Sep 16, 2011

Why Dan Mullen Would be a Bad Choice for UGA (for now)

The Mullen lovers are out there.  They are few, but they are loud, and they lurk on message boards and comment sections, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Dan Mullen was a very successful offensive coordinator at Florida during part of their recent glory years, before he took over the head coaching job at a struggling Mississippi State program.  In his first season (2009), the little Bulldogs went 5-7.  In 2010, they had a surprisingly good year, going 9-4 (a mediocre 4-4 in the SEC), but with no wins versus the SEC West other than Ole Miss, a team which has taken the same spot as Vanderbilt but in the West as division punching bag.

Yes, his recruiting was outstanding, as he managed to get the #25 and #19 class in the nation according to Rivals and Scout, respectively.

But should we be so excited by 5-7 and 9-4 that we're ready to hand the reigns over to this guy after only two seasons under his belt?

First of all, Mark Richt isn't done yet, despite what some media pundits and strangely interested Alabama fans are saying.  We still have 10 games left to play and who knows what will happen.

Second, if you watched last night's ESPN game of LSU at Mississippi State, you might have noticed some very questionable coaching decisions.  Actually, look back before that to last week's game against Auburn.

Last week, when the Bulldogs had a 2nd and goal against Auburn with 10 seconds left in the game, Mullen decided to have his QB try to run the ball into the end zone.  He was stopped just short, and time ran out.  The game was over.  Anyone with basic knowledge of clock management in football was scratching their heads.  Why not attempt a pass first?  With 10 seconds, you have ample time to make a pass attempt, and if that doesn't work, the clock stops and you still have time to run the ball once more.

Here was Mullen's post-game explanation of the choice:
"You could go pass-pass, pass-run, or just run."

Yes, we are aware Coach Mullen.  You can either have 2 chances to score, or 1 chance to score.  You insanely chose 1 chance, essentially leaving a play on the field at the goal line to win the game.

He says he gave the choice to his quarterback, Chris Relf, who said he was confident he could get it in on just a run.  So he listened to the player, called the play, and they lost the game.

Skip to last night versus LSU.  With the Bulldogs down only 16-6 in the 4th quarter and 10 minutes left in the game, Mullen decides to pull his starting QB who everyone has raved about and put in his backup.  Although this is a surprising and confusing move, maybe Mullen had good reason to believe that Relf wasn't effective all night and that the backup might have more success.

But the real shocking decision came minutes later, when LSU tacked on an extra field goal to be up 19-6, and Mississippi State gets the ball with 2:53 on the clock and all 3 timeouts remaining.  The Bulldogs were still down by only 2 scores.  They would need to score a quick TD, kick a successful onside kick, and then score another TD.  It's extremely unlikely, but it's been done time and time again in college football (see Auburn vs. Utah State two weeks ago).

But Mullen decides to run the ball multiple times on this last drive, letting the clock run and refusing to take timeouts.  It was clear to anyone watching that he had given up; either he had no faith that his team could actually assemble a worthwhile offensive drive, or he just didn't care.  So he quit.  He let the game end without using his timeouts, and let his team go down without a fight.

A sad part was watching the backup QB and rest of the team running desperately to get in formation to run their final play with time running out, despite it being clear that their head coach wasn't going to call a timeout and didn't really care what they were doing out there.  He was just going to let it end, despite still having a chance to win.  What do you have to lose?  You're going to lose anyway, right?  If you turn it over and LSU gets the ball, they will take a knee and run out the clock anyway.  No harm done.

Now I don't want to say that these decisions should define the rest of Mullen's career.  He's still a decent coach who has recruited very well and had one good season at a struggling Mississippi State.  He could still do great things there, or at another school.  But decisions like those shouldn't earn you a job at a program like Georgia.  If anything, they should be warning signs that jumping on the Mullen-bandwagon might be a bit of a rushed decision.

Mark Richt may be done soon at Georgia.  None of us really know.  But I don't think I've ever seen Mark Richt give up on his team when down only two scores in an important SEC game, or any game for that matter.  And whether Mark Richt is good for the future of UGA or not, I'd rather have a coach who is smart enough and cares enough to give his team a chance to win, all other things aside.

Sep 14, 2011

Will the SEC East be a mess this year? (See: 2007)

In 2007, the SEC, like the rest of college football that year, was a complete mess.  There were no teams in the entire conference with less than 2 conference losses.  Georgia and Tennessee stood atop the East, each with 2 SEC losses, but the Volunteers would represent in the SEC Championship based on multiple close escapes late in the season.

