Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Gettin' Wonky With It:
Solon And Tap Discuss The 2007 Dawgs

Warning! Serious longwinded wonk ahead.
Proceed with caution.

Solon sent an email to myself and a few other folks recently, and my buddy Tap engaged him in a discussion about the 2007 Dawgs, as well as some opponents and our chances against them, especially Oklahoma State and South Carolina. Normally I wouldn't throw something like this up, but since I respect the opinion of Solon & Tap on college football and UGA football more than damn near anyone else I know, I'm sharing it. That and the fact that it is a far better season preview of sorts than I could put together, and it saves me the big chunk of time required to do so when I can just cut & paste their great stuff.

So enjoy. Oh yeah, what are your $.02?

Solon's Initial Salvo

I do not know how much research y'all have done for the upcoming CFB season, but I think the Dawgs are up against it. With only 1 of our front 7 returning, I don't see any way that we are going to beat a team that can run the ball as well as Okla State, especially not in the first game of the season. And I think South Carolina is probably the best team in the SEC East. They underperformed last season--outside of getting rolled by us, they were one play away from beating Aub, Tenn, Ark, and Fla--and now they return just about everyone to their D, and return more a lot more to their O than we do.
I really don't think Tenn and Fla are all that good--they are both certainly beatable--but if we start out 0-2, with a tough game away to Alabama also on the September schedule, it could be a long year. At this point, I think we are looking at 8-4 at best, and more likely 6-6. But we should be set up well for 2008.
Am I being a negative Nancy? I'm just continually stunned by all these articles saying we are going to challenge for the SEC East title, when I don't see us coming anywhere close. Richt's building a good program, but this is likely going to be one of those inevitable lean seasons--the big problem with last season is that we went 9-4 when we actually had an 11-2 team (without the injury to Coutu, we'd have beaten Vandy and Kentucky)--but because we didn't play up to our abilities last season, it will look like we've had two bad years in a row.

Tap's Initial Reply

Solon, bro, I love ya but I have to disagree.

#1 I can't fathom any scenario in which SC is the best team in the SEC East at this point. Who cares what they return if most of those players would not see the field for us or Florida? Their losses, while smaller in number, are pretty significant. They still lack anything that should scare anyone at QB, they don't have speed on the outside (other than the incoming Freshmen) and they lack playmakers on Defense. By most accounts, they have two players on Offense and Defense that merit All-SEC 1st-3rd team consideration. That is not IMO the making of the favorite in any division that includes us, Florida and Tennessee.

#2 While we might struggle to stop Oklahoma St, I really don't see any way they will stop us either. Weren't they ranked like 93rd in the nation in total defense last year? (Just looked it up, yes they were). And they lost their entire front 4 on D, which seemed to be the only part of the D that was better than horrid (they were like top 20 in ypc against, but sucked vs the pass).

Looking at this Georgia team, we will certainly have some growing pains with the OL and the DBs. I think we will blitz more than in the past as we struggle a bit to consistently generate pressure from the DE position (although I think J Wynn is gonna be very good). We should be MUCH faster at LB than last year and the overall LB play will certainly be improved IMO. On offense, I have felt all along that Knowshon Moreno was a better pure runner than Lumpkin and Brown and I certainly expect that we will learn this quickly this season. Stafford should be improved approximately a billion percent over last season. Our WR play, as usual, will scare me a bit (gawd bless the return of Bailey).

I certainly think Okie State is capable of beating us, although they probably need it to be a 38-35 type game to do so. I just don't buy that they will come into Sanford and put up those kind of points. SEC speed, esp amongst the front 7 of a team like Georgia, always shocks teams -- generally regardless of who they are (Boise St a couple of years ago and FL vs Ohio St last year being just a couple of examples). Okie State plays the Oklahoma's and Texas's of the world yes, but otherwise, nobody they play will have our team speed. To open a season with us, on the road, and have to win a shootout, has to be a daunting task for any team....

The funny thing is, despite us having potentially been 11-2 last year, IMO last year was that "lean" year of which you speak. I'm not generally overly optimistic, but I think we are at the point now where 6-6 seems largely unfathomable to me given the talent we have assembled. Think about last year's team -- true Frosh QB, no WRs, inconsistent hands at TE, "best RB" (Brown) struggled and then injured for half the season, his backup (Lumpkin) repeatedly had costly plays with missed blocking assignments, Coutu lost for the season, slowest LBs I can remember UGA having in 10 years, underclassmen at DT who were not yet strong enough to not be pushed back -- and yet we prolly should have been 11-2. Yet you feel this team will be significantly worse? I just can't see it...


Solon's 2nd Effort

Hey Tap, good to hear your thoughts. For the record, a set of us (including at least Kanu, Tasso, and myself) are heading out to Vegas this year for the Ga/Fla game--so if you're interested in coming out that weekend, we'll be there.
RE South Carolina:
Ever since SOS was hired at South Carolina, a shift has taken place in the SEC East, as much as it pains me to admit. South Carolina is 1-1 v. Tennessee and Florida, 0-2 against Georgia, and all of these games were competitive with the exception of Georgia's 18-0 win last season. Furthermore, one could argue that South Carolina should have won both of the games against Fla and UT--Florida was incredibly fortunate to beat them last season, and Tennessee had a very fortunate 1st quarter last year in Columbia (with an INT returned for a TD, and a TD pass that bounced off 2 SC DB's in a 7-point win), and they were a missed XP away from playing us to OT in Athens last season.
Long story short, the SEC East is now a 4-team league. And note that SOS has made it so without having anything resembling the base of talent that UGA, UF, and UT had. Certainly, UT, UF, and UGA all have a talent edge on USC, but USC has--by far--the best coach in the division. SOS made a habit of beating more talented teams when he was at Florida, and he is doing the same thing at South Carolina. Add to this that SC has, if nothing else, the most experienced team among the top four teams in the division (returning starters: USC 17; UGA and UT, 11; UF, 8), and you can see why I rate them the team to beat.
As far as specific players, I'm not sure how much it matters--and I still think the gap is smaller than most think.
~At QB, I think Mitchell is a legit QB--I'd certainly trust him to have a better season next year than Tebow or Stafford, who will both obviously develop eventually but will probably still be a little short next season. I don't even want to think about how good either of those guys would be if they had SOS developing them.
~At RB, Boyd and Davis are a good tandem at RB--they outrushed Spiller and Davis in the Clemson game last season, even though Spiller broke off an 80-yard TD run--and Boyd is a great receiver out of the backfield.
~At WR, McKinley is probably better than anyone else in the division, except for Burton. And the truth is, while his physical characteristics are all right--he's 6'0", 181 lbs, and runs a 4.57 40--he's nothing special. He's just a guy who has great numbers because that's what happens when you play WR in Spurrier's offense (think Chris Doering). Hell, Spurrier just put an LB at WR, and the guy will probably be all-SEC. And TE Boyd is almost certainly better than anyone else among the contenders--Ingram might produce more in Meyer's offense, but he's not nearly as good as Boyd is, in my estimation.
~On D, there's little doubt that USC had the #4 D out of the 4 teams last season. But Florida returns 2 starters, Georgia returns 3, Tennessee returns 5, and South Carolina returns 10. Both Florida and Georgia return 1 of their front 7, while South Carolina returns all 7. I don't know if South Carolina will have a better D than Florida or Georgia, but there's no doubt the gap, if one exists, will be pretty small. And, as far as UT goes, the difference between UT and USC last season on D was negligible ( USC--18.7 ppg, 337 ypg; UT--19.5 ppg, 328 ypg).
Certainly, USC has to rebuild their OL. But they do return 33 starts from last year, or just over 1/2 of the starts. They are in much better shape than UGA in this regard, who only return 24 starts to the OL (37%). Given that USC will be facing a somewhat less than vintage Georgia front 7, the task for the UGA OL should be considerably tougher when the teams meet up.
