Blog Archives

Talkin’ Tide: Alabama’s Championship Season


This is the ninth article reviewing the ten topics I deemed most important to the SEC before the season began.

The previous articles in this series can be found here:

 

Talkin’ Tide

I can’t go anywhere without hearing about or talking about Alabama football.  This week I went down to West Palm Beach for a conference.  Alabama National Championship T-shirts were for sale at Hartsfield-Jackson and Palm Beach International airports.  Half the people who identified me as a Georgian asked me what I thought about the Falcons near-collapse against the Seahawks before moving on to the more pressing question, “OH! And how about that SEC Championship Game?!?! Georgia was so close!”

I might sound like I’m leading into a bitter tirade, but for once I’m not.  Alabama was the best team in the country this year.  I knew this in August (and frankly every one should have known this) when I pegged the team as the second most important stand-alone SEC topic (being edged out only by conference-wide predictions).  At the time I anticipated a year of hearing about Alabama football, so I refused to talk about Alabama football and instead focused my time discussing Nick Saban and his daughter’s alleged antics, A.J. McCarron’s disaster of a tattoo and a few other trivial observations about the Tide.  As it turns out, I didn’t hear enough about Bama this year.

Even back in August I found it odd that fans were more interested in the Honey Badger, Bobby Petrino’s side piece and Tyler Bray than the defending National Champions with a lot of returning talent.  Even through the season it seemed like Alabama got most of its press when the Tide lost to A&M but otherwise they kind of plodded along quietly.  Leading up to the National Championship the media was so busy polishing the golden dome on Manti Te’o’s head and picking flowers for his next lei that they failed to recognize that Alabama was not only a good team, but the best team.  And, as I exhausted here, many failed to realize that Alabama was about to end Notre Dame.  Period.

So, in a weird way, I can’t be too upset when Alabama is all I hear about now.  As good as this Bama team was (and to be fair, I’m not even sure it was the best of the current dynasty), I don’t think the Crimson Tide got enough talk-time before and during the 2012 season.  So in the name of fairness, I’ll withstand the long conversations about a team that outplayed my team by five yards.  Because the topic of conversation – at least for the last week and a half – has been the best team in the country, and that’s a welcomed change.

 

That’s all I got/

Andrew

SEC Championship Recovery: Is this the first Step?


That hurt. Bad.  And I don’t even play.  I may sound like a smart alack for saying this, but in all sincerity, my condolences go out to everyone who actually works for and with the UGA football program.  It was a brutal end to SEC play that had a harsh since of finality to it.

I’ll break down the game itself in greater detail Monday morning and I’ll look big picture on Tuesday, but here are some quick hits on yesterday.

  • Georgia had one big problem yesterday, and I think we can all admit it.  As I said early last week that stopping Alabama’s running game was the key to a Georgia win, and it didn’t happen.  I really wish I had been wrong.
  • I hope that the tendencies that make Aaron Murray the utmost in professionalism bring him back next year.  I think he improved his performance in this game and I think that last drive was four yards short of making him a first round pick.  I hope he’s back.  He’s my quarterback.
  • That last 2:00 or so seemed to be a microcosm of Georgia’s season and the game as a whole.  Georgia’s defense – erratic at times – made a stop when one was needed.  Georgia’s offense was explosive in driving the field.  But in the end Alabama was just slightly more prepared than Georgia.  And, I’ll speak at this tomorrow at length, I do think the playcall/strategy was correct.
  • David Pollack was once a DGD but I’m not sure that he still is.  His lack of on-air support for Georgia is maddening.  It is one thing to be a professional, but it is another to refuse to praise the university that made you who you are in a field that allows for you to do so.  Herbie and Desmond have both been pro-Big 10 and more specifically pro-Ohio State and Michigan before.  Would it kill you to give Georgia credence in a game that the Bulldogs were clearly prepared to be competitive in?  I liked you better when you didn’t look like a kid I could feed for 45 cents a day.  you used to be terrifying and now you look like a spin class instructor.  Bulk up or shut up, Pollack.
  • To the Alabama fan that bet me $500 last night that Aaron Murray was 1-25 against the top ten, contact me for my mailing address.  Georgia has now lost a total of 13 games in his tenure.  Pay up, son.

I promise I’ll try to do this game justice tomorrow, so come back for more.  Go Dawgs.  I’m proud of ’em.

Also, I haven’t even re-read any of this, but the best journalism is raw so I’m sure you’ll appreciate my typos.

That’s all I got/

Andrew

Georgia vs. Alabama Preview: The Final Word – This Doesn’t Define the Season


Eight weeks ago I asked Georgia fans to take a step back and have a little perspective following a heartbreakingly ugly defeat in Columbia, South Carolina.  My assertion then was that the season was bigger than one game.  Now I insist that the season is still, even today, bigger than one game.

Two years ago the Georgia Bulldogs went 6-6 before losing in a Bowl Game to a Conference USA opponent.  That didn’t sit well – understandably – with Georgia fans (myself included) who were still disappointed with the performance of recent teams that starred the likes of Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and countless other NFL talents.  Georgia opened the 2011 season with a pair of losses: one an embarrassing defeat to the BCS-Busting Blue Broncos from the mythical State of Boise, the other at the hands of Steve Spurrier that seemed to signify the swing of power in the SEC East.

I was ready for changes.  You were probably ready for changes.  Everybody was ready for changes.  Instead of being one of the changes, Mark Richt and his staff made the changes.  The Bulldogs ripped off 10 straight wins and in the process snuck into the Georgia Dome for bid at the SEC Championship.  Now, if you listen to Mark Richt describe the state of his team at that time it’s hard not to pick up on a hint of surprise for the 2011 squad.  They didn’t expect to be there.  I think that showed in their performance.  Although the effort could not be questioned and at times it seemed like Georgia might pull off an upset (especially in the first half when they seemed to move the ball at will against LSU), it was hard to say that the Bulldogs belonged in the Dome that day.

As much has changed between that game and today as changed between the 2010 season and the 2011 season.  The records may not show as much improvement (going from a losing season to an SEC Championship Game is hard to match), but this year’s 11-1 team belongs in the Georgia Dome much more so than last year’s 10-2 team.  And, that’s not an indictment of the 2011 Georgia Bulldogs so much as it is high praise for this year’s edition.

I mentioned yesterday that expectations within the Bulldogs football team are completely different than they were this time last year.  Expectations from outsiders, however, remain the same.  With few noteworthy exceptions (Jeff Schultz at the AJC is one) most major media market representatives and national media pundits expect Alabama to win today.  The Las Vegas line is sitting at 8.5 (I could list a thousand reasons as to why that is bogus, but I’ll spare you) in favor of Alabama.

I don’t know what your expectations as a fan of Georgia football have been, so I can’t judge whether they should be altered.  But, I will be so bold as to tell you what your expectations and, perhaps on a broader scale, your perspective of Georgia football should be.

You should expect the Georgia Bulldogs to compete today.  What that looks like on the field, I’m not exactly sure, but I would expect both sides of the ball to finish plays with authority.  The offense will fight for extra yardage and the defense will swarm.   There will be mistakes, but there will also be successes.

You should expect a well-called game from both coordinators.  When his players are engaged in the greater good of physically dominating their opposition rather than promoting the individual, Todd Grantham has the best defense in the country.  They have been over the last five weeks.  Mike Bobo is up for the Frank Broyles assistant coach of the year award and Georgia has already set a school record for points in a season and the offense is rolling.  How well the offense executes remains to be seen, but I’d expect Bobo to call a fine game – even if there are a few draw plays on third and long.

I stand by the expectations listed above and I stand by my game preview from yesterday.  But, the magnitude of this game should not be lost on anyone and neither should the consequences.  This is the National Championship game.  If you read my site regularly you know my feelings about Notre Dame and non-SEC football in general.  Am I a homer?  Absolutely.  But favoring the SEC has worked out pretty darn well for me over the past few years and until proven otherwise I will work on the assumption that the SEC is the best conference top-to-bottom in the country and as a byproduct of such continues to produce the best team in the country year-in and year-out.

The team that wins the game today will win the National Championship.  I firmly believe that.  But even if that point is debatable – which it most certainly is until January 7th – the fact remains that Alabama, and more importantly to you Georgia, are in exclusive company.

Two years ago Mark Richt was the head coach of a team that had gone from under-achieving to sub-.500.  Fifteen months ago the rumor was that he was going to be fired before the Coastal Carolina game.  Eight weeks ago a number of you took to my website – and probably a hundred others – to voice not only frustration and disappointment, but what appeared to be absolute disdain for Mark Richt.  Today he is one of three coaches in the country with a chance of winning a National Championship.  Today he is one of two men in America with the chance of being the head coach of the favored team in the BCS National Championship (Vegas has already previewed that Alabama or Georgia would be favored over the Irish).

As stated earlier, I stand by my predicted Georgia victory which I whole-heartedly hope will come to fruition and I whole-brainedly (not a word) believe to be a reasonable possibility.  But all is not lost if I’m wrong. If Georgia loses it will be to the reigning and eventual repeat National Champion – a title which by its very nature declares the best team in the country.  If Georgia loses it will be because like 122 other teams in the country, the Bulldogs aren’t as good on an everyday basis as the National Champions.

If Georgia loses it will be disappointing.  It may even be frustrating.  But this season is still bigger than just one game.

Glory, glory to ole Georgia.  Glory, glory to ole Georgia.  Glory, glory to ole Georgia and to hell with U of A.  I sure hope that’s the soundtrack of the night.

 

DudeYouCrazy Tailgating Plans

DudeYouCrazy and some pals are going to be out and about before the game circling the Georgia Dome.  We’d love to meet up and even give you a free gift.  Check out the details here.

 

 

Be Sure to Read this Coverage of Conference Championship Week as well:

That’s all I got/

Andrew

Georgia vs. Alabama: I expect Georgia to Win because Georgia Expects to Win


I’ve made the observation before that when voting in a college football poll there are three possible sets of qualities to explore and combine to form an educated placement:

  1. The résumé: What has this team done this year?  Who have they defeated?  Who have the lost to?  How have those games come to pass?  And, how do the answers to those questions relate to the answers for other teams.
  2. The momentum: How good do I think this team is right now?  Are they moving up or down in my mind?  Are they getting better or worse?
  3. The head-to-head guess: Would team A beat team B.  Or, as I’ve put it would I prefer my team to play team A or team B?

When I make a prediction for a game base the prediction on some combination of the factors above.  I incorrectly picked Georgia to beat South Carolina because I felt that Georgia’s 45-point win over Vanderbilt (who South Carolina squeaked by) carried more weight than Georgia’s struggles against Tennessee – it didn’t.  Furthermore, I didn’t think South Carolina had enough offense to keep up with Georgia if Connor Shaw was under center and running around like a chicken with his head cut off – that day, he didI picked Georgia over Florida for similar reasons: at its most simplistic I liked Georgia’s offense against Florida’s defense a lot more than I liked Florida’s offense against Georgia’s defense (which I expected to show up alert).  I was impressed with Florida’s résumé, but I also thought the daunting task of LSU and South Carolina in the first half of the year might wear them down, and they certainly seemed worn down in the Vanderbilt game that split up the Tigers and the Cocks.  I was right about that game.

So, you have every right to think that I’m crazy and I even claim to be, but I think Georgia can win this game for the similar reasons.

Résumés 

Frankly, I don’t know that Alabama’s résumé is that much more impressive on a pure wins/losses basis, which in December is all that matters.  Alabama throttled a Michigan team that has lost four games this year.  Alabama defeated an LSU team that struggles to score thanks to Les Miles out-Les-Milesing Les Miles.  Alabama defeated Mississippi State – who was ranked at the time – but has since dropped out of the rankings and lost to Ole Miss.  Those are Alabama’s best wins.  The Tide has defeated one more ranked team than Georgia this year and it is Michigan.  I don’t think there’s reason to believe Georgia would not also beat the Wolverines.  I think the odds of Georgia beating Michigan are the same as Alabama beating Georgia Tech: 1.000.

Alabama and Georgia have both squared off against and defeated Florida Atlantic, Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn.  Alabama defeated Western Kentucky while Georgia beat Buffalo.  Both teams took down an FCS opponent.  Georgia beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky.  Alabama also beat Arkansas.  The wins aren’t to eschewed one way or the other.   Which, of course brings us to losses.

People seem to remember two specific things and forget two specific things when looking at the résumés of Alabama and Georgia.  People seem to remember that Georgia didn’t play the elite teams from the SEC West (Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M).  But, people seem to forget that Alabama didn’t play the elite teams from SEC East (Georgia, Florida and South Carolina).  And people seem to remember that Georgia lost on the road to then 6th ranked South Carolina eight weeks ago.  But, people seem to forget that Alabama lost at home to then 15th ranked Texas A&M three weeks ago.

As far as wins and losses go, it’s pretty darn even.

Momentum

This Alabama team has supposedly returned to invincible status since losing at home just three weeks ago against Texas A&M.  That is the public’s perception.  But there is no evidence to support such a claim as back-to-back 49-0 wins against Western Carolina and Auburn – both at home – account for little to no merit.

Georgia, however, has improved since their loss.  That much is undeniable. Georgia followed the loss to Carolina with an off week and a sluggish game against Kentucky.  They followed that with an upset of #2 Florida and four FBS games that saw opposition score a total of 29 points.

How has Alabama faired over the past four games?  Well, they’re 3-1, not 4-0 for starters.  And, if we’re going to praise Texas A&M we should mention that this Aggies team lost at home to Florida.

If there is a team in the nation playing better than Georgia right now (I’m sure this is where Gators Eric will chime in), I’m not sure who it is.  But I’m certainly not sold on Alabama. In that regard.

 

Conclusion 

I’m no eternal optimist when it comes to the Georgia Bulldogs.  If you’d asked me to rank this team using the same criteria listed above I would have had them open 10th and hover for a few weeks before dropping sharply after the loss to South Carolina.  But the Bulldogs are climbing steadily every week.  And I can’t say the same about Alabama.  I can’t ignore the loss a few weeks ago like so many other people.

I think Georgia will put more pressure on A.J. McCarron than he has felt this side of the tattoo parlor that put the curse on his chest.  I think Alec Ogletree and the slew of middle-backers Grantham has farmed will control the run.  I think Damian “Black” Swann will make a play when he’s called upon to do so.

I think Gurshall will continue to run effectively on first downs and give Mike Bobo playcalling options.  I think Aaron Murray will play with a level of poise in the pocket that parallels his preparation.

I think Georgia can go to the National Championship if these things happen.  And I expect them to happen.  And for the first time in quite a while, I think the Georgia Bulldogs expect them to as well.

But I might be crazy.

Be Sure to Read this Coverage of Conference Championship Week as well:

That’s all I got/

Andrew

Georgia’s Offensive Weapons Can Beat Alabama: Why I’m not Terrified of the Tide Defense


Alabama’s Defense

The Crimson Tide’s defense is pretty good.  They rank first in the nation in scoring defense.  They rank first in the nation in yards allowed.  They rank second in the nation in rushing defense.  They drop way down to fourth in the nation in passing defense, but they’ve intercepted 17 passes.  They are stout.

Are they scary? Yes.  Terrifying?  Surprisingly, no.  And I say that for three reasons.  First and foremost: Georgia managed to defeat a team with an almost equally stout defense in Jacksonville this year.  Florida’s defense ranks third in the nation in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed, and the Gators have played much more difficult opposition (Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida State) than Alabama (Michigan, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU, Texas A&M).  Georgia’s offense didn’t perform well against the Gators – the first half set football back 45 year – but they got things done on the scoreboard.  And, I think Georgia’s offense is clicking much more efficiently than it was in October.

Secondly, and in line with the last comment I made, I think Georgia has more weapons on the offensive side of the ball than Alabama.  Malcolm Mitchell will be the best big-play threat on the field and he opens things up nicely for Tavarres King who is quietly leading the conference in yards per catch by over three full yards (his 20.7 mark ranks 4th in the nation).  I think Gurshall can match wits with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.  And, I’d take Aaron Murray over A.J. McCarron.  I’ll detail this further in a few moments but in short I think Georgia has more weapons than any team Alabama has faced.

Thirdly, I’m not terrified – though I’m rightfully concerned – by the Alabama Crimson Tide defense because I do think Georgia’s defense is playing better right now.  Over the last four FBS games Georgia has surrendered a normalized (opponent scoring average vs. outside opposition adjusted to equal the national average and multiplied by points scored against Georgia – as explained here) total of 27.48 points.  In other words if those four offenses (Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn and Tech) had been exactly normal the Dawgs would have surrendered just under 7 points per game.  Over the same stretch Alabama has surrendered a normalized scoring total of 43.1 points – or just under 11 points per game.  Alabama’s defense may not scare Georgia’s offense because it might not be as fierce as what they see at practice.

 

So, how exactly are the offensive units shaping up?

 

Offensive Line 

Georgia’s offensive line has been a real highpoint for the Dawgs.  Yeah, I said it.  Sure, Murray has been sacked a lot but Richt has stated several times that he didn’t know if the offensive line would be cohesive enough to achieve the success that Georgia wanted to attain.  It obviously has been.

