Alright guys, it’s time for football again, so here goes…forgive the errors…
Download Week 1 Writeup here in pdf format… or just keep reading (only without fancy pictures and formatting)…
Opponent: Univ. Louisiana-Lafayette
Kickoff: 12:21 PM
TV: SEC Network
Maybe I’m just getting older but the offseasons seem to be going by quicker. Much quicker. It doesn’t seem like long ago at all I was watching a frustratingly talented UGA team finish off a middling Big XII team in a crappy bowl. Thank goodness the season is finally here. I was tired of passing the offseason reading more crap about Richt being on the hot seat (he’s not) or getting emails about the latest player arrest. Now lets get to the football…
There’s not a whole lot to say here. A warm-bodied team to come in and play might not sound overly appetizing but after last year’s debacle of a start set the tone for a decidedly up and down season, I’ll take a lower level DI (sorry, FBS) team any day. Louisiana-Lafayette is a Sun Belt Conference school that finished at 6-6 last year (actually they’ve won 6 games in 4 of the past 5 seasons) including a home win over Kansas State and a 31-3 loss to LSU that was 17-3 at the half and a lot closer than LSU fans are willing to admit. Two year ago they took a then #24 Illinois (yeah I don’t remember them being ranked either but apparently they were) to the wire in a 20-17 loss. While hanging your hat on a win over Kansas State and a loss to Illinois isn’t exactly top shelf, it shows that this team is a notch above some of the teams we’ve seen roll into Athens for early season snoozers (Georgia Southern, Boise State, etc.). While I don’t expect a super close game Saturday, I wouldn’t be surprised at a game closer than many think. Heck, if we play defense like we did last year we can keep anyone in the game.
- ULL runs a multiple offense with an experienced QB that spreads it around a lot to run the ball. Offensively they were our equal last year in terms of yards (against an admittedly weaker schedule) but averaged basically a TD less per game. They lost their top RB and pass catcher (their TE) but it won’t really matter as it’s not likely we know what the heck our defense is going to look like anyway.
- At QB, ULL returns their starter in Jr. Chris Masson. While he won’t exactly conjure up images of Jake Delhomme (a former ULL QB great), he had a solid year last year throwing for over 2,400 yards at a 60% clip and 10 TDs to 8 INTs. He’s a pretty good athlete too, rushing for right at 200 yards on the season last year. Backup QB Brad McGuire will play all over the place for them…H-back, wildcat, FB, RB, QB, you name it. He gives them some options for sure.
- At RB, ULL lost their top rusher last year and comes into this game with some question marks at this spot. They have 4 guys competing for the carries with 3 of them being newcomers (two true frosh and a JUCO guy). The top candidate is probably the returning guy, Jr. Julian Shankle (that sounds made up). None of the 4 options are particularly large, with all being under 200 pounds. When they need beef they go to their FB, Matt Desormeaux, who they’ll move out to play some TE too. They appear to really like moving folks around.
- WR is probably the deepest unit on the team and it’s paced by senior Marlin Miller, who is the leading returning receiver in terms of catches (37). They don’t have a WR in their top 6 that’s over 6-1. TE is a strength for them as their top 2 receivers in terms of yards last year were both TEs (one graduated). Jr. TE Ladarius Green is solid. At 6-6, 230 he’s big and was athletic enough to reel in a 91-yard TD last year. His 59 yards per game easily led the team last year.
- The ULL OL starts 3 seniors and two sophomores after losing 3 senior starters from last year. The strength of the line is at center and RT, where they each sport 31 career starts. The line has some bulk, especially the right side, where 6-7, 350-pound Jaron Odom mans the RG spot.
- Bottom Line: This is a team that can score some points and does some different stuff on offense, but if we’re going to be better on defense (we have to be right?) then this is the type of team we need to severely limit. Last year they played 3 BCS schools (KSU, LSU and Nebraska). They averaged under a TD against each, managing only a FG against the latter two combined. Granted, those were two of the better defenses out there, but 3 points? In a 4-game stretch late in the season against the likes of FIU, Ark St, MTSU and ULM (not exactly murderer’s row), this team managed to score 21 or less each game. Richt is known for pulling off the gas a bit and playing 3rd stringers and walk-ons to finish these games, giving late meaningless TDs up but I wouldn’t be surprised with a new DC and scheme if we don’t see more focus from top to bottom through the whole game, trying to make a statement.
- Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: We got killed by some TEs last year and Ladarius Green is a good one and the H-back they sport could be interesting too because of the flexibility he provides, but I’m watching our OLBs this week. Gamble has been a force in all the scrimmages since moving outside and Houston could easily be an All-SEC and possible All-American if he’s able to fill the DeMarcus Ware role like we’re trying to get him to do. Either way, those guys are going to be in the backfield a lot.
- They play a standard 4-3 (so 2009) which at this point seems boring and predictable. What a difference a year makes. They racked up some pretty putrid defensive numbers last year, with their 70th national rank in pass defense yards/game being their best mark. All of the other major defensive metrics saw these guys ranking in the 90s. Where they did do well was turnovers, where they were 29th in the country in turnovers gained, oh the glory days when we were in the top half of the country in that category. Last year we were 118th in turnovers gained. Ouch.
- The fact they finished last year 99th against the run tells me these guys aren’t super strong up front. Add in the fact that returning players had a total of 5 sacks last year and 2.5 of those were from DBs and you’ve got the recipe for success behind a strong OL trying to break in a young QB. One of their projected starters at DT is 5-11, 287. That guy versus Cordy Glenn should be interesting.
- MLB Grant Fleming is the star of the defense, making 89 stops last year and coming in as a two-time all-Sun Belt selection. He’s flanked by a pair of upperclassmen who are a bit undersized in the 210 range.
- The ULL secondary isn’t bad actually, with Dwight “Bill” Bently (I wonder what the story is there?…”we gon’ call you Bill”) probably being the best of the bunch finishing 4th on the team in tackles and tied for the lead in INTs (3). The two starters at CB weigh in in the low 170s. Backup CB Melvin White might get more PT with his 6-3 size trying to match up against Green, Durham and our WR height.
- Bottom Line: Honestly this is an ideal team to start off against in terms of defense. They aren’t strong against the run, have some undersized perimeter guys while we’re likely looking to establish the run and ease Murray into his role as head of the offense. It’s ideal. There’s two ways this could go down…1) we pound the ball, get a lead and ease Murray in, or 2) we come out throwing as they’re stacking the box. Honestly, I’d like to see option 2. We know we can run the ball behind this OL (at least I hope we do). We don’t know what we’ve got with Murray. If he’s going to make mistakes in a game, let him do it ones we can afford it in more. I’d rather him struggle with blitz pick up against ULL than SC.
- Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Watch Murray. In his first start, heck, his first PT, we’ve got a lot riding on this kid. No pressure. He’s got a bevy of weapons around him that few QBs in the country can rival and he came in with all the accolades you could hope for so it’s just a matter of him doing his job. He doesn’t have to be great, just good, for us to have a really good season. He can scramble but I don’t think I can take it if he starts running around a bunch. I’m sure you all remember the feeling when DJ Shockley went down against Arkansas in Athens knowing that likely meant he was out for the UF game. He was. So…painful…
The ULL Game Overall
Like I said earlier, I don’t expect this to be a close game, our coaching is too good with talent to match for us to have a complete meltdown but we do have a lot of questions that need answered that will probably result in a closer game than most are willing to accept. Aaron Murray will be seeing his first collegiate action. No one on defense will have ever played that scheme in a live game. There will be mistakes. If there aren’t, I’d be more scared as we’re going to have mistakes in the year. I’d rather not burn our perfect game on ULL (that’d be you Florida). I’d rather get those mistakes out in “coachable” situations where the penalties aren’t so severe. I’d take an ugly win followed by a trouncing of SC than a huge win followed by a pretty loss. Granted, I don’t know many folks who’d be happy with the latter at all.
Anyway, folks clamored endlessly for an end to the Willie era of UGA defense. Even the staunchest UGA fan will admit the results of the 2009 UGA defense weren’t good enough. While I’m incredibly excited about the Grantham era and its tremendous potential, I have to admit I’m a little anxious to see how it plays out. The optimist in me sees pressure coming from all over the place and our athletes (that we’ve always had) running about wreaking havoc and making QBs head spins trying to figure out where we’re bringing pressure from. The pessimist in me wonders what happens when they guess right and run straight into the teeth of our dropping DL and gash us for 20 or so yards. The pessimist in me also wonders how well the 3-4 will stack up against teams that can run and pass equally well that decide they are committing to the run, somewhat neutralizing our pass rush. Overly simplistic I know, but crazy blitz packages that confuse QBs don’t mean much if the QB is handing the ball off. Regardless, I don’t envy opposing coordinators early in the season who are exposed to whatever blitz packages we’re bringing for the first time. It’s going to be chaos, quite possibly on both sides of the ball as it’s going to be difficult for guys steeped in our old defense to respond immediately without a hitch, but oh, if they do. Expect to see a lot of check down runs from ULL trying to guess right.
All in all it’s just going to be nice to have college football back and in some ways a more innocent one. Two years ago coming in #1 wasn’t as much fun as you’d hoped it would be. It felt like UGA was under assault from everyone. Coming in with lower expectations, a la 2002 and far exceeding them is always fun but at some point if we’re going to be the program we all want to be, we’re going to have to be able to take those expectations on and surpass them. We’re not far.
- Player movement. I don’t remember a year ever where we moved so many players around. I’m sure the influx of new coaches had something to do with it but the surprising thing isn’t that so many guys moved it’s that so many guys moved that look to have a legit impact.
- ‘Bean’ Anderson – Physically gifted like few big guys are, he just never clicked on the OL so he moved his big frame to the much-discussed nose guard spot to see if he can cause trouble along the line of scrimmage for us. A beast of a man with incredible strength and quickness, he’s perfectly suited for the position and he developed enough early (after being out all spring) for the coaches to feel good about cross-training DeAngelo Tyson at DE.
- Richard Samuel – The former 5-star HS recruit had the size and speed that made you drool about his potential at RB but his inability to break tackles made him look out of place so he slides over to LB where Grantham will try and harness his considerably physical gifts. Still young as a 19-year old junior I wouldn’t be surprised if he redshirts.
- Logan Gray – The former QB moved out to WR and has consistently made plays. I figured we’d just see him get token snaps there as we protected him to be our backup QB but the play of Mason and his knack for making plays means he’s a legit threat to see PT.
- Darryl Gamble – OK, not that big of a deal moving from ILB to OLB but it’s the impact he’s had. He’s been unblockable since he moved outside. Grantham loves the outside pressure guys (he actually loves the pressure guys from anywhere) and Gamble has been an absolute boon opposite Houston where he allows us to avoid having two converted DEs (Washington and Houston) on the field trying to cover folks at the same time.
- Justin Houston – He played LB his redshirt year in Athens but spent the last two seasons as a force at DE. Now moving into the OLB that DeMarcus Ware made so lethal in Dallas, Houston looks to go from being an All-SEC consideration at DE to an All-American contender possibly if he has the kind of season he’s capable of. He’ll certainly have every opportunity for the big sack totals.
- My picks for season awards – this should be interesting to look back on…
- Breakout Offensive Player – Orson Charles. He was good last year as a true freshman but he’s going to blow up in a big way this year. Huge.
- Breakout Defensive Player – Christian Robinson. New LB coach Belin has absolutely raved over this kid’s play at ILB since he came in which tells me all I need to know. I was really tempted to go with Brandon Wood here for some reason. He’s perfectly suited to the 3-4 DE spot.
- Most likely to hurt someone – Jakar Hamilton. I’m hearing this guy is lethal, like Greg Blue when he knew where he was going.
- Most likely to look like he’s going to get hurt – Carlton Thomas. I know everyone seems to have a small scatback nowadays but Thomas looks particularly small.
- Offensive MVP – AJ Green. Few WRs can demand the attention he will this year, meaning he’ll impact plays he’s not even close to. Best offensive weapon in Athens since Herschel. Yeah, I said it.
- Defensive MVP – Justin Houston. The hiring of Todd Grantham and Houston’s subsequent move to OLB might make Mr. Houston a lot of money down the road.
- Most likely to look like a freshman – T.J. Stripling. At 6-6, 215 the lanky OLB is going to look downright scrawny until he fills out. Especially with all that hair.
- Top True Freshman – Alec Ogletree. We’re in pretty good shape at safety but he might be too good to keep off the field.
- Top RS Freshman – Aaron Murray. He’s certainly going to have every opportunity to put up big numbers.
- Comeback Player of the Year – Kris Durham, I’d love to say Sturdivant but Durham will play a bigger role as WR isn’t as deep as OL. When’s the last time you could say that?
- Deepest Position – TE. Charles and White could start for anyone. Figgins is as good a blocker at TE as we’ve had since Ben Watson. Lynch is a future star. Heck, even our walk-on could play and I wouldn’t be mortified.
- Thinnest Position – QB. Aaron Murray, an untested redshirt sophomore is the clear cut starter. Behind him is a true frosh. Behind him? Quite possibly a walk-on true freshman.
- I love seeing David Pollack on ESPN as one the “Experts” on their ESPNU show. His brash nature fits in perfectly to that format and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on a bigger stage for them because of that. Very ESPN. Matt Stinchcomb is more of a polished guy but I think he might be too polished. He’d fit in great with Mayock on the NFL network. How many college football people does ESPN have on staff now by the way? It’s getting unreal. I think I could name about 25 pretty quickly, and literally every one of them would be better than Mark May and Lou Holtz. Of the 25, half are Ohio State and Michigan guys. Want a fun conversation topic for your tailgate? Who’s the worst ESPN college football “personality?” I’d be tempted to say Mark May but that Trevor Matich guy has said some spectacularly dumb stuff. Don’t get me started on Rod Gilmore.
- So USC finally got some punishment…after Pete Carroll left? In 3 years when he tries to come back to NCAA after failing in the NFL (again), they should institute sanctions against him at whatever school he tries to go to (I’m guessing Notre Dame will be open again by then). The NCAA needs to start penalizing these coaches…like, oddly enough, Lane Kiffin.
- My pick for surprise SEC team this year? Georgia. Seriously. Tennessee will be surprisingly bad, which is saying something because no one is expecting much.
- The two teams with the easiest roads to the BCS title game are Boise State and Ohio State. Could you imagine a less intriguing national title game? I can only imagine Kirk Herbstreit for the weeks leading up to that game.
- I’m sure most of you know this but Murray flirted with wearing a glove on his throwing hand over the offseason. He elected to stop doing it. A big thank you to Aaron Murray. I know Tom Brady does it when it’s freezing up in New England and Kurt Warner did it in Arizona…for some reason. No idea there. Not to sound all codgery and whatnot but I just didn’t like it. I’m just now getting used to the new helmets. Don’t make my QB wear gloves.
- How did South Carolina become the de facto opening game for the country every year? With it being on a Thursday night how is it not an ACC school? How is it this game is a complete bore every year too? Every year I’m so excited to watch college football again then South Carolina treats me to a game so bad I forget why I was excited in the first place. It’s like I finally understand why foreigners say American football is boring.
- Speaking of futball, if I so much as see a vuvuzela in Sanford stadium this year I’m going to use it as a club.
- Back to Boise. Why is it they get so much credit for beating Oklahoma yet you rarely hear about the absolute beatdown they got in Athens in 2005? I know Cowherd was trumpeting it but why not more? Are they a good team? Sure. They’re like a good Kentucky team. They can get up for a few games a year but when put through a full schedule they just couldn’t sustain it. That’s why it’s imperative that Virginia Tech Zabranskies them on Monday night. If Boise St. wins that game and they’ve got a great shot at running the table. Ugh.
- So I stumbled on the Nike Pro Combat uniforms for this season. You’ll recall them from last year as some of the really random looking stuff that resulted in TCU having charcoal gray helmets and pants. They also produced Florida’s white helmets (Tebow Tears White that is) that they promptly wore in the biggest SEC game in decades, #1 vs. #2 for the right to play for the national title (nice tradition there guys…basically you and TCU decided those things were meaningful enough to wear to a big game). Anyway, this year’s group is a mix of last year’s and some new unexpected teams. Back are Ohio State (with red helmets this year), Miami (expectedly heinous), Florida (no lie, the helmets and numbers are gator print) and VT. The shocker to me was that Bama was one of the schools. What can they do to Bama’s uniforms that won’t get them killed you ask? How about pale houndstooth numbers and helmet stripe? Seriously. It’s like the only change you could make that wouldn’t result in a redneck fatwah being placed on Phil Knight’s head. The WVU uniforms include a charcoal smudged helmet and numbers that’s an homage to the mining community and it actually looks really sharp. To me anyway. A part of me wants to laugh at something as ugly as a lizard print helmet, then I remember a red facemask on a black helmet and I wonder what Nike would come up with for UGA. Anyway, check them for yourself here.
Have a safe weekend,