The 2010 season ended on the lowest note it possibly could. Not only did Georgia have to travel to Memphis to play in the Liberty Bowl (no offense to the fine folks from Memphis and their outstanding BBQ and blues) but they only scored six points and lost. The icing on the cake? They lost to former Georgia Tech front-man George O'Leary. It was the lowest point of Mark Richt's tenure in Athens and his only losing season.
Richt entered 2011 with his backside firmly planted on the hot seat. To make matters worse, Georgia opened the season by laying an egg in the Dome against Boise State and then squandering multiple opportunities in a close loss to South Carolina. After starting 0-2, the Dawgs hunkered down and won ten straight games behind Todd Grantham and a tough-nosed defense. Georgia would fall in their final two games of the season but finished a respectable 10-4. The big question that lies ahead for Georgia is how do they build upon their great improvement and can they take the next step and reclaim the SEC Championship? We caught up with our buddy ECDawg from the Leather Helmet Blog to get his take on the 2011 season and also to take a glimpse into 2012.
CFBZ: What was the one defining moment for Georgia's 2011 season?
Leather Helmet Blog: The Auburn Game - Although Auburn was not a contender in the SEC in 2011, Georgia kicked their butts. That game showed what theDawgs can do when they are ready and everything is clicking. When Georgia fans look to a 2011 game as an example of the kind of play that Georgia is capable of against all comers (even contenders), that was it.
2011 was a turnaround year. If one looks at the season with an eye to the previous two years, one must be reasonably satisfied with the outcome. Of course, having achieved the turnaround year and two spectacular recruiting classes, Coach Richt has put himself squarely into the arena of high expectations. In 2012, he must follow through with another solid season. Hopefully, improve the record by, at least, two games and have a representative showing in the SEC championship game. Anything less than a SEC championship game appearance will be considered a failure in light of the favorable schedule that the SEC assigned to UGA.
CFBZ: Which players surprised you the most with their play this season?
Leather Helmet Blog: The biggest surprise me was the offense line. I had greatly overestimated Coach Friend's ability to mold this unit, consisting of a center and four guards, into an effective SEC unit. He could not. Playing without a true offensive tackle, Aaron Murray was vulnerable on most pass plays and that vulnerability contributed mightily to his "happy feet" and inaccuracy problems. Additionally, Georgia was unable to run the ball effectively against better teams. In fact, it is a tribute to the ability of the wide receivers and tight ends that they were able to create separation from the defensive backs and linebackers to produce an elite level passing game given that pitiful running game and suspect pass blocking.
I was mildly surprised by the play of Malcolm Mitchell and Jarvis Jones – both exceeded my expectations. Additionally, I was pleased with the play of Isaiah Crowell. IC entered the season with as much hype as any player at UGA since Herschel Walker and he gained nearly 1000 yards. We were all frustrated by his nagging injuries and his seemingly complacent attitude, but this guy can play. I predict that he will show us just how well he can play in September.
CFBZ: A key to Georgia's turnaround was their vastly improved defense. Why do you think the D made such a big improvement from 2011 to 2012?
Leather Helmet Blog: When you think about defensive play in 2011, Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree come to mind – as they well should. However, in my estimation it was the play of the defensive front that contributed most to the improvement last season. In Coach Grantham's first year he did not have a true nose guard to stuff the center of the line and free linebackers to make tackles. Last year he had two (Geathers and Jenkins) and both return for 2012.
The fact that 2011 was the second year in Coach Grantham's 3-4 system also contributed to the improvement. To whatever degree familiarity and comfort with the system contributed last year, it will be an even greater factor this year. I look for Grantham's defense to take the step to SEC championship level in 2012. By that I mean that the defense will play well enough to make UGA competitive in the SEC championship game.
CFBZ: The Offensive Line play was challenging at times for Georgia in 2011. Georgia loses three starters (and two probable NFL draft picks). What needs to happen for Georgia to be successful on the OL in 2012?
Leather Helmet Blog: To say that line play at Georgia was challenging last year is charitable. At times, the offensive line was adequate but other times it was horrible. There are numerous examples of missed blocks, missed assignments and just plain getting beat. To be fair to the lineman last year, they were having to deal with a new coordinator who brought in a new blocking scheme. They also had to adjust to injuries and the loss of several players that would've helped tremendously. That being said, the inability to drive the football on the ground in critical situations was primarily responsible for the four losses.
If the Dawgs are going to run the kind of offense that Richt and Bobo want then they're going to have to find a pair of SEC caliber tackles between now and September. When the team travels to Colombia, Missouri for the first SEC game of 2012, Georgia will need to be able to play Georgia style football. Coach Richt likes to shock his opponent's defense with his offense's athleticism, get in front on the scoreboard and then grinding the clock and the opponent's will with a punishing running game.
Coach Friend's drive blocking style is perfect for the type of game that Coach Richt likes to play. This season's success, in my humble opinion, rests with CWF's ability to get his charges ready for championship football.
CFBZ: Georgia showed a lot of improvement on the way to getting back to the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship Game. Outside of the Offensive Line, what are the biggest areas for improvement going into the 2012 season?
Leather Helmet Blog: The other major concern for UGA is special-teams play. I have no idea why Georgia was so terrible on special teams last year but they were. Look no further than the SEC championship game and punt returns by the Honey Badger. There is simply no excuse for the type special-teams play we saw last year. Coach Richt has to use the off-season to fix it.
Speaking of special-teams play, field goals were also a challenge, at best, last year. Hopefully, that will be corrected with the coming of a highly touted freshman kicker to go along with the incoming freshman punter. Dawg fans will be holding their breath on fourth downs during those early games.
Editor Note: Make sure to check out the Leather Helmet Blog's first episode of the "Dawg Talk" podcast with Deke Davis.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
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