Georgia mailbag: Hypothetical title scenarios, but about that defense ...

semerson@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 2, 2013 

UGA_SC

Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham works with his squad during a pre game warmup for South Carolina.

DONN RODENROTH/FOR THE TELEGRAPH — DONN RODENROTH

We’ll start with some fun looking-down-the-road stuff. Then I'll hit you with the defensive stuff. Strangely, nobody wants any offensive coaches fired or Aaron Murray benched this week.

Note: If your question didn't get answered or you want to discuss something further, I'm holding a live chat Friday at 1 p.m., here on the blog.

This question is incredibly premature but given all the post-game hype, I have to ask, do you see a one loss UGA getting shut out of the national championship by an undefeated team with a lesser strength of schedule? Ohio State winning out and getting in over UGA would totally harsh my mellow. I might pull a Walter White.
- Keith Harris

Well, don’t do that. Not only did it not (spoiler alert) work out too well for Walter, but it took awhile to build up that drug empire, and your talents are probably best-served elsewhere.

It’s hard to sit here in early October and predict who might lose, other than we know Stanford and Oregon have to play each other. Given the SEC’s reputation, Georgia would clearly be the nation’s top-rated one-loss team, if it runs the table. The Bulldogs are already ahead of Louisville in the rankings, and I think they’d get in over Charlie Strong’s bunch, even if the Cardinals are unbeaten. But it would be tougher to get in over an unbeaten Pac-12, Big 12 or Big Ten team, or perhaps even Florida State. At that point, it would come down to the eye test, and how impressive Georgia has been down the stretch and in the SEC championship.

But obviously we’re talking about a lot of hypotheticals here. But hey, we’re not on the team, we’re allowed!

Completely hypothetical here, say UGA is 4-0 at this point instead of 3-1, how would you vote them?
- Sherdan Crawley, Warner Robins

That’s easy: Number 1, and I’m pretty sure most other people would as well. Three wins over top-10 ranked teams at the time. The other question that was put to me on Twitter Saturday night is where would Georgia be if it had not played Clemson, but instead a patsy team, and was now 4-0. In that case I’d think long and hard about putting Georgia No. 1 over Alabama, but it wouldn’t be as clear-cut a decision. Alabama has a win at Texas A&M and a neutral site win over Virginia Tech. But Georgia would at minimum be No. 2 on my ballot.

Seth, If LSU wins the West and Georgia Wins the East then we will play them again in the SEC Championship game. It is very possible that we could play Clemson again in either the BCS championship game, or perhaps a lesser bowl. Can you remember another case where a team had to play not one but two teams twice in a season? Second question, how stoked would Georgia be to get a second chance at Clemson in the BCS Championship game.
- Jamie in Buford

Jamie, I can’t ever remember a scenario like that. I also think it won’t happen. Still, of all the teams Georgia might be rooting for to lose, Clemson might be the last one. I’m not sure Clemson has two losses on its schedule, and if it only loses one, and there’s an unbeaten Stanford, Ohio State or Oklahoma out there, a lot of voters would prefer to go with Clemson over Geoorgia because of head-to-head, which would be very fair.

But again, HUGE hypotheticals here. Georgia still has eight (probably nine) games left. To answer your second question, I’m sure the Bulldogs would love another shot at the Tigers on a neutral field, with Josh Harvey-Clemons, and a fully healthy Todd Gurley. (Remember, he sat out the second quarter). That said, Clemson was the better team that night.

This subject may end up generating the most-asked question to you this week. On LSU's passing plays, the ONLY thing that the Georgia defense did well was pressuring Mettenberger. So, on what could have been the most critical defensive play of the game, LSU with 3rd down and 22, why in the world would Grantham have called an alignment with three rushers and eight in coverage? I've looked for a comment from him in post-game articles, but haven't seen an explanation. Also curious if Gary Danielson of CBS commented about it during the game. Thanks.
- Dave Looney, Columbia, S.C.

Honestly, I don’t remember if Danielson said anything other than pointing it out, and if Grantham has specifically commented on the three-man rush I wasn’t there. (I have spoken to Grantham several times, after the game and on Tuesday, but not specifically about the third-and-22.) Grantham doesn’t really second-guess himself much, and I’m sure the thinking there was to flood the passing zone with eight players, and go eight-on-five. Somehow, that still didn’t work. Mettenberger deserves a lot of credit for that. But as I wrote in my second glance story, I’m not sure putting Leonard Floyd in pass coverage was the best use of resources.

