Friday, November 18, 2011

Cue the Wolf

Before the Alabama-LSU game, I kept finding myself reading previews and saying "yeah, but..."  This was especially true regarding the Alabama defense.  Inevitably, a writer would trot out a stat about the dominance of the Alabama defense and my mental response would be "yeah, but look at the offenses that they have played."  At least with LSU, one could say that they shut down Oregon and they did a good enough job against West Virginia, surrendering a ton of yards, but not that many points and they forced turnovers in the game.

I am getting the same sense about Georgia after the Auburn game.  The Dawgs dominated Auburn and now we're hearing variants of "playing the best football in America right now" and "man, if there were a playoff..."  People, the team that Georgia played Between the Hedges on Saturday may be wearing the same uniforms as the team that won the national championship ten months ago, but they aren't in the same league in terms of actual quality.  Auburn is currently fielding the worst defending national championship team that I can remember since I started watching college football in 1980.  (Maybe Penn State 1987 would give them a run for their money in that department?)  Beating up on the Tigers might feel satisfying, but it does not magically turn Georgia into an elite team. 

So when I read Blutarsky citing Georgia's success with turnover and big play margin or writing another post about turnover margin, my first response is "yeah, but..."  Blutarsky refers to Georgia's "surge" this year and is hunting all over for statistical support for the surge, but is it any more simple than this statistic: Georgia played a pair of top 30 teams in its first two games and has not played one since.  If Georgia started 8-0 and then played Boise State and South Carolina (the USC team with Garcia and Lattimore) and lost both games to drop to 8-2, then what would the narrative be now?  The discussion about the Dawgs just screams recency to me.

And then this reasoning is really weak:

Matt Hinton crunches the numbers to find that if Georgia wins on Saturday it will have faced a conference slate that amassed the lowest winning percentage of any group that played a SECCG participant. In fact, if Alabama beats Auburn, “Georgia will be the first team ever to reach the SEC Championship Game without beating a single opponent ranked in the final regular season polls to get there.”

Matt’s right to go and say so what, but it’s worth adding that it’s not like Georgia squeaked by this season. A win on Saturday means the Dawgs went 7-1 in conference play. That’s nothing to sneer at. The schedule may be weak, but there’s not much more you can do about it than to win as many of the games as you can.
"It's not like Georgia squeaked by this season."  Maybe I dreamed the Vandy game, where Georgia had to survive two throws into the end zone at the end to avoid a massive upset, that after a blocked punt that would have been the end of the season, practically speaking.  Or maybe I was having visions during the Florida game, when Georgia's special teams contrived to give the lead to Florida and then Georgia barely won in the fourth quarter against a badly weakened opponent, all while the Dawgs could barely complete a forward pass.  7-1 in the SEC is indeed something to sneer at when the league this year is a four-team league - LSU, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas - and Georgia didn't play any one of the other three.  When the schedule is weak, there is indeed something you can do above and beyond just winning the games: win the games impressively.  Beat lesser foes in the manner that we would expect from an excellent team.  That's how one makes sense of a team with a weak schedule.  For instance, the manner of victory is the difference between the 2007 Hawaii team, which was a total fraud because they had a number of close calls in the WAC, and the Kellen Moore Boise State teams, which dominated inferior opponents.  At times, Georgia has looked great (see: Auburn and the first half against Mississippi State) and at time they have not (see: Vandy and the first half against Florida).*

* - I will acknowledge the possibility that Georgia deployed Evil Richt Magic Beans following the Florida game.  After the hard-to-explain 2007 season, in which Georgia was an average team for the first six games and then abruptly became the best team in the country for the last seven, I can't rule out a transformation.

Overall, this season has been a success for Georgia.  They have at least established themselves as being above the SEC's middle class, which was not the case for the past two years.  The defense has taken a major step forward, which indicates that Mark Richt made the right move when he replaced Willie Martinez with Todd Grantham.  The team has played well with only six senior starters, so the future looks even better.  However, the Dawgs' prospective nine-game winning streak has been nothing more than a good team holding serve.  It's important that they didn't get upset by any of the opponents on the slate, but they didn't prove a whole helluva lot, either, especially with the way they played against Vandy and Florida.  The real test will be the final three games.  If the Dawgs play well against Georgia Tech (a team roughly on the level of Florida), LSU (Georgia doesn't need to win, but they need to be competitive), and then in the bowl game, then we can start talking about a surge.  If they don't, then we're going to have another offseason of Mark Richt hot seat debate.  The recency effect is in Georgia's favor when they get to 9-2; it would not be if they end at 9-5.


Senator Blutarsky said...

Okay, you got my attention, Michael. ;)

Where to start?

I guess with my use of the term "surge". I'm not sure what else you want to call the longest winning streak of Richt's career and the longest Georgia's enjoyed in 30 seasons - especially after coming off a 6-7 season. If you've got a better word, lay it on me and I'll make the correction.

As for squeaking by, I think that's just a difference in what we're describing. You're looking at individual games; I'm referencing a (potential) 7-1 conference record that's much better than what S. Carolina came up with in 2010 to win the East.

Believe me, I'm under no illusion that Georgia has remade itself into an elite team yet. But I find it hard to deny there hasn't been palpable improvement. Those close games you cite wound up as wins. I doubt the team that lost to Colorado and UCF would have won them all.

As for no surge if Georgia loses... well, yeah.

Michael said...

Yeah, there is no denying that Georgia has improved. My last paragraph makes that point. My point is that Georgia fans seem to be talking about a finished product, but the lack of quality opponents since the opening two games of the year refutes that conclusion. We should be in wait-and-see mode.

A Georgia-Michigan Cap One Bowl would be a great pairing. The teams have similar rankings. They are both going to get tests in their last two games of the year. Both fan bases are completely enamored by their defensive improvement this year and would elect their new DCs as governors. Both teams will get hyped going into next year because they will return a lot of starters (14 for Michigan; 16 for Georgia), led by their Floridian QBs who will be going into their third years as starters.

Anonymous said...

In agreement with Michael here.

UGA fans have gone from disgust (pre-Florida), to cautious optimism (post-Florida), to just-miss MNC contenders (post-Auburn) by beating two very, very average teams. And one of those teams had them down 2 scores in the first half.

Arguing that you are a powerhouse because you are the most turnover-forcing-team in the land is usually not a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Interesting back and forth. Tangent alert:

I don't know where this whole "Richt's first ever 8 game winning streak" meme started, but it is false. He in fact has 4 winning streaks equal or greater to this one, with the longest being 11 games. They are:

1) The first 8 games of 2002 (Clemson, SC, NW State, NM State, Bama, UT, Vandy, UK)
2) The last 5 games of 2002-the first 3 games of 2003 (Miss, AU, GT, Ark, FSU, Clemson, MTSU, SC)
3) The last 2 games of 2004-the first 7 games of 2005 (GT, Wisc, Boise, SC, ULM, MSU, UT, Vandy, Ark) **
4) The last 7 games of 2007-the first 4 games of 2008 (Vandy, UF, Troy, AU, UK, GT, Hawaii, GSU, CMU, SC, AzSU)

Can we stop spreading this false information?


Connor said...

I have to agree with you, Michael. All I can tell from this season to date is that Georgia hasn't beaten the good teams it's played, and has beaten the bad. Fortunately, our schedule has included about 10 bad teams. The reason it was SEC championship or bust this year was the schedule. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that UGA still has a lot to prove. No doubt it's been an improvement over the last two years, but that's a pretty low bar. It feels like the first year or two of a new coaching regime; this version of UGA still needs a signature win over a good team to prove it's back.

peacedog said...

Hobnail, nobody cares about win streaks that are broken up over two seasons. For good reason.

chg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chg said...

If there are only four good teams in the SEC, Georgia is not one of them.

South Carolina still owns the head to head victory, and, with the critical exception of Auburn, has managed a greater MOV against common opponents even after our injuries.