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Monday, November 30, 2009

Grading the Game: Georgia Tech

Back when Tim Tebow was about to break Herschel Walker's SEC record for rushing touchdowns, a lot was made about the stupidity of not including Walker's bowl stats in the record book. I concur with that notion.

Having said that, there is a distinct difference between bowl season -- after teams have had a month off to heal and prepare against a team they probably haven't played in years -- and what happens in the regular season.

So with that in mind, I wanted to approach this set of grades as sort of a season-ending synopsis on Georgia. Yes, there is still one more game to go. But that bowl game will likely be more of a measure of how much Georgia's coaching staff has improved between now and then than it is a barometer for what has happened in the past four months.

So, with that, I give you the final installment of "Grading the Game" for the regular season...

QUARTERBACK: Joe Cox threw nine passes in the second quarter. He threw just five more in the rest of the game.

Something tells me Georgia fans would have loved to have seen stat lines like that all season, but hey, you can't play a team from the ACC every week.

Looking at Cox's line -- 8-of-14 for 76 yards and 1 TD -- it would be easy to undervalue his role in Saturday's win. In a season in which Cox has been at the forefront of the blame and the praise for every offensive performance, it would be a shame to ignore his contributions to this one.

First off, while Mike Bobo deserves a boatload of credit for knowing how and where to attack the Georgia Tech defense, those plays don't simply go from Bobo's play card and magically happen. Cox reads the defense at the line of scrimmage and makes sure that the right running play is called. This was a prime example of how Cox's knowledge and experience really have paid dividends this season -- even if it wasn't enough to overcome some bad decisions in earlier games.

Secondly, while he only threw 14 passes, there wasn't an ugly one in the bunch. No turnovers for Cox -- the third time in the past four games he's done that. (See, there was some progress this year… sort of.) At least two of his incompletions were ugly drops by his receivers, and the one to Rantavious Wooten down the sideline probably would have gone for six.

And most importantly, virtually every pass Cox threw was an important one. Of his eight completions, six went for first downs. Of those six, three came on third downs, including a 9-yard completion to Orson Charles in the second quarter that was the key play on a 6 minute, 40 second drive that ended in a field goal, an 8-yard pass to Aron White on Georgia's late fourth-quarter drive that kept seconds ticking off the clock before Blair Walsh's miss from 55 and, of course, an absolutely crucial touchdown throw to Michael Moore with 3:18 to go in the half on a third-and-8 from the 13-yard line.

It's hard to look at Cox's performance in this game and not see how this role would have suited him perfectly throughout the year. If the vast majority of Georgia's games could have been built around the running game with Cox asked to simply make the key third-down throw when needed or take a shot deep off of play-action three or four times a game, I think there's a good chance he'd be remembered in a much different way than most fans will think of him now.

We spent much of the offseason debating who Joe Cox would be. Was he going to be D.J. Shockley, coming in in his fifth year to spark the offense to an SEC title? Would he be Joe Tereshinski, a loyal Bulldog who was never cut out to play in the SEC? I remember arguing that he was probably more like David Greene -- not the most talented guy in the world, but a player who could get the job done and get his teammates to rally around him.

In truth, none of those comparisons proved particularly apt, and part of the problem was that Cox was miscast from the beginning. What you saw of Cox on Saturday in Atlanta was what he should have been all season. He was never cut out to be the player he was against Arkansas, throwing for 400 yards and five touchdowns. He never should have been in position to be the player he was against Florida -- throwing the ball away three times in the second half.

If you're looking for a comparison, Cox was probably more like Buck Belue than anyone, a guy who should have been conducting the orchestra rather than playing the lead violin. But out of necessity or optimism or foolishness or a combination of the three, he was cast in the role of Eric Zeier, tasked with holding together the pieces of an offense while the kids grew up around him.

From his Week 1 start while battling flu symptoms to his ill-fated comeback against LSU to his 1-yard run at midfield Saturday on which he dropped his shoulder and took on the Tech line with the same reckless abandon that Washaun Ealey would have, Cox probably did more in his miscast role as anyone should have rightfully expected.

But in fairness to Joe, I think the best thing might be to avoid the comparisons and just remember him as Joe Cox, a kid who spent his lone season as the starter much the way he spent his four years on the bench -- tenaciously clinging to the faintest glimmers of hope and never giving up on himself or his teammates. There's a lot to be said for that.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): A

Final Grade (season): C+

RUNNING BACKS: Here's a great point from Texas_Dawg on Washaun Ealey:


Ealey's first 112 carries (as a true freshman): 639 yards (5.7 avg.), 3 TDs, 44 long.

Moreno's first 112 carries (as a redshirt freshman): 510 (4.6 avg.), 3 TDs, 35 long. "


It's probably fair to remember, too, that Knowshon ran behind an offensive line that never changed personnel all season and he had Matthew Stafford in the backfield with him.

That's no knock on Knowshon, of course, and it's obviously way too early to call Ealey the second coming (or third if you wanted to say Moreno was the second coming of Herschel Walker) but there's no doubt that what Ealey has accomplished in just eight games this season (seven-and-a-half, really) has been nothing short of remarkable.

And again, Moreno was a redshirt freshman who had a year to prepare, to get bigger and stronger and to learn the offense and practice against SEC-caliber defenders. Ealey injured his wrist a week into preseason camp and was essentially scout team material throughout the first four weeks of the regular season before being thrown to the wolves in utter desperation against LSU.

I think it's incredibly appropriate, too, that both Ealey and Caleb King had such strong performances last week. The two, I think, have been inexorably tied together this season. Neither has had an easy road to success, but both have used each other to bolster their own games. The trials and tribulations of King's first two seasons in Athens put him in a position to mentor Ealey about what it took to be successful immediately. Ealey's enthusiasm provided King with a challenge competitively and a catalyst to become more of a leader away from the field.

Against Tech, the pair were the perfect one-two combo (although after Ealey switches uniform numbers next year, they'll actually be the 3-4 combo), with King going up the middle for big gains -- including the 75-yarder in the third quarter -- and Ealey going around the edge and picking up first downs with ease.

For Georgia fans wanting some retribution against Tech, nothing was more fitting than beating the Jackets at their own game, with King and Ealey simply running the ball down Tech's throat -- no tricks or misdirection, just the utter dominance that comes with being the bigger and faster team.

“We knew our guys up front were stronger than their guys up front, so we just came out and ran it down their throat,” Ealey said.

This, of course, offered the ultimate "what if" of the season though. What if Georgia could have run the ball like that against LSU and Tennessee and Oklahoma State? What if Ealey hadn't injured his wrist in August and had been ready to play in Week 1? What if King hadn't missed three games with injuries and played half the season with a broken jaw? What if the Richard Samuel experiment had been little more than a preseason fling? What if Georgia had its best running game of the season in Week 5 instead of Week 12?

Ah, but thinking like that will only drive you crazy. What will likely be a lot more appealing isn't reliving the "what ifs" but imagining all the "wait untils." Georgia returns its entire offense next season with the exception of Cox, and Ealey and King still have two more years to build upon the foundation they've laid the past six weeks.

It's hard to say exactly how the future will shake out, but while the comparison between Ealey and Moreno may not assure fans of another golden age of Georgia running backs, I think it at least makes it OK to dream that it might be.

And when we look back in two years at that game against Tech, we may just view it through the same prism we now remember Moreno's big day against Florida in 2007.

Saturday was as it should have been all along, not just in resetting the rivalry with Tech, but in recalibrating Georgia's offense away from the smoke and mirrors and back to its rightful role as neighborhood bully.

“From watching film, we knew we could run,” King said. “We opened the game running and we ended the game running, so it was a great day.”

Four final notes:

-- To Branden Smith: Please take care of the football. You're too good with your legs to be bad with your hands.

-- To Mike Bobo: When your running game is this good, screen passes and toss sweeps should be your back-up plan, not your go-to play call in short-yardage situations.

-- To Shaun Chapas: Where was this all year? I'm assuming since Matt Stafford was back on the sideline, you were just trying to impress him. Great game.

-- After the game, Mark Richt gave a big tip o' the cap to Mike Bobo for his play calling and to Stacy Searels for being such a good running game coordinator, but I think the guy who has really gone unnoticed this year has been Bryan McClendon. Here's a guy who is 25 years old, has never coached before beyond being a grad assistant, has never coached running backs at all and spent his career as a wide receiver, who inherited a group of tailbacks with virtually no experience and was tasked with replacing Knowshon Moreno, who saw his unit get off to an absolutely dismal start to the season, and yet he managed to right the ship. No jealousy or animosity among the players, despite the roles changing rapidly, and no frustration after a lack of success. Richt may not have singled out McClendon's work Saturday, but I'm happy to do it here.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): A+

Final Grade (season): B (although really, it should be a D in the first half and an A- in the second half because they were just two absolutely unalike and unrelated results… sort of like Brandon Jennings' SAT scores.)

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: I was thinking about this yesterday as I was running through many of the "what ifs" from this season, and it struck me how little anyone considered the impact of not having A.J. Green two weeks ago against Kentucky impacted that game. Does anyone really think Georgia still turns the ball over four times in the second half if Green is on the field? Would they have needed that toss-sweep from the 1 or would Bobo called for a jump ball to A.J. before that? And would Cox have had two balls batted near the line of scrimmage or would he have been going deep to A.J.? And would the running game have been shut down so much in the second half if A.J. had been on the field to keep another safety deep?

