Much of what follows already has been covered elsewhere, but these are from notes I made on Saturday and Sunday, so they represent observations made contemporaneously, despite my delay in sharing these thoughts with you. Here we go:
Despite the turnovers, the offense actually had a pretty decent day. Nine different 'Dawgs hauled in passes on the afternoon, including five with multiple receptions. Kenneth Harris, obviously, had a breakout game, while Mikey Henderson quietly caught four passes and Tripp Chandler made a compelling case to be made the starter on a full-time basis.
I agree with my colleagues at the Georgia Sports Blog and The Cover Two that the booing of Mohamed Massaquoi---and, worse, the vocal cheering when he left the field---was the classless act of fickle fans who need to remember that Massaquoi's three drops and a fumble were offset by three catches and a touchdown. Fortunately, Mark Richt was forthright in his postgame press conference, asserting that he still believed in Mohamed . . . which isn't something you often hear a committed Christian say.
Let's not forget that he's caught a few, too.
Coach Richt also stated plainly that he has seen the wisdom of giving Matthew Stafford every meaningful snap for the remainder of the season. Yes, he threw three interceptions, but those were the errors of a true freshman throwing in the vicinity of one of the S.E.C.'s best defensive backs. (I told him not to throw the ball in Derek Pegues's direction!)
Despite the plethora of picks, Stafford completed 20 of his 32 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. The concluding drive of the first half provided a glimpse of how good this offense can be when it gets into a groove and the play-calling was better than it has been in a while . . . particularly the gutsy call on fourth and one.
Increased repetitions and greater familiarity will decrease the frequency of the drops, penalties, and misplaced passes. Now that Coach Richt has demonstrated his commitment to Stafford as the starter by allowing him to play the entire game, we will start to see the steady improvement that accompanies experience and consistency.
My only major offensive complaint echoes a gripe raised by Paul Westerdawg: Kregg Lumpkin didn't get enough carries. There was a point in the second half at which we began wondering whether the running back was injured, so inexplicable was his absence from the field for such a lengthy period.
Other teams need to see more of this coming at 'em.
Now that Thomas Brown is out for the year, I'm in favor of making Lumpkin the guy at tailback the way Coach Richt has made Stafford the guy at quarterback. Giving Lumpkin 24 carries will yield more rushing yards from the running back position than giving Brown, Lumpkin, and Danny Ware eight carries apiece ever did. I liked the offensive play-calling in this game better than I have in a while, but Coach Richt needs to commit himself to giving Lumpkin 25 carries a game and Brannan Southerland five carries a game on a weekly basis.
I won't say too much about the special teams, except to point out that the 'Dawgs generally looked functional, if less than fantastic, in the kicking game . . . when they got the right team on the field. In two instances---one when Georgia was punting the ball away and one when Mississippi State was punting to the Red and Black---the field goal unit was sent out in a punting situation.
These sorts of gaffes, like false start penalties and squandered time outs to avoid flags for delay of game, simply shouldn't happen with this sort of frequency, especially not with a coaching staff that has been as stable for as long as this one has.
The absence of Brandon Coutu continues to be felt in ominous ways. Last week, Andy Bailey missed what would have been the game-winning field goal in the loss to Vanderbilt. This week, Bailey doinked what could have been a consequential extra point off of the upright, enabling Mississippi State to begin its final drive trailing by three points rather than four. I know Bailey is the backup placekicker, so I am prepared to forgive him for his field goal failures, but there is no excuse for missing an extra point in a tight ballgame at this level.
Where have you gone, Billy Bennett? Bulldog Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo.
Now we turn to the defense, about which the pursuit of excellence demands that we not mince words.
Willie Martinez must go!
I don't just mean that the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator must be fired for his utter failure to do anything resembling coordinating a defense. I mean that Coach Martinez must be shipped to The Hague in leg irons and made to answer for the atrocities and crimes against college football for which he is responsible. I mean that every loyal citizen of Bulldog Nation should contact the governor and tell him that, for the next item on his "Sonny Do" list, he should declare the Georgia defense a disaster area.
What the defense did well on Saturday---such as, for instance, Charles Johnson's game-saving sack, forced fumble, and recovery to end the final M.S.U. scoring threat---was the result of the natural ability and individual effort of gifted players whose hard work is being hampered by the fact that they are being taught terrible techniques and placed in a horrible scheme that allows opposing offenses, no matter how inept, to move the ball at will through the air against the Red and Black.
