Saturday, October 10, 2009

Something's rotten in Athens....

From 2002-2007, the Georgia Bulldogs gave up at least 30 points in 7 games. They've doubled that over the span over the last 10 games. What that amounts to, is a whole lot of awful. I have been slow to call for the head of Willie Martinez, as I believed that execution was a large part of our problem this season. But, after a 45-19 drubbing in Knoxville, I can no longer ignore the facts. Willie isn't getting it done.

Don't get me wrong...the defense isn't the sole reason for our loss today. 3 points from our offense is unforgivable.

9 years into his regime, Mark Richt is fielding one of the ugliest performing teams he's ever had. The talent level is far higher than many teams he's had over the years, but for some reason, they aren't performing. I refuse to believe they aren't performing simply because they're lazy (with the exception of Bryan Evans who is, by his own admission, lacksidasical in his coverage). Apparently, the coaches aren't getting it done - either in their technique coaching or in their motivation. Whatever it is, the Dawgs are just plain ugly.

Today, I saw a defense that was just plain bad. How many times does a quarterback rollout against you before you send a safety to take his head off? In the early 2000's, this doesn't happen. Now, it does. Jonathan Crompton is an average-at-best quarterback, who looked like a Heisman winner today. His biggest miscue was an interception to Bacarri Rambo, who, had he been covering the receiver better, never would have made the play. We never really got good pressure on Crompton all day, and he took advantage. No, our defense sat in huge zones that Crompton just ate alive.

On the other side of the ball, Monte Kiffin called as perfect of a game as you can call. When AJ Green was able to make catches, he couldn't do much more with the ball. Our offensive line couldn't protect Joe Cox. TN didn't sack him, but they forced him into bad decisions. He threw wildly, often looking lost and unsure of himself. Our runningbacks gave us very little spark, as they seemed hampered by a lack of holes. How many times did 4 or 5 TN players make a stop on a rb? Far too many.

It all added up to a huge victory for Tennessee, and a very telling loss for the Georgia Bulldogs.

"So what do we do, Dukes? Where's the silver lining?"

SILVER LINING? I'll take a copper lining at the moment. In the past three weeks, our offense has produced 36 points. That's less than in either of the previous two games. Cox has gone 54-99 with 2 TDs and 5 INTs.

If I try to find a silver lining, perhaps it's this: UGA is 3-3, we're 2-2 in the SEC East and are basically 4th in the East. Our team will NOT win the east. We could go 6-0 from here on in, and won't win the east. So, perhaps this is the moment when Richt makes the tough decision. Joe Cox has been his guy, but it's obvious that he's not "The Guy." Cox isn't the winner I had hoped he'd be. He's not the "Deadly accurate" quarterback we hear about. Cox is a guy who could have been a good distributer of the football if the pieces around him were more up to the task.

They aren't. For whatever reason, the line has decided to take a season off. The runningbacks haven't found any kind of production. The receiving corps is mostly young, and still learning. It's a very tough job that Richt has placed in front of Cox...and Cox hasn't been able to overcome the struggles of the team. So now, since Richt has delegated playcalling to Bobo and Martinez, he must take on the role that he's given himself - General Manager. It's here where he has to make the decision to prepare his team for success in the future - because their goals for the season are a bitter failure.

"But Dukes, if we win out, and FL loses another SEC game, we can still win the SEC EAST."

Nope. We're too far down the rankings now. If (by some miracle of God) that happens, and TN is able to win out as well, we'll be in a three-way tie, and the East title will go to the highest team in the BCS...which will be either TN or FL. But, that is moot...because at this stage in the game, even being the eternal optimist that I am, I know we ain't winning out. The way we performed today, we'll do well not to go 0-for-October.

No, the answer is simple: begin preparations for 2010. How do we accomplish that? Evans doesn't touch the field again. Cox might get a couple more starts, but by Auburn, Gray should be the guy. Our offense gains nothing by winning sloppily with Cox. He's had his shot. He hasn't delivered. He's 4-3 all-time, and lest we forget, he was pulled from his lone start in 2006 after doing very little.

Personally, I don't know if I keep Willie another week. I've been preaching that execution was been the problem, but today, he was obviously out-schemed. Open receivers happen occasionally, but not with the regularity and severity of this afternoon. In my mind, keeping him around only gives him a chance for "false redemption." Even if the defense plays lights-out for the rest of the season, it does nothing to overshadow the disasters that have plagued us for the past two seasons (and that have been evident in the progressive backslide beginnning in 2006). If Martinez is removed, at the very least, you can begin a search IN EARNEST for a new DC. The coaches at UGA know the scheme well enough to call games without Martinez, and it may develop a sense of urgency. But, this also is moot, as I don't believe Richt will fire ANYONE mid-season.

Here's a question: could the lack of RB production have anything to do with Tony Ball moving to the receivers? I didn't understand that. Bryan McClendon was a receiver at UGA, and our runninggame has been the backbone of our offense for 9 years. Why would you take the RB coach that has had such success and make him a receivers coach, then take a former receiver and have him coach RB's? I trusted the move in the preseason, acknowledging my offensive ignorance...but you can't argue with a lack of production.

So then, I have to turn the light also on Bobo. 3 points? 3 points? That's all the offense can muster? In 4 games this year, our offense has been absent. In two, I think our offensive success was as much a result of the lack of composure by the opponent as it was a result of our overpowering gameplan. Arkansas' defense is just plain bad. South Carolina got caught up in a shootout and didn't respond well. Either way, whatever we had in those games, is gone. Bobo's plan isn't working, and I can't pinpoint why he continues on the same path. Before the season, I thought back to Pre-Moreno days in hopes of getting an idea of what our offense would look like. Does anyone else remember putting Brown and Ware in the same backfield and running misdirections and swing passes and such? Does anyone else remember a ton of read plays that opened holes more by formation than by pure bull-headed blocking? Where is all of that? How do we have a group of skill players that is one of the fastest and most talented that UGA has ever had, and yet still have trouble spreading out the ball?

