“Oh, Wide Open”
There are ways to lose and there are ways to lose. If I could put myself inside the head of a hardcore Georgia fan, the loss in Columbia was more acceptable than the loss to Arkansas over the weekend. Georgia lost in Columbia because the offense mustered only six points in a redshirt freshman quarterback’s first start on the road (and without his best receiver, to boot). Disappointing, but understandable. Yes, the offensive approach was vanilla, but it’s been vanilla for most of Mark Richt’s tenure and that never stopped the Dawgs from winning (especially in Columbia, where offensive touchdowns have always been optional for Richt’s teams).
The loss on Saturday was not acceptable because it hewed to the perception that Richt’s teams have become talented, but dumb. Defense was always the strength of Richt’s successful teams in Athens, so allowing 433 yards at 7.7 yards per play is not good. More importantly, Georgia was beaten not because their players were not athletic enough, but instead because they made big mistakes. Two of Arkansas’ first three touchdowns were the result of Bobby Petrino calling plays that led to uncovered receivers downfield. Then, the winning touchdown came on a play speciifcally called to beat cover-two, which is exactly what Georgia deployed on the play. It’s one thing to give up scores because a top five pick threw laser beams in narrow windows; it’s another to give up scores because a corner decided not to cover a receiver or didn’t realize that he had to slide back from underneath coverage. Those instances smack of “their coaches are smarter than ours.” (Ditto for Georgia’s offensive approach. Richt and Bobo coached the first three quarters as if they were calling plays for Herschel instead of Washaun Ealey. When they spread Arkansas out in the fourth quarter, the passing game magically improved.)
Jim Donnan’s downfall was not his regular losses to Florida and Tennessee. Georgia fans are generally rational people (as compared to, say, Alabama fans) and could understand losing games to two teams that were perennial fixtures in the top five. What killed Donnan was his three-game losing streak to Georgia Tech. Georgia fans will not tolerate their coach losing games to teams with obviously inferior talent. How exactly would we characterize losses to South Carolina and Arkansas to open the 2010 season? Yes, the Gamecocks and Razorbacks have better top-end talent (especially with A.J. Green suspended), but if you compare the 22 starters for the three teams (or the 44 players on the three teams’ two-deeps), there is no doubt that Georgia has better players. Move me into the “Richt is in some trouble” camp. Maybe not this year, but certainly by next year.
The counterpoints: (1) how would Arkansas and South Carolina have looked with their best players suspended; and (2) Georgia is implementing a new scheme on defense, so some bumps in the road are to be expected. Let’s see the finished product before we decide that the Georgia coaches are squandering talent.
I Heart Chris Spielman.
Does anyone else think that ESPN has the wrong Buckeye as its top college football analyst? Herbstreit is perfectly good as a color guy, but I love listening to Spielman call a game and I have ever since he predicted Michigan’s plays during a Carr-era broadcast based on the placement and movement of the fullback. I’m glad that SEC fans are getting a taste of Spielman now that he isn’t stuck in the ghetto that are noon games between Minnesota and Illinois. For instance, Spielman noted on Saturday before Georgia’s big third and five on their penultimate drive that they needed to have some short, quick options for Aaron Murray to get the first down. Instead, Georgia ran a series of deep routes that took too long to develop and Murray got sacked. Spielman jumped on the playcall and justifiably so. How many analysts would have given a good description of the pass routes on a key play? And is that a compliment to Spielman or a criticism of most analysts removing football from football games?
Florida’s offense remains weak, plus the Gators also blew a pair of coverages against Tennessee, allowing receivers to run free in their secondary. (See, it’s not just an issue with Georgia!) If Mark Richt wants to make Georgia fans feel better about the direction of the program, a win in the Cocktail Party against the one team that is clearly more talented than Georgia would be a fine tonic.
Far be it for me to Pick on a Guy who Just had a Heart Attack…
But Michigan State’s fake field goal was not a brilliant call. It’s not as if Notre Dame was selling out for the block and left a receiver open. There was a defender assigned to Charlie Gantt who simply fell down/was knocked over. Maybe going for the fake was a better option than a young kicker trying as 46-yard field goal or MSU lining up for a regular offensive play, but if Gantt isn’t uncovered as the result of a collision at the line of scrimmage, then that play would have had no chance at all.
By the way, I’m not ranking Michigan, Michigan State, or Notre Dame this week. I’m not enamored with the defenses of any of those three teams. Michigan contrived to allow 37 points at home against a I-AA opponent, most likely because Greg Robinson realizes that he has very little to work with in the secondary and is playing very conservative schemes as a result. That might be a rational response, but it doesn’t change the fact that any team can nickel and dime the Wolverines down the field.
And I better do my crowing now about Arizona beating Iowa, because those other four predictions aren’t looking strong right now.
The Gary Crowton Experience
Congrats to LSU for getting to 3-0 without a functional offense. I was expecting to take a look at the Tigers’ box score and see improvement after they beat Mississippi State 29-7, but I found 264 yards, including only 97 yards passing. Mississippi State’s offense sounds like a complete disaster. Famous last words.