Thursday, October 30, 2008

Analysts picking against Georgia

The list currently includes:

Mel Kiper, Jr.

Todd McShay

Chris Low

Bruce Feldman

Kirk Herbstreit

Doug Flutie

Mark May

Jim Rome

Colin Cowherd

Cocktail Party Turned Heavyweight Fight

This is what the UGA-FL game is supposed to be....a bitter rivalry with National Title implications. Each team has a loss. Ours, to a great team and title contender. Theirs, to a decent team that is performing better than expected. Each team suffered that loss before their offense really got going. Each team has playmakers on both sides of the ball. Each team is in the BCS top 10.

But only one team can win.

There have been many storylines leading up to this game.

Last year's celebration.

The emergence of the FL speedsters.

The surprising strength of UGA's young O-Line.

Meyer's gag order.

Tebow's tearful call to action after the Ole Miss loss.

A series record of 15-3 for FL over the last 18 games. - Ok, let me talk about this one for a second, because it really pisses me off. I'm so sick and tired of hearing about how FL has won 15 out of the last 18 games. Why do we go back 18 games? Why don't we say they've won 15 out of the last 21 games? Because that's also true....but, it would give UGA 3 more wins. Why don't we go back 30 years? That puts it at 17-13 in favor of FL. I guess that doesn't look as amazing. Oh, and if we look at the entire history, UGA has 47 wins...FL has 37. So, in the 93 year history of this rivalry, FL has recorded almost half of its victories in the past 20 years. With 11 of them coming under Steve Spurrier. But none of that is important. What is important, is the current team. Tebow is 0-1 against UGA. Stafford is 1-0 against FL. (Each was a backup in the 2006 contest, which FL narrowly won 21-14 on their way to a national title)

Now, let's examine the game that is forthcoming. These are the two top offenses in the SEC. FL scores 42 ppg, and UGA scores 34. The main difference here, is level of competition.

To date, UGA has played defenses ranked 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 10th in the SEC. FL has played against the 4th, 8th, 9th, 11th and 12th. So, we've done what we've done playing better defenses. Well, in this game, UGA will face the #3 defense in the SEC, and FL will face the #6. Things don't look to be any better for UGA this week than they have been in recent weeks.

Also, FL is coming off a serious DRUBBING of Kentucky, where they blocked 3 kicks, all leading to touchdowns. FL also had an INT returned for a TD. That's all the defense helping out the offense - an offense that needs ZERO help. Basically, FL scored 28 of its 63 points against UK off turnovers. That's staggering. Of course, 17 of UGA's 52 points against LSU were also due to turnovers. So, both of these teams know how to get it done on defense.

Or at least, you'd think so.

FL's defense HAS NOT BEEN TESTED much this season. Ole Miss gave them absolute fits, and won in the Swamp. Hawaii is no real test, as UGA fans will remember from the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee's offense has been woeful this season. LSU shot themselves in the foot all night. In fact, UGA will be the first offense ranked above #30 in the country that FL has played all season.

The sad fact is, though, that FL will be the 2nd best offense (LSU - #30) that UGA has faced, and they sit at #31. AND....they sit at #31 after having taken nearly the whole first half of the season to find themselves offensively. Both of these offenses are definitely on an upswing. UGA is getting better production out of Moreno every week, and Stafford is really finding his receivers. And the receivers are CATCHING THE BALL. If you couldn't tell by the all-caps, that's important for receivers to do. Florida is getting GREAT production out of its runningbacks (200+ yards in each of the last 3 games) and Tebow is always a powerful weapon. This Florida offense is certainly one to be reckoned with.

Many people are calling for this game to be an absolute shoot-out, and I can't disagree. I don't think that the defenses have the ability to stop each other through the air. Florida does rank 5th in the conference against the pass....but they haven't played any real passing threats. And, Tennessee ranks behind them at 6th in the conference, giving up only 3 more ypg through the air. We remember how well Stafford did against THAT secondary (300+yards). I like BOTH QBs chances to get big numbers in this one. The telling statistic, though, might be yards after the catch. I see FL having an advantage there. If any one of those little speedy receivers catches the ball in open space, UGA's defense is in trouble. Those guys can flat-out FLY and I don't know that we have anyone who can catch them. Big plays in the passing game have been a weakness for our team...mostly because we play a very aggressive scheme. That enables teams to hit us deep. Of course, we also occasionally pull the ol' "Tampa Two" which led to Gamble's second pick-six last week. That defense is disguised well, and can cause serious headaches for an offensive coordinator and opposing quarterback. It seems to me that Meyer's offense does a great job of getting the receivers balls in space. Bobo's doesn't seem to do the same thing quite as well. I've been awfully frustrated MANY times at how our guys seem to catch the ball with a great deal of traffic around them. That has changed a bit THIS season, which is good...because THIS game is being played THIS season (interestingly enough). I see the potential for many, many points to be scored.

I don't think either defense will move up in the national ranks this week.

My biggest question comes in the running game. Will that be where the difference is made? Florida has the #3 rushing defense in the conference, giving up 102 ypg. But again, they haven't played many potent offenses. The only rusher they've faced who resembles Moreno is Arkansas' Michael Smith who carried for 133 yards (just above his season avg of 131). LSU couldn't get their rush going....which tells me that FL may be very stout up the middle. LB Brandon Spikes certainly plays into that. I don't really know what to expect from our running game this week. In recent games, we've been going very heavily to the toss-sweep, departing from the old delay-counter calls that seemed so huge last season. I'm wondering if there's a reason for that...if the line just isn't as good at the counter play...or if Bobo's been saving it. I dunno. I know that FL is very, very fast...and that causes trouble for perimeter-style running. But, if Charles Scott had trouble getting started downhill, then I think that may be a cause for concern as well. We'll just have to hope our O-Line is ready to open some creases for Moreno to squeeze through.

When FL has the ball, the running game is POTENT. Demps is averaging 10 yards per carry. Do you get that? On average, when that kid gets the ball in his hands, it's AT LEAST a first down. That's nuts. Our defense will REALLY have to contain him. That's troublesome...because if you key on him, that enables reverses to hurt you, it enables Tebow to hurt you on the option, and it creates mismatches in the passing game. Meyer's offense is a scary one, especially now that he has the proper personell to run it. Rainey, Demps, Harvin...these are all speedsters who can kill a defense. And, the most dangerous thing is....with Rainey and Demps coming on, Harvin is free to stay on the perimeter.

