Take a banged-up UGA offense that’s missing its two top running backs and three of its four top receivers, add a young defense that doesn’t appear to have figured how to slow down even the SEC’s worst offense, and top it off with special teams that have a penchant for meltdowns producing points for the other side.
Put that up against an undefeated team whose offense has turned out to be one of the nation’s best while the team has gone undefeated, albeit feasting so far on nonconference cupcakes and a faltering Vandy.
The result? That Georgia-Missouri game in Athens that was supposed to provide some sort of respite for the Dogs after a schedule frontloaded with Top 10 teams now looks to be a much bigger challenge for the Dogs than originally envisioned. In fact, the point spread favoring Georgia dropped three points over the past few days and quite a few college football observers are predicting an upset.
There’s no doubt that, on paper, Mizzou looks like a very dangerous matchup for Georgia’s ailing offense and floundering defense. With quarterback James Franklin finally healthy this season, the Tigers’ uptempo spread offense is second in the SEC in scoring (46.6), first in the conference in rushing (258.8) and fourth in passing (285.0). Franklin is second to Johnny Football in total offense, racking up 337 yards per game. He’s thrown for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns, with just three interceptions, and the Missouri QB also has run for 278 yards and two TDs.
Yes, another mobile dual-threat quarterback who so far seems more like Clemson’s Tajh Boyd than South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. He also has tall, talented receivers in Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lewis. And he’s going up against a Georgia team that ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense, last in third-down defense, 12th in pass defense, 11th in red zone defense and 10th in total defense.
It also doesn’t help that a noon kickoff probably will negate much of the Bulldogs’ home advantage, as Sanford Stadium crowds tend to be slow to arrive and have trouble getting cranked up without a few hours to ingest their bourbon and fried chicken.
Does anything about this matchup look advantageous to Georgia? Well, there’s the X factor that Vanderbilt is the toughest team Mizzou has played so far, while Georgia will be meeting its fourth ranked opponent of the season. So we don’t know how good the Tigers really are while we know the Dogs are up to a challenge.
And then there’s Aaron Murray, who this season has proved to be the kind of clutch quarterback who seemingly wills his team to win with late-game scoring drives.
While Missouri, which is plus-5 in turnovers, has an ace pass rusher in Michael Sam (who had three sacks against Vandy last week and has six for the season) and the Tigers have snagged 11 picks, second in the nation behind Virginia Tech, Murray will be going up against a defense that has still allowed an SEC-worst 293.8 yards per game passing and 412.4 yards of total offense per game (11th in the conference). And that’s playing the likes of Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansa State in addition to the Dores.
Can Georgia win another shootout playing without Keith Marshall, Justin Scott-Wesley, Michael Bennett and (probably) Todd Gurley? If the offensive line holds up and Murray and play caller Mike Bobo are on their game, yes, especially if they get the tight ends more involved in the passing game.
But if the Dogs suffer another special teams disaster … well, let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
In the meantime, if you’re going to the game, the athletic association is pleading for you to arrive early, wear red, and be loud.
Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
Pete Talmadge writes: Bill, I have gone from an euphoric high after beating LSU to a near coma after seeing UGA snatch victory from the jaws of defeat once again. Thank you, Mr. Murray. At this point, I know we are vulnerable and any team on our schedule could beat us on a given Saturday. Two things are clear to me: First, our failure to put teams away, a trademark of the Richt/Bobo years, must stop now, especially given our porous defense. We had UT on the ropes in the 3rd quarter by 14 and Bobo went into a “run up the gut” shell and we ended up getting zero points and giving UT the momentum to make it tough on us. Secondly, the heat is now on Grantham — big time. This wasn’t a Top 10 team or, I suspect, a very good one, but our inability to make stops and our trend of giving up big plays in the clutch is becoming embarrassing. We have good athletes; at some point it comes down to coaching (defense) and lack of killer instinct (offense) that are now glaring weaknesses in our program.
Pete, you’re right that the third quarter of the UT game wasn’t an example of Bobo at his best. He does tend to go conservative at the worst times. But that last Georgia scoring drive in regulation against the Vols was prime Bobo/Murray. As for Grantham, well, read on …
Trey Jarrard writes: Bill, I was a big Todd Grantham fan until last year. We put multiple guys in the pros from our defense but four times gave up 28 points or more. It’s great to pitch shut outs against Vandy, Kentucky, or shutdown an anemic Florida offense, but we gave up 28 points to a poor Nebraska team and over 40 to a pathetic Tennessee team, and everyone knows what happened in Columbia. I know we lost a lot of players to the NFL, but with our recruiting classes and Grantham having been in Athens 4 years shouldn’t we at least be able to stop North Texas? It just seems like the defense is trending in the wrong direction and that includes last year. With all that said, hats off to Murray, Bobo, and CMR, the offense has been incredible and I’m proud of the Dawgs.
