|Year||WR Yardage||Team Yardage||%||WR TD|
Hmm....what do we see? Well, there was certainly a marked increase in WR production from 2001-2002. That's what I'd expect to see going from an 8-4 season to a 13-1 championship year. The following season saw UGA win the SEC East again, but with lower WR production. Well, we could possibly surmise that this would happen...less production = less success, right? In fact...WR production decreased steadily from 2002-2006. Wait, what about 2005? Wasn't that a TITLE year?
Indeed it was! But somehow, it was also the year that the wideouts had their second-worst outing of the Richt era. 2006, the 9-4 "Qb break-in" year for Stafford was the worst. Now, that was a surprise for me, as you'd think the kid with the big arm would go to his wideouts most often....then you have to remember that he threw thirteen interceptions that season. I don't recall each one of those interceptions, but even if every one of them had been a WR catch, it still would be their least productive year.
So what was going on in the WR corps? Well, to find that out, we really should look a little deeper. We have to break down not only the GROUP, but the individuals as well.
So, now we see what might have caused the the numbers to decline over the period from 2003-2006. Every year, we were losing top producers, and less and less receivers stepped in to fill the void. This next table illustrates that point.
|Year||# of Receivers||# of 20-catch Receivers|
In 2002, UGA had 5 different receivers who caught twenty passes or more (from here on in, I'll use the mark of 20 catches as defining a "productive" receiver). Over the next two years, that number decreased and UGA was less successful. In 2003, Edwards was gone, and WR prodction dropped from 82% of the passing offense to 69%...Greene used his RBs and TEs more in the passing game, but Reggie Brown and Damian Gary's increased production couldn't make up for the loss of Edwards and the decline in production by (injury prone) Fred Gibson. Then, in 2004, Gary and Michael Johnson graduated. Sean Bailey more than doubled his production, but the void was too difficult to fill.
So what in the world happened in 2005? Well, to put it simply, Leonard Pope happened. He stepped up to "superstar" level and was the team-leading receiver...at Tight End. Freshman sensation Mohamed Massaquoi led the wideouts, followed by sure-handed Bryan McClendon.
Then came 2006, McClendon and Pope had graduated but MoMass was already a star, and he apparently had a solid supporting cast in Bailey, Harris, Raley and former QB, AJ Bryant. But, the rotating-door at QB prevented any kind of rhythm in the outside passing game, and the numbers fell to their lowest of the Richt era. Only Massaquoi proved himself to be consistently productive, though Kenneth Harris showed he could be a major deep threat, averaging over twenty yards per catch.
Ok, so we were looking forward to the next few years, certainly...Stafford would grow into his role as the starter, and things would really turn up...right? Not really. Though the wideouts beceame much more active in 2007 and 2008 (the 3rd and 2nd best WR production of the '00s respectively), the team underachieved. Both teams featured two primary receivers and a much less productive supporting cast. True in 2008, Moore did pass the 20-catch mark, grabbing 29, but that paled in comparison to the 50+ grabbed by each MoMass and Green.
Then of course, there was 2009. At its third-lowest production of the Richt years, the WR corps seemed to be seeking its identity. Green was a proven playmaker, and Michael Moore had shown himself to be solid, but the supporting cast was young, and seeking its way. On the plus sides, King's production increased dramatically. Israel Troupe caught the same number of passes as in 2008, but his per-catch average more than doubled. Green's numbers were down, but he missed parts of 6 games due to injuries...and still had the sixth-best season production for a UGA wideout under Richt.
OK, ok, ok....I've been rambling for a while now. What we're trying to decide is..."Is WR the thing that results in championships at UGA?" Looking at the stats, I can't say it is. The play of wideouts in the two SEC Title years are FAR from similar, and in Richt's initial 8-4 season, the wideouts produced at a higher level than in the 11-2 season of 2007. In my eyes, I can't say that the WR is the thing. Sorry.
I CAN say this, going into 2010, UGA has an All-American candidate as its #1 wideout, and will have support from Senior Kris Durham who's numbers have improved every year, Junior Tavarres King who showed MAJOR strides in his sophomore campaign, and Rontavious Wooten who filled in as a nice deep-threat option at times last season. If Marlon Brown and Israel Troupe can step up and be decent bench players, it's likely that the Bulldogs will have solid production out of four or maybe five receivers this season, depending on QB play (which we've already decided ISN'T the thing). Then again, if it weren't for fifteen interceptions on the part of Joe Cox, there may have been three or four "productive" wideouts in 2009.
So, this series continues to drag on, seeking its answer. Just what IS it that defines the championships at UGA? It appears that the answer won't be on the offensive side on the ball. Of course, the main thing preventing UGA from success over the past few years (in the eyes of most fans, and most recently HC Mark Richt) has been the defense. What has been the most maligned part of the defense as of late, and what part of the defense produced more than a few NFL names in the early 2000's? That'd be the secondary. Who's the last-line of defense in the secondary, the guys who are supposed to stop scores AT ALL COST? THE SAFETIES!
Maybe that's it. We give up too many points lately because of poor safety play! Could it be that the Safety is the thing that leads to a title in Athens?