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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fleeting thoughts: After Arkansas

For the third straight week, Georgia now has a game vital to its season, and in the eyes of some, even its program.

First, it needed to beat South Carolina to set the tone for the season, and be on track to contend for the division with Florida.

Then, the Bulldogs needed to beat Arkansas in order to avoid falling out of the East race, being 0-2 in the league, and so forth.

OK, having failed at both of those, NOW this is the most important game. The previous two games were basically regarded as toss-ups, but what about Mississippi State? I’ll be interested to see the line on that one.

More thoughts, followed later by grades:

- I understand the concern – and hyperventilating – by Bulldog fans. It’s not just that Georgia went 0-2 in these two games. It’s that it didn’t look like the better team in either one.

You can’t say either game came down to a bad call, a fluke play, or something like that. Georgia never led in either game. The offense and defense (and even special teams) all shared blame in each loss.

- Yes, Arkansas and South Carolina are each top 15 teams, at least at this point. And Georgia can plausibly say that it lost to two of the SEC’s better teams, after Alabama and Florida.

At some point you can’t keep saying, “Well we lost to so-and-so who’s a really good team, and then so-and-so who’s also a really good team.” Pretty soon, you’ve said that so much that you’re looking up at a ton of other teams.

- Having said that, I still think it’s hard to issue a hard judgment on the state of the program, or even how good this team is, until it plays a game or two with A.J. Green. What if starting on Oct. 2, it’s obvious the offense is a whole lot different with him in there?

I know the Bulldogs played well without him last year. And I was one of the people saying they still had a chance when he was suspended, that losing a receiver, even a star one, wasn’t the same as a starting quarterback or running back.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t. But I do want to see how the Bulldog offense looks with Green in there, before I go making any broad declarations.

- Let's not focus wholly on the offense and gloss over what happened at the end of each half. You simply cannot allow a team to start at its own 20 with 46 seconds left – and get a field goal – and then start at its own 27 with 47 seconds left – and get a touchdown. That’s 10 points that just shouldn’t have happened, whether or not Ryan Mallett is the next Peyton Manning.

- Caleb King not playing may have been pivotal to the outcome. If he plays, maybe Ealey still gets most of the carries – but King is definitely in there at the end for that third down play from the 50, and picks up the blitz. Ealey, as we know, did not. If Murray doesn’t get sacked, who knows what he does with that.

- And now, the grades:

QUARTERBACK: Aaron Murray’s games are becoming pretty similar. A solid effort, not spectacular, but with no major mistakes. Just like the coaches wanted. (Which makes the losses more perplexing.) Murray passed for 253 yards despite a lot of pressure, including six sacks. His lone interception was a case of the ball just getting away from him, and the team didn’t end up paying for it. He also rushed a lot more, gaining 44 yards (then losing 35 of it on the sacks.) … B.

RUNNING BACKS: Ealey was solid as a ball-carrier (87 yards and a TD on 18 carries), but his missed block was key. Now you see why the coaches were going to start Caleb King after the preseason because of his pass protection. Carlton Thomas also had 30 yards on six carries. … C.

Kris Durham and Tavarres King had some big plays, each catching a ball for 40-plus yards. But where was Marlon Brown? Why did Aron White make the only catch for the tight ends? (And it was a nifty one.) I don’t think the blame lies with the receivers themselves, so I won’t grade them down. … B-.

Six sacks. Not a lot of holes for the running game. Yup, another confounding game from a unit that was supposed to be among the team’s best. You can’t blame their troubles on not having A.J. The lineup was tinkered with, going with Tanner Strickland at right guard, then moving Clint Boling there and putting in Trinton Sturdivant at left tackle. Nothing seemed to work that great. … D.

DEFENSIVE LINE: The run defense was much better this week. Stout, you might even say. On the other hand, the front three has now gone three games without a sack. And the only TFL it was credited with on Saturday was a half-one, by Kwame Geathers. … C+.

LINEBACKERS: Justin Houston was pretty quiet, after his three-sack game against the Gamecocks. Cornelius Washington had the team’s only sack, on Arkansas’ second-to-last drive. They did help in the run-stopping. But Arkansas still had too much of an intermediate passing game. … C+.

SECONDARY: There’s only so much you can do against Ryan Mallett. But it would be easier to excuse if not for the constant breakdowns: The two touchdowns off play-action, the quick strikes at the end of the first half to set up a field goal, and the three-play touchdown drive to win the game. … D-.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Drew Butler was back on his game for most of the game, until his low-hanging final punt. He was trying to angle it to the sideline, but it went off the side of his foot, and left Arkansas enough room to go for it, rather than play for overtime. Logan Gray, subbing for Branden Smith, had a 25-yard punt return. Brandon Boykin’s longest kick return was for 33, as the kick return unit continues to be a bit average. And the punt coverage unit somehow let a punter run for a first down. … C.

COACHING: Well, the play-calling in the fourth quarter was pretty good, at least for two drives. And this week there were no wasted timeouts. On the bad side, well, one field goal in the second and third quarter can’t happen against Arkansas. And even when the other team is in a certain set, you have to figure out a way to use the tight ends more. …

Defensively, the gameplan seemed to be to stop the run and make Mallett beat you – which he did, but mainly at the end of each half. But the comeback also deserves some credit: When some fans were giving up and heading home early in the fourth quarter, the team stayed around and made it a game again. Albeit one that didn’t end well for the Bulldogs … C+.


Anonymous said...

You have to call the Coaches out for that timeout on the last UGA drive. There was around 1 minute remaining, the clock was rolling, 3rd down. If we don't take the timeout then at worst we punt the ball back to arkansas with 30 seconds at best on the clock. Why not nearly assure yourself of at least overtime when at home?

Anonymous said...

The way we handled the last 2 minutes of each half is the answer to why we lost. We were in a base cover 2 in the 1st half when they were were on the 20 with under a minute and hit the deep ball to set up the FG. The timeout with 1 minute left in the game was inexcusable. I myself wasn't sure that was a good move but I was assured it wasn't when about 20 people around me in the student section were wondering why the hell we called it!

Joel said...

1-2 sucks, but you could say we are a play or 3 away from 3-0.
If Ealey scores instead of fumbling against SC and we convert a first down and a field goal against Arkansas, then we are 3-0 having beat 2 top 25 programs and likely in the top 15 ourselves.
I'm not playing the "what if" game, but I wish Bulldog Nation would take some perspective. We're a sliver of difference between a game that is "vital to the state of the program" and one that is just another step to an "OMG UGA is the best thing ever".
The highs are never as high as them seem and the lows never as low as them seem

Keese said...

Joel, I guess the best answer is that most Bulldog fans are tired of the marginalism. We are going to get a lot better I believe but the team needs to get things going and learn quickly.

Buster said...

Joel, a Tech acquaintance of mine said last year that IF Demetrius Thomas caught the 4th down pass Tech wud have scored got the extra point and beat us 31-30. I told him (like Dandy Don) if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas! If you are happy at 1-2 good for you! Most of the rest of us aren't. Poor play calling and poor excution is a coaching problem. CMR is definitely on the hot seat now. I love the guy but to be Nat Champs we need someone ruthless like Saban! Otherwise, we can be 7-6, 8-5 or 9-4!

Anonymous said...

We are back to being middle of the pack like we were the majority of the 90's. 8-5 last year and starting to look like that again this year. With the resources, recruiting base, and money that the University of Georgia has, mediocrity is not acceptable.

Joel said...

Buster, I'm not happy at 1-2. That was the first thing I said. And I'm not playing the what if game, that was another thing I said.
All I am saying is that it is not the doom and gloom, our program is over rhetoric that I hear being spewed everywhere. If we were getting blown out, I might think differently, but we have been in both of these ball games with legitimate chances to win in the 4th quarter.
I hope to be National Champs at some point in the near future, but I don't expect it. If you do, you will be disappointed the majority of your life. 115 schools fail to reach that goal each year.
The only bad thing about being National Champs would be visiting empty message boards since most people would have to find something else to complain about.

JJBA said...

2002= 13-1 #3 in the country

2007= 11-2 #2 in the country

Thats close enough for me to think this program could and should be able to win a MNC.

Anonymous said...

F stands for "Fail". The offensive line and the secondary both failed much, much more often than they succeeded. They both deserved big, fat "F's".