Then again, if they had rushed five, leaving two less in coverage, and Mettenberger had completed it anyway (which he very well might have), then everyone would be wondering why they didn’t have more in pass coverage. At some point you just have to credit the quarterback and receiver and also criticize the individual players.

Seth, Shaq Wiggins and Quincy Mauger got playing time Saturday. In your opinion, is Grantham still trying to find personnel for the defensive backfield or are we trying to develop a cohesive group? With the opponent's quarterback play going down from here on out, do you expect our defensive back play to get a lot better?
- Erskine, St. Matthews S.C.

Let’s put it this way: If the defensive back play doesn’t get better starting this Saturday, against Tennessee’s struggling passing offense, then Georgia should be very concerned. Right now Georgia ranks last in the SEC in third-down defense and second-to-last in pass defense. It’s fair to expect the stats to get better, considering Georgia has probably faced the three best quarterbacks it will face this regular season.

Wiggins and Mauger actually got some playing time before the LSU game, and I’d expect that to continue. But the coaches really like Brendan Langley, and the seemingly-forgotten Sheldon Dawson has gotten some snaps too. They’re going to keep rotating those guys in at cornerback (along with Damian Swann) and strong safety (along with Corey Moore and Connor Norman) until one of them either locks down the job, or they get a rotation they’re comfortable with going forward. Considering all the inexperience, it’s not surprising the unit is in flux right now.

Is there any pressure from the outside about Grantham's coaching? Can't expect to out-score everyone forever.
- Garett Tolfinski

I do sense the worm turning as far as the fan sentiment on Grantham, as the next question will show. But a) it’s still very early in the season, and b) I don’t sense any pressure from within the program or the athletics department. They also know it’s very early.

Reading all of these comments from defensive players and from Grantham has made me more confident in my belief that Grantham is at fault for our defensive issues. If the defensive players in our secondary are getting the calls from Amarlo Herrera instead of from the sideline, that means that they KNOW the defensive calls. Secondly, if they KNOW the calls, why don't they just learn the signals (which change every week anyways)? Are we really relying on verbal communication when playing at home? Grantham seems to be the only person who believes that his secondary knows the defensive signals. That is a problem. Someone is lying, and from what we have heard from everyone, it sounds like Grantham is lying. I have watched the game several times at this point, and we were confused a lot. Grantham is now starting to blame the targeting rule on our defensive woes, and I did not see too many plays where we were even in position to "target" an offensive player. Am I the only one who has a problem with how Grantham has addressed questions regarding his defensive production?
- Stan Lanier

Stan, you’re by no means the only person to make those points. I can understand the frustration, and it seems pretty obvious that the communication and signal issue is a real one. Grantham was probably denying it on Tuesday because he doesn’t want it to be an excuse or for it to be a public issue, but he probably could have handled it a bit better by saying: “Obviously we have a young secondary, we’re working on all issues.” As for the targeting, Tray Matthews has actually mentioned that more than Grantham. (I’ll have a story up soon on the whole targeting issue with comments from Matthews, Grantham, Nick Saban, Les Miles and others.)

But I do think it’s important to step back from the ledge – or the firing squad, as it were – when it comes to the defense, and remember that it has played a very stiff schedule, and is still very young. It’s still too early to make a fair evaluation. As I wrote in my column earlier this week, the defense does have to get better if Georgia wants to win a title, and there’s still plenty of time – and talent – for that to happen.

You touched on this in your TV review of the game. While I think you can pin some of the defense's inability to get lined up and/or communicate on the young team, this seems to be a common theme over the past few years with more experienced defensive teams. Does the defense utilize one of the linebackers to make calls at the line of scrimmage? I can't seem to recall this happening. Is this a coaching preference?
- David Crabtree

Everything seems to go through Herrera, but even he said that it was easier last year because so many other defensive players were veterans who recognized the calls when Grantham signaled them in. So the difference is last year Herrera might turn to Shawn Williams or Bacarri Rambo and say: “You get that?” And the safeties would tell him to screw off because of course they got it. This year, a freshman safety or cornerback might not understand the signal from Grantham, then might not hear it from Herrera, or have time to hear and understand it.

Did you feel the stadium shake on the LSU's 4th Down? I swear I felt it where I was sitting
- Michael Jones

I don’t remember feeling anything from my spot in the press box, but maybe it depended on where you were. Personally, I’m enough of a worrywart that a stadium shaking doesn’t seem to be a good thing, but then again I’m not an architectural engineer so maybe it’s all right.

