Now that we've completed the wailing, gnashing of teeth, collective hand-wringing and selection of new defensive coordinators (who's in for bumper stickers?) it's time to talk about what's happening on the field today. I've avoided the 5 Things Preview recently for a couple of reasons. One, I've been exceptionally busy doing other things, and this is one feature whose brevity belies the effort involved in its creation. The other is, well, let's be honest, predicting what you'll see when this Bulldog squad takes the field is a fool's errand. Seriously, there's a reason I don't play the lottery or gamble on sports. Predicting what this team will do carries some serious risk. They're the Amy Winehouse of college football teams: everybody tells me there's talent there, but all I see is weird hair, bad teeth and a poor imitation of a Joss Stone cover of a Diana Ross song.
All that being said, this team and its fanbase need some serious rehab. I'm not saying any of us wil get that, but I am saying we'll get this:
1. Vandy QB Larry Smith on the bootleg. Every quarterback who has really torched our defense owes a huge debt of gratitude to Colorado's Dan Hawkins. That's because in 2006 Hawkins brought his underdog Buffaloes to Athens and very nearly pulled a stunning upset by doing nothing more than working the boot action on every play, including a wicked run/pass option that was unstoppable for most of the first half. It kept our talented defensive ends (Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson) from teeing off on the passer, and threw the whole defense into a sort of paralysis by analysis which we've now come to expect from Willie-ball.
A couple of weeks later, the Commodores from Nashville did the exact same thing in actually pulling off a 24-22 upset in Athens. We've now seen Stephen Garcia, Jordan Jefferson and Jon Crompton execute this gameplan with frightening results. The boot action passing game does two very valuable things for an offense. One, it allows you to attack defenses in much the same way a downfield option attack with a decent passing component does, freezing the secondary with play action fakes that take place at different points in the backfield. Two, when you have a quarterback who has trouble making decisions in a drop back setting, it narrows the field (essentially cutting it in half) and makes his decisions much easier. Jon Crompton, like most guys who get a scholarship to play quarterback at an SEC school, can hit a 12 yard out route on the run. If the only thing you ask him to do is a) look for the wide receiver on the out route, b) look to the tight end drag, then c) if neither is open tuck it and get what you can, he will accomplish that.
Ditto for Vandy's Larry Smith. Smith is currently 94th in the nation in passing efficiency and completing just over 46% of his passes. But as we've learned this season there's no guarantee that he won't have a career game against Georgia.
2. The zone blitz. Ok, this is more of an aspirational statement than a prediction. One of the best ways to stop that boot action is to bring a zone blitz from the outside on occasion. Sure, sometimes you'll blitz to the side away from the bootleg. But it helps make those simple QB reads a little more difficult. And if you guess right (or even better, if the offense somehow tips which way the action is going) you can totally disrupt that facet of the offense. I don't believe we've totally disrupted an offense since the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Just thought I'd throw that in there.
3. Logan Gray. Nah. You won't see Gray starting. But you will see him play his most significant snaps at quarterback on the season. Gray showed nothing in his duty during the Tennessee game to make this blogger think that Mike Bobo's been playing the wrong guy all season. And I know Coach Bobo is worried about Gray going down with an injury and leaving us one snap away from starting a true freshman against the Gators in Jacksonville. But you have to take the shrink wrap off the punt returner who doesn't actually return punts (shhhh!!! don't tell the competition!!!) at some point, and our offense has to find a spark from somewhere.
4. Tavarres King. I believe King was sorely missed during the Tennessee game for two reasons. One, the absence of a second credible downfield threat allowed Tennessee to roll a safety over top of A.J. Green to stop the longball and occasionally drop one under him to limit short passes. Also, King is perhaps our most elusive receiver on underneath throws, creating yards after the catch (YAC, for short) with surprising consistency. I believe that some of the dink and dunk passes that Joe Cox was forced to throw would have gone for longer gains had they landed in Tavarres King's hands. Having him back is huge for this offense, though not as huge as averaging 4.5 yards a rush would be.
5. UGA 27, Vandy 17. I think we'll see a team with a bunker mentality, whose collective backs are against the wall, come out fighting. There are serious, systemic problems that need to be fixed, and this week will provide the first glimpse of how Mark Richt and his staff intend to conduct the repair. Vanderbilt has a blackout planned for this Homecoming matchup, and the thinking among the Vandy faithful is that this might be the win they need to get their young team on track. Of course, Vanderbilt fans also think that Malcolm Gladwell is entertaining though lax in his methodology, and that some of the better estate grown viogniers can rival California's chardonnays in the battle of tailgate-friendly white wines. So take that with a grain of salt.
In summary, I predict a victory that will provide no hint that this team can prevail in Jacksonville against Florida, but will show that the situation isn't quite as dire as many believe. If ,however, Vanderbilt comes out on top, you'll find me in my basement breaking into those MRE's I've been saving since Y2K for just such an occasion as a Bulldog squad staring 3-5 (and 2-4 in the SEC) square in the eye. Until the postgame . . .