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December 29, 2010

Georgia Football vs. Eventual Bulldogs

On Christmas Day, some family members and I were talking about Georgia's upcoming Liberty Bowl bout.  One relative ask me what I knew of the first Liberty Bowl the Bulldogs played in - a 14-7 loss to N.C. State in 1967:  "How in the world did we lose to North Carolina State?"

"Jim Donnan was the main reason," I replied.

"Donnan was also the main reason we lost games three decades later," another relative quipped.

In being recognized as the ACC Player of the Year in 1967, according to Coach and Athlete magazine, Donnan guided N.C. State to its best record (9-2) in school history.  Against the Bulldogs in Memphis, the senior quarterback completed 16 of 24 passes for 121 yards, including the first points of the game on a 6-yard touchdown pass to teammate Harry Martell.

The Wolfpack's win in the Liberty Bowl was the first victory by an ACC football team over a member of the SEC in 24 tries.  Donnan followed up his stellar regular season by being named MVP of the bowl. 

Nearly thirty years after the bowl game, there was a Donnan of a New Era for Georgia football in 1996.  And with it, for the fourth and latest time in UGA football history - and something I find rather intriguing - an individual who had opposed Georgia as a player, eventually joined the Bulldog Nation by becoming its head football coach.

The three prior instances:

VINCE DOOLEY: While a quarterback at Auburn (1951-1953), Dooley saw reserve duty against Georgia in losses of 1951 and 1952, but finally defeated the Bulldogs as the Tigers' starting signal caller as a senior in 1953.

In a 39-18 Auburn victory in '53, Captain Dooley completed 6 of 9 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown and also scored on a quarterback sneak.  His passing touchdown was his second against where he would eventually become a coaching legend as Dooley had tossed a 35-yard scoring pass against the Bulldogs as a sophomore in a 46-14 loss.   

WALLY BUTTS: In his final two seasons at Mercer (1926-1927), a 5-6 and 155-pound Butts played an end position against Georgia in consecutive losses.  In a 20-0 Mercer setback in the 1926 season opener against the Bulldogs, Butts was acknowledged as a "luminary" in the Bear line.

Coached by Bernie Moore, an acclaimed LSU football coach from 1935-1947 and later Commissioner of the SEC, Butts would earn All-Southern Conference honors as a senior in 1927.  In a 26-7 loss to Georgia in mid-November, Butts' roommate - "Phoney" Smith - returned a kickoff 95 yards, becoming the first southern player to score a touchdown against Georgia's great "Dream and Wonder Team" in seven games.  

Just one year later, Butts immediately jumped into coaching, becoming the head football coach of the Monroe High School (Ga.) Aggies.  Only a little over a decade later, he would be named UGA football's 20th head coach.

FRANK DOBSON: And now the most interesting case of a Georgia football head coach having previously played against the Bulldogs, or in this case, against the Red and Black...

I posted a piece on Frank Dobson - Georgia's 14th head football coach - 18 months ago, but here's his intriguing "story" in a nutshell: A minor league baseball player from 1906-1911 and 1913, Dobson also found time to be an assistant football coach at Georgia Tech in 1908 and the athletics director and head football coach at the University School at Stone Mountain in 1909. 

That same year, Dobson was also the star quarterback for the Olympians - a club team from Atlanta - who was defeated by Georgia on October 2nd. (Although it undoubtedly should be, the 1909 Georgia win over the Atlanta Olympians in football is not YET considered official by UGA, although I'm working on it...)

After coaching the University School to the Georgia state football championship and also refereeing some collegiate contests (including those of UGA), Dobson was brought in to co-coach Georgia's struggling football squad.  

UGA's coaching change in 1909 for Dobson, where "he taught [the team] more football in two weeks he was with them than they knew all the rest of the season," occurred less than two months after Dobson had played quarterback against the very same Georgia team.

Although it appears Dobson coached Georgia for only a single game, from 1910-1939, he was the head football coach at Clemson, Richmond, South Carolina, and Maryland for a combined 28 seasons.

December 17, 2010

Back when we routinely beat these guys...

Jubilant Bulldog fans streamed onto the Gator Bowl field after the victory and tore down both goalposts. As a Georgia player attempted to wade through the crowd, he remarked that it was easy for the Bulldogs to get through the Florida defense in the second half, but reaching the dressing room after the game was a different story.

Duty called the last couple weeks, so I wasn't able to tend to my blog.  Nevertheless, I'm back and wanted to somewhat continue my last post regarding the Bulldogs' recent ineffective play in the fourth quarter under Richt. 

As I indicated, several of Coach Dooley's teams were known for their tremendous, rallying performances in the final quarter.  Such was the case of the '76 Junkyard Dogs, who trailed the opposition or were tied in the second half of four games before coming back for victories.