It's funny, after that Arizona State game, fans couldn't get enough of the great A.J. Green, but his absence against Kentucky was largely overshadowed by the end result. While the turnovers and penalties and problems in the secondary were glaring issues all season long, the injuries to Green and Trinton Sturdivant probably had as much to do with Georgia's 7-5 record as anything.

I bring this up because Green didn't play Saturday either, and Georgia Tech was so unconcerned with the passing game that they were playing cover-zero for much of the game, stacking eight, nine and 10 guys in the box, and Georgia still managed to run the ball effectively.

Part of the reason for that was that Georgia's receivers Saturday did an excellent job of stealing a page from Tech's playbook. They blocked superbly.

When the running backs got past first contact -- something that wasn't terribly difficult given how well the line and fullbacks played -- there was a ton of room to run because Tavarres King, Rantavious Wooten and the rest of Georgia's receivers did such a great job of downfield blocking. Caleb King's 75-yard run was a remarkable example of his speed, but along the way you can see Georgia's wideouts handling their job with authority. That was a huge step up from just two weeks ago when the coaching staff was lamenting the horrid play of the receivers blocking against Auburn.

And while keeping on the positive notes, how about Michael Moore? The guy hasn't been the explosive second option many had hoped earlier in this season, but he earns the Cris Carter Award for the season because all he does is catch touchdowns. He has just 23 receptions this season, but five have gone for scores, and all have been in the red zone.

Now the bad news… what's with all the drops?

This was a longstanding issue for Georgia's receivers for years, but it really seemed like they had moved past it since Green arrived on campus last year. But the past few weeks, there have been a handful of costly drops in virtually every game, and the culprits have run the gamut from Branden Smith and Aron White to Israel Troupe and Rantavious Wooten. Georgia's passing game simply isn't good enough to overcome costly mistakes… well, unless it's playing Tech's defense.

And, one final note, since it has become my weekly ritual to mention it: Marlon Brown's freshman has amounted to the following: Two catches, 15 yards.

Ironically, he was booed after both grabs.

Again, I have no problem with him not playing if he's not ready, but it's hard to see this as anything other than a waste of a year of eligibility for a guy with a tremendous amount of upside.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): C

Final Grade (season): B

OFFENSIVE LINE: What does it say about the ACC that the conference's best team was absolutely overmatched by an offensive line that spent the first 11 games of the season being criticized for their lack of physicality? Georgia Tech essentially had its lunch money stolen by the shrimpy kid who sits in the corner and eats paste all day.

Actually, that's not an entirely fair analogy, because Georgia's line should have been this physical all season, but for numerous reasons it just didn't happen.

So what were the big keys to the O line's turnaround this season?

A few things:

1.) Finding a solution at left tackle. As I wrote earlier, it astonishes me how much Trinton Sturdivant's injury was glossed over this year. It took six weeks to really figure out the right lineup after that. Clint Boling probably should have been the answer from the beginning, despite the hole it might have opened on the right side of the line.

2.) Josh Davis' return. I'm not sure how Josh Davis somehow became an integral part of this offensive line, but that's exactly what happened.

3.) Moving Cordy Glenn back inside. Having another big body at guard has turned what was a disaster on the interior line into a strength.

4.) Ben Jones' development. Midway through the season, I called Jones one of the biggest disappointments of the season. The past few weeks, however, he has been a beast. In fact, just take a look at the second-to-last picture here.

5.) Playing smart. The biggest misconception about the rejuvenation of Georgia's line is that somehow they've started blowing defenders off the ball. That's just not the case, according to Mike Bobo. What they've really done a much better job with is hitting their assignments. The number of missed blocks is way down, which has at least given Georgia's runners a chance to make a move. Add to it that those runner have done a better job of actually hitting their holes and you have a recipe for a lot more success.

There will no doubt be a similar bit of hype about next year's offensive line because, once again, all five starters will be returning, as will Sturdivant. Hopefully Stacy Searels and the rest of the coaching staff utilize them better from the start in 2010.

Still, it's hard to call this season a disappointment on the line, particularly in the wake of a game in which Georgia set a high-water mark in rushing under Mark Richt.

For much of the year, Georgia was among the worst running teams in the country, but the Dawgs now rank 54th in the country in rushing yards per game, averaging 157.08. That's a huge step up from where they were after the Tennessee game when they were totaling fewer than 100 per game.

And the pass protection has remained exceptional, too. Georgia ranks 13th nationally, having allowed just 12 sacks this season -- and that's with Joe Cox at quarterback, not exactly the most fleet afoot. Cox has been sacked just once for every 27.5 dropbacks this season.

Essentially, Georgia's line hasn't been the best in the SEC (that honor actually probably falls to Tennessee) but for the latter half of the season, they've been pretty close.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): A+

Final Grade (season): B-

DEFENSIVE LINE: Since Week 4, Jonathan Dwyer -- the reigning ACC player of the year and potential first-round NFL draft pick -- has had at least 82 yards in every game he has played. Only Virginia Tech has held him to fewer than 5 yards per carry (4.1 to be exact). Dwyer had topped 100 yards in six of his previous eight games before Saturday, including more than 180 in two of his previous three. He is the engine that makes the Tech offense go.

On the other side of the ball were Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston -- three guys who were being counted on from the beginning of the season to anchor the Georgia defense and then play on Sundays next season. For much of the year, the trio toiled in anonymity -- not because they weren't playing well, but because it was hard to quantify their true impact.

But more than any sack total, more than any QB hurries, more than any position on Mel Kiper's big board, this number should sum up just how good Georgia's defensive tackles can be: 14 carries, 33 yards, 2.4 yards per carry.

Those were Dwyer's numbers against Georgia, and it had everything to do with how well the Dawgs' veterans in the trenches played.

"We knew Dwyer was going to run the dive, and as D linemen, our whole job was to stop the dive," Owens said. "That's what we did."

Of course, while the D tackles deserve a ton of credit, I'm reminded of what Geno Atkins told me about his stint coming off the edge back in Week 3. He said he was much happier at tackle because those D ends had way too much to do -- from recognition to containment to pressure.

So it's with that in mind that I say that Justin Houston was Georgia's defensive MVP against Tech. Of all the preseason memes -- from Cox's accuracy to Richard Samuel's running ability to Bryan Evans' comfort at safety to the offensive line's dominance -- the one that actually held water was Houston's emergence.

Against Tech, Houston had six tackles, including two for a loss. He was exceptional in lateral pursuit, which is the key to stopping Tech's perimeter attack. Stopping Dwyer would have meant nothing if Roddy Jones and Anthony Allen had made big plays to the outside, but Houston didn't allow it to happen. He was aggressive enough to pressure Josh Nesbitt throughout the game but managed to get off of Tech's cut blocks and stay in his gaps to keep the Yellow Jackets from breaking anything outside, all while keeping a careful eye out for the pitch.

As Owens said, the D tackles had one job to do and they did it very well. Houston, however, had a lot of jobs to do, and he did all of them as well as anyone has against Georgia Tech this season.

Given Georgia's problems on defense throughout the year, I'm not sure if the Houston for All-SEC push will catch on, but here are the numbers: He has 7.5 sacks this season, the second most in the conference, despite missing three games. One of the three he missed as against Tennessee Tech -- a game in which Georgia had six sacks. Hard to imagine he wouldn't have gotten in on that fun. Houston has been in on 19 tackles for a loss this season, too -- also the second highest total in the SEC. And if you figure his average tackles for a loss per game, Houston has the seventh-best tally in the entire country.

When you figure in the fact that Georgia's defensive ends were dismal last season and had little hope of turning things around this year, his performance has been nothing short of remarkable.

Again, on a unit in which the defensive coordinator is dangerously close to losing his job, there may not be a lot of postseason honors heading the Bulldogs' way, but Houston is more than deserving. And his performance against Tech was the perfect example of why.

Overall, however, it's not just Houston who has probably been undervalued this year. Georgia's defensive line has made an exceptional turnaround. In the second half of last season, the Dawgs were gashed by the run repeatedly, including the dismal performance against Tech to end the year. This season, they have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all year. Last season, the Dawgs finished the regular season with just 17 sacks -- the worst mark in the SEC. This year, they've added 11 to that total, rank fourth in the SEC, and they've done it against a more difficult schedule.

So when you're calling for coaches' jobs, remember that Rodney Garner's boys made a big impact this year, and while Jon Fabris should be issued a restraining order keeping him 100 yards away from kickoffs at all times, his defensive ends have developed from a total disaster this spring into one of the SEC's better units by year's end.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): A+

Final Grade (season): B+

LINEBACKERS: Another game, another double-digit tackle performance for Rennie Curran.

This week, he finished with a team-high 15 takedowns, including chipping in on one for a loss. That gives him 112 tackles for the season with one more game remaining, putting him just three away from matching his total from last season, which was already the second-highest total of the past decade at Georgia. For his career, Curran now has 280 tackles as a Bulldog -- tying him with Tony Taylor and Thomas Davis and putting him just three behind a guy named David Pollack. If he sticks around for his senior season, he's a virtual lock to crack the top five all time at Georgia in total tackles.