RE Oklahoma State
Little doubt, the OSU D is a joke (I have them ranked 89th last season, not 93rd--not that it matters). The problem is that it is no guarantee that our O will be able to do anything against them. Keep in mind that against the #118 ranked D in the nation last season--Kentucky--we only managed 389 yards. In fact, taking out our game against WKU--where we only gained 295 yards--we averaged 313 ypg, and our opponents gave up an average of 326 ypg. So, we are going to need our O to improve, while trying to rebuild our OL. While this is certainly possible if everything comes together, it seems highly unlikely that it will for the first game of the season.
On the other side of the ball, OSU returns 3 starters on the OL, their top 2 RB, and a mobile QB. It is unlikely that their running game will regress, and the only teams that held them to less than 4 ypc last season were Texas and Oklahoma, two of the better rush defenses in the nation. And OSU is certainly not going to be intimidated by SEC speed, since they just went up against 'Bama, and handled their D pretty well--they ran for 200+ yards, and averaged more than 5 ypc. And, while they only won on a last-second FG, OSU really handled the game from start to finish--'Bama was only competitive because they had a PR TD and an INT that led to a short TD drive in the 4th quarter.
I'm not sure how our LB play is going to be better, at least not at the start. Taylor was certainly the most important player on our D last season, and while Jarvis Jackson was pretty average, if any of the new starters outproduces him next year it will be a miracle. And Miller will have to improve by leaps and bounds to be even halfway respectable. Obviously, there's talent there, but, much like with the OL, it will take some time to develop.
So, to sum up--I'm pretty sure that OSU will do plenty against our D, but even though we are going up against a pretty shitty D everything's got to come together for our O to keep up.
RE Lean Years
It's obviously sort of a weird position to be in, given the mediocrity that ruled the day when we were in Athens, but it's pretty clear that weak Richt teams will be comparable to strong Goff/Donnan ones. Still, the difference between this season and every other team Richt has had--with the possible exception of his first team, the 2001 team that went 8-4--is that our D is considerably worse than any of the units in the intervening years. The 2001 D was legit--they only gave up 19 ppg, and 357 ypg--but they weren't going to win you any games, and neither will this season's D.
Our O last season was quite poor, only scoring 25 ppg--and if you take out the 48 against WKU, we averaged 23 ppg. And those numbers are a little deceptive as well, since we scored several non-offensive TDs--in fact, we only scored 28 TDs in 12 games against 1-A opponents. Obviously, Stafford will be better, but I view him, at least this season, as more a better manager (read: lower INT%) than a bomber (read: higher TD%). Given our problems at WR, I think he is a year away from being viewed as a completely legitimate QB. I expect our running game to be better, but with our issues on the OL, I'd be surprised if we even hit our high ypg under Richt (which stands at 162 ypg).
How does it all add up? While our O will probably improve, our D will probably regress more than the O improves. As a result, the team should be slightly worse (not 'significantly' worse). Our prospects on O might look a little more promising if we returned a solid OL, but we don't.
That said, I probably overstated our problems. Looking at the schedule, 6-6 is probably way too pessimistic. WCU, Ole Miss, @Vandy, Troy, and UK (despite Woodson) are almost certainly wins (Vandy and UK largely because we lost to them last season). While we could certainly lose any of the other seven, it is unlikely that we won't win any of them--especially since none of the teams on the schedule are exceptionally strong contenders (Tenn and Fla are down, 'Bama will probably be pretty average, and we don't play LSU). I think we are probably looking at something like 8-3 going into the GT game, which is a toss-up (with a slight edge to UGA). So, 9-3 then. But that's assuming we avoid injuries, and get some pretty solid special teams play.

Tapley's 2nd Effort

Great reply Solon. I love these discussions...

