You probably didn't notice, but spotty internet service at my hotel this weekend prevented me from posting the usual "5 Things" preview of the Kentucky game. It wasn't the last time this Saturday that someone or something in red and black failed to show up as expected. In lieu of going over those predictions, I'd like to offer a few constructive observations on the weekend's events, and a look ahead.
It wasn't all Willie's fault. Willie Martinez has become something of a default scapegoat the past few years in Bulldog Nation. Of course, sometimes in life, everyone keeps blaming you because it is legitimately your fault. This time there's plenty of blame to go around.
You definitely didn't see our defensive line get any meaningful push, especially on third down and in short yardage situations. I kept waiting for us to get that one stop in the second half that would allow us to flip the momentum and put it away, but it really never came. The story of the 2008 season is perilously close to it's conclusion.
We now have learned that Jeff Owens' exit in the first chapter was more significant than we could have ever dreamed. We just don't have another guy who demands a double team. Geno Atkins is good, but not dominating, and Kade Weston can't seem to stay healthy enough to be a force. We're down to starting walkon Andrew Gully at defensive end. That's nothing against Andrew, I'm sure he's a fine young man who's been giving his all. But on Saturday he looked about as much like a quality SEC defensive end as I do. Which is to say we both looked more like an SEC defensive end than Rod Battle, who was in the backfield half the time and standing around looking frustrated the other half.
I've heard some wonder aloud why we're still playing a scheme that relies on a dominant front four when we simply don't have one. I think the answer is that, in reality, we're not. We've blitzed more this season than any in recent memory. I've seen more cover one (one safety back and one at the line or blitzing) than I've seen since Thomas Davis was roaming the secondary. The problem is that carries its own risks, even against a young quarterback making his second start. Remember the long TD pass by Nick Stephens in the Tennessee game?
One result of the poor defensive line play was a poor looking effort on the part of our linebackers. They spent a lot of time standing back and catching. Unlike in previous weeks, you didn't see Curran, Gamble and crew attacking the ball. I think this was partially a result of the fact that our defensive gameplan just wasn't great, and in their most honest moment, our linebackers would admit that they had no clue what was coming. But mostly I chalk it up to the d-line. We simply cannot afford to have Rennie Curran taking on 300 pound offensive linemen one-on-one downfield. God bless him, that's a battle Rennie is just going to lose way more than he wins.
About that gameplan. We weren't prepared to stop Randall Cobb running the ball. If you were watching what I was, you didn't see a defense prepared to stop either the read option or the triple option. All of that is in fact the fault of the guys who put together our defensive gameplan. I think Coach Martinez chairs that committee, so you may insert your blame here. It's worth noting that Auburn and Georgia Tech will show us plenty of these offensive schemes. Hint, hint, hint.
That being said, even I could see that 21 of the Wildcats 38 points resulted from drives of 30 yards or less. When you give the offense the ball inside the 10 twice, you won't see your defense giving up less than 14 points very often. I know, some would argue that we should have at least been able to hold them to field goals. But it's simply unrealistic to think that any SEC defense will hold any SEC offense out from the 4 yard line unless the offense in question gives them some help in the form of a false start penalty or the kind of redzone play calling we've seen from Mike Bobo this year.
On a Bobo related note, you certainly didn't see us line up and run the fullback dive to Brannon Southerland every time we had the ball inside the 3. I would be happy if we simply ran fullback dives into the A gap every single snap we're right on the goalline. Let's turn it into the old 3-on-3 drill from practice. If our guard and center can block their two defensive tackles, we score. Done. I know it's tempting for a 5 year old with a lot of toys to want to play with them all at once. But Mike Bobo should be past that point as a coordinator by now. It's worked for two seasons. It's the easiest play to explain besides the quarterback sneak. Fullback dive. I'm just saying.
I'm also saying that our special teams play and ball security wreaked. In case you didn't see it, our intangibles (special teams and ball security) were as awful as they've been since mid-2006. If you're looking for a reason why this game was 14 points tighter than it ever should have been, the blocked punt, 96 yard kick return and 2 Massaquoi fumbles are a pretty good explanation.
I think you can also place some blame on the fact that we've now played a lot of tough football away from home since last we saw the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium. In the second half this team, especially the thin offensive and defensive lines, just looked worn out. That does not bode well for our upcoming road showdown against Auburn, which actually sat three of its defensive linemen against Tennessee-Martin to rest them up for us.
My outlook on the upcoming contest against the WarPlainsTigerSociologists was moderately dour before we played Kentucky. Now I have a very, very grim feeling about it. I can only hope optimism will return by Saturday. For now though, here's what I've got:
Justin Houston looks better every week. I think it was Paul Westerdawg who pointed out that he's about a season and a half ahead of Marcus Howard in his development. That bodes well for the future.
We got some good practice against the option. There wasn't a lot of film out there on Cobb, and you have to credit Coach Brooks and his staff for putting in a gameplan that gave them a good chance to win the ballgame. We'll see a lot of the same from Kodi Burns this coming Saturday, though he may be a better passer. Wait a minute, this was supposed to be the optimism section. Forget I said that . . .
All Your Accolades Are Belong To Demarcus Dobbs. Someone should name a cocktail after that guy. Dobbs said of his clinching interception "I told myself it's time to make a play." I wish he would share that sentiment with his teammates. Dobbs and Houston are the best evidence that our future at the defensive ends looks way better than our present.
The best effort of the Stafford era. 376 yards, 3 TD's and no interceptions. Somewhere, Gary Danielson was doing the running man and the cabbage patch in his undies. You may find that disturbing, but you'll only find it surprising if you listened to the LSU game with the sound turned down.
The end of the "Daves" era. With the new SEC TV deal, it is approaching. Can someone explain to me how one of the Daves managed to call A.J. Green "A.J. Bryant" on no fewer than three occasions? Did they serve fluffy omelets made with hot, fresh stupid at his hotel on Saturday morning? I for one am hoping for an SEC broadcast crew of Ron Franklin and Tony Barnhart with the new deal. It would be the best thing since sliced bread and silver britches.
Our goals are still in front of us. OK, not our early season goals. But like most University of Georgia football seasons, this one will largely be defined by the season-ending contests against Auburn and Georgia Tech. A loss in either of these last two, and the season is a sound disappointment for most of us inside and outside the Butts-Mehre Building. But 10-2 and a trip to the Capitol One Bowl (or even the Cotton Bowl, though it's doubtful) would be acceptable given the attrition and the hellish schedule we've faced. At this point, we've beaten everybody except the #1 and #3 teams in America. If we win out and win our bowl game, we're all but assured a top 10 ranking. There was a time not so long ago when that would have been a banner season. Just ask Jim Donnan.
I'll be back later in the week to talk Auburn. I hate Auburn. Until then . . .