A lot of Georgia fans are still riding the emotion of last year's victory in Jacksonville. Neither of these teams is last year's team. FL is MUCH IMPROVED over a year ago. Tebow isn't hurt. UGA's defense isn't getting the pressure on QBs that it did last year (don't let the stat I pull out later fool you...we've already played 8 games this year, compared to 7 going into UGA-FL in 2007). Georgia's offense IS more powerful, but can it keep up with Florida?

The Gators are VERY GOOD at taking the ball away from opponents. They have an over 2:1 ratio in that department. Like I said before, this is an offense that does not need help. If we stop ourselves with turnovers and penalties, we're in trouble.

The positive thing for Georgia fans is, it appears that the penalty problem we had earlier in the season is dying off. We haven't been flagged for a late hit on the QB in quite some time. I'm pumped about that. Also, UGA got back into the habit of scoring TDs in the Redzone last week. I'm lovin' that! It could be that the Dawgs have had just about enough of that shooting themselves in the foot crap. And I'm certainly in favor of moving beyond it.

I don't know that FL can stop UGA. I don't know that UGA can stop FL. Everyone is billing this as an away game for UGA....which is just fine with me. I mean, do you know the last game UGA lost that wasn't at Sanford Stadium? November 4, 2006. It's been nearly 2 full years since the Bulldogs have lost a game away from home. While I hate the fact that we haven't been good custodians of our home field, I like our chances when we have to travel. While it's true that Richt's teams have been best when on an opponent's home field...having lost only 4 games in 8 years, compared to 8 at neutral sites (including championship games and bowls), Richt is definitely doing something right in his game preparation away from Sanford.

Our boys are good. Are they championship material? Well, they have a chance to prove it.

Look, if Florida is thinking about last year's game, they've already lost. These aren't the same teams, and the same stakes aren't in play. UGA didn't think they had a chance to get to a National Title last year, they were just trying to stay alive in the east. FL wants retriubtion for last season? Great. UGA wants retribution for the 1st half against Alabama. Everyone is talking about how Florida will react to being disrespected last year. Does noone think that UGA might have a little chip on its shoulder as well? After losing to Ole Miss, Florida fell hard out of the top ten. Then, after beating LSU, they VAULTED back up, ahead of UGA. Georgia lost to AL, a top ten team, then creamed LSU as well, and moved up one whole slot. That's disrespect. Georgia started out the season at #1, won its first three games, and slid down the polls every week. That's disrespect.

This UGA team has had nothing but disrespect all season. People have said the defense isn't good enough...they don't get enough pressure.....well, going in to the FL game last year, our D had 12 sacks....this year we have 13. We got 6 against FL last year. I hope we can repeat that...though I doubt it. People have said our O-Line is too young, and too patchwork to succeed. Well, the current o-line is 3-0, and coming off some the offense's best performances of the season (season high passing v Tennesse, season high rushing v Vanderbilt, season high scoring (against a worthy opponent) against LSU. The picks for this game have been in Florida's favor...most by a touchdown or two. ESPN's senior writer Bruce Feldman (and I think by now you all know how much I despise him) picked FL to win 38-30, among other reasons because he just doesn't "think UGA could beat Tebow twice in a row." Do you get that? Not that UGA couldn't beat FL...but that UGA couldn't beat TEBOW. He's saying that ONE MAN is stronger than our whole team. Oh, Feldman...kiss my bulldawg ass! Feldman has been a UGA hater since before the season. He's one of the main proponents of the "weak O-line" argument...and every time he's picked against us, I've loved seeing him eat his words.

Look for this week to be more of the same.

I can't call a score on this one. I have absolutely no idea what these teams are going to do. It could be 61- 59, or it could be a true shocker.....14-10. I have no idea. The only thing that I'm willing to say, is that I believe the Dawgs are going to win it. I think they're going to win it, and the sports analysts and experts are going to have to finally admit that Georgia might actually be as good as advertised.

With a win on Saturday, UGA takes its spot at the table. I think UGA vaults into the top5 BCS rankings after beating Florida in Jacksonville.....

aw, to hell with it....

49-28....GO DAWGS!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Georgia Handles LSU?

Everyone's been going crazy talking about how Georgia DOMINATED LSU this past weekend. But...well....we didn't. I was dead-on about the point spread, but 6 more touchdowns were scored in that game than I envisioned...three on each side. I don't feel bad about not guessing that Gamble would take two interceptions back to paydirt. But really, scratch those two plays, and the game's a tie. Or, even worse, if LSU scores on either drive, it's a loss.

Look, the Dawgs played well...don't get me wrong. But, the game they played against LSU gets us beat against Florida.

My Kudos to the offensive line who surrendered 1 sack, a week after LSU took 6 from South Carolina. That's pretty huge.

Also, big props to Knowshon Moreno who proved that he can indeed run the ball well against GOOD SEC defenses. I wish he'd put another one in the endzone, but hey...we'll take it!

I'm throwing a shout-out to Coach Mike Bobo. Now, I'm not doing that because his offense scored 38 points. Sure, that's good. I'm not saying it because he called a QB Draw for a TD, or put us in a perfect play when LSU called a safety blitz, enabling Moreno to hit a 68-yard TD scamper. I'm not even saying it because his playcalling effectively put LSU away in the second half.

I'm saying it because in the first quarter, with all the weapons we have, be it Knowshon Moreno, AJ Green, Mohommad Massaqoui.....Bobo called on some of the most underrated players on the team - the third and fourth receivers. On UGA's first drive, the bulk of the recieving work was done by Michael Moore, who caught 3 passes for 38 yards. Massaqoui's 9-yard catch was the only other grab on the drive. On UGA's second drive, it was Demiko Goodman grabbing a 16-yarder inside the 10 yard line. Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Kenneth Harris caught a 5 yard touchdown pass.

Suddenly LSU realized they had to cover EVERYONE because the Dawgs have a BUNCH of guys who can catch passes, not just AJ Green. The defense was suddenly off-balance. This paid dividends in the second half, when UGA used LSU's impatience against them. See, when a quarterback is able to go through his progressions and hit 3rd and 4th receivers, you have to put more pressure on him. So, LSU really started coming heavy. That's when things like Stafford's 49-yard td STRIKE to Green happened (on a 3rd and ten, no less). So then what? UGA gets the ball back, and LSU blitzes on first down.

Oops. Moreno hits them for a 68 yard TD run.

Ok, back to the drawing board. Take away the big play by doubling the wideouts. Load up the box to discourage running to Moreno. Ok, we've got a good plan for first down. Wait a second...don't forget the tight-end, Aaron know, the guy who hasn't caught a pass all season. See, when you forget about him, that's when he catches a 48 yard pass.

You really just have to take your hat off to Mike Bobo. He had LSU on the ropes all day, and that's why many people like to think we DOMINATED that game.

But, there's another story as well.

Our Defense was anything but rock-solid. Don't forget, LSU scored 38 points. UGA's offense scored 38 points. If not for two great plays by Gamble, the game looks a whole lot different.

UGA didn't really have a great answer for Charles Scott. He's a hard-nosed between-the-tackles runner who knew exactly what to do with the ball when he got it. He tallied 144 yards, and most noticeably was picking up HUGE gains late in the game. That's when we can't be giving them up. Also, the Lee/Hatch duo at QB lit the defense up for 309 yards. Of course, 109 of that came on two garbage plays in the 4th quarter. But still, the defense CAN'T DO THAT. Those two garbage plays resulted in 14 points for the opposition (one directly, one indirectly). Without them, UGA wins by 4 TDs (in one of those completely illogical points of view where the rest of the game is played exactly the same, except for those plays).

Being completely honest, after the first quarter, I never felt that the game was in doubt. My only question was whether my score prediction would be correct....nope. I admit I didn't give UGA enough credit with being able to come up with more points. I wanted to. I initially wanted to predict 45-17. But, the Dawgs have been underperforming of late, and I was getting tired of blowing people's betting lines for them. So, I played it a bit conservative this week. Perhaps I should just call by my gut, betters be damned! : )

Either way, I'm happy with the outcome...and with one other VERY important injuries. Nobody got hurt in that game. All the receivers and linemen are intact. Our league-leading QB didn't get knocked around. The defense didn't take any knocks....and actually may have found yet another playmaker in Daryl Gamble. And the man who everyone counts on to really "establish that running game", Knowshon Moreno, was at the top of his game. Rolling into Florida on Saturday, if they can avoid pitfalls at practice, will be the healthiest UGA team in weeks. And, we'll need Florida is pretty dang good.

So, enjoy the win dawgfans....but get ready, cause here comes the Cocktail Party!


Friday, October 24, 2008

UGA v LSU ...tough test in the Bayou.

Well, as far as I can tell, most folks are picking LSU to win this one. I've looked at it up and down, and I just can't figure out why. I mean, yeah, they have a great runningback, Charles Scott...he's #22 in the nation in rushing. That's not too shabby. The only back that Georgia has faced with more yards? #18, Glenn Coffee for Alabama. Seems like he didn't have an especially AMAZING game against UGA. Don't get me wrong, he played well, he churned out 86 yards, the highest output by any single back against UGA. Let me repeat that. 86 yards is the most any single back has gotten against our defense. UGA hasn't given up a 100-yards to a single rusher since Tashard Choice, on Nov 24 of 2007. Of the teams LSU has played, the rushing defenses have not been stellar. Troy is ranked 66th, North Texas is 105th, Mississippi State is 76th, Auburn is 25th and Florida is tops of the bunch at 15th. Against Florida, the Tigers amassed a whopping 80 rushing yards in a 51-21 loss. They doubled that a week later against South Carolina, in a shaky 24-17 win.

By the way, at 61 yards per game, Georgia's defense is ranked #3 nationally and tops in the SEC (Florida is 4th, giving up 96 yards per game). I like our chances of shutting down their running attack. Yes, they have a good back...but if he can't get out in the open, he can't outrun anyone. Look for us to bring pressure packages to stuff their ability to run.

Now, LSU does have the #4 pass Offense in the SEC at 220 ypg, and Georgia has the #10 passing defense, surrendering 208 yards per game (those stats are a bit inflated, since we gave up 250 and 271 in back-back games early in the season). So, they may have a chance to get after us through the air. How do we avoid that? Blitz, baby, blitz! We're going to have to. Neither Andrew Hatch nor Jarret Lee is particular amazing under pressure. If we get people in that backfield to harass the qb, we'll have some good success. Our defense turned a corner on that front last week. Adams was hurried all game, sacked twice, threw two picks, and had about 5 others dropped. The D looked REALLY good against Vandy's passing attack...what there was of one. Now, I fully expect the LSU offensive line to be better than Vandy's....but I don't worry much about it. Why? Because that's not what you hear about. You don't hear about LSU's dominating offensive line.

You hear about LSU's dominating defensive line. And THIS is the reason most people are picking LSU to win this game. They have a firm belief that LSU will be able to rip through our patchwork offensive line, and get to Stafford. They believe they'll be able to control our inexperienced guys, and bottle up Moreno. The offensive line of UGA is just too big of a question mark for anybody to be able to pick UGA to win.


These guys didn't just get "called up" from highschool last week. They've been playing together all year. Yeah, they've shuffled around...they've played multiple positions. Yeah, we've had 4 left tackles...and that inexperience shows at times. Sometimes the guard doesn't quite seal the DE, and Moreno has to fight for three yards instead of breaking it for 10-12. Sometimes the tackle thinks he has help from the guard, so he lets a guy slip between them, and Stafford has to run from pressure. BUT....these mistakes are decreasing by the week. The line is shoring up...getting better. Every single week these guys are bucking up, and doing what is asked of them! A lot of that speaks to the abilities of Stacy Searels, who, for the second year in a row, has been asked to sew together an offensive line depleted by injury/graduations. This man is a miracle worker.

And LSU knows it. After all, we did take coach Searels from the Tigers. Now, THAT may present a problem. Les Miles is certainly familiar with the pass protections that his coach was teaching. The UGA D-line have already tipped their hand, saying that Searels told them about the weaknesses of the LSU O-linemen. I'm sure Miles will be using his knowledge of Searels' schemes against UGA as well. So, the DAWG O-Line will have a particularly stern test. Couple that with the fact that Miles will most likely use 4DEs at the same time, to add speed to the pass rush, and you get a recipe for disaster.

