Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Richt's Dawgs very much in the Hunt.

I'm sick and tired of hearing it!

For the past few days, since UGA was beaten soundly by a great Alabama team, I've actually heard people calling for Richt's head. They're saying that Mark Richt isn't the coach to get us to a national title game. I've heard this talk before, and it sickens me. Every year, when the Dawgs lose a game, fans start to talk about how "This should have been the year" and that "Richt can't win the big ones."


Are you telling me that in his 7 years at UGA, Richt hasn't won "The Big One?" Never? I guess the two SEC title games his teams won weren't "Big Ones"? The game in Auburn where Greene hit Johnson on a 4th and 15 for a 25 yard touchdown...not a big one? Neither Sugar Bowl victory was apparently a big one. Neither victory over FL was a big one. Six Straight against GT? Not big. 3 straight against TN (the first in the 4 game streak was Donnan's)? Tiny.

Honestly, people who are so quick to admonish Richt need to go back and take a look at history for a moment.

"But Dukes, in their second seasons, Urban Meyer and Les Miles won National Championships, Saban did it in his 3rd at LSU and is headed to another at AL." Great. Good for them. What do you want me to say? Oh....wait....did ANY of those teams go undefeated? No. In Richt's second season, his Dawgs went 13-1....and weren't in the title game because of undefeated Ohio State and Miami. Do you have any idea how ridiculous an undefeated season in the SEC is? Well...before the AU team in 2004, the last team to do it was the 1995 Florida Gators, who lost the National Title game. Last year, UGA had 2 SEC East losses, and ended up at #2. Also, last year, UGA was as low as #24 MID-SEASON....before vaulting up to that #2 spot. So, don't sit there and try to tell me all is lost.

People sit there and with the same mouth that they spew such anger and frustration about this year's team, they heap mountains of praise on last year's team for the 7-game run they had at the end of the year. How can you do that? After that TN loss, people were calling for Richt's head. After a scratch-by win at Vandy, the anger was building. Then, an absolute wolly-mocking of FL made everyone forget, and really start to see something special in those Dawgs of 2007. Now, here we are a year later, and people are saying the same things they did a year ago. And I'm just plain tired of it.

All you self-righteous fans calling for Richt's head need to take a little look into history and see if they see any similarities between Richt, and a more "Heralded" coach at UGA.

Dooley's first season...1964. His first SEC Title - 1966. His Second - 1968
Richt's first season....2001. His first SEC Title - 2002 His Second - 2005

Dooley then went 8 years before capturing another SEC title in 1976.

Dooley was head coach of UGA for 14 years before winning the 1980 National Championship.

I wonder if anyone, during Vince's 8-year SEC drought, thought Dooley "wasn't the coach" that would take UGA to a National Title.

Did you know this: If Richt can rally his dawgs to victories against TN, Vandy, FL and LSU (big if...but it can be done), then he will have won 80 out of his first 100 games? Did you know that? And you're telling me this guy isn't the right coach? Get over yourself. Mark Richt is coaching against the best coaches in college football, in the toughest conference, and he's doing pretty damned well.

"Dukes....win the next 4 games? Are you serious? After the way we played against AL, we'll probably lose 3 more."

Honestly, if that's your attitude, stop talking to me. Seriously. Don't read my blog anymore, don't write me emails. I have neither the desire nor the patience to listen to that drivel. That game was awful. I watched the same game you did, and was horrified by the first half. But for some reason, I see the second half with quite a bit more light than you do. All you can read is the final score, 41-30 and think we were destroyed for 4 quarters, and that simply isn't true. UGA DOMINATED the 2nd half. It just wasn't enough. They'd dug too deep a hole.

Now, let me rewind into this game.

AL's first drive, the 80-yard TD drive, and their longest of the night, was assisted by 2 big penalties. First...there was the pass-interference in the endzone. That one was necessary. If not for that penalty, they would have scored immediately. Seriously, some coaches actually tell players to do that if it's the last option. I don't know if Martinez does, but it's a smart play because it gives your team a chance to get a stop. Then, the personal foul penalty on the fumble recovery play. That hurt. It's an effort penalty...the guy just didn't get his hand in the right place. It was horribly unfortunate that it happened on the same play that we caused a turnover (second week in a row - Allen's INT wiped out b/c of a penalty at ASU). Then, they got the TD they were looking for. Most importantly on that drive, Wilson hit short passes for first downs. We didn't pressure him much...a little, but not much. We sent a corner blitz early, but it didn't get there, as AL rolled the pocket away from it. That was a lucky call for them, not so much for us.