In pass protection Murray has been sacked 21 times, but a lot of that is a reflection of slow developing plays (Fire Bobo! Georgia’s offense sucks!!!).  Another large portion of that figure can be attributed to an offensive line that is still developing.  Granted, Georgia Tech and Auburn aren’t known for the defensive pressure, but Murray has only been sacked twice in the last two games FBS games.  Not bad for a team that saw him sacked 15 times in the other eight such outings.

And as I’ll address in a few moments, Murray’s passing has improved drastically with a little more time.

The running backs are talented, patient and hard-nosed (more on that soon as well), but it’s hard to blame an offensive line that opens up 1850 yards of rushing for two true freshmen who average 6.6 yards per carry.

Alabama’s offensive line gets a lot of credit, but let’s not forget that Georgia has racked up 5564 yards of offense this season against Alabama’s 5196.  And, if every play begins at the line of scrimmage it’s hard to hate on Georgia’s efforts along the line.  Has Alabama played better defenses?  Maybe, but if so it is a negligible difference.  Georgia’s 11 FBS opponents this year allowed a combined average of 27.04 points per game this season – that would rank 54th in the nation if it were an individual unit.  Alabama’s opponents allowed 26.44 points – which would rank 52nd.

 

Running Backs 

I believe in Gurshall.  Man, oh man, do I believe!  When those guys can combine for over 100 yards in eight of eleven FBS outings, while combining for 10 individual 100-yard outings and two games in which they both surpass 100, it’s hard not to feel good about your running game.

I also feel good about the fact that Alabama has only faced one offense this season with a better running game than Georgia (statistically, measured by yards per game), and that was Texas A&M.  And I think we remember how that one went down.

 

Receivers 

If you had told me before the season that Georgia would lose Michael Bennett after he established himself as Georgia’s leading receiver through five games and that four weeks later we would lose Marlon Brown and his three 100+ yard receiving games, I would have had some concerns for the pass catchers.  To that point: Bennett and Brown still rank fourth and third respectively on the team in receiving yards and they’re tied for second in TD catches despite missing a combined 11 games.

But, somehow Mike Bobo and company have gotten things done.  Malcolm Mitchell has made plays repeatedly and Tavarres King has continued to sneak behind the secondary.  Meanwhile, Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome who combined for just one catch and fifteen yards in the Bulldogs first two games have come on strong.  Rome seems to make a big catch down field just about every game – typically in high-flying acrobatic form that defies his 265 pound frame.  Lynch had 73 yards receiving against FAU, 75 more against Tennessee and 68 yards worth of damage against Georgia Southern.

Murray has plenty of options to throw to.

 

Quarterback 

Folks don’t know what to think about Aaron Murray.  On one hand he’s hot right now.  Since the fourth quarter of the Florida game the Murr-Man has hit on nearly 73% of his passes for over 1200 yards, 14 TDs, 0 INTs and a QB Efficiency of 213.42.  That’s incredible.

On the other hand, while he has won a big game – the Florida game qualifies, folks – he hasn’t been decisive in earning a big win yet.  We haven’t seen him play well and lead his team to victory for four quarters against an elite team.

I think an important factor in this game will be Murray’s future.  His draft stock is rising dramatically right now, and a big game against the Tide’s stout defense could catapult him as high as the first round – something I never would have anticipated given his smallish stature.  Georgia’s defensive studs (Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo, Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Jon Jenkins, etc.) have been jockeying for position all year on NFL Draft boards, but perhaps it is Murray’s turn to do it.

So how will he perform in the tryout?  Everything we know about Murray indicates that he is a dedicated student (both in the classroom and in the filmroom), a relentless preparer and a pleaser.  And no matter how you try to paint those qualities – Gary Danielson who is an idiot tried to say this week that Murray tries to hard to please his coaches, and that is a bad thing – they seem to play out well in most professional careers.  I’m optimistic that Murray will get a start on his career this Saturday.  As a guy I had lunch with said yesterday, there are millions of dollars to be won in this game.

 

Conclusion 

I don’t expect Georgia to score 40.  In fact, I know they won’t.  If they do I might leave the dome early to beat the traffic and avoid hurting the feelings of Alabama fans (juuuuuust kidding).  But I do think they are capable of moving the ball against the Tide – the same way I felt they could against Florida.

And frankly, as I’ll discuss at length tomorrow and Saturday morning, I do think the Bulldogs are capable of winning – the same way I thought they were against Florida.  I hope I’m not crazy.

 

Be Sure to Read this Coverage of Conference Championship Week as well:

 

That’s all I got/

Andrew

 

 

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