Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tech Wrecked...and a Career Saved

When Georgia started 0-2, Mark Richt was definitely on the hot seat. But the heat switch had been thrown two seasons earlier when talented Bulldog teams underachieved, the defense was almost non-existent, and a general malaise had seemed to settle over the entire program. And make no mistake, the responsibility for that kind of funk lands directly at the head coach's feet. And responding to that challenge, Richt went 6-7 and lost to UCF in the Liberty Bowl, making some seriously cowardly calls along the way. So let's not soften things up, Richt's seat was thermonuclear heading into this season and justifiably so. That first loss only kicked the heat up a notch, but the second one felt like a slight reprieve; it wasn't coaching that burned us, but execution from a young team that put up 42 points but managed to give away 28. It was a start - a corner turned heading into an easy FCS game and then the meat of the easiest SEC draw of a schedule. Richt had time.

And he used it. The young guys came together on offense, Bobo called plays that matched their strengths, the defense gelled, and some transfers asserted their dominance. Sure there was Murray overthrowing everybody at UT, Bobo's ridiculous Wildcat calls at Vandy, and the failure stopping the run against the same Dores squad. But, overall, things were good; Georgia went 5-0 headed into the bye week, and the heat under Richt had been turned down some. Then we beat Florida. Florida is not very good this year, but beating them means more than simply outperforming them on the field. The Gators live in our heads. They dominate our gridiron psyches like a puppet master and overcoming that meant way more than a 4-point win over a .500 team. It gave us confidence. We closed out the year with 5 more wins, riding the high from that Florida win into thrashings of NMSU and Auburn. We played poorly against Kentucky, but still won and sealed the SEC East, stealing a CG bid from SoCar, the Gamecocks cursed with a road trip to Arkansas that dropped them out of contention. And then we capped ten wins in a row with a road victory over our in-state rival - a great way to end a regular season.

Yesterday wasn't as particularly dominant as I wanted it to be (of course, it'll probably never be 100-0), nor was it as dominant as it could have been. We still really don't have much of an answer for the triple option, giving up 245 on the ground. And, while that's almost a hundred yards below Tech's average, it's way higher than our 81 ypg heading into the game. I really detest playing this offense, too. I've stated before how much I hate cut-blocking and the entire system at Tech revolves around it. It's also very difficult to coach against modern offenses all season and then try to implement anti-flexbone option techniques in a week. It all just adds up to a dangerous, dangerous game - for the scoreboard, records, bowl bids, and people's knees. All you can do is hope to contain it and outscore it when you've got the chance.

Despite those few shortcomings against the offense, though, I felt pretty good about the defense overall. There weren't nearly as many pays of 25 yards+ as they've gouged us for in the past and we created more third and longs than the Bees are comfortable with. Also, remember how much people lauded the passing part of the offense earlier this season? Well, it was almost non-existent yesterday. Tevin Washington was knocked around in the pocket and threw two picks, as Tech, trying to climb out of 3 score deficit, only put up 80 yards of offense in the second half. I'll take that every time.

Offensively, things were a little more shaky for us. Aaron Murray looked a little rough early, but settled into a great game overall, with his 250 yards and 4 TD's erasing the early INT. But I'm not comfortable with having to rely on him. Something has got to give in our run game - soon. Crowell was hurt and didn't play. Thomas looks like he's not even part of the team anymore. Samuel's still recovering from his ankle injury. Harton and Malcome just aren't talented enough to carry the workload. Smith and Boykin are speedster options at best and won't work as every down backs (just look at the long sack in the third quarter as evidence of what happens when you use a CB to block on third and long). We need a running game solution and we need to find it before next week.

I do like the game plan we went with once we realized we had to work around our porcelain run game. We saw passes work on first down and ran a lot on second down to set up later play-actions. The only questionable call I saw was using Smith at RB on the third and long. It led to Tech's only sack and knocked Georgia out of field goal range. Now, play-action certainly wouldn't have worked there, but I don't think we needed to give up protection, either. Now, speaking of special teams...ugh, Blair Walsh. Boykin had a great return and our kick-off coverage was solid, but Walsh gives the whole unit a black eye every time he misses. This kid was a Groza finalist - what the fuck happened? Much like the run game, kicking will need to get sorted out before next week.

In the end, though, it was a win. And a rivalry win at that. But it was so much more, too. It was the tenth win in a row for a team that started 0-2. It was a great confidence builder headed into the SEC title game. And, perhaps most importantly, it was a win that warmed the faithful back up to Mark Richt, but certainly cooled his seat off for a while.

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