I was a bit under the weather yesterday and away from the Blawg, but I was still thinking about Georgia football (I know, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it?).
I started pondering keys to success for the Dogs this season, prompted in part by reading on Georgiadogs.com that Mark Richt noted the preseason emphasis on reducing penalties didn’t really pay off in the practice half-a-game on Wednesday.
“There were too many penalties,” Richt said, adding: “One of the penalties forced us to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown.”
While he did note that “we substituted pretty freely because it was so warm,” which might have been a factor in the number of flags, the hope here is that the coach made the point forcefully with the team that this is a great way to lose games. And that he continues to make that point.
So along those lines, I offer here five pretty obvious but essential keys to the season. (I didn’t include injuries, which was a major negative factor last year, because that’s something that really can’t be controlled.)
1. Like I was saying, fewer penalties, especially those that occur when Georgia is in scoring position or that extend an opponent’s drive. This really killed us last year.
2. Pressure from the defensive ends. This is the most obvious area where Georgia needs improvement, and so far the reports from preseason drills are encouraging. Rod Battle especially has been snagging sacks. Now he and his cohorts just need to do it for real against something other than the second team or scout team lines. Lack of pressure on the quarterback and the resulting problems this causes for the secondary was probably the single biggest reason for the failure of Willie Martinez’s defense in key situations last year, even moreso than poor tackling.
3. Establish the running game. It sets up the passing game, gives your quarterback more options and eats up clock. The offensive line should be one of the best of the Richt era this season. It’s up to the backs to hit those holes, hold on to the ball and produce. No one expects any one of them to be another Knowshon Moreno. But overall as a group they need to at least come close to matching his stats.
4. Turnover ratio. The Athens Banner-Herald had a good look at this yesterday. Georgia recovered just five opponent fumbles last season, which tied the Dogs for 111th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. They intercepted just 11 passes, which put them in a tie for 67th. Overall, Georgia’s 16 takeaways ranked 104th nationally last year. That just won’t get it done.
5. Showing up for big games. This is the intangible that has haunted Richt’s teams for the past few seasons: the maddening tendency to only play one half of good football against a top opponent. Last year this was especially evident, what with the first half against Alabama and the second half against Tech. I don’t know if this comes down to team leadership on the field or preparation by the coaches. Probably both. But improvement here is mandatory if the Dogs are to have a successful season.
Any other elements of the game that you think will be a key to the 2009 season?