ATHENS – Let’s start this out with some caveats. And not just because I greatly enjoy writing the word “caveat,” in the hopes that Mrs. Kaye, my seventh-grade English teacher, is reading this and will finally see that I learned something from her class.
First off, technically this isn’t the exact mid-point of the season. Unless you believe Georgia won't win another game this year and become bowl-eligible. In fact, an optimist would say that next week is the mid-point, because Georgia will reach the SEC championship game and play 14 games this year.
Well, let’s just go with midseason.
It should also be noted that this is a summation of all six games, and not just the most recent one. After South Carolina, the urge would be to flunk a number of coaches and players. But the first five games count too.
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So given that, here you go:
Comment: Aaron Murray’s grade would have been much better prior to South Carolina, but even with that included he’s having a very good year. I know this will cause people in some quarters to shriek. But the fact is there wasn’t much Murray could have done in Columbia, with Jadeveon Clowney and company in his face for much of the game. There were a few passes he missed on – the play where he overthrew Marlon Brown sticks out. And of course there was the interception that snuffed out the first drive. Those passes are the reason he doesn’t have an A. Otherwise, any objective look at Murray’s performance this year (1,487 passing yards, 12 TD, 4 INT) shows a quarterback who has done well.
Comment: The South Carolina game knocked Todd Gurley out from the SEC’s rushing lead, but Gurley and fellow freshman Keith Marshall are each still in the SEC’s top 10 in rushing yards per game. They’ve been everything the team could have reasonably hoped for, and probably more. The only criticism might be pass protection, but that’s fairly normal for a true freshman.
Comment: Merritt Hall was a nice spring story, who became a nice preseason story, and usually those fade away when scholarship players take over. Well, here it is midseason and Hall is still starting. It’s a bit surprising that Richard Samuel didn’t take this over, especially once he fell out of the tailback rotation. But Hall’s blocking has been enough to retain the job. And if Murray had a bit better touch on several fullback screens, Hall would be a decent factor in the passing game too.
Comment: A few dropped passes keep this group from being an A+, but that’s nitpicking. The grade may end up being worse over the second half of the season without Michael Bennett. That could be canceled out by Malcolm Mitchell re-establishing himself as the team’s No. 1 receiver, but the past two games have cast worry on whether it’s too late for that. Otherwise, this has been a very good group. There’s a reason the coaches went to a four and five-wide look in the preseason.
Comment: By and large, Arthur Lynch (six catches for 148 yards, 1 TD) and Jay Rome (2 catches for 36 yards) have made plays when given the chance. They haven’t been targeted that much, due mostly to the change in offensive scheme to favor the receiver spot. However, they struggled a bit in blocking earlier in the season. That improved the past few games, especially against Tennessee, and the signs show they’re becoming more involved in the passing game.
Comment: The first five games, this grade would have been on a curve – the preseason expectations being the curve – and the grade would have been a B+. But the group was absolutely bullied in Columbia, bearing out the worst nightmares for Georgia fans entering the season. Kenarious Gates at left tackle hasn’t quite been a bust, but he hasn’t been a star there either. David Andrews got the job done at center the first five games, but then . Well, I’ve written that sentence a lot so far. The O-line may be the one unit for the Bulldogs that can shake off its performance in Columbia, considering that’s going to be the best D-line it sees all season. (Then again, LSU figured out how to run on the Gamecocks.) One of the few players on an upward trend line is John Theus, who survived his near-disaster at Missouri, and is pretty much living up to expectations. I’m not sure if the coaches would move Theus to left tackle, but I’m sure the thought has crossed their minds.
Comment: So, about that shut-down run defense? It hasn’t been seen this season. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in rushing, and have seen the likes of Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Tennessee be able to run the ball with impunity for much of the game. Not good. Cornelius Washington, who has played end most of the time, only has half a sack, and Abry Jones (the other end) and John Jenkins (the nose tackle) have none. That comes with some caveats – (there’s that word again): Jones has been limited by a sprained ankle. Jenkins has played a lot of end, in an effort to get fellow Kwame Geathers in the game. That strategy isn’t working out.
Comment: The defense overall has been a disappointment, but it’s not the fault of these guys. Jarvis Jones (5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, 15 quarterback hits) has been the team’s only consistent pass-rush threat. He hasn’t been a huge force the past few games, but he’s also been limited by groin and ankle injuries. Amarlo Herrera, the team’s leader with 47 tackles, played so well in place of the suspended Alec Ogletree that Herrera retained his starting spot when Ogletree returned. And in two games back Ogletree already has 22 tackles. But here’s the problem: That shifted Mike Gilliard, who had been the “Mike” inside linebacker (basically the signal-caller) to a lesser role. Todd Grantham decided he wanted Herrera and Ogletree on the field together. That’s fine and all, but the team appeared to miss Gilliard’s on-field leadership the past couple games. Not that it would have done a big difference at South Carolina. Right now the Bulldogs have the problem of finding enough time for a bunch of talented linebackers – and that includes freshman Jordan Jenkins, who has played extremely well (three sacks, eight quarterback hits) in limited time at outside linebacker.
Comment: The team survived the first two games without Sanders Commings and the first four without Bacarri Rambo, and then somehow got worse. Much of the blame for that lies in the since-abandoned Malcolm Mitchell-at-cornerback experiment. Grantham may believe Mitchell is a first-round talent at cornerback, but training him up for half a year and then getting four games out of him didn’t really work out. It also added to cohesion issues in the secondary once Ogletree and Commings got back. All season, there have been too many big plays for the opposition, which players have attributed to busted coverage and communication issues. That shouldn’t be surprising when you have inexperienced players out there, but at full strength this unit should have been better the past two games.
Comment: We can make fun of Marshall Morgan’s extra-point follies, but the fact is it hasn’t cost the Bulldogs a game yet, and he’s been very good on his field goals. Punter Collin Barber has been pretty solid (40.2 yards per punt), and Mark Richt was correct two weeks ago that Georgia’s status as ranking last in the SEC in punting (33.3 yards per punt) was deceiving. Barber has done a good job of placing the ball and preventing returns, with just two of his 27 attempts resulting in a touchback, and six being downed inside the 20. The punt coverage hasn’t been good, however, as we saw in Columbia.
Comment: There was that great 100-yard return by Gurley in the opener, and basically not much since then. Mitchell did have a long kickoff return at South Carolina, which was quickly forgotten. The punt returns have been something of an adventure. Branden Smith hasn’t been given a chance to return punts, and at this point Georgia has decided its best strategy is to send Rhett McGowan out to fair-catch everything.
OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS
Comment: Richt is also right that his units haven’t been as bad as perceived, but they also haven’t overall been good. They did block a punt in the opener, but had an extra point blocked and another one had a muffed snap. Then there was the Ace Sanders punt return touchdown for South Carolina, which came after Sanders bobbled the ball. That's not good.
Comment: The team has a head coach and nine assistants, so it’s probably unfair to put them all under the same umbrella but them’s the breaks. Let’s analyze it this way: No one did well against South Carolina. That was an across-the-board failure by players, coaches and probably media members. (Yeah, I picked Georgia to win.) But through five games, the offensive staff was having a great year, with Mike Bobo getting deserved kudos for getting creative on offense, and Will Friend molding his line into a serviceable lineup. The defense, however, has clearly under-performed. The suspensions hurt, but the team was also outschemed to start several games. Grantham always made the necessary adjustments, but it was too late at South Carolina. The tinkering around with personnel on defense seems to have been a bit too much, and Mitchell probably should have stayed on offense all along.