Should the Georgia Bulldogs Throw to the Tight End Against the L.S.U. Tigers?

Not long ago, SG Standard’s FanPost on the Bulldogs’ pass defense sparked a productive discussion, so, along similar lines, I’d like to look at a potentially underutilized aspect of the Red and Black’s pass offense and ask whether it is something the Classic City Canines can afford to try---or can afford not to try---on Saturday.

Arguing that "No. 1 teams don’t grow on trees for Georgia"---as though they did for anyone else, either; in the B.C.S. era, only Louisiana State has hoisted the crystal football more than once---Brian Grummell contended that Georgia should reconsider its offensive philosophy. He made no mention of the direction in which the ‘Dawgs ought to go offensively, but his short and detail-deficient piece inspired Senator Blutarsky to get down to specifics:

The disappearing tight end. I mentioned this in passing yesterday, but this is a real puzzler. I know that Chandler’s been hurt, but I don’t understand why this position is being virtually ignored in the passing game. Georgia hasn’t completed a pass to a tight end since the Arizona State game.

In a subsequent update to the same posting, the Senator answered his own question by quoting this snippet from the Journal-Constitution’s Chip Towers regarding recent remarks by Mark Richt:

Asked why no tight ends have caught passes in the last few weeks, CMR said it was a byproduct of pass protection and injuries. Chandler’s out and Bruce Figgins (shoulder) is playing hurt. But mainly they’re using seven-man protections by keeping in a TE and a back and just throwing to three wideouts. He noted that the OL is doing well and there have been no sacks the last two games.

There have, however, been a combined four interceptions thrown in the last two games, which I believe is not unrelated to the offensive line issues to which Coach Richt referred:

Georgia simply has lost too many players to injury along the offensive line to be able to be either as explosive or as consistent as the talent at the skill positions ought to allow the Bulldogs to be. During the last two games, the ‘Dawgs moved the ball effectively between the 20s but bogged down in the red zone because an injury-depleted and reshuffled offensive line would not allow them simply to drive the pile and power their way into the end zone. Red zone interceptions only occur when you have to throw the ball inside the 20. Frankly, it looked disturbingly like the Eric Zeier era out there, with the difference being that this Bulldog team, unlike Zeier’s last two Bulldog teams, had a defense good enough to win the game.

So what about Senator Blutarsky’s "disappearing tight end"? Rather than rely on ineffective fades in the end zone, can the ‘Dawgs afford to sacrifice an extra blocker on the line in order to send an extra receiver against an L.S.U. squad whose few weaknesses include suspect pass coverage? Consider what Richard Pittman had to say upon the subject:

South Carolina discovered a new hole in our coverage by dragging a tight end short across the middle of the field, and we did not seem to have an answer for it.

Ultimately, of course, the Bayou Bengals adjusted, which is what good teams do . . . but, lest we forget, on the Bulldogs’ last visit to Baton Rouge in 2003, the Red and Black crossed the Louisiana State 40 yard line six times in the first half, yet blown chances, missed field goals, and turnovers allowed the Fighting Tigers to remain in the game and, ultimately, claim the victory en route to an eventual national championship. If Georgia can jump on L.S.U. early next weekend the way the Bulldogs should have jumped on the Tigers on their last visit to Death Valley, the Classic City Canines could bring home a huge win from the Pelican State.

Could the ‘Dawgs use the tight end as effectively as the Gamecocks were able to do in the first half last Saturday night? The Georgia coaches certainly have game film on how to make such a tactic effective, whereas the Louisiana State coaches will have no game film that will give them cause to fear the Bulldog tight end.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Red and Black’s losses along the offensive line; there is a reason why left tackle is the second-highest paid position in the N.F.L., and Georgia has lost two left tackles to injury this season. Can the Bulldogs afford to weaken the forward wall separating the L.S.U. defensive front from Matthew Stafford by putting the tight end’s hands to use for any purpose other than blocking onrushing defenders, in the hope of scoring enough points in the first two quarters to allow the visitors to prevail after L.S.U. inevitably adjusts defensively and clamps down in the second half?

When attempting to answer that question, we should examine what the Bayou Bengals did to the Gamecocks in the second half and how they did it:

The drag route by the tight end worked well for USC in the first half.

"That was our best play most of the night," said Spurrier, who credited LSU with doing a better job changing its coverages in the second half.

But the passes that worked so well in the first half weren't available in the second, as Garcia struggled to find receivers under a fierce pass rush. . . .

Garcia knew why his opportunities to throw to the tight ends disappeared.

"They adjusted and started coming with a big blitz. They blitzed a lot more than they did in the first half. It's that simple," he said.

It didn’t help that the Gamecocks were unable to counter with a ground attack.

"It's pretty tough without a running game," said Garcia.

Can Georgia contend with the L.S.U. blitz with only six blockers? Are the Bulldogs balanced enough to mount the effective ground attack South Carolina lacked? Should we throw to the tight end on Saturday afternoon? What are your thoughts?

Go ‘Dawgs!

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