Friday, October 12

I know what you did last October: Revisiting Vanderbilt.

Remember this? Oh yes you do.

What I said at the time: A healthy dose of skepticism was expressed for the widely held belief that revenge would be enough to lift Georgia to a big win over the 'Dores all by itself.

After the 2006 season ended, I would’ve predicted this as a blowout Georgia win based on sheer bloodthirsty revenge-lust alone. The more I find out about Vanderbilt, though, the less confident I am that that’ll be the case. Outside of a few recent and nationally recognizable stars like Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt has never been a treasure trove of name-brand talent, but the overall skill level in Nashville has steadily increased during Bobby Johnson’s tenure, as has the level of discipline; thus the painfully [close losses] of years past are starting to turn into actual upsets.

. . .

Georgia will almost certainly have better luck scoring on the ‘Dores than they did last year, but the ‘Dores will also be moving a lot more quickly against Georgia’s defense, and though Georgia’s superior ground game should allow them to hold a late lead, I don’t see Vanderbilt ever falling behind by enough to quite make that lead feel secure. My guess is that Georgia wins by the kind of single-digit margin that would’ve been considered embarrassing a few years ago . . .

What's happened since then: Georgia was rolling right along at 4-1 and looking reasonably competitive before laying a steaming turd on the field at Tennessee; Vanderbilt has skated past a pair of OOC creampuffs and a defense-free Ole Miss team but struggled mightily against Alabama and Auburn, and currently sits at 3-2, 1-2 in the SEC.

Yeah, Dannell, that game gave me a headache, too.

Care to amend your initial statement, sir?: Well . . . yes and no. My assessment of Vanderbilt's talent, particularly on offense, might actually have been a little overgenerous; just based on what I've heard about the team so far this year, I would've assumed that their passing game was the strength of the offense and the ground attack was struggling, but in fact their rushing attack is 69th in the nation at 141.6 yards per game while the passing game is way down at #98 with 183 ypg. Eenteresting.

Looking at Vandy's team stats gives some indication as to why this might be the case. The 'Dores have completed 81 passes this year, and more than half of them (41) have gone to a single receiver -- junior Earl Bennett, who will almost certainly break Craig Yeast's SEC record for receptions this season (he may even do it in this game) and could very well break Terrence Edwards's SEC mark for career yardage as well. Bennett also accounts for 54.5 percent of the team's total passing yardage (499 yards out of 915). The next most productive receiver on Vanderbilt's roster, Sean Walker, has a mere 10 receptions for 131 yards.

If you think this all points toward an obvious key to stopping Vanderbilt's passing attack -- cover the shit out of Bennett and forget everything else -- you're probably on to something: Auburn held Bennett to just four catches for 31 yards last week as Vandy's passing attack finished a pitiful 12-of-31 for 88 yards (spread among three different quarterbacks). Final score: 35-7, Tigers. Alabama, the other team to have beaten VU this season, held Bennett to four catches for 52 yards and notched a 24-10 win. Meanwhile, the three teams Vandy has beaten have all allowed Bennett at least nine catches and 90 yards.

Cover the wide receiver, save the world.

So if Georgia can stuff Bennett the way they always stuffed Calvin Johnson when he was playing at Tech, easy victory, right? Well, uh, no, and here's the part where we have to get into the ugliness that was last week's game at Tennessee. There are 119 teams in Division I-A at the moment (120 if you count Western Kentucky), and quite frankly, the performance Georgia put on at Neyland Stadium would've lost to at least 75 of them. Replay Jim Mora's "diddly poo" rant (yes, I love it and I will watch it forever) and substitute "first half" for "second half," and you have a scarily accurate assessment of our play against the Vols:

We couldn't do diddly-poo offensively, we couldn't make a first down, we couldn't run the ball, we didn't try to run the ball, we couldn't complete a pass, we sucked. The [first half], we sucked. We couldn't stop the run; every time they got the ball, they went down and got points, we got our ass totally kicked in the [first half]. That's what it boiled down to. It was a horseshit performance . . .

Yup, that about covers it, Jim. Underwhelming though Vandy's offense may be in '07, at the bare minimum Georgia's defense will have to re-learn such fundamentals as "tackling" and "not lining up in the neutral zone" to have a prayer of stopping them.

