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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. 

November 29, 2010

Woerner and the WONDERDOGS

Let's add Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Tech game to the long list of thrillers between the two schools.  Yesterday, I was asked in my opinion, where did the 2010 game rank as far as the most exciting in the series.  Of those I have personally witnessed, it maybe places in the top ten. 

Of all 105 football games among the in-state rivals, there's perhaps none topping the 1978 game.  Although I'm a little too young to remember the '78 contest and one of my most favorite teams of all time - the 1978 Wonderdogs - thanks to a friend sending me the game on DVD, I can concur with many older Dawgs: The meeting between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets from 32 years ago is likely the most exciting ever in the series.

Here's a Bulldog team that, according to one media outlet during the preseason, was going to battle Vanderbilt that year for 9th place in the 10-member SEC.  Supposedly, the only probable victory on the schedule was a meeting with the Virginia Military Institute - a Division I-AA opponent - in early November.

Nevertheless, Georgia found itself with an unfathomable 8-1-1 record entering its season finale, ranking 8th in the UPI Poll.  And the Wonderdogs still had another unexpected thrill to experience...

You don't wait for big plays but go out and make them. - SCOTT WOERNER in 1978

The Bulldogs of 1978 were soon referred to as Wonderdogs after opening the season with upset victories over Baylor and Clemson.  (Following the 2-0 start, one could buy the Underdogs to Wonderdogs t-shirt at Balfour of Athens for just $3.95.)

Georgia's defense, which had returned just two starters from the year before - linemen Paul Petrisko and Gordon Terry - had been the real underdog entering the season, while cornerback Scott Woerner was perhaps its biggest wonder.

Woerner was the Bulldogs' top recruit of the incoming freshman class of 1977.  Although the Jonesboro native played very little on defense, Woerner was Georgia's top punt and kickoff returner as a mere true freshman.

In the second game of the 1978 campaign, Woerner was recognized as the UPI's Southeastern Back of the Week, recording 15 solo tackles while intercepting a pass in the 12-0 upset over Clemson. 

By the end of the year, the Bulldogs' starting left cornerback was considered, according to TV color man Lee Grosscup, maybe Georgia's best defensive back since the great Jake Scott.  However, Woerner had yet to demonstrate the extraordinary skills Scott possessed as a punt returner, averaging only just a little over eight yards per return for his two-season Bulldog career.  

Last summer, I posted a few video clips/stories from the 1978 Georgia-Georgia Tech clash - game-winning, clinching, and deciding plays:
Notwithstanding, perhaps the game's biggest play was Woerner's touchdown return - undoubtedly one of the most memorable punt returns in Bulldog history.  

Prior to his scoring return, Woerner almost returned a Tech punt for a score in the second quarter until he was just barely tripped up by the Yellow Jacket kicker after a 43-yard gain.  On his next return, Woerner was hammered by an opposing special teamer while signaling for a fair catch.  The hit would take Woerner out of the game until into the next quarter.

Upon returning in the third quarter after nearly being knocked out, Woerner first intercepted a pass thrown by Tech's Mike Kelley in Georgia territory.  Following the Jackets' next possession, "The Returner," as he was later nicknamed, made his acclaimed 72-yard return en route to being named a Chevrolet Player of the Game. 

For Scott Woerner and the rest of the Wonderdogs of 1978, tight, barely-escaping victories over rival opponents was their forte.  More than three decades later, it was a relief that the current edition of Bulldogs was finally able to achieve one of those during a season of close and heart-breaking losses.

November 25, 2010

**Admission of a Dawg Fan and Tech Hater

The following is an edited piece I posted around this time a year ago.  It's nothing I'm proud of - giving our hated rival to the southwest credit - but an opposing view I've supported for quite some time.  Let me add, I still hate Tech...  Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to all (even to those Yellow Jackets out there).  
I do not like The Georgia Institute of Technology and I especially do not like its football team.

I somewhat respect the Jackets for their sudden turnaround with Coach Paul Johnson at the helm, but I certainly don't like them or their reversal of fortune.

