Mailbag: Injury importance, targeting issues, defensive worries

semerson@macon.comNovember 13, 2013 

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BEAU CABELL/ THE TELEGRAPH Clemson, SC, 08/31/2013: Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell, right, winces after celebrating Todd Gurley's touchdown run in the season opener against Clemson. Mitchell suffered a season ending torn ACL injury that will red shirt him for the rest of the season.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com Buy Photo

Another week, another mailbag. Lots of good and interesting questions this week. But if you don't see your question answered, or just want to talk, mark down Friday at noon. That's when I'll hold my live chat to preview the Georgia-Auburn game. It's gonna be a good ol' time.

But first, the slower-moving, but just as informative, mailbag:

What injury do you think has had the greatest effect on the team this year? I have held that game 1, the injury to Malcolm Mitchell was the most damaging to the offense as a whole because it has affected our philosophy and allowed teams to make the game smaller, if you will, without the deep threat. It was made worse by the loss of Justin Scott-Wesley and then Chris Conley.
- Scott C. Davis

I’ll go with Todd Gurley as the most important injury. It wasn’t season-ending, but in his absence the damage was done: Georgia went 1-2, with the one win coming in overtime. Heck, the Clemson game might have gone differently too if Gurley were healthy the whole way. Earlier this week I wrote a story pointing out that Georgia is averaging 7.5 yards per play on drives in which Gurley touches the ball – and 5.9 yards on drives in which he does not.

This isn’t to mitigate the loss of Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, or even Keith Marshall, or the two games that Michael Bennett missed. But the receiver position is so deep that they could have lost one or two guys and the offense would have remained potent as long as Gurley was healthy. It was the totality of the losses that crippled the offense, with Gurley the most important.

Mitchell is probably the second-best playmaker on the offense, but Georgia did beat South Carolina and LSU without him. Marshall is a very good tailback, and if he was healthy Georgia may have been able to beat Missouri and/or Vanderbilt. But I’m more confident a healthy Gurley would have propelled the Bulldogs in those two games.

I hate griping about refs, but the overall quality of officiating in the SEC seems worse this year than I've ever seen it. And not just the targeting nonsense - officiating seems mediocre-to-poor league-wide, week in and week out. So I have two questions: 1) Do you agree with that assessment or am I totally off base (I'll admit the horrible calls in the Vandy and App games may have poisoned the well for me)?, and 2) Have you heard any rumblings from coaches, players, other beat writers, etc... about the quality of the refs this season compared to past years?
- Dan Judy

Other than the targeting calls, I think the officiating has been pretty solid. There haven’t been a bunch of glaring mistakes unrelated to targeting. Just in conversations with people around the league, whether it be media, coaches or players, the only real gripe we’ve heard is about targeting, and the interpretation of it.

The general consensus is that the officials were put in a bad spot by the rules. Whoever thought it was a good idea to not be able to overturn a targeting 15-yard penalty should be verbally tarred and feathered. The intent of the targeting penalties is good, and in the long run will be good, but the implementation has been about as botched as Obamacare.

Now, that doesn’t excuse just poor interpretation of targeting, as we saw in the Vanderbilt game. And I’ve been critical of the SEC for not being more transparent and holding its officials accountable for bad calls, just as I’d be held accountable if I made a mistake in my column. But overall I think Steve Shaw and SEC football officials do a good job. (I haven’t been as kind on SEC men’s basketball officials, and the conference did make a change in its coordinator position for that sport before this season, so we’ll see how that goes.)

And related:

Did Grantham comment on the Corey Moore targeting call? What do you think about it? Seems like he made a significant effort to drop his shoulder so as not to target the opponents head. Has this penalty become anything more than a punishment for playing and hitting hard?
- Gordon Smith

Grantham hasn’t commented on it – at least in my presence – but Moore did a couple days later. He wasn’t angry about it, but didn’t think he did anything wrong. Since the coaches undoubtedly talked to Moore about the hit, you can infer they told him the same thing.

After watching the replay a bunch, it’s clear Moore turned away from the receiver as he hit him, and the ball was just coming out as Moore arrived, so there was no time to slow down. The intent of the targeting rule is to get players to change their behavior, and thus not have guys like Moore charging into the receiver like that in the first place. I get that. But under the current definition of targeting, it’s very debatable whether Moore launched at the player. I mean, if your eyes are looking away from the player when you hit him, can that really be targeting?

And related again:

You say officials are scared not to call targeting and scared to overrule it. Scared of what, exactly? What do they fear?
- "Biscuit Salad", via Twitter

Shaw has pointed out that the rulebook says that when in doubt a flag must be called. So it’s pretty clear that when officials are evaluated the next week – and they are evaluated by their bosses, but only privately – then they’re more likely to be criticized for NOT throwing a targeting flag than for calling it. So that’s why they’re erring on the side of throwing it. Shaw has also said he doesn’t want his officials to err on the wrong side of a targeting call. But in some cases they clearly are.

(For the record, I would rather answer questions from people who use their real name, but this was a good question so I overlooked it.)

My assumption is that until the Dawgs are mathematically eliminated from the SEC East race (potentially on Saturday), Murray will continue to take every relevant snap. But, if/when we're out of the hunt, do you have any insight whether Richt and Bobo will give Mason some more time behind center? A.M has certainly earned his spot and playing time, but with all the records under his belt, I bet he wouldn't be too opposed to letting Hutson get a little more flight time to prepare for next season.
- Dan in Atlanta


I don’t expect it to be handled any differently than it was this past week, in a game that had no effect on the SEC race. Murray would have to go to the coaches and offer to give up some of his playing time. That could always happen, but Murray strikes me as a competitor, and more importantly he loves playing too much.

Otherwise, the coaches would want to finish the season as strong as they can, especially at Georgia Tech. That is not a game you want to head into the offseason having lost. They believe (rightfully, it would seem) their best chance is with Murray taking all the snaps he can.

How does Todd Grantham plan on containing Nick Marshall to force him to throw the ball? Change in personnel? Leonard Floyd on more than just 3rd downs?
- John Franco

Obviously Grantham is going to keep things close to the vest. For what it’s worth, when he met with us after Tuesday’s practice he acknowledged the need to focus on the run, but also kept bringing up Marshall’s throwing ability. Grantham and Chris Wilson both pointed out that while Auburn doesn’t throw it much, when he does he gets big plays. So the Georgia coaches are going to be worried about the play-action.

“They’re gonna throw it down the field,” Grantham said. “If you look, they’ve had some pretty dynamic passing games too. I think they’re gonna take what you give them, so you’ve gotta be ready to play both. But at the same time you’ve gotta understand they are pretty physical at running the ball. They’ve got a pretty dynamic runner and quarterback. So you’ve gotta be ready to handle that stuff.”

Personally, my strategy would be to stack the box and make Marshall beat you with his arm – which he’s fully capable of doing. But he also threw 20 interceptions last year in junior college, so you may get lucky. More importantly, Georgia has the offense to win a shootout.

I don't know what to think of our defense over the past 4-5 games. With the exception of the App State game, it seems we make no adjustments in the 2nd half whatsoever and just have to hang on not to get beat, see UT and UF, or we do get beat by strong second halves by our opponent's offenses, see Vandy and Missouri. Are our guys just not mental giants on defense? I mean most of these guys went through spring ball, it can't be that difficult to learn Grantham's defense. Is Grantham just being too conservative or just not getting through to these guys in a way they can understand? I mean, one of the fundamental aspects of winning football games from a coaches perspective is making second half adjustments to counter things you hadn't prepared for in the week leading up to the game.
- Brad Payne

The second half is an issue for the defense this year: Georgia has been outscored 79-68 in the fourth quarter. It’s the opposite of last year, when the defense was slow out of the gates and then made good second-half adjustments.

Grantham said after the LSU game that he didn’t make many halftime changes because he didn’t want to make things too complicated for a young defense. As the season goes on, I imagine he’s thrown some more things at them. But on the whole I suspect he’s still trying not to throw too much at them, and relying on their individual ability to have better awareness as the game goes on, and thus make better plays. Sometimes that strategy has worked, and sometimes it hasn’t.

I've heard during several college games that the officials are told to let the play continue when there’s a question about a turnover or something on the field. Then they can use the replay to correct any error in judgment. However the replay is often inconclusive, and more and more teams are getting burned by these calls. Isn't it time officials get back to calling the game as they see it – make the best call they can in the moment – and if a play is whistled dead too early then “oh well?”
- Bob Ho, Tucker

I see what you’re saying. But I disagree, and feel it’s better 9 times out of 10 to let the play proceed and let replay sort it out. Now that might have bitten Georgia against Florida, because the Arthur Lynch lateral pass drop was very close, and if it had been ruled complete on the field it probably would not have been overturned, and Georgia probably would have cruised to victory, instead of eking it out.

But cases like that are more isolated. If officials went back to whistling it dead and almost pretending there was no replay process, then you’d have a lot more cases where an officiating error wasn’t reviewable because of the whistle. That would be worse than cases like the Lynch play.

1)Thoughts on What Mark Fox needs to do this season to keep his seat from warming up? 2) Odds Dawgs get another memorable W at AU.
- Garett Tolfinski

1) Oh, Fox’s seat is already warm, the question this year is whether it gets fiery. Greg McGarity has said multiple times he’s looking for “improvement,” and reserves the right to designate exactly what that means. Fox has a young team this season – only one senior, and no one who looks good enough to go pro yet. So if this team shows improvement – say, somewhere in the area of 17-19 wins – and is competitive down the stretch, then it’s more likely Fox comes back for a sixth year. It’d be different if this were a senior-laden team, but with this group there’s no sense blowing things up if there’s legitimate hope for next season. McGarity isn’t going to make a change for change’s sake.

2) I’m picking Auburn, but can easily see Georgia winning, and even winning big. But with the game being at Auburn, and Georgia’s defense and special teams still a big concern, Auburn has to be the slight favorite.

1) With the injuries and lack of depth at the tight end position, do you think that Quayvon Hicks might get moved to that position? The coaches seem pretty set on using Merritt Hall most of the time at fullback.

2) I was also wondering if you thought a smaller offensive lineman might get moved to tight end, at least in the spring. One of the smaller tackles, maybe, like Zach DeBell or Xavier Ward.

3) Also, I was curious about your thoughts on the offense. Seems like a few years ago we ran a lot of plays out of the power I formation - 2 fullbacks, 2 tight ends, and a running back. Why not do that now? We seem to have 2 good fullbacks, and the coaches could bring in an extra offensive lineman with Lynch at tight end. Seems like that might help to keep the run game consistent and get some of our best blockers on the field. Why not add a wrinkle like that into the offense, especially with the injuries at wide receiver?
- Matthew Sanders

1-Zero chance of that, at least this season. Hicks has actually started four of the past five games at fullback. Hugh Williams will serve as the backup tight end, and they have some other walk-ons they can use in a pinch. They don’t want to burn Jordan Davis’ redshirt just for a few games. And moving a fullback to tight end at this point in the system is harder than it sounds. There’s a whole lot of reps involved.

2-Not very much chance of this, either. I don’t know of any receiving experience in either DeBell or Ward’s background. Ward isn’t actually that small – he’s 6-foot-7, but still needs to put on weight. Next year they’ll have Jay Rome, Davis and recruit Jeb Blazevich, so they should be fine there.

3-That kind of jumbo set is fine for goal-line and short-yardage, but otherwise there’s not much sense in taking your wide receivers off the field. Yes they’ve been decimated at that spot, but Michael Bennett is really good, and Chris Conley should be healthy soon, and the threat of Aaron Murray passing the ball helps set up the running game.

- Trae Marchant

I’m not sure the exact number, but it’s in the area of 850-900. The Heisman Trust, which is located in New York, designates someone in each state – almost always a media member – to appoint a certain amount of voters. Each state gets a certain amount of voters based on population, kind of like the electoral college. And former Heisman winners get a vote too.

All in all, I think it’s a pretty good system. (I’m a voter, as are a few other Georgia beat writers.) The one recent mini-controversy is that the Heisman has asked voters not to publicize who they vote for, and after last year tracked down those who did so, warning that their voting rights were in peril. (I chose to respect the Heisman trust’s wishes. But I also believe it should be my decision.)

I see where the trust is coming from: It wants some drama in the vote, and with all the information out there now, anybody can put together a reasonable “exit poll” that shows who’s going to win. That said, there hasn’t been much drama lately anyway. The past few years everyone knew it would be Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. (Last year Manti Te’o was second in the voting. Manti friggin’ Teo.)

For there to be more drama, there needs to actually be a better race. This year there might actually be one, unless Jameis Winston runs away with it.

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