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December 30, 2009

Bulldogs End Season A Different Team

Against A&M quarterback Johnson and the rest of the Aggies, the Bulldogs cut down on their miscues and finally caught a few breaks.  (Photo--AP)

I was recently asked by PhilSteele.com to be their Georgia Bulldogs blogger.  The Cleveland, OH, area, where Steele and his Northcoast Sports office is located, was pounded with snow, so my recent blog entry reviewing the Independence Bowl that I wrote yesterday was just posted on their site.  My review of the Bulldogs' bowl win:

All season long, Georgia was a team plagued by errors and mistakes, namely turnovers and penalties, and some misfortune. However, in their final game of the season against Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, the Bulldogs, not their opponent, played nearly flawlessly and were the team to catch the breaks.  READ ENTIRE ENTRY.

December 28, 2009

What I Expect Today From the Dawgs

I truly feel Georgia should be able to handle the Aggies tonight without much difficulty.  Although a possible lack of motivation and fan support could oppose problems, the Bulldogs should pull away by the final quarter.  Here's a breakdown of what I expect from Georgia in today's Independence Bowl: 
OFFENSE: In the first half of the season, Georgia’s running game and offensive line were considerable disappointments while the offense relied too much on easily-rattled quarterback Joe Cox and superstar receiver A.J. Green. After averaging only 97.2 rushing yards per its first six games, 3.4 yards per gain, and just four rushing touchdowns, Georgia averaged 217.0 per contest, 5.5 yards per carry, and rushed for 10 touchdowns the last half of the regular season.

The Bulldogs’ drastically improved offensive line allows only one sack per contest—tied for 12th best in the FBS of 120 teams. This strength will be pitted against a Texas A&M pass rush that is recording nearly three sacks (2.92) per game—eighth best in the nation—and includes lineman Von Miller, who is leading the FBS with 17 sacks.

In its last game, Georgia rushed for 339 yards and threw only 14 pass attempts in an upset victory over Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs will likely attempt to establish the same rushing attack against Texas A&M. Since the Aggies have struggled to stop the run, allowing 4.5 yards per rush, expect Georgia to easily gain 169 yards or more for the sixth time in seven games after not rushing for more than 155 in its previous 11 (dating back to 2008).

Green returns after missing three-and-a-half games with an injury. In the Independence Bowl, he and quarterback Cox should only have to be components of the Bulldogs’ offense, instead of its entirety as was seemingly the case earlier in the year.

DEFENSE: What grabs one’s attention regarding Georgia’s defense is it is only allowing 328.4 yards per game, ranking in the top one-fourth of the FBS, but the Bulldogs yield 26.4 points per game. For the second straight season, Georgia’s yards per point (YPP) is one of the worst in the nation while its YPP for 2009 (12.43), is the lowest ever at the school since UGA began keeping official statistics in 1946.

In other words, Georgia, by losing turnovers while forcing very few, constantly committing penalties, and often giving its opponents good field position, is allowing the opposition to score points without it having to work very hard for them. This was a major factor why the Bulldogs recently fired three assistants, including the defensive coordinator and the coach in charge of kickoff coverage.

Texas A&M’s offense, guided by recording-breaking quarterback Jerrod Johnson, seems fit to take advantage of the Bulldog defense’s shortcomings; however, the Aggies’ gaudy offensive figures are somewhat misleading. Although A&M is averaging more than 465 yards per game, it also averages more than 80 plays per game—second most in the FBS only behind Houston.

Georgia’s 12 opponents this season averaged less than 65 plays per game while just one, South Carolina, ran 80 or more plays against the Bulldogs. Texas A&M’s up-tempo attack is averaging only 5.81 yards per play. In comparison, Georgia’s offense, who ranks only 73rd in the FBS with 361.8 yards per game, is gaining 5.99 yards per play.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Georgia has one of the better special teams units in college football, ranking 10th in Phil Steele’s special teams ratings in the FBS. If not for the 26.7 yards the Bulldogs allow per kickoff return, the next-to-worst average in the FBS, Georgia might have the best overall special teams in the nation.

Because of Blair Walsh, Georgia has Steele’s second-best rating for placekickers while punter Drew Butler and the team’s net punting have the top averages in the country.

Texas A&M’s special teams rank only 84th according to Steele. If their place-kicking is included, the Aggies’ total special teams rating ranks 74th in the nation.

INTANGIBLES: For the most part, Coach Richt's teams have performed well in bowls, recording a 6-2 mark straight up and 5-3 ATS. Texas A&M has lost 10 of 12 bowl games since 1991.

Texas A&M’s biggest advantage might be its crowd support. The Bulldogs sold only approximately half of their 12,000 allotted tickets; the Aggies sold all of theirs and even started purchasing tickets from UGA. In addition, the Bulldogs might be disappointed in only appearing in the Independence Bowl after playing in January bowls in six of the previous seven seasons.

WHAT I EXPECT: The Bulldogs rushing attack gained steam as the regular season was winding down. Using the Georgia Tech game as the perfect example for the bowl game and even next season, I expect Georgia to continue its running ways against Texas A&M and into the 2010 campaign. Next year, the Bulldogs lose just one starter on offense (Cox), returning their entire line and top two backs (Washaun Ealey and Caleb King) from this season.

I believe strongly Georgia will have one of its best rushing outputs of the season and, in doing so, will move the chains often and keep the Aggies’ offense and quarterback Johnson off the field.

Although Georgia’s defense has given up many easy scores, I look for them to hold strong and exhibit the discipline and intensity, which lacked this year, they have displayed in recent bowl games.

"Everybody thought Georgia Tech was going to run on us, and we were able to shut it down," said senior defensive lineman Geno Atkins. “We take pride in that and we're going to try and keep [the Independence Bowl] a low scoring game."

The line on the game is currently Georgia -7 with a total of 66. Expect the Bulldogs to win by at least 10 points and perhaps by as many as three touchdowns in a game not quite as high scoring as the “experts” think.

December 25, 2009

Indy Bowl Preview

Merry Christmas to all.  A "preview" of the Independence Bowl I wrote for Covers...
What bettors need to know: Independence Bowl

Texas A&M Aggies vs. Georgia Bulldogs (-7, 66)

In just their fifth meeting ever and first since 1980, Georgia and Texas A&M face off in one of the most appealing matchups in the 34-year history of the Independence Bowl.

Line movement

The line opened with Georgia as a 7-point favorite and has held constant. The total opened at 64 but has since climbed two points as most bettors expect a high-scoring affair.

Although nearly three-fourths the betting public likes the Bulldogs -7, the Aggies and their moneyline odds (+245) and the over are overwhelming wagering favorites.  READ ENTIRE ARTICLE.

December 22, 2009

Dogs Danced in Shreveport at Hogs’ Expense in ’91

I contend that the 1990 Georgia Bulldogs football team is probably the worst in school history since the modern era of the 1940s. The ’90 Dogs won just four games, winning two by a single point and all four by only 17 combined points.

Granted, that Bulldog squad of nearly 20 years ago was filled with youth and inexperience and hampered by injuries and players dismissed for various reasons. Notwithstanding, Georgia’s 4-7 mark could have just as easily been 1-10 instead.

The following season of 1991 was labeled “Operation Turnaround,” for obvious reasons, by some of the Georgia coaches. One of these assistants, Wayne McDuffie, the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach from 1977-1981, had been hired by head coach Ray Goff (Photo) as the Bulldogs’ new offensive coordinator.

McDuffie inherited a young but talented offense led by sophomores running back Garrison Hearst and receiver Andre Hastings. Most notably, Georgia had signed the top quarterback out of high school in February in Eric Zeier, who enrolled early at UGA and was practicing by March, and by the sixth game of the ’91 season, was the starting quarterback.

Entering the final two games of the regular season, Georgia’s record stood at 6-3—somewhat of a pleasant surprise—but, in two of their previous three games, the Bulldogs had been upset by Vanderbilt and suffered a 32-point pummeling at the hands of Florida.

These two embarrassing setbacks along with a collapse of a proposed alliance between the Gator, Peach, Aloha, and Independence bowls left Georgia with the possibility of not making a trip to the postseason, even with victories in its remaining games against Auburn and Georgia Tech.

However, following a 37-27 win over Auburn—the first time in nine years the Dogs had defeated both Clemson and Auburn the same season—Georgia was extended an invitation to the Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs graciously accepted, except one.

At the time, Louisiana’s election for governor was taking place and David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, was running for office. Georgia’s Chuck Carswell, a team leader and the special teams captain, whose last game would be the bowl, said he would have a “hard time” voting to go to Shreveport if Duke was elected. It was speculated many other Bulldog players might follow Carswell’s example.

Fortunately for Georgia and the Independence Bowl, Edwin Edwards, not Duke, won the election.

For the first time in three years, the Bulldogs defeated Georgia Tech 18-15, snapping the Yellow Jackets’ 17-game home winning streak.  As the game ended, a bitter, Georgia Tech scoreboard operator, displayed the message, “Anything like this in Shreveport?” Next to the taunt danced an electronic hula girl; the Yellow Jackets had already accepted an Aloha Bowl invitation to play Stanford.

“To Hell With Georgia,” promptly followed the scoreboard’s initial ridicule.

The next day, directed at the Bulldogs’ bitter rival, the late great Lewis Grizzard quipped, “Good luck in the [Aloha] Bowl, but I’ll take Shreveport. I won’t have to fly nine hours out and nine back.”

Carswell, apparently having a change of heart about the Independence Bowl, joked, “I might just put on a grass skirt and do the hula in Shreveport.”

[Georgia's One and Done Helmet of '91--Image from The Helmet Project--For the Independence Bowl, the Bulldogs added a black stripe and black facemask to their helmets, never to use that particular helmet design again.]

The Independence Bowl had been on the brink of financial extinction before signing a lucrative television contract with ABC. Georgia and its opponent, Arkansas, were given approximately $650,000 each to play in the 16th annual edition of the bowl. The Razorbacks had barely gone bowling, needing a win over Rice in their last game to improve to 6-5 and earn an invitation. The Independence Bowl would be able to easily sellout its nearly 47,000 seats as Shreveport was one of the largest alumni support areas for Arkansas.

The Hogs would be playing their final game as a 77-year member of the Southwest Conference (SWC). They were jumping ship to the SEC, ironically, Georgia’s conference, and were scheduled to play the Bulldogs again in early October of 1992.

While the Bulldogs had Zeier, Arkansas had sophomore Wade Hill, who, only four games before, was a scout team player and kept statistics on the sideline before injuries decimated the Hogs at the quarterback position.

Hill would run Arkansas’ expected option attack—an offense Georgia had a problem stopping in the past, especially in its loss to Vanderbilt. However, Arkansas head coach Jack Crowe kept the Bulldogs and everyone else in suspense by stating prior to the game, “I hope [the Bulldogs] try to stop the option on every play, but we are not going to run it on every play.”

Crowe should have stuck to the run-oriented option.

Instead, Arkansas and Hill came out throwing against Georgia but were horrid at doing so as the Hog quarterback finished the contest just 12 of 31 passing for 122 yards.

Hill, who two days prior to the game had said, “the team that makes the least mistakes will win,” threw five interceptions while Arkansas also lost a fumble. The five errant passes were intercepted by five different Bulldogs: Torrey Evans, named defensive MVP of the game, Ralph Thompson, Chris Wilson, George Wynn, and Carswell.

On offense, Zeier completed his first seven passes, including two, first-quarter touchdown tosses to Arthur Marshall and Hastings. For the game, Zeier was 18 of 28 passing for 228 yards. Hastings, named the offensive MVP, caught four passes for 94 yards and gained 53 more on a single run.

Early in the third quarter, Hasting’s 53-yard flanker reverse for a touchdown gave Georgia a 24-7 lead in an eventual 24-15 victory.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, Georgia fans began chanting, “SEC, SEC, SEC,” in celebration of a great bowl victory, concluding a season of one of the biggest turnarounds in school history. Others thought of it differently.

“Listen,” said an elderly Georgia fan sitting in the stands of the Independence Bowl, “sounds like we’re welcoming Arkansas into the SEC.”

“Yeah, right!” said another Bulldogs fan. “After this beating, they won’t want to play anyone else from the SEC.”

Jack Crowe would not get a second chance to defeat Georgia the following season, or coach against anyone else from the SEC, for that matter. After receiving a contract extension following Arkansas’ win over Rice and accepting the bowl invitation, Crowe was fired after the season opener of 1992—a 10-3 loss to Division I-AA The Citadel.

Whereas the 1991 Independence Bowl eventually led to the Razorbacks firing their head coach, it compelled the Bulldogs to boogie. Senior defensive backs Carswell and Wynn celebrated on the field following the win by doing a victory dance the duo named the “Shreveport Slide.”

The dance, according to Carswell, was “our answer to the hula.”

December 19, 2009

Overall, Special Teams one of best?

I recently received Phil Steele's bowl edition of his Power Sweep newsletter, noticed his special teams rankings for this season inside, and nearly fell out of my chair.  "A metal, steel chair with about a five-inch cushion..."

I know, I'm being redundant, as I continue to discuss meaningless statistics and show my love for Steele but his 2009 Special Teams Ratings, and especially Georgia's ranking of 10th-best in the nation, caught my attention.

Any rankings where the 2009 Bulldogs rank as high as 10th, and not having to do with number of penalties or turnovers, are worth examining.

Steele's devised formula, factoring Georgia's net punting (42.8--best in nation), kickoff return (21.0) and punt return (10.6) averages, KO return average allowed (26.7--119th of 120 FBS teams), KO return average allowed with touchbacks considered (23.3--106th), and a plus-two advantage over the opposition in blocked kicks and touchdowns off kick/punt returns, equates to a special teams ranking, not including place-kicking, of 28th for the Bulldogs in the FBS.

A special teams ranking of 28th out of 120 teams is pretty good considering the Bulldogs are one of the worst at kickoff coverage in football.

Steele's place-kicking grade factors in accuracy (19 of 21 on FGs), number of field goals made, field goals between 40-49 yards (6 of 6), and field goals of 50+ yards (4 of 5).  Georgia's grade was second best in the FBS behind only Alabama; this makes sense as Blair Walsh and Alabama's Leigh Tiffin have been regarded as the nation's top two kickers in 2009.

The place-kicking rating is weighted at 26% of the overall grade and, along with the special teams rating, a TOTAL special teams rating is computed.  Boise State is at the top followed by Stanford, Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Air Force, Florida, LSU, Cincinnati, and Georgia, rounding out the top 10.

Because of the Bulldogs' poor kickoff coverage, although this is only one of six components of the special teams, many Georgia followers have determined the unit, on the whole, was less than adequate and the departed Coach Fabris (Photo) was much to blame. I was somewhat guilty of this conclusion; as mentioned, I was absolutely shocked at Steele's high ranking for the Bulldogs.

Some of us tend to forget we have the best punter in the nation, one of the best placekickers, a kick returner who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and our leading punt returner currently has the best all-time career return average at the school.  Besides senior Prince Miller, the rest of those specialists are only sophomores.

The numbers don't lie.  Granted, Steele's rating system is just one man's formula; however, it certainly seems thorough enough and an excellent indicator of a team's overall performance on special teams.

For the most part, Georgia's kickoff coverage is dreadful and has been for the past two seasons.  The coverage has been so bad, it was a determinant which cost Coach Fab his job, and perhaps, rightfully so.   Nevertheless, our special teams unit overall is one of the best in college football and we should expect more of the same for at least the next two seasons.

Now, imagine how more special the Bulldogs' special teams would be if it could cover a kick.  They can start by eliminating the short pooch kickoff altogether.  STEELE's Special Teams Ratings from his website

December 18, 2009

Don't Bet Against Richt When He's Bowling

Despite this season being a disappointment, a Georgia team who gives up a lot of points facing an A&M squad who scores a ton, a graduate assistant coaching our secondary, a question whether the Bulldogs will be motivated to play in Shreveport, and most alarming, an 8-16-1 record against the spread the last two seasons, never bet against Mark Richt's Bulldogs in a bowl game.

Richt makes my list as a coach not to wager against during bowl season:

Five bowl coaches you don't want to bet against

One of the golden rules of wagering bowl games is to consider the bowl histories of the head coaches. Some coaches regard a bowl and its preceding practices as a way to prepare for the following season while others put more emphasis into bowl preparation and have their teams more motivated than any other time during the year.  READ ENTIRE ARTICLE.

December 15, 2009

Bulldog Defense Down With YPP

Bad to Worse: Touchdowns handed to the opponent, like this one to South Carolina's Eric Norwood off an interception, certainly didn't help Georgia's defensive YPP this season.  (Photo: The State)

Like many, I'm a huge fan of Phil Steele's College Football Preview and have been so since the first one debuted in 1995.  In the last several editions, Steele has featured his YPP (yards per point) concept.

YPP is simply the amount of points a team scored per the amount of yards gained and conversely how many points the defense allowed per yards gained.

In regard to a team's defense, the lower the YPP, the more "efficient," according to Steele, the opposing offenses were against said defense.  It can also be viewed as how hard an offense must "work" (i.e., gain yardage) to score points.

Against Georgia's defense the last two seasons, evidently offenses have not had to work very hard to score points.

Back in July, the Senator added: "Teams with excellent special teams, teams with high, positive turnover margins, teams which yield less penalty yardage than they receive and teams that don’t give up many sacks are going to be more efficient scoring teams than their opponents."

Steele's YPP concept is teams that benefited from outstanding YPPs one year usually have a weaker record the next season. The opposite is true for teams that had weak YPPs one year as they generally have a better record the next year.

In 2008, Georgia had a dreadful defensive YPP of 12.71 (4,056 total yards yielded/319 points allowed); however, the odds were in the Bulldogs' favor in 2009 to improve upon their 10-3 record from '08.  Steele found from 1990-2007, 69.2% of teams with a defensive YPP of 13.29 or lower had the same or an even better record the following year.

There are exceptions, like the Bulldogs, to every rule.

In 2008, there were only 27 FBS teams with a defensive YPP lower than Georgia's 12.71.  Of the bottom 28 teams, including Georgia, the Bulldogs were one of only eight who did not achieve the same or better record in 2009 as they did in 2008.  Of these teams whose record actually worsened from 2008 to 2009, besides Eastern Michigan (3-game decrease: 3-9 to 0-12), Georgia had the biggest decline with a two-and-a-half game decrease (10-3 to 7-5).

This season, the Bulldogs are enduring an all-time low defensive YPP of 12.43 (3,941 total yards yielded/317 points allowed)--12th worst in the nation:

109. Georgia, 12.43
110. Western Kentucky, 12.08
111. Syracuse, 12.07
112. Idaho, 11.96
113. New Mexico, 11.66
114. N.C. State, 11.590
115. North Texas, 11.589
116. Tulane, 11.53
117. E. Michigan, 11.16
118. Miami (O), 11.04
119. Toledo, 10.82
120. Rice, 10.77

What do these 12 teams have in common?  Besides Georgia and Idaho, they all have losing records.  In fact, of the bottom 34 defensive YPP teams in the FBS, only three (No. 99 Auburn, No. 109 Georgia, No. 112 Idaho) have winning records and all three are barely winning at 7-5.

The teams with the best defensive YPPs--Nebraska, Penn State, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, LSU--all have nine or more wins and playing in upper-tier bowl games.

As mentioned, Georgia's 12.43 defensive YPP is an all-time low--the absolute worst in its history since UGA began keeping official statistics in 1946.  The 12.43 defensive YPP unusually followed up a 12.71 from the year before--Georgia's third-worst in its history.

Some proponents of YPP claim it's "a kind of luck factor - [offensive] teams with a low YPP might have gotten luckier than teams with a high YPP."  I guess Georgia has been highly unlucky the last two seasons.

On a good note, here are the 10 best defensive YPPs for Georgia over the last 64 seasons:

1950: 35.51 (6-2-3 record)
1981: 29.45 (10-1)
1969: 27.32 (5-4-1)
1982: 27.16 (11-0)
1954: 26.82 (6-3-1)
1980: 26.63 (11-0)
1976: 25.34 (10-1)
1992: 24.82 (9-2)
1968: 23.99 (8-0-2)
1966: 23.90 (9-1)

These 10 Georgia teams were all winners, all bowl teams except one (1954), and all had great defenses.  Now, the 10 worse since 1946:

2009: 12.43 (7-5 record)
1961: 12.68 (3-7)
2008: 12.71 (10-3)
1953: 13.71 (3-8)
1955: 13.96 (4-6)
1993: 14.52 (5-6)
2006: 14.67 (9-4)
1999: 14.77 (8-4)
1974: 14.85 (6-6)
1990: 14.92 (4-7)

Six of these bottom 10 were non-winning years and three of the bottom seven have come in the last four seasons.

I was surprised 2006 showed up towards the bottom, especially since we shutout two teams that season (South Carolina and UAB).  However, upon further inspection, the '06 team held five opponents to under 200 total yards but just one of those five scored less than 12 points.  In addition, it is one of only 20 Bulldog teams of 64 since 1946 with a negative turnover margin.

Against Tennessee in 2006, the Bulldogs allowed 383 total yards; nonetheless, the Volunteers had a 4-0 turnover advantage, scored six touchdowns on their final seven possessions (the other ended with a field goal) after punting on three of their first four, and, most damaging, scored 51 points.

That particular contest--a game of Georgia losing turnovers but not forcing any, bad special teams play, and allowing touchdowns on most possessions--is the perfect example, if repeated, of how a team finishes with a low defensive YPP for the season.

Until recently, Georgia rarely had the type of game it experienced versus Tennessee in 2006 and never on a consistent basis as the Dogs have displayed the last four seasons.

Although a lowly defensive YPP results from more than merely bad defensive play, like poor special teams, low turnover and penalty margins, etc., a team's overall defensive effectiveness is the overwhelming factor of its defensive YPP.

With that being said, the following is Georgia's defensive YPP by defensive coordinator since Erk Russell's arrival in 1964 (Keep in mind, Kevin Ramsey and Gary Gibbs each were defensive coordinators for only one season; the others were for at least four years.):

Bill Lewis (1981-88): 21.20
Erk Russell (1964-80): 20.59
Brian VanGorder (2001-04): 18.98
Richard Bell (1989-93): 17.71
Joe Kines (1995-98): 17.44
Gary Gibbs (2000): 17.42
Marion Campbell (1994): 15.33
Kevin Ramsey (1999): 14.77
Willie Martinez (2005-09): 14.65

If you ask me, if you drop Lewis from the top spot to third under VanGorder, the above listing is the perfect ranking, from best to worst, of Georgia's defensive coordinators since Erk's arrival.

No offense to him, and I'm sure most Dawg fans who can remember the early '80s will agree with me, but Lewis greatly benefited from Erk Russell's influence, recruited players, and Split-60 defense in his first three seasons (1980-83) as Georgia's defensive coordinator. 

None of Georgia's defensive YPPs in Lewis' five final seasons (1984-88) as defensive coordinator were as good as any of the YPPs in his first three seasons. 

As I once wrote:
A newspaper reported that although Russell was physically absent from the Dogs [after the 1980 season], he surely had a “vicarious presence” with the ’81 defense.  New defensive coordinator Bill Lewis was speaking almost weekly to Russell [in 1981] and asking his advice.
I believe that this fact, along with Georgia's defensive YPP of 20.59 during Erk's tenure, is telling of not only what a tremendous defensive coordinator Russell was while at Georgia but what he meant and how he influenced the ENTIRE team.

What does this all mean?  Georgia should get another Erk Russell for its next defensive coordinator?  That would be nice but improbable.

Although some may think of it as a meaningless statistic or even a "luck factor," the defensive YPP for Georgia during the past four seasons, especially in 2008 and this year, has ranked towards or at the bottom in the FBS and historically at the school.

This consistency is no coincidence and certainly goes far beyond simply bad luck.  It conveys the simple fact that, since 2006, Georgia, compared to other teams at its level and to its own program historically, is allowing way too many points for the effort put forth by its opposition.

Gone are the days of Erk Russell and Bill Lewis' "bend but don't break" defenses.  Currently, Georgia's overall defense and other aforementioned components of YPP are already broken and have been so for some time.

Hopefully, a few new assistant coaches, a new attitude, a sense of urgency, and a display of intensity and heart, will help Coach Richt and his Dogs put the broken pieces back together in 2010.

December 13, 2009

Indy Bowl Just Fifth Meeting With A&M

The 34th Independence Bowl on December 28 will counter the Bulldogs against the Texas A&M Aggies. Although these two schools have squared off on just four previous occasions and will play for the first time in nearly 30 years, some of the South's greatest coaches and players have appeared in this brief football series.

12/9/1950: Texas A&M 40, Georgia 20 (Presidential Cup)
10/3/1953: Texas A&M 14, Georgia 12 (at Dallas' Cotton Bowl)
10/2/1954: Texas A&M 6, Georgia 0 (Athens)
9/13/1980: Georgia 42, Texas A&M 0 (Athens)

Only seven days after ending their 1950 regular seasons, Georgia and Texas A&M met in the inaugural, and what would be the only, Presidential Cup.

The bowl was played at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium just over two months after it opened, featuring a pregame of the so-called most spectacular military ceremonies ever exhibited at a college game, and was sponsored by Washington D.C.'s American Legion.

The Bulldogs were coached by the great Wally Butts while Ralph "Shug" Jordan was his main assistant. Jordan would become the head coach at Auburn the following year where he'd remain for 25 seasons, becoming one of the most acclaimed coaches in college football during his time.

Georgia's defense was especially relentless; yielding only 65 points the entire regular season (5.9 average--remains a school record), six of 11 starters would eventually be recognized as NFL All-Pros. However, the Bulldog defense would encounter its toughest test of the year in Texas A&M's Bob Smith.

"Bullet" Bob, also known as "The Masked Marvel" because of a a protective face mask he wore, finished the 1950 season third in the nation in rushing, gaining 1,302 yards for a 6.5 average and 14 touchdowns.

The Bullet started the game by returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. By the third quarter, Smith and a strong running attack had led the Aggies to a commanding 40-0 advantage over one of college football's best defenses.

Smith gained 160 of Texas A&M's 304 rushing yards and also added 121 yards on kick returns, 22 receiving, and even passed for five yards.

Georgia made the final score somewhat respectable by scoring the Cup's last three touchdowns. Zippy Morocco rushed for a 30-yard touchdown and ran a punt back 65 yards for a score. Lauren Hargrove, who gained 87 of Georgia's 220 rushing yards, also rushed for a touchdown.

Morocco finished the game with 16 touches for 190 all-purpose yards: 57 rushing, 19 receiving, 36 on kick returns, and 78 on punt returns.

If there was any indication the Presidential Cup might not last longer than a single game, it may have been the number in attendance; only a disappointing 12,245 spectators occupied the 34,680-seat stadium.

Three years later, the Aggies and Bulldogs faced one another for the first time in the regular season, meeting in Dallas' Cotton Bowl stadium. Ranked 18th in the nation, Georgia was up against college football's leading passer in Don Ellis.

Late in the game with a 12-7 lead and trying to kill the clock, the Bulldogs turned the football over on their own 27-yard line. In three plays, A&M's Johnny Salyer scored the winning touchdown with only seconds remaining.

Ellis and Georgia great Zeke Bratkowski, quarterbacks who'd finish the '53 season in the nation's top 10 in passing, combined to complete just 15 of 45 passes for 179 yards. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs' biggest downfall was their inability to kick extra points; kickers Sam Mrvos and Joe Graff each missed a PAT attempt in the two-point loss.