Of course, with Curran, it has never been about the numbers. The kid just does everything right -- from his leadership on and off the field to his taunting of Tech fans at the Falcons game on Sunday. But most of all, it's the little things. We all remember his forced fumble at the goal line against South Carolina two years ago or his excellent play to break up Stephen Garcia's pass at the goal line against SC this year. I even mentioned the great tackle he made of Randall Cobb at the goal line last week. But here's a comment from C Fowler (no, not the ESPN guy) about another play Curran made that you may have missed:

"With how the game ended I have to say that the play of the game was the goal line stop by Curran, I believe, on Nesbitt. It caused a review and another down. I made the comment that it drained more time of the clock and I was happy about that and it proved huge at the end. Without it, we would have had to get a first down on our last possession."

Of course, it's hard to say whether Curran will be back next year. It would be hard to blame him for leaving. But that's a "what if" for next year. Here's another for this season...

Remember way back in the beginning of the year when I made my list of the five players I expected to have breakout seasons this year?

My list included a couple of good predictions (Brandon Boykin, Orson Charles) one decent one (Ben Jones) and one guy who didn't live up to expectations (Joe Cox). And then there was one incomplete grade -- Akeem Dent.

Dent finished Saturday's game with 11 tackles and was in on two takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. It was his breakout game this season, but it's hard not to wonder what might have been for Georgia's linebackers if he had been healthy this year. Instead, he has missed more than half the season with injuries and really is just now fully recovered from hamstring problems that began in early August.

Maybe it wouldn't have made a distinct difference, and Marcus Dowtin and Christian Robinson certainly have exceeded expectations in reserve roles. But I had a discussion with a few people over the weekend that, of all of Georgia's problems on defense, it's the linebackers that have probably been the most disappointing in terms of comparing talent to production. Dent factors highly into that disappointment, and it's fair to wonder what might have been if he had been at 100 percent for the majority of the season.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): B+

Final Grade (season): C

SECONDARY: Since Tech doesn't throw too many passes, let's do this one bullet-point style...

-- Vance Cuff, your tackling could use some work. But I'll credit you for this -- you've made a season's worth of "emerging from an alley" jokes worthwhile.

-- Bryan Evans, the PowerAde shower was probably a fitting conclusion. I hope you're feeling better after that concussion, but the angle you took on Demayrius Thomas' touchdown run was just brutal. Good luck in your future endeavors.

-- Quintin Banks, it was good to see you out there, and you made the most of your opportunity. You laid a nice hit on Mr. Dwyer that I'm sure he was still feeling Sunday.

-- Prince Miller, I don't think I mentioned your name the entire game. That's probably a credit to you.

-- Brandon Boykin, way to tough things out. I know you probably shouldn't have been playing, but you gutted through a good performance. You did, however, get a little lucky on that fourth-down pass to end the game.

-- Reshad Jones, you went from a guy most fans would have happily said goodbye to after last season to a guy most fans will be rooting for long after you leave. You picked the right time to have the best game of your career.

And I must say, I was a big fan of this quote from Reshad after the game: “We had a loss last year and I probably was the reason why we had that loss. So I just wanted to go out in my home state and show all my family and friends that I’m here to play.”

Reshad may have taken the blame for the loss two years ago, but he can take credit for saving the game this time around. So hey, we're even.

-- And finally, if this was Willie Martinez's last game, I'm glad to see him go out on a high note. Fans may not have liked a lot of what he has done at Georgia, but he has always been a stand-up guy afterward. In the past two years, he's never skipped out on an interview, and while he's offered a lot of cliches, one of them has always been, "We need to coach better." Saturday, he definitely coached better.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): B

Final Grade (season): D+

A few quick points...

-- Mark Richt made the right call by giving Blair Walsh a chance to boot that 55-yarder. I've complained as much as anyone that Richt has played things a bit too conservative this year, but this was rolling the dice, going for the kill and having faith in your players to get the job done. It didn't play out exactly according to plan, but it worked. And no, I'm not 100 percent certain I still would have typed this had Tech scored on that last drive. But that's what makes it such a great call.

-- Drew Butler is a great kid, but I didn't miss him one bit Saturday.

-- Branden Smith is exciting on kick returns -- for both good and bad reasons.

-- And finally, I wanted to address something I screwed up in my "Fleeting Thoughts" post from Sunday, which was addressed by several commenters, most notably rbubp, who wrote:

"Kickoffs: I have to quarrel a bit with your analysis here, DH. Is a "directional kick" defined as any kick that is kicked to one side of the field or must it be short and returnable?

It appears to me that the first two kickoffs were directional kicks too--Walsh put them in the back corner of the end zone, not just deep--he just kicked the hell out of them. The second one might have been returned but wasn't.

3rd KO--Directional; Walsh probably just missed the one that went out of bounds.

4th--Directional; clearly kicked to the corner, caught on the goal line, returned only to 16 or so.

5th--Unclear (not directional?)--went to an area of the end zone over where one of the hash marks would have been. Touchback.

6th--Unclear--kicked to the same place as 5th. Unclear if it was directional or not; caught at the goal line and returned to the 25 or so. Penalty on GT.

7th--Not directional. The final kickoff that got returned to the 41 was a line-drive straight down the middle. It was a perfect example of what Richt has been complaining about (not that he is right) regarding trying to kick deep and missing.

So that's 4 KOs that were clearly directional with three good results and one bad, and three non-directional with two good results and one bad result. I'm calling the return to the 25 a good result regardless of GT penalty.

Overall 5 good, 2 bad. Average starting field position: 25 yard line. Not great, but I'm going to guess better than typical this year."

Completely valid criticism, guys, and my bad for lumping things all into a category of "touchback" or "directional." That was lazy on my part -- although after getting in at 3:15 a.m. from covering the game, I'm hardly denying being a little lazy in writing that.

My mistake, however, was in applying the tag of "directional kick" not in critiquing the coverage.

Here's the thing you have to remember: The directional kicking isn't the problem, it's a symptom.

Why does Jon Fabris like to directional kick, aside from enjoying the challenge? It's because the coverage team is so bad that he doesn't trust it, and the directional approach, theoretically, takes away a portion of the field, which reduces the burden on the coverage team.

So it really doesn't matter how the kickoff is handled -- whether Walsh boots it deep or kicks to the corner, the results will be bad if the coverage doesn't improve.

Yes, I do think the directional kicking is a flawed philosophy with Walsh as your kicker. Last year, his psyche was too fragile to have him do it. This year, his leg is too strong to have him do it. It's really simple math: Georgia has a better chance of getting a touchback on deep kicks than covering well on a directional kick. If there's an equal chance that a long return will happen either way, why not go with the option that also affords you a better chance of avoiding a return altogether?

The coverage was improved this week over what happened against Kentucky, but it's still not up to par with what Georgia needs to have to compete. And while Mark Richt has made repeated points that the turnover margin has cost his team games this year, the truth is, there really is only one game all season -- Kentucky -- that was definitively lost because of turnovers. And Georgia still would have won that game if it weren't for its disastrous kick coverage, which also cost them the LSU game.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): B

Final Grade (season): Either an A or an F (I mean, how do you come up with a grade for a unit that has two national awards finalists and the school's record holder for kick coverage but is also responsible for three turnovers and kickoff coverage so bad that it cost them two games?)

COACHING: What's to be said at this point that hasn't already been said?

I credit Mike Bobo for believing in his running game and letting them work their magic. But as I have been all season, I'm still a bit curious about some of his play calls. The screen pass on third-and-4 on Georgia's last real drive in the fourth quarter seemed silly given how successful Washaun Ealey and Caleb King had been. The lack of downfield targets off of play-action seemed strange given that Tech was stacking the box. But in the end, Bobo got the job done, and he did it without a speck of balance.

I credit Willie Martinez for making sure his defense learned its lessons after last year's loss to Tech. He both earned and deserved some redemption. Of course, the biggest questions after the game were still about how long he would stay in Athens.

I credit Mark Richt and his entire staff because, after last week's loss, this team was as down as it could be. In fact, here's how Clint Boling summed things up last Tuesday:

"We are just trying not to quit on the season after everything that’s happened, and I think if we can win against Tech that would be great for our team moral and emotions going into the bowl game."

Georgia came a heck of a long way from "trying not to quit" to outright dominating a top-10 team at the line of scrimmage.

Say what you want about how Richt has handled this season -- and I still stand by the fact that, from a PR standpoint of connecting with fans, he could have done a lot better -- but he has done a remarkable job of holding 105 guys together through one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent Georgia history. I guess there's something to be said for being a nice guy.

Of course, as good as it was for the Dawgs to end things on a high note against Tech, the record remains 7-5. And when you look at all that has happened, it's hard not to ask the question of whether this was one of the best bad teams in the country or one of the worst good teams in the country. I think this comment from FresmanDawg sums it up well:

"So, a bowl win puts us at 8 wins. That's in line with many fans predictions at the beginning of the season. I think the vast majority of frustration has stemmed from the fact that we were so close to being a great team, but continually shot ourselves in the foot. Having just average kickoff coverage gets us two wins against LSU and Kentucky. That's one easily fixed problem that puts us in position for a ten win season. It is truly frustrating."

In fact, Mark Richt echoed those comments, too: “I think that as I look back I’ve never had a season where the turnover ratio was just so poor,” he said. “I think if you just take that one thing and make it just break even, we’d probably win two or three more games without changing one thing. But you can’t do that, and there’s definitely some things we need to correct. But I think everything is correctable. I think it’s a season of self-inflicted wounds, and that’s my responsibility to make sure we do better.”