When I started rooting for the Bulldogs in the early 1980s, unlike many decades ago, I believe many Dawg fans felt more sorry for Tech than those that disliked the Wramblin' Wreck. Hate was reserved for the likes of Clemson, Auburn, and maybe Florida.

This all changed for me when in 1984 I witnessed an underdog Georgia Tech team come into Athens, soundly defeat my Bulldogs, and tear up Sanford Stadium's hedges afterwards.

The next day, on the cover of the sports section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tech coach Bill Curry was pictured loving on John Dewberry, a transfer from Georgia two years earlier. Dewberry, winning quarterback of the Yellow Jackets, had torn off a piece of our beloved hedges.

This exhibition of disrespect would not be accepted, I decided. No more did I feel sorry for our rivals to the west; I felt hatred.

However, there is one, and only one, single issue I will side with our in-state adversary. Most Tech and Georgia football fans are familiar with this controversy and the pair of asterisks that has made it renowned.

If you're unfamiliar with the dispute, I'm sure you'll hear about it this Saturday if you watch the 105th, or 103rd, meeting between Georgia and Georgia Tech; the game's television broadcast mentions it annually.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets cannot agree on how many times they've played one another in football. Georgia defends a 60-37-5 advantage, Georgia Tech claims a 39-60-5 disadvantage.

The disagreement lies with the games played between the teams in 1943 and 1944 - both blowout wins for the Yellow Jackets by a combined 92-0 score. Georgia Tech counts the two games while Georgia does not recognize them.

By the start of the 1943 football season, World War II was raging. Because of the war, graduation, and injuries, lost was every one of the Bulldogs' lettermen from its 1942 national championship squad. Georgia's 1943 team was comprised of just 25 seventeen-year-old freshmen too young for the war's draft and a few older players who had not met the military's physical standards.

Many of the teams around the country were in the same predicament as Georgia and a good number of schools cancelled their '43 football campaigns. Only a day before the Bulldogs' season opener, Coach Wally Butts asked his team if it too wanted to cancel its season. They refused, joining only three other SEC teams, of the 12 total members, who would play football in 1943.

"So we'll play football as long as 11 men are available to put a team on the field," said Butts.

Georgia Tech was one of the three other participating schools in the conference. The Yellow Jackets, unlike the Bulldogs, would actually benefit from the war.

Georgia Tech had the Navy V-12 Program, as did other schools, whereas any student who signed up could remain in school and continue playing athletics. The University of Georgia did not have such a program. In addition, Tech had a Navy flight school which drew students, including football players, from other universities.

In 1943, not only did the Yellow Jackets return most of their team from the year before but, according to Dan Magill, a long-time member of UGA's athletics department, they were also joined by the captains of Alabama and Vanderbilt and other players from various schools.

Georgia Tech appeared to have an overwhelming advantage over Georgia and it was evident on the gridiron with a 48-0 victory in 1943 and 44-0 in 1944.

Soon after his hiring as publicity director of UGA football in 1948, Magill told Coach Butts he would no longer count the 1943 and 1944 games in the series record between Tech and Georgia. In the football records, Magill placed asterisks beside the two Bulldog losses because "those were not true Georgia Tech teams," Magill has told me and countless others.

"There's no question about it, there's no way they are true Georgia-Georgia Tech games," Magill said. "There's no question about that. [Georgia] had a freshman team."

This is where I am in disagreement and admittingly side with the enemy.

That freshman team for Georgia in 1943 reached as high as number 20 in the AP Poll during the season. The following year, going into the Georgia Tech game, the Bulldogs were actually seen as only a slight underdog; some even placed even odds on the game. I have the feeling if Georgia would have been victorious in one or both of the '43 and '44 contests, the games would be recognized today and there would be no asterisks.

Both the NCAA and SEC acknowledges the two games as losses for the Bulldogs. Actually, Georgia also recognizes the losses in its yearly results and all-time record, just not in its series with the Yellow Jackets.

Soon after the beginning of the controversy, few stood by Magill and the Georgia records on their viewpoint or took the stance very seriously.

