If you’re going to Athens for Saturday’s game, be sure to wear red, like the Dawgs. Mark Richt has called for fans to stage another “Redout,” as was done previously for last year’s Tennessee game and for the 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. And get there early and be loud, like at the South Carolina game. It really does make a difference for the players!
This third of Georgia’s herculean September challenges is chock full of the sort of storylines “ESPN College GameDay” and CBS love, from the return home of prodigal son Zach Mettenberger to go up against former roomie Aaron Murray, to the clash of coaching styles between low-key disciplinarian Richt and quixotic put-it-to-a-team-vote Les Miles, aka the Mad Hatter.
But while this quintessential big game — which could determine whether Georgia remains in BCS contention — will feature two of the most dangerous passing arms in the SEC, the key to victory for the Bulldogs and Tigers is likely to be the play of their offensive lines and defensive fronts.
As Richt noted this week, both teams will be out to control their opponent’s running attack. For Georgia, it’s crucial that the up-and-down offensive line plays this week with the sort of urgency and cohesiveness it showed three weeks ago against South Carolina, and avoids the false starts and holding calls that plagued them at Clemson. Not only do they need to protect Murray from sacks, they’ve got to open some holes in the Bayou Bengals’ rebuilt but surprisingly good defensive front for Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Asked this week how best to put pressure on Murray, Miles answered: “If they don’t gain yards on a running play, the pressure falls back to the signal caller.”
Conversely, Georgia needs to contain or at least slow Jeremy Hill enough to put Mettenberger in third-down passing situations. The former Bulldog has a strong arm and has shown remarkable accuracy this season (unlike last year) throwing to ace receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, and he’s probably licking his chops to go against UGA’s young secondary.
But Mett is still not very mobile (he’s particularly weak moving to his right) and is susceptible to pressure (as Clemson showed in sacking him six times in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl). Georgia is facing a pocket passer this time, not a ready-to-run Tajh Boyd or Connor Shaw, so that’s where some opportunity lies. Mett has been playing with more confidence this year, but an early introduction of Leonard Floyd to the Tiger quarterback may well allow the Dogs to get inside his head, as he’s shown signs this week of perhaps being a bit overanxious about his return Between the Hedges.
Getting pressure up front also will make things a bit easier on the Dogs’ secondary; otherwise, Mettenberger is likely to pick them apart.
On the Bulldogs’ side, Murray needs to maintain his composure and avoid costly mistakes while picking his moments to test the LSU secondary, which has been vulnerable to the deep ball this season. A bit of success in that regard and the Tigers are going to be less likely to pack the box against Gurley and Marshall.
Overall, the keys for Georgia are limiting the damage by Hill, pressuring Mettenberger, avoiding turnovers, and holding serve offensively (not too many three-and-outs). There’s no real mystery to what these teams will be planning: While both are balanced offensively, the Bulldogs and the Tigers will be looking to run first, setting up the pass. The question is which defense will falter. LSU gave up a lot of yards last week to a mediocre Auburn offense and they’ve been burned on some long plays, which is Murray’s specialty. But Georgia’s defense is still very green, though they’ve improved tremendously since halftime of the South Carolina game.
For the Dogs though, the determining factor probably will be two things: offensive line play (if the O-line of the Clemson game shows up, the Dogs lose; if the O-line of the South Carolina game is seen, Georgia wins) and avoiding any special teams meltdowns that give the Tigers cheap points.
Basically, if the running games turn out about even, as is likely, I like the odds of the more potent Georgia passing attack spelling the difference.
Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
David Downs writes: Is our defense going to do anything different to help defend against a quarterback like Zach Mettenberger? It seems we have struggled some and especially with longer pass plays and I’m worried that Zach is going to basically pick us apart. Have you heard about us doing anything different or special to help play a better defensive game? We can’t always rely on our offense to simply outscore a team and always expect to win, especially against LSU.
No, Todd Grantham hasn’t checked in with me this week to share his game plan, but if I had to guess, I’d say he plans on increasing the pressure up front since Mettenberger is a pocket passer who’s not a threat to run. As I said above, the more pressure Georgia’s defensive front can get on Mett, the less pressure will be put on the Dogs’ young secondary. I’d also guess we might see a bit more blitzing than Georgia did against the harder-to-contain Tajh Boyd and Connor Shaw. Georgia’s defense also has done a much better job against the run starting with the second half of the South Carolina game, and it’d be a big help if that trend continues.
Brent Jarnicki writes: Bill, According to UGA Facilities Twitter, Myers Quad will be closed from tailgating Saturday because the ESPN “GameDay” crew will be there. Since UGA basically banned real tailgating on North Campus a few years ago, Myers Quad has been the big “spot” for thousands of tailgaters. Where does UGA suggest all of these people go now? I contacted UGA Facilities via Twitter and got no response, and the Myers Quad being shut off to all these people on the biggest home game of the year is going to cause a serious dilemma. Myers is right next to a large parking deck that tailgaters need. UGA should’ve had “GameDay” set up at the Reed Quad next to the stadium, as this is a big area for the ESPN crew, could easily hold a lot of fans who aren’t bringing tailgating equipment on campus, and also is not utilized by large amounts of tailgaters. If there’s any way you can find out what UGA recommends for the thousands of tailgaters to do now that North Campus and Myers are closed, please let us all know. Thanks for the great work!
Thanks. I didn’t hear back from UGA on any recommended tailgating options, either, Brent. I agree that the Reed quad would have made more sense for “GameDay,” but since that didn’t happen, I’d suggest those who usually tailgate in the Myers quad switch to the Reed quad, which is generally not as heavily used. And, of course, the former tailgate central, the historic North Campus (the quad between Broad Street and Old College, the quad between Old College and the main library and Herty Field), is still available, though there are limitations on its use: You can’t set up more than five hours before kickoff (10:30 a.m. in this case), tables can’t exceed 6 feet, tents are allowed but kegs, generators, TVs, amplified music, grills and cookers of any type and household furniture (not including folding chairs) are not allowed.
Scott writes: Hi Bill, Always enjoy the Blawg! A thought popped in my head and was reinforced by Mark Richt’s latest tweet about the upcoming game with LSU. He said red jerseys will be worn Saturday and asked Bulldog Nation to also wear red. Rumor sometime back emerged about bringing back the red pants. Do you think we would wear red jerseys AND red pants?
I wouldn’t rule anything out in this Nike-dominated age of college football, but I’d be extremely surprised if Richt did anything like that for a game this big. Since the black-helmets-and-black-pants debacle in Jacksonville a few years back, he’s been very sensitive to being accused of trying to generate “fake juice” among his players. Personally, I’d love to see the red britches return, but only with the white road jersey (as they originally were used in the Dooley era). I’m not crazy and the all-red look.
Paul Dixon writes: I would like to know why there is such an issue with doing a Blackout this Saturday? I realize what happened last time. But we need something to get the players and the fans going.
I think if the fans and players can’t “get going” over a Top 10 matchup like this, there are no gimmicks that could help. But I expect the fans and team to be pretty revved up. As for a future Blackout, I’ve said here before I’d like to see the black jerseys worn again sometime, but I don’t think a big game is the right venue since so many in the Bulldog Nation soured on them after the 2008 Blackout against Alabama (which, I think, was hyped a lot more than was necessary). I’ve had readers suggest in the past (and i just heard this again from another this week) that black jerseys should be made a tradition for home games against Auburn, and I like that idea. Another alternative I like is that black jerseys be worn for the final home game each season, no matter who the opponent is. Since UGA students staged their own Blackout for the final game last year, this probably would be a popular idea.
Keith Mccants writes: Whatever happened to LB James DeLoach? He was slated to be a major factor for the Bulldogs this year, but so far he has not been on the field as much. Is it because of the emergence of LB Leonard Floyd?
The rise of freshman Floyd certainly has impacted playing time for sophomore DeLoach, who last spring was expected to contend for a starting spot but has wound up mainly playing on special teams and only getting one tackle so far. However, DeLoach also has had some injury problems. In August, he missed some of preseason camp because of surgery on his left thumb and wound up camp as Floyd’s backup instead of the starter. And this week he’s been held out of practice with a concussion. But don’t give up on DeLoach. He recently told the Athens Banner-Herald that playing on special teams is “a great experience” that he’s using “to fuel my fire on defense.”
Jim P. writes: Bill, You are correct that “College GameDay” appearances or jerseys have no bearing on UGA game outcomes. However, it usually starts to rev up the raucousness of the crowd before the game. This can be where the intangible of “GameDay” helps the Dawgs further, as the typically late students should be primed and on time to be our 12th man. Then, of course, our players need to live up to their part. Speaking of “College GameDay,” I enjoy when they play the “sign” music and scan the signs in the crowd. Many are clever and I hope to see a great abundance of clever ones from our Georgia fans this week.
Considering the game marks the return of Mettenberger, plus all the potential material for sign-makers that the Mad Hatter generates, I’m sure the wags in Athens are hard at work on some zingers.
Bill Overend writes: Marshall Morgan, who Richt stated purportedly has a 50-60 yard range is now 3/9 over the past 2 seasons on anything over 40 yards. At 37 yards and above, he is 4/11. He has made a 52, 50, and a 41. He has missed a 52, 51, 50, 47 (twice) and a 45. He is 1 of 2 for 37. Maybe Richt should take a harder look at the walk-on kid [Patrick Beless] who “batted” 1000 in the first 2 games.
Bill, you’re not the only UGA football follower who’s skeptical about Morgan, but so far Richt seems to be taking the tack that whoever kicks best in practice gets to do it in games, and apparently Morgan excels in practice. A lot of fans also are concerned about his kickoffs after the North Texas game and would prefer to see kickoffs handled by punter Collin Barber, whose kicks made it into the end zone more often in the first two games when Morgan was suspended. If Morgan is going to lose one of his jobs, I have a feeling it will happen with kickoffs before it does with field goals or PATs (which he now seems to have mastered).
Chris Houck writes: Bill, it appears to me that in games where a team from one of the automatic qualifier conferences plays an inferior team from a lesser league, the refs give the smaller and/or less accomplished team the benefit of the doubt with respect to certain judgment calls, i.e. holding, block in the back, etc. When North Texas had the 99 yard kickoff return, it seems like there was a pretty obvious block in the back that went uncalled. There were some holding calls that could have been flagged also, in my opinion. I’ve also seen this in other games where I can watch without bias. Is this just me? Curious of your perspective on this.
I don’t think they’re really out to boost inferior teams; it’s just that SEC officiating crews in general are very inconsistent, especially on calling holding, and the officials who worked the North Texas game — and missed the very obvious block in the back on that return — were the Penn Wagers crew, the conference’s worst.
Billy Copelan writes: Bill, Thanks so much for mentioning the horrible P.A. at the North Texas game. I am baffled at how we have a home game 6, maybe 7 days out of the entire year, and nearly every game there is a malfunction of something: game clock, play clock, P.A. One item you didn’t mention that drove me crazy Saturday was the running stats on the scoreboard. Even in pre-game warmups the stats displayed for both Georgia and North Texas were end of game type numbers — I couldn’t quite figure out what they were supposed to represent. Then the game started and the stats stayed the same — after one possession Georgia had over 500 yards of offense and 35+ minutes in time of possession; and North Texas was setting the world on fire with over 450 yards of offense — according to the scoreboard. Then I realized the stats were the final game numbers from the South Carolina game from two weeks ago! It is dumbfounding to me that whoever is in charge of the scoreboard, or that aspect of the scoreboard, could go nearly until halftime before it was finally corrected to show the actual in-game stats. I tweeted @ugaathletics and @ugafacilities during the game about the error. Don’t know if it was my tweets or not, but shortly afterwards, the stats were corrected. It is so sad because it makes us look like such idiots. Regarding the horrible audio during the Battle Hymn, it is such a shame. I had the pleasure of attending the Florida State-Nevada game with an FSU buddy during our off week, and came away so thankful for how good our pre-game is. The “planting of the spear” is pretty cool, but other than that, I thought our pre-game rituals are so much better (of course I am a little biased).
I agree with you about UGA’s pre-game program. The audio going out on that poor Battle Hymn soloist really was embarrassing. Let’s hope we don’t see a repeat of last Saturday’s technical mishaps again this season.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg