Sunday, October 30, 2005

Chin up, Georgia fans. Things could always be worse...

We've been here before

In all of the kvelling that will likely take place in the Dawg Nation in the next two weeks, this picture ought to say a thousand words. Florida, despite their struggles against Alabama and LSU, was and is a good football team with a major psychological advantage when they play Georgia in Jacksonville. Georgia was going into the game with its quarterback and best defensive tackle, both of whom are captains, on the shelf. In those circumstances, it isn't that surprising that the Dawgs came up short. If Shockley gets healthy and Georgia takes care of business against Auburn, then they'll head to Atlanta, probably at 10-1. Who wouldn't have taken that result at the start of the season?

Now, after getting off to a positive start, it's time for the recriminations:

1. Not since watching an ESPN Classic Replay of Michigan in the 1/1/77 Rose Bowl have I seen a team trail in the final two minutes and still insist on play action on every passing down. In Michigan's case, it was because they didn't have any passing plays that were not play action. I'm pretty sure that that is not true for Mark Richt's offense, so what in the world was Georgia doing running play action in the final three minutes of the game. JTIII already had trouble reading the defense and making accurate throws; why make his life more difficult by keeping his eyes on a running back instead of the secondary for the first part of a passing play? Steve Spurrier always hated the shotgun because it takes the quarterback's eyes off the coverage when he's getting the snap. Play action is even more pronounced in this respect.

2. I thought that Georgia had a good chance to win the game primarily because their defense would take care of Florida's offense and to a certain extent, they did by holding the Gators to 14 points and 261 yards, although Florida might have been more effective on offense if they wouldn't have been playing with the lead for the entire game. (Also, Georgia was fortunate to have only allowed 14 points at halftime because of the unforced fumble by DeShawn Wynn that deprived the Gators of a chance to really salt the game away at the end of the second quarter.) My second reason was the fact that teams often rally around a back-up quarterback and play well for a game or two before reality sets in. This, however, was not the case for Georgia. From their first offensive snap of the game, which ended with Martrez Milner dropping, to their last, which ended with JTIII having to throw the ball up under pressure because his line full of juniors and seniors could not protect him, the rest of the offense didn't make up for Shockley's absence. The line and receivers needed to exceed their norms on Saturday and they failed to do so.

3. On the next-to-last drive, did anyone else get the sense that Mohammed Massaquoi came fairly close to becoming Lindsey Scott, Jr.? Absent the intervention of Jarvis Herring (I think it was Jarvis who made the tackle,) Massaquoi might have scored on that wide receiver screen. And wouldn't it have been amusing if the play that Georgia fans have grown to revile because of its overuse would have saved the team in the biggest game of the season.

4. Up until the last drive when it was obvious that Georgia would be throwing, Mark Richt called pass plays on five first and tens. JTIII's stats on those plays: 3/5 for 40 yards and one drop by Milner. On the rest of his passes, JTIII was 5/16 for 60 yards and one pick. Seems to me that the better strategy for the offense, given a shaky quarterback, would have been to have him throw in non-obvious passing downs.

5. It's interesting that Florida got their biggest win of the year when they completely abandoned the option. On the other hand, they didn't win because of their offense, so maybe we shouldn't read too much into the change in Urban Meyer's offensive strategy.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Georgia-Florida musings

This has been a weird year for me. After watching Georgia's first two games, I haven't seen them play since, save for the Tennessee game, but my recollection of that is slightly fuzzy because I was: (1) drunk; (2) bothered by the fact that Michigan had just handed the Brown Jug over to Minnesota for the first time since Lou Holtz was their coach and I dressed in bright orange Auburn sweatshirts; and (3) watching a desperate female Vol fan hitting on a table of obviously gay male Vol fans. (Not that my gaydar is anything to brag about. When I was a summer associate, I asked the partner who was my mentor at the firm when we were going to do lunch at the Cheetah. Needless to say, this did not interest this partner in any way, other than to raise legitimate "maturity concerns.") I watched Florida against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU, so my impression of them so far is that they can only beat the worst team in the conference. Needless to say, this won't stop me from acting all prophetic.

It worries me that the conventional wisdom seems to be that Georgia is going to win, despite the fact that they have a wretched history against the Gators and Florida is a five-point favorite. Everyone analyzing the game thinks that Florida is going to struggle mightily to move the ball and I can't say that I disagree. More than anything else, Florida's offense has been killed this year because their offensive line can't get Urban Meyer's zone blocking scheme. Georgia, like Tennessee, Alabama, and LSU, has the defensive line to completely disrupt Florida's offense and make Chris Leak break out the "I can't believe I'm thinking this, but I miss Ron Zook, now look into my beautiful eyes" face. It's hard to imagine Florida moving the ball in this game after their performances against Alabama and LSU, but they have had two weeks to prepare for the game and they have a funny way of playing a lot better when they see the Red and Black. Also, if they force turnovers by the bushel like they did in Baton Rouge (and that isn't inconceivable with Joe Tereshinski (hereinafter "JTIII"), then offense might not be a problem.

When Georgia has the ball, Florida is going to quickly disabuse them of the notion that they'll be able to run the ball and have JTIII do nothing more than manage the game. Moreover, the idea that Georgia's just going to run the ball and throw only when forced to is wrong. If I'm smart enough to figure out that JTIII is far more likely to be successful throwing on occasions other than third and long, then Mark Richt is smart enough to reach the same conclusion. He's not going into a Lloyd Carr death spiral, where he loses faith in his quarterback and then puts him in position to fail by allowing him to throw only on obvious passing downs. The question is simply whether JTIII will perform well enough that Florida has to back off the run a little, allowing Georgia's offense to function properly. Who the hell knows, but I will say that JTIII has been in this offense for a long time, he's very experienced, he was fairly heavily recruited in high school, and he's beaten out the highly-touted Blake Barnes to be the back-up, so he's probably not a bad option.

The more I write about this game, the more I reach two conclusions:

1. Georgia should win if both teams play to form.

2. Georgia and Florida rarely play to form when they meet in Jacksonville.

Confused yet? Me too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

And now a defense of Fisher DeBerry

For instance, take this ill-reasoned criticism of his "we need more fast players and African-Americans sure seem to be faster" remark. The author, and others (almost all middle-aged white guys doing their best to personify White Guilt) who are in a tizzy about DeBerry's comments, has to have his eyes closed to think that there aren't more African-Americans (or, more specifically, individuals of West African descent) with top-end speed. How many Caucasian cornerbacks are there in the NFL? What's that? Zero? And how about halfbacks? Is that another zero I hear? Is that a coincidence that two of the top three speed positions in the NFL are uniformly honky-free? How in the world can anyone look at that disparity and think that DeBerry is wrong? And let's not even discuss the world of Olympic sprinting. Yeah, there is one Caucasian world champion in the 200. There is also the minor fact that approximately 196 of the top 200 times ever turned in in the 100M dash were turned in by runners of West African descent. Another striking coincidence. (And this, incidentally, is where the "race" arguments should end. People of East African descent don't have the type of speed that DeBerry was describing. Instead, they dominate the long distance events. So when DeBerry spoke of "African-Americans," he wasn't really describing a race, although I doubt that he knows that. He was describing people of West African descent, not the entire race of people of African descent.)

The author also creates a straw man argument by stating that DeBerry was making a "[b]lanket statement[] meant to describe a particular race of humans." Not exactly. He was saying that there are more African-Americans with top-end speed. I doubt he was saying that African-Americans are all faster than Caucasians. DeBerry could probably outrun Star Jones and he'd be the first to say that. He was saying that there are greater numbers of African-Americans with top end speed and that's completely right.

And then finally, we get the argument that public school education sucks in this country and that African-Americans are faster because they have no other options in life. Wrong wrong wrong. Public school education also sucks for rural whites in Appalachia, for instance, but you don't see Kentucky and West Virginia playing super fast Caucasians in their backfields, do you? And it can't be an American phenomenon. Again, the 100M dash is dominated by West Africans, as well as individuals from North America and Europe who are of West African descent. Are the schools crappy in all of those places? And are the schools crappy for West Africans in London, but not East Africans? How about all those poor kids in Pakistan with no hopes in life? Why aren't there sprinters coming from Islamabad?

Bottom line: why is it so hard to believe that groups from different areas of the world might have different distributions of genetic characteristics? Are we Jews full of it when we worry that we're more likely to have offspring with Tay-Sachs? Liberals who bend over backwards to claim that there are absolutely no differences between different racial groups just make themselves look dumb because they are making a claim that anyone with two eyes can see is not true. (Some sociologists would probably dispute my use of the term "race" there and a more precise way to say it might be that groups from different areas of the world, i.e. West Africans, Caucasians, Aboriginals, etc., sometimes have different genetic distributions in their populations.)

Sabbatical's over...

and it took this inane gem from Stewart Mandel to rouse me from my slumber. (We Southerners can be so prickly some times!) Anyway, Mandel misses several points:

1. Southerners are a little defensive right now about our teams because the last few years have seen them screwed routinely. In 2003, LSU only got a spot in the national title game because of Oklahoma's loss. The consensus of the human polls (which are greatly affected by media coverage and emphasis on chosen story lines, as well as inertia in that their assessment of teams rarely change unless those teams lose, hence the uncritical assumption that USC and Texas are the two best teams in the land) was that LSU was not on the level of USC or Oklahoma until the Sooners were exposed. In 2004, the human polls made the same judgment about Auburn, namely that they weren't on the level with USC or Oklahoma. In both instances, Oklahoma didn't do anything in their bowl game to justify the faith that the human polls had in them. Now, it's 2005, two SEC teams are unbeaten, and naturally, they have been judged to be inferior to USC and a Big XII team, such that they'll never get a shot at the national title unless one of those two teams lose. Stewie, you'll forgive us bumpkins if we don't take your proclamations of the inferiority of SEC teams seriously in light of the way that LSU and Auburn were erroneously written off in the past two seasons.

(And speaking of which, how is it that Big XII teams win out every time there is a controversy with the BCS? Flat-state bias?)

2. The reference to "ugly" SEC football is another illustration of why Southerners are so prickly and, incidentally, it explains why I like have computers as part of the BCS formula. Human voters always overrate the importance of offense and underrate the importance of defense when evaluating teams. Why was Bama's win over Tennessee ugly, but USC's win over Notre Dame and Texas' win over Ohio State were both glorious WHEN THEY WERE ALL BY THREE POINTS? Yes, Bama's six points against Tennessee were unimpressive, but how about USC allowing 31 points to Notre Dame? That was evidence of a top team? USC's defense was a complete sieve after they scored to take the lead at 27-24. That performance, more than Bama's problems scoring against the Tennessee defense, is inconsistent with a national champion. Hell, Mandel authored a very perceptive piece as part of's 2004 college football preview about the common factor for all national champions in the past decade being a top ten defense. USC isn't close to that right now, although in their defense, they've played far better offenses than any of the other unbeaten teams. The Trojans might get by being an exception to the rule that teams without great defenses don't win national titles because the rest of their schedule is manageable and I'm not going against the Trojans when Carroll has a month to prepare for a home game for the national title. That said, they don't look like a national champion right now, but most of the media are so obsessed with offensive skill position talent that they are overlooking that team's flaws.

And how does this relate to my original point? Simply put, Mandel's criticism of the SEC based on the games being defensive is idiotic because defense is central to winning a national title, so Georgia and Alabama aren't getting their due.

3. I love this:

"As a more lucid SEC alum in my office said this week, you can sum up the conference this season with a word: 'unwatchable.'

"Now, compare that to the ACC, which not only has three teams that could play with anyone in the SEC (Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami) but also no less than six other teams (Boston College, Clemson, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina) capable of beating those squads on any given week."

As an initial matter, anyone who thinks that a well-played defensive game is "unwatchable" shouldn't be writing for SI. Additionally, Mandel shifts his argument from the aesthetics of SEC games to the depth of the SEC versus the depth of other conferences, which is actually a reasonable point for him to make. (The bottom half of the SEC is not good this year and that's a legitimate criticism of Alabama and Georgia.) Sticking with aesthetics, did Stewie watch the Miami-Florida State game? Or the Clemson-Boston College game? And he's going to criticize SEC teams for playing boring, defensive games?

4. And it gets even dumber with this gem:

"Perhaps if the Tide or Bulldogs had beaten an Ohio State or Notre Dame in their non-conference slate rather than Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, Utah State, Boise State or Louisiana-Monroe, I'd have a better measuring stick."

Refresh my recollection, Stew. Weren't you the one who proclaimed Boise State to be the best mid-major before the season, along with every other SI college football writer? Hell, Georgia can't win for losing. They clobber a top 25 team with an offense that enamors everyone and that win makes that team worthless. (Incidentally, Boise State then lost a three-point game on the road to Oregon State and has not lost since.) And by the end of the year, Georgia and Alabama will have played Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and LSU, all of whom would probably be better than anyone else in the Big XII other than Texas. I guess those four games just don't give Stew the same ability to evaluate Georgia and Alabama in the same way that one win over Ohio State does with Texas. Ohio State must be SO good.

5. And let's not forget this last nugget:

"In the absence of that, perhaps the best point of comparison you can make is this: USC gained more yards against Arkansas in a two-minute span (261) than Georgia did against the Razorbacks over the course of an entire game (217)."

How about this: Washington scored more points against USC than they did against any other opponent this season. USC led mighty Arizona by seven points after three quarters. If we're going to judge teams based on not putting away bad opponents, how about those apples?