Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2013 Looking Back … Passing Offense

There is no lack of documentation showing the love-hate-love affair I’ve had with Aaron Murray.  I was a skeptic, and a detractor, and a begrudging accepter…and then, as his Junior and Senior years progressed, a full-blooded appreciator of the man and the player who was Aaron Murray.  After he lost against UF in 2010, I told my friends…he won’t lose to them again.  Then, in the latter part of 2012, I felt he had finally shaken the “big game” bullshit off his back.  The bowl game would go on to prove it, as he turned around a lousy first half and lay a gutsy performance out on the ground, bringing us the win.

So, I came into 2013 very optimistic.

Then, the first play at Clemson.    Ugh.

Then, Tennesee.  Double Ugh.

So many guys went down, our sideline became a trauma center the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Superdome after Katrina.

But, we had some guys stand up and play some pretty good football.  We also got some guys back who were our leaders coming into the season.  Arthur Lynch returned from being banged up and finished the season strong, earning All-SEC honors.  That’s the guy we thought he’d be when we signed him.

Still, if you’d told me we’d lose Mitchell and Scott-Wesley for the season, as well as Conley, Bennet, Lynch and Rome for multiple games each - and yet we’d still finish as the Nation’s 16th ranked passing offense (and tied for 10th in yards per attempt), I’d have called you nuts.  In fact, I definitely wouldn’t have thought our passing game would drop by only 226 yards over the course of the year - and given our schedule strength, that’s pretty amazing.

So how’d we do it?

For starters, we added more throws to the running backs.  Last season, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for a 27-208-1 line.  This season, Gurley himself improved on that greatly with 30 catches, 344 yards, and 5 TDs (with one game still to go, and no SECCG stats).  Also, by spreading the ball around (lack of experienced deep threat), we had more receivers in the 200-399 yard range than previously.  

Jonathan Rumph was much slower to come along than many had anticipated.  In fact, Reggie Davis far outproduced him in catches, yards, YPC, as well as games played.  Reggie may have shown himself to be one of our quality Deep Threats of the future. 

And of course, receivers need QBs to toss them the ball.  UGA had two very good signal callers this season.  

The sample size and competition was vastly different, but you have to love that from a Completion Percentage perspective, there was absolutely zero drop-from Murray to Mason.  Not a tenth of a percent.  Nada.  Not bad when you’re replacing the SEC’s all-time leading passer.  

Sadly, Murray never hit a 65% season…but 64.8 was an improvement on his 64.5 from 2012.

Overall, with a patchwork receiving corps and two very strong passers, Georgia had a very serviceable passing attack which bodes well for 2014 and beyond.  As we look to the future, in fact, we see that our top two producing receivers (Conley, Bennett) are back, as will be Davis and Malcolm Mitchell, providing deep threat opportunities for the vertically-minded Hutson Mason.  Receptions out of the backfield should continue to be a big part of our passing game, and the ol’ bread-and-butter play action looks to be there as well since our RB stable only gets stronger with the return of Keith Marshall and the addition of Chub and Michel.  

Even with the loss of Murray next season, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Richt/Bobo offense will continue to build on what it has done recently, and bring even more wins in 2014.  If only that defense will catch up……..

Go Dawgs.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013 Looking Back… Rushing Offense ...

At the outset of the season, the Dawgs were set to have the most potent rushing attack in the nation.  The only question mark was the big boys up front.  With Gurley and Marshall (this season forgoing the silly “Gurshall” nickname that just smacks of fans living in the past) primed and ready to go, a hopeful Dawgnation screamed from every peak that we would “Run This Conference.”

Didn’t quite work out that way.

Now, the YPG average of 176.08 is only 6.49 YPG than UGA’s 2012 total that was good enough for 4th in the conference.  But, in a year when rushing was UP across the conference, you certainly didn’t expect the Gurley-Marshall tandem to underproduce in the way that it did.

Of course, I suppose that’s what happens when your Starter goes down with an ankle injury, and Captain Change-of-Pace tears his ACL.

Some out there in the net-o-sphere believe UGA didn’t run as much this year as last (due to injury), but that’s not really the case.  In 2012, UGA averaged 37.5 Att/Game, and in 2013, the # dropped minimally to 36.9 Att/Game.  Or, in essence, we had less than ONE fewer attempt per game in 2013.  Still, the drop off from Todd Gurley to just about anyone else is pretty substantial.