I asked recently whether talent or coaching was more to blame for Georgia's recent defensive woes and I don't think it's a close call. The 'Dawgs are putting plenty of God-given ability out on the field every Saturday, even if a good deal of it is inexperienced. The problem is that those players' tremendous gifts are being squandered in an ineffectual defensive alignment.
In short, on New Year's Eve, while the Bulldogs are busy not preparing for a January 1 bowl game, Mark Richt needs to go up to his defensive coordinator at the office party and tell him, "I know it was you, Willie! You broke my heart!" Coach Richt may feel free to forego kissing him, however.
The numbers simply do not lie. The reanimated corpse that is the post-sophomore slump Erik Ainge made his bones by lighting up the Junkyard 'Dawgs for 268 yards through the air. Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson, who is averaging under 125 passing yards per game, threw for 190 yards against Georgia. Mississippi State's Michael Henig, a 43 per cent passer who has eked out a meager 137.8 passing yards per contest in four outings this fall, threw for 234 yards against Georgia.
In the last three games---all of which took place between the hedges---the Red and Black have held halftime leads of 24-14 against Tennessee, 13-7 against Vanderbilt, and 21-7 against Mississippi State. In each of those outings, Georgia has been outscored after intermission, to the tune of 37-9 by the Volunteers, 17-9 by the Commodores, and 17-6 by the visiting Bulldogs.
There are those, I am sure, who will hasten to point out that turnovers by the Georgia offense gave the opposition favorable field position from which the defense could not recover. That would be a fair point, but for the fact that other teams' offenses have had no trouble moving the ball as many yards as their circumstances required when facing Coach Martinez's defense.
If the visiting team needs seven yards, it will get eight yards, finding the seams or going across the middle against Coach Martinez's scheme, which takes Southern hospitality to the ridiculous extreme of allowing the receiver to catch the ball in the midst of three Georgia defenders, who will then proceed to tackle him after he has made the reception to pick up the first down.
Chew on this fact: Georgia has surrendered 99 points in the last three games. The last time the 'Dawgs gave up that many points in a three-game stretch was in the 1999 Kentucky, Florida, and Auburn games, when Kevin Ramsey was demonstrating the same predictability and inflexibility as a defensive coordinator that Willie Martinez now exhibits.
The inscription on the pedestal of the statue commemorating what amounts to Coach Ramsey's second stint as Georgia's defensive coordinator reads: "My name is Willie Martinez, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. 'Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level hedges stretch far away. (Photograph from The Augusta Chronicle.)
At the end of the 1999 season, Coach Ramsey was relieved of his responsibilities, and rightly so, because he simply was not doing his job. Coach Martinez is producing Ramseyesque results for Ramseyan reasons and he deserves a Ramsey-like fate.
Finally, I have a few random odds and ends to offer in conclusion:
I saw a guy in Sanford Stadium wearing a red T-shirt from Molly O'Shea's. On the back, it read, "Georgia v. Vanderbilt" and included the date: "October 14, 2006."
I'm only going to explain this one more time: you don't buy game-specific apparel before the game is played . . . and, if you do, you certainly don't wear that clothing again if the Bulldogs lose. On the list of people I blame for Saturday's scare, that guy comes in a close second to Coach Martinez.
We need to crack down on rude bands. While Auburn's is the worst, Mississippi State's is pretty bad. Their band played over the Who during the scoreboard montage and they played over the "Superman" theme at the start of the fourth quarter.
That's just tacky. We need to make it clear that, if your band behaves disrespectfully in our stadium, that's the last time your band will be welcomed in our stadium.
By the way, whose idea was it to open the halftime show with a song from the "Super Mario Brothers" soundtrack? (Photographs from Mississippi State University.)
What is up with Mississippi State's costumed sideline mascot? Hairy Dawg looks the part, but that weak excuse for a bulldog M.S.U. trots out is hopelessly lame. Honestly, I think that guy's mother sewed the costume for him. I kept waiting for him to jump through a ring of fire like Will Ferrell in "Old School."
While Saturday's game generally was well-officiated, and while I don't want to let Coach Martinez off the hook, it must be acknowledged that the 24-yard completion from Michael Henig to Jamayel Smith at the outset of the visiting squad's final drive only occurred because a huge and obvious hold was missed by the official. Either Henig should have been sacked or Mississippi State should have been penalized.
Those, in sum, are my observations about last Saturday's game. Your thoughts on the matter are welcome in the comments below.