By mid-November of the following year, Georgia had achieved a 6-1-1 record and was ranked 20th in the country. Its lone loss had come to Texas A&M for the second consecutive season.

The book and movie The Junction Boys is based on the 1954 Aggies--a team coached by the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant in his first season at A&M.

Bryant's rigorous, 10-day practice in Junction, Texas, compelled most of his players to quit the squad. After the brutal, summer practice sessions, only 27 to 35 players, depending on various reports, remained on the team. The Aggies won just a single game all season--a 6-0 defensive struggle over the Bulldogs in front of 23,000 spectators at Sanford Stadium; however, Bryant forged a winning program in the process as the Aggies were 24-5-2 from 1955-1957.

The only points of the '54 meeting came on a touchdown pass from Elwood Kettler to Gene Stallings. Eleven years later, Stallings would begin a successful coaching career at Texas A&M and later Alabama, like Bryant, that lasted through the 1996 season.

Bryant's boys held Georgia to only 85 total yards in the shutout victory. Following the loss, Coach Butts said about his offense, "I don't see how any team can look so poor ... Our timing was awful."

When Vince Dooley became the head coach at Georgia in 1964, one of the first items on his agenda was to change the Bulldogs' image and uniforms. Besides placing a Green Bay Packer-styled "G" on the helmets, Dooley took the silver out of Georgia's helmets and pants, replacing it with red and white, respectively.

However, in 1980 and after a 16-season hiatus, Dooley returned the silver to the Bulldogs' britches beginning with the first home game against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs were just two-point favorites against the 19th-ranked (UPI Poll) Aggies and their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Mike Mosley.

Thanks to freshman sensation Herschel Walker, Georgia held a 21-0 second-quarter lead.  With just seconds left before halftime, Bulldog quarterback Jeff Paulk, a four-year backup from 1979-1982, tossed a 24-yard touchdown to Chuck Jones--Paulk's only touchdown pass while at Georgia.

Playing a near-perfect game, Georgia scored again with 9:09 remaining in the third quarter on a Walker 3-yard run following a 58-yard punt return by Scott Woerner. (Photo: Woerner celebrates a fumble recovery against A&M in '80.)

Later in the quarter, Walker would break loose for his first of several long and memorable touchdown jaunts while at Georgia, dashing for a 76-yard score. Walker rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns despite sitting the last 19 minutes of the game.

The Aggies' offense never crossed the Bulldogs’ 45-yard line and committed six turnovers in their 42-0 defeat. Mosley, who was constantly harassed by Georgia’s defense, was responsible for just 81 total yards on 33 plays.

Soon afterwards, it was Walker, not Mosley, considered among college football's best as "Herschel for Heisman," along with "Go You Silver Britches," were being barked by the Bulldog faithful.

December 11, 2009

"Write These Down..."

Prior to the SEC Championship Game, Tom, as he now goes by, Luginbill (Photo) gave four game statistics "that coaches truly care about on a weekly basis."

Luginbill adamantly said to "take notes" and "write these down."  These statistics, according to Luginbill, were pivotal to winning and losing and whichever team, Alabama or Florida, "won" three of the four statistics, would win the SEC title game.  The four statistics:

1) Rushing attempts
2) Average yards per pass attempt
3) 3rd down conversions
4) Turnover margin

As it turned out, Alabama had the advantage in all four statistics and, sure enough, the Tide easily defeated Florida.

So, I decided to take the four statistics and apply them to each of Georgia's 12 games this season.

I thought the Bulldogs would undoubtedly defy Luginbill's stats since Georgia, in my opinion, was fortunate to go 7-5 this year.  In other words, I believed there were more games the Dogs won in '09 where these statistics did not favor them compared to losses, if any, where the four stats where to their advantage.

I thought this would be the case because, for one, Georgia won four games by seven points or less (South Carolina, Arizona State, Auburn, and Georgia Tech) but lost just two games by seven points or less (LSU and Kentucky).  More significantly, the Bulldogs, if I remembered correctly, had the advantage in turnovers--one of the four statistical components--in only two of 12 games (Auburn and Georgia Tech).

The numbers next to Georgia and its opposition corresponds to the statistics 1 through 4 above.  "Same" indicates the Dogs and their opponent had the same statistics for the particular category.

Oklahoma St.: 1, 2, 3, 4

S. Carolina: 1, 4

GEORGIA: 1, 2, 3
Arkansas: 4

GEORGIA: 1, 2, 3
Arizona St.: 4

Lsu: 1, 2
Same: 4

Tennessee: 1, 2, 3, 4

GEORGIA: 1, 2, 3
Same: 4

Florida: 1, 2, 3, 4

GEORGIA: 1, 2, 3
Tennessee Tech: 4

GEORGIA: 2, 3, 4
Same: 1

Kentucky: 3, 4

Georgia Tech: 1, 2, 3

In five of its 12 games, Georgia had a three or more statistical advantage over its opponent--all five were Bulldog wins.  In four of the games, the opponent had the statistical advantage--three of the four were victories by the opposition except the Georgia Tech game.

In eight of nine Georgia games, Luginbill's four-category, statistical determination was credible.  In the other three games, the Bulldogs nor their opponent had the advantage in three or more categories.

As I mentioned yesterday, maybe Luginbill learned a thing or two in the math courses he took during his one year at Tech.

I will add, however, if you add up the number of "won" categories for Georgia and its opponents for the entire season, the Bulldogs had the advantage in only 21, the opponent 24, and they were the same for three.  These results are not unforeseen because of Georgia's year-long turnover woes; however, they are somewhat surprising for a team that finished its season with a winning 7-5 mark.