I know, I know, it sounds sinister. Well, let me tell you this....speed in the middle of the defensive line isn't as scary as it sounds. You don't really "outrun" a center or a guard in pass-protection. Speed on the ends is devestating because you can run around a tackle, or fake a move to the outside, then beat him inside before he can recover. But, in the interior line, it's not as dangerous. If the Center and Guards play good assignment football, they should be able to nullify the speed advantage. Plus, I watched Ben Jones handle the Mountain from Alabama all night...I have a feeling he'll do ok against LSU.

I think this game will serve as the UGA O-line putting all the experts on notice. Yes, they're banged up. Yes, they've been switched around all year. But damnit, they earned their scholarships just like everyone else in the SEC, and they're tired of people looking down on them.
They haven't given up a sack since Stafford went down twice against Alabama. Our quarterback and runningback have had season-high passing and rushing games in that span as well. It's time for this unit to show everyone that they can hang with the "big boys"...namely the Fearsome Foursome from LSU.

Oh yeah, and remember how I was talking about the nation's #22 rusher, Charles Scott and the #18 rusher, Glenn Coffee? Well, let's not forget the nation's #17 and the SEC's #2 rusher, Knowshon Moreno. He just hit his season high (170+) against Vandy...but I really don't see him having THAT kind of day against LSU. It's not that I don't think HE's's that i think LSU's defense is going to be a little better suited personnel wise to stop him. Right now, LSU's Defense is 5th in the SEC against the run. Of course, Tennesse is 3rd, and Knowshon DID hit THEM for, who knows? UGA's O-Line is two-weeks more experienced now...and should be coached up pretty well. This could be a defining game for Knowshon Moreno. How will he come out and do against one of the better run-stopping teams in the conference? Will he be able to get his Heisman campaign back on track (I mean, the thing's probably going to Colt McCoy...but if he finishes strong, he could make a good argument). This is the point in the season last year that Moreno really exploded onto the scene. The line had gelled, and with a dive into Florida's endzone, he became a household name. Will we something similar this week? I certainly hope so.

Finally, the Stafford question. Will he perform? I think the answer here lies entirely in the offensive line. LSU ranks 9th in the conference in passing defense, just one spot ahead of UGA. Stephen Garcia hit 'em for 215 yards....and Tebow hit 'em for 210 and two TDs. Well, now they'll be facing the top QB in the SEC. Sure, Tebow leads Stafford in efficiency rating....but Stafford has him beat in total yards, yards per game, yards per attempt, yards per completion, and they're tied with 10 TDs. The picks hurt Stafford's rating...but you can't blame them all on him. This week, he faces a team with only 4 interceptions on the year. That's less than Georgia...and we ALL know how WOEFULLY ANNOYING it's been watching our boys NOT pick off passes. LSU ranks 9th in the conference in total defense. Matt Stafford ranks first in the conference in total offense. This ought to be a fun one. If Stafford stays vertical, LSU is going to have a long night. But, like I said earlier, the LSU front-four will be built for sacks. So, Stafford will have to make quick decisions, and great throws.

Of course, when you talk about quick decisions, you gotta like Stafford. He makes decisions before the ball is snapped. He's very good at checking out of bad plays, and into good ones. Miles will have to disguise his defenses a bit if he doesn't want to get lit up through the air.

Oh, and don't discount the return of Brannan Southerland as an important factor in this game. That kid can flat out FLATTEN OUT folks in both the passing and the running game. If LSU is bringing pressure, look for Bobo to go to Two-back sets, with Chapas or Southerland blocking sometimes, and releasing others. The only worry here is that Stafford won't see a DL or LB who has sniffed out the screen. Matt was picked by TN and nearly picked by Vandy on similar plays.

Look, what it all shapes up to is a close game. I don't care how LSU performed against Mississippi State or Auburn or South Carolina or Florida. This is LSU-GEORGIA. Yeah, UGA has won 5 out of the last 7 against LSU...but let's not forget what happened when we faced them in 2003...they worked us TWICE that year. Plus, they'll have some emotion on their side. For some of those guys, they've only played UGA once....when we beat them in the SEC title game, on our way to a Sugar Bowl loss to WVU. That one's sticking around in their mouths for sure. They know that a loss to UGA will hurt them severely in the West Race. Basically, it's an elimination game from EVERYTHING for them. If UGA loses, we can still win the east....but if LSU loses, they're out of everything. Their stock drops, and they're going from a possible shot at a national title, to the Outback bowl or worse. Make no mistake, this game is GIGANTIC.

And it's in Baton Rouge.

But, it's daytime. LSU at night in Baton Rouge is basically unbeatable. But, in the daytime, it's a different story. Georgia has a good chance to legitimize their claim of being a top-ten team by knocking off the defending national champions. Has the game lost some glitter since Florida's drubbing of the tigers and Bama's handling of the Bulldogs? Sure it has. But it has lost none of its importance. LSU and UGA are two very similar teams - they're very good...but have been put in their place. Now it's time for one of them to step up and REDEFINE that place. The winner of this game steps forward in the national title hunt. The loser, well, let's not even go there.

I like Green, Massaqoui, Moreno and Stafford in this one. I know LSU's D is good.....but in nearly every category, Georgia's is better. Hatch and Lee have pulled off some miracles this year...but UGA isn't Auburn, and UGA isn't South Carolina.

Dawgs 31 - LSU 17.

Go Dawgs!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts after the Vandy game....

Ok, I'm troubled. I am seriously, deeply, and heart-wrenchingly troubled at the state of Georgia Fanhood. I'm not talking about the spirit of the fans. The stands remain full, the quads on campus are packed with tailgaters. This is not what bothers me. What bothers me is the pure idiocy of many of these fans. I stood in the student section for the first half of UGA's homecoming win over vandy, and the people standing behind me prooved themselves to know virtually nothing about the sport of football. The questioned every call, every play. They screamed at our players with vehement anger. And when one said, we should throw the ball to green, and stafford did, he started screaming "I Called it! I Called it!" I wanted to hit him. Moments later, he said "Now we just need to punch it in and stop playing for field goals."

