Wednesday, December 7, 2011
We Won't Be Any Better Next Year
I have been reading a few comment threads and message board posts around the interwebs, and what I'm seeing is that the rabid anti-richt crowd from pre-season is still very much in existence. Yes, they are licking their wounds after a ten-game win streak...but the 2nd half humiliation against LSU gave them just the ammunition they need to feel relevant here at Season's End. The primary Meme they chirp today is, "10 wins against nobodies, 2 losses to good teams, and one loss to SOUTH CAROLINA. Richt Has To Go."
1st off.... idiots.
They believe the 2011 Georgia Bulldogs were not a better football team than the 2010 Georgia Bulldogs. Now, these are the same people who amid a 6-7 season claimed that the ONLY WAY to determine a team's worth is in WINS AND LOSSES.
So, by their own definition, the 2011 team is better. The 2011 team is 4 full games better, with a bowl game to go.
Now, let's look at it all a little deeper. Let's look at the common teams we faced in 2010 and 2011.
South Carolina - 2010: L 17-6 , 2011: L 45-42
Mississippi State - 2010: L 24-12 2011: W 24-10
Tennessee - 2010: W 41-14 2011: W 20-12
Vanderbilt - 2010: W 43-0 2011: W 33-28
Florida - 2010: L 34-31 2011: W 24-20
Kentucky - 2010: W 44-21 2011: W 19-10
Auburn - 2010: L 49-31 2011: W 45-7
Georgia Tech - 2010: W 42-34 2011: W 31-17
With the exception of South Carolina, every single common opponent we faced in 2010 and 2011 scored fewer points against Georgia than they did the year before. With South Carolina, you take off a punt return for a touchdown, an interception for a touchdown, and a fumble return for a touchdown, and you find that their offense scored 24 points...only one touchdown more than in 2010 (and that touchdown was on a 9-yard drive after another fumble return).
Now, here's another angle - our offense also scored fewer points in all but three of the contests - the loss at South Carolina, the Win at Mississippi State, and the Win at Auburn.
Some would say this was a result of scheming - the "Let the defense hold the line" ideal where we play ultra-conservative to maintain a lead and not give the game away (probably made all the more necessary after the South Carolina Debacle). Others would say it's a performance issue due to lack of real game-breakers with experience, and some erratic play by others. Still others would find fault in the offensive line, saying that if they could block, we would score at least two more touchdowns in every game.
But here, my friends, is what I find so interesting:
A team that lost its most potent playmaker and its most solid go-to 2nd man, a team that had to rely on a group of untested and shaky runningbacks, a team that had to use no less than 8 offensive line combinations - this team finished the season at 10-3, with an SEC East OUTRIGHT Title. This team had to break in young linebackers in a hurry as the corps was quickly depleted by injury. Still, they played on. This team had to use a former walk-on runningback as its primary ball carrier for a stretch due to injuries and suspensions. This team had to do all this while being constantly told they were playing for a lame-duck coach who was past his prime and could not bring them to the Dome again.
But he did. They played on. They fought. They won - in bunches.
To say that you think next year's team will be no better than this year's team is to echo the refrain we heard at the end of that dismal 2010 season. You were wrong before, and if you continue to sing it, you will be wrong again. Do you know why this year's defense was so much better? Because it was full of guys who were veterans of their 3-4 scheme. They weren't confused. They were flying around, making plays. For the first time in 9 years, an SEC offense was held WITHOUT A FIRST DOWN for the first 30 minutes of play. Yes, it fell apart after that...but you can't look at that and not be impressed. You can't say these guys aren't solid players. They need more behind them...and they will be there. Grantham and Co. have developed a lot of young talent this year, and that will pay dividends next fall. I point that out, because a good number of the playmakers in the offensive side of the ball were pretty new to the game this year as well. Malcolm Mitchell, Isaiah Crowell, Michael Bennett - these are guys who hadn't been on the field in 2010. Dallas Lee was very good on the offensive line, and he hadn't had a snap in 2 years (get better, son!) Chris Burnette and Kenarious Gates are also young (not Freshman, but young). Another year with Will Friend will do all of these Dawgs good.
And then there's Aaron Murray. He's been sacked more this year, he's thrown more interceptions, and has a lower yardage total than last season. However, he has thrown the most touchdowns in the SEC and sits just below 60% completion. Outside of the stats, you can tell Murray had a better grasp of the game in his second season. He did cost us possessions and points at times by trying to make plays when he could have been safer. He did take sacks when he should have thrown the ball away. But he also gave his team someone to rally around - someone to have faith in. The third year in an offensive system is often when the light comes on for a quarterback. The first season is often a "trial by fire"- you have to get used to the speed of the game, and just remembering the plays can be a struggle. In the second season, you know more about diagnosing defensive calls, and where your options are going to be. In the third season, you really get a sense of knowing what the defense is doing before the ball is even snapped. In fact, you often have a good idea before you break the huddle, because you've seen every situation hundreds of times (except for maybe 3rd and 57...that doesn't happen too often). Good quarterbacks will take a big step forward in year three.
I haven't even mentioned the possibility of impact players joining the roster and coming off redshirts next season. And there are people who thing UGA won't be better next year?