That's a responsibility I think Richt takes seriously, and it's a challenge that, while difficult on a personal level may not be so tough from a competitive standpoint.

Georgia's turnover margin is minus-17 this season. There's virtually no chance that won't improve next year. It has to, even if by default.

Georgia had just 10 takeaways this season. Again, that's a number that almost has to improve just with some better luck -- you know, the ball bouncing their way and all.

Georgia's penalty numbers have dropped in recent weeks, so perhaps that's already a sign of better times. It's just the timing of those penalties that remains problematic.

Georgia's kickoff coverage remains a disaster, but I find it hard to believe that can't be improved. But it has to start with Richt demanding that it is improved -- and that means more than a trip to Poland to find a new kicker.

Georgia's running game is already better. If they can play all of next season the way they've played this year, the results have to be better.

And look around at the rest of the SEC. Georgia's only losses are at positions where there is immense talent ready to step in (with the possible exception of DT), and even those losses will be minimal. But there will be a ton of premium talent in both players and coaches leaving other SEC programs after this season.

And then there's the schedule: Georgia played 11 BCS conference opponents this year with a combined winning percentage of .587. And that includes Arizona State's 4-8 record dragging down the average -- ASU lost five games by a touchdown or fewer. Next year, things lighten up immensely, with Oklahoma State (9-3) being replaced by Colorado (3-9), Arizona State (4-8 Pac-10 team) being replaced by Idaho State (1-10 Big Sky team that actually lost to Arizona State 50-3 this year) and LSU (9-3) being replaced by Mississippi State (5-7).

So what am I getting at here?

There isn't a huge chasm between 2009 Georgia and 2007 Georgia, and when you take a good look at the issues that hindered the Bulldogs this season, the biggest ones require minor tweaks or will likely remedy themselves.

If Richt makes some other necessary adjustments, uses this season as a learning tool and makes a renewed commitment to the excellence Georgia showed through most of his time in Athens, the Bulldogs have a legitimate shot to not just be good next year, but in fact, they could be great.

Final Grade (vs. Tech): B+

Final Grade (season): C-

Oh, and one final grade: A big, fat F to Georgia Tech's game ops. First off, my Internet didn't work for a majority of the game. Seriously, you're a Tech school. Either get the Internet to work or start hitting the gym and talking to girls. Just make yourselves useful. Second, the PA system was absurdly loud -- and I don't mean that in a "you kids and your rock n roll music!" sort of way. I mean it in a "people are calling from Alberta to complain" sort of way. Third, the strobe-light "Get Loud" gimmick on the jumbotron was seriously seizure-inducing and completely distracting for the team forced to look directly into it. I'll give you one guess which team that was. And last, it took six of us nearly 20 minutes after the game to find where interviews were being done. Reliving the scene from "Spinal Tap" where the band gets lost on its way to the stage is not fun when writing on deadline.

Another UGA Player Arrested

Georgia freshman defensive end Montez Robinson was arrested early Monday morning and charged with underage possession of alcohol, according to the Athens Clarke County booking reports.

Robinson was arrested at 4:06 a.m. Monday morning by university police and released about 90 minutes later on a $500 bond.

Robinson was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week after a two-sack performance against Tennessee Tech but has played sparingly the rest of the season.

Mumme Poll Ballot: Week 13

If you haven't cast your penultimate Mumme Poll ballot of the year, get to it now .

When you're done, here's how my ballot shapes up...

The Top Five

Alabama -- Some people may look at the Auburn game as an indication that Alabama is beatable. I look at it as an indication that the Tide are capable of doing the one thing I wasn't sure they could do -- come from behind on the arm of Greg McElroy.

Texas -- That defense looked ugly against Texas A&M, but I'm inclined to believe almost anything can happen in a rivalry game, so I'm not going to call it a total indictment of the Horns. That said, I wouldn't be shocked if they lost to Nebraska this week.

Florida -- Well, Timmy got the sendoff ESPN wanted for him. Now let's see if the Alabama defense proves as enjoyable. Something tells me he'll be crying for much different reasons this time.

TCU -- Playoff or no playoff, I think it's a shame we're unlikely to see how TCU stacks up against the best of the best because I really think they'd have a shot to win.

Cincinnati -- Currently .014 points behind TCU in the BCS standings. A win over Pitt could move the Nati up a notch, which would be huge since it would likely make the Bearcats the team to slide into the national title game should Nebraska pull the upset.

The Next Seven

Oregon -- The top five is virtually unanimous at this point, but if you asked me which team I'd least like to play, Oregon might well top my list. I'm looking forward to this weekend's showdown with the Beavers more than anything that's happened in Oregon since rumors of "Goonies 2."

Boise State -- With Oklahoma State's loss, Boise State is nearly a lock for the BCS now. My fear, however, is that we'll see a Boise State-TCU matchup that will amount to little more than a Bracket Buster game that will prove nothing. Both teams deserve a shot to knock off the big boys.

LSU -- Not the prettiest of games last week, but Les Miles managed to win that one late. The Tigers aren't a great team, but they're pretty good, and two their three losses are to the No. 1 and 2 teams in the BCS standings. The third came strictly because their head coach had to pee and didn't want to wait around for overtime.

Ohio State -- I'm 100 percent certain that the Big Ten is more of a fraud than the ACC, but we're going to have to wait until bowl season to prove it.

Oregon State -- Still have a shot at the Rose Bowl, which is pretty impressive for a team that opened the season with some lackluster performances. Don't think for a second that Cincinnati won't be pulling for the Beavers this weekend in a game that could boost both teams' profiles.

Virginia Tech -- I made the mistake of putting Clemson here last week and a reader called me out on it. One trip by the Figthin' Dabos to Columbia later and I stand corrected.

Georgia Tech -- This really illustrates the absurdity of trying to do these rankings. I'd take Georgia Tech head to head over any of the Big Ten teams and they've already beaten Virginia Tech handily. But I wouldn't put money on the Jackets against any of the top eight or nine teams in the SEC or Pac-10 (for completely different reasons).

Waiting In The Wings

BYU -- That Florida State loss looks increasingly bad, but Oklahoma's win over Okie State helps the profile a bit. They're definitely not a BCS team, but they'll be an interesting bowl matchup for someone.

Stanford -- That loss to Cal was so obviously predictable that I almost can't hold it against Stanford. Toby Gerhart officially has my Heisman vote. (You know, if I had a vote.)

Iowa -- I think Iowa's defense actually might be good enough to play with the big boys in the SEC in a bowl game, but I don't see them scoring more than 10 points against anyone.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Teleconference Notes (11/29)

Mark Richt didn't hold his regular Sunday teleconference today because he was out of town for a family function, according to the UGA sports information department. As of today, the plan for the coming week is not to hold any bowl practices either. This is a change from what Richt said last week when he said he expected the team to practice twice.

We did, however, get a chance to speak with a handful of the players today, who said they haven't been told anything regarding the assistant coaches but said they have, like everyone, heard many of the rumors. Joe Cox said the team will meet tomorrow, and he assumed that meeting would be to discuss scheduling during the next month.

Here are a few of the other tidbits to come from the player interviews...

-- Not surprisingly, the players said they had no idea what bowl they might be going to and weren't holding out hope for any one in particular.

-- Clint Boling said it was a particularly jubilant locker room after the game. "I don't know if I can really put it into words. It was a great feeling, everybody was just really excited and jumping up and down and things like that. It was a really good feeling after the way this year has been."

-- Joe Cox echoed what many of you have said about the game -- Mark Richt was as focused and serious as he has been in the past. "You could definitely notice it. He had a chip on his shoulder for this game just like we did. That was good to see. You could definitely see he wanted this game more than anything. He coached hard and he had a lot of pride in this game."

-- Rennie Curran and Jeff Owens said the defense's primary goal was to stop Jonathan Dwyer coming into the game, and that's exactly what they did. Dwyer was held to just 33 yards rushing.

-- Clint Boling on the O line's more physical approach: "We knew if we were going to help the defense we had to keep their offense off the field, and to do that we had to run the ball. We just wanted to go out and play hard and I think we did that."

-- Rennie was at the Falcons game today. He said he got plenty of dirty looks from Tech fans who recognized him, which was by far the highlight of his afternoon.

Fleeting Thoughts: Georgia Tech Edition

The picture above was the post-game press box meal. I'm hopeful that will be the last Papa Johns we see this football season.

Sorry for the late posting on this. I didn't get in from Atlanta until after 3, so I figured I'd wait a bit before writing this in the hope that it would turn out slightly more coherent with a few less mis-spellings. We shall see…

-- I'm not entirely sure where to begin, because there are a lot of kudos to be handed out across the board for Georgia, but I think perhaps it's appropriate to single out Reshad Jones. The UGA safety was so roundly criticized after his performance against Tech a year ago that he seriously considered bolting for the NFL. This time around, he probably played the best game of his career, and virtually every play he made was a difference-maker in the final outcome.

-- With all due respect to Mr. Green, Jones' interception of Jaybo Shaw was probably the prettiest catch of the season by a Georgia player.

-- Speaking of Jaybo, Georgia caught a break when Josh Nesbitt limped to the sideline in the first quarter. Perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference, but Tech gained a whopping two total yards on two drives with Shaw in the game.

-- OK, the running game. Plenty of credit to go around...

