Some more thoughts and observations from Georgia’s win over Kentucky and looking ahead to the showdown with Florida …
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have a lot of problems that need addressing before the game in Jacksonville, but the three biggest ones are a continuing problem defending the run, the deteriorating performance of the offensive line (and its effect on Georgia’s own running game) and the disaster that is UGA’s special teams play most of the time.
I’ve heard a lot of discussion in the past 24 hours over whether it was another faulty Todd Grantham game plan that was responsible for the Georgia defense’s terrible showing right out of the gate against the Wildcats, or whether the blame lies largely with the players, most of whom haven’t yet lived up to their preseason press clippings and have failed to put together a complete half (let alone a game) playing as a team.
I’m inclined to think it’s a bit of both. We’ve seen too many first-half offensive surges by lesser teams this season (not to mention an outright offensive blitz by the one good team we’ve played) for Georgia’s highly-paid defensive coordinator to be let off the hook. Even if it’s not the game plan itself that is lacking, Grantham appears to be doing a very poor job of getting his troops ready.
But, yes, the bottom line is the players aren’t getting it done. Even after Grantham made adjustments in the second half to slow down Kentucky’s suddenly potent running game (which the rest of the conference probably would tell you must have been a mirage), it appeared the Cats temporarily losing Jalen Whitlow to a migraine had more to do with Big Blue getting off track. When Whitlow returned in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were able to grind out another long touchdown drive.
True, the Dogs still won the game, as the Georgia coaching staff was repeatedly reminding everyone Saturday night. And there were individual efforts worth applauding, including those of Jordan Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.
But the larger picture is what has the Bulldog Nation disturbed: A Bulldogs defense that gives up 206 yards on the ground to the worst rushing offense in the conference doesn’t look well-positioned to halt Florida’s not-flashy-but-effective grind-it-out ground attack.
And the defense’s poor showing when the Cats had third-and-long was so disturbing that even amid all the positive spin emerging from the Georgia locker room Saturday night Grantham noted, “I didn’t think we played the third-down runs well and we need to clean that up.”
On the other side of the ball, Aaron Murray and Georgia’s passing game looked sharp, but that was against a secondary that can’t hold a candle to Florida’s. And the continued poor play of the offensive line, after some encouraging performances against midlevel opposition earlier in the season, is distressing. Georgia simply hasn’t had an effective rushing attack the past two games, and that largely falls on the blockers. Throw in three sacks of Murray and several false-start penalties and Will Friend’s unit just barely rates a passing grade for its effort in Lexington.
And then there’s the clown car of college football known as Georgia’s special teams. Saturday night, even Richt was cracking wise about placekicker Marshall Morgan’s continuing troubles, noting: “He’s hit the upright more than anybody in the nation, I would think. He probably set a school record for that.”
The Dogs’ dire kicking game is no joking matter, though. Since Richt has chosen not to even have an overall special teams coordinator, much less a special teams coach (or to take the job on himself, as some head coaches do), there’s no one to work with Morgan on solving his problems. Maybe someone should at least get him on the phone with Georgia kicking legend Kevin Butler, who noted on the Saturday night and Sunday Bulldog call-in shows that bad form in how Morgan approaches the ball is likely to blame.
And then there’s Georgia’s apparent inability to come up with a plan for fielding punts. After finally settling on Rhett McGowan as the deep man receiving punts for the Dogs, Richt and company still haven’t been able to get the message through that whenever possible you have to actually catch the ball, rather than let it hit the ground and take your chances on where it’s downed.
With the Dogs facing one of the nation’s best punters this coming week in Florida’s Kyle Christy, fixing this should be a top priority for the UGA coaching staff. On this matter I’ll again defer to Butler, whose son Drew just finished a terrific stint as the Dogs’ punter and is now making a living punting in the NFL. The elder Butler thinks Georgia needs to once again start putting two deep men back on punts to make sure the ball is caught.
The one bright spot in Georgia’s special teams play Saturday was Connor Norman’s Johnny-on-the-spot recovery of that on-side kick by the Cats. If he hadn’t pounced on that ball, the Dogs probably would no longer be in the SEC East race.
What’s especially alarming is that Florida’s special teams play has been as terrific as Georgia’s has been lacking. Against South Carolina the Gator special teams helped produce points by forcing turnovers and making long returns.
So much to fix and so little time. Should Georgia simply run up the white flag and concede the Florida game? Of course not. Lesser Richt teams have somehow managed to pull off upsets of highly rated opponents (if you go back a few years, admittedly).
But as Georgia QB Murray put it, “We know we have to play an unbelievable game offensively, defensively and on special teams if we want to have a chance to win that game.”
Even then, it’s probably going to take the Gators finally stumbling and turning in a poor performance to make Bulldog fans’ dreams of two in a row in Jacksonville come true.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg