Georgia Bulldogs: Tyler Bray
Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.
Spring start: March 13
Spring game: April 6
What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.
2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.
3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.
-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation
Spring start: March 2
Spring game: April 6
What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.
2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.
3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.
-- David Ching, DawgNation
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.
2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.
3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.
Spring start: March 12
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.
2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.
3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.
2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.
3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.
Spring start: March 9
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.
2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.
3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.
Spring start: March 15
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.
2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.
3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.
We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC East:
Needs filled: LB, OL, DB, WR, DT -- The Gators had one of the most complete classes out there, finishing second in the ESPN class rankings. Florida landed the top cornerback prospect (No. 3 nationally) in Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, linebackers Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris. The Gators also added five wide receivers, including ESPN 150 members Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood.
Holes remaining: DE -- Will Muschamp seemed thrilled with his class, but he probably would have liked to get a least one more defensive end. The Gators missed on a few, including Tashawn Bower, who almost picked the Gators before signing with LSU. Four-stars Jordan Sherit and Antonio Riles were the only defensive ends in this class.
Needs filled: ILB, S -- The Bulldogs had to replace a few bodies at middle linebacker, and did so by signing four. The star of the group is four-star ESPN 300 member Johnny O'Neal, who is the No. 5 inside linebacker in the county. Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin, both ESPN 300 members, also signed with the Dawgs. Georgia also signed five safeties, including two junior college standouts. The top safety in this class is ESPN 150 member Tray Matthews.
Holes remaining: Elite OT, elite RB, elite DT -- Mark Richt was pleased with his 32-man signing class, but he knows it could have been better if a few elite players had signed with Georgia. The Dawgs barely missed on top offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), No. 4 running back Alvin Kamara (Alabama) and No. 2 defensive tackle Montravius Adams (Auburn).
ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps it seems strange to highlight a defense’s performance in a game where the opponent scored 44 points, but the Georgia-Tennessee game from late September serves as an exception to that logic.
Nonetheless, it was far from a perfect day until the end.
Tennessee accumulated 478 yards of total offense and was within striking distance in the fourth quarter when Vols tailback Rajion Neal barreled into the end zone to cut Georgia’s lead to 51-44 with 8:56 to play. That’s when Georgia’s defense awakened to stop Tyler Bray and the Tennessee offense in their tracks, forcing turnovers by Bray on each of the Vols’ last three possessions to keep the lead at seven points.
That’s going to be difficult enough. A number of different quarterbacks in this league have had their moments this season.
But what if you had to rank the SEC’s top 10 starting quarterbacks based on how they’re playing right now, how they’ve played in key games, how they’ve performed during clutch situations and how they’ve impacted their teams overall?
We’ll attempt to do just that, so let the second-guessing commence:
2. AJ McCarron, Alabama: OK, McCarron wasn’t at his best in the Texas A&M loss, but he’s still thrown 20 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, engineered the game-winning drive at LSU and done everything the coaches have asked him to do this season.
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: Murray has been red-hot the past two weeks with seven touchdown passes and leads the SEC with a 170.7 efficiency rating. He didn’t play well in the 17-9 win over Florida and struggled even more in the 35-7 loss at South Carolina. The SEC championship game will be huge for Murray.
4. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: It hasn’t been the kind of season anybody in Arkansas was anticipating, and Wilson has taken his share of lumps. But he’s hung in there and is closing in on his second straight 3,000-yard season.
5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee: Bray’s overall numbers are outstanding with 3,216 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he’s probably playing his best football right now. That said, he simply hasn’t delivered in clutch situations and has thrown an SEC-high nine interceptions in league games.
6. Connor Shaw, South Carolina: Easily one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league, Shaw has played through a fracture in his throwing shoulder and thrown 13 of his 14 touchdown passes against SEC competition. He’s responded like a champ ever since his benching in the Florida loss.
7. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: His season has mirrored that of the Mississippi State team. He started on fire, but has cooled considerably. Even so, Russell has thrown nine touchdown passes and only three interceptions in SEC games and has given the Bulldogs a legitimate threat throwing the football.
8. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: Mettenberger can thank his past two performances for being this high on the list. He’s looked liked the quarterback everybody thought he would be in the win over Mississippi State and loss to Alabama. He’s passed for 571 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in those two contests.
9. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt: There were some shaky moments early, but Rodgers has settled into a groove and was terrific in leading the Commodores on their game-winning drive last week at Ole Miss. He’s thrown six of his nine touchdown passes in the past three games.
10. Jeff Driskel, Florida: The Gators’ passing game has been anything but dynamic this season, but Driskel has made a ton of big plays in key games both running and passing. He’s accounted for 12 touchdowns in eight league games and has been intercepted only three times. He was sidelined last week with a sprained ankle.
ESPN GatorNation beat writer Michael DiRocco was kind enough to answer five questions about the game that could very well determine this season’s SEC East champion:
Q: The most obvious factor in Florida’s turnaround is that it’s getting solid play from Jeff Driskel at quarterback instead of last season’s revolving door of uncertainty. Is that all it took? Why else is this Florida team so much better?