Can you the list of freshen who have now played and will not redshirt? Any word on the use of the pistol formation? I don’t recall any Pistol against North Texas or LSU. Last request, if Todd can’t go on SAT, who is the #2 back and who is #3 (Douglas/Green)? Thanks again for all you do!
- Grant Jacobs

These freshmen (and junior college transfers) have burned their redshirts: ILB Reggie Carter, WR Reggie Davis, TB Brendan Douglas, OLB Leonard Floyd, SS Shaquille Fluker, TB J.J. Green, DL Toby Johnson, ILB Tim Kimbrough, OL Brandon Kublanow, CB Brendan Langley, FS Tray Matthews, S Quincy Mauger, DL Chris Mayes, ILB Johnny O’Neal, ILB Ryne Rankin and CB Shaq Wiggins.

There might have been a play or two in the pistol, or they might have audibled out of it, the past two weeks. It’s not exactly a staple of the offense, but I’m sure they’ll use it here and there going forward, the same way they have thus far.

The No. 2 back (after Keith Marshall) will probably depend on the situation. Brendan Douglas is the more short-yardage, between the tackles guy. J.J. Green can also go between the tackles more than you’d expect for a 5-foot-7 back, but he’s the speed option.

Given that coach Richt understandably won't be allowing a change of uniform, i.e. black jerseys, at a home or at a neutral site game for a while, do you think there is a chance that he might roll out the red pants that we used occasionally with the white jerseys in road games back in the Herschel era? Wouldn't it be cool to run out at Neyland Stadium in the white jersey/red pants combo that we wore in Herschel's freshman year, also our national championship year? Wouldn't be even more special to break out that combo and steal some of the attention/thunder of Tennessee's debut/unveiling of their new smoke gray uniforms?
- Jeff Rogers, Calhoun

Richt’s said several times this week that they’re going with the normal white jerseys, and hasn’t mentioned any possibility of red jerseys. I’m sure the players would love mixing it up – Murray mentioned wearing the black jerseys for the final home game – but I don’t get the sense from anyone that Georgia needs to “answer” Tennessee’s special uniforms. This program should be beyond that kind of thing.

Damien Swann struggled a lot this past Saturday against LSU's talented receivers. Do people around the program still think he's going to leave early for the draft, or is that up in the air now due to the way he's played?
- James Echterhoff

There hasn’t been much discussion about the draft yet, and I won’t speak for Swann. (I’m supposed to talk to him after Wednesday’s practice, but to be honest I think it’s way too early in the season to bring it up.) Swann wasn’t on any of the preseason draft lists I saw (top 100, top 10 cornerback prospects, etcs.), but you figured with a good season he could play his way into the discussion. The first four games won’t do the trick, but again, there’s plenty of season left.

Fire Mike Bobo...er...never mind, old habit. Two questions for you:
1. Who is Quincy Mauger? Never heard of him before but he seemed to be all over the field on Saturday. Don't remember anything about him during spring practice, don't even remember him as a recruit. Any reason he's getting more playing time? Maybe I'm just out of the loop...
2. Do you ever get the feeling that Keith Marshall isn't entirely happy with his career so far, even if he won't admit it? Think about it, he was the bigger "get" for Georgia during recruiting and arrived to more fanfare. It was just kind of an added bonus when Gurley committed a month later. I'm sure you'll tell me that he's happy as a clam sharing the load with Gurley, but it was just a thought.
- Christopher Allison, UGA '07, Chicago, IL

1. Mauger was one of the 13 freshman early enrollees, so he’s been around, but it’s understandable he was overlooked since there were so many who enrolled early, and Matthews was the safety who got all the attention in the spring. Mauger was also rated a three-star recruit by the major services.

2. I could see where deep down Marshall could feel that way, but publicly he’s been a good citizen and there’s been no indication he privately begrudges being the No. 2 guy. Look, Todd Gurley is a special talent, and I think Marshall gets that. Marshall’s getting a lot of attention anyway, and a lot of carries. Plus, he can probably look long-term and guess that as a senior he’ll be in the No. 1 spot, unless Gurley shocks everyone and returns for his senior year.

Do you anticipate AJ Turman getting any carries this week with Gurley possibly being sidelined, or is he more of a redshirt candidate since Douglas and JJ Green have been productive thus far? I know he was banged up in camp but haven't heard much about him since.
- Brannen Wilson

Right now Turman looks like a redshirt candidate. That could change if there’s another injury ahead of him on the depth chart. They still like what Turman can do, but his preseason injuries put him behind a bit.