-- Mike Bobo, the king of the "balanced" offense, called 13 straight running plays to start the game. He deserves a ton of credit for sticking with what worked and killing a ton of clock. While UGA eventually won the time-of-possession battle by just six seconds, the Dawgs held a five-minute edge in the first half, which turned out to be crucial.

-- Can we officially say all that talk early in the year that Caleb King was a bust was premature? King ran with authority, scored two touchdowns (giving him four in the past three games) and averaged 9.2 yards per carry.

-- And how about Washaun Ealey? We knew he had it in him to run the ball as well as he did, but it was probably fair to wonder how the kid would recover from the devastating fumble at the goal line in the final minutes against Kentucky last week. He heard plenty of criticism -- even from his own coaches -- last week, and King said the play was "still messing with his head" but Ealey responded with a spectacular performance. He picked up 183 yards in the game -- nearly matching the high-water mark for Knowshon Moreno's career -- on just 20 carries, averaging 9.1 yards per touch.

-- The offensive line played phenomenally. King had some exceptional runs down the middle of the field. I can't help but wonder if King saved Ben Jones' life at some point in the past month, because the sophomore center has made it his job to open up holes between the tackles for King to run through. You'll remember King's final TD against Auburn on which Jones told him, "Just follow me and you're going to score." The 75-yarder King picked up went straight down the middle, too, and King was hardly touched. But even the outside runs -- particularly those by Ealey -- went for huge gains. It was easily the best performance of the season by the O line and the tight ends.

-- And one guy who we haven't talked about much this year but easily had his best game of the season was Shaun Chapas. The lack of production, particularly in the blocking game, by the veteran fullback had been a huge disappointment this year, but against Tech, Chapas looked every bit as good as he was during his spectacular sophomore season a year ago.

-- I think we can officially say that the ACC is not a very physical conference.

-- If this really was Willie Martinez's final game, Mark Richt sent him out on a high note. I know Richt will say that the decision to kick a 55-yard field goal with 3:03 to play was mostly based on the confidence he had in Blair Walsh, but don't believe it. Richt rolled the dice giving Tech the ball at its own 37-yard line needing a touchdown for the win.

Tell me that every Georgia fan watching the game wasn't having nightmares of Georgia's defense folding on that final drive and Richt being absolutely excoriated for the next nine months because of it.

And tell me that every still lucid UGA fan wasn't ready to give up on the game when Tech converted the fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:53 to play.

But that's not how things played out. Richt had faith in his D -- and in turn, faith in Willie -- and the Dawgs came up huge. The coverage on the final four throws was exceptional, and while it may not be enough to erase the demons of Martinez's past, it was a fitting way to end the regular season and, perhaps, his career at Georgia.

-- And speaking of staff changes: Richt again would not commit to anything, but it's hard not to assume something will happen after his notably neutral responses after the game. There would have been no better time for him to endorse his defensive staff than after that stand, but that's not what he did. Here's what he said on the subject:

“Here’s the thing – I’ve been focusing so hard on the season, and that’s what I’ve been focused on. I know we’ve got some areas we need to improve in, but right now I’m just going to enjoy this victory.”

-- And while that wasn't necessarily a poignant quote in either direction, I think this statement, which Richt offered up on his own, also said a lot, without actually saying anything.

“I think that as I look back I’ve never had a season where the turnover ration was just so poor,” Richt said. “I think if you just take that one thing and make it just break even, we’d probably win two or three more games without changing one thing. But you can’t do that, and there’s definitely some things we need to correct. But I think everything is correctable. I think it’s a season of self-inflicted wounds, and that’s my responsibility to make sure we do better.”

-- Speaking of those turnovers, did anyone notice Caleb's fumble came on Georgia's 13th straight run. Lucky No. 13.

-- And how about Geno Atkins corralling a fumble? It took a long time, but finally the ball bounced Georgia's way.

-- Mark Richt did praise the kick coverage team (and the special teams as a whole) after the game. Ummm… huh? Blair Walsh's first two kickoffs went for touchbacks. Then on kick No. 3, they go back to the directional approach, and it flies out of bounds. On Walsh's four kickoffs in the second half, he had a touchback and three directional kicks. One was covered well, and Tech started at its own 17. The other two were both problematic. The first resulted in a 25-yard return and nearly ended with a flag on Georgia, but as it turned out it was Tech that drew the flag for a hold. The final kickoff was exceptionally executed by Walsh, but the coverage team struggled to contain it, and Tech returned it 44 yards to the 41. The Yellow Jackets scored on that drive.

So the quick math: On three deep kicks, Georgia was a perfect 3-for-3 getting touchbacks. On four directional kicks, Georgia was 1-for-4 on executing them properly, with two of the three mistakes leading to exceptional field position for Tech.

-- The drops by Georgia's receivers this year have been really ugly. Rantavious Wooten made amends for his with a big 23-yard grab, but the drops are really becoming an ugly trend.

-- I do credit Bobo for sticking with the run, but I'm surprised by his lack of attacking downfield. The run was so successful that Tech had switched to a cover-zero in the second half. On Caleb's 75-yarder, there were no safeties deep, which is what allowed him to go to the house after he got past that second line of defense. So why not use the play-action against Tech, who was selling out for the run, and try to connect on a couple of deep balls? If I'm not mistaken, I think the 23-yarder to Wooten was the longest passing attempt of the game.

-- Georgia only had five penalties -- marking the third straight game they've been at five or fewer -- but again, the ones they got all seemed to come at some really bad times. That's the thing with flags… it's not so much the quantity, but rather when they happen.

-- It's really hard to overstate how much the defense improved over its performance a year ago against Tech. There was really only one truly bad play by the D, and that was on Demayrius Thomas' 76-yard touchdown reception when Vance Cuff missed a tackle badly and Bryan Evans took a horrible angle to the ball. But beyond that, the big plays were largely kept to a minimum, and while Tech did score 24 points, the defense made the Jackets work for everything. That's exactly what you have to do against a team like that.

-- Seriously… Jonathan Dwyer had 33 yards on 14 carries. The only team to hold Dwyer to fewer yards per carry was Miami, which not surprisingly, was the only other team to beat Tech. (And in that game, Dwyer got just five carries.) Willie Martinez did a spectacular job of making Tech do things they aren't generally comfortable doing by taking away their best player.

-- Justin Houston might be the most under-appreciated player in the SEC. He played a monster game, finishing with six tackles, including two for a loss. The defensive ends are so important against Tech's offense, and they have an exceptionally tough job. They have to beat cut blocks, get penetration without being overly aggressive, make the reads to avoid getting burned on the pitch and still pursue laterally. Houston did all of that and then some. If he hadn't missed those first two games -- and heck, even though he did -- he needs to be in consideration for All-SEC.

-- Ho-hum. Another 15 tackles for Rennie Curran.

-- Give Brandon Boykin some credit. I think the coaches were hoping to keep him off the field, but he gutted it out and played really well.

-- Back to UGA's tailbacks for a moment. Since the Vandy game, here are the totals for Caleb King and Washaun Ealey: King has 68 carries for 413 yards on the ground and six catches for 46 yards. Ealey has 94 rushes for 588 yards and two catches for 26 yards. In other words, for the past six games, Georgia's two tailbacks have averaging 6.3 yards per touch.

-- Just as a basis for comparison: Ealey and King have combined for 1,073 yards from scrimmage in the past six games. Knowshon Moreno's best six-game stretch last season resulted in just 900 yards from scrimmage.

-- Russ was a very popular dog after the game.

-- I was busy trying to frantically type up the conclusion to my story in the final seconds -- which has become routine for me -- so I missed the very ending when UGA attempted to give Mark Richt a Powerade bath. Saw the highlights on "SportsCenter" though and he was NOT happy about it.

-- Great post-game Tweet from Michael Moore: We already played the lamecocks and won, so i think that makes us ACC Champs :)

-- I heard from more than a few folks last week about how down the UGA locker room was after the Kentucky game. This team had every reason to be simply waiting for the season to end. The fact that the Dawgs went out and not only played well, but dominated the line of scrimmage and played a smart, focused ballgame is a tribute to the coaching staff, the leaders on the team like Joe Cox and Jeff Owens and Rennie Curran and the overall heart and determination of a group of guys who, despite having plenty of bad moments in terms of execution, have never backed down from adversity this season.

-- By the way, how odd is it that that was the first time I had to mention Joe Cox?

-- Nice job on press box tech support Georgia Tech. Loved not having Internet access on deadline. At least your tricycle races went well. You're really doing remarkable things for society.

-- And how about turning down the main on the PA a bit, eh? My ears are still bleeding.

-- And I think this comment by Jameson is the perfect way to sum things up...

"Dear St. Simons,

30-24, hahahahahahhahahahah!!!!!


Post-Game Notes: Richt's Gamble Pays Off

(NOTE: You can read Coley Harvey's game story HERE and read my recap of the running game's success HERE.)

With just over three minutes left to play at Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday, Georgia coach Mark Richt gave a two-fold vote of confidence — he went for the field goal.

With his Bulldogs up 30-24, it would be a 55-yard attempt for kicker Blair Walsh. If he made it, it would make it a two-score lead for Georgia.

If he missed, it would mean a short field for Georgia Tech, with a touchdown to win.

“That was a tough call,” Richt said. “I know that Blair’s very capable of making the kick. I knew if he made it, it would be very tough for them to come back … If you punt them down in deep, it would have been tough for any offense to go 80, 90 yards in just a matter of three minutes. It was a tough call.”

Walsh, the Lou Groza Award finalist, had plenty of distance on the kick but pushed it to the left. His defense had his back, allowing the Yellow Jackets to get no closer than the Georgia 46.

“I knew I could have had it, which sucks, but it is what it is,” said Walsh, who hit from 28, 38 and 43 prior to his second miss of the season. “There was a little bit of win and I didn’t play it the way I wanted to play it. I hit it well, but I didn’t aim it the way I wanted to.”

Walsh had been 4-for-4 on the season from 50-plus yards.

“It came down to Blair having the season that he’s had, making every single kick past 50 yards,” Richt said. “In pre-game warm-ups I saw what he did, I knew what his range was, and it was within his range.”

With punter Drew Butler, another national award finalist, sitting on the sidelines during a game where neither team punted, Walsh couldn’t quite make this one. But his three earlier field goals helped Georgia top Tech.

“We just beat the seventh-ranked team in the nation, and this is what our team’s been capable of all year,” said Walsh, a sophomore. “It’s frustrating we couldn’t put it together for the entire season, but hey, never too late right?”


Reshad Jones’ second-quarter interception gave Georgia just its ninth takeaway of the season, and Geno Atkins chipped in with a fumble recovery in the third quarter that gave Georgia the edge in the turnover battle for just the second time this season.

Atkins’ recovery was just the second by Georgia in 14 tries this year, but it was Jones’ pick that will make the highlight reel.

The safety made a one-handed grab and hang on the football as he tumbled to the turf for the pick, and Georgia turned the turnover into a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take a 17-3 lead.

"We were in a certain coverage and my man went away so I kind of rose to the high hole and got deep and read the quarterback's eyes,” Jones said. “I saw him looking at his key, and I just wanted to go out and make a great play."

Winning the turnover battle proved to be essential in Georgia’s six-point win, and afterward Richt said he couldn’t help but wonder how different this season might have turned out had his team been a bit more productive with takeaways and a bit more cautious with the football.

“I think that as I look back I’ve never had a season where the turnover ration was just so poor,” Richt said. “I think if you just take that one thing and make it just break even, we’d probably win two or three more games without changing one thing. But you can’t do that, and there’s definitely some things we need to correct. But I think everything is correctable. I think it’s a season of self-inflicted wounds, and that’s my responsibility to make sure we do better.”


Rumors swirled before Saturday’s game that defensive coordinator Willie Martinez might be coaching his final game with Georgia, with former defensive great David Pollack even making a pronouncement on his Twitter page that he expected Martinez to depart within the next few days.

"To all, It does appear that Willie Martinez will not be back next year. Will be an intresting next 46 hours to see what happens,” Pollack wrote.

Martinez has endured two years of constant rumors and criticism as his defense has met with significant adversity during that span, allowing 34 points or more in 10 of its past 21 games entering Saturday’s contest, with last year’s loss to Georgia Tech tops among the oft-cited debacles.

But Saturday, the defense came out hungry, and it was a final stand in the game’s waning moments by Martinez’s embattled crew that proved to be the difference.

“It’s good to be on the field, we wanted to be on the field,” Martinez said about the final defensive stop. “We welcomed the challenge because we knew we could play better than we did last year in the second half. This year, I thought the guys – when things happened bad, we hung in there. The guys did a good job in adjusting to the situation.”

As to whether those rumors about Martinez’s job will come to fruition, however, Richt wasn’t ready to say.

Richt was asked after the game if he expected changes to his coaching staff, and he offered little in the way a of concrete decision.

“Here’s the thing – I’ve been focusing so hard on the season, and that’s what I’ve been focused on,” Richt said. “I know we’ve got some areas we need to improve in, but right now I’m just going to enjoy this victory.”


Receiver A.J. Green and safety Bacarri Rambo both missed their second straight game. Rambo is still recovering from a concussion he suffered against Auburn, while Green is nursing a shoulder sprain also suffered against Auburn.

Brandon Boykin, who injured his hip last week, was limited Saturday night. He was in for some special teams work as a kick returner and played significant reps on defense in the second half.

Safety Bryan Evans left the game in the second half with a concussion.


“I wanted to hijack it, but I thought that would be over the top.” – Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran on his plans to steal Tech’s Rambling Wreck as revenge for the Yellow Jackets’ destruction of Sanford Stadium’s famed hedges after last year’s win.


-- Saturday’s win over No. 6 Georgia Tech represented the highest-ranked opponent the Bulldogs have beaten on the road since winning at No. 5 Auburn in 2006.

-- Georgia’s touchdown on its opening drive represented a dramatic change from the precedent the Bulldogs had set in recent weeks. Aside from the Tennessee Tech game, Georgia had totaled just 10 first-quarter points in its past six games.

-- Vance Cuff made his first career start in place of Boykin at corner. Marcus Dowtin also got the start at linebacker for the third time this season.

-- Saturday was the first game in which Georgia did not have to punt once since a win over Duke in 1986.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Live Blog: Georgia vs. Georgia Tech


How about some links to get the live blogged kicked off in the right direction?

-- David Ching writes that this may well be the last time we'll see the old-school Georgia Bulldogs.

-- Tim Tucker has a good story on the emergence of Caleb King after numerous setbacks.

-- Marc Weiszer writes about the recruitment of both King and Jonathan Dwyer by the Dawgs.

-- The Telegraph has an update on former Bulldog Michael Lemon, who wrapped up his season with NC State today.

-- Here's a great post on how Georgia Tech students are getting some help talking to the ladies.

-- Bubba N Earl offers some additional nerd-related humor.

-- A big happy birthday to our good friend Bernie.

-- And to cap off the festive holiday weekend, here's a list of the top Thanksgiving TV episodes of all time. While I'll heartily agree with much of the list (the Thanksgiving "Cosby Show" is one of my favorites) it is absolutely inexcusable to forget the Thanksgiving foodfight episode of "Cheers."

And on to some gameday issues...

First off, last year, it was the second half that cost the Bulldogs against Tech. This year, it could be the other way around.

Georgia Tech has outscored its opponents 103-55 in the first quarter this season, so they're used to fast starts.

Georgia, on the other hand, has been dreadful in the early going. In the Dawgs' five losses, they've been outscored 23-10 in the first quarter, and with the exception of Tennessee Tech, Georgia has racked up just 10 first-quarter points in any game since the beginning of October.

So while last year's game will no doubt serve as a reminder that Georgia needs to finish strong, it could be the start of this year's game that makes the difference in the outcome.

And one more link for you...

Chris Low takes a look at how the SEC's quarterbacks stack up against common competition -- i.e. SEC games. And you might be surprised to learn, Joe Cox is among the best.

While Cox has obviously thrown too many interceptions, that's essentially the only knock on his in comparison to his peers throughout the conference. That, I think, reinforces a lot of what I've said about Cox all season -- it's not that he's a bad quarterback who never should have started at this level. It's that when he has been bad, he's been REALLY bad.

If you had those same numbers from Cox, but he was a redshirt freshman, you'd be pleased. But for a fifth-year senior, you would have hoped for more consistent results. And while you can blame that on the coaching staff, I have little doubt they, too, expected more consistent results.

Be back soon with some more pregame updates...


-- So South Carolina thumps Clemson. What does that mean for your Bulldogs? Well, for one, it might give some hope that the ACC stinks and the Dawgs have a good shot tonight. Of course, it also means that South Carolina's profile for bowl season just got a bit better. Coming in to today, the Gamecocks were really the only team obviously behind Georgia in the SEC pecking order. Now? Well, we might be spending some time in Birmingham.

-- That means Papa Johns in the press box for me. That stinks, since I can get Papa Johns at UGA hoops games. I was hoping for a bowl upgrade.

-- The Bowl is played Jan. 2, which means Georgia can forego any major changes because, after all, they will have played in yet another January bowl game!


-- So there's about 5,000 people in the stadium, but those boos when Georgia ran onto the field for warmups were awfully loud. But I'm sure that Tech would never artificially create crowd noise. Besides, where would the get the technology?

-- And speaking of the Tech-savvy nerds, half the people in the press box can't get on the Intergoogles. Oddly, I had no problems. There's a first time for everything.

-- Tech charges for its press box food. I'm not complaining because, well, what have I done to deserve a free meal? But if I have to pay for it, couldn't they have at least had boneless chicken and not have it be so soggy?

-- Also, they ran out of red velvet cake before I got a slice. Not cool.

-- Apparently there's a little traffic on I-75. Who woulda thought.

-- I can't wait to see Rennie Curran hijack the Ramblin' Wreck. Also, I'm going to need him to give me a lift to my car. I think I might be parked in Buckhead.


-- Was just down on the field. Saw Tashard Choice, fresh off putting up 11 points against me in fantasy football.

-- Two people I didn't see on the field: A.J. Green and Willie Martinez.

-- Willie may have simply been hiding behind A.J. Harmon the whole time, but I noticed every other assistant coach out there but didn't see him. Not saying that means anything, just saying I didn't see him.

-- Rambo was on the field, but wearing street clothes. Tavarres King was rocking a No. 8 on his arm, but no signs of A.J.

-- The video board had short messages from each senior naming their favorite moment at Tech. The vast majority said beating Georgia.


-- The Internet here absolutely sucks.