I couldn't hold it in. I spun around. "Nobody plays for field goals. Don't be an idiot. Until the Tennessee game, we had one of the best Red Zone percentages in the nation, being 15/15 with 13 touchdowns." He promptly shut his mouth. I didn't hear many more "zingers" from that kid for the rest of the half.

It just bothers me. It's like discussing football with a Pac-10 fan. They don't really study the game...they just look at score lines and declare USC the greatest team on the face of the planet. It's annoying. The kids at Georgia that I was standing near were similar. It was as if they hadn't been watching the games...they hadn't been paying attention. Stafford leads the SEC in passing. Green leads the SEC in receiving. And this guy behind me wants me to be impressed that he "called it" when Stafford hits Green for a pass? Please. Now, when it's 3rd and 21, and this guy "calls" a pitchout to Moreno with a backwards pass to Stafford and a deep ball to Kris Durham for a TD, I'll be impressed.

So, beyond being bothered by the lack of true knowledge and understanding by the fanship who surrounded me, I was happy with the progression of the game for the most part. Our defense caused some turnovers. That was big. They also missed chances at about 5 more. Massaqoui and Green added to their touchdown totals, and Moreno added another big-league performance to his growing resume'. His TDs have slowed in the middle of the season, but he's still running the ball very well.

Vanderbilt was no easy task. My prognostication wasn't on-the-nose by any means, but the game went mostly as I thought it would. I couldn't predict Walsh missing two field goals. Nor could I predict a tipped-pass INT that set up Vandy's only serious challenge (and score) of the second half. Vandy got its first score after some help on one AWFUL PI call, and one that was much more just. Still, the fact that the Dawgs had only 5 penalties (half the season average) is pretty huge.

How did they do it? Well, Richt went after them! Richt set forth a new doctrine at practice last week. Anyone guilty of a penalty in practice would have to do grass-drills and gassers. What was the response? The players stepped up, admitting their own penalties, and calling out others for theirs as well. FINALLY. The players have finally reached a point this year where they're policing one another. The players are finding their leaders. The team is finding its way. This is the point where it started last season, as well. Vanderbilt. A last-minute win at Vanderbilt after a drubbing by Tennessee helped the Dawgs turn the corner last season. UGA wouldn't lose another game until this year agaisnt Alabama.

Now the question becomes....can they do it again? Have they matured enough? I say they have. I think this year has something that is far-and-away better than last year's Dawg team. They have true BALANCE. With AJ Green coming on as one of the best freshman receivers in the nation, and Massaqoui stepping up his production as well (against Tennessee, I have to say...Massaqoui had a big-time "don't forget about ME" game), the receivers are really coming through for Stafford this year. The drops have decreased by a GRAND degree from where they've been in recent years. So, what does that do for the offense? Well, it keeps people from keying in on Moreno as much. As the line develops, the fruits of this will really start to show up. See, earlier in the season, even though we had the balance in the offense, the line didn't have the experience to truly open things up. With every game, this line is learning more, developing together, and opening up more opportunities for Bobo to call different plays, and Moreno and Stafford to do what they do best - perform at a high level! Earlier this year, teams would be able to get a good deal of pressure against our O-Line without needing to Blitz. Now, though, the line is getting better, and it's getting tougher to pressure Stafford.

Defenses WANT to pressure Stafford. They REALLY don't want him to be able to sit back and throw the ball around. So, they're gonna have to bliz. That means people are gonna be open. That also means they can get hurt by the screen.....and we all know how much Bobo loves to call the screen pass. Now, if the opposition decides Stafford's arm is the biggest threat, they may decide to sit back in coverage, and risk only rushing four guys. If they do that, Moreno will gash them for 5 to 6 yards per carry. That's not good for them, either.

OF course, on that run UGA made last year, the defense was also playing on a very high level. This season, we've suffered some losses. Jeff Owens, out. Dannell Ellerbee, out. Now Akeem Habron goes down, and our LB corps gets thinner. But, let's be honest...the front 7 aren't the weak area of our Defense. The Dawgs are third in the nation in Rushing Defense, giving up 61 yards per game. But, we also have 3 of the top 40 rushing offenses coming up. We'll see how that goes.

Our passing defense, though, troubles me. We're 66th in the nation in Passing Defense. And, our 5 interceptions ranks 84th in the nation. That's ugly. Also, big plays in the air is how many teams have scored against us. Not too many teams will line up and ram it down our throats all the way down to the endzone. Just ask South Carolina, who gave up a fumble ON THE GOALLINE. But, in recent weeks, Vandy beat us on two passes into the corner of the endzone. Tennessee hit us for a big gainer inside the ten, and one in the corner of the endzone. ASU scored its only touchdown on a wide-open pass to an uncovered receiver. Even powerful Alabama relied on its air-borne attack to run up a big lead in the first half.

Our defense HAS TO SHORE UP its pass coverage. If it doesn't, every team we face has the tools to make it bite us.

LSU preview coming tomorrow. GO Dawgs!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Headed to Athens for Vandy

Ahhhh Homecoming. The one game every year that is put on the schedule as a definite "W." It's built as a feel-good day for all of the alumni to drift back into town and fall in love with the school all over again. There are events to honor former athletes and scholars. There are fundraisers. There are scores of drunken college kids running around, causing the nostalgic among us to recall our own collegiate days with fuzzy warmth - and the cynical among us to simply wish we were still in school. The weekend is built to be one of no worries, just happy memories and a decent game where the rich alumns who sent their less-talented boys to UGA despite being told they would have to walk-on, can see these 4th and 5th stringers see some action.

Well, this ain't your grandaddy's homecoming. Vanderbilt has been a thorn in the side of the SEC majors for years. While they haven't always been incredible at getting the win, they've damaged many a team's pride...and pulled the occasional upset. I think all Dawg fans remember well the pain from the 2006 loss to Vandy in Sanford. Unfathomable. Sure, it was a down year for UGA...but that's no excuse. The guys are smart, yes...but not as talented as the bohemoths who choose to wear the Red and Black. So, there's no good reason that Vandy should have outplayed us. And, there's no good reason that we needed a miracle fumble on a "would-have-been-game-winnning" fourth quarter drive in order to put us in position to win the 07 contest. Vanderbilt - a troublesome pesky little fly in the SEC ointment.