The SEC East in 2011 looks like it could be just as much of a mess with no champion decided until perhaps the very end of the season.

Yes, Georgia already lost to East favorite South Carolina, but if you take a look at the schedules, the race isn't going to be over anytime soon.

South Carolina has likely wins against Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home, but I see them losing at least 2 out of Auburn, at Miss. State, at Tennessee, at Arkansas, and versus Florida. 

Florida has to play Alabama and at LSU, not to mention at Auburn and the rest of the SEC East.  Once again, it seems likely they would have at least 2 SEC losses as well.

Tennessee is about to go play in the Swamp this weekend, and they have an even tougher West schedule than Florida.  They play LSU at home and at Alabama, plus at Arkansas.

And of course Kentucky and Vanderbilt remain Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Of course it's still possible that South Carolina, Florida, or Tennessee could be way better than they seem and could burn through their tough SEC schedules and remain undefeated in conference, but I wouldn't bet on it.  Georgia, meanwhile, has the easiest SEC schedule of them all, with games at Ole Miss, against Miss. State, and the annual rivalry game with Auburn.

Don't be surprised if the SEC East ends up similar to 2007, with each team having at least 2 conference losses, and maybe even with a tiebreaker determining once again which team will play in Atlanta for the conference championship.

Sep 12, 2011

"Sometimes it happens like that," but UGA has promise

Russ sleeping at the 2011 G-Day Game. Photo: B. Spoon

"Georgia outplayed us. Give 'em credit.  They definitely outplayed us.  But we won the game.  Sometimes it happens like that."  Those were Steve Spurrier's words after South Carolina snuck out a win against Georgia in Athens Saturday.

It's hard to take, but it's true.  After an embarrassing week one loss versus Boise State where execution in plays was hindered even more by bad play calling and coaching, the Dawgs seemed to put everything together against the Gamecocks.

The offensive play calling was much better, including a varied mix of I-Formation and shotgun plays (wonder if Bobo caught wind of my 78% stat on the blog...) which worked to almost perfection.  UGA was mostly unstoppable on offense, other than a few key halts after good drives in the 1st half that led to field goals rather than touchdowns, and the turnovers, of course.

The defense was phenomenal for most of the game, other than on a handful of critical drives late in the 4th quarter.

And the head coach finally seemed to realize that this was an urgent game, and we had to do everything possible to win.  Sure, we still ran a draw play on some long 3rd downs, but we also went for a surprise onside kick (which was barely overturned thanks to our favorite zebra Penn Wagers).

The media (ESPN) tried to convince everyone that this game would define Richt's future, and that a loss could mean his immediate firing.  Any realistic UGA fan knew that was false.  We know that Richt will likely have until the end of the season, at which point the AD and others will discuss his future as head coach at Georgia. And can you blame them?  Would firing a beloved head coach who's presumably loved by the players in the middle of the season really be good for us?

But instead, a loss here actually brought more optimism from fans than even last week's loss.  Somehow 0-2 turned out to be better than 0-1, mainly because of the way it happened.  Georgia's coaches began to coach, the players began to play, and everything was clicking.  Our running game appears to have life, as Crowell looked to be the 2nd coming of Knowshon Moreno while bouncing off of defenders and finding extra yards.  Our receiving corps look like they could be even better than last year with AJ Green, if we can just find a way to get the playmakers the ball.  Malcolm Mitchell is a speedster, Michael Bennett is the new Kris Durham, and of course we still have Charles, White, King, Wooten, and Brown back there.  And the defense not only made stop after stop, but they also made big plays, like a big interception by Rambo.

The media and other teams' fans are still convinced that Richt is done.  Maybe he will be.  They're convinced that UGA is "average" again, as one Rivals writer put it.  Maybe they are.  But they didn't look average on Saturday.  They looked like a great team, finally with coaching to match it, that made mistakes at just the wrong times to barely lose.

And while some can still rant about being 0-2, remember that is still 0-2 against the #4 and #11 teams in the country.  Mark Richt can't afford many more losses, and he certainly can't afford any bad ones, but he's still got a chance to make something out of this season with this team.  It's always better to lose early than late, as many teams have learned before.

Losing is bad.  We've lost way too much in the past few years, and we shouldn't be complacent with it.  We shouldn't be happy about 0-2.  If we don't have the type of season that UGA fans expect, maybe we should make some changes.  But maybe Saturday's loss shouldn't be weighed as heavily as the others, such as the Boise loss.  Because sometimes you can do almost everything right and lose.  Sometimes, it happens like that.