Only three years following Magill's debatable decision, the Athens Banner-Herald recognized the '43 and '44 games, announcing the 1951 Tech-Georgia contest as the "46th Annual Battle," not the 44th. Six years later, Furman Bisher of The Atlanta Journal jokingly responded to Magill's statement of "Henceforth our records will refer to those 1943 and 1944 games as Georgia versus the Georgia Tech Navy" with:

That being the case, Louisiana State, Wake Forest and Daniel Field, three other teams that defeated Georgia those two years, are expected to be notified in due time that their victories have been revoked.

The fact of the matter is, although Georgia basically had an all-freshman team during those two seasons while Georgia Tech was supported by a Navy program and had a few players from other schools, Coach Butts had asked his team if they wanted to participate and they agreed to play the '43 season, including against Georgia Tech. They consented to do so knowing the situation and what the consequences might be.

"I asked [the 1943 team] frankly if they wanted to pay the price in defeats they'll have to take," said Butts.

There were very few "bona fide" college football teams in 1943 and 1944. If all of these teams were not "true" teams, are they suppose to revoke their results from those two years? If the Bulldogs were not a "true" team in '43 and '44, should they discount the 13 combined victories they achieved those seasons?

In its early years, Georgia played several athletic clubs featuring former college players and even a preparatory school or two; all of these games are recognized in UGA football's yearly and series results although they do not seem to be "true" opposition.

In 1907, Georgia played against Georgia Tech with at least four "ringers" - former collegiate or professional players from the North - who were paid for their services. Because of this illegal action, Georgia's head coach would eventually be banned from coaching in the South forever. The result of the game, a 10-6 Georgia loss, is acknowledged in UGA's yearly and series results.

In the first Tech-Georgia football game of 1893, the Red and Black played a professionally paid trainer at halfback while three of Tech's five touchdowns were scored by a 28-year-old doctor in the U.S. Army. In addition, the umpire of the game, who made several controversial calls in favor of Georgia Tech, was the brother of Tech's trainer. This 28-6 Georgia Tech victory is also recognized by Georgia.

In support of identifying the 1943 and 1944 as true games, I believe author Bill Cromartie put it best in his book on the Georgia-Georgia Tech football rivalry, Clean Old-Fashioned Hate:

If the games are not official, then the University [of Georgia] boys who got their teeth kicked in (so to speak), played the games for nothing. They would, most likely, want them to count.

I know Dan Magill well. He is the greatest NCAA tennis coach of all time, the foremost knowledgeable historian of UGA sports, has probably done more for UGA athletics than anyone ever has, and is a wonderful and kind individual. However, and I say this with the utmost respect, I totally disagree with his decision from more than 60 years ago regarding the 1943-44 Tech-Georgia games - a decision he still vehemently stands behind today.

During the time of Magill's 1948 ruling, unlike when I was growing up, no Georgia football fan felt sympathy for Georgia Tech, just dislike. I suspect part of the decision by "Dangerous Dan," as Bisher tagged him in 1957, was because of this hatred for Georgia's, at the time, chief rival.

Nevertheless, Magill's judgement and asterisks will remain in the UGA football record books forever, whether I, the Yellow Jacket faithful, or anyone else likes it or not. Personally, I have and can certainly continue to live with the UGA icon's decision, especially if Georgia Tech football prospers while the Bulldogs might falter.

The way the 2010 season has transpired, Georgia could soon not afford the two series losses to, as Magill has labeled, "The Enternal Enemy."

November 23, 2010

X-Tra Time Significant in Stopping Tech?

Not too long after Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech and installed his unique triple-option offense, rumor had it that if an opposing team had more than a week to prepare, the Jackets' offensive system could be figured somewhat and slowed. 

Then, Tech played at Georgia - who was coming off an open week - and rolled up 400+ rushing yards and 45 points in a victory over the Bulldogs in the final regular-season game of 2008.

So much for having extra time to prepare for Coach Paul's potent offensive attack...

Nevertheless, there are exceptions to most every rule, especially when it involves Willie Martinez and his dismal Dawg defense of two seasons ago.