This year, they're #1 in the east heading into the midseason contest. Are you kidding me? Vandy is #1? I'm not certain, but I think that's one of the signs of the coming apocolypse...right between the sounding of the horns and the breaking of the seals. "And I heard a noise as of thunder, and a voice as of a cherub singing, 'Come and See' (though as to my memory I must admit a faltering, as it seems more likely that the voice cried - "Check this s$&t out...don't that beat all"), and I saw - Vanderbilt University was in first place in SEC football. And the beast cried out, and the people cried out, and behold a pale horse with death upon his back rode out of the darkness and into the world."

Gives me chills.

Vandy has beaten all comers. They've run ramshod through tough SEC competition and are getting upset wins all over the place. UGA is the next on their list, and at the rate that they're going, there's just no stopping them. So far, no team has been able to derail this new football monolith -

Wait....what did you say? Mississippi State? No, that's not possible...that can't be. MSU couldn't have...

SON OF A GUN! You're right. (Dukes looks around the room at the marching band, the cheerleaders, the parade grand marshal, a host of partiers) Everybody pack it up, false alarm.

Look folks, Vandy is still Vandy. Are they improved? Yes. Do they have the tools to win? Yes. Are they going to? HELL NO.

I may have gotten the score wrong in my prediction last week, but the domination of Tennessee was as complete as it's been in many years. There was a problem with FINISHING drives..something I hate to see. A few rookie mistakes by AJ green cost us 8 points. An officiating error cost us another shot at a TD. A bad route cost us an INT and a chance at 7. These things happen. They just can't happen again. Vandy is better than TN.

Let me say that again.

Vandy is better than Tennessee. If the Dawgs play sloppy against Vandy, it will cost us. Vandy has been surviving of turnovers and special teams mistakes. They've been knocking off teams by being more sound, more physical, and more fortunate. I would say that this week is a good week to turn all of that around, but MSU stole that storyline last week. So, what's left for the Dawgs?


Some ESPN analysts are calling for this week to be UGA's "coming out party"...where we have the kind of offensive awakening that FL had last week against LSU. I don't know. The coming out party last season came gainst Florida....and I'd prefer that it did again. As long as we get through the next 2 weeks with wins, I'd love to have the "Game O' Awesomeness" against the Gators. Look, I for one (and call me "not a true fan" if you want) don't hold any hatred for the Florida Gators. I don't really hate any football team out there. Maybe it's because I played and therefore hold equal respect for the guys on the other team - or maybe it's because I didn't play enough to build up anger and bitterness towards them. I dunno. Still, the fact that everyone and their mother wants to give the East to Florida because they have a weaker schedule than us is really pissing me off. They seem to say that as long as Florida can get past UGA, they're in Atlanta.


Anyway, sorry....I'll get back to that in a couple weeks, should it be a necessary argument. Back to the task at hand - Vandy.

Vandy has the #52 Rushing offense in the country. UGA has the #4 rushing defense. In three games this season, UGA has given up less than 20 yards on the ground. I doubt this will be #4. Why? Because Vandy will do something that those teams didn't do - run the QB. TN's rushing attack was pitiful before the UGA game, and it didn't get helped by our stifling D. South Carolina had no semblance of a running attack as their up-the-gut power game ran into the teeth of the Bulldogs. But Vandy, well, they've found in Mackenzi Adams a quarterback who's pretty darn good at running the ball....and pretty good at knowing when not to. He has a pretty accurate arm, and that makes him dangerous. He likes to connect on "HOW DID HE GET SO OPEN" plays. What's that? That's when he looks like he's running, so a defender comes off the receiver to make a play, then Adams pops one for fifteen to twenty yards to an open receiver. That's an especially effective tactic against an aggressive defense. So, how do we beat that? Well, MSU employed a "spy" tactic. They had a defender assigned to the QB every play. It was THAT GUY'S responsibility to take out the QB. One-on-one, man-on-man...are you better than that guy? That's a man's game - and I like our chances with the athletes we have.

Now, their tailback is a powerful runner...but I don't see him busting too many big ones up the middle...that just hasn't been a strength for too many teams. Bama did it with that outrageously good offensive line of theirs...but even they weren't incredibly effective on the ground. It was JPW's unconscious accuracy in the first half that gave them what they needed to win. Their ground game was "good enough to not hurt". I don't expect Vandy to fare quite as well. Simply put, their O-Line ain't as good.

Their D-Line, on the other hand, is VERY good. As are the linebackers. The Vandy defense loves to get sacks...and they love to get pressure. That pressure can turn into turnovers. Vandy has 3 players in the top ten of the SEC for interceptions. That ain't bad. They love to give their team a short field to play with. That may be a large part of the reason that Vanderbilt is DEAD LAST in total offense in the SEC.

That AIN'T good.

Want to hear some quick numbers?

Vandy's Defense is tenth in the league, giving up 318 ypg.
UGA's offense is first in the league, gaining 430 ypg.

UGA's D is 4th in the league, at 273 ypg.
Vandy's O is 12th in the league, at 250 ypg.

Simply put, they can't stop us, and they won't be able to move it on us - much.

But, Vandy also has a nack for pulling out surprises. Look, they're SEC players just like UGA's boys. Bobby Johnson will have them well prepared, and they will come into Sanford looking for a big win that would put them in a bowl, and put them firmly in first place in the east.

UGA won't let that happen. Dawgs win, 31-7...and I'll be in the stadium to see it!

GO Dawgs!

Friday, October 10, 2008

UGA v UT tomorrow

Look....I don't really have much to say about this game. There's simply no way on God's green earth that the Vols should even have a chance coming into this game.

"DUKES! YOU CAN'T SAY THAT! They destroyed us last year, and they're down this year, which means they'll be playing with nothing to lose."

I don't care. The Dawgs will be playing with a fire. They lost against AL and are still stinging from it. They haven't forgotten about that drubbing in Knoxville and will be looking to bring some serious revenge. The Vols are reeling, and grasping at straws. The Dawgs are going to do everything they can to get their season back on track.