Then, we got the ball. Stafford hit a few good short passes for first downs. Moreno hit a good 7 yard run. Then, we threw a screen that was blown up in the backfield and Stafford had to throw the ball away on 3rd down. Mimbs had a decent punt that was poorly covered.

Still, we had started something and weren't looking bad. We gave them two more cheap penalties in the second drive, but the defense bowed-up and held AL to a field goal...things were definitely looking good.

But, that's when the wheels really came off. After an ineffective drive, Brian Mimbs uncharacteristically punted for 19 yards. 19 yards. That's hardly the field-position changing foot we're used to. AL had a short field, and they knew what to do with it. And suddenly, the Dawgs were down 17.

Stafford sprang to life, hitting AJ Green for a 30 yard gain, but Green somehow just gave the ball up to a AL's Dont'a Hightower. WHAT?!?!?! UGA was stunned, and the damage was done. They scored twice more, and we were in a 31-0 hole.

Then, came halftime. Adjustments were made, and the game changed. UGA came out throwing, went right down the field after back-to-back 22-yard catches by Kris Durham, and scored on its opening possession. Then, UGA threw AL for a three and out. Our second drive stalled, but after another three and out by AL, UGA drove down and kicked a fieldgoal, bringing the score to 31-10...and people were starting to think the Dawgs might be in this thing. Another three and out by AL ended the quarter, and the fourth quarter would start on fourth down.

AL punted the ball back to UGA's Prince Miller on the 8 yard-line. All he could do was take it 92 yards for the 2nd-longest Punt Return for TD in UGA history (Jimmy Campagna - v Vandy 1952). 31-17...and this thing's starting to get good. Mark Richt's face at this point was full of determination, not concern. He knew that we could win that game, if we just continued to play ball the way we should. But we didn't. We gave up two big 2nd down passes and AL was able to kick a field goal with about 10 minutes to go. AL was up by 17. That's three scores...and tough...but played right, still winable. Unfortunately, it wasn't played right. AL knew that we had to score fast...and so were able to do two things. They turned up the heat, but still maintained good coverage. Stafford was hurried, he was sacked...he made some good throws, some bad throws. Things went downhill. That next possession was a big one, but it ended on a 4th and 28 after a huge holding penalty. Another long pass and some good runs, and AL had all but finished the Dawgs off.

UGA was able to score twice more in the waning minutes, and gave us a little hope with some onside-kick magic. But, after the second score, the second onside kick was knocked out-of-bounds by AL and that sealed it for good.

People have said that Stafford played terrible, and I take exception to that. He did throw deep into double coverage at times....but the balls weren't terribly thrown balls (save that one INT toss, which was plain ugly). Most of them were well thrown, giving his playmakers the chance to make plays....but AL's playmakers DID make the plays. He wasn't hanging around in the pocket and doing a bunch of check-downs because he didn't have 8 seconds to throw the ball. Now, that's not to say I'm down on the offensive line at all. Actually, in the face of what they were up against, I think they did pretty well. Ben Jones squared off against Terrence Cody alone a number of times, and did pretty well. Of course, it was a holding penalty against Jones that brought up the 4th and 28 I mentioned earlier.

On defense, well, it's obvious. When you don't get pressure, you get beat. AL has one of the most seasoned and probably THE BEST Offensive line we will face all year. TN has a stout one, but they've had troubles this season...mostly because Crompton isn't a great QB. Our DLine just isn't getting it done like they need to yet. We have 11 sacks, just like after 5 games last year...but we don't seem to be harassing QBs as well. That might have more to do with the abilities of the OLs we face...I dunno. SC and AL both have improved OL play...and our DL play is down a bit. That says alot about it right there.

