgia made progress on any of those seven major areas of concern throughout this season?

Let's take a look...

UGA Comp% Opp Comp%
Yds Allow
OSU 3 0 50 50
3.2 307 7
SC 3 1 71 59 3.7 427 13
Ark. 3 1 72 54 4.3 485 14
ASU 3 1 55 31 3.0 204 7
LSU 1 1 53 67 1.9 368 7
TEN 3 1 50 74 4.0 472 9
Vandy 1 1 52 50 4.7 296 8
Fla. 4 0 48 71 3.7 374 9

Boy, it sure doesn't look like a ton of progress has been made anywhere. In fact, it's a little eerie how similar the stats are between Week 1 and Week 8 offensively and it's almost shocking how much worse the defensive numbers look.

In six of eight games, Georgia has turned the ball over at least three times, including two of the past three.

At no point has Georgia created more than one takeaway. In fact, last year, Georgia had players in position to make a play, but they either failed to haul in the INT or had it overturned by a flag. This year, Georgia has pretty much capitalized on their opportunities -- they've just rarely been in position to make a play.

At quarterback, Joe Cox had two strong performances early in the season -- oddly, both in night games, which perhaps bodes well for the Auburn game, a 7 p.m. kickoff -- but in every other game this season, the completion percentage for Georgia's QBs have been remarkably consistent. Consistently bad, that is -- between 48 and 55 percent. In fact, Georgia has seen its team completion percentage drop in four of the past five games.

On the other side, Georgia's beleaguered secondary actually did a nice job of holding the opposing quarterback's completion percentage down early, but that has grown progressively worse of late. Three of the past four opponents have completed at least two-third of their passes.

The running game has shown a slight uptick in the past two games, but not drastically better than it was at the start of the season. And with Caleb King slated to start this week against Tennessee Tech, Georgia appears no closer to identifying its starting tailback now than it was way back on Aug. 1.

As far as that defense goes, it has faced its share of adversity. When the offense is turning the ball over three times a game, there's only so much that can be expected of the defense when it comes to keeping points off the scoreboard.

But this isn't about points, it's about yards. In fact, all those short fields the opposition has gotten courtesy of Georgia's offense should actually help to suppress total yards, even if it hurts the Bulldogs on the scoreboard.

That's not what seems to be happening though. Only twice has Georgia's defense had a better performance than it did in Week 1, and those came against easily the two worst offenses the team has played all season. Against even a marginal opponent, the defense has been almost guaranteed to allow 370-plus yards.

And finally, what about those penalties? No, the Dawgs aren't hitting double digits like they did in Weeks 2 and 3, but the numbers the past three games have been a bit worse than they had been before. Regardless, there certainly hasn't been a marked improvement. And beyond the quantity of the flags or the yards they've cost Georgia, it's the timing of those penalties. The Florida game was a perfect example, but as Georgia Sports Blog pointed out in July, this is hardly a new problem.

What's perhaps most striking about all the stats listed above is how few outliers there are. The two strong games for Cox passing the ball, the really bad running day against LSU and the strong defensive performance against Arizona State -- those are really the only numbers that diverge from the norm.

Richt and the players have lamented how inconsistent this team has been this season, but that's not true. Georgia has actually been remarkably consistent -- just consistently mediocre.

So to recap: Georgia has enough talented players that they should be able to be coached up. Georgia's coaches have clearly known about the key problems, not just for a few games, but since the preseason began. And from Week 1 to Week 8, Georgia has not seen anything close to a measurable or consistent improvement in even one of its primary areas of concern.

If it were just one or two players continuing with the same struggles, that would be one thing. But it's teamwide. If it were problems that cropped up unexpectedly, that would be one thing. But they are issues that were identified months ago. If it were a matter of rookie mistakes, that might be understandable. But many of the players responsible for these stats are the same ones coaches pointed to as the leaders in the preseason.

It's hard to see how that can add up to anything other than a significant flaw in the approach of the coaching staff. That's not necessarily saying that these are bad coaches, but it does seem to say that the steps they're taking aren't working.

Richt's answer to my original question essentially came down to looking forward rather than lamenting mistakes. Here's what he said:

"If something happens that is not good -- first of all, you know bad things are going to happen in a game. No one plays a perfect game. It never goes exactly the way you want. So if something bad happens, my personality has always been, I'm going to focus on where are we now and what do we have to do to win. I've stated that before. It's served me and Georgia and Florida State pretty well over the years."

There's nothing wrong with that policy, but if your solutions aren't making the next play better than the last, you need to look back at what you've done and figure out why that's not working. Because clearly, it hasn't been working.


Paul said...

David, Without reading the entire post (I am, afterall, at work), it's coaching. Some say talent, but the way I see it that's a coaching problem. Coaches identify and recruit the talent. If they aren't identifying and recruiting the talent, then we have a problem. If we are getting the talent (and I think we are) but it's not developing or playing to expectations, that's again a coaching problem.

Two aspects of the same job.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the issue of takeaways, everyone has been noting for weeks that the turnover margin is killing us (which it is). My question though is "how are our kids supposed to be in position to make interceptions when they are playing soft zone coverages and our players are usually not within a yard or two of the receivers until after the ball is caught?" It would be nice to pick up a few fumbles from time to time, but if our DBs aren't up on their men then picks are vastly more difficult to come by.

David Hale said...

That's a point I was sort of angling at, Anon, just not quite so concisely. Last year, you saw a ton of drops on potential INTs and the players said they would work on that. Well, regardless, they just haven't been in position to make many INTs. Since about Week 2, I can't recall a single time an DB had his hands on a ball and didn't pick it off.

Anonymous said...

I'm still tired of the b-s coachspeak.

Anonymous said...

David, once again you hit the nail on the head.
I dont believe fans and spectators are as well informed and know as much as CMR and his assistants, but I feel like you have a good grasp of the program and what is going on.
Having said that, I don't understand how after two years of the same problems our coaches cant see the things you have seen and stated here. And if the do see these things how can they not make changes, and correct things.

hartwelldawg said...

The problem with the secondary not getting interceptions is because of the way that CWM teaches the DB's how to cover. If you notice when the ball is in the air, our DB's play the man not the ball. Most of the time they are trying to catch the receiver and are just simply trying to shield the WR. This is illegal in the NFL (if I'm not mistaken). They never seem to actually try to make a play on the ball. Just my thoughts on it.

Husky Jeans said...

I haven't reviewed the film, but in response to Richt's earlir comments this week about how we have caused fumbles but haven't recovered them, could it be that we just aren't flying to the ball like we should be? I said to a friend of mine during the Fla game that it didn't seem like we gang tackled or had 11 guys rushing to finish the tackle like we used to. With more guys flying in to finish a play, there would be more people around to scoop up the loose football.

Again, I haven't reviewed the film, and maybe it is just bad luck. Just food for thought.

Dawg '85 said...

I think you are on point again DH. Tony Barnhardt's column today hits some of the same points. It will be interesting too see if CMR has the smarts and guts to get a new DC, get more aggressive, less predictable schemes, and, most importantly, bring a real change of culture about discipline and preparedness... not just lip service. I think CMR has earned the right to stay, but not "stay the course"!

Also, David I feel your Syracuse pain today... LeMoyne???... ouch!

There's always lacrosse season...

rbubp said...

"My question though is "how are our kids supposed to be in position to make interceptions when they are playing soft zone coverages and our players are usually not within a yard or two of the receivers until after the ball is caught?" "

It's SUPPOSED to be "hurry the QB and the throw is usually not accurate or is to a covered receiver." But since we can't get a pass rush even when we blitz, the QB has time to put the ball in the SEAMS of the zone (the TE). It's not just the DL; none of the other players, even when we do blitz, can quickly get to the QB.

And we do play man sometimes (the one-handed TD grab by Cooper). Our players are very poor at that too; a more experienced CB than Boykin would have turned around to try to catch the ball or knock it away, in that instance.