Bruce Feldman wrote that Terrence Cody and the AL defensive line derailed Knowshon Moreno's Heisman bid. Well, I hate to break it to Feldman...but the season ain't even half over....and Knowshon was at his best in the second half of last season. Now, TN brings the #13 rushing and #12 passing defenses into the game. So, the problems haven't been all on the D. But, looking at the competition UT has faced, I can't say they've really been challenged. UCLA is no offensive juggernaut. Neither are UAB, AU, or Northern Illinois. In fact, the only team they've played that has any semblence of a good offense is Florida...who has playmakers everwhere, but has struggled to put together great games. So, I believe Tennessee's defensive strength is a bit fluffed at the moment. We'll see how great they look against the DAWGS.

I'm not expecting much from them. They DO like to take balls away...they have 9 interceptions already this year. But, Stafford doesn't really like to throw them anymore. He has 1 pick. So, I like our chances in that matchup...especially with an extra week to get into a rhythm with his receivers. Plus, we have a new wrinkle in the passing game. At tight end this week will be former starting offensive tackle Kiante Tripp. That's Kiante Tripp....a 6'6 290lb tight end. Are you kidding me? Show me a cornerback who REALLY REALLY wants to tackle this guy. Of course, not too many corners are going to line up against him. Most likely, he'll be drawing coverage by one of UT's linebackers....most of whom are in the 225-240 range. That's a big difference. Plus, when Tripp lines up on running plays, he's giving us a two-tackle set on whichever side he's playing. That's big.

Oh, and did I mention the return of Brannon Southerland? For those of you who've felt our offense has a lacked a little of its traditional "power"'re right. Without standout fullback Southerland, we've relied much more on speed and misdirection. Nobody opens a hole the way Southerland does...and nobody catches balls out of the backfield quite like him. I for one love seeing Stafford lay one just in front of him, so he can catch it in stride and get that bowling-ball body of his headed downfield. He flat-out PUNISHES tacklers. It will be GREAT to have him back, entering the serious TEETH of this brutal schedule.

Our line is healthy, and has had another week of work to get ready. Brannon Southerland is back. We have a huge, athletic tight end ready to go. Our receivers are doing better than they have in years. Stafford is constantly improving. Moreno is ready to go. On offense, we should be looking pretty frikkin good....firing at mid-season form. I fully expect 35 points from the offense on Saturday.

Now, when UT has the ball.....they've been pretty bad. They've performed well in one game - against UAB. Well folks, UGA is no UAB. TN is #61 in the nation in rushing. With some really good runningbacks, they haven't been getting it done. UGA, despite giving up a hefty yardage total to AL is still ranked #4 in the nation against the run. TN brought back its entire line from last year, a line that gave up only 4 sacks in 2007. Well, they've been a good bit more pourous this year.

Also, UT is starting a freshman quarterback in his first game against an SEC defense. Last week, against Northern Illinois, he was 10/17 for 156 yards and a touchdown. That ain't gonna get it done against Georgia....and he's gonna face a much more fierce defense. I expect Martinez to be blitzing freely, to keep Stephens from finding a rhythm.

Now, Fulmer has no doubt watched the AL game tape. He's gonna know that we gave up a bunch of 10-15 yard passes at the beginning of the game, enabling JPW to gain confidence and first downs. He's gonna know that the UGA defenders have a tendency to draw fouls, so he may call quick throws, hoping to get some late-hit penalties. He'll mix the count up, hoping to draw the Dawgs offsides. I'd assume that the UGA coaching staff has spent the last week drilling their players on playing with poise. They'll have to - because the officials will be looking for reasons to throw flags...that's how it works when you have the reputation of a penalized team. It just keeps on going. So, it'll be interesting to see how Fulmer game plans the first few possessions.

I don't think TN's gonna be able to come out and push us around. I don't think Stephens is going to have the kind of efficiency that JPW had. I don't think TN's defense is going to be as stifling as AL's was. Simply put, TN ain't AL....and UGA this week, ain't UGA two weeks ago. Reality has set in. The weaknesses have been exposed, and have been worked on for two weeks.

The off-week couldn't have come at a better time. UGA's pride was hurt. Our players were hurt. We needed time to heal...time to be coached. Now is the time for the team that everyone expected to see run out of that tunnel week one to finally step up and play to its potential. Last year, TN stepped in and shocked UGA. I don't forsee the same this year. I forsee a good ol' fashioned grudge-match butt-whoopin. I forsee 41- 7, Dawgs on top.


Friday, October 3, 2008

More thoughts on UGA/AL

I've been discussing with a friend the ramifications of the UGA/AL game, along with a few other points about the state of Georgia football versus another popular program, USC. Because I and this friend live out here in Los Angeles, we're constantly forced to listen to meaningless pac-10 drivvel, and the media's hype of "the greatest college football team ever." So, here is a letter I wrote in response to a recent letter from him:

Saban may be a superior coach to Mark Richt (quite debatable), but to date, he is 3-2 against Richt. That's as even as possible in a 5 game series.

We didn't throw a long ball on the first drive against Bama. We hit a bunch of short ones, then had our legs cut out from under us on an unwise screen pass.

If Stafford is going deep on 3rd and 5, that's because he thinks he sees a chance to complete it. There's no pass play that we run that has only one option. Either he thinks it's open, or he thinks it's the best option because the others are cut off.

Why are we in trouble with our O-Line? Because over the past few years, we've had a few career ending injuries, guys get kicked off the team, guys graduate, etc.

Our Defense not getting pressure? We have 11 sacks, the same number we had last year (when we led the conference in sacks) after five games.

The game was winable on offense. That's why Cox didn't play. Richt of old wouldn't have done what he did this weekend. Old Richt would have put the second team in, and given up. They would have been running the ball three times and punting. It would have sickened me. Instead, Richt kept the guys on the field who could win the game, and they had an opportunity. Even with 3 minutes to go, down by 18, they had an opportunity. Brett Favre led his team back after being down 3 scores with 2 minutes to play. I'm not saying Stafford is Favre...but in that final quarter, he was finding his receivers and hitting them for big gains. If we got that last onside kick, there's no telling what would have happened. It would have been our ball on their 40 or so...with 1:40 or thereabouts to play. Still winable.

SC hasn't won the national title since 2004. Their program isn't as amazing anymore as the voters would lead us to believe. The hype machine is running out of gas with continued losses to inferior teams. Fortunately for them, their streak of Pac-10 titles won't likely end anytime soon...because there's just no real competitor.