December 10, 2009

Tommy Lugin-bleep

I was flipping around the TV last Saturday morning, came across SportsCenterU on ESPNU, and witnessed someone who I hadn't seen in a long time--Tom Luginbill--current college football analyst for ESPN and former Georgia Tech quarterback (Photo).

The last time I had seen Luginbill, it sounded like the entire UGA student section at Sanford Stadium was chanting his name; however, instead of "Luginbill," the Bulldog faithful were hollering "Lugin-(starts with a "b" and rhymes with witch)" on the particular night I recall more than 15 years ago. 

Luginbill's "story" is rather interesting in how it pertains to UGA football.  Let's go back...

In 1994, Tommy, as he was known then, Luginbill came to Georgia Tech after a two-season stint at a California junior college.  There, he was a big-time JUCO All-American and seemingly ready for major college football.

Tommy's father, Al, had been Georgia Tech's head coach Bill Lewis' defensive coordinator while Lewis was the head coach at Wyoming from 1977-1979.  Lewis was Georgia's secondary coach in 1980 and was then promoted to defensive coordinator after Erk Russell left, where he remained until Coach Dooley retired in 1988.

Luginbill was lured to Tech with the promise from Lewis that the Yellow Jackets would run more of a pass-oriented offense.

The once-heralded Donnie Davis, Tech's popular and starting quarterback in 1993 and a junior in '94, was involved in a heated competition with Luginbill for the starting position in spring and summer practices.  In late August, Lewis handed Luginbill the starter's role and Davis was eventually moved to backup receiver; the move caused strife amongst some of the Yellow Jacket players.

Georgia Tech opened the '94 season against seventh-ranked Arizona and nearly defeated the Wildcats, Luginbill playing admirably.  Through the first half of the season, the quarterback continued to be impressive but the Jackets kept losing.  Around midseason, Luginbill's play resembled the rest of his team's and both struggled down the stretch.  Coach Lewis was fired after eight games and in stepped interim coach George O'Leary.

By the Georgia game on November 25, Georgia Tech's morale was at an all-time low and Luginbill, although he had completed 56% of his passes for more than 2,000 yards and thrown for more touchdowns than interceptions (14/11) for a miserable team, was deemed a "disastrous choice," according to the Atlanta Constitution, by Lewis as quarterback over one-time starter Davis.

The Yellow Jackets slumped into Athens on the Friday after Thanksgiving--the last time Georgia played a home game not on a Saturday--16-point underdogs and with a 1-9 record only four years removed from winning a national title; it's only victory in '94 coming against I-AA Western Carolina.  Georgia, on the other hand, was just 5-4-1 and trying to keep its own coach, Ray Goff, from getting the boot.

In the second quarter, Tech and Luginbill were keeping it close, 17-10.  Georgia's All-American Eric Zeier suddenly left the game with an injury.  Just as the Techies believed a victory was within their grasp, backup Mike Bobo, a freshman who had thrown only 11 passes all season, led the Bulldogs on a scoring binge.

Georgia's defense, which had been terrible that season, allowing more than 27 points and 400 yards per game, suddenly looked like the Steelers' old Steel Curtain.  Tech would score no more points and Luginbill was benched in favor of freshman Graham Stroman.

Bobo passed for more than 200 yards and, along with Zeier, to date, became only one of two pairs of Georgia quarterbacks to each throw for 100+ yards in a single game since 1991 (other being David Greene and D.J. Shockley vs. Kentucky in 2002).

In addition, Georgia's Terrell Davis rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns while the Bulldog defenders intercepted three passes, two thrown by Luginbill.  The first was corralled by current Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Five months later, Davis was named Tech's starting quarterback for the '95 campaign by Head Coach O'Leary during spring practice and Luginbill decided to transfer after only one season on The Flats.  On why he was transferring, Luginbill said, "The reason why ... I don't want to get into too deeply right now. ... I want you to understand and know it has nothing to do with who's going to be the starting quarterback."

Only a week later in early May of '95, reports were released on how Luginbill was harassed by several teammates after supplanting Davis as Tech's starting quarterback the year before; the abuse he supposedly endured was almost unbearable.

"There were guys on the team sending letters to me saying, 'We don't want you here,' saying I should leave," Luginbill said. "I'd get notes on my car. My girlfriend would get them on her car."  

Luginbill stated that, once he had beaten out Davis for the starting job, "it wasn't a good situation. We had the team split on who they wanted to be the quarterback."

"To be honest, I think [the team splitting] had quite a bit to do with [Georgia Tech's poor showing in '94]," Luginbill said. "People seemed to be putting so much energy toward their unhappiness and not putting it toward winning games. It was ridiculous. . . . I truly believe one of the main problems last year was that we had too many guys griping and moaning."

The former Yellow Jacket also commented that he didn't believe Coach Lewis knew about the abuse he was taking until Luginbill's daddy, Al, informed the coach.

After insisting he was not transferring because of being demoted behind Davis, Luginbill claimed the treatment he received from his teammates did not influence his decision to transfer either.   

After deciding to transfer to Portland State, Luginbill changed his mind and instead went to Eastern Kentucky.

Somewhat confused at the time, I now realize why the UGA students were calling Tech's quarterback of 1994 "Lugin-_____."  Knowing what I know now, the student section should have also directed their banter at the rest of the complaining and divided Yellow Jackets.

I didn't mean for this post to turn into The Life and Times of Tommy Luginbill.  I'll follow this up tomorrow with what he said on ESPNU last Saturday.  Based on the "statistical determination" he gave, it appears Tommy learned a thing or two in the math courses he took during his one year at The Georgia Institute of Technology.