On 3rd and two today, we lined up in 4 wide and tried to throw for a first down. On 3rd and one, we lined up 3-wide and missed a pass to Orson Charles. Our running game is abysmal, and someone has to be held accountable.

Here's the sad fact: When Richt showed up in Athens, he was the class of the SEC. He brought a coaching staff that was better than Fulmer's and Tubberville's. He hasn't proven the same success over Saban. They're 3-1 against Miles, and 1-3 against Meyer. Bad luck prevented a title opportunity in 2002...but since then, UGA hasn't EARNED it. The coaching staff Rich has assembled was good enough to dominate in the early half of the decade, but the coaching and talent landscape in the SEC has changed.

Right now, UGA has great talent in its young players. If these players aren't developed correctly, it will be a complete waste. I think the fanbase can stomach a 7-5 season if the next 6 games are spent developing young players. I don't think it can handle going 7-5 or 6-6 without doing so.

Halfway through 2009, and I (the most homer-ific guy I know) want us to start preparing for 2010. Something truly IS rotten in Athens.

Go Dawgs.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Defining Moments...

October. SEC. The Bulldogs are staring down the barrel of a comeback loss by a major rival. A long touchdown run in the waning moments has put our opponent ahead, and after a short kickoff return, only 47 seconds remain for us to get the job done. #14 breaks the huddle and leads his team out. There are two possible outcomes. One, he drives his team down the field and proves himself to be a true leader, and winner of football games. Two, he fails to do so, and thus becomes known as less than. Georgia will be throwing, and John Chavis knows it. Unfortunately for his team, he is powerless to stop it. #14 leads his team down the field on one of the greatest final drives of a football game in Georgia Football history.

But, that was 2001. #14 was David Greene and John Chavis was DC at Tennessee.

The 2009 edition of that final minute would not measure up, and in the minds of the Bulldog Nation, neither did Joe Cox.

In my blog last week, I mentioned that this UGA team is not a great team, and I stick by that. Of course, I don't think I'll be getting much argument. Still, the team did things this week that it has failed to do previously. We broke even on turnovers. We kept our penalties under 10. We kept consistent pressure on the quarterback. And, as a result, we were still in that game in the 4th quarter. But, also unlike previous weeks, when the defense absolutely had to make a stop, they didn't. Charles Scott broke free of a Marcus Dowtin tackle (seemingly amidst a sea of red) and ran past everyone all the way to the endzone. It was one of only a few big runs all day....but it was the one that mattered.

Still, the game was not lost. Georgia has seen last-minute heroics by #14 in the past. Does anyone remember Mike Bobo against Georgia Tech in 1997? I mentioned David Greene against Tennessee in 2001. This contest was setting up as the moment that Joe Cox could really step into Georgia Football Lore as a great quarterback. He had fought back from a rough first-half where he completed only 3 out of 9 passes. On his two subsequent TD drives, he was 10-14 for 143 yards and two touchdowns. He's the leader, the fifth-year senior, the Quarterback Emeritus, if you will. Cox had the opportunity to quiet any around the country who didn't believe in him.

He Failed.

To be fair to Cox, he didn't get a world of help from last season's ALL-SEC FRESHMAN Center Ben Jones. Two low snaps cost Cox precious moments of decision-making ability on that final drive. When the game is on the line, you can't have that. Still, Cox's 2nd down pass was very interceptable, and his 3rd down pass was intercepted. What bothered me most wasn't that Cox didn't get it done...but that he looked bad in the attempt. He threw into heavy coverage on both throws, and that's not what I expect from a Senior Leader. He does only have 6 starts under his belt....but he was a starter for years in high-school, and I have to believe that fundamentals of game management are tought at that level. I know they were tought at LaGrange High School in Georgia....and we don't have the same track record as Independence, NC. For whatever reason, Joe didn't quite pull it off, and that was a defining moment.

I love the Joe Cox story. All he ever wanted, from the time he could hold a football, was to be the quarterback for UGA. He's done that. I'm sure he dreamed of leading his team to big victories and throwing huge multiple td games. He's done that. And, I'm very certain he dreamed of leading his team down the field in the final moments to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He's done that...only, it was against Colorado - in 2006.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming this loss on Joe Cox. If we had any semblance of a running game throughout those four quarters, we'd very likely be looking at a different outcome. If Blair Walsh had hit the ONLY field goal he's missed all season, LSU's play calling on their final drive would have been different. When Scott broke that run, LSU wasn't calling plays to score a TD. They were calling plays to run the clock down and set up a game-winning field goal. If we had 3 more points (actually, it woulda been 4, because there would have been no reason to go for two after our second td), they would have been forced to pursue the TD. That's a different mindset. I'm not saying the outcome would necessarily have been different, but the possibility is there. The mindset of the D would have been different. There are many things that would have been different. Still, if the defense wraps up on that run, it's 3rd and five at the 33. I like our chances on 3rd down, since LSU was 5-14 on the day.

The improvements made by the defense will be forgotten because of a late touchdown that broke our backs. The ineptitude of our running game was all too apparent. Our "Game Winner" quarterback failed to produce when he had to. There were a number of defining moments in the UGA-LSU game Saturday, and for Georgia, the definition was sub-par.