The first thing that jumps out at me is how we are sort of approaching the season from two very different, although probably equally meritous, views.

I tend to look at "talent and speed" more than experience when I evaluate teams. You appear to be taking the view of "experience certainly makes a huge difference". IMO both views are valid and the truth lies somewhere in the intersection of these two views on some weird statistical chart that I am too lazy to look up (combined with a healthy dose of luck).

I would certainly not disagree with you that Spurrier is the premier coach in the SEC. Hell, I've ALWAYS said that he is IMO the best premier coach in college football. Anyone who thinks he is not a magnificent coach is just wearing UGA blinders. Those same people would worship at his feet if he were UGA's coach today... but I digress.

In general, I believe that great coaching can account for a few wins each year when the talent is equitable and probably one upset every year or two where the team he coaches is quite undermanned. However, winning the 7 or so SEC games required to win the East almost always comes down to talent on the field (or experience, as the case may be).

Looking at some of the athletes in question:

Mitchell vs Stafford or Tebow -- we seem to have VERY different opinions of Blake. He is an average athlete with a subpar arm and sporadic decision making. Having followed him since his Lagrange High School days (after which no major programs sans SC offered him), perhaps my view is a bit jaded. However, I know Spurrier demands near perfection from his QB (remember the repeated Doug Johnson benchings of his Florida years and the move of the SC WR back to QB a couple of years ago). Blake, IMO, is NOT the player to deliver this production and decision-making. You said you trust him to have a better season than Stafford or Tebow -- I trust him to be benched more than I trust him to be better than Stafford. I just don't see it. If Blake is Spurrier's starter for the entire season, he will post his share of stats, no doubt. However, given his scattershot arm and questionable decision-making, I just don't see this happening. Look for at least 2 benchings throughout the year.

At RB, I agree. I think Boyd is VERY underrated nationally. That said, is he really any better than about 10 other RBs UGA faces in any given year? Heck, I certainly would not trade T Choice at Tech for him. And despite Choice having a great game against us, Tech still managed a porous offensive output and score last year. And yes, I know Reggie Ball was their QB. They also had Calvin Johnson. Call me crazy, but I would rather have Ball, Calvin and Choice than Mitchell, Boyd and McKinley. And I gotta believe I am not alone here. (Yes, I know Spurrier vs Gailey is laughable)

You've obviously seen something in Kenny McKinley that I have not. To me, he screams average. Will he probably make All-SEC? Sure, because as we both know, the Spurrier offense should produce at least 2,700 passing yards this year and McKinley will get a LARGE chunk of those. Again, this is mostly due to the lack of supporting cast than anything else. No other WR (other than the incoming freshman) appear to be legit WAC WRs, much less SEC WRs. However, as we all know, stats can often be meaningless. I doubt Florida would trade half of their WRs for him (and Caldwell is probably the #2 guy in our division, not McKinley).

We seem to agree on Defense. We can both concede they have less "athletes" most likely up and down the D than the other big 3. While they return experience, the fact that they only have 2 guys listed on 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team All-SEC by most publications (and the coaches, too, I believe) tells me that they don't return a lot of the best players in the SEC defensively.

