ATHENS – There’s one important thing to understand about football schemes. They all work on the chalkboard.
Darn if those Os don’t always knock down those Xs in the front seven when they’re drawn up. The running back blasts off for 79 yards. The quarterback is protected long enough to make a sandwich. Every play ends in a first down, a touchdown or something that has a game plan being compared to quantum physics.
Georgia’s problems, like those witnessed in last week’s loss at South Carolina, have far less to do with play-calling, starting a freshman quarterback or A.J. Green’s suspension than they do something far more tangible: not punching the other team in the mouth.
Football is still about blocking and tackling. Players and coaches don’t like to hear words like “soft” or “timid” but the fact remains that the team that wins the collisions usually wins the game. Is it any wonder why the Dogs’ stature in the SEC has slid?
Question: When was the last time Georgia physically dominated a solid conference opponent? Forget dominated. How about just inflicted some pain? Intimidated? Knocked somebody down?
Steve Spurrier, a coach who once embraced his offensive game plans like mad laboratory experiments, said what pleased him most about South Carolina’s win over the Bulldogs last week was that his team won the physical battles. It was analysis Georgia coach Mark Richt couldn’t dispute and didn’t even try. Maybe that acknowledgement is some semblance of progress.
Things will change, Richt says. But this isn’t a new theme in Athens. Before last season, Richt belabored the fact that he had gone soft on the team in practices in 2008 when injuries hit, admitting that affected the team’s play during the season. But the 2009 Georgia team wasn’t any more physical than the one the year before.
On Richt’s radio show Monday night, a caller said the Dogs looked “timid” in Columbia.
The coach’s response: “Defensively, there were a couple of times when you’re right –I think ‘timid’ is a very kind description of what happened.”
When asked about it at his press conference Tuesday, Richt referenced a television shot of a specific defensive play: “There was an image of one of our players who looked like he turned down the opportunity to lay into somebody. It could’ve made the difference on a big play that they had. That was not Georgia football.
“That’s one particular shot. That’s not characteristic of our football team or our defense, that one particular play. But if you [ask]: Were we physical enough? We probably were not. They [South Carolina] played more physically than we did and that definitely was the difference in the game.”
He talked about the defense, saying players, “have to do a better job of just sticking our face in that runner.”
He added that Georgia’s “defensive line needs to drop anchor a little bit. We got moved around too much.”
But that’s only half the problem. Soft play is at least as much about the offense, if not more. The offensive line was supposed to be Georgia’s strength. So how did the Dogs’ rush for only 61 yards (2.3 per carry)?
When asked if statistics like that can sometimes be attributed to simply not knocking the opponent down, tackle Josh Davis smiled and said: “Uh, yeah.”
It follows that line coach Stacy Searels, who hasn’t quite lived up to the reputation he built at LSU, has laid into the Dogs’ linemen this week
“He basically said we’ve got to prepare better, we’ve got to get it done,” Davis said. “He has put it on our shoulders and said: What are we going to do? Are we going to lay in it or are we going to get up and do something about it and fight?”
The answer should be obvious. Success is defined by what happens when Xs and Os collide.
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