Sep 9, 2011

UGA vs. USCe: What I want to see, and what I expect to see...

What I want to see...

1. No forced play calling on the offense.  If the no-huddle shotgun offense keeps producing 3 and outs, don't keep trying to force it.  Mix things up, try different approaches, and see what works.  If something works really well, keep doing it until the defense stops it.  No need to get tricky when you already have the upper hand.

What I expect: More of the same from Bobo's offense.  Mostly baffling calls, but I do expect there to be a few great calls scattered in there that calm people down a little (see Boykin's run last week).

2. Isaiah Crowell start at RB.  Yes, he's a freshman, but he looks like he has what we need as an explosive player that can produce on the field and get the fans excited.  Give him just a moment to adjust to the unusual gameday environment in Sanford Stadium, and then call plays that give him a high chance of success to start the game to get him comfortable.  Also, if the running game isn't producing at all, give Malcome or Harton a chance to see what they can do in a game.  You never know if a player can turn it on in the heat of a game as opposed to practice.

What I expect: Samuel will start at RB, because that is the Mark Richt way.  Once again it will be a split of carries, probably Crowell with about 60%, Samuel with 30%, and Carlton Thomas with 10%.  I don't expect to see Malcome or Harton at all, especially if rumors of Malcome's disappointed Twitter comments are true.

3. Target Malcolm Mitchell.  The guy looked good, really good, toward the end of the Boise game.  His speed on his touchdown looked like it rivaled Branden Smith.  Get this guy the ball.  He deserves more targets after a great game performance.  Make the tight ends central to our passing game, and that includes Orson Charles and Aron White.  Also try to get Marlon Brown more passes, and Wooten too for that matter (both of whom also made good plays against Boise).

What I expect: I think we will target Mitchell, but not nearly as much as we should.  We used to have a problem with getting the ball to AJ Green, the best receiver in the country, so I don't expect us to get the ball to a freshman with supreme talent either.  We'll likely go to Tavarres King a lot more again, due to his experience and spot as #1 on the depth chart, and he'll be our primary receiver still on a lot of plays.  Hopefully he can improve his performance from last week.  Orson Charles will remain our #2 targeted receiver, which is good.

4. An aggressive defensive scheme that puts pressure on the QB and focuses on closer coverage of receivers.  In the opening drives of the Boise game, we had some tight man coverage on Boise, and our talent clearly could keep up and defend theirs.  Later in the game, Boise began to find wide open receivers all over the field with no defenders within 10 yards of them.  A soft zone defense leaves those dink and dunk short passes open that Kellen Moore thrived on, and Stepehen Garcia will do similar short passes all the way down the field if we leave them open.

What I expect: We'll do a better job of getting pressure on the QB, but unfortunately, we'll allow Garcia to dump short passes frequently to open receivers.  Hopefully we can rattle him enough to make him give up and look forward to the bar later that night.

5. Don't be afraid to be aggressive, but be smart about it when you do.  Mark Richt always refuses to go for a score at the end of the half when we have the ball.  We frequently have 1+ minutes on the clock and 2 or 3 timeouts, but we will run a screen pass or running play and let the clock run.  This game is too important to leave chances on the field.  We need to be in panic mode here, and we can't afford to just be calm and expect to come back and win.

What I expect: Even though this game is HUGE and could define the season (and potentially Richt's career), I still don't really expect us to change in a lot of common Richt ways.  If we didn't do it last week, I don't expect it that much this week.  If we didn't change ourselves to panic mode after going 6-7 and losing to UCF in a bowl game, I don't think losing to #5 Boise State will do it either.  Hopefully we'll have enough talent and just enough coaching to get a win regardless.

Sep 8, 2011

What about blocking? Screenshots show importance of I-Formation

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I saved some screenshots from the Boise game that might better illustrate why the I-formation was successful, and bring more confusion to why we abandoned it.

Some have mentioned that our overkill use of the shotgun was likely due to how poorly our offensive line was playing, and that it was in our best interest to give Murray space behind the line of scrimmage to have any adequate time to get a pass off.  In some cases, this is true, because the shotgun should give the QB a better view of rushing defenders and an ability to avoid being sacked.

But the I-Formation is important to UGA because of another factor: protection in numbers.  At the start of the revealing drive I referenced in my last post, the ESPN commentator made mention of I-formation being Georgia's "maximum protection" because it allowed for 7 blockers to guard the QB (5 linemen, 1 tight end, and 1 fullback or running back).  If you feel comfortable enough, the TE can become a receiver, and you still have 6 man protection.  But the I-Formation also appears to be more successful for UGA in pass blocking even with numbers aren't the advantage.