I know what you are saying regarding OSU, but a couple of things to remember:
#1 Yardage totals are often misleading, at least when analyzing a single game in a vacuum. For example you mentioned the UK game, and the fact that we ONLY produced 389 yards vs their D. However, as you stated, we basically averaged 313 ypg. So we actually produced 75 yards above our average vs a UK D that allowed only 335 yards to UT (yet somehow allowed over 620 yards to Vandy). Additionally, we held the UK offense to 25 yards less than their season average. The fact that the teams combied for 75 rushes in the game likely contributed to the yardage totals being perhaps less than you would have hoped for... and this is kinda my rambling point. To say we only produced 389 yards vs one of the very worst D's in D1 football is to completely ignore the context of the game itself. UK rushed the ball 42 times during the game, something they did only twice all year, and we rushed it 32 ourselves. 74 rushing plays in a game will certainly limit the total yardage potential vs wide open passing attacks. Now given the result of the game, I am not passing judgment on whether or not we coached a smart game... merely pointing out that the overall yardage total, evaluated without context nor comparison to other game totals, might be slightly deceptive and "spinnable" (not sure that is even a word, but you get the gist)
#2 And this is the mistake I see most often in Fantasy Football at all levels ... last year is not this year. Last year, Matt Stafford was an admittedly somewhat overwhelmed freshman QB taking over the reigns after what amounted to 37 practices as the #1 guy. This year, he is a returning starting QB who will have had approximately 115 practices as "the guy", not to mention confidence-building wins over Auburn, Tech, and Va Tech to close last season. Last year, Okie State had legit two of the 30 best WRs in college football. This year, they return Bowman, who might be the best in college, but have NOBODY on the otherside. Rumor is that true freshman Dez Bryant will open the season as the starter opposite Bowman. So expect Bowman to face double-teams on practically every snap. This combined with lack of production on the other side means that Okie State could see a drop in their offensive production. Teams will double up on Bowman and stack up vs the run, dare the others on the outside to beat them.

Again, the Okie State game, like all first games, brings questions on both sides of the field. I just think that the physical questions are usually answered a bit easier than the mental. And in that right, I give us a slight edge.

Regarding our LB play, I think you are confusing production for good play. Perhaps none of our replacement LBs will match Jarvis's production; however, I fully expect that they will outplay him. We will have more speed and better coverage from our Sam and Will positions than last year. A stats guy I know told me that teams completed 72% for 7.1 yards per to our edges last year -- meaning plays covered by Sam and Will LBs, usually swings to RBs or TEs. Both of these are quite high and teams did exploit both Jarvis and Miller in pass coverage. With Miller moving inside, he will be less often required to pursue TEs, slot WRs, and RBs out of the backfield. It remains to be seen how he will play, but he is can't be worse than he was last year at Mike (rewatch the UT or Colorado game as evidence). He might be a dropoff from Taylor, but him not being at Mike is an instant upgrade there. And the added speed at Mike and Sam just has me convinced that we will be improved at LB, especially where we were exploited most often last year -- on the edge.

RE: your lean years comments -- again you are translating inexperienced to worse. This might be the case; however, it might not. Compared to last year... Our DE play will be worse. Our DT play should be better, since we have the same guys, only a year older, more experienced, and theoretically physically and mentally stronger. Our CB play should be worse with the loss of Oliver. Our S play should be better IMO. Now I have not evaluated vs the worst Ds we have had under Richt, but certainly last year's was not amongst our best loved. However, looking at the season stats, we finished #9 in yards allowed per game and somewhere around #21 or so in points per game allowed. This despite us not getting the expected years out of our DEs and Taylor and being our only solid LB. We might expect a dropoff, but Richt has built a defensive talent base such that we always seem to be solid, even in down years on that side of the ball. That said, this very much shapes up like 2005, one of the few years of the Richt era where we relied on our O to carry us more often than not.
The question, and we probably all agree that this is the key, is whether THIS offense - Stafford, Lumpkin, the new OL, and those WRs - are up to the task.


Thoughts? Comments? Predictions?

1 comment:

brain said...

Boys,Phil Steele would be impressed. I don't know who is better at this point. All I know is history. History tells me that Blake is a Good to better than average QB. USC's defence is one of the best in the SEC at times. UGA is probably more talented but this game is always tight. There is no reason for this other than this is the first SEC game for both teams normally. Niether team has a lot of games under their belt. You have little or no injuries and, over the last few years, you have had great coaches on both sides. I think it will be a field goal or less game. I do think the winner of this game will come in 2nd in the SEC east. I feel the loser will win the East. Don't ask me why, I just think that. I have no data to back this up.