Back in May, I posted video of Florida's "Fourth-and-Dumb" that swung the momentum of the 1976 meeting in favor of the Dogs.  I'd like to add, Gator Coach Dickey's errant decision led to a memorable comeback for Dooley's Dogs - perhaps, the greatest fourth quarter of Georgia football in the modern era:
   


Ah, the memories.  It's hard to believe there was a time the Bulldogs regularly defeated the Gators, winning 13 of 16 meetings from 1974-1989, and even more unimaginable, Florida had yet to win an SEC championship.

After the last couple of seasons, it's also good to see Georgia rally for a memorable win over a reputable opponent (albeit one from more than 34 years ago).

However, that was a long time ago...  For example, you'd never see today the same from Georgia's male cheerleaders as they exhibit soon after Ray Goff's first touchdown. (At least, I hope they still don't execute the man-on-man "dog pile.")

Also, you'd likely never witness an extremely wealthy celebrity peering in on a sideline interview, as the late Aaron Spelling is doing so with Goff.

Speaking of Goff, say what you will regarding his head-coaching tenure at Georgia.  Notwithstanding, the quarterback could undoubtedly run the Veer offense and, most importantly, in recognizing deceased Hugh Hendrix, appeared to be a fine person and teammate.

December 7, 2010

Fourth-Quarter Failure

Regarding the recent move of Joe T. II being named to take over as head of the strength and conditioning program, I was immediately encouraged with Tereshinski's mention of the Bulldogs needing to be prepared for the fourth quarter. 

Unpreparedness, if you will, for the final quarter is an issue that started a season ago for the team, which grew into a full-blown problem this year.

This regular season, Georgia remarkably outscored its opposition 343-189 in the first three quarters of games - an average scoring margin of +12.83 points per game or +4.28 per quarter.  However, the Bulldogs were outscored 85-68 in the fourth quarter, or by 1.42 points per game, which is quite unusual (and distressing) considering Georgia's success in quarters one through three.

Come to find out, the Bulldogs' fourth-quarter failures - a 5.7-point margin decrease (i.e., difference between +4.28 and minus-1.42)  from quarters one through three to quarter four this season - is far beyond unusual, but historic.

First, here is Georgia's - I'll call it - "average scoring-margin difference from Quarters 1-3 to Quarter 4" for each of the last five seasons...  See a troubling pattern?

2006: +2.4
2007: +2.0
2008: +0.8
2009: -1.1
2010: -5.7

I researched back to the 1964 season - the first of the Vince Dooley era - and calculated this same "difference" for the last 47 seasons of Georgia football.*

The Bulldogs' minus-5.7-point difference this year is the team's second worst in nearly five full decades of football, only behind -6.8 in 1979.  The '79 Bulldogs outscored their opposition by an average of 2.1 points per the first three quarters but had an average scoring margin of minus-4.7 in the final quarter (-4.7 - 2.1= -6.8 difference).

*For seasons where the postseason wasn't considered in official statistics (1964-2001), I added bowl totals into the regular-season scoring.  Only scoring for the four quarters recognized; overtime scoring not considered.   

Here are the average differences for each of the four coaching regimes during their entire tenures at Georgia:   

DOOLEY: +0.56
GOFF: -0.01
DONNAN: +0.11
RICHT: -1.04

While not as evident during the Donnan and Goff eras, there is undoubtedly a discrepancy in how Dooley and Richt's Bulldog teams performed (in terms of outscoring the opposition) between the first three quarters of games and the fourth quarter: Dooley's Dogs, on average and comparatively speaking, thrived in the final period, whereas Richt's teams have faltered.

I know what some might think: Richt's teams have often had such overwhelming leads by the fourth quarter and while reserves played (especially when compared to the Goff and Donnan eras), of course they could very easily get outscored in the final quarter.  After all, Richt's .744 winning percentage and +10.4 scoring margin are both tops among the four coaching regimes.

But in looking over the data, there have been several excellent Georgia football teams, who were winning handily by the end of the third quarter in a number of games, yet they continued to dominate into the fourth and final quarter as well.

Above all, the Bulldogs quite often haven't been winning handily by the fourth quarter the last two seasons, and needed to outscore (or at least hold their own) the opposition down the stretch, but have repeatedly failed.

Georgia's average scoring-margin difference from Quarters 1-3 to Quarter 4 of -3.3 points the last two seasons combined ranks dead last in the SEC, just below Arkansas (-3.1).  Interestingly, Kentucky is first in the SEC during the 2009-2010 seasons with a +2.4-point difference.  

Is there any correlation between a team's strength/conditioning and how it performs in the fourth compared to the first three quarters?  I would think so (at least a little).

Nevertheless, for a team whose motto is finish the drill, the drill has not been getting regularly finished in the fourth quarter the last two years, especially this season.

If a new head of strength and conditioning can help relieve that problem, even the slightest, Georgia could very well be once again vying for BCS bowls, instead of settling on the Independence and Liberty.

December 3, 2010

The Dogs' Sub-Par Hogs

I know, a win is a win, particularly when it's over your in-state rival and clinches a bowl birth in the process.  However, Tech provided proof once again: If you can run the football, especially with a quarterback who can run, you can simply gash Georgia's defense, perhaps achieving rushing success that seems nearly beyond the bounds of possibility. 

The Jackets rolled up 411 rushing yards on 77 carries on the Bulldogs, earning 32 first downs in the process, all while making our defense - particularly the line - look extremely inferior and shoddy.

I remembered I posted roughly a year ago a piece on the defensive Hog Index - a statistical measurement of an NFL team's defensive line.  I tweaked it a little to be more appropriate for the college game and applied it to the entire 2009 season for the SEC.  According to it, Georgia had the fifth-best defensive line in the SEC a year ago.

Concluding with Tech, after witnessing half of our opponents this season run on the Dogs seemingly at will, I was anxious (but almost terrified) to figure this past regular-season's index results for the conference.  

After this season's performance by Grantham's defense, specifically its three Hogs up front, there was no doubt in my mind Georgia's defensive line was one of the SEC's worst, at least, according to the index.

I decided to do a little more tweaking of the index from last season, including just games played against BCS conference teams.  For Georgia, patsies Louisiana-Lafayette and Idaho State were excluded.  

Following each team below is its respective four rankings amongst the 12 conference members:
  • Yards per rush allowed (sacks omitted)
  • Negative pass play percentage (sacks + interceptions/opponent pass attempts + sacks)
  • Third-down percentage defense
  • Total average ranking of the three measurements
LSU (6, 1, 2) - 3.0
ALABAMA (4, 5, 4) - 4.3
ARKANSAS (10, 2, 1) - 4.3
FLORIDA (1, 3, 9) - 4.3
MISS. STATE (3, 7, 3) - 4.3
S. CAROLINA (2, 6, 7) - 5.0
GEORGIA (5, 4, 12) - 7.0
AUBURN (7, 9, 6) - 7.3
OLE MISS (12, 10, 5) - 9.0
TENNESSEE (9, 8, 11) - 9.3
VANDERBILT (8, 12, 8) - 9.3
KENTUCKY (11, 11, 10) - 10.7

For the 2010 regular season, LSU's Hogs rank rather comfortably atop the conference, followed by a four-team log jam at second place and South Carolina a close fifth.  The Bulldogs are a distant but surprising seventh ahead of maybe the best team in college football in Auburn.   

As one would expect, for the most part, the worst teams normally rank towards the bottom of the index, the better teams towards the top; each of the SEC's top six this season is a lock for or could very well play in a January bowl.

What stands out regarding Georgia's index measurements is that the defense, comparatively speaking, has been somewhat respectable in yards allowed per rush (4.53) and percentage of negative pass plays by the opposition (11.16 percent); only three teams - Florida, LSU, S. Carolina - had a better combined ranking of those two elements of the index.

What hurts the Dogs is their inability to stop teams on third down, allowing an unfathomable 48.12 third-down conversion rate to their 10 BCS opponents this season.  By comparison, Tennessee - next-to-last in defensive third-down conversion - is nearly an entire four percent (44.35) better than Georgia. 

Arkansas, who may allow a third-from-worst 5.11 yards per rush, is yielding a third-down rate of just 33.30 percent (and the Hogs appear headed for a BCS bowl).

This all relates to my assessment of this team for much of the season: Georgia's primary on-field issue is its run defense against adequate or better rushing teams, primarily the Bulldogs' failure to stop these teams on third down and get off the field.

Thank goodness its defense has been able to force to a few turnovers this season (unlike in 2008 and 2009) or Georgia would have certainly lost last Saturday and probably to Kentucky back in October.

Nevertheless, the defense and its deficient line was just good enough to help the team to a 6-6 mark (or not quite bad enough to keep the team from a .500 record) and its 14th consecutive bowl game, likely coming in the Liberty Bowl against the winner of Central Florida-SMU this Saturday.

By the way, we Bulldog fans need to pull hard for the Mustangs of SMU; they have a pass-oriented offense.  Central Florida, on the other hand, has rushed for 225 yards or more against seven of 12 opponents this season AND have a running quarterback who has netted more than 500 yards of rushing... 

As things have gone this season for Grantham's defenders, Georgia could very well be the Golden Knights' next ground-game victim.