Here is the I-Formation in the first play of that drive:

Just for a better view, here's another shot of I-formation from behind:

Here is the same play after the snap.  Notice Murray has plenty room in his pocket and time to throw as the defense is sending five pass rushers against five blockers (we send the TE on a route).  He probably could have stood there for another second or two if he wanted.

As Georgia made their way down the field, the commentator continued to praise the decision of the offensive coordinator to switch to the I-formation, because it was allowing Murray much more protection and time to pass, while he was running for his life in the shotgun.  I also noticed that on the one play of that drive that we decided to run out of the I-Formation, Richard Samuel actually found a large hole to run through in the line (but unfortunately it looks like he ran into one of our blockers, just shy of the vast field of freedom ahead of him).

But just as soon as the commentators praised the change, we decided it was time to return to the shotgun (I presume just because it has such a cool sounding name).

Here on a crucial 3rd down, we go with 5 OL, no TE, and a freshman RB to pass block.  We have a four receiver set and no fullback for extra help in the backfield.  It doesn't end well.

Now the defense sends five pass rushers against a weaker UGA offensive protection, despite Georgia having 6 pass blockers.  The edge rushers get around that smaller line in a hurry, and the middle of the pocket collapses along with the ends.  Murray gets sacked here, and we miss a long field goal in a crucial moment.

It could be argued that we might as well go shotgun on that 3rd down, because everyone knew we would pass the ball.  That's true, but the bigger problem was the 2 shotgun plays before that, both of which were unsuccessful, right after we made it quickly down the field in I-Formation.  And pass blocking in the shotgun broke down much faster, even when having a numbers advantage, than it did in the I-Formation.

Also, that particular play above wasn't pretty.  Other than going back to shotgun, a formation in which we saw our offensive line fall apart and the pocket frequently collapse, Mike Bobo also apparently decided we would have plenty of time for Murray to pump fake a short pass and then try to hit the end zone 30 yards downfield.  The short pass might have been successful (or would at least give a better shot at a field goal), but instead we got a sack and no points.  Then again, we've complained about not being aggressive enough on offense before... right?

Sep 6, 2011

Boise Game Analysis: 78% of plays were shotgun formation

That's right.  I just wasted about 20 minutes fast forwarding through each play to figure that out.  78% of all offensive plays in Saturday's game were out of the shotgun formation.  Does that sound like UGA football to you?

Honestly, the stat by itself doesn't really matter that much.  Sure, Georgia is traditionally a power-I team that runs the ball with a lead fullback and then passes from under center, usually with a play-action fake.  But it isn't necessarily bad to try new things more often... as long as they work.  The problem isn't that 78% of plays were out of shotgun; the problem is that when good old fashion play-action passes and under center plays actually worked, we abandoned them and returned to the flashy deep snap.  The problem is that our offensive play calling has recently had a tendency to stick to things that don't work, and abandon things that have success.

Here are some more quick stats I compiled:

Total Plays in Game: 60
Total Plays Under Center: 13
Plays Under Center in 1st Half: 6/30
Plays Under Center in 2nd Half: 7/30


Passing out of shotgun: 13 of 23 for 182 yards, 2 TD 1 INT, 14 yards per pass
Passing under center: 3 of 6 for 54 yards, 0 TD 0 INT, 18 yards per pass

Sacks: 6 of 6 sacks on Murray were in shotgun formation

The funny thing here is I (un)fondly remember the Arkansas game from last season, a loss which I blamed mostly on atrocious offensive play calling for the first 3 quarters.  I argued that we repeatedly attempted play-action passes without mixing things up, and it was obvious to the defense what we were doing.  I called for more shotgun plays to give Murray better sight of rushing defenders and the play as it develops, and when we began to pass from the shotgun in the 4th quarter, the offense suddenly began to improve.

This time, it was exactly the opposite.  We came out determined to play some newfangled hurry-up shotgun offense.  Goodbye to the old Georgia power-running and play-action days, we're here to trick you with speed and finesse.  Unfortunately, it didn't work too well from the start, and the offense struggled severely from penalties, jitters, and plain old lack of execution.


The most revealing drive of the game was the first of the 2nd half.  Georgia decided to do something different.

