Mailbag: The Georgia-South Carolina edition

semerson@macon.comOctober 4, 2012 

Normally, I slave over an introduction to my mailbag. Or, I just start riffing about objects I see around my desk.

(Once, that led to an award-winning column about the art of stuffing ball-point pens into coffee mugs. Although to be fair, that was a very weak year for sportswriting.)

But this game is too big for inane riffs. No, a showdown between Georgia and South Carolina, border rivals and unbeaten top 10 teams, is cause for a mailbag with inane answers to your questions.

Just kidding. I did my best. Which means some inanity inevitably crept in. You can judge:

I'm sure you'll get a ton of questions about this, but how big do you think the loss of Michael Bennett is to this team? I've been holding my breath all season long because I just knew the injury situation until now was just too good to be true. I think it may be the difference between a 14-0 team and a 12-2 team this year. Bennett has the best hands on the team, and Murray constantly relies on him to convert big third downs. The biggest thing I think, however, is his blocking. How many times has Bobo called that screen to TK where Bennett basically clears the way for a first down, and how many of those big runs by Gurley and Marshall have been allowed to go all the way because Bennett is 15 yards down the field still holding his block. Also, if you've talked to any players about it yet, how are they responding? I would imagine they are devastated and that morale is down a little bit.
- Charles Sligh

Whenever there is a major injury like this, or the loss of a key player, there is always an initial shock and then a rallying around. You saw that a bit with some players. Otherwise, to be honest, the feeling I got, as voiced by Marlon Brown, is that people are more disappointed for Bennett than they are worried how this will effect the team. As good as Bennett had been, the receiver position is very deep, and that was even before Malcolm Mitchell was moved back full-time to offense.

Bennett’s downfield blocking, as you point out, was also very important. So we’ll just have to see. The way I’d put this is that if the Bulldogs had to suffer a season-ending injury to a key player, but got to pick which position, they’d probably say receiver.

First, what do you make of Kentucky holding USC to fewer than 30 yds rushing in the first half? Obviously USC made some adjustments at halftime, but do you think there's something there that we can exploit? Second, was it just me or did our D look lost at times throughout the game? There were several plays where they looked to be standing around looking for guidance when the ball was snapped or not even being on the line when UT was ready to run a play. Do you think there was a bit of looking-ahead to USC by Grantham and the D? It didn't seem we were ready for UT's running game in the second half (but I also admit that trying to lockdown their passing game opened up the running game). Third, is this the highest ranked game ever between UGA and USC (UGA at 5, and USC at 6)? Thanks for your work Seth, it's always a pleasure to read your blogs and articles.
- Wes, Dawg fan in Afghan-land

Thanks Wes. Georgia would love to hold the Gamecocks to 30 yards in the first half – especially since the Bulldogs have struggled so much in the first half this season. That would be a great sign. It may have been a blessing that Tennessee was able to run the ball on Georgia, forcing some adjustments, so the Bulldogs can try to carry those over into this week.

As for whether the Bulldogs looked ahead, I can’t climb into their heads, but my guess is that a few guys may have started to get comfortable when it was 27-10. That’s only natural when you’re facing a team you were expected to beat by two touchdowns. However, it bears noting that the defense was put in bad position by turnovers, so it’s not like the Tennessee comeback was completely on them.

And yes, this is the highest-ranked game between the two schools, and it’s not even that close. They’ve met as ranked teams two other times, including 2003, when Georgia was No. 7 and South Carolina was No. 25.

Bennett was obviously a threat in the passing game, but it seemed like every game there was a highlight (usually multiple) of him throwing down a brutal and selfless block to allow big plays to develop. The coaching staff has at least voiced their confidence in the rest of the receiving corp to pick up where Bennett left off pass catching wise, but how big of a loss is it he won't be there to make the big blocks? How worried should I be about his absence from that aspect of the game?
- Swwacoma

This is an underrated part of the game, but since the injury happened enough in advance Bobo can at least gameplan around it. It could mean, however, that we won’t see much more of the five-wide receiver set, or even the four-receiver set. I do think they’ll keep spreading it out, and maybe go four-wides about a third of the time. But you’ll see more of the tight ends on the field.

I had this one on my mind after listening to the Seth & Gentry show. Multiple times you alluded to Tennessee being the toughest O line we've faced all year. How does USC's O line and D line compare to others that we've faced?
- Patrick Crouch

Another viewer of the Seth & Gentry Show! Huzzah! Actually the ratings, er, page views have been quite good, enough that I have started asking my wife to dress me on days I know we’ll shoot them.

Oh, you had a football question: Tennessee’s O-line was kind of sneaky good, because it wasn’t very hyped, but Grantham insisted they had some guys with NFL talent. And he would know. South Carolina’s is probably similar: Center T.J. Johnson is a senior four-year starter, which helps Lattimore’s ability to run up the gut. The Gamecocks also have size on the front five, though not much experience: Johnson is the one senior, and guard Ronald Patrick is the only junior.

As for South Carolina’s D-line, well the guess here is this will be the best Georgia faces all year, even if it gets to the SEC championship game. Clowney may be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Devin Taylor is a first-round pick in 2013, and the tackles are underrated: Kelcy Quarles, a sophomore, was a top prospect.

I gave Bobo grief for attempting to run the ball up 17 deep in our own end with 11 minutes to play in the first half. While you don’t want to turn the ball over (again), this is a bad strategy. Bobo, to his credit, has engineered an offense that has been impossible (since the end of the first half at Mizzou) to stop. Why are we stopping it. While I know we want to chew up clock and salt the game away, it is impossible to do against any (I mean any) defense in the SEC when they know you’re going to run out of the I. As UGA’s offense has become more modern, shouldn’t our approach also modernize? Oregon, Mike Leach-era Texas Tech, and OK State, even the Spurrier of old, don’t/didn’t line up in the I, run it three times (or two times followed by obvious passing down) in a row, and punt. When we can score at will, why don’t we keep scoring? It’s hard to lose when the margin keeps increasing. I know it puts our defense in a bind but, this year, of all years – we should be able to rely on them.
-James L. Colvin, III, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Richt got asked about this on his radio show Monday night – by three fans, by my count. His answer basically came down to not wanting to throw the ball and risk the turnover. He also felt the defense had ironed out the kinks by the fourth quarter and felt he could put the game in their hands, if they couldn’t get the first down. Which they didn’t, but the defense did come up big.

I guess where you can criticize them is when the fourth quarter began, and Georgia led 51-37, and they ran the ball on first and second down, netting just two yards and resulting in a three-and-out. But to be fair, those runs were to Todd Gurley, so you have a reasonable expectation that Gurley can get more than two yards.

The next drive, after Tennessee had scored to get within seven, Georgia did come out throwing. The result was one first down, then some incompletions and a punt.

After Tennessee had to punt, and Georgia took over with 5:55 left, the Bulldogs once again turned to Gurley on first and second down, netting just four yards, leading to another three-and-out.

So again, I can see people’s point about taking the air out of the ball. But I can also see Georgia’s side, that a) you want to run clock, and b) by handing it to SEC’s leading rusher, you’re not exactly taking a knee.

As a UGA fan living in the college football wasteland of Western, Massachusetts, I have not heard anyone mention on the Cordarelle Patterson reverse for a touchdown last week, nobody has talked about the obvious clip on the play? Did you see that? Love your work.
- Russ Poe, Springfield, MA

Thanks Russ. Love your work too. (Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s great.)

Honestly that play didn’t get much discussion, mainly because it happened early in a high-scoring game, thus getting lost in the shuffle. Georgia also won, so it didn’t hurt the Bulldogs. My reaction when I saw the play was that it was a clip, but hey, I’m not a referee. In any case, it was a heck of a run by Patterson, especially since he was supposed to pass on the play, and a show of why Georgia wanted him so much.

In the first 4 games of the season, Grantham was rolling players in and out of the game. With the exception of inside linebacker, it did not look like very many players played on defense, particularly in the first three quarters. As a result, the defense looked tired against the big UT O-line. Why did Grantham shorten the rotation? The key to the South Carolina game is stopping the run. Can the Dawgs survive a short rotation against Lattimore and Shaw?
- Jimmy

In Grantham’s defense, Tennessee had some short drives: While three were 10 plays or more, and there was subbing then, 11 other drives were six plays or less. It also bears mention that Jordan Jenkins, who did not start, made the game-clinching forced fumble. Georgia did experiment with different lineups: John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers played together for much of the game, and he played around with the inside linebackers, as you mention. Defensive end Abry Jones wasn’t 100 percent. Where I was surprised was Malcolm Mitchell not playing.

But I think you’re right that Georgia’s defense probably faces a lot more long drives against South Carolina, which will grind it out with Lattimore. But there will also be some Shaw scrambles, which if successful can have a mentally draining effect on you. (You think you’ve made the stop and are about to get off the field, then … pow.)

My guess is you’ll see plenty of different faces for Georgia’s front seven: Both nose tackles, and guys like Jordan Jenkins, Garrison Smith, and all four inside linebackers will see a lot of action. After that, given the challenge the Gamecocks offer, I’m not sure Georgia will be too crazy about taking its studs (Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Baccarri Rambo and Shawn Williams) off the field. And I’d throw Sanders Commings in there, since he tends to make a lot of plays against the run.

1-Do Ogletree and Rambo provide the defensive difference in this game, after shaking off the game-day cobwebs against UT?

2-Certain media outlets (and Steve Spurrier) make it seem like Bulldog nation should apologize for scoring so quickly and not having methodical drives that drain the clock and keep the defense rested. Is this valid?
- Rob, Atlanta

1-It’s possible, although Georgia’s defense is so loaded that you could pick several players to be difference-makers. Frankly, Ogletree didn’t look too rusty out there against Tennessee, racking up 14 tackles and three pass break-ups. Rambo, on the other hand, was a bit more uneven. I think it was Jordan Jenkins who had an interesting point about Rambo, and the play where he gambled on a pass and lost, resulting in a 22-yard gain. Jenkins said that happened because of rustiness, and a game or two later and Rambo makes an interception on that play.

2-Oh, I don’t know that Spurrier was casting aspersions on Georgia for scoring too fast. I know Georgia fans – with much justification – assume anything Spurrier says about Georgia is a dig, but in that case he was actually giving the defense an excuse. Whether that’s a valid excuse, I’m skeptical. But as for the Georgia offense it certainly shouldn’t apologize for scoring quickly. Everyone would love to have grind-it-out drives, especially if the defense needs some rest. But I seriously doubt that when Keith Marshall ran for 75 yards into the end zone, and then for 72, that Grantham started cursing at Bobo.

Do you think the offensive line this year is better than last year? If so, is it the new coach or the new talent?
- Matt D. Chambers

Better at this point his year than it was last year? Yes. It’s still not outstanding, or you’d be seeing a ton more I-formation – and, going back to a previous question, Georgia would have gotten more than a couple yards running the ball on those fourth-quarter drives.

I do think you have to give Will Friend a ton of credit for what he’s done each year with this unit. They’ve overachieved. Last year he at least did it with three seniors. This year they have none. The big worry was whether sophomore center David Andrews could hold his own, being undersized. So far, he has. And freshman John Theus has been about as good as advertised, even with the troubles at Missouri.

UGA's defense have given up more pts & runs per game this year compared to last. What's the biggest reason why? Suspensions?
- David Pittman

Well, we could probably spend a ton of time on this, but I’ll try to keep it short. We can’t evaluate yet whether it’s about the suspensions, because Ogletree and Rambo just got back, and the Tennessee game could be chalked up to unit cohesion or the Vols just having a very good offense.

It’s just been a very inconsistent group, and other than the Vanderbilt game it hasn’t been able to impose its will on the game. I do think this unit is at its best when Jarvis Jones is at its best, and it probably isn’t an accident that his best times as a playmaker – the second half at Missouri, the Vanderbilt game – coincided with the defense being dominant.

Offensive line: Do we have any depth there? It's tough to keep up with who's getting meaningful playing time outside of the starters. I feel like they have played well but am afraid an injury in that group may doom the season. What's the latest?
- UGAflyer

I wouldn’t say there’s a ton of depth, but Friend is attempting to build some. The top five is still basically the same, but they’re also working in Mark Beard, the sophomore, at left tackle. Austin Long got a look when Theus got hurt, but Theus returned quickly. Watts Dantzler’s injury has hurt him because he was on the verge of being the top reserve, but hasn’t been able to crack the rotation yet.

Tight ends are going to be very important in the next game. With Bennett out, the two tackles for SC will put a lot of on this offensive line. Is Murray capable of a quick read and release? Bray did a heck of a job doing this last week. Murray will have to be quick this week. Whachathink?
- Tom, Lebanon, TN

Oh, I think Murray has clearly shown that ability so far. His accuracy rating shows that. The main concern is whether he can avoid the bad decisions that lead to turnovers.

Back in your Cock covering days (you can edit that if you feel it's inappropriate), did Spurrier ever threaten to quit if you weren't fired or at the very least did he ever give you the death stare cause you pressed him to hard? Please say yes.
- Keith, Athens

No, but the basketball coach – the one in between Dave Odom and Frank Martin – was not a huge fan of my work. There’s something in the water up there. I have to say, the run-ins between media and coaches and athletics department officials are much less frequent in Athens than they were in Columbia. And that’s with a lot more of us on the beat here.

Murray has had a great year. But these turnovers deep in Georgia's territory have gotta stop. What preparation do QBs go through re ball security? I remember many years ago as a RB we ran a gauntlet of defensive players who tried to strip the ball. I assume starting college QBs don't do that. Other than saying "protect the ball" what more does Georgia do?
- Dawg's Dawg

There’s not a lot more you can do than is already done in practice. That same running back drill is performed at Georgia’s practice, just like everyone else’s, I imagine. If there was a magic no-turnover drill everyone would know about it by now. You just preach over and over to your quarterback about holding on to the ball. Normally you use playing time, but with Murray everyone knows he’s not coming out unless he’s playing absolutely horrific.

I’ll have more in a story tomorrow, but an interesting quote from Bobo about facing Clowney, Taylor and company: “You’re gonna have turnovers. It’s gonna happen. You’ve gotta do your best to limit those things and correct them fundamentally, and keep two hands on the ball. We had two hands on the ball on Saturday, he felt like he had it good and he just lost control of it. That happens sometimes, and you’ve just gotta come right back out and play.”

So yes, they know it’s an issue.

1-So I can hardly remember seeing an o-line holding call this year (not just UGA games, but watching others as well). Has this been discussed in the press box? Or do you have any thoughts/insights? It seems it would almost have to be a point of (de)emphasis from Birmingham or something. I don't get to see a lot of games outside the SEC, so I can't speak to national trends. I'm generally not a conspiracy theorist, but something just seems odd about the lack of holding calls in general, but specifically with the gluttony of amazing pass rushers the SEC has this year.

2-Haven't been to the Classic City yet this year, so can't tell if you were being sarcastic a/b Weaver D's. Has Dexter finally priced himself out of business? I say this as someone who dearly loved his food while in school (mid 90's) and literally had him make me a meal card so I could purchase in bulk at the beginning of each quarter when I was flush with cash. But I've been disappointed the last several times I've been in terms of quality and price and haven't eaten there in a couple years now. [sad trombone sound]

3-And just to keep the streak alive, can you comment on the news there are no announced suspensions this week? (I think it would be hilarious if a reporter asked Richt since this has been the official stance all season. Y'all should ask every week henceforth just to prove a point about it).
- Byron Alday

1-Honestly the lack of holding calls did not occur to me until your question, but now that you mention it, yes, there do seem to be less. But I doubt it’s been de-emphasized.

2-There was a story in the Red and Black this week in which the owner claimed he was weeks away from having to go out of business. Of course, you don’t tend to go public with that if you don’t think a cry for help won’t stave off the wolves. Yes, I’m cynical, but I also hope he can stay afloat. And I plan to do my part by stopping by soon. Might as well, since I don’t go to Chik-fil-A anymore.

3-Oh, you may think it would be hilarious, but I doubt Richt would. As much as I didn’t like their policy on it, there’s a cost-benefit thing at work there, and the story is over so we’ll just move on. (Right until the next suspension.)

Before the season started, you did an interesting series on the players you thought would be the "most important" this season, and you listed Malcolm Mitchell as #1. I'm interested to know if you feel that has held true up to this point in the season. (It kind of feels to me that he's been a little bit lost in the shuffle between defense and offense up until now.) Also, I'd be interested to see who you would list right now as Georgia's most important players (maybe the top 5).
- Dog44

Good questions. When I made that list, I knew it would end up with some misses. For one, Isaiah Crowell was No. 9. Corey Moore, who was No. 10, has been pretty negligible as well, because I didn’t know Connor Norman would beat him out to be Bacarri Rambo’s replacement. Mitchell’s role also ended up being a bit less important than anticipated, at least on defense. But Bennett’s injury makes him more important on offense now.

If I had to make a new list – as far as the rest of this season – I’d say: 1. Jarvis Jones (when he’s on, the defense is too), 2. Aaron Murray (ditto for the offense), 3. Alec Ogletree (best run-stopper), 4. David Andrews (has to keep it up to help open holes for tailbacks), 5. Marshall Morgan (keep up the field goals, figure out the extra points).

Hi Seth, appreciate your response to my question a while back about what happens if Todd Grantham moves on regarding the D Coordinator role. I thought I would ask an altered version of the same question, but now in regards to Mike Bobo. I know he (Bobo) takes a lot of heat from fans, but our offensive output so far in 2012 speaks for itself. Aside from his coordinator duties, he's a very good QB coach, an effective recruiter, and I know Mark Richt has alot of respect for him. In your dealings with Bobo, do you get the sense that he would like to take on the challenge of running his own program someday, and if that day were to come, would UGA look to promote or hire from the outside? Keep up the great work!
- Josh

A lot of fans would be incredulous to hear this, but Bobo would be a tremendous loss to the program if he left. He’s one of the team’s top recruiters, and he’s not only tight with the quarterbacks but most of the offense. For the people who love what Will Friend has done, Bobo had a large part in hiring him. Perhaps the largest role.

But inevitably, Bobo will move on someday, as will Grantham, in all likelihood. They both want to be head coaches someday. My sense is that while Bobo would be tempted to take the first viable offer and get away from the critics, that’s negated by the support he gets within the building, and his ties to the school.

When he does leave, my guess is Richt would look outside, because there isn’t a natural successor. Bryan McClendon is too young, Friend is new to the school and O-line coaches don’t usually get that kind of promotion. Tony Ball (the receivers coach) and John Lilly (the tight ends coach) are possibilities. I’d say Lilly has the best shot of any current assistant.

Do you see Ken Malcome getting significant playing time due to his pass blocking ability?
- Trae Merchant

I wouldn’t say significant, but I’d guess he sees the field, unlike the Tennessee game. I was surprised some people asked me after the game why Malcome didn’t play. Uh, because the two guys ahead of him were rushing for over 300 yards?

1- Is there any way you can find out Marshall Morgan’s extra point percentages in HS? I cannot remember a FG kicker from ANY team that seems to struggle so mightily with what is supposed to be a gimme. And it appears to be in his head. Can’t leave points out there. 2- I have two hours of “blood leave” to take in the next two weeks. When I gave the blood, I planned on using the two hours to go golfing. Now I think I may use them this Friday to go see “Taken 2.” Which would you do?
- Montgomery Dawg

1-The only extra-point stats I have for Morgan are that as a junior he was 63-of-64 … so he did miss one! He was also voted the team MVP his junior and senior year, so if he was missing a bunch back then I would be surprised. This has to be just be a freak slump, and at least he’s making up for it by hitting his field goals.

2-Wouldn’t you have to be a hermit to not see a trailer or promotion for “Taken 2”? Goodness they’ve saturated the airwaves with this. Liam Neeson was actually on “SportCenter” on Wednesday night, for some reason. Not surprisingly, he ended up cursing because they asked him about Tim Tebow and he had no idea what they were talking about. That’s what you get for booking THAT interview.

Am I the only one who noticed Arthur Lynch has very great playmaking ability, i.e. his stiff arm against Vandy and shedding tackles against Tennessee for 20+ yd gain. Seems to me he is a little under utilized.
- Chase Moroy

I wouldn’t say he was under-utilized the first five games. Look at how the receivers were playing: What are you going to do? But with Bennett’s injury, especially his value as a blocker, Lynch should get a bit more time. I don’t know if he’ll be flexed out in their four-wide look, but Lynch will be out there more. Jay Rome too.

With Saban's comment today on no huddle defenses, does he have a legitimate stance or is he starting to whine and trying to CYA on his defense because he gave up two touchdowns last week?
- Allen

That was a surprising comment from Saban, and made him come off as a bit petulant. But I guess it’s better to say it when you’re on top, rather than when you’re not and you look behind the times.

There will always be cycles with offense. If more teams keep spreading it out, the defenses will catch up, and it will tilt back to running.

Because of some possibly ill conceived logic I have come to these conclusions.

I probably should be more concerned about SC than I am. Looking back at last years game, I think that SC team was significantly better than what they bring out this year. I think this year’s UGA team is significantly better than what they sent out there last year. According to what I saw and Coach Spurrier's comments after the game UGA beat them in every area of the game except for turnover’s and special teams play. As we saw, that is enough to lose a game. I just don’t see how SC can beat UGA without any help. IF UGA plays their game and does it under control, I see them winning by 10+.

Am I off base in this logic?
- Cal

You may be a tad over-confident. But I see where you’re coming from.

Honestly I started out thinking these two teams were evenly-matched and it was a toss-up. But the more I studied it, the more I think that while the Gamecocks have some high-end studs – Lattimore, Clowney, Taylor – the Bulldogs are deeper at almost every position. The Georgia defense has backups that are going to the NFL eventually.

The trick for Georgia is not letting Lattimore and Clowney dominate the game. The Bulldogs couldn’t do that in 2011. This time around, they just might.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service