Normally, prior to posting most of my blog entries, I check around the Bulldog blogs/sites, making sure my piece doesn't communicate the same message as others.  I only post a couple times a week as is; the last thing I want is to echo someone else's work.

After crunching some numbers, I did the same for this entry and found a post from AJC Tech blogger Doug Roberson, indicating "the extra time or preparation [for Tech's offense] doesn’t seem to matter."

On the contrary, my research seems to have a slightly different view than Doug's, so I thought I'd post my opposing findings.  I might be hating a little on Doug's post (albeit clean and old-fashioned) but the numbers don't lie...

I calculated Tech's offensive figures since the start of the 2008 season through the present, comparing teams that had a week or less to prepare for the Jackets to those that had more than a week.  Unlike Roberson, I  considered just BCS conference teams (C'mon, Little Sisters of the Poor could run north of 300 on S.C. State...).

First off, here are the nine Tech opponents who had extra preparation for the Yellow Jackets (time between Tech and previous game/bowl game):

2008- Clemson (9 days), North Carolina (14), Georgia (14), LSU (Chick-fil-A Bowl)
2009- Miami (10), Iowa (Orange Bowl)
2010- North Carolina (14), N.C. State (9), Virginia Tech (9)

Georgia Tech's offensive statistics: Rush Yds Per Game (Per Carry Avg.); Total Yds (Per Play Avg.); Turnovers  
Vs. Extra Preparation Defenses: 256.6 (5.2); 342.6 (5.4); 1.7 
Vs. 1-Week Prep. Defenses:       309.5 (5.5); 423.0 (6.2); 1.5 

Simply put, on average, Tech's offense is not as efficient and turns the ball over more often when faced with a defense that had more than a week to prepare.

Now, before you mention the Jackets likely faced stiffer opposition/defenses, who had the luxury of more than a week to prepare... Perhaps this is slightly the case, but by my assessment, there's not much difference in the two levels of competition.

Talk about a difference... Here are the statistics that really stand out and the numbers that count the most:
Vs. Extra Preparation Defenses: 20.7 points per game,  3 wins - 6 losses
Vs. 1-Week Prep. Defenses:       30.4 points per game, 19 wins - 5 losses

Notably, the Ramblin' Wreck is sluggishly scoring nearly 10 points lower than normal and winning just once every three games against teams coming off a bye week.

Does this make me feel better about Georgia's chances on Saturday?  Maybe a little, but not much.  I'm still scared to death of Tech's running game against Grantham's troops.  However, given a bye week, especially when facing Tech's unique offense, I'll take it every time over the alternative.

Above all, here's to dropping the Jackets' situational record to 3 and 7 this Saturday and a non-repeat defensive performance of 2008.

November 20, 2010

Cover Boy Nearly a Bulldog?

"See that speed?  I tell you, he's in the franchise range - like Herschel."
- Miami Hurricane assistant coach Christ Vagotis in 1981 after seeing one of Marcus Dupree's acclaimed runs 

In the spirit of all the recent commotion concerning a college football program perhaps paying big money for a big-time superstar...

My first introduction to Marcus Dupree was when my father brought home a magazine for me from Barnett's News Stand in Athens (remember that place?), featuring the Oklahoma Sooner star on the cover.

Being an ungrateful eight year old, I asked him why he didn't buy one with a Georgia player on the cover. 

"I didn't see one," said my dad.  "Anyway, this guy Dupree might be the next Herschel!"

Over the next nearly 30 years, I hardly heard the name Marcus Dupree, that is, until last week when I was captivated by his story recounted on a ESPN 30 for 30 - "The Best That Never Was."  If you haven't seen the two-hour documentary, you absolutely must.  If anything, you'll be amazed by the footage of Dupree as a high schooler in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

A 6-3, 225-pound high school senior, who was clocked running a 4.3 in the 40, Dupree combined tremendous speed with power, similarly to Herschel Walker.  Some believed the highly-recruited Dupree was actually better than Walker - maybe the greatest athlete ever out of high school. 

It would be later revealed Dupree was, in fact, the greatest player money could buy.  

Unbeknownst to many is how Dupree [seemingly] almost came to UGA to become a Bulldog...on two different occasions! 

In 1981, following Georgia's win over Ole Miss in Oxford, Dupree was in the Bulldogs' locker room, where an assistant coach introduced him to the sophomore Walker. 

The two celebrated backs exchanged small talk before Herschel declared, "You come up to Athens.  We'll have fun together." 

"Maybe we could play in the same backfield," replied Dupree. 

Primarily because he liked running out of the I-formation (Georgia's offensive scheme at the time), Dupree kept the Bulldogs on his "list" until he narrowed his school choice to a final six.  The nation's most sought-after recruit eventually decided to enroll at Oklahoma.

Playing in only 16 games for the Sooners in 1982 and 1983 - many of those while injured or seeing limited playing time - Dupree rushed for a combined 1,513 yards, gaining 7.2 yards per carry, and scored 16 touchdowns. 

Following a loss to Texas in early October of 1983, an unhappy Dupree mysteriously left Oklahoma never to return to the Sooners - or, for that matter, collegiate football - again.

A little over a week following Dupree's departure, apparently, the sophomore back was once again flirting with the idea of becoming a Bulldog.  In a press conference, Coach Vince Dooley stated that Marcus "...had some interest in Georgia..."  UGA, along with Southern Miss and Mississippi State, was one of three schools Dupree evidently considered transferring to from Oklahoma.

Eight months removed from Herschel leaving early for the USFL, the Walker-less Dawgs would've likely welcomed Dupree with open arms.  Georgia had yet to establish a primary tailback to replace Walker; four different players had led the Bulldogs in rushing for each of its first four games of '83 - none of them gaining 100 yards.   

Eventually, Dupree would enroll at Southern Miss, where he would ironically never play a down of football.  Apparently, the move was never intended for Dupree to get back into college but, instead, for the star running back to leverage himself into professional football.  

Alas, Dupree never turned out to be another Herschel Walker, not even close. 

Would things have turned out differently if Dupree had enrolled at Georgia for the Fall of 1982...or even later in 1983?

That's merely one of many questions difficult to answer regarding the underachieving yet extraordinary football career of Marcus Dupree. 

November 16, 2010

Third-Down Defense Dilemma

Another third-down attempt by the opposition, another conversion, and in the end, another Bulldog loss.

A major, if not, the most glaring, issue with the Bulldogs' struggles this season is, as I heard a Georgia fan declare Saturday night, "Why the Hell can't our defense get off the freakin' field?!?"

Now, I don't have the answer, nor the freakin' solution, but I do know the more third downs you allow the opponent to convert, the more time its offense is going to spend on a football field.

Georgia's third-down woes on defense have been reported for some time...Two months ago, I posted how South Carolina's 9 of 14 third-down rate against the Dawgs was a Georgia "low point" in 13 seasons.

Subsequently, the Bulldogs would allow Kentucky to convert 9 of 15 third downs just five games later and a startling 10 of 14 at Auburn last Saturday.

How bad is Georgia's third-down defense?  The Bulldogs have allowed the opposition to convert 62 of 150 (41.33) third downs, ranking in the bottom third of the FBS and dead last in the SEC.

Since Georgia started keeping third-down statistics in 1979, the 41.33 conversion percentage is currently the team's fifth-worst in 32 seasons:  

1993- 55.5
1994- 44.6
1979- 42.6
1990- 41.7
2010- 41.3

Besides a lowly third-down defensive conversion rate, what do all five seasons above have in common?  Each year's team record hovered around .500 or worse.

Notably, the sixth-worst rate surprisingly belongs to the 1982 team (41.1 percent), who finished the regular season a perfect 11-0 and played for a national title.  The difference, however, is the '82 SEC champs forced 4.2 turnovers per game (and had Herschel Walker). 