Also, losing Dannel Ellerbee hurt us on Saturday. He's a pretty decent coverage linebacker...and not having him in there was definite cause for concern. In his absence, Rennie Curran led the team in tackles for the 3rd time this season...but I can't help but wonder if having Dannel would have prevented some of those 7 and 10 yard completions that hurt us so badly.

Look, all you people out there who don't think this team is positioned for any kind of success...I have to admonish you here. As someone who played football, I understand better than many of you, that sometimes, you just get beat. Even when you play right, you get beat. And when you make mistakes against a very good team, you're certain to get beat. Things went unexplainably, inexcusably bad on Saturday. Mimbs couldn't punt. We had dumb penalties. Mike Moore dropped a huge pass in the 4th. AJ Green lost his grip on a ball in the 2nd. Players went down with injuries. It was a bad game.

Bad Games happen.

But we have plenty to play for. Right now, we're second in the SEC East behind Vandy (yeah, I know...that brings forth GROANS...but there are lots of games to play). That means we control our own destiny. We have a week to heal and learn from this game, and then a week to prepare for TN. You generally learn more from a loss than you do from a win...and I think this loss will be a GREAT coaching tool. I fully expect us to come out and play VERY WELL against TN on the 11th. Then, we'll have Vandy. It's very possible we could be playing Vandy for a potential tie-breaker in the East. That's crazy, but it's possible. They have Auburn, then Miss State. It's very possible that a 5-1 UGA could be squaring off against a 6-0 Vandy team. I know you guys think I'm crazy for saying Vandy could beat Auburn...but Auburn still hasn't proven themselves on offense....and Vandy has some good playmakers. I've always had a softspot for the boys from Nashville...and I hope they DO beat Auburn...because I'd love for them to still be firmly in the top 20 when we get them.

Look, take this weekend off. Go fishing or something. Keep your mind off your worries about the current state of UGA football. The Dawgs had a bad game. It happens. 3 other undefeated top-10 teams lost. UGA was the only one who lost to another top-10 team. Things aren't nearly as bad as your mind is making them out to be. Your dream of a National Title is not dashed. I doubt that the Big 12 AND Big 10 will serve up an undefeated team. If they do, well, we may not have a shot. But, if they don't, a 12-1 Dawg team would have the inside track to the title game (Especially since 1 of those 12 would come against an SEC West champ who will likely be the #2 team at the time).

It's still there in front of us. Calm Down.

Go Dawgs.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Southerland to return against Alabama

I read today that Richt is expecting Brannan Southerland to return to action against Alabama. This will be his first game since being sidelined by off-season foot surgery. Richt says Southerland will see action on the punt team, and for fieldgoals/extra points.



Field Goals/Extra Points and Punt team? That's where you put a kid who's been working his tail off in practice, but can't really contribute to the overall scheme of the game. That way, he gets on the field, he might get his name called if he does something spectactular like a huge tackle on a punt, or recovering a blocked kick. But your best fullback? I don't understand.

I imagine the thinking is to get him back into a game situation...let him feel out the foot at full speed, see how it is. That makes sense on Punt....he'll have to run down the field and cover the kick. But fieldgoals and extra points?

Look, if the kid's ready to go, put him in the backfield and let him block. Let him carry the rock on the goalline like he's done so many times in the past. Sadly, Chapas is woefully enefficient when it comes to hard yards and big blocks. Southerland is the king of that position. If he's actually ready to go, I want him in the game when it matters. If he's not ready to go, why put him in at all? Then you're just risking further injury for something that doesn't seem crucial.

I'm hoping against hope that Southerland will see action on a punt, then decide that he's ready to be back in the starting lineup, and by the end of the game, he's blowing up linebackers, and diving into the endzone. That's what we've come to expect out of the kid. He's one of the unsung (or rarely-sung) heroes of our team...and I want his play to be a real contribution...not just another body on the line for a PAT!