December 8, 2009

Herschel WOULD'VE Won the Heisman in '80

With the presentation of the 2009 Heisman Trophy only days away, I am reminded of how ridiculous it is that the trophy is awarded prior to the end of the entire season. Nearly 30 years ago, the Heisman’s early voting affected one of our very own.

Many Georgia football fans who were fortunate enough to be around during the Bulldogs’ national title run in 1980 feel Herschel Walker should’ve won the Heisman.

The opinion that Herschel undoubtedly should’ve won the Heisman in ’80 as a freshman is one of misconception.

Walker finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1980, not even coming close to winning. He had 683 total points (107 first-place votes), finishing behind winner George Rogers of South Carolina (1,128 points, 216 first-place votes) and Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green (861, 179).

Common belief is Walker did not win the award solely because he was a freshman whereas Rogers was a senior.

Also accepted is Rogers, in winning the Heisman, earned to some extent, a lifetime-achievement award. The Gamecock back rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1978 and nearly 1,700 as a junior, finishing seventh in the 1979 Heisman voting.

These assumptions, although partly accurate, do not fully disclose why Herschel was not honored.

The fact is Herschel Walker not necessarily should’ve, but possibly would’ve, won the Heisman Trophy in 1980 if Georgia’s entire regular season was considered by voters.

Heisman ballots were due on Friday, November 28. They were counted during that weekend and Rogers was announced the winner on Monday, December 1.

Unfortunately for Walker, Georgia had one regular-season game remaining on its schedule after the ballots were due—November 29 versus Georgia Tech. Some teams played as many as two regular-season games after voters mailed in their ballots.

Against the Yellow Jackets in the Bulldogs’ season finale, Herschel rushed for 205 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns in a 38-20 Georgia victory (Photo).

With 9:30 remaining in the game, Walker broke off a 65-yard touchdown run—his seventh run of 48 yards or more that season—and in the process, became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher for freshmen, breaking Tony Dorsett’s record of 1,586 yards set seven years prior.

The outstanding effort was Walker’s third 200-yard rushing performance in Georgia’s last four games—a Heisman-like performance that, fortunately for George Rogers, voters could not take into account because of the absurd due date to submit ballots.

“If [the Georgia Tech] game had counted in the Heisman Trophy balloting [Walker] would have won it as a freshman,” said Coach Vince Dooley after Rogers won the Heisman. “It’s a shame the Heisman voting is done so early. Here’s a back who has gained over 1,600 yards, set all kinds of records, and has played on an undefeated, No. 1-ranked team.

“If that’s not deserving of a Heisman Trophy, I don’t know what is.”

This is what Heisman voters had to consider in 1980: South Carolina and Rogers’ regular season was completed on November 22. In 11 games, Rogers rushed for 1,781 yards and was instrumental in the Gamecocks achieving an 8-3 record.

Although head-to-head, Georgia had defeated South Carolina 13-10 on November 1, Walker outgaining Rogers 219 to 168, Herschel had 1,411 yards and just 12 touchdowns in 10 games entering the contest with Georgia Tech.

The last impression of the freshman phenom for Heisman voters was an un-Herschel-like performance against Auburn on November 15. Walker gained just 77 yards on 27 carries (2.9 average) against the Tigers and did not even lead his own team in rushing.

Honestly, if I had a Heisman vote, I too probably would’ve voted for Rogers.

Following the Heisman’s presentation to Rogers, John Farrell, the chairman of the Downtown Athletic Club said that if Walker’s performance against Tech had been considered, it probably would have made a difference in the voting but added “we have to stick to our [ballot] deadlines.”

In addition, there were several newspaper articles within a few days of the trophy’s ceremony proclaiming Herschel should have won considering his final performance. Some voters even indicated later if the voting was held after the regular season had ended for all teams, they would have voted differently.

On December 18, 1980, Walker was honored as the UPI’s NCAA Back of the Year. The freshman had 47 votes to the second-place Rogers’ 39 votes—voting that had been administered after the regular season had ended.

Herschel would eventually win the Heisman as a junior in 1982 after finishing second in 1981. However, many Georgia fans who remember “The Goal-line Stalker” say Walker was the best in college football as only a true freshman in 1980.

He was, that is, if the entire 1980 season is recognized, especially Georgia’s bowl game—a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, clinching the national championship for the Bulldogs.

While playing with a separated shoulder, Herschel rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish. The rest of the Georgia team had minus-23 yards in total offense.

Rogers was held to 113 yards in a 37-9 loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl.

Fortunately, unlike 1980 and many other seasons, Heisman ballots are now not due until after all regular season games and conference championships are played (except for Army-Navy this year, which meet this Saturday).

However, the trophy is still given prior to the bowl games.

Last season, Sam Bradford barely won the Heisman over Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow. Bradford of Oklahoma and Tebow of Florida would meet in the BCS title game.

Tebow, named the game’s Offensive MVP, outplayed Bradford in guiding the Gators to a national championship. It was reported Tebow’s performance was enough to where several Heisman voters, who had voted for Bradford or McCoy, would have chosen Tebow instead if the voting had taken place following the BCS championship.

What if Texas’ Colt McCoy narrowly wins the Heisman this Saturday and then is outshined in the BCS Championship Game by Alabama’s Mark Ingram, another Heisman candidate, in a Crimson Tide victory, or vice versa?

This type of injustice is nothing new when it comes to the Heisman Trophy.

History has shown repeatedly that one game can make or break an individual’s season. Evidently, in Tebow’s case last year and certainly Herschel’s in 1980, one disallowed game kept these players from winning the most recognizable and prestigious individual award in sports.