South Carolina Recap and Mark Richt's Heated Seat

Thoughts on the Saturday’s Game

Obviously, frustration continues to abound for Bulldog fans around the universe.  After a roller-coaster of a game Saturday I was actually hesitant to comment or otherwise react as I was afraid to either a. not give fair emphasis to the game that was just played and thus trivialize any improvements that may or may not have been displayed or b. give too much emphasis to the game and thus trivialize the current overall state of Georgia football.  Alas, after sleeping on the idea I feel comfortably in giving my own slightly informed opinion on what has transpired.

The Good

In all fairness, I cannot in good judgment assign the blame of this particular defeat to the coaching staff.  It is often said that a team improves most between week one and week two, and the Bulldogs certainly filled any such expectation.  Obviously, I wish more improvements had been made prior to the start of the season, but the problems that plagued the Bulldogs against UCF at the end of last season and Boise State at the opening of this campaign were more or less absent from Saturday’s game.

Georgia trimmed penalties, and although some were certainly costly (Rambo off-sides on the onside kick, a late pass interference call to extend a Carolina scoring drive), they seemed equally questionable and much less a reflection of discipline (false starts) and more a reflection of aggression.  Obviously, a penalty is a penalty but I’d rather see the Dawgs flagged for off-sides on the recovery of an onside kick then for a false start on the first play from scrimmage any day.

The offensive line while still far from stellar provided Murray with enough time to complete 66% of his passes and paved the way for 188 yards rushing against a fierce South Carolina defense.  The play calling was much more appropriate, and Bobo called what I would consider his best game since the “We run this State” game against Georgia Tech in 2009 as the Dawgs racked up 436 yards of total offense.  

The defense rallied despite Alec Ogletree’s absence and an injury to Christian Robinson and put together an overall impressive game.  Marcus Lattimore rumbled for 176 yards (the bulk of which came late in the game), but his presence was not nearly as dominant as it was last year.  Aside from a 34 yard touchdown catch on a rainbow from Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery was also held largely in-check (23 yards below his per game average a year ago).  The front line also got enough pressure on Garcia to force his worst passer rating since the 2009 season.

The Bad

On the coaching side, the only specific I can question is the combination of an onside kick late in the game and a lack of proper timeout usage thereafter.  I personally respect the onside kick decision and I don’t know how anyone could object.  The way I saw it, and the man sitting next to me in section 125 can vouch for this as we had the conversation during the TV break just prior to the kick, the onside allowed for two opportunities to get the ball back – the first being the kick itself and the second being a three-and-out – while a regular kick only offers one reasonable opportunity (the three-and-out).  Obviously, a three-and-out followed by a punt yields much worse field position if it follows an onside kick, but the number one priority with under two minutes to play is getting the ball back in any way, shape or for.  Once you have it back, then you complain about field position and adjust accordingly – but you have to give yourself every opportunity to get the ball.

The timeout situation seems equally clear in my mind, but was apparently more confusing to Richt and the coaching staff.  With three timeouts remaining I would take one following each of the first three downs – and I would do so immediately.  Georgia failed to utilize the three timeouts in that manner, but alas, Marcus Lattimore’s eight yard run to the outside on third and three negated all of this talk to begin with.

Several plays eliminated the Dawgs chances of winning this game:

·         Blair Walsh missed a 33 yard field goal (after making a 36 yarder and from 39 yards out).  This play seems entirely forgotten by most Richt critics, mainly because there is no way to blame a missed field goal that was not blocked on the coaching staff.  I love Blair Walsh, and I probably take his leg for granted, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to know that had he made his shortest attempt of the evening the game would have been tied 45-45 at the end of regulation.  It’s also worth noting that Walsh has missed two field goals in four attempts this season – one less than he missed in 23 attempts last year and the same number as he missed in 22 attempts in 2009.

·         The Garcia-scramble-rainbow-Jeffery-pot-of-gold touchdown pass couldn not have more than a 5% success ratio.  Georgia had Garcia on the run when he launched a pass from the 43 yardline that arced its way to Jeffery in the front corner of the endzone just before he went out of bounds.  It’s hard to expect much better pressure on Garcia or much better coverage on Jeffery.  That was just an example of an alcoholic 5th year senior making a heck of a pass and one of the nation’s best making a heck of a catch.

·         The onside kick was a great call.  If you want Evil Richt to coach aggressively, you got it.  If you want Evil Richt to think outside of the box, you got it.  If you want Evil Richt to care about winning games and making a statement, you got it.  Unfortunately if you wanted Bacarri Rambo slightly offsides…you got it.  I haven’t watched the replay in its entirety but DadYouCrazy maintains that to the human eye this would be a particularly hard infraction to observe at game speed.  He didn’t say that the call was wrong, but said that it was pretty daggum close.

