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College Football Analysis: Georgia Bulldogs Mid-Season Review

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When I started this blog about a year and a half ago over at blogspot I did so because of my passion for college football and my love of the Georgia Bulldogs. What I also knew was that the amount of blogs focusing exclusively on Georgia content was far and wide.

There are so many quality Georgia sites out there on the interweb it led me to the decision to not just cover Georgia but also to attempt to cover as much of the college football world as I possibly could. Knowing that there were so many great Georgia blogs out there (some of which are relatively unknown) it led me to get some of my favorite bloggers together for a pre-season roundtable. If you haven't read that yet then make sure you go back and check it out (and make sure to tell us what we got right and what we might have missed).

I had a lot of fun putting the pre-season roundtable together so I thought with Georgia having an off-week, this would be a great time to get the gang back together for another roundtable. Everybody knows how Georgia started off this season as they flopped against Boise and then couldn't quite win a crazy game against South Carolina. After starting off 0-2, the Dawgs have put together a string of five straight victories. Some have been better than others and some have been more impressive than others. They key for Georgia is that they are going into the bye week at 5-2 with a real chance to get back to the SEC Championship Game at the end of the season if things fall into place for them and if they take care of business on the gridiron. At this point last season Georgia was 3-4 with no bye week in sight. No matter how you slice it being two games better than last years pace is a positive for Georgia, no matter how they've looked at times in their victories.

I reached out to the original seven bloggers that helped me out with the last roundtable (most of whom were able to join us again) and I also added some great veteran Georgia bloggers and a couple of new faces you might not be familiar with yet. Make sure you give their sites a look (some of which I'm sure you visit on a daily basis) and follow them on Twitter if that's your thing (you can also follow us @CFBZ). Before we get into the roundtable, here are some introductions:

Now onto our discussion about the Georgia Bulldogs at the mid-way point of the season. Feel free to chime in with any thoughts in our comments section down below...

At the mid-way point what makes you the most excited about this Georgia football team?

BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): Definitely the way the defense is playing. I can recall several occasions as recently as last year where the defense had just lost their intensity and was looking to get off the field. Now you can tell there is a vested interest in not letting the opponent score. And when they do give up points they don't look too thrilled about going to the sideline. More importantly we're swarming to the ball well and seem much more disciplined in our assignments than in recent years.  At the beginning of the season I needed to see progress on the defensive side of the ball. And since week one I feel that we have. A lot of it.

Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): That Georgia has a realistic chance of playing in the SEC Championship Game, which is something I didn't think was a possibility after starting 0-2. If the Dawgs take care of business and beat Florida, Auburn and Kentucky, they should be in. Without Lattimore, it's unlikely that South Carolina can win out with their conference schedule (@ Tennessee, @ Arkansas, vs. Florida).

Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): The upside.  While the simple answer is the defense, since it has been at least seven years since I didn't have a foreboding sense of abject dread every time we had to punt, the complete answer is the upside.  Georgia hasn't played a quality opponent with a fully put together game yet.  We've had good defensive performances.  We've had good passing performances. We've had good rushing performances.  We have had games where we didn't crap ourselves on special teams.  I realize it is a big 'if', but if we ever put it all together and keep it together, we will be a dangerous football team.

At the mid-way point what makes you the most worried about this Georgia football team?

ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): Nothing has changed - the weakest link in the Dawg chain is the offensive line. Auburn and Florida are an order of magnitude better than Vandy and UGA has been unable to sustain drives by running the ball. Additionally, blitz recognition and pick-up has been spotty, at best, and Aaron Murray has taken some big hits as a result.

It's hard to see how that will change much this season. This line has another half season of experience and marked improvement is not apparent. I do not see much help coming without the fresh input of another recruiting cycle and the maturation of some true freshmen.

Senator Blutarsky (Get The Picture): The same thing that's had me worried from the start of the season:  the offensive line.  Depth is a concern, although that's gotten a bit better with the emergence of Dallas Lee.  But two linemen are playing banged up and the line as a whole hasn't been consistent.

T Kyle King (Dawg Sports): The Bulldogs’ special teams, which until recently were reliably a strength, now are an enormous liability. Last Saturday’s game in Nashville put the full range of Georgia’s weaknesses in the kicking game on display: Blair Walsh missed two field goals, and the Bulldogs gave up a 96-yard kickoff return, surrendered a first down on a fake punt, and had a punt blocked. With the defense improving and the offense starting to make use of some of its potent weapons, special teams clearly are the weakest link.

Which player has been the biggest surprise on offense so far this season?

BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): I think it's clearly Michael Bennett. While Crowell and Mitchell have lived up to expectations, Bennett has become that go to receiver that can make the tough catch in traffic and give you 12 yards when you need 10. Mitchell is clearly our best option at receiver and King is having a decent season. But you need more than those two. Brown seems to be ready to contribute and enjoyed a great game as a wide open target against Vandy. Wooten just can't seem to find the field much at all. Who knows how long this concussion will hinder him. But Bennett has been steady, hauling in 18 catches so far this season.

Parrish Walton (The Victory Formation): I guess you could say I've been both pleasantly and not so pleasantly surprised by a a few players. On the positive side, Isaiah Crowell has been nothing short of outstanding for what UGA needed him to be. With the weight of the Georgia world on his shoulders he's done really well thus far. He's getting a little nicked up, but that's to be expected when you're 6 months removed from high school and getting 18+ carries a game in the SEC. While he's been great, I'm been most surprised by how well Malcolm Mitchell has been. You hear things coming out of summer workouts every year, but so rarely do they prove to be on par with reality. Mitchell was a twitter legend based on what Aaron Murray and others were saying, and he's been the team's best WR from day one...which leads me to my disappointing surprise: Tavarres King. Coming into the year I felt he was a No. 2 receiver being thrust into the No. 1 role, and I think I may have overestimated him a bit. He looks more like a solid No. 3 option, but for UGA he needs to be so much more. He rarely gets separation, and when he does he's just as likely to drop the ball than he is catching it. He needs to step his game up in a hurry.

Kevin (College Football Zealots): I will take Malcolm Mitchell for 200. I had my eye on Mitchell to come in and play some big minutes this year but I didn't know he would have such an impact on the game. He's just a freshman and he's clearly our best WR. Despite missing the Vandy game he's 7th in the SEC in receptions, fifth in receiving yards and 4th in yards per reception. He also is the only guy who seems to be on the same page as Aaron Murray on the deep ball. While Murray and Tav King seem to have some weird opposite magnetic pull on the deep ball, Mitchell and Murray seem to have a better chemistry. Georgia is a completely different team with Malcolm Mitchell on the field.

Which player has been the biggest surprise on defense?

ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): Amarlo Herrera. Herrera was forced into the line-up due to injury and has performed very well at a position that usually requires some seasoning. For a true freshman to step in and perform well at linebacker is remarkable. He is going to give UGA fans some great plays before he leaves early for the NFL.

Reverend Whitewall (Outside (The Arena) Looking In): My answer on this has to be Armalo Herrera.  There have been surprises all around this year from the vast improvement of all the secondary players, Abry Jones elevating his game to another level, and even Jarvis Jones - not sure he's a surprise, but he's better than I had even hoped for.  But Herrera is a guy who was buried as a 3rd stringer on the depth chart when the season started, and figured to really only get minutes in scrub time.   I bet if you'd told Coach Olivadotti before the season started that he was going to have to depend heavily on Herrera this year, that would have made him pretty nervous. But Herrera has come in and done some phenomenal work.  He disappeared a bit during the Vandy game, but the impact he made in the Ole Miss, Miss St, and Tennessee games was impressive.  Gilliard could be thrown into the mix here as well, but since Herrera is doing it as a true frosh, he gets my nod for surprise defensive player of the year.

Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): Bacarri Rambo.  I was on him all last season and during the off season for his lapses in 2010.  He has stepped up big time and is a big part of why we are in the top 10 in total defense in the nation. Take away the two trick play TDs (Ole Miss and Vandy) and it is hard to remember anyone throwing a big pass against him.  This time last year, the mention of 'wheel route' would elicit a Pavlovian response of cursing about Bacarri from most Georgia fans.  Now, offenses have to trick play to get him off his coverage.  He plays pass coverage like a corner and running plays like a linebacker, and rarely makes mistakes on either.

Out of all the games left on the schedule which one worries you the most?

BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): Florida, for all the obvious reasons. The WLOCP is our nemesis as much as the Florida Gators themselves. We're the clear favorite. We're getting some key players back. We've won 5 straight while they've lost 3 straight by a combined score of 96-27. But we've been in this position before and crapped our pants. I need to know if all this hard work since the South Carolina game is going to pay off or if it's just going to be another painful memory next to the St. Johns river. This is a big game for the relationship between myself and Coach Richt. Not that he's paying much attention to that, I hope...but I'll have some more definitive opinions about the program he's running on October 30th.
Winning this game could do wonders for the Georgia football program while sending Florida reeling into desperation mode. I would try and spend some energy being cautiously optimistic if I hadn't been kicked in the crotch 18 of the last 21 years.

Parrish Walton (The Victory Formation): No Georgia fan can answer this with anything other than "Florida," quite frankly. It doesn't matter how good or how bad the Gators are, they own Georgia. There's no point in denying that. I'd go a step further and say there isn't a rivalry in college football that is as one sided in terms of the mental matchup than the Cocktail Party. Georgia players go into the game hoping to win while Florida expects to. That has to change this year. Yes, the Gators get the bye week they so desperately need, and I would expect Will Muschamp and his staff to do everything they can to get Brantley back on the field, but this team can't run the ball and has no one on the outside that scares anyone. It seems like it's now or never for Mark Richt against Florida. 

If you could give one piece of advice for Mike Bobo for the second half of the season what would it be?

ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): Coach Bobo appears to have the complete confidence of Mark Richt. Coach Richt has said many times since last year that he (CMR) is much more involved in the game planning. Richt has also said that he monitors play calling and suggests alternative calls from time to time. To the extent that Bobo is running the offense dictated by his boss and his calls are subject to veto, no advice to Bobo is warranted.

The only advice I have for him is to make sure his resume is up to date. At the end of this season if we have a scenario that finds Richt retained but widespread discontent in the fan base, athletic department and board officials want changes made - offensive staff changes will be the only option. AD Greg McGarity may insist that new offensive personnel be brought in.

Of course, there is always the option to do nothing, relying on finishing the drill and elimination of those pesky energy vampires to get the team to a SEC championship. However, I suspect that McGarity will be looking for a more concrete plan.

Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): Find a way to score more touchdowns. Be more creative, don't just throw a random Wild Dawg formation in there. Sprinkle in some screens, toss sweeps and get the TE's more involved. UGA can't attempt six field goals a game and expect to beat Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

Senator Blutarsky (Get The Picture): That would be the same advice I've had for him for two seasons now - don't be afraid to take what the defense is giving you.  When he keeps that in mind, he's great.

T Kyle King (Dawg Sports): I’m limited to just one? So many suggestions present themselves, but, if I had time only to offer one recommendation, it would be: “Ignore the score and keep your foot on the gas.” When Georgia has a lead in the second half, Mike Bobo’s tendency is to play “basketball on grass”; unfortunately, his brand of gridiron roundball looks an awful lot like Dean Smith’s “four corners” offense, which, of course, was no offense at all.

There is a time to use a punishing running game to run out the clock, but, as we saw at Vanderbilt last Saturday night, the Bulldogs are not yet at the point of being able to move the chains with the ground game when trying to protect a lead in the closing moments of a contest, so Coach Bobo needs to quit leaning on the defense and keep playing offense for 60 minutes, or even 45.

If you could give one piece of advice for Todd Grantham for the second half of the season what would it be?

Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): MY ADVICE FOR COACH GRANTHAM FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON WOULD BE TO STRATEGICALLY DEPLOY SOME OF GEORGIA’S MORE VERSATILE PLAYERS IN CROSSOVER ROLES WHERE THEY WILL BE MOST EFFECTIVE BASED ON THE MATCH-UPS FOR ANY GIVEN WEEK, NOT ONLY WHEN THE DAWGS HAND IS FORCED AND A PLAYER MUST BE MOVED TO HELP COVER A DEFENSIVE WEAK SPOT DUE TO SUSPENSION OR INJURY.  SHAWN WILLIAMS PLAYING SOME LINEBACKER EARLIER THIS YEAR COMES TO MIND AS AN EXAMPLE.  THERE ARE SEVERAL PLAYERS ON THE DEFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL THAT CAN SLIDE INTO ANOTHER ROLE IN THE SHORT TERM TO MAXIMIZE GEORGIA’S EFFECTIVENESS IN ANY GIVEN WEEK, SO WHY NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE UNIT’S ATHLETICISM AND DICTATE MATCH-UPS THAT WILL BE IN THE DAWGS FAVOR.  WHETHER GENERATING A BETTER PASS RUSH FROM THE DOWN LINEMAN IN CLEAR PASSING SITUATIONS BY CREATING A PASS RUSH “EXPRESS” BY BUMPING A DEFENSIVE END/TACKLE OVER THE NOSE TO GET YOUR BEST PASS RUSHERS ON THE FIELD AT THE SAME TIME OR ROTATING A SAFETY DOWN INTO THE BOX TO PLAY OUTSIDE LINEBACKER TO GIVE YOURSELF A BETTER COVERAGE MATCH-UP IN THE PASSING GAME, IT SEEMS THE POSSIBILITIES ARE THERE.  I WOULD SUGGEST THE DAWGS NOT BE AFRAID TO USE ALL THE TOOLS IN THE TOOLBOX TO GET THE JOB DONE.

Kevin (College Football Zealots): I've been pretty satisfied with the job that Grantham has done so far this year. Obviously the second half of the Vandy game got away from us a bit but since the South Carolina game we've looked really good. That being said we have fallen for the trick play quite a bit. I'm not a big x's and o's guy but that would definitely be one area where I feel we need to pay more attention. The other thing I would say is to trust the young guys on the DL and give them more reps earlier in the game so that everybody is fresh later in the game. In particular Ray Drew (true freshman) and Garrison Smith (soph) are guys that have jumped off the TV screen to me a bit. Ray Drew has been fantastic getting pressure on the QB when he's in the game (I think he's gotten held on every play he's played so far in his college career) and Smith just seems to be in on a lot of tackles when he's in the game (even if he's not getting credited for them). Give Drew and Smith more playing time and guys like Cornelius Washington, Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson will be fresher later in the game or you go with the guy playing the best at the end of the game (the guy who gives you the best chance to win).

Reverend Whitewall (Outside (The Arena) Looking In): I'm going to cheat here and give 2 answers.  Tactically speaking, get the guys refocused on playing their assignments against the run.  If we force teams to beat us with the pass, there just aren't that many good QB's left on our schedule.  Granted, we've been known in the past to make heroes of the Cromptons of the world, but our secondary is really playing well right now.  We had made great strides against the run up until Vandy, so it's just a matter of refocusing at this point. 

The other thing I'd say is more of a mental thing, Grantham has to get the defense to play with more composure, but not lose the swagger they've been developing.  I'm concerned about an over-correction as a result of the current controversy, and the defense not coming out in Jacksonville ready to take somebody's head off.  Grantham (and Richt) have to get the defense back in the right mindset.

#8 What needs to happen for Georgia to run the table in the rest of their games?

Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): TO BE PERFECT DOWN THE STRETCH, THE DAWGS MUST IMPROVE IN BLOCKING THE RUN GAME.  THE MAJORITY OF THIS RESPONSIBILITY FALLS TO THE DAWGS MASSIVE OFFENSIVE LINE, BUT EVERY MEMBER OF THE OFFENSE COULD DO A BETTER JOB IN THIS AREA.  FAR TOO MANY TIMES THIS SEASON IT HAS LOOKED TO THIS OBSERVER THAT GEORGIA’S BACKS HAVE MADE THE OFFENSIVE LINE LOOK BETTER THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE BECAUSE OF THEIR SKILL.  TO BE A CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER DEFENSE, YOU MUST BE ABLE TO GET A STOP WHEN YOU HAVE TO…WHEN YOUR BACK IS AGAINST THE WALL…WHEN THE GAME IS ON THE LINE.  TO BE A CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER OFFENSE, YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO RUN THE FOOTBALL WHEN EVERYONE IN THE STADIUM KNOWS IT’S COMING…WHEN YOU NEED ONE YARD…WHEN THE GAME IS ON THE LINE.  AS IT ALWAYS IS WITH FOOTBALL, IN THE END SUCCESS IS DETERMINED BY EXECUTION BY THE PLAYERS ON THE FIELD.  IF GEORGIA IS GOING TO RUN THE TABLE ON THE REST OF THEIR GAMES THIS SEASON THE DAWGS CAN, AND MUST, IMPROVE THEIR RUN BLOCKING AT EVERY LEVEL OF THE OFFENSE.   

Reverend Whitewall (Outside (The Arena) Looking In): Murray has to step up his game to the next level.  It seems crazy because if you look at his stats, they're actually pretty good!  But the disconnect between the stats and the actual performance during the games is fairly significant right now.  It's not just that Murray misses from time to time as much as WHEN he misses.  It's important to complete a bunch of short and mid-range passes, but when you miss open guys deep down the field over and over, it eventually makes a big impact.  It seems like his misses are always on potentially huge plays for us.  And you just don't get the sense that he is comfortable in the pocket this year.  I know he's got a patchwork OL in front of him, but there's going to come a game or two (Auburn? Tech?) where we're going to have to win a shootout, and we need Murray to be feeling the flow when that time comes. One could argue that getting and keeping Crowell healthy is more of a key, but I'm looking for Murray to step up and be the man for us.

Beyond that, we need the defense to continue their overall upward trend in performance and need the special teams to quit killing us.  We don't even need the special teams to create big positive plays right now, we just need them to not give up big negative plays.  Oh yeah, and if we're being honest, the final thing we're going to need is a little luck.  We've still got some tough games to play, and unfortunately we're not good enough to overcome situations where the ball just doesn't bounce our way throughout the game (like the SC game).  If we're going to win out, we need lady luck to be on our side for the first time since around 2005.

Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): 1) Get better at recognizing misdirection and delays on defense; 2) Find a way to get the curse of Fabris off the special teams; 3) Have Murray finally get his timing on long pass plays down pat; 4) Get complete games from Crowell.  Special bonus answer in the event we play in the SECCG: Have all the pieces come together and hope Trent Richardson is suspended.

Which defensive player needs to step up his game the most in the second half of the season?

Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): OVERALL WE HAVE SEEN SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENT IN THE DAWGS DEFFENSE THIS SEASON, BUT IF I’M PICKING ONE SPOT THAT COULD STAND TO SEE SOME MORE PRODUCTION I WOULD GO WITH NOSE TACKLE.  BY NAMING A POSITION, I’M REFERRING TO BOTH PLAYERS THAT OCCUPY IT…KWAME GEATHERS AND JOHN JENKINS.  I AM NOT SAYING THAT THESE TWO BIG MEN HAVE NOT DONE GOOD WORK THIS YEAR OR THAT THEY HAVE NOT HAD A MAJOR IMPACT ON THE PRODUCTION OF THE DEFENSE AS A WHOLE, BUT I DO SEE WAYS THIS POSITION (AND BOTH PLAYERS) COULD HAVE A MORE DIRECT IMPACT ON GAMEDAY.  BOTH GEATHERS AND JENKINS HAVE FLASHED BRILLIANCE THIS SEASON, BUT I BELIEVE BOTH MEN HAVE THE ABILITY TO DOMINATE THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE CONSISTENLY AND THAT CONSISTENCY THROUGHOUT A GAME IS WHAT IS REQUIRED TO TRULY BE A DAMN BEAST!!! WHETHER IT’S RE-SETTING THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE IN THE OPPONENT’S BACKFIELD, CREATING TACKLES FOR LOSS WITH PENETRATION OR COLLAPSING THE POCKET WITH A STRONG PASS RUSH, THERE IS MORE THAT CAN BE DONE.  BOTH MEN HAVE THE ATHLETICISM AND THE STRENGTH TO RAISE THEIR GAME TO A HIGHER LEVEL AND IF THEY CAN, THE DAWGS DEFENSE WILL ONLY BECOME THAT MUCH MORE DAUNTING IN THE EYES OF OPPOSING OFFENSES.

Senator Blutarsky (Get The Picture): I don't know if it's stepping it up as much as maintaining, but the key to the defense is the presence in the middle of the line that Geathers and Jenkins have brought this season.  They've made the linebackers and safeties better.  They've also allowed the defensive ends to play with impact.  They aren't the best players on the defense - I'd argue that Jarvis Jones has been - but they're the most important.

T Kyle King (Dawg Sports): The fact that I had trouble answering this question attests to the great strides the Bulldogs have made defensively in the second year of the 3-4 scheme; so many players have distinguished themselves that it is difficult to single out a Georgia defender in need of constructive criticism. If pressed to answer, I would say Alec Ogletree, for this reason:

When Ogletree was lost to injury in the opener, Boise State was able to exploit the middle, and all hope of beating the Broncos was lost, just as all hope of salvaging the season and saving Mark Richt’s job appeared lost as the disheartened faithful filed out of the Georgia Dome. Despite the thinning of Georgia’s linebacker corps, though, Amarlo Herrera and Mike Gilliard have stepped into the breach, the defense has come together, and the Bulldogs now find themselves developing depth in the middle of their front seven. With Kwame Geathers and Jonathan Jenkins taking up space at the point of attack, a healthy Alec Ogletree who returns to the first team and resumes playing at the level we saw in the G-Day game can be the difference between a merely good defense and a great one. With Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech remaining on the slate, that could make all the difference in the world, provided Ogletree can hold off the young up-and-comers behind him on the depth chart.

Which offensive player needs to step up his game the most in the second half of the season?

Parrish Walton (The Victory Formation): Aaron Murray, without a doubt. While I've been described as a Murray-o'phile by some in the UGA community, I do think he needs to step up his game, specifically in the area of turnovers. The perfect example of this came last week against Vandy. Yes, Murray played very well, but his one interception was one that simply can't happen. The receiver beat his man and was open, but Murray undershot the target and is almost cost UGA the game. That mistake can't happen against average-or-better teams like Florida and Auburn. I understand that Murray is throwing to an average group on the edge, and I get that he's a bit nervous due to a leaky OL, but the great QBs deal with those adversities and Murray needs to do likewise.

Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): I know he's just a true freshman, but I have to say Isaiah Crowell. The Dawgs need him in all four quarters of the game and in the red zone to score more touchdowns. He needs to get in better condition so he's not watching the game from the sidelines.

Kevin (College Football Zealots): I think the answer to this question is Aaron Murray but Parrish already hit on him so I'm going to say Orson Charles. Orson is the most talented Tight End in the entire Nation and I just don't feel we are using him as well as we could. For quarters, halves and entire games he seems to disappear. This isn't all on him because he doesn't call the plays and he doesn't make the passes. That being said, he's at the point where he needs to look Aaron Murray in the eyes and tell him to "get me the Damn ball"! Orson has 72% of his receptions in three out of the seven games we've played this year. That means in four out of seven games he has a total of six catches. That's not gonna get it done. Orson needs to be a bigger part of the offense. He's too good not to be.