Michigan State came into the Citrus Bowl (I refuse to use the new name) in a position not unlike the one that Japan in 1940-41. MSU was opposed by a slumbering giant, an opponent that was complacent and unprepared for war at the outset, but an opponent with far greater talent and capacity for a long-term fight. Isoruku Yamamoto, the planner of the Pearl Harbor attack, famously predicted that a successful operation at Pearl Harbor would buy Japan six months. At the end of those six months, if Japan had not won the war or reached a favorable settlement with the U.S., then Japan had no prospect of success. Yamamoto's plan worked perfectly at Pearl Harbor, save for the inconvenient fact that none of the American carriers were home. Japan racked up success after success in the early months of the war before losing badly at Midway (almost exactly six months after Pearl Harbor). They spent the last three years of the war unsuccessfully trying to invent ways to make commitment to the cause trump technology and numbers.
Michigan State could be confident of two things going into the game yesterday. First, Georgia would not be excited to play in the opening stages. The Citrus Bowl is as good as it gets for Michigan State; it's a worst-case scenario for a Georgia team that was playing in the Sugar Bowl one year ago and came into this season as the AP #1. Second, Georgia can be pounced upon by an aggressive opponent. Florida and Alabama both shut the Georgia offense down early and jumped on the Dawgs, negating Knowshon Moreno as a running threat and forcing UGA to play from behind.
Confronted with these twin realities, Michigan State opted for the equivalent of Japan declaring war on the U.S. and then erecting a big fence in the Pacific. Georgia's offense was as sluggish at the start of the game as could be expected. The Dawgs turned the ball over twice in the first half, but the Spartans' vanilla offense was only able to turn the mistakes into three points. Michigan State was only going to win the game by jumping on Georgia early, so a 6-3 lead at the half for MSU was the equivalent of a surrender.
I didn't watch every play of the game, but Georgia's offense drove me crazy in the first half, mainly because I was counting too many instances in which Georgia was in a three-wide formation, Michigan State had seven in the box, and Georgia was running the ball at them anyway. I assume that Matt Stafford has the authority to change the play at the line, so I'll direct this comment to Stafford, but it should also go to Mark Richt and Mike Bobo: why are you running when Michigan State outnumbers your blockers? When State had three linebackers in the game, two deep safeties, and no one over your slot receiver, you knew exactly what the defense was before the snap. The defense was certainly zone and most likely cover two. There are plays that work against that defense, especially when you have two great receivers on the outside. Instead, you kept running Knowshon into seven man fronts with six blockers. I'm starting to understand why Georgia scored three points against Florida and Alabama in the first half. Maybe you caught some of the Rose Bowl, but if you didn't, please pick up a tape and watch what USC did to exploit Penn State's cover three zone. The Trojans didn't wait until the third quarter to start scoring. They don't treat the first half as a feeling out period.
Those complaints aside, Georgia did a very good job on offense in the third quarter. I particularly liked the two plays that led to Georgia's first touchdown. First, Georgia correctly guessed that Michigan State would blitz and hit Caleb King on a screen to the side from which the Spartans blitzed. On the next play, Georgia used a cover-two killer - fake throw to one side to draw the safety and then a deep throw to take advantage of the out-of-position safety - to take the lead. It was beautiful playcalling. It worked against Michigan State because the Spartans made little effort to take the initiative in the game.
Other random thoughts:
1. Either Michigan State's offensive line is suspect or Georgia's defensive ends got a lot better in bowl practices. The repeated sacks from a four-man rush have to be a major source of encouragement for Dawg fans.
2. ESPN flashed a stat early in the third quarter that encapsulated all the problems with Georgia's offensive approach in the first half: Stafford had thrown a grand total of three balls at Massaquoi and Green.
3. Stafford's throw on the first touchdown reminded me how much I'm going to miss a quarterback who can get the ball down the field with a slight flick of his wrist.
4. Mark Dantonio is Jim Tressel without the talent base. Exhibit A: punting in the first quarter on 4th and 1 from the Georgia 39. Exhibit B: an offense built around running the same guy over and over between the tackles. (At least Tressel came out of the dark ages with Troy Smith.) Exhibit C: a kicker who attempted 25 field goals this year. Exhibit D: an on-field personna that makes Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off look like Sam Kinison. With the way Dantonio's team approaches offense, I'm constantly reminded of the Japanese officer who said in 1944 that Japan didn't need radar because its soldiers could see perfectly well.