Along the same lines, Jack H. writes: Bill, I love the Dogs and live and die with them. But in my mind the great Todd Grantham experiment needs to be axed. I realize the D is young but they are also stocked with tier 1 talent. With many of them playing last year and all of them now with 5 games under their belts it is ridiculous that UTs offense could pile up 400 yards of offense. No one watching had any doubt that the only way Georgia was going to win the game was with a critical UT mistake, which we got in OT. Even last year, loaded with NFL talent, the D had plenty of letdowns and never lived up to their potential. That’s all on Grantham. And halftime adjustments? Please.
Fan sentiment definitely has turned against Grantham this season if my mail and the online chat UGA athletic director Greg McGarity had the other day are any indication. Most of the chat was the usual fluffy stuff, but Grantham was the subject of some pointed queries. As “Bart” put it: “With Coach Grantham now making $825,000/year, do you feel it’s fair to expect him to at the very least field a team in year 4 that does not resemble a Chinese Fire Drill pre-snap? … And I think it’s also fair to say that youth cannot be used as an excuse, considering last year’s upper class-led defense faced the exact same problems week in and week out. Thoughts?”
McGarity didn’t take the bait, offering the expected response: “We are very confident in Todd’s ability to lead our defense.” I think it’s fair to say everyone understands Georgia’s defense lost a lot of talent to the NFL after last season. And because of recruiting failures and disciplinary losses (Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders), the defensive secondary entered this year with only one experienced player (Damian Swann). He’s not having a great year so far, either — even Mark Richt said this week that Swann is “struggling.” But back to Grantham. Above, Jack touched on a particular sore point in the Georgia defensive coordinator’s unwillingness (or inability) so far this season to make successful second-half adjustments to what the other side is doing. And the lack of pressure the Dogs are applying in key third-down situations is baffling when you consider how vulnerable the secondary is. Fundamentals (tackling, especially) also have been lacking on defense. I said before the season started that Grantham finally would have to earn those big bucks this year, but, frankly, we’re still waiting to see him do it.
Mike Murphy writes: Bill, Why am I not hearing anything about A.J. [Turman] this week? One would think he should be playing from here on out. Wasn’t he a 4 star recruit coming out if high school? Please tell me he’s not redshirting … there is no advantage to that with Michel and Chubb coming in next year.
Turman, whose progress was slowed by a preseason injury, got more work in practice this week and Richt said Georgia would consider playing him, and he knows the running back is “anxious” to get into a game. The longer Gurley stays out, the greater the odds that Turman won’t be redshirted, I think.
Keith Mccants writes: With injuries to Georgia’s wide receiver core, is it now the time for injured JC WR transfer Jonathan Rumph to step up for the Dogs for their stretch run toward a return to Atlanta?
I’m sure the Georgia coaches would love to add G-Day star Rumph to the mix, but a nagging hamstring injury hasn’t allowed that so far.
Barbara Sarco writes: Bill, thank you for all you do! I love your columns and the platform you afford us Dawg fans! I’ve never been impressed with Grantham’s defense, but is it me or did I see Herrera (#52) miss a ton of tackles in the Tennessee game? Anyway a win is a win! Go Dawgs. Murray was truly amazing.
Thanks, Barbara. Like a lot of Dog defenders, Amarlo Herrera has had his share of missed tackles this season, but against Tennessee he had 11 tackles (three solo and eight assists), so he’s still been a mainstay of the linebacking corps.
John Thomas Rawl writes: Bill, let me first start off by saying I’m a personal trainer, so rehab, prehab, and injury prevention are of keen importance to me. I’m fully aware of the physical nature of the game and the freak accidents that occur; that being said, I wonder how much work the strength and conditioning program includes for tendons, ligaments, and extensibility. I’m especially bothered by the amount of non-contact (pre-dominantly ACL) injuries that have been occurring, i.e. Mitchell, Bennett, Wesley, etc. There is a laundry list of exercise a mile long to focus on stability, extensibility, proprioception, and overall, joint health. It always seems like the injury bug bites Georgia especially hard, and I’ve heard field condition might have been an issue but this is far from an isolated occurrence, (even going back to Bennett last year, and Sturdivant for a couple years in a row) I don’t ever hear about other programs having such attrition due to injuries. Might this be an indication of poor programming?
