I don’t think I can ever recall an opening month like the “ridiculous September” (as CBS’ Tracy Wolfson put it) that Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs just experienced.
But, let’s face it, after getting themselves pumped up to play three Top 10 teams, what might be an even bigger challenge faces the No. 6-ranked Dawgs: keeping their eye on the prize as they’re favored to win the rest of their regular season games.
Aaron Murray is hoping the lessons learned in September will be applied the rest of the way. “It’s been a brutal first month,” he told ESPN Saturday night. “I think we’ve grown up a lot. I think we’ve proved to the nation that Georgia’s for real.”
But, he said with the next breath, there’s still a long way to go and a lot of games to play. “We’ve got to keep getting better,” he said, and “stay hungry.”
So far in the 2013 season, Richt has done one of his best coaching jobs in making sure his players are ready for what they face. But he, too, might have an even bigger challenge in making sure the team doesn’t falter along the way against the likes of Tennessee and Missouri in addition to the biggest remaining hurdle in Jacksonville.
In that regard, perhaps the struggles of the porous Georgia secondary will give Richt the leverage he needs to keep his players grounded. As he said after Saturday’s game, “Right this very minute, our resume looks pretty good. It’s not going to be that pretty if we get whipped in the next week or two. If October is a crummy month, then everybody is going to forget about it.”
As the head coach sagely noted, “If we think it’s going to be any easier, we’re crazy. They’re going to be fired up. Their fans are going to be ready to go. If we think it’s going to be anything less than what we’ve been living through, we’re nuts. Every game is going to be a barn-burner until we get more stout on defense and continue to get better on special teams.”
Speaking of which, there were pluses and minuses in those areas on view Saturday. Generally, Georgia’s deservedly maligned special teams played extremely well, with Marshall Morgan’s 55-yard field goal, one of three he made on the day, and the recovering of a fumbled punt the main highlights. There’s still room for improvement, though. Most of Morgan’s kickoffs didn’t quite make the end zone and some that did were not deep enough to discourage a return. Still, the coverage was much improved and didn’t allow LSU’s fine return man, Odell Beckham Jr., to break a long one. (Speaking of Beckham, that one-handed snag he made of a Morgan kickoff going out of the end zone was unreal!)
As for the defense, as mentioned, the secondary played about as poorly as possible, and yet Georgia still managed to win. Much of that is due, of course, to Murray and Mike Bobo’s high-scoring offense, which has kept its torrid pace up even when key players go out hurt.
But while the secondary’s inexperience and arm-tackling are big problems that must be addressed — they were mainly responsible for LSU converting an alarming 10 of 15 third downs — there were positives on the D as well. Georgia’s run defense has improved dramatically over the past two and a half games, and holding the Bayou Bengals under 100 yards rushing is no mean feat. The defensive front generally played a fine game. In addition to holding the Tigers’ rushing attack in check, they sacked Zach Mettenberger four times (which makes Todd Grantham’s decision to drop back into prevent defense and not pressure Mett on that key third-and-22 even more baffling).
Special kudos to Leonard Floyd, who had eight tackles,a sack and two tackles for loss.
The silver lining is that it’s obvious there’s raw talent in the Dogs’ secondary that simply needs more playing time and some coaching up.
Youth is one thing we all outgrow eventually.
A few more thoughts and observations on Saturday’s game …
Murray deservedly was named Walter Camp Offensive National Player of the Week for the second time this season, and he’s also in the running for ESPN’s Capital One Cup Impact Player of the Week. To vote for him, go here. …
While the offense generally did a great job against LSU, with the line having its best game this season, there’s still room for improvement, as Bobo noted afterward. And one area that needs addressing immediately is those two bobbled snaps between David Andrews and Murray Saturday. The Dogs were very lucky not to have lost either one of those fumbles. …
How much did Saturday’s win over a team led by one of his former players mean to Richt? If you didn’t see it, check out those tears and that catch in his voice as he talked with CBS’ Wolfson after the game. In addition to praising the play of both Murray and Mettenberger, he hailed the crowd, saying, “These fans are unbelievable. Nobody does it better than Georgia. God bless everybody in this stadium.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen Richt that emotional before . …
It was almost cute the way Les Miles implied after the game that the refs missed pass interference by Georgia on the Tigers’ last unsuccessful drive. I don’t suppose he noticed the three times his own team got away with pretty flagrant interference thanks to the officiating crew’s relatively relaxed enforcement of the rules. …
In addition to Saturday’s crowd being the loudest I’ve ever experienced at Sanford Stadium, I’m happy to report that the presentation of the game was glitch-free following the technical meltdown a week earlier against North Texas. And there was a new wrinkle added that’s a big improvement: The Redcoat Band is now being amplified so that more of the stadium can hear what they’re playing. Even with the crowd as noisy as it was Saturday, my section could hear the band much better than before. …
I really hope the hoop Dogs come through for Mark Fox this season, because he’s one really cool guy. Having the head basketball coach paint his body and don the outlandish gear of the fan Spike Squad Saturday shows you how “all in” the UGA athletic staff was for this momentous game.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg