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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.

November 2, 2010

It's not just a "Georgia-Florida Thing"

During the current, long losing spell in football to Florida, I've often offered my opinion to people - those believing the Dogs are cursed in Jacksonville and the Gators have some sort of major psychological advantage over Georgia - it's not that our team is hexed, unlucky, or doesn't necessarily play up to its potential whenever matched with Florida.

The Gators have simply been that much better than the Bulldogs for the last two-plus decades.

As we've all been reminded, the Bulldogs are now 3-18 versus the Gators since 1990, but what many don't realize is that Georgia was underdogs entering 17 of the 21 games.  In other words, according to the experts in Vegas, the Dogs were to supposed to have lost nearly each of the 21 meetings.   

The Bulldogs playing the underdog role in Jacksonville included this past Saturday.  Georgia was actually a two- to three-point favorite for much of the week.  Suddenly, an hour or so before kickoff, the line started dropping, and by game time, it was Florida who was favored by a point.

At that moment, I mentioned to my wife what Lee Corso has insinuated before on GameDay regarding late steam on line movement: Somebody somewhere knows something [to move a line that quickly in favor of the other team]. 

I have understood for years, and many blog comments and emails have reminded me, that Florida being a one-point favorite over Georgia doesn't literally mean Vegas thought the Gators would win by a single point.  Rather, for most games, the line is set to have an equal amount of wagered money on both sides.

However, if Florida, or any team, is favored, whether by one or 100 points, to defeat another, then the Gators should or are expected for all intents and purposes to defeat the other team by roughly that many points. 

Since 1990, considering all 21 Georgia-Florida meetings, the Gators have been a little less than an 11-point favorite over the Bulldogs on average.  During that same period, Florida's average margin of victory over Georgia (considering all games - wins and losses) is 14.5 points.

When playing the Bulldogs since '90, on average, one could say the Gators have been approximately 3.5 points better than what was expected from them.

The following is Georgia's record/point spread/scoring data against its five biggest rivals since 1990.  Listed after each opponent is the following muddled information:
  • Georgia's actual record versus the opponent beginning with '90
  • The number of those games the Bulldogs were favored/the underdog
  • Georgia's average point spread/its average scoring margin (the difference between scoring margin and point spread in parenthesis)
GEORGIA TECH: 15-5, 13/7, 2.9-pt favorite/+8.8 margin (+5.9 difference) 
AUBURN: 11-9, 13/7, Avg. spread exactly even/+0.6 margin (+0.6 difference)
S. CAROLINA: 13-6, 17/2, 6.7-pt favorite/+6.1 margin (-0.6 difference) 
FLORIDA: 3-18, 4/17, 10.9-pt underdog/-14.5 margin (-3.6 difference)   
TENNESSEE: 7-12, 10/9, 0.7-pt underdog/-5.4 margin (-4.7 difference) 

Confused?  In short, more so than against the Gators, it appears to me Georgia has been more disappointing, in terms of what was expected, versus South Carolina and Tennessee.  The Bulldogs have been favored in 17 games versus the Gamecocks but have won just 13.  Against the Vols, Georgia has been favored in 10, winning just seven, with an average difference between the point spread and scoring margin of nearly five in favor of Tennessee.

How does Georgia's lack of success against Florida stack up against the Gators' other rivals over the last 20+ seasons?  The following is the same data but for Florida against its rivals since 1990:

LSU: 15-6, 18/3, 9.6-pt favorite/+14.1 margin (+4.5 difference)
S. CAROLINA: 17-1, 18/0, 17.2-pt favorite/+21.1 margin (+4.0 difference)
FLORIDA ST.: 10-11-1, 10/12, 1.3-pt favorite/+4.9 margin (+3.6 difference)
GEORGIA: 18-3, 17/4, 10.9-pt favorite/+14.5 margin (+3.6 difference)
TENNESSEE: 15-6, 17/4, 5.1-pt underdog/+6.6 margin (+1.5 difference)

In regard to its non-favorable difference in average point spread and scoring margin, Georgia is not alone in its lack of success against Florida.  Besides when facing Tennessee, the Gators have a positive difference of more than 3.5 points than all of its biggest rivals.

Let me stress that I realize point spreads, scoring margins, and their differences aren't the end-all, be-all indicators in determining a team's success, or lack thereof, against the opposition over a period of time.  I know that the aforementioned data might be considered a bit of a stretch...  

However, I do feel the above analysis does support, even if the slightest, what I've said for the last several years regarding Georgia's lack of success in the Florida series:

Georgia's problem isn't that it suddenly doesn't play well when facing the Gators.  For the most part, the Bulldogs, like most any team playing Florida, plain and simply haven't been as good as the Gators, whether during those games or leading up to them.