Here’s a snapshot of how the BallCarriers for UGA fared this season:

Gurley going off at 100 ypg is pretty nice.  We’d love to see it over that, of course…but if your star running back is averaging 100 ypg, and he’s not 100%, well - that’s pretty damned good.  After Marshall went down, you had Green and Douglas splitting the load, and they were fairly neck-and-neck with productivity.  Both scored 3 TDs, both have their strengths and weaknesses.  Green is more of the big-play guy, but Douglas hammers out the tough yards a little better.  For two freshmen to come in and be able to do what they do, well, that was a bright spot for the offense (The fumbles notwithstanding).  

With another year of seasoning on these guys next year, Georgia will set itself up to have a very potent rushing attack.  Perhaps Nick Chubb and/or Sony Michel will get the opportunity to LEARN for a season before being thrown into the fire.  I’m a big fan of the 4-tailback system..but 6-tailbacks?  Jeebus.

Overall, I’d have to say that our running game this season has been serviceable.  It was supposed to be one of the brightest spots on the team, but injuries prevented it from being that.  As good as Brendan and JJ may turn out to be, they aren’t Gurley and Marshall.  Also, there’s no statistic for battles lost at the point of attack.  At times, our offensive line seemed to lack the PUNCH it needed to truly take advantage of opposing teams' lines, and thus open the roadways for our backs.  Then, at other times, there were holes big enough for Gary Danielson’s ego to run through.  Look, the fact is, you’re not going to blow everyone off the ball all the time.  Somebody’s gonna nut-up against you, and you have to fight through that.  Sometimes your kids are going to get hurt, and you have to fight through that.  Georgia having to rely on 3rd and 4th string running backs leaves us in the bottom third of rushing in the conference.  It’s not a huge surprise.

You ask yourself…how can the running game improve next season?  There are two very obvious answers - 

Don’t get hurt.
Get more consistent line play.  

Do those two things, and I think you see UGA vault back up to the top 4.

Go Dawgs.

Now that the season is done...

I’m always an opponent of judging the performance of a team before all the games have been played.  Often, we jump on the team early in the season and compare the Dawgs to some midwest team that seems to just be smoking everybody…when in actuality, the competition is nowhere near similar.  We all fully expect the team to get better as the season goes along, but then again…so do our opponents.  And then, there’s injuries…

But, all of that is what makes up a college football season.  2013 has certainly been a memorable one.  For my dollar, I don’t recall a season which has entertained me nearly as much as this one has…even though the Dawgs finished 8-4.  I didn’t see the Kentucky or App State games, but literally every other game was a thrilling one.  How often does that happen?

Don’t get me wrong - I want to see our team win titles, I do… but at the end of the day, that does nothing for me.  My life doesn’t change.  I don’t really care too much about what the other SEC fans at my job say about championships and all of that.  I work with Bama, FL, and LSU grads (and we live in Los Angeles…go figure).  They can talk all day about “their” championships, but really…they did nothing to earn them, and it doesn’t do any damage to my manhood to hear them talk about it.

Except the Auburn folks.  Screw them.

Seriously, though - I wish fans at large would really take hold of the notion that the ENTERTAINMENT is what is important.  For me, it’s getting together with other Dawg fans and enjoying an afternoon of beer, bad food, and camaraderie while a bunch of 18-22 year olds play a game.  It’s seeing guys I went to high-school with 8-10 times a year.  It’s taking a couple prilosec in the morning so I can gorge myself on Hot Wings with impunity.  It’s the passion, and the spirit…it’s climbing up on a barstool and cheering “What’s that coming down the track?!?!”  It’s jumping for joy like a kid on Christmas when Murray dives head-long into the end zone…and it’s sitting in stunned disbelief when a deflected pass gets carried into the end zone for a touchdown.   But, when it’s over, no matter the outcome, I go back to my life…and all I have is the experience, win or lose.  See, if the Dawgs win the title, they don’t send me a ring.  They gave me a ring for what I did when I was there…and that’s it.  I won’t receive any more.

That’s the fandom I have, and I would love for the rest of the fan base to come along with me on that.  Understand that the team is there to play its games, and pursue its goals…and you’re along for the ride.  Understand that the team plays its collective guts out, and wants EVERY victory very badly.  Sometimes the chips don’t fall like they need to, and they lose the game.  I know, It weighs heavily on the souls of the fans…but the players don’t get that “luxury” - they have to shake the loss off and get better.  They have to shake the wins off, and get better.  Every game has a lifespan of about 48 hours, and then it’s gone.  It has to be.  That’s football.

But now, at the end of the season, we can look back and really examine what this UGA team did…and who they were.  That’s what my next series of blogs will be.  I hope you’ll read.  I mean, it’s not like there’s any more football to watch.

Go Dawgs.