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April 18, 2012

A Bad Bulldog Omen?

How often will Georgia's inexperienced offensive line
open holes this big for Ken Malcome and company 
during the REAL games of 2012? 
Call me pessimistic, but every time I hear how good Georgia is going to be this upcoming football season, all I can think about is the Bulldogs' inexperienced offensive line.

I'm having deja-vu...  It wasn't too long ago, like only in 2008, we heard similar preseason praise.  Heck, even the Associated Press went as far as ranking the Dogs No. 1 in the country.  Regardless, all I could think about then was Georgia's inexperienced offensive line, which became even more inexperienced when Trinton Sturdivant tore ligaments in a knee -- the first time -- just prior to the start of the season. 

In its first true test in 2008, the Bulldogs' offensive line struggled at South Carolina, and then came the "blackout" debacle versus Alabama.  In time, while a possible national championship had long been lost, Georgia struggled to win 10 games. 

Four years later entering 2012, Georgia's offensive line is again, in a word, green... very green (if I could use two words).

The unit returns players with only 31 career starts: Kenarious Gates (12), Chris Burnette (12) and Dallas Lee (7).  Thirty-one starts are remarkably low, so low in fact that entering last season, only 10 percent of all FBS teams (12 of 120) returned less than 34 career offensive line starts.  Notably, of these 12 FBS teams, EIGHT would average less yards per rushing attempt in 2011 than they did the year before (which is what could be expected from a team with an inexperienced offensive line). 

Last season, the Bulldogs averaged just under 4.0 yards per rushing attempt, which ranked a lowly 9th in the conference just ahead of the potent ground games of Kentucky (3.5), Ole Miss (3.4), and Tennessee's (2.8).  So, in keeping with the trend, Georgia's running game could actually be worse than it was in 2011.  Regardless, the Bulldogs have proven they can win games with their passing attack (if the offensive line isn't allowing Aaron Murray to be constantly attacked/sacked) and a stout defense. 

However, is it a mere coincidence that of last year's 12 inexperienced-offensive-line FBS teams, only THREE achieved a better record in 2011 than they had in 2010?  Is there some truth in the sayings an offense is only as good as its offensive line and games are won and lost in the trenches?  If so, as was the case in 2008, the 2012 Bulldogs might not be nearly as good as most expect.

From what I found, beginning in 1976 to this upcoming season, Georgia enters a campaign with less than 45 returning career offensive line starts for the 12th time in the last 37 years:

  4 returning starts entering 2003- Team finishes 11-3 after going 13-1 in 2002
17 entering 1981- Finishes 10-2 after 12-0 in '80
21 entering 1977- Finishes 5-6 after 10-2 in '76
24 entering 2008- Finishes 10-3 after 11-2 in '07
25 entering 2007- Finishes 11-2 after 9-4 in '06
29 entering 1989- Finishes 6-6 after 9-3 in '88
31 entering 1984- Finishes 7-4-1 after 10-1-1 in '83
31 entering 2012- Finishes ??? after 10-4 in '11
37 entering 1997- Finishes 10-2 after 5-6 in '96
38 entering 1998- Finishes 9-3 after 10-2 in '97
39 entering 1999- Finishes 8-4 after 9-3 in '98
44 entering 1990- Finishes 4-7 after 6-6 in '89

Meaningless information?  Perhaps.  However, it's interesting to note that of the previous 11 times the Bulldogs returned an inexperienced offensive line, they averaged less yards per rushing attempt in SEVEN seasons, while finishing with a worse record on NINE occasions compared to the year before.
Despite this touchdown by Kevin McLee, a green offensive
line was evident in 1977 even against Richmond, who
limited Georgia to 12 first downs and 288 total yards. 

There have certainly been exceptions, like in 1997 and 2007, when Georgia had fantastic seasons even though it returned an inexperienced offensive line.  Even in 2003, when the Bulldogs returned only four starts, the offense may have struggled, allowing an SEC-high 47 sacks, gaining just 3.4 yards per rush, and in turn, quarterback David Greene had the least productive year of his four seasons.  However, Georgia had one of its best defenses in school history and the team had only a slight drop-off from the 2002 SEC championship year.

And then there are seasons like 1977, when in September of that year, Coach Vince Dooley said the Bulldogs had "the greenest offensive line we've had since I've been at Georgia."  The '77 offense couldn't pass, couldn't hold onto the football, and despite having Kevin McLee and Willie McClendon in the backfield, it often had a hard time running the ball.  Even the acclaimed Junkyard Dog defensive unit couldn't save a losing 5-6 year after winning an SEC championship the season before.   

I need to be more optimistic and believe the 2012 season, despite Georgia's very green offensive line, can be similar to 1997 and 2007, and not like 1977.  This year, the team will likely need maximum effort from its defense (and not player suspensions) to be an exception and buck the inexperienced-offensive-line trend that has historically plagued the Bulldogs and recently the FBS. 


Anonymous said...

Yes sir, you DO need to be more optimistic. This is our year, I feel it. Sometimes.. HEART, SOUL and the pure DRIVE to win... does win games. It doesn't hurt that we have some of the best talent in the nation Between Our Hedges! Buckle up sir, and HUNKER DOWN!

Anonymous said...

Just when i thought we might be good this year... Thanks Patrick for digging up old ghosts. Like the piece on Hugh Hendrix much better. And Cindy Lou, "Heart, Soul, and Drive"??? What team have you been watching the last four years?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, heart, soul, and drive seems to be one of the main things we can't inject into our players. The talent is there, but you could see in the Boise St. season opener that they just were not feeling it. Our players play with no emotion. But when they do it is SCARY. Like when they ran on the field after scoring against UF. I've never seen so much emotion and drive in a team.