Yeah, Come On!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

UGA v AL (And a little UGA ASU for good measure)

Whatta ya know, 4-0!!! I was close on my guess for last week's score...I thought the Dawgs would win by 18, they won by 17. Not too bad, I suppose. I mean, if I were making gambling lines, a bunch of people woulda lost money...but them's the breaks! I was at the UGA-ASU game, and I liked the way we looked for the most part. The Dawgs were really hummin' on defense. The one score they had was on a busted coverage...I'm not sure WHO exactly, because without the benefit of replay, I didn't get to see where everybody went. I'm guessing a safety got sucked into the middle of the field, allowing the receiver to slip out into the endzone unnoticed. That's the kind of thing that will kill you in a tight game, but in a blowout, you just take a bit of coaching and move on. Other than that play, you could see the excitement radiating off the Dawgs' backs. They were flyin' around and really stickin' it to guys when they caught the ball...and the run, well...it didn't exist!

4 yards rushing. That's what the Dawgs gave up. 4. DOMINATION.

On the offensive side of the ball, Stafford's accuracy numbers were par-for-the-course, hurt a little from an 0-3 start on the first drive. After the first play, he seriously left me saying "wow." I mean, it's one thing to watch him hurl a deep-ball on TV, but seeing that howitzer arm in person is something different altogether. He missed AJ Green by about 2 steps....something that I've gotten used to with Matt. It's a low-percentage throw, one that he's very willing to make, and in the long run, the offense will be served well by it. I just wish it were a teeny bit more accurate....because hitting that pass on the first play of the game would have really signaled something huge.

Knowshon looked great. No, he didn't bust a 56-yard spinning, flipping touchdown. He served as the workhorse, often gaining 2 or 4 yards...but then popping the big 15 yarder right when we needed it. And of course, there was the signature flying touchdown. That kid's amazing.

I said it would be a beatdown, and I was right. The Dawgs definitely came out to the desert to play some serious southern football. Now, one thing did trouble me...Our inability to score inside the five. We continued to call the "knock them off the ball" running plays...and our offensive line just couldn't do the job on those. I think we had 5 or6 opportunities from within the 3 and we came away with 3 points (we ran out of time in the 4th quarter). By my count, we left 15 points on the field. Twice we kicked chip-shot field goals when we should have scored touchdowns, and at the end of the game, our playcalling did us in from tacking on another. Now, many people would say that a late touchdown is bad form...but I say that's total crap. College football, because of the BCS, requires big, impressive victories. At the end of the year, if the only thing the voters have to go on is a 27-10 win by UGA over ASU versus a 31-7 win by USC over ASU, they're gonna like the USC win. It's rertarded, but they will.

"But Dukes, don't we have the schedule to put us out in front?"

Whew man, do we ever! Let's talk about that schedule...more importantly, let's get down to what's important RIGHT NOW....UGA v AL.

"Yay Dukes! Thought you'd never get around to it."

Shut up.

UGA v AL is no easy contest to pick. Last year, it was a VERY close one...need I remind anyone about the OT toss from Stafford to Henderson? Just fantastic! Now, both teams have improved from a year ago, and both are seated firmly in the top 10. The Tide are playing outside of their minds right now! But, allow me to shed just a little light on things...to help you calm your fears.

Last week, AL destroyed ARK 49-14. Two of AL's scores were on INT returns for touchdowns. Take those away, and you have 35-14. Another score was set up directly by an INT (on the 30 or something). So, if you take away interceptions (Stafford has thrown ZERO), you're talking about a much different ballgame. You're looking at 28-14....possibly closer if ARK can score on any of those drives. Of course, that's pretty doubtful because ARK is awful. They barely escaped games against Louisiana-Monroe and Western Illinois. Coming into the game, Casey Dick had thrown 2 INT against those terrible defenses. It's no surprise that he threw three against AL.

"So they have a great pass defense? Is Stafford gonna throw a pick? That could kill us. HELP ME DUKES! HELP ME!"

Sorry, but you needed that. I didn't say Alabama has a great pass defense. I said Casey Dick is terrible. It's funny, but his numbers are similar to Stafford's...58%v60%, 5 td apiece, 831 yds v 919...and Stafford's played one more game. Of course, that one more game happened to be against the nation's 1 Pass Defense. That's right, South Carolina has the best pass defense in the nation. Alabama is 47th against the pass. 47. Just so you know, Arizona State is 52nd...and they weren't THAT bad until Stafford. What Alabama has going for them is a MONSTER at defensive tackle. Terrence Cody is a 365lb bohemeth who changes the shape of the pocket, and closes up running lanes. He's a big part of their defense being ranked 8th against the run. Simply put, one man can't block him. He's big, quick, strong, and fundamentally sound.