Actually, Georgia is far from alone in suffering ACL injuries. It’s one of the most common college football injuries. Just recently, Texas A&M defensive tackle Kirby Enis, Michigan DT Ondre Pipkins, Boise State running back Aaron Baltazar, Florida DT Dominique Easley and Clemson wide receiver Charone Peake have all been lost for the season with ACL tears. And Peake’s came during a noncontact drill. Dr. Tarek O. Souryal of the Texas Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Group says there are between 250,000 and 300,000 ACL injuries per year and there’s really no good way to prevent them, though stretching and cross-training can help. Believe me, if there was a way for Georgia’s strength and conditioning staff to prevent these tears, they’d be doing it.
A couple of letter writers expressed frustration this week that Georgia has lost a couple of star players to injury while they were playing on special teams. Tommy Gentry Jr. writes: I still havent seen anyone ask Richt why Justin Scott-Wesley was playing on punt coverage. I understand speed and depth etc. However, it doesn’t make sense to me to have your second leading WR playing on punt coverage. I know UGA has more depth and athletes than to risk the type of injury that happened to JSW on that freak play. In my opinion he should have never been out there playing on punt coverage.
Richt is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t when it comes to playing starters on special teams. One of the chief complaints about Georgia’s special teams in past years was that they were stocked with slower, less talented walk-ons. Starters tend to be better athletes. Yes, playing starters on special teams increases the risk of injury, but as Malcolm Mitchell proved you can be lost for the season just celebrating. I don’t think pulling starters off the punt or kickoff coverage teams would be a good idea at all.
Kevin Cone writes: The current attention to Peyton Manning reminds me of his career at Tennessee. Whenever he and the Volunteers played Georgia, he played like a man possessed. The Bulldogs, my beloved Bulldogs, could not stop him. It was frustrating. It was embarrassing. It was painful. Peyton’s Vols beat the Dawgs for four straight years. Much like Peyton, Aaron Murray, Georgia’s current quarterback, will complete his career at UGA at the top of nearly every passing record in SEC history. Last Saturday in Knoxville, Aaron and the Dawgs beat the Vols for the fourth straight year. He played like a man possessed. The Vols could not stop him. It was frustrating. It was embarrassing. It was painful. Payback is sweet. Go Dawgs!
Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill, first off, thoughts and prayers with our hurt players, really tough watching those injuries. Second, what courage displayed by Murray — words can’t describe his play so far this season. Third, I thought it was a question of “when” our defense would get it, now I think it’s a question of “if” our defense will get it. Coach Grantham’s schemes are not cutting it … enough excuses, it’s time for our defense to play like champions. Fourth and finally, Coach Richt, we as UGA fans/faithful hold you to an impossibly high standard, we know, but … please coach, we’re begging you, get our punting fixed.
The punting disasters so far this season have either been a result of bad snaps (which seems to have been fixed), wrong protection schemes called on the field, or players whiffing on their blocks. Execution, in other words. I don’t know what the answer is to that, but if the Georgia coaching staff doesn’t figure it out soon, a promising season quickly could implode.
Steve Upshaw writes: I loved Scott [Howard] as the color guy on the radio broadcast, and I do realize how hard it is to follow a true legend, but Scott is not the answer long term. He’s so vanilla and without any flavor. There is nothing unique about him. During a big play, his voice always breaks and he just cannot paint the picture in the listeners mind. … Eric Zeier is so much better than Scott. I know Scott loves the Dogs, as we all do, but he simply isn’t suited to do play-by-play. I know it’s easier to point out a problem than to offer a solution, but it is one I believe should be addressed. I believe Chuck [Dowdle] would do a fantastic job and could grow into it and actually be outstanding. God knows Scott is a DGD, and should be respected, but after this much time behind the microphone, at least to me, has proven he isn’t up to the task.
While Howard is not another Larry Munson and you probably aren’t going to find many fans wanting to buy collections of his most memorable calls, I think he’s head and shoulders above Dowdle, whose softball interviewing makes even vanilla play-by-play seem tasty. I do think Zeier’s analysis has improved tremendously over the past five years. And I agree that while his excitement shows how much a fan Howard is, it would be great if he could call a Georgia touchdown without sounding like his nickname should be Screech.
Keith R. Crownover writes: Hey Bill, Full disclosure: I am a Yellow Jacket and occasionally read your blog — good read by the way. After reading [about] the black jersey I thought why not wear them for the last game every year regardless of location as Tech prefers the white jersey anyway and must ask permission from the visiting team to do so at home. Oh, and it would seem fitting as y’all have owned us for so long now so it’s like going to a funeral every year anyway. Just a suggestion from a brother from another “school.”
Thanks, Keith. I see you’re a realist! That’s an interesting suggestion and certainly would be a satisfactory way of allowing the players to wear the black jerseys they crave without turning it into an overhyped Blackout affair.
That’s it for this week. Remember, show up early Saturday!
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg