Sunday, November 29, 2015

How good was Pruitt...really...?

This post was originally going to be a feel good piece about why there's plenty of reason to look forward to next season.  I was going to heap heavy praise on Jeremy Pruitt for his work with the defense over the past two seasons, and I was going to talk about how 2015 would become another blip on the radar for Mark Richt's historical career.

That's all over now.  

And to be honest, maybe that's a good thing.  I'll admit I'm a bit lost today.  I'm not happy at all about what happened with Mark Richt, but I will support the next coach whomever he may be (even if he happens to be a former graduate assistant for whom I have no personal love).  

With pained eyes, I did a little research into Pruitt's 2015 season.  I'll admit I didn't dig deeply into 2014 or how the numbers stacked up against Grantham.  Maybe I would have done that if I were trying to glean excitement for next season.  But, since I don't know who the head coach is going to be (though I think 99% of Dawg fans have an idea), and since I don't know who that coach will select as DC (though I have little reason to believe it will be Pruitt, since he was pulled from the recruiting trail), I won't bring that kind of enthusiasm.  I'll just lay out the raw Data, and talk a little about what I found: 

In the sheet above, what you'll find is our opponents' average offensive performance for the season as well as how they performed against UGA.  The green that you see is where Pruitt's defense did a markedly better job at stopping the opposing offense.  Yellow is where you see a marginal difference (either positive or negative).  Red is where the UGA defense performed markedly worse than the field against our opponents.  

As you might expect, in our three losses, we surrendered more points than the field against our opponents.

I found it interesting, though, that there only three games in which our Defense performed drastically better than the field in all three categories.  By our raw statistics, we are a "top 10" defense... but the eyeball test didn't really give us that against the true competitors on our schedule, and this quick look doesn't give me that feeling either.  It's fair to think ULM would have done a little more damage to these stats if the game had gone the distance.  Vanderbilt and Tennessee both did a good job lighting up our passing defense.  I dare say Alabama didn't get more yardage...simply because they didn't have to.  

Part of me wants to believe that Pruitt really had our boys moving in the right direction - that we were coaching them up well, and that we were on the cusp of being where we needed to be in as much as a Championship Defense is concerned.  

But in our three losses, the eyeball and the statistical test gives me problems with that thinking.  Yes, I know that against AL and TN there were breakdowns on offense and ST that are included in the Score numbers - but they aren't included in the other numbers (rushing/passing).   Not only that, but if you're going to be Championship Defense, your defense shouldn't hope to be "doing what the field does" against opposing offenses.  Your Defense had better be stifling the opposing offense... because if your defense is "just as good as the average" you ain't gonna win a title.  

If Pruitt was truly just aided by a better schedule, then perhaps the writing was already on the wall for Richt.  Since the beginning of his career as an HC, Coordinator hires have been where he's caught the most flack.  Martinez, Grantham, Bobo (great OC, but maligned by the fanbase), Schotty... that's not a great track record - if Pruitt was simply gilded and not solid gold, then perhaps it's best we're starting anew - because we weren't headed where we wanted to go anyway. 


Or perhaps it was only the second season for Pruitt...and his (very young) boys were learning... and holding Kentucky, Auburn, GSU and Tech FAR below their season averages shows just where the D was headed.  

I guess the question shouldn't have been "How bad were the offenses we faced in November" but rather "How much WORSE did we make them look?"

Kentucky, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, on average, scored 3 TDs more against the field than they did against UGA.  Auburn, on average, scored 2 TDs more.  That's the kind of performance you expect out of a Championship Defense.  

Either way, it's this Dawgfan's belief that the point is moot.  Pruitt is likely gone.  If the last month of the season is any indication, though, the cupboard is stocked with guys who can shut offenses down.  The question will be - can the new guy coach 'em up?  Pruitt could.

Go Dawgs.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

It could get much, much worse before it gets better ...

I'm furiously refreshing my feed to see if Schotty has been fired.  I don't think it will happen.  I could be wrong.  I'm just a Georgia fan sitting in Los Angeles typing into a computer and have absolutely no barometer for what happens inside the walls of Butts-Mehre.  But, I don't want you to believe this is a post about our much-maligned Offensive Coordinator.  It is not.

Many UGA Faithful today are looking forward to January...not because our Beloved Dawgs will be playing in a major bowl, but because Jacob Eason will be enrolling at UGA.  Now, there are many detractors who would say it doesn't matter.  They would say that there is no way that Richt and Co would start a true freshman when there's a 5th-year senior who won 9 (possibly 10) games and protected the ball well on the roster.  They would say that Eason won't be able to learn the offense quickly enough to unseat him.

I disagree.  First, four weeks was apparently long enough for Lambert to learn the offense and surpass all existing UGA QBs on the roster.  Second, starting a true freshman phenom is something Richt loves to do.  Plus, he is beyond the "redshirt a kid just to redshirt him" phase of his career.  If Eason redshirts, it will likely be because he isn't good enough to beat out Lambert (or Bauta)... and if he isn't good enough to beat those guys out, then UGA is in serious trouble, as is Richt.

So, I fully expect Jacob Eason to start for UGA next season.

That could be trouble.

In 2006, the season after our last SEC title, we welcomed Matt Stafford to campus.  Our season was a 9-4 affair (including a bowl win), with early wins against garbage teams, and then a 3-win streak against ranked opponents to close the season.  It took Stafford a while to truly take hold of what Richt and Bobo were teaching him, and we didn't see him lock in on the starting job until later in the season (Joe Cox and Joe Tereshinski also started at QB that year).

In 2010, Aaron Murray burst onto the scene, and went 6-6 before dropping the bowl game to the UCF Golden Knights.  UCF.  Seriously.  Now, it happens that 2010 was an 11-3 season for UCF, seated between a couple of stinkers, but still...  2010 was a particularly troubling year in UGA history, as we went 0-5 against ranked teams.

The past two seasons, UGA hasn't had spectacular QB play.  Now, that's not to discount what Mason did in 2014.  He held a 4-1 mark against Top 25 teams, a high completion percentage, high efficiency, etc.  He did what he had to do to win in most cases ... just not in ENOUGH cases to get us to Atlanta.

This year, our QB play has been nothing outside of sad.  I'm not talking about completion percentages (which is actually in the mid-60's and serviceable).  I'm not talking about turnovers, as Lambert has only 2 INTs all season.  I'm talking about truly PLAYING the position of QB.  Too often, Lambert has proven to not be a clutch QB.  He consistently checks-down to underneath receivers when we need long gains.  He misses open receivers on deep balls, and sometimes doesn't see them altogether.  Now, perhaps that checking down has enabled us to scratch out some wins because he has protected the ball.  It's hard to say, because you can't play the "what if" game.  Still, there's a spark that Lambert is missing, and many are hoping that it rests in the body of Jacob Eason.

Still, hoping that Jacob Eason will solve all the ills of a UGA offense that can't get out of its own way is folly.  It is unlikely that Eason will come in and lead UGA to Atlanta.  I won't call it impossible, because I'm not an imbecile.  It is unlikely.  We will still have Chubb, Michel, Blazevich, Godwin, Mackenzie, Chigbu, etc.  We will still have a defense that has improved its numbers over those of the squad that went 4-1 against top 25 teams last season.  Of course, they've faced only 2 top-25 teams this season, and gave up over 50 points to them.

Eason will have the job of "Hey man, don't screw it up."  His first priority will be to protect the ball.  His second priority will be to distribute it to playmakers.  The offense will probably look very vanilla as he gets his feet under him.  The fans will call for Schotty's (or insert name of whatever OC follows, because you's definitely going to be HIS fault) head.  The defense will have to carry us.

It's quite possible that games against North Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech will be very scary.  Going 4-2 against those squads would be a blessing.  Going 3-3 is more likely, and going 1-5 is quite possible.

It could get worse, folks.  It could get much much worse.

But hope springs eternal, and I predict Eason leads the Dawgs to a 15-0 season and a National Title...because screw reality.  This is football, and conjecture is far more entertaining.

Go Dawgs.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Curious Case of Mark Richt

Here we go again.

"Fire Mark Richt - he can't win."
"Fire Mark Richt - he can't beat top opponents."
"Fire Mark Richt - my wife thinks he's sexier than hell, and he makes 4 million a year, and I feel like my penis is smaller everytime I see him on TV."

(Try to pretend that last one isn't the case for just a FEW of the commenters on the Run)

Some people just plain don't like Mark Richt.  They think he's too placid.  They say he can't beat Top competition.  They say the game has passed him by.

"He was only good with Donnan's recruits" (except for that whole 2005,2007,2011,2012 thing)
"He can't hire a good coach" (then there's that whole Bobo thing... hated by our fanbase, just kept beating his own records)
"He can't coach players to their potential" (Somehow seemingly every other year there's some walk-on kid who comes out of nowhere and then ends up being an NFL player)
"He doesn't care about winning." (I'm guessing these people have never seen a presser after a loss)

Mark Richt's Accomplishments:

141-50 record in 14.5 seasons.
2 SEC Titles
5 Appearances in the SEC Championship Game
2 Sugar Bowl Victories
9-5 Overall Bowl Record

Mark Richt's Deficiencies

0 National Titles

No seriously, that's it.

And that's why people hate him.  They hate Mark Richt because he hasn't won a national title, and they believe that there's no way in hell he ever could.  I mean, he can't even beat top-25 teams, right?

Of course, as recently as 2014 (that's Two Thousand and FRIKKIN FOURTEEN), his team went 4-1 against teams that finished in the top 25.  But that doesn't matter, because it doesn't match narrative.  CMR's team lost a game it shouldn't have (South Carolina) and then got trounced in Jax, and missed the SEC Title Game.  So, an indictment on Richt, then.

I mean, it's probably the most Mark Richt thing ever... to have your best year against the top-25 since 2007... and then fail to reach the SEC Title Game because you lost to South Carolina.  The weirdest part?  When UGA beat top-25 teams last year, they straight murdered them.  Average margin of victory over top 25 opponents was 25.5 points.  Yet somehow, we lost to Florida by 18.

And that one game is why people will say Richt is a bad coach.  They'll say that he didn't have the boys prepared.  They'll say he didn't impart on them the importance of the game.  They'll try to come up with any excuse to explain away a game in which we were absolutely curb-stomped.  Can't be on the kids...gotta be on the Head Coach.

People still, after so many years of living in the SEC, just don't understand that this is life in the SEC.  The unexplainable happens.

In 2011, Richt's Dawgs went 0-4 against teams finishing in the top 25 (actually, all 4 finished in the top 10).  Two games were lost by 3 points each.  That's right.  3 points.  Those Dawgs were a score away from being 2-2 against Top 10 competition, and a likely top 10 finish themselves.  They held LSU (#2 finish) without a first down in the first half of the SECCG...and then got their doors blown off in the second half.

How do the "Richt can't coach" folks explain that one?  Did he suddenly forget how to coach at halftime?

And then how do they explain a 3-2 mark against top 25 the very next season, including a 4-pt loss to eventual National Champion Alabama in the SECCG?

In 2013, an injury-riddled Dawgs team went 2-4 against Top 25 finishers, with "The Miracle on the Plains" and "The Music City Disaster" as two of the four.  Richt's boys lost to #7 finisher Clemson by 3, and #2 finisher Auburn by 5.  Again, a score away from beating 2 top-ten teams.  A play away....yet somehow, this is all representative of the fact that Mark Richt is a bad football coach.

Mark Richt is not a bad football coach.
He's not an average football coach.
Mark Richt is a Good football coach.
He lacks one accomplishment that will make him Great, and I hope to God he gets it.

As 2015 unfolds, we'll hold our breaths to see what becomes of it.  Richt is 0-1 against teams that will finish in the Top 25.  After this weekend, we'll find out if he's able to level that record.  If he does, he'll probably get 2 more shots at Top 25 teams... the SECCG, and our Bowl.  3-1 this year would put Richt at 7-2 over the past two years against the Top 25.

Guess he'd officially "lose control" of that Meme as well.

But hey, all of that is conjecture and this blog is fairly pointless.

Then again, so is screaming "Fire Mark Richt!"

 Go Dawgs

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"You can't win if your QB Can't Complete Passes."

The overriding theme of the Georgia "Faithful" following yesterday's 17-point SEC Road-Win is that the Dawgs are not going to continue to succeed with Greyson Lambert at quarterback.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Sitting behind the more experienced (in college, albeit not at UGA) starter is a prized recruit whom the fanbase believes is the rightful heir to the Signal Caller's Throne.  He has shown flashes of brilliance that far outweigh obvious shortcomings, and UGA will be all the better if his era starts in earnest immediately.  We know this, because the guy currently in the driver's seat just isn't getting it done.


But he is.


(pause added for you to continue cursing me out)

Look, Lambert is by no means "lighting it up" right now.  Some of his throws were just out and out awful.  In the first half, the kid looked like a straight up dumpster fire.  But, he did deliver some very nice throws at timely moments.  Sometimes, that's what it takes.

Lambert was an unconvincing 11/21 with 0 Touchdowns yesterday.  But, he had 0 INTs as well.  Yes, he should have had 1 INT, save for the worst pair of hands I've seen on a DB since Bryan Evans. Still, the ball fell harmlessly to the turf.  Through 2 games at UGA, the guy has not turned the ball over, and has "done enough" to maintain his position.  Now, that's not an overwhelming endorsement of him, but based on what we've seen of Ramsey, it's not a reason to shuffle him to the back of the deck either.

Lambert's 52% completion rating yesterday was better than Murray's 44% in a win over FL in 2011. (incidentally, that same year Murray had only a 57% completion rate in Nashville).  We went to the SEC title game in 2011.  In 2009, Joe Cox had a 51.6% completion rating in a win in Nashville.  In 2013, we Lost in Nashville, and Murray's completion rating was again 57.  Stafford's was 51.6 in 2007.  In '05, Shockley was 15/30..50%.  Maybe there's just something in Nashville that affects our QBs, because they haven't played well there in over a decade.



That's probably true.  I'd think that over the course of a game, you'll need to complete a pass.  Hell, just ask Buck Belue.  He completed exactly ONE pass against Notre Dame in 1981.  He had missed 11 straight before completing his first and only pass with just over two minutes to go in the game.  We got lucky in that one, sure... but with a QB so awful, there's no way that 1980 team could have been any good, right?


(this pause is for the combined effect of some of you thinking "hmm, maybe I'm overreacting" and others of you thinking "Greyson Lambert is no Buck Belue!!!  This team ain't the 1980 team, because Hershel").

All of this being said, Schotty and CMR make the calls, and if they're sticking with Lambert you just have to have FAITH that it's the best move for the team.  The coaches have no moral responsibility to give him the starting nod or the lion's share of playing time just for transferring in and "helping with competition."  They didn't bring him to Georgia to "light a fire under Ramsey."  They brought him to Georgia because Ramsey wasn't getting it done and they needed a guy who could start and win football games.

So far, the guy's 2-0, and hasn't put us in bad positions.  We'll learn more as the Defenses get better (and this week's defense was far better than last week's).  But the fact remains... as the QB at UGA, your job is not really to WIN the football game as much as it is NOT TO LOSE it.  That's been true for a long, long time.

Do you need to be able to complete a pass to win football games?  Probably.

Luckily, Lambert's completed 19 so far.

Oh, and BTW ... Aaron Murray never started a season without a pick in his first two games.

Go Dawgs.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

We didn't lose that game on 4th down.

Not on the 4th down when they didn't get the 1st (but the refs said he did)

Not on the 4th down when Morgan missed that kick (that hooked late, and looked good but wasn't)

We lost that game on 1st down.   We lost that game when our coaches (I'm guessing, but it could have been fearless leader himself, Hutson Mason) decided to throw the ball on a 1st and goal at the 4. 

If you've been reading my blog for years, you know me.  I don't question our coaches all that often.  I defer to them in nearly every single situation because they are good at what they do, and get millions of dollars to do it.  I'm a simple country singer ( and blogger (this site) ... oh, and I tweet, too (@bendukes) ... but at this moment, I gotta say -

The decision NOT to run the ball with Gurley, OR Chubb, OR Hicks, OR Michel on 1st and goal at the FRIKKIN 4 YARD LINE after a HUGE interception and penalty is just stupefying.  I can not imagine what goes through the mind of an offensive coordinator who calls that, or a quarterback who audibles into it.  I mean, it's this moment where i want Johnny Moxon in the huddle so that he can say, "Screw That." and then call a play that puts it in Gurley's hands.  

I just can't fathom it.  Run the ball.  If you don't score, it's second down....and seconds are ticking away.  If you score, you're ahead and your D (who is feeling AMPED) comes back out to shut South Carolina down.  

What the hell, man?  What the hell?

I don't know if Bobo called the pass, or Mason audible into it... but it certainly seems like the whole offensive unit was eating dumbshit sandwiches on the sideline before running onto the field for what could have been the go-ahead "drive" of 4 yards.  

I've been watching UGA football for a while now, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a better display of ineptitude than I did on that series.  

Ugh.  Ok, I've vented.  Suck it up, dawgnation.  We have a playoff run to make.  Go Dawgs.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Williams-Brice - where UGA's offense goes to die

I know, I know...ominous blog title.  But seriously, this is the thing that's been giving me pause this week.  Yes, South Carolina seems to have taken a step back, and UGA appears to be banging on all cylinders.  It looks as though we should be able to ROLL right over the Gamecocks.  We like to believe that Gurley can not be stopped, and that Mason is smart enough and good enough to beat the 'Cocks with his arm if necessary.

I want to believe that too.  I want to believe that we win this game 42-17.

But, here's the funny thing about playing in Columbia.  The Dawgs don't do it well - at least not the Dawgs' Offense.

Richt is 4-2 in Columbia, but only 2-2 since Spurrier arrived, and his last win was 2008.  Now, until this year, South Carolina had posted 18 straight victories at Williams-Brice.  That's pretty much every game in the stadium from 2011-2013.  Solid.

Many folks are thinking, "DUKES!  We're so much better now than we were with any of those teams.  We have GURLEY"  Yes we do.  He's damned amazing, and I hope he dominates against the Gamecocks.  But let's remember... in 2012, we were 6 yards (or 20 seconds) from a National Title Game appearance... and we had Gurley then.  And Aaron Murray.  And a group of wideouts who are currently in the NFL.

I'd be remiss not to paint this picture for you:

In 2006, UGA entered SoCar 1-0.   We scored 48 points in the first game of the season with Stafford, Lumpkin, Brown, Ware, MoMass and Sean Bailey leading the group.  In Columbia, we scored 18 points.

In 2008, We were 2-0 going into the USC game.  Stafford had more seasoning.  Moreno was now the leading rusher in the backfield (with Caleb King).  MoMass and AJ Green were electric on the outside of the offense.  We had scored 45 and then 56 points in the first two weeks.  In Columbia, 14.

In 2010, Aaron Murray made his first SEC start in a VERY hostile environment.  The soon-to-be SEC All-Time Leading Passer brought Washaun Ealey, Caleb King, AJ Green, Tavarres King and Marlon Brown as well as a 55 point week-one offense into Columbia.  That combo put up 6 points.

In 2012, Murray returned to Columbia, hoping to beat the Gamecocks (he was 0-2 against them) just like he had beaten Missouri, Vanderbilt and Tennessee prior.  He brought the freshman phenom tandem of Todd Gurley and Nick Marshall with him.  He threw passes to T. King, Malcolm Mitchell, and Marlon Brown, not to mention big TE Arthur Lynch.  That offense had thrown up no less than 40 points in ANY game preceding.  (45,41,56,48,51) To say they were in mid-season form was by no way overstating it.  That offense, which would go on to the SEC Title game, tallied an amazing SEVEN POINTS in Columbia - in garbage time.

I'm not saying we won't win.  I'm not saying the Dawgs Offense won't explode against South Carolina just like it did against Clemson.  In fact, I surely hope that's what happens, because we need to reverse the recent trend in Columbia.  All I'm saying, is don't be surprised if it's a slugfest where we have to work to win the game in the 4th quarter.   You can NEVER write-off Steve Spurrier before the game has been played.

To Todd Gurley, Hutson Mason, Michael Bennett and the rest I say: Prove me wrong.  Go hang 60 on Spurrier in Williams-Brice.

Go Dawgs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Desire Versus Expectation

I've been involved with the South Carolina-UGA rivalry for nearly 20 years now.  When I graduated high school, I was a highly scholarshipped individual.  This, of course, was due to my performance in the classroom rather than on the football field.  Still, I had my pick of schools.  I visited, interviewed at, and enrolled in classes at The University of South Carolina in 1997.  I never attended a class.  Instead, I attended my classes at The University of Georgia, which I visited, interviewed at and enrolled in classes a few weeks after my trip to Columbia.  An odd way to end up in Athens, to be sure...but it was my path.

Now, none of that has any bearing whatsoever on the game that will be played on Saturday, save for the fact that the team I played for is squaring off against the first college I almost attended.  I am not a person divided, though.

I bleed Red and Black.

So, I want the Dawgs to Win.  No, I don't.  I want them to ROLL.  I want Gurley and Co to absolutely eviscerate the Gamecocks (metaphorically, of course), and leave their collective pride bleeding out on the field at Williams-Brice.  That's what I want.  I want to see the scoreboard lit up like a UGA Freshman's eyes the first time he sees a tit at a Frat Party.

That is not what I expect.

I want to see us run Gurley, and Gurley, and Gurley, and then Chubb, and then Gurley, and then Michel, and then Gurley, Gurley, Gurley, Chubb, Gurley, Michel, Chubb, Michel, Chubb, Chubb, Gurley ... and then Keith Marshall because why the hell not.

That is not what I expect.

I want to see Mason fake handoffs and hit receivers deep.  I want to see Mason hit Hicks for a monstrous TD along the sideline, where Hicks runs over a Corner, outruns a linebacker and then weaves TO HIT a safety as he crosses the goal line.

I want to see 40+ points on our side of the scoreboard, and <14 nbsp="" on="" p="" theirs.="">
That is not what I expect.

The Georgia faithful have swollen with pride due to the ass whipping delivered to Dabo Sweeney and his Tigers a pair of weeks ago.  People are feeling REAL good about the Dawgs right now.  But, this is where the stars DO NOT align for Georgia.  This game isn't being played in Athens, where we've been able to light up scoreboards against Cocky (even in losing).  No, this is in Columbia.  In Columbia, UGA's points get sucked into the void.

This is Richt's 5th shot at Spurrier in Columbia.  So far, the Dawgs are 2-2 in those contests, posting an average output of a whopping 11.75 points.  During those same games, Spurrier's Cocks have put up 14.25 per.  Neither total is particularly encouraging for either squad.   Sure, UGA blew the hinges off against the Gamecocks in Athens last year ... but that pesky crowd can really turn a fortune in a hurry.

Now, I know many of you would be quick to remind me of the catastrophic mistakes that occurred in that loss two years ago.  But, I've been a Georgia fan long enough to know - those things can and DO happen in big ballgames.  The question is always how the team will respond.

Spurrier would want us to roll over when adversity strikes.  He would want his crowd to get loud, the pressure to come crashing down on Mason.  He would want to see the 5th year senior crumble under the weight of that intense moment.

That is not what I expect.

I expect our team to have better leadership and cooler heads than that.  I think they have come across many miles of maturation since that last visit to Columbia.  I think they have become a more tight-knit unit.  I believe they have developed into a group which will Hunker Down and get the job done when the shit hits the fan.

And that is what I expect.  I expect the fight to be a tough one, but I expect us to win it.  I expect South Carolina to key on Gurley, but I expect him to overpower them.  I expect Spurrier to have an excellent game plan, but I expect ours to outdo him.  I expect most of the nation to say "They're gonna make Hutson win it." And if that opportunity arises, I expect him to do so.

I want the Dawgs to win.  And I expect it.

Go Dawgs.