Out of interest, I broke down this season's defensive third-down rate by yards to go:

Third and 1 or 2: 22 of 29 (75.9)
Third and 3 to 7: 14 of 42 (33.3)
Third and 8 to 10: 12 of 32 (37.5)
Third and 11 to 15: 9 of 25 (36.0)
Third and greater than 15: 1 of 9 (11.1)

What immediately strikes me is not only have the Bulldogs' foes been more successful on 3rd down and 8 to 10 yards to go when compared to 3rd and 3 to 7, but the opposition is also converting a better rate on 3rd down and 11 to 15 yards than 3rd and 3 to 7 yards to go.  That surely cannot be the norm.  Of course, this year's squad is far from...

Let me add, the season's opponents have either run the ball nearly at will on Georgia's defense or hardly at all.  Although the Bulldogs have held six opponents to 70 yards rushing or less, five opponents have rushed for 166 or more (remarkably, no team has gained between 71 and 165).

In averaging 227 rushing yards per game against the Dawgs, a solid 4.6 yards-per-rush average, and three touchdowns via the run, those five running opponents - South Carolina, Miss. State, Colorado, Florida, and Auburn -converted a combined 52.9 percent of their third downs.  Most detrimental, Georgia was winless against these five running teams.

In case you weren't aware, Georgia Tech is also a running team; in fact, the very best one, ranking first in the nation with 319.2 rushing yards per game.

This open week might not have come at a better time for Georgia, particularly its defense, who will need the extra days to hopefully discover how to get off the freakin' field against the Yellow Jackets.

November 12, 2010

Miracles on the Plains

It's common knowledge among Bulldog backers that Georgia has been quite successful in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry when playing on the Plains.  Since 1966, the Bulldogs are 13-7-2 at Auburn.  But what's even more impressive is what has transpired when the odds have been really stacked against the Dogs. 

During the same time period, Georgia has an astonishing record of 4-1-1 at Auburn when designated as a decided underdog of 10 points or more.  In fact, since 1970, five of the Bulldogs' nine biggest upsets - a Georgia win or tie, coming as a 10-point underdog or more - have occurred in the Tigers' own backyard.

Of the Bulldogs' five major upsets at Auburn during the last 40 years - 1970, 1986, 1994, 1996, and 2006 - here is my, along with a number of dampened Dawg fans', most memorable miracle on the Plains (which is in unfortunately VERY poor quality and minus Steve Boswell's game-clinching interception and Jordan-Hare Stadium turning on its water hoses):

1986: GEORGIA- 20 (6-3 record, 10.5-point underdog)
AUBURN- 16 (8-1 record, No. 8 ranking)

I go into greater detail about this upset in my GREAT but OBSCURE game series posted roughly a year and a half ago...

To me, what's so noteworthy about the 1986 miracle is Georgia would have been an even bigger underdog - much more than 10.5 points - if the "line setters" were aware that little-used, sophomore Wayne Johnson, who had thrown all of four passes that season, was replacing starting quarterback James Jackson. 

In what would be the Bulldogs lone victory over the Tigers in an eight-game span (1983-1990), Johnson was the star, completing 6 of 7 passes while responsible for both Georgia touchdowns.

1970: GEORGIA- 31 (4-4 record, 20-point underdog)
AUBURN- 17 (7-1 record, No. 8 ranking)
The biggest of the five upsets at Auburn, the 1970 meeting matched a Bulldogs team - who, with Georgia Tech looming, was looking at a certain losing season - against a Tigers squad - who was dreaming of the possibility of playing for a national championship.  

Georgia's Ricky Lake, the eventual SEC Sophomore of the Year, rushed for nearly 100 yards and two touchdowns.  Auburn's Pat Sullivan, one year shy of bringing home the Heisman, passed for 320 yards but threw no touchdowns and committed three costly turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble.  This shocking victory was also part of my GREAT but OBSCURE series...

1994: GEORGIA- 23 (5-4 record, 12.5-point underdog)
AUBURN- 23 (9-0 record, No. 3 ranking)
This upset might not have been a victory but it sure did seem like one, and certainly was a much better experience than kissing your sister...  The Tigers had won 20 games in a row and had a 23-9 lead late in the third quarter until Eric Zeier tied the contest with two touchdown passes.

The draw was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing season - one featuring a one-point loss at Alabama, a setback on Homecoming to Vanderbilt, and a 38-point blowout loss to Florida in Gainesville.

The main features of Georgia's celebrated tie were 113 yards rushing by Terrell Davis and Auburn's Matt Hawkins' two missed kicks - an early PAT attempt that was blocked by Phillip Daniels and a 44-yard field-goal try that just missed wide with 13 seconds remaining.

1996: GEORGIA- 56 (3-5 record, 10-point underdog)
AUBURN- 49 (7-2 record, No. 20 ranking)
The 100th meeting of the old rivalry was also the first ever overtime game in SEC football history; the Bulldogs certainly had to rally to get to the extra periods.

Trailing 28-7 in the second quarter, Georgia slowly but surely began its comeback.  Down 28-21 with one second remaining in the game, quarterback Mike Bobo completed a miraculous 30-yard touchdown to Corey Allen, forcing overtime.  Three Robert Edwards' touchdowns and four overtimes later, the Bulldogs had prevailed 56-49, capturing their first win over an AP-ranked opponent in 15 tries since their 1992 bowl game.

Notably, Georgia's top two standouts - Bobo (360 passing yards on 37 attempts, 0 interceptions) and Edwards - had both been originally benched for turnovers, sitting out the first quarter and a half of the ballgame.

2006: GEORGIA- 37 (6-4 record, 11.5-point underdog)
AUBURN- 15 (9-1 record, No. 5 ranking)
Similarly to the game from more than a quarter-century before in '70, Georgia - losers of four of its previous five games - was seemingly in a downward spiral while Auburn still had hopes of a national title.

It was arguably quarterback Matthew Stafford's best game as a Bulldog of an eventual brilliant, three-season career.  The true freshman had his coming-out party on the Plains, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown on 14 of 20 passing and rushing for 83 yards (the most by a Georgia quarterback in eight seasons) and a touchdown on seven carries.

Kregg Lumpkin's 105 rushing yards and Tra Battle's three first-half interceptions - one returned for score - were also huge contributions in the 22-point victory that was really never in question.  To date, the win is just the second for Georgia against AP top-five teams in more than 25 years

November 10, 2010

A HUGE Mismatch

The 2010 Georgia Bulldogs: Statistically sound but maintaining a disappointing, .500 record.

Judging by its title, did you think this post might be about Auburn's Cam Newton (whether a money-grubbing cheater or not) and Georgia's defense?  Not quite.

Instead, it concerns the Bulldogs as a whole - a team that looks good on paper, that is, until you come to the win-loss column.

Being the stat geek that I am, yesterday, I checked out the team's season statistics for, believe it or not, the first time in several weeks.  What I observed was something I've rarely, if ever, seen (and believe me I've looked at some football stats in my time).

Through 10 games this year, Georgia has a decided advantage in the three most important and seemingly, most telling football statistics:
  • A scoring margin of +14.4 points (33.8-19.4)
  • Outgaining the opposition by an average of 89.1 yards (394.6-305.5)
  • A turnover margin of +0.70 (12 turnovers committed, 19 gained) 
How common has it been for Bulldog football teams to finish seasons achieving comparable statistical differences?  Not very. 

Of the 64 Georgia teams from 1946-2009, only 18 had a scoring margin of 12.0 or more points, 17 outgained their opponents by an average of 75 yards or more, and just 22 had a turnover margin of 0.5 or better.

Of those 64 Bulldog squads, just 11 - 1946, '48, '67, '68, '71, '76, '81, '97, 2002, '03, '05 - achieved (as the 2010 team is currently doing) all three of these one-sided margins.  Everyone of these Georgia teams, besides the '67 Dogs, won at least eight regular-season games and were either SEC champs or came within a game of being so.  Combined, the 11 teams had a remarkable winning percentage of .864

From a historical and statistical perspective, how the heck do the current Bulldogs have a record of just 5 and 5?  If I looked at Georgia's statistics - everything but its win-loss record - I'd speculate the Dogs were 7-3 at worst, maybe as good as 9-1.  Nevertheless, here they stand at .500. 