Georgia at 11:01
1st and 10 at UGA 15
Aaron Murray pass complete to Orson Charles for 12 yards to the Geo 27 for a 1ST down.   (I-FORM PLAY ACTION)
1st and 10 at UGA 27
Aaron Murray pass complete to Orson Charles for 28 yards to the BoiSt 45 for a 1ST down.   (I-FORM PLAY ACTION)

1st and 10 at BSU 45
Richard Samuel rush for 3 yards to the BoiSt 42.   (I-FORMATION)

2nd and 7 at BSU 42
Aaron Murray pass complete to Aron White for 14 yards to the BoiSt 28 for a 1ST down.   (I-FORM PLAY ACTION)

1st and 10 at BSU 28
GEORGIA penalty 5 yard False Start accepted.   

1st and 15 at BSU 33
Isaiah Crowell rush for 3 yards to the BoiSt 30.    (SHOTGUN)

2nd and 12 at BSU 30
Aaron Murray pass incomplete.    (SHOTGUN)

3rd and 12 at BSU 30
Aaron Murray sacked by Jamar Taylor for a loss of 6 yards to the BoiSt 36.     (SHOTGUN)

4th and 18 at BSU 36
Blair Walsh 54 yard field goal MISSED.

DRIVE TOTALS: GEORGIA drive: 7 plays 49 yards, 03:40 GEORGIA FGA

Notice the formations listed to the right of each play in parentheses.  So for four plays in a row, Georgia played under center in I-formation, just like the good old days, and quickly moved down the field.  The ESPN commentators even happened to come on the screen with a graphic showing how Aaron Murray's numbers last year were significantly better when passing from the I-formation rather than shotgun.  The offense quickly gained 54 yards on 3 play action passes (with one run mixed in to keep the defense honest).  This was a sudden, incredible momentum for the UGA offense which had been struggling all night.  But then, it's as if Mike Bobo suddenly changed his mind, and the offense returned to shotgun formation.  THREE plays in a row of shotgun followed, stalling the offense completely, and then a missed field goal attempt to end the drive.

It doesn't take a genius or a blogger with too much time on their hands to watch that game and see what was working offensively.  That same non-genius could easily determine that we didn't try nearly enough of what was working, and we repeatedly tried to force what wasn't working.  Why?  Because that's the tale of Georgia's offensive play calling in recent years.

Also of note, although the other three under center passes were incomplete, one of them should have been a 15 yard gain and was a perfect pass to a wide open #12 (names will not be named) who dropped the ball.

Finally, all 6 sacks on Murray happened during plays from the shotgun.  Re-watch those I-formation play-action plays and see how much more time Murray had to find his receiver and make a good pass.  It makes it all the more sad that we continued to ignore what was successful and tried to force the shotgun to work.


There's a slightly interesting difference in the rushing stats as well, as you can see below in Isaiah Crowell's rushing numbers:

Rushes from I-formation: 4 for 19 yards, 4.75 yards per carry
Rushes from shotgun: 11 for 41 yards, 3.72 yards per carry

So not only the passing game benefited greatly from the change of formation.


I really could rant a lot more about the game, but pretty much everything worth saying has been said by countless reporters, message board posters, and bloggers.  I hadn't seen a statistical analysis of the offensive problems yet, though, so I figured I could make a contribution.  Once again, I hold the opinion that offensive play calling was a HUGE detriment to our game plan, and greatly contributed to our loss.  If UGA's offense was allowed to run plays that set them up to succeed, I think we could have won that game.  If these mind-boggling play calls continue, I'm afraid Georgia will struggle more and more.  Not every game can be won based on talent alone.

Sep 4, 2011

Post-Game Analysis: Coming up Soon

I haven't been posting much for a while here, but I think it's about time for me to write a long-winded analysis of the game like I have in the past.  So it's coming.  You've been warned.

As for a quick note on my current feelings toward the state of the UGA program:

I try to step back and look at things realistically.  No end of the world doom and gloom, but no "Disney Dawg" sparkling either (I've never liked the "Disney Dawg" term much, but you have to admit it's catchy).  On the up side, I saw some good things (very few, but some) in last night's game.  I know that we only lost one game, it was to a top 5 team, and it doesn't affect our SEC chances at all.  Technically, we still have the whole season ahead of us, 11 games left to play, and an SEC title we're still fully in the race for.  On the downside, well... there is a long and obvious list of grievances that I will go more into detail on later.  We have many of the same problems we've had for years, and we seemingly refuse to ever try to change them.  This is stubborn and stupid, and if we keep that up, we're looking at another long season.  I'll still hold out hope that we can turn things around, but if a 6-7 year with a loss to UCF in a lower-tier bowl game with an entire off-season to prepare didn't bring change, I'm not too hopeful about seeing that change happen in the next week.