-- Georgia wins the coin toss and will receive.

-- Branden Smith in on the return and gets some nice yardage up to the UGA 26... wonder if that means bad news on Brandon Boykin.

-- Two straight runs to King. That's a big change from how Georgia has started most of its recent games. Third-and-1.

-- Two tight-end set and King runs straight up the middle for the first down.

-- Fourth straight run. This one goes to Ealey around the right side, and he picks up five. Think perhaps Bobo is concerned about controlling time of possession?

-- Fifth straight run -- this one picks up a first down. Whatever happened to balance?

-- Sixth straight run... this one a designed run by Cox that gains a yard to midfield. Milking the clock.

-- Seventh straight run... this one to Caleb King who gains 10 yards. Bobo better be planning to open the second half with 10 straight passes or this balance is going to be completely off.

-- From Anonymous... what a win could do for Georgia...

-- Ninth straight run and this one goes to Ealey for a huge gain down to the 1-yard line. First-and-goal.... just in time for a false start! This one's on Chris Davis, backing UGA up to the 6.

-- Caleb King finishes off the drive with a 6-yard run for the touchdown. Well, you won't see Bobo script 10 straight runs very often, but it worked to perfection. Georgia 7, Georgia Tech 0 (10-74-5:21).


-- Michael Adams on the jumbotron gets a nice round of boos... not sure if that was exclusively from Tech fans.

-- Kickoff goes through the end zone for a touchback. Are we sure Richt didn't replace the coaching staff before the game?

-- Alright, I'm officially confused. UGA runs 10 straight times for a TD. Georgia Tech comes out throwing on first down. WTF?

-- Josh Nesbitt keeps on second down and is forced out by Reshad Jones after a 24-yard run.

-- Jeff Owens with a nice tackle of Nesbitt for no gain. That'll bring up a third-and-three at midfield.

-- Nesbitt hits Thomas along the right sideline for a 10-yard gain. Vance Cuff was in coverage, and I'm guessing we're not going to see Boykin tonight.

-- Toss to Roddy Jones, who fumbles the pitch but, as always, the ball doesn't bounce Georgia's way. Jones recovers his own fumble to bring up second-and-6. That's 13 fumbles against UGA this year and they've recovered just one... way back in Week 3.

-- Third-and-six from the 36. Nesbitt rolls out and pitches to Marcus Wright for the first down and a gain of 13 to the 23. There's a guy sitting behind me yelling out the results of every play at an exceptionally loud volume.

-- We've run more than 10 minutes off the clock and we havne't yet completed the second series of the game. I might make deadline after all.

-- Dwyer rumbles through about 43 tackles before Bryan Evans brings him down after a gain of 8. That was just hard running right up the gut.

-- Pitch to Allen goes nowhere after Justin Houston does a great job of lateral pursuit where Vance Cuff jumps in and finishes off the tackle. Fourth-and-two from the 15 and Tech is going for it.

-- Tech does its best UGA impression, getting flagged for a false start on Joseph Gilbert. That brings up a fourth-and-7, and Tech misses the 37-yard field goal try. That's a huge turn in Georgia's favor.

-- Remember what I wrote earlier today... winning the first quarter will be huge for the Dawgs. They're in good shape to do that now.

-- 12 straight runs now for Georgia. Ealey goes outside and has plenty of room to run. This is an impressive start. Gain of 14 for Washaun.

-- Run No. 13 was not so lucky for Georgia. Caleb King fumbles and Georgia Tech recovers and will take over at the 40. Man, that really is both devestating and not at all surprising at this point.

-- Tweet from David Pollack: "To all, It does appear that Willie Martinez will not be back next year. Will be an intresting next 46 hours to see what happens"

-- Roddy Jones picks up a first down. Nesbitt shaken up one play later. He's down on the turf after a four-yard run and looks to be in a good bit of pain. The crowd is chanting "Nes-bitt, Nes-bitt" but I really think they mean "Ram-bo, Ram-bo."

-- Nesbitt walks off the field under his own power, but he's clearly hobbled. Might just be a stinger, but he's having trouble just hobbling over to the sideline. Jaybo Shaw in at QB.

-- Shaw keeps it on second down and goes nowhere. Rennie Curran makes a nice tackle, and that ends the first quarter.


-- David Schmidt just won a 2010 Camaro. Good for him. Now turn down the volume on the friggin' Jumbotron. It's not a Skid Row concert.

-- I'm gonna have to take a break here in a few minutes. I have to have a notebook in for the paper by 9:30 so the readers on the outskirts of Macon can enjoy the highlights of the first quarter of this game tomorrow morning. Ah, newspapers. You're such a delightful throwback industry.

-- Tech connects on a 43-yard field goal. Georgia 7, Georgia Tech 3 (6-15-1:14). That's a great stop by the D. Willie should be rumored to resign every week. It apparently gets the guys really pumped.

-- Brandon Boykin is in the game returning the kick and he goes nowhere, brought down at the 10. Not sure why he's out there now but not earlier in the game. Branden Smith took a big hit on his first kick return though and looked a little loose with the football, so perhaps that's it.

-- First pass from Cox is a quick out to Wooten, who picks up just two. That seems like a wasted play to me. If you're going throw, challenge Tech deep. Particularly when the play-action has been set up so perfectly by the first two drives.

-- Ealey goes up the middle and picks up nine yards to the 22 for a first down. At this point, why throw the ball at all?

-- Three wide, and Cox has Israel Troupe open at the 30, but he simply drops a well-thrown ball. Again, Tech has to be expecting the run now. Why no play-action?

-- Well they may be expecting the run, but they sure as heck can't stop it. Ealey goes straight up the middle again, gaining 17 yards for the first down. Seriously, how bad is the ACC? "It's Clemson. It's Georgia Tech. Catch the best missed tackles and soft defenses the ACC has to offer live from Tampa! ACC football... it's FAAAAAN-marginal!"

-- I think you know that this game is going UGA's way when it's the other team that constantly has players limping off to the sideline.

-- Cox had Wooten wide open down the left sideline for what probably would have been six and Wooten simply dropped the ball. Cox hasn't always been sharp this year, but man have the UGA receivers dropped a lot of passes. Remember when A.J. said it was impossible NOT to catch a ball Cox threw? Whatever happened to that?

-- And yet another GT injury. Now third-and-seven. Cox has all the time in the world, hits Orson Charles down the middle and picks up a first down into Tech territory.

-- Handoff on second-and-10 to Ealey goes 34 yards around left end down to the Tech 15. Maybe Willie isn't the DC who should be on the hot seat. By the way, Ealey's stats so far: 8 carries, 122 yards. Yikes!

-- Caleb King with a big gain sets up a second-and-2 at the Tech 7. Another false start -- this one on Orson Charles -- backs up the Dawgs to the 12, however.

-- King runs hard and picks up nine to the 3. This is simply domination at the line of scrimmage. The ACC is just not a physical conference.

-- The flickering "Louder" sign on the jumbotron is seizure-enducing. Like listening to Mary Hart. (How's that for a timely reference?)

-- Third-and-goal from the 5, Derrick Morgan gets pressure on Cox and his pass goes out the back of the end zone. Blair Walsh on to kick. He connects from 22 yards out. Georgia 10, Georgia Tech 3 (15-84-6:40). Wow. 15 plays. Wow.

-- Sorry for the lack of updates. The Internet is not working.

-- Reshad Jones picks off Jaybo Shaw with a beautiful catch at the UGA 44. That's probably the prettiest catch I've seen all year... including the work A.J. has done.

NOTE: Internet stopped working and I had to get a notebook in before 9:30. Sorry for the lapse. We'll see how things go in the second half with the Internet. We can't expect the Tech school to have proper network capabilities, after all.

The Latest on the Coaching Rumors

Today, we come to the end of the regular season. Tomorrow, we're likely to start a whole new whirlwind of activity.

The rumor mill on the fate of Georgia's assistant coaches has been swirling for two full years now, and it's about to reach a fever pitch. It's hard to say what will happen, when it will happen or how dramatic the effects will be. But I can tell you two things for certain:

First, there will be changes. That doesn't necessarily mean that coaches will be gone, but while fans have taken much of Mark Richt's unflinching approach to this year's problems as a tacit endorsement of the status quo, I'm told that what has gone on behind closed doors is not so calm, cool and collected. Again, I have not been told that any changes are definitively in the works, but those fans who think Richt will not take a hard look at his program are underestimating him.

Second, a new set of assistants will not be an instant fix. A cursory look at the history of programs that have had massive coaching overhauls on one side of the ball or the other reveals as many instances where the head coach has been gone within a year or two as it reveals situations in which the problems were solved. Most fans look at coaching changes as a necessity, but there are drawbacks in terms of recruits being lost, the time it takes for players to adjust to a new system and the time it takes for the new coaches to adjust to their surroundings. In many cases, it's a situation of being careful what you wish for.

Beyond that, there isn't much that's set in stone for next week. If changes are going to be made, they could come quickly to avoid a lot of negative recruiting during the all-important contact period next week. Or coaches could stick around for the bowl game. Or changes could me made, then more happen among the assistants after a new coordinator is brought in. Or nothing will happen at all.

But while we're waiting to find out, here are a few issues I've come across in recent days...

What will happen with Rodney Garner?