So how are we doing on that one? Over to you, David Ching:

The team only practiced for about 30 minutes today before it started pouring rain and there were some flashes of lightning. Instead they went over to the Ramsey Student Center and practiced for about an hour. I'm sure that unfortunate circumstance was met with a certain amount of joy, since Tuesdays are their heavy hitting days. One of the players grinned when I asked him about it and didn't seem to mind they missed out on that experience today, but noted they'd have fresher legs against Vanderbilt.

Now, as you all know, I'm not a big fan of telling other people how they should feel about things, so I'll simply tell you how I would feel in this situation and let you make up your own minds. If I had just gotten humiliated on national television by Tennessee, if the lasting impression I had made with the country was that I tackled with the intensity of a tipsy sorority girl, I would be begging to hit someone. In fact, I would probably be lowering my shoulder and running into random people on the street as fast I could, just to take out some of my frustrations. I would not be joking around with a reporter about how I was glad to be missing heavy-hitting day.

Just because you're indoors doesn't mean you have to go contact-free.

I mean, maybe I'm making too much out of a throwaway comment, but I still have the sneaking suspicion that not everyone on the team appreciates just how far below their previously set standards the team performed in Knoxville. Ching reported that "there were a lot of laughs" among the team before they boarded the bus for Knoxville, and look how that turned out; between last week's atrocity and the fact that we're playing a revenge game against Vanderbilt, there shouldn't be any "laughs" among the team this week. Feral howls, murderous rage, sure, but laughter? Save that shit for the bye week, son.

I don't doubt for a second that there are plenty of guys chomping at the bit for some vengeance against the team that punked us on Homecoming last year -- but supposedly we wanted revenge against Tennessee, too. No, despite the mainstream sports media's obsession with "intangibles," revenge alone isn't enough to guarantee a win -- not even against Vanderbilt. The sad, embarrassing, sugar-free fact of the matter is this: If our defense doesn't all of a sudden get a lot better at tackling -- hell, a lot better at lining up, for shit's sake -- then yes, Virginia, we are absolutely bad enough to let Vandy run all over us at the moment. Tailback Cassen Jackson-Garrison has not been great this year, but neither had any of Tennessee's backs before they burned us on Saturday.

I'd like to say that the situation is better on offense, but if it is, it's not by much. Vanderbilt is actually ranked above Tennessee in most of the major defensive categories, and while that's been built against a schedule that's nowhere near as tough as the Vols', you still can't argue with a secondary that has only allowed 159 yards a game and that has picked off 11 passes. Matt Stafford has only thrown four picks so far this season, one of them a weird tipped-ball Hail Mary at the end of the South Carolina game, so he appears to have cut down considerably on his 2006 habit of forcing passes into horrible coverage situations, but his accuracy has been mediocre at best; from what I'm hearing, much of that has to do with him hurrying passes because of continued spotty protection from his young O-line (although that should get a small boost from Scott Haverkamp apparently returning this week).

There are two saving graces here, the first being that Vanderbilt has been pretty bad at converting third downs (only 37.8 percent on the year) while Georgia has actually been pretty good at stuffing them (opponents have been held to an even 30 percent). The problem is that against teams like Ole Miss and Tennessee, we weren't in third-down situations enough because we'd go ahead and let them convert on first or second. That brings us to the second saving grace, which is the fact that Vandy QB Chris Nickson has been struggling this season (53.1-percent completion rate, 6 TDs to 5 INTs) and may be replaced by sophomore Mackenzi Adams. That kind of instability under center will only make it easier to take Bennett out of the game, and I think the secondary is supposed to be ready to go at 100 percent health-wise this week. We should be reasonably effective at putting Vanderbilt into third-down situations; we should at least be able to keep Nickson (or Adams, or whoever) from having the kind of day Erik Ainge did.

Between Stafford's ongoing struggles and the fact that Thomas Brown is out for the next few weeks, though, putting our own points on the board isn't going to be a doddle. Auburn gashed the Commodores for 239 rushing yards last week, with three RBs registering at least 50 yards and Ben Tate coming close to the century mark, so I think Knowshon Moreno -- who gets his first start this weekend -- should be able to do some damage. But that'll only happen if the coaching staff got a big fat message from last week and have learned that repeatedly getting stuffed on runs up the middle is probably not an indicator that you should run it up the middle more.