Well, get ahold of yourself. I said one man can't block him. I didn't say he can't be blocked. Also, it's very tough for him to hurt us on the perimeter. I think we'll see more outside tosses and misdirection against this defense than up-the-gut running. Simply put, you don't drive a guy like Terrence Cody off the ball. Aside from his ability to change the running game, Terrence will come hard up the middle at Stafford. Our line has to be ready. Stafford has to be ready. Bobo is a screen-happy OC already, and I expect that trend to continue this weekend. I think he'll have Stafford take a few shots downfield, but mostly, he's going to want "3-steps and FIRE" type plays. That gives Cody less time to disrupt anything. Also, we may see a good bit more shotgun, just to give Stafford more breathing room.

I think the passing game is really coming along. Stafford has set a career-high twice this season, with 275 then 285 yards. His 300-yarder is coming...can you feel it? I don't know if it will be THIS game...but it's as good a time as any. Did you know that Matt Stafford leads the conference in Passing Efficiency? Did you know that AJ Green leads the conference in Receiving yards? Did you know that Knowshon Moreno leads the conference in Scoring? So...three of the offensive statistical leaders in the conference are on our offense. That's pretty good.

"Dukes...tell me about when Bama has the ball!"

Well, when Bama has the ball, I think they have some problems. John Parker Wilson is nothing special. Against Arkansas, he was 6/14 for 74 yards and a touchdown. Now, that's probably because Alabama ran right over Arkansas. Their RB Coffee had 162 on the ground with two touchdowns. Of course, 87 yards came on a TD run in the 1st quarter. So, if we eliminate THAT big play, I think we've got a pretty good chance of stopping him. Oh yeah, did I mention that UGA is 1 in the SEC against the Run? We're gonna need to be! AL had 328 yards rushing against ARK. Now, admittedly, ARK is weak...but that's a boatload of yards! We can't allow that. Alabama knows JPW can't beat us through the air, so they're gonna try to pound it out on the ground.

That's what USC tried to do, and we saw where it got them. I fully expect Alabama to bring a better ballgame on the ground, though. I mean, they DO have the 1 Rushing offense in the conference. (The stats may be a bit inflated after last week, but numbers are numbers) IF we can stop the run, though, JPW is gonna have to go to the air, and he's gonna find Julio Jones. This kid is great. He's big, strong, and a playmaker...much like AJ Green. They were both getting tons of hype in the preseason, and now people are discovering why. Jones has yet to emerge as the big-time threat that AJ is proving to be...but that could be a function of his not getting opportunities more than not living up.

Still, I don't see JPW performing too well against our defense. He's not Dan Lefevour, and he's not Rudy Carpenter.

Also, I expect Martinez to really step up the blitzing this week. I think we'll see a good bit less nickel against a team ranked 105th in the nation in passing offense. Get ready to see UGA back in the good ol' 4-3. Now, that's gonna put more pressure on our coverage guys...they're gonna be fighting for balls when they come...and from time to time, they're gonna lose. Just be ready for that. But the game won't be settled in our defensive backfield. If it is, that means we're doing pretty damned well.

This game will be like most other SEC battles - won in the trenches. Will our line be able to handle manimal Terrence Cody? Will we protect Stafford and open holes for Moreno? Will our boys squash the power running attack of Alabama? Will Rennie Curran rip off JPW's baby bonnet? These are important questions. If UGA can win the battle in the trenches, then the Dawgs can't be stopped! If Stafford has time, he will slice AL's defense apart. If Moreno has room, he will dart in and out of that defense (ranked 8th nationally against the run...they're good!).

Do I think BLACKOUT 2 will have the power of the original? Well, sequels are rarely up to the challenge. I don't think this Blackout will be a blowout. I've been fairly impressed with what I've seen out of Bama. Their competition hasn't been stellar...but neither has ours. I think both teams are facing a fierce test this weekend, and I think it's gonna be another close one.

Or, the Dawgs are gonna blow the barn doors off.

UGA wins, 31-14. Go DAWGS!