In the discussions about Willie Martinez's future, Garner's name invariably comes up. The assumption is that if Garner isn't going to be offered a coordinator job, he might choose to leave rather than settle for being passed over for a promotion. This is worrisome for fans who have seen Garner turn Georgia's recruiting into a juggernaut during his tenure.

Garner was a hot commodity last season, interviewing for Auburn's head coaching job and being offered spots on the staff of both Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and Gene Chizik, after he was eventually brought in as the head coach at Auburn.

Even beyond recruiting, Garner's potential departure could cause other problems. Much was made a few weeks ago about Montez Robinson's potential transfer, and that issue would no doubt rise again if Garner left. The two are extremely close, and Robinson told me that had Garner left last season, he would have followed. Robinson is hardly the only Georgia player with close ties to Garner, so it could certainly shake things up if he leaves.

But there's more on Garner…

I spoke with Garner earlier this week about his interest in potential head coaching vacancies throughout the country, of which there will be more than a few at both the FBS and FCS levels. He was a bit reserved in his comments for obvious reasons, but he said he would not rule out pursuing another head coaching job regardless of any changes at Georgia. Beyond that, however, he was keeping quiet.

"My whole focus is Georgia Tech," he said. "Let’s get this behind us and we’ll deal with whatever comes.”

But there's even more on Garner...

Dean Legge at Dawg Post ($$$) submitted a Freedom of Information request for all the assistant coaches' contracts last week. UGA reported back that Garner, in fact, didn't have a contract.

This seemed odd, so I asked Garner about it. His response was short and sweet:

“Ask Mr. Evans."

I then asked if that meant that it was not Garner's decision not to sign a contract.

"Someone else would be in a better position to explain it,” he said.

Well, I took Garner's advice and talked to Damon Evans about it. Here's how that conversation went:

Me: Why is it that Coach Garner doesn't have a contract?
Damon: "He just hasn't signed one."
Me: So did he have a problem with the contract that was offered?
Damon: "No, he just hasn't signed his contract."
Me: So is that something you would have liked to have seen happen?
Damon: "I'll just leave it like this: He hasn't signed a contract."

Sounds like a great relationship, eh?

Of course, that leads us into our next big issue regarding potential coaching changes...

Will Damon Evans open up his wallet to bring in a top guy if a job opens up?

While most fans seem to be upset with Richt for his lack of interest in making changes, it might be fair to wonder what kind of resources Richt would have to work with should changes be required. I have had a couple of sources tell me they aren't sure how much money Georgia would be willing to spend to lure away a top defensive coordinator, let alone buying out a contract that might add to the overall price tag.

(NOTE: According to USA Today's recent analysis of coaching salaries, Georgia currently spends $2,029,816 on its assistant coaches, which ranks sixth among the 11 public institutions in the SEC. Florida ranks seventh, $65,000 behind Georgia, and Kentucky ranks eighth, $80,000 behind the Dawgs.)

Hearing this struck a chord with me. I had actually talked to Evans in the spring about this very subject. After Lane Kiffin broke the bank to bring in a staff of heavy hitters at Tennessee, I asked Evans if he thought that might change the landscape of what assistants at Georgia make. Here's what he said at the time:

"My philosophy is this: We want to keep up with the marketplace. Three institutions don't set the marketplace from my standpoint. They have to do what they feel is appropriate for them, but what I like to do is look at the big picture and see where everyone is big picture and ask, where is Georgia in that marketplace: Lower, middle or upper? Wherever we are, do we feel comfortable with where we are? That's the question I have to answer every day. I tend to believe that we have kept our coaches in a good position in the marketplace.

"Do I think that marketplace is going to change? Yes, I think it's going to change. Will we at Georgia do what's appropriate for the University of Georgia with regard to that marketplace? Yes, at the right time, but I'm not going to overreact to what a handful of schools have done."

Of course, that's what Evans had to say this spring, long before Georgia was a 6-5 team and surrounded by coaching rumors. So, to be fair, I asked him again this week if he had changed his philosophy at all, and I didn't exactly get the response I was expecting.

"First of all, I never gave a philosophy with regard to that, and I don't know if right now is the appropriate time to be talking about that," Evans said. "We've got coaches that are under contract and are paid what they're paid. When you say 'philosophy,' I'm kind of lost when you say 'philosophy.'"

I then proceeded to explain exactly what I meant by "philosophy" and here's what Evans said:

"Let me say this: I never gave you a philosophy with regard to what we would do salary-wise," he said. "I said that I'm not going to overreact to what one or two institutions do. So I always say, what we'll do at Georgia is what we believe is appropriate for that particular coach and for that particular time."
Now, maybe I'm way off base here, but it seems to me when your comments begin with "My philosophy is this" and you go on to explain a philosophy, I don't see what's particularly confusing about me referring to that as a philosophy.

And just to be clear, I had emailed Evans the full quote for him to read, but he said he did not receive the email. Regardless, it seemed silly to argue over semantics.

Still, I think we can parse what he did say a bit:

-- "I'm not going to overreact to what one or two institutions do."

What this tells me is that anybody who thinks money won't be an object is not going to be pleased.

-- "We'll do at Georgia is what we believe is appropriate for that particular coach and for that particular time."

What this tells me is that a bump in the overall salary structure won't necessarily be ruled out for the right guy.

As to which of those two statements takes precedent, should a vacancy arise, will likely be the biggest factor in who Georgia would bring in to fill out the staff.

Will Mark Richt even make a change?

A year ago, Richt was definitive in saying that he would not be making any changes to his staff. This year, he has largely avoided the topic, save a few minor examples. When asked this week about how he would handle things, he said he wouldn't be letting public sentiment dictate his evaluation process.

“You can’t let public opinion run your program is probably the best way to say it,” Richt said.

That didn't exactly engender a ton of excitement in fans hopeful for changes, but Richt also alluded to possible moves earlier this year in what was perhaps his most damning statement about the staff, way back in mid-October.

"I think a lot of people expect blood," Richt said after a loss to Tennessee. "They want somebody to be let go or fired or that kind of thing, and maybe that's what needs to be done, but at this point right now, we're going to do what we know is the best thing to do and that's to focus on this game this week."

Well, in the two losses since then -- both of which involved Georgia allowing more than 30 points -- the blood lust from fans has hardly dissipated. And regardless of how much Richt has avoided the topic in favor of a bunker mentality the past few weeks, he must be aware of the public opinion.

As for how likely changes might be, Dean Legge notes that at least one change ($$$) has come on Richt's staff in all but one season since he's been in Athens.

2001: Entirely new staff save Rodney Garner
2002: Tony Pierce dismissed
2003: Ken Rucker
2004: None
2005: John Jancek, Kirby Smart
2006: Tony Ball
2007: Stacy Searels
2008: John Lilly
2009: Bryan McClendon

Of course, it should also be noted that, of all those changes, Pierce's dismissal was the only one that wasn't voluntary.

What role will Damon Evans have in deciding what changes will be made?

I posed this question to Evans this week, too, and while he offered more support for Richt, he stopped short of saying that he wouldn't be involved in making those decisions.

"Like with everything, all programs are evaluated at the end of the year," Evans said. "As I've stated before, I have confidence that Mark will evaluate his program and do what he feels is appropriate, just like he does every single year. Right now I think our focus should be on the Georgia Tech game, and whatever we deem or Coach Richt deems appropriate, we'll handle at that time."

That's what we'll all be waiting for, no doubt. It should be an interesting week, regardless of what happens tonight.

And while you're waiting, here are a few more tidbits on the coaches that might interest you…

Per the USA Today report, here are the contract terms for each of Georgia's assistants:

Max Bonus
Nat'l Rank*
Willie Martinez
$325,815 $92,150 34
Mike Bobo
$325,000 $92,150 35
Stacy Searels $290,000 $92,150 68

Rodney Garner

$290,000 $92,150 70
Jon Fabris
$202,041 $76,852 196
John Lilly
$165,480 $62,882 312
Tony Ball
$165,480 $62,882 312
John Jancek $163,000 $57,650 332
Bryan McClendon
$90,000 $34,200 657

*National rank also includes other income from things like shoe and/or apparel contracts, TV and radio appearances, speeches and public appearances or camps. For UGA's staff, that amounts to $1,600 per coach, with the exception of Garner who is not eligible due to his lack of a current contract.

** All coaches are on one-year contracts, except Garner.

And finally, here's an email from John B. that I figured I'd pass along...


I was searching the internet tonight for any info on the rumor that Willie has turned in his resignation effective after the Tech game....

I found this site for a petition to fire Willie.

Its been signed 517 times. The last one coming on Feb 19th. I couldn't help but reading some of these comments. It seems like they were ripped from this years head line. I particularly like #453. It seems like it is pointing to this year's defense.

# 453:
2:09 pm PST, Dec 5, John McCarthy, Georgia
For UGA fto ever challange for a National Title they must do the following: On offense, quit being nice to your opponents...GO FOR THE JUGULAR AND PILE UP THE POINTS! Otherwise the BCS will keep saying Georgia Who?. On defense, pull out some old film and learn how to play REAL defense without mistakes. Last but not least, Defense wins champoinships and has forever. Put your coach on here or go lose somewhere else. Earn your salary for a change! Coach the players to stop making key dumb mistakes. Quit giving the momentum back to the opponent. The upperclasmen make to many freshman mistakes.

As a side note I wonder if that is "Big John" McCarthy from UFC fame making comments on the dawgs.