·         Of course, that play gave way to the 68 yard touchdown run off a fake punt by a defensive end.  Obviously, this should never happen and if we want to get nitpicky with coaches we could say that no opposing coach should ever expect a punt from a Spurrier-coached team, but that’s pushing it seeing as the Gamecocks were on their own 32.  I do wonder what was said during the timeout Georgia called immediately prior to the play, but unless it was something to the effect of “Guys who are deep take poor angles to avoid tackling a potential runner and Branden Smith, if it’s a fake, get the hell out of dodge – I don’t care that you are a cornerback and the nature of your position is to make tackles downfield – just don’t do it!” it’s hard to blame the coaches for the touchdown itself.  A run for a first down, or even a long run might be on the coaches, but Melvin Ingram should have been brought down before the goal line regardless of what punt-block scheme was being played.  I watched Smith stand still and even back away from Ingram as he approached – that’s on him.

·         The exchange between Crowell and Murray will be widely discussed as to “was it his fault or was it the other guys fault” but the bottom line is this: that is an execution issue not a coaching or game plan issue.  And, given no previous history of botched exchanges between Murray and Crowell it’s hard to label it as a problem that should have been previously addressed.  If it happens continually this season, you can bet I’ll be ticked, but I have no reason to expect that.  When Stephon Gilmore recovered the fumble I knew things were bad – the kid just makes plays.

·         Aaron Murray’s interception for a touchdown late in the third quarter was brutal.  Right before the play started I asked the guy next to me if Orson Charles had recently stolen Murray’s girlfriend or otherwise offended his family.  Charles had been consistently open across the middle of the field and on the play before (a Georgia penalty) he was wide open but not even looked at.  On the very next play Murray looked directly at Charles from the snap, through his break and until he fired a duck of a pass.  I saw the interception coming.  I guarantee you Murray has not been coached to stare down receivers or throw wounded bird passes, not only because no coach demands that from his players but also because Murray has never shown that tendency.  This pass was an outlier.

·         Murray’s late game fumble is also 100% a product of poor execution.  The play was a slip screen that by its very nature was designed to let the defensive end through the line of scrimmage.  Murray saw the crease and was trying no to give the play away with his eyes.  Unfortunately those diverted eyes did not pick up on just how fast Clowney was going to get to him. I don’t know if he panicked or was caught off guard.  Murray was not protecting the ball and he should have just eaten the sack.

If any of those meltdowns are avoided, I think (and I’m not alone in this thinking) the Bulldogs win the football game.  And, while continued meltdowns should certainly be a concern for any coach, the problems that cost the Dawgs the game last week against Boise State were, as previously mentioned, largely fixed.  Faked punts, interceptions and fumbles for touchdowns and botched chip shots by our All-American kicker are all new problems, and I hope not continual habits for the season to come.  Obviously, I will feel very different if these issues persist.


Mark Richt’s seat is hotter still than it was last week, but the outlook for his job security is somewhat more favorable.  Allow me to explain this paradox.

The seat is noticeably warmer by virtue of another loss, an 0-2 start to the season, a 1-10 record in the Dawgs’ last 11 games against ranked opponents, a 6-9 record over Richt’s last 15 games and a 5-10 record in Richt’s last 15 conference matchups.  At the end of the day, the Bulldogs need to win games in which they outplay opponents.  That principle is, after all, intrinsic to successful coaching.

However, the outlook is favorable.  Coming in to the season many pundits (myself included) viewed the Gamecocks as a better team than the Boise State Broncos.  You may disagree with this notion and at this juncture I am becoming increasingly unsure as to its validity, but I do think the Cocks are more reflective of the kind of challenges that remain for the Bulldogs.  After all, the remaining teams on the Dawgs’ schedule have compositions and playing styles much more similar to that of the South Carolina Poultry than that of the White Horsemen from the Mythical State of Boise.  Furthermore, Carolina may very well be the pinnacle of such teams as the Fighting Chickens entered the season as divisional favorites and remain highly regarded both within the conference and nationally.

In a weird way, this new frustration – frustration of losing a winnable game – is much preferred over the old frustration – frustration of not even being competitive.  And, if South Carolina is truly the cream of the crop in the SEC East and the nation’s 11th best team, then why couldn’t Georgia make a run at any and every team remaining on their schedule?

Georgia has three teams remaining on their schedule who are currently ranked (25th ranked Miss. State, 16th ranked Florida and 21st ranked Auburn).  If Richt can continue to motivate his squad, Grantham can fine-tune his defense and Bobo can stay out of his own way what part of Saturday’s game says the Dawgs couldn’t beat the other Bulldogs, the Gators and the Tigers? 

Don’t give me the, “good teams don’t make that many mistakes and still win” crap, because honestly, I don’t think the Bulldogs could make that many mistakes again in a single game if they wanted to, and I don’t think they have anybody on the schedule with as stout of a defense as Carolina and three playmakers like Jeffery, Lattimore and the criminal Garcia on offense.

Georgia should win games like the one that was lost on Saturday, but if the players are as committed to Mark Richt as they have pledged to be then I think they’ll find a way to do so.  I said last week that we had just a few short months to get ready for a new coach in Athens, GA.  Now I’d say that the young players – Murray, Crowell, Malcolm Mitchell and maybe even Ray Drew – have a few short months to tighten up their game, execute on the field and keep their coach in the Classic City.

For better or worse, Richt’s future is in the hands of the ever-so talented recruiting classes he has assembled, and their ability to live up to the hype will be the only way he saves his job.

If this post was too positive for you, please enjoy this video:

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