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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fleeting thoughts: After Vanderbilt

Near the end of Saturday’s game, I approached a Georgia official, whose surname may have rhymed with the word “McFarity”, and informed him that hard questions needed to be asked about why Uga VIII was not introduced earlier in the season.

“Now those are the questions I like to get asked,” said the official, whose first name may also rhyme with “Freg.”

So the new Uga is 1-0 and unscored-upon as the official mascot. Russ, it was a short and wild ride. Enjoy retirement and all the milk bones that entails.

Actually, Georgia fans would be forgiven for thinking back to that Colorado game, and saying that if Caleb King didn’t fumble, and Blair Walsh followed up with a field goal, the Bulldogs would be 3-0 since the return of A.J. Green.

As it is, the Bulldogs are coming off a second straight dismantling of an opponent they should have, well, dismantled.

(My favorite stat: Going back to last year’s games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee Tech, Georgia is outscoring opponents from the Volunteer state by a margin of 156-24. Bring on Sewanee!)

Mark Richt said his team is improving, just as he felt it was during the losing streak. He has every right to think so. This week’s grades:

QUARTERBACKS: Aaron Murray just keeps going. In fact, he’s getting better. Through seven games the freshman has still only turned it over three times, which is amazing in itself, but he also threw for 287 yards and a couple touchdowns. You could say it’s easier to do so with Green in there, except Murray is finding other receivers, especially Kris Durham. … A-.

RUNNING BACKS: Yes, Vanderbilt had the league’s second-worst run defense, but Georgia’s tailbacks had struggled against everybody, so it counts for something. Washaun Ealey finally had the kind of game that was expected of him, and his 58-yard burst was not only the team’s longest run of the season, but the first by a tailback of over 30 yards. Carlton Thomas had touchdowns on half of his four carries, fulfilling the change-of-pace role to which he’s best suited. … A-.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Durham has remained a key part of the offense even after the return of Green, who chipped in his own touchdown. But the most hopeful sign for Georgia may be Tavarres King’s four catches for 70 yards. Opposing defenses are sliding a safety over to spy Green, and now have to worry about Durham, which leaves the field open for King. The tight ends (Aron White had three catches for 50 yards and Orson Charles had a nine-yard catch) also continue to benefit. … B+.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Murray wasn’t sacked and the team rushed for 232 yards, nearly 100 over its previous season average. What’s their bad to say? The coaches seem to have found a rotation they like, with Clint Boling sliding between right guard and tackle, Kenarious Gates starting and Josh Davis entering on some series. I found it interesting that Mike Bobo said after the game that he thought the run blocking was good all along, it just didn’t show until Saturday. He may have been just being nice, or saying the tailbacks weren’t hitting the holes. Either way, the results for once were what people expected before the season. … A-.

DEFENSIVE LINE: This unit almost could have joined Uga in the doghouse for a good nap. When Georgia jumped to a lead, Vanderbilt almost abandoned the run, or called a lot of misdirection plays to the outside. I doubt any of the linemen complained. … B+.

LINEBACKERS: Regarding the aforementioned misdirection plays, Georgia’s linebackers were not fooled very often. Justin Houston had yet another sack. Akeem Dent and Christian Robinson had touchdowns called back, but it wasn’t their fault. Marcus Dowtin is quietly becoming a pretty good contributor. (My fellow Marylander had five tackles.) … A-.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Hey, what’s this? A game without a single pass coverage breakdown that allows the offense a big pass play? That didn’t even happen against Louisiana-Lafayette! Even better, the Bulldogs got off the field 10 out of 11 times on third downs.

The game didn’t start too well for the secondary, as Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith completed a 28-yarder on the game’s second play. But that only took it to Georgia’s 45, and things were largely bottled up from there. The insertion of Sanders Commings into the starting lineup seems to have really paid dividends. When Branden Smith is healthy, he and Vance Cuff may have to be satisfied with nickel and dime situations. … A-.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Not to nit-pick, but Blair Walsh’s miss in the fourth quarter cost us writers a good note: Largest-ever margin of victory over Vanderbilt. Yeah, he hit two other field goals, and it was only his second miss of the year. Fine. Meanwhile, Drew Butler is back to being fantastic, and Georgia’s kickoff coverage (which got a lot of action) held Vanderbilt to under 20 yards a return. … B+.

Richt’s decision not to have a second straight week of physical practices didn’t cause any drop-off. Bobo deserves credit for keeping Durham involved, even with the return of Green. Todd Grantham’s defense is starting to fix its issues. And since almost every assistant has a hand in special teams, they deserve a collective ‘A’ for that. … A-.

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