This is the first in a new series that I hope to do occasionally here at Dawgsports. With the expansion of the Bulldog blogosphere these days, you can get all sorts of analysis and opinion right after the game and right before the game. We'll still be doing those things, but it occurred to me that it would be good to have a midweek post that both wraps up the last outing and previews the upcoming, in whatever proportions seem appropriate on any given Wednesday. Think of it as Free Form Friday's slightly better medicated brother.
Defensively, this season has reminded me a little of the 2006 campaign. Specifically, the stretch leading up to the Tennessee game featuring a second half debacle for the ages. If you'll recall that's when Joe Cox led a come from behind home victory against a team that rolled the quarterback out of the pocket and hit short to intermediate passes with brutal efficiency. We also went on the road and eeked out a close win over a middle of the pack SEC West squad. The difference of course is that then our defense was keeping a young offense in games, and now our offense is keeping a suspect defense out of trouble.
Dumb turnovers and poor pass coverage are really all that stand between this team and excellence. The problem is that with 25% of the season in the rearview mirror I cannot say for certain when or if these problems will be solved. As Coach Richt said in his Sunday presser, "we need to do a lot of little things better" That’s scary. A week before the LSU game is awfully late to be working on a lot of little things.
Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith are obviously learning on the job. They clearly have the talent, they just don’t have the experience. Bryan Evans however appears to have precisely one move in pass coverage: let the receiver catch it then knock the bejeebers out of him. That worked admirably for Greg Blue, but I don’t know that it’s a sustainable strategy. Especially when you get turned around like a weeble wobble every so often and can’t even find the ball. Also, Bacarri Rambo is getting a good numbers of snaps and will get more, which I take as a positive for the future, if not the present.
On those turnovers. Our current turnover margin is -2.33, good fpr 116th in the country (Arizona State is #1 at +4, by the way). That’s not just bad, it’s horrible. And those turnovers have occurred on the UGA side of the field. While the defense certainly doesn’t get a free pass, the law of averages dictates that at least a few of the scoring drives we’ve given up would not have happened if the other team had been forced to go more than 30 yards to reach the endzone.
How about Rantavious Wooten lining up at tailback? Say this for Mike Bobo, the guy is sometimes surprisingly willing to try new things personnel-wise.
That being said, how did Arkansas not have A.J. Green blanketed on the 2 point conversion late? I looked at my wife as soon as we lined up and said simply "fade to A.J.". I was hoping deep down that I would be surprised and Bobo would do something not quite so obvious. I suppose however that by that point he’d realized that there was absolutely no one on the Arkansas defense who could cover A.J. in the corner.
Speaking of A.J.: blah, blah best playmaker we’ve had in years, blah, blah could rewrite the Georgia receiving record books, blah, blah, will be playing on Sundays in 2011. The guy’s ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point is textbook. He does it exactly right, and with his height that high fade is almost impossible for a 5'10 cornerback to defend.
Joe Cox is currently your 12th ranked quarterback in passer efficiency in D1-A. I’ll let that sink in for a second. Ok, you good? Now, a caveat. Arkansas’s secondary was young and banged up, especially in the second half. But Joe seemed to find a rhythm almost from the word go in this game, which is encouraging. There’s absolutely no reason that this offense can’t score at least 28 on even good defenses. The bad news is that they may have to for us to reach 9-3.
Drew Butler is leading the nation in punting by averaging a tad over 54 yards a kick. Some of those have been helped by tremendous rolls and the number will likely drop slowly over the course of the season to a more human level. But it does look like we may have found our punter for the next few years. Which I like, because I think continuity on special teams is an overlooked strength of winning football teams.
We’re starting to see the tight ends creating the mismatches we had hoped for. Orson Charles and Aron White are going to be very difficult for already exhausted sam linebackers to cover in the 4th quarter, especially since Artie Lynch will also be getting significant snaps as well (to say nothing of Bruce Figgins upon his return). Logan Gray and/or Aaron Murray will inherit one of the best tight end rotations in the country next season, and that should help immensely.
If you want to make yourself extremely dizzy without the use of inhalants or the graphics from the new Beatles Rock Band game (seriously, I was seeing spots after 30 minutes . . .) compare Joe Cox’s passing stats after 3 games in 2009 to Matthew Stafford’s after three games in 2007. While year-to-year comparisons are difficult because of changing opponents, unique game situations and rotation of surrounding personnel, that is a bit surprising. The Senator is right to ask why Joe Cox is not getting more attention for his efforts. Though, to be fair, he was named the National Offensive Player of the Week and gets a hearty congratulations from the folks at Dawgsports for that.
Michael Moore truly is, as he tweeted recently, "Mr. 3rd Down." For this I am so, so thankful. He turned in a 6 catch, 91 yard performance that, as Kyle notes, should not be at all surprising, yet still was. In some ways Moore is like our very own Rod Tidwell, who goes over the middle, snatches balls out of double coverage, gets smacked by a linebacker, then gets up and does it all over again. And I’ll say the same thing about him that I said about Reggie Brown some years back: there are a lot of guys in the NFL quietly becoming millionaires by doing what he’s doing, albeit against stouter competition.
Take away that 80 yard scamper by Richard Samuel and our overall rushing performance was pretty bad. I thought Gary Danielson hit the nail on the head when he said that Caleb ran the ball like a guy who wants to play more. That is the kind of healthy competition that a young back like Richard Samuel will either thrive in or melt in.
This Arizona State game strikes me as a trap game for a few reasons. One, we're coming off a slugfest, on the road, from which the players returned late. Second, we have a huge tilt with LSU coming up in two weeks. Finally, we'll be facing a team which we beat handily on the road last year. How we handle this game will tell us a lot about the mental lmakep of this squad as we head into the meat of the SEC schedule.
We'll also learn a little bit about this team tomorrow night. That's when South Carolina travels to Oxford to take on the boys from Senor Giggity's Carneceria and Tattoo Parlor. If Stephen Garcia pops the Ole Miss defense for 250+ yards passing and 30+ points, perhaps I'll dial back mygrowing Williecentophobia. For the uninitiated, that's the fear that a Willie Martinez-coordinated defense will eventually give up 100 points in a game.
I've read in a couple of places that Dawg fas are taking some comfort in the fact that ASU quarterback Danny Sullivan is making only his third career start. This puzzles me given that Ryan Mallett, Stephen Garcia (and Joe Cox) are not exactly grizzled veterans. Looking deeper, you find that Sullivan played significant snaps against Oregon and USC in 2008 and saw action in a total of 14 games for the Sun Devils in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Bottom line: our inexperienced senior is more inexperienced than their inexperienced senior.
With A.J. Green at split end, Tavarres King at flanker, Mikey Moore in the slot, and either Aron White or Orson Charles at tight end, there is little reason for us not to have at least one open receiver on any given pass play. We just need Joe to find them and the offensive line not to get the resulting play called back.
On that note, I was less worried about the penalties last week than some, largely because Arkansas had 11 flags for 100 yards. Some crews just call a tighter game. I'm only worried when those penalties come at bad times and persist from game to game. At this point we're being penalized about as much as the teams we play against.
Let me know what you're thinking in the comments. Back tomorrow evening with a Cocktail Thursday that's been months in the making. Until then . . .