You really want to try and spend as little time in a horizontal position as possible, too.

It's a cliché, but this is gut-check time for the coaches -- a test of whether they can a) adjust and adapt their game plans in midstream and b) get their guys fired-up enough to appreciate the seriousness of a desperate situation. Yes, it is almost farcical that Vanderbilt has become a "must-win" game for us, but such is life. Can our coaches make the players understand that? I think so; sadly, I don't know so; but God, I hope so.

Thus I'm going with my heart here and ignoring the middle part of that answer to focus more on parts 1 and 3. Yes, dammit, you caught me! I'm going intangible-wacky! But I'm saying it loud and clear to anyone who cares to listen -- if Georgia loses this game, it is a clear sign that a lot of people both on the roster and in the coaching staff just don't get it, and it becomes highly unlikely that we'll win another game all year. So if for no other reason than because a 4-8 season is simply beyond my ability to comprehend it, I'm predicting that somebody -- maybe Dannell Ellerbe, maybe Stafford, maybe Moreno, maybe even Prince Miller, a first-year starter named a captain for this game -- steps up and leads the Dawgs to victory in Nashville. It won't be a blowout, and it's not likely to even be that pretty -- a final score of UGA 24, Vandy 17 seems very realistic -- but it's got to happen.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins by at least 17. That was how many we won by in Nashville in our SEC-title season in '05; even in 2003, when we played an absolutely horrendous first half and were down 2-0 to the Commodores at intermission, we still managed to turn things around enough to win 27-8. I certainly can't go so far as to predict a blowout at this point, but we certainly need one, if only to prove that the season hasn't gone completely off the rails.

Wait, so the one on the left is the brake?


Anonymous said...

don't forget-

they're just kids. i remember back in high school baseball, my team had this sleepwalking loss to a horrible team...we were mad at ourselves and at the season and probably all actually WANTED to run laps and windsprints to appease the coaches and our own bruised egos.

well, that didn't happen. our coach actually gave us the next day off. most of us ended up hanging out by the weight room, talking among ourselves about where we wanted to take the season. it was mentally refreshing...we all got on the same page voluntarily, decided to man up, stop taking teams for granted, and go out and win a conference title. which we did a month or so later.

oh, and obviously the coaches were doing some serious soul-searching away from the team on our day off.

this was my junior year...which isn't completely far removed from how old those dawgs are out there missing tackles. they're just kids. some sort of nebulous LEARN THE FUNDAMENTALS DANGIT/GO OUT THERE AND HIT SOMETHING sounds reasonable enough, as if we're adjusting skill levels on a video game, but it doesn't really work that way.

we got shell-shocked at UT. awful job by the players, horrible prep job by the coaches. true. but maybe the remedy to all that is to turn the brains off for a while, relax, talk, and start anew.

we'll see if it works.

Anonymous said...

"...before laying a steaming turd on the field at Tennessee..."

A fine point, I know, but imo it was really more like a colitis-induced diarrhea spew.

Will said...

I'm not a fan of the "they're just kids" excuse. Are they grown-ass men yet? Well for most of them no. But that's a piss-poor excuse and one that would fly in no other situation.
Player cheats on his gf, gets caught, the gf doesn't say "well, he's only a freshman, he's just a kid."
Player gets busted for underage possession of alcohol--think the judge will buy the "he's just a kid" excuse?
This is a group largely between the ages of 19-22. Not a JV HS team.

Anonymous said...

Not on topic, except that technically I think he is still faculty at Vandy, but, Al Gore. Fuck yeah!

Mickey McCale said...

Perhaps the reason the team is loose is because they don't look at teams like Vandy, Ole Miss, Miss St, and Kentucky like teams we should be able to pound like Mike Tyson on Glass Joe with just the junior varsity cheerleaders on the field.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our coaches have taught this team to look at every team the same, approach every game with the same intensity. After all, you don't change your routine for each opponent, you change what it contains.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that game in Tennessee was an aberration and we'll come out, play our game and put up a win. I certainly do agree with you that our coaches need to perform well, but I disagree with you that the players should be 'begging to hit anyone.'

Coach Richt gets paid for a reason. So does his staff. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and trust that he'll do the best thing for our players and our program.