Is the idea of a good team, bad record simply because the Bulldogs, excluding Colorado, have destroyed their much inferior opponents while falling just short against the capable foes, or is there more to it than that?

I haven't forgotten Georgia still has some stiff competition remaining on its regular-season schedule, including perhaps the best team in the nation.  Notwithstanding, consider this: The Bulldogs are one of only 10 FBS teams (out of 120) that currently have all three of the aforementioned margins over their respective opposition. 

The other nine: Ohio State, Iowa, Oregon, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., TCU, Alabama, Stanford, and Michigan St. - teams that have a combined record of 73-10 (.880), the worst record being 7-2, and all appearing in the top 16 of the current BCS Standings.   

If the Bulldogs had perhaps caught some breaks this season, didn't repeatedly beat themselves, and finished the drill occasionally, they'd have a lot more in common with those nine teams besides a trio of [when you get right down to it] meaningless statistics.  There's really only one statistic that counts...

As Bill Parcells says, "You are what you are," ...and the Bulldogs are currently a 5-5 team with mere hopes of going to a bowl game.

November 6, 2010

You Can Always Come Home

I'm just a couple of hours from departing for another UGA football weekend in Athens; however, this one will be a little bit more special than all the rest.

For the first time in a long while, I'll be staying at my parents house over the weekend.  My father and mother live just outside Athens in the same house I grew up in.  I assume that tonight and tomorrow night, I'll sleep in my old room.

Tomorrow, I will be taking my three and a half year old son to his very first Georgia football game (or at least to the tailgate beforehand).  I can't say my son Trip has the same enthusiasm for the Bulldogs (yet!) as his mommy and daddy...but he sure is excited about the possibility of meeting a friend of mine and fellow tailgater, who works as a real live fireman! 

Trip is fortunate; I had to wait until I was six years old before I witnessed my first Bulldogs game in person - a 44-0 romp over Tennessee in 1981.  I still remember like it was yesterday: Herschel, Buck Belue, and that funny aroma I smelled as my parents and I walked over the bridge outside the stadium.  Years later, I would come to realize that smell was the mixture of bourbon and cigarettes.  

Coming home to Athens, Sanford Stadium, the Tennessee Vols... Suddenly, I was reminded of another homecoming of sorts that took place 38 years ago nearly to the day (and how I happened to have much of the game's footage).

There's not many Bulldog highlights from their 14-0 loss to Tennessee in 1972, and believe me, I looked.  It does feature No. 38 Larry West defending a pass between the three- and four-minute mark.  West was one of the first five African Americans signed by Georgia in December 1970 and probably played the most of the group in their first varsity season of '72.

I try to avoid posting anything concerning a former Bulldogs team and losing, but I couldn't pass this up.  What made an otherwise forgettable game in Sanford Stadium memorable, at least for one family in the Classic City, was the return of native Athenian, David Allen. 

Recognized as a Class AAA All-State back in 1968, David Allen had starred at Athens High School under the guidance of Coach Weyman Sellers - a co-captain of Georgia's 1948 SEC championship team.

Allen would attend Tennessee, and although never an All-American, all-conference, or a record breaker, "the Hammer," as he was nicknamed, was a mainstay on some outstanding Volunteer defenses.

From 1970-1972, Allen started all three seasons at cornerback for Tennessee and, for all three seasons, the Vols finished with a 10-2 record or better, won their bowl game, and finished in the AP Poll's top 10.

While at Tennessee, Allen faced his hometown university just once, coming in the posted video above.  Ironically, in the process, he was also pitted against his friend and old high school teammate - Georgia quarterback Andy Johnson - who, the year following Allen, had also been recognized as an All-State player from Athens High.  

The older friend helped make life miserable for the younger one as Allen and his Tennessee teammates held Johnson and backup quarterback James Ray to a combined 8 of 23 passing for just 79 yards and two interceptions.  Albeit brief, Allen's homecoming had been a successful one. 

After another hiatus from Athens, the Hammer would come home once again, where he has remained.  Those of you that live in the area may know of him today - Dr. David Allen of Athens - who once frustrated the Bulldogs and their fans almost 40 years ago, but has since treated many of them for the better.