I was like Richt – holding my breath when Marshall Morgan kicked off. He still can’t consistently get the ball into the back of the end zone. Have the coaches expressed any thoughts of having someone else kick off? Or is he the best option we have right now?
- Bob Ho, Tucker, Ga.

Morgan quite simply has the strongest leg, and Collin Barber has said so. To be fair, each has been the kickoff guy for two games now, and have the same touchback rate: 25 percent. And the average return on their kickoffs is nearly identical.

Are the Cardiac Canines for real? Obviously, our offense is a juggernaut that can’t be stopped – until we play Florida. That seems to be our last real test as an offense. As young as our defense is, Florida’s offense is even more inept, though they have time to figure that out. To the most concerning part of the team, the young and inexperienced secondary. … I don’t recall seeing a consistent jam at the line of scrimmage when Swann was playing press. There was no rerouting of any of LSU’s receivers to disrupt timing. I know Grantham said he didn’t want to change anything so that they didn’t make bigger mistakes but why didn’t he change things at halftime to make them simpler? They weren’t running the ball that well even when we had two high safeties and we were getting a decent pass rush with only four guys but we did not seem to have a base package. It would seem prudent to tell the corners and safeties to play a base coverage every time and adjust from there, not have them waiting on a call that they don’t see or never get. It appears that the secondary has regressed and attempting to bring them along too quickly has affected their confidence. These guys are not Williams, Rambo, and Boykin yet but they will be. Shouldn’t we be adjusting to them not forcing them to adjust to that expectation?
- James Colvin, Tulsa, Oklahoma

You make some fair points. The lack of consistently jamming receivers is one that probably hasn’t gotten enough attention: Richt mentioned it earlier this week, and re-watching the game I also noticed how often LSU receivers were able to cleanly run their routes. I suspect that’s going to be an emphasis in practice this week.

As for schematics, if Grantham is going to simplify things this week, he’s not going to tell us. Given Tennessee’s struggles in the passing game, I could see him going that way, giving the young defensive backs a chance to play well in one-on-one coverage. But one other thing to keep in mind: Pressuring the quarterback figures into this. While the overall sack numbers are good, Richt did indicate he wants even more, blaming that partially on the pass coverage. Not everyone I spoke to this week agreed, but it will be interesting to see how consistent a pass rush the Bulldogs can get this week – especially against a good Tennessee offensive line.

Hi Seth -- One thing I really liked Saturday was how the officials just let the boys play on pass defense -- not calling everything (like the NFL does). Was this (1) just my imagination?; or (2) a change by the SEC Office in interpreting rules?; or (3) just this crew?
- Steve

Honestly, I have no particular insight other than it was not your imagination. They did let them play, especially when it came to pass interference calls. (The way Murray and Mettenberger were throwing it, the officials probably felt the passing games didn’t need any help.) The lack of penalties might also just have had to do with two very good teams playing good, disciplined football. And a good officiating crew didn’t get in the way.

Is Chase Vasser in the plans at lb? What is his status?
- Brett Townsend

He’s pretty much healthy now, but not in the plans at the moment. The emergence of Leonard Floyd has taken care of that. You have Jordan Jenkins and Floyd at outside linebacker when Georgia is in the 3-4, and when they’re in nickel, they have to figure out a way now to keep Floyd on the field. (He tends to move down to an edge rushing spot, where he is in the 3-4 a lot of times anyway.)

Thanks for the great coverage! Can you tell us where we can get audio clips from the great play-by-play work done by Scott Howard? UGA fans, as you know, still quote the great Larry Munson and I have a bunch of Munson's calls on my pre-game tailgate playlist. But Howard is great too and I want those clips from his key calls. I can't find them online. Are they out there? If not, can you put a bug in his ear to get them on iTunes or some such vehicle? He (or IMG or UGA or whoever owns the rights) could make a fair sum if they'd make them available.
- Max Clayton

I actually checked with Scott on Monday night, and unfortunately there’s not an online catalogue. I did mention the request, so perhaps if he and IMG get more of them they’ll consider it.

Justified > Breaking Bad Easily.
-Robert

That very well may be, but I’ve never seen “Justified.” Now that “Breaking Bad” is done maybe I’ll put that on my Netflix list, but between the baby and football season there isn’t enough time. I’ve been working on “Game of Thrones” – thanks to a certain quarterback’s urging – but the disc from Season 2 has been sitting on my coffee table for weeks now. I need another bye week!

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