Mailbag: Breaking down (another) big game

semerson@macon.comSeptember 25, 2013 

Auburn LSU Football

Can Georgia contain LSU's running attack, led by Jeremy Hill? And how should it try to stop the passing game, led by Zach Mettenberger?

GERALD HERBERT — AP

And this becomes another week where we have to open with an apology: There were a number of submissions this week, not surprising given the magnitude of the upcoming game, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to get to all of them. Some questions also needed to be edited down for space. Yes, space reasons on the Internet. Hey, there's gotta be a limit somewhere.

If your question isn't addressed, or you just want to talk more with me, I'll have a live chat this Friday at 1 p.m. I'll also have the beat writer Q&A on Thursday, as well as plenty of other coverage.

In the meantime, here's the mailbag:

1. After reading your Tuesday article about the offensive line rotations, I can't say I feel any better about our line heading into Saturday's game. Here's what I understand: Bobo thought they didn't rotate in enough guys vs. Clemson and so they used about 9 guys vs. N. Texas and the coaches pretty much liked how it worked. Here's what I don't understand: what was the "formula" for the SC game and why aren't the coaches sticking with that? (Or maybe I'm confused). Those guys played their tails off and it was the difference in the game.

2. Conventional wisdom says the team that runs the ball most effectively will probably win the game on Saturday. Do you think LSU will follow North Texas' strategy of stacking the box (knowing they have better cover corners than North Texas)? If it comes down to who can stop the other team's ground game I don't like our chances. We don't have the secondary to stack the box to shut down Jeremy Hill - our cover guys would be quite vulnerable against their talented WRs.
- Rob, Johnson City, TN

1. You’re not confused, in fact it’s a very astute question. That line blocked very well against South Carolina with Kolton Houston at left guard for much of the time, so why not stick with that? Evidently the coaches felt that wasn’t the only reason the line blocked so well. So why did they block so well against South Carolina? Well, you may have hit on it: They played their tails off. Talking to linemen after the game, they claimed to be motivated by the criticism they took (from people like me) after the Clemson game. Perhaps this group needs that kind of outside motivation. It shouldn’t work that way, but I’ve come to believe that the performance of this line will be a week-to-week, even drive-to-drive thing.

2. Another good question. (You win the right to go first in the mailbag!) My sense, and this isn’t based on anything, is that LSU will concentrate on the run but not stack the box the way North Texas did. Keep in mind, Georgia still gained 600-plus yards and rushed for nearly 200, so I’m not sure North Texas provided a blueprint. LSU’s defense isn’t on part – at least right now – with the past few years, so I’m not sure the Tigers are sure they have the personnel to stop Aaron Murray and company in single coverage.

Hey Seth, thanks for the outstanding job you do. I know that you typically don't like to speculate but I'd love to know your thoughts on players getting dismissed from a program and ultimately ending up at another program in the same conference, or same division. I know kids are going to make mistakes, and I'm all about second chances, but it just seems wrong to be able to go play for another team within the conference. Could you ever imagine Richt recruiting a player that was dismissed from another program, or another SEC school for that matter? Has he done it in the past?
- Trey Young

Thanks for the kind words. Every program is going to be different when it comes to discipline, and there’s no doubt that Georgia has become perhaps the stiffest in the SEC when it comes to penalties. How many other programs would suspend one of their best defensive players for a top-10 game for something that didn’t cause them to be arrested?

But it’s also fair to point out that Richt and Georgia arrived at this point after some rough times. When he first came to Georgia in 2001, Richt followed the Bobby Bowden school of thought, which emphasized an understanding of the tough backgrounds that kids came from, and not abandoning them very soon. I won’t violate an off-the-record conversation I had with Richt around that time (in 2005), but I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t want to satisfy critics by dismissing a kid that he felt could still be saved.

Everything changed after the terrible run of off-field issues. Jeff Schultz of the AJC accurately points out this week that Mettenberger’s dismissal signaled that change, and the tolerance fell for repeated run-ins with the law. And now Richt has become comfortable with the idea that a player can actually benefit from harsh punishment, especially a dismissal, and flourish everywhere. I don’t think anyone doubts that Richt is sincerely happy for Mettenberger and Nick Marshall.

Both Theus brothers seem to be struggling some this season. Coincidence or is there something going on off the field?
- Kirk Spears

I haven’t heard anything to indicate anything off the field. So you’d probably have to call it coincidence. On a side note, however, I would point back to my previous statements on the offensive line: They seem to do well when motivated. David Andrews can be a fiery guy, but otherwise, well, I get the sense the coaches wouldn’t mind if more guys started cracking skulls in practice. (Not literally. But close to it.)

So far this season, UGA "Special" Teams have cost us at least 24 points. Botched field goal against Clemson (3 points), dropped punt by Barber against USCe (seven points), and blocked punt and kickoff return for TD (14 points). That is a season's worth of special teams blunders and we're less than a quarter of the way through the season. We can't do that against an evenly matched opponent in LSU this week. How would you assess our special teams play so far? Do you expect improvements? Do you agree with decision to not have full time special teams coach knowing you sacrifice position coach if you get one?
- David Denson, Macon

I got several questions about the special teams, and I’ll be addressing a lot of this in a story later this week. (Sorry for the tease.) But on the last question, whether the team should have a dedicated special teams coach, I think that point still isn’t known to enough fans: The NCAA places a limit on the number of full-time assistant coaches. So if Richt were to hire one, he would have to shuffle some duties around, or let someone go. As it is, the two coaches who have the least amount of players (John Lilly, tight ends, and Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers) have the most responsibilities on special teams.

Now, most other SEC programs have a special teams coordinator, but that person almost always coaches another position, usually tight ends. So in any event, it’s not as simple as just hiring a special teams coach.

Saw in your notes Davis' catch was listed as tied for third-longest in conf history. How can two plays be longer? Did they round up if 99+ back in the day? Just curious & couldn't find the answer via Google. Thanks for your work, I read it all.
- Byron in Asheville, N.C.

It’s a good question, and here’s the good answer: There were two 99-yard catches in SEC history, so those are tied for first, and Davis’ catch is tied for third, with one other 98-yard catch. You’re only in second if there’s one person ahead of you.

A couple interesting things about those 99- and 98-yard catches:

- Cris Collinsworth caught one of the 99-yarders, back in 1977 while playing at Florida. The quarterback was Derrick Gaffney.
- Former South Carolina quarterback Dondrial Pinkins has the other 99-yard AND the other 98-yard pass. Both passes came in 2003. Yes, Dondrial Pinkins.

Couple of random questions on the defense. One - what position in the 3-4 and also the more popular 4-2-5 (lately) is supposed to cover a wheel route? I have been amazed at the number of times Georgia has been burned on that play over the last few years. Given LSU's RBs, I see at least one for 30+ yards this weekend. Two - My opinion is that Jordan Jenkins will start amassing sacks in greater numbers once he gets the first. It's almost like he can't get over that hump, even though he's playing well. Wishful thinking or do you think those numbers will start climbing too?
- Bob Ho, Tucker Ga.

The wheel route responsibility will depend on the formation and what else is going on that play. Ideally you have a safety or a speedy outside linebacker covering it, but if the play is designed well you may get stuck with a more burly linebacker. I have to imagine Georgia would prefer that Josh Harvey-Clemson s, all 6 feet and 5 inches of him, be the one, but you can’t pick and choose.

I think you’re right about Jenkins, but not because of confidence: It will just be a return to the mean. Jenkins has come close already, and two of the three quarterbacks Georgia has faced have been mobile quarterbacks. Nobody seems worried about the way Jenkins is playing. In fact, the fast emergence of Floyd may help Jenkins as the season goes on. He set his preseason goal for a minimum of 10 sacks, and I’d still put him at 50-50 to get it.

Really important question here. Is there a website or app that will let me listen to the radio broadcast on a smart phone? Life or death situation...
- Gordon Smith

Good news, Gordon, there is an app. Bad news, Gordon, you have to pay for it. Here’s what UGA’s Kate Burkholder passes along:

We have both iPhone and Android apps that will let you listen to the game- there is a fee. Info here: Gado.gs/mobile

You can also listen to the game over the web site, using a GTV subscription: http://www.georgiadogs.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/083010aai.html

Seth, interior line play has been very good (in my opinion) particularly Sterling Bailey. What is your assessment of the nose tackle play (since I have not heard their names being called for making plays)?
- Richard

Yup, the run defense up the middle has been good the past two games. Even in the Clemson game, a lot of the yards given up were either outside or late in the game, when the defense just seemed to wear down. Garrison Smith is getting the most snaps inside – whether you call it the nose or not, he’s the inside guy a lot. Smith is both experienced and big, so he’s been a productive option there. Mike Thornton, John Taylor and Toby Johnson have also been decent in spot duty inside.

1. What do you think of the matchup between LSU's wide receivers Landry/ Beckham and our young secondary? Who do you think will be covering those two LSU wide receivers?

2. It seemed that LSU became a little gassed against Auburn in the second half of their game last week. Could one assume that since LSU hasn't played a pretty stout opponent yet this year, that if they are pressed for four quarters, that some fatigue could become more of a factor for them?
-Ray Bailey, Ft. Sill, Okla.

1. All indications are it’ll be the same guys at cornerback: Damian Swann and Brendan Langley. Is it a great matchup for Georgia? Not if you go by the first three games. But Langley is out there because the coaches love his talent and ball-skills, and perhaps this is the game he really shows it. You should also look for safety help, and Harvey-Clemons. But most important, in my mind, is getting a consistent pass rush on Mettenberger. If Mettenberger has time to sit in the pocket and wait for his receivers to get open, it’s going to be a long day for the defense. Georgia needs to make him panic a few times.

2. That’s certainly what Georgia is hoping for this Saturday. The Bulldogs would love to dominate time of possession, but of course that’s easier said than done. You should fully expect Georgia to run the ball a ton, because that’s what it does anyway, but Murray and the passing game is also a big weapon. I could see Georgia waiting to see how LSU defends it, and then taking what the defense gives it. For instance, if LSU does stack the box, a la North Texas, then Georgia will happily air it out, and just sprinkle in runs to keep the Tigers honest.

Any idea where Gameday will be setting up shop?
- Grant J, Tallahassee, Fla.

The Gameday TV set will be on the Myers Hall Quad, which is behind the Myers Hall housing community. The radio crew, where Scott Van Pelt and company will broadcast, will be next to the Miller Learning Center, near the University Bookstore and Tate Center.

What do you consider to be the key matchups this week? Defensively, I think Georgia’s front seven will have to rise to the occasion. I’m concerned with the talent LSU has at the receiver position and I don’t think it will be prudent for Grantham to really pick the right opportunities to bring any blitzes. The young secondary is going to need all the help they can get. Offensively, the team needs to play like they did against South Carolina – good blocking, protection and ball security. With all matchups being equal, this game could come down to special teams play. Miles will have some tricks up his sleeves and the Dawgs will have to play mistake free. With all that said, this could be a 3-4 point win in favor of the visitors. Dawg fans need to be loud! Go Dawgs!
- David

The only point of disagreement I’d have with you is on blitzes, and giving the secondary help. I alluded to this earlier, but a big help to Langley, Matthews and company will be Georgia’s pass rushers forcing Mettenberger to pass quickly. You can hang your linebackers in coverage, but most of the time I think they’ll be more valuable going after the backfield. Leonard Floyd is a big-time pass-rusher already, but he’s questionable in pass coverage. I also think a few well-timed defensive back blitzes will keep the offense off-balance. I’m not saying Georgia should blitz every down, but from what I’ve seen so far, a good pass rush will work a lot better than flooding the zone downfield.

Can you please ask coach Richt why he didn't go for the fair catch free kick at the end of the first half Saturday? I thought for sure that is what he was setting up for there, and I was so excited at the possibility of seeing one of the rarest plays in football (I've never seen one on anything other than Youtube.)
- Tim Todd

Unfortunately, there’s a good reason Richt wasn’t trying to set it up: He can’t. The fair catch kick isn’t allowed in college football. It is allowed in the NFL and college, but – according to some Google research – it’s been disallowed since 1950.

Do you think that the success on defense in the North Texas game can carry over to a stronger and faster LSU offense? Honestly, trying to tackle the likes of Jeremy Hill and some of his other backfield partners as well as our DBs having to keep up with Beckam and Landry scares me. I think our defense is better now than it was in the first 2 weeks only giving up 1 offensive TD, but I am not sure North Texas was enough to past the eye test for me.
- Kevin Williams

Your assessment seems a fair one to me. Maybe this is the week the defense announces itself – as we’ve pointed out often, there’s a lot of raw talent back there. But if Georgia is going to win, it’s more likely to do so via a high-scoring game.

That said, the one area where the defense did not impose its well the first two games, where I think it could this time, is via the pass rush. Yeah, I’m talking about it a lot in this mailbag. But the fact is Georgia is facing a pocket passer, not Tajh Boyd or Connor Shaw, so that’s where some opportunity lies this time.

Here we go again. Talking about special teams miscues for another season. Instead of rehashing the same old thing my question has to do more with kickoffs. Why aren't we drilling every kickoff into the endzone for touchbacks? During the UNT game it didn't seem like Morgan has the leg to put it into the endzone on a regular basis like Barber seems to be able to. I'm wondering if Morgan was told to kick them short or he just doesn't have the power to do so. With the problems UGA has had with special teams over the years it seems like it's a no brainer to kick it into the endzone every time. Can't give up the big kickoff return that way.
- Rodman

Morgan told me the other night that the goal is to boot it for a touchback, and Richt said this on his radio show as well. The reason it’s not done every time is because, frankly, it’s not as easy as it seems. Now, Collin Barber did a pretty good job the first two games, so why go back to Morgan? In practices, Morgan kicked it further. Morgan did get better as the game went on, but if he struggles early against LSU, I fully expect to see Barber kicking off.

What is Jonathan Rumph's status? Rome? Is Rumph going to redshirt if he can't go. Ask Bobo if we are gonna see some wishbone this year.
- Jbell (via Twitter)

Ha. Or at least I think it’s “Ha” to the wishbone question. Of course, you never know.

Rumph seems questionable to play, at least as I write this before Wednesday’s practice. He was out there Tuesday. I’m not sure he would redshirt if he can play at least half of the season. He can still make a good contribution this season off the bench.

I tweeted to you a couple weekends ago wondering if you could gauge the crowd noise at Sanford vs. the Cocks to the noise at Clemson. A big deal was made about how loud it was in Death Valley, and Richt made a huge effort to get the crowd loud for the South Carolina game, and will do so this week for LSU. I was wondering if you could compare the sheer noise/electricity/difficulty for offense to function at Sanford for the Cocks and LSU game to other loud/hostile environments like Clemson and Williams-Brice last year. Is this possible for you to even gauge from the press box?
- Brent Jarnicki

Luckily, Sanford Stadium has an outdoor press box, so we can gauge it. Williams-Brice had an enclosed press box, but when the ground is shaking below you, then it’s a pretty good indicator.

Richt was very satisfied with the crowd noise this year against South Carolina, and I also sensed it was pretty good. Of course, it also helped that Georgia got off to a good start. It’s hard for me to state with any confidence that it was better, worse or equal to Death Valley the week before or Williams-Brice for last year’s game. That atmosphere at South Carolina last year does stand out a bit more to me, but that was also a night game – when things just seem louder, whether or not they are – and the press box shaking also makes an impression.

But overall, I think Sanford Stadium stands up very well; I’ve mentioned before that some of the crowd seems on the older, more docile side. But the student section turnout has also been an issue. Sometimes, though, things can seem a bigger problem up close. In my discussions with beat writers at other teams, no one has said anything bad about the atmosphere.

As a UGA fan who absolutely loves the look of our black jerseys, as most people do, but also despises the calls for a blackout every time we have a big game I have an idea I would like to throw out there: It is already a tradition for the students to wear black to the last home game of the season. I would like to see us wear the black jerseys every year for the last home game. The players love them, the fans love them, and it would give all the players an opportunity to wear them every year. It would also stop the fans from calling for the jersey every time we have a big game. I think people would love it. Just an idea of mine that I wanted to share. Thanks for your time!
- Tommy Gentry

Well, consider the idea shared with the public. Good luck!

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