UGA hasn't had a chance to play in the National Championship game, you're right. Last year, that was purely UGA's fault. In 2002, it was purely bad luck. Ohio State and Miami that made it to the big dance that year. I'm convinced that David Greene and Co. could have beaten either one of those teams. They sleep-walked through the Sugar Bowl victory against FSU.

Also, you've been talking about time running out on Richt for about 4 years now. The simple truth is, delivering a national title isn't as simple a prospect as we fans like to believe it is. We think "Win all your games." Sounds easy. Funny...but when was the last time a PROFESSIONAL team did that? Even guys that get paid 10 million a year to play ball can't win every game. Why? Because the other guys get paid the same. Well, the SEC is the conference most like the NFL. Don't get me wrong...even the best SEC team would likely get beat by the worst NFL team. It's just a fact. Still, in the SEC the whole "they're just as good as us" factor weighs most heavily.

UGA and AL were two very evenly matched teams. But, they had the advantage on both lines. That was the biggest problem. Their O-Line is very very good. Our D-Line is pretty good...but the DEs are still a bit unproven. "Sack Master" Marcus Howard didn't come on until later in the season last year. He finished the year with 10.5 sacks...but 3 were in the Sugar Bowl! That's 7.5 over the other 12 games. That's not amazing. Give the guys a little time, and they'll find their way to the QBs.

And our O-Line play wasn't as awful as you're making it out to be. In fact, Stafford only went down was at a very inopportune moment...but there was only one sack. They had trouble with some different blitzes...but for the most part, did well. Ben Jones did particularly well against the man-monster Terrence Cody. Stafford was a bit nervous. I saw his feet get happy on plays where there was no need.

Also, you ask about how we can come up with such glaring weaknesses...well, injuries are a good place to start. We know about the two big line injuries in the offseason. Also look at the fullback position. How much more would Brannan Southerland have meant this year so far? I can think of a number of first downs and a few TDs (two at ASU alone) that would be ours had Chapas not been in the game. Southerland is a bigtime we miss, obviously. In the AL game, we lost Ellerbee, Durham, Chandler (which hurts the run game...and is at least another body that defenses have to cover) and Moreno was dinged as well. Ellerbee was lost on the FIRST AL POSESSION. That's huge.

But, there are MILES OF DIFFERENCE between the AL game this year, and the TN game last year. We were never really in that game. We hit two good passes in the third quarter, making it 28-7. Then we got the ball with 10 minutes to go in the game, and went on a four-minute "character building" drive that would score a futile TD with 6 minutes to go. We were down 35-14 with 6 minutes to go. 6 minutes. 3 scores. There had been nothing we'd done ALL DAY to make Richt think that we could stop them and get the ball back three times. Still, we kicked it off. They held the ball for two and half minutes...and when we got it back, Stafford threw an INT, effectively ending the day. He wouldn't return. Cox had mop-up duty. Still, I have to point to the fact that behind by 3 scores, and having scored twice already in the half, Richt basically threw in the towel. On Saturday, down 3 scores (24 points, so more likely 4 scores) with only 4 minutes to go, Richt thought this was a game we could win. He hurried the team, they scored, and he kicked an onside kick...which we got. And scored. We were now down 2 scores...and the game was still winable in his eyes. He wasn't scoring "style points" so that the loss wouldn't look so bad. If he was, he would have kicked that last kick deep, as the onside kick is a low-percentage opportunity, and he'd want to eliminate Saban going for any style points of his own.

This game was FAR AND AWAY a better game than the TN debacle last season.

But, I understand how most people don't see it that way. Alot of people don't look at the game through a player's eyes. You probably didn't see Richt's eyes after Miller ran the punt back to open the 4th quarter. I did. It's a look I've seen in many a coach's eye when he knows his team can do what they set out to. He was determined. He was steadfast. He wasn't faltering. He wasn't questioning. He was determined to give his boys a chance to win the game...and they had the opportunities. They just failed to do so.

That last drive in the game against TN was something those players built on. They stuck together, counted on one another, and knew that when all the chips were down, they could count on one another to hang in and be tough. They didn't know that a week later against Vandy they would need to trust in that and truly work hard for every last inch so that they could set up a field goal for a victory. But, that's what they did....and then they carried that on to FL, where they bonded as a team on the goalline after the first touchdown...and never looked back.

It's been nearly a year since the last time you felt the sting of a UGA football loss, so I get how you can be angry, confused, etc. But you're not seeing the team for what they are...and you're not seeing that game for what it was. In the second half of that game, I saw a team who thought they could still win the game, and were fighting for it. I saw a coach who was going to give his kids every possible opportunity to come back and win that game. And though they didn't come away with a victory, I can promise you that every kid on that team now knows something very important - that even when the situations look their most bleak, they can trust one another to never give up. They can trust that each player on that sideline, and every coach in the skybox will do all they can so that UGA can end the day victorious. It's a different lesson (though it may sound similar) and there are new kids learning it. You think this is the beginning of some downward spiral. I think this is the first step in an ascention to the game's highest honor. I believe that second half will be a galvanizing one. The Dawgs hadn't had true adversity thrown in their face. Against South Carolina, they were behind, but never facing anything like the AL onslaught of power. Now, they will know how to respond. They will have a newfound trust in one another...and in their coach, who would not let them give up.

I hope the fans have the same.

Go Dawgs!

My friend responded positively to that letter, stating that he doesn't usually read sports commentary written that way...that he too often reads the same re-hashings of plays during a game, but with none of the analysis/emotion behind it. I appreciated that comment, and followed up with this:

I just write from my perspective, and I have a disease which makes me always believe that my perspective is right. That's how I can write with such blinding conviction.

: )

People have expressed to me that their gambling accounts have been bettered by my analyses in the past. Hope I didn't lose anyone too much money on the AL game. HA. I truly didn't see that coming. I can understand completely how it did...but I didn't expect Saban to change his gameplan like that. I should have done more research into how his LSU team destroyed us in the SEC Championship in 2003...because I remember that game coming as quite a shock. The game in the season had been much closer, but they had answers for everything we did in Atlanta, and Greene's play was terrible. Remember him bouncing balls off his linemen's helmets? I should have looked those games up if possible. Oh well, lesson learned for me I suppose.

I hope y'all have enjoyed reading it as well. : )

Go Dawgs!