2. South Carolina quarterback controversy: Sometimes you’d swear that Steve Spurrier almost likes controversy at the quarterback position. Then again, maybe he’s just such a perfectionist that his patience with his signal-callers is razor-thin. Either way, Spurrier is clearly down on Connor Shaw after the Gamecocks struggled on offense for the second straight week Saturday in a 44-11 loss to Florida. Afterward, Spurrier said South Carolina “stunk from the get go” and called it a “pitiful performance.” He didn’t place all of the blame on Shaw but noted that the quarterback missed several open receivers and was “still running all over the place.” Shaw was benched at halftime in favor of backup Dylan Thompson, and Spurrier said he didn’t know which way he would go at quarterback this coming weekend against Tennessee. Shaw has committed three turnovers in the past two games and been sacked six times, but the Gamecocks’ problems on offense run a lot deeper than just Shaw. They haven’t been able to run the ball effectively the past two weeks. Marcus Lattimore got just three carries against Florida, and the receivers aren’t making any big plays down the field. Shaw certainly hasn’t played his best football the past two games, but he is the same guy the South Carolina coaches were lauding earlier this month for being such a winner and the same guy who’s been playing through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder.
1. Alabama (6-0; last week: 1): After a week off, the Crimson Tide ran right over Missouri in the first half before bad weather delayed the game. At that point, it seemed weather was the only thing that could stop Alabama. It pretty much proved true as the Tide dismantled the Tigers, holding them to a special-teams score and 129 yards of offense. Alabama outrushed Mizzou 362-3. Yeah, this team is pretty good.
2. Florida (6-0; LW: 3): Saturday set up like a trap game, and the Gators were pretty sloppy against Vanderbilt but again came alive in the second half. Jeff Driskel couldn't be stopped on the ground, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-sealing 70-yard touchdown scamper. Florida still doesn't have much of a passing game, but the Gators can run and play defense. That goes a long way in the SEC.
3. LSU (6-1; LW: 4): The Tigers aren't done just yet. After stumbling out of the Swamp last week, LSU was the tougher team over the weekend against South Carolina. What was most impressive was how well that makeshift offensive line played. Three underclassmen started and pushed the Gamecocks' vaunted defensive line around. Like Florida, this team isn't a threat to pass, but it showed again that it can run with the best of them, registering 258 rushing yards Saturday. This team is still very much in the hunt for the SEC.
4. South Carolina (6-1; LW: 2): The Gamecocks were outplayed and dominated in the stats book by LSU, but lost by only two points ... in Death Valley. That's impressive. South Carolina did the little things for as long as it could to keep the Tigers at bay, but costly turnovers from Connor Shaw doomed the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier and Jadeveon Clowney wondered whether some players were scared of the Tigers. That fear had better dissolve before the Gamecocks take on Florida this weekend.
5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 5): The Bulldogs were off, and the hope is that the defense received some major attention over the break. The good news for Georgia is that its second-half schedule isn't daunting. Florida is the toughest matchup, and the Gators could be a little sore after taking on South Carolina this weekend. If you think the Bulldogs are out of the East race after that extremely sloppy showing against South Carolina, you're sadly mistaken.
6. Mississippi State (6-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs wanted to leave the weekend with more respect, and that happened after they should some resiliency against a Vols team that came charging back. While Tennessee put up some points, Mississippi State's incredibly talented secondary shut down Tyler Bray, holding him to just 148 passing yards. Quarterback Tyler Russell looks better and better each week. On the season, he has 1,382 yards with 12 touchdowns to one interception.
7. Texas A&M (5-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel is pretty good, wouldn't you say? I'm convinced he isn't a freshman. He might make his coaches nervous sometimes with his gunslinger mentality, but when a play needs to be made, he'll make it. Now, for as explosive as that offense is, the defense has had some holes in it this year. In the past three games, the Aggies have given up an average of 531 yards and surrendered 57 points to Louisiana Tech in Saturday's shootout win. Now, we'll see what Johnny Football can do against that nasty LSU defense.
8. Ole Miss (4-3; LW: 10): The Rebels finally did it. Nearly two years to the day, Ole Miss finally grabbed another SEC win. The Rebels' 41-20 win over Auburn stopped a 16-game conference losing streak, and it's obvious things are changing in Oxford. Coach Hugh Freeze really has changed the culture of that program, and players are buying in for the first time in a very long while. This offense has been very fun to watch, and if this team can cut down on turnovers, it could be a bigger threat to better competition.
9. Arkansas (3-4; LW: 11): After a miserable first month of the season, the Razorbacks have some life after two straight SEC wins. This team is back in the bowl hunt and is starting to see more consistency on offense. The Hogs might have hung 60 on Kentucky if not for a weather-shortened evening in Fayetteville. Arkansas enters its bye week with more confidence, and there's still a lot of pride flowing throughout this team.
10. Tennessee (3-3; LW: 8): The Vols had another valiant comeback effort but just couldn't get it done in the end. After racing back in the second quarter against Georgia two weeks ago, Tennessee battled back from a 13-point halftime deficit to Mississippi State. But that defense can't get off the field in the second half. This team has shown a lot of fight in its past two games, but it just hasn't been enough. Derek Dooley's seat is only getting hotter and hotter in Knoxville, and he's dangerously close to not reaching eight wins.
11. Vanderbilt (2-4; LW: 9): The Commodores had some really good moments against Florida, then had some old Vandy moments as well. This team couldn't stop the run to save its life Saturday, as the Gators racked up 326 rushing yards. You have to love the attitude this team plays with, but you need more than just attitude to win games. The Commodores have to finish drives and get more big plays out of the offense.
12. Missouri (3-4; LW: 12): The Tigers ran into a well-rested buzz saw over the weekend when Alabama came to town. The offense had no answers for Alabama's defense, and the only points the Tigers mustered came on special teams. Right now, punt returner Marcus Murphy is the best scoring threat this team has, as the offense continues to have major issues across the board. One bright spot has been defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. He leads the team in tackles and has been Mizzou's best player. But he can't do it by himself.
13. Auburn (1-5; LW: 13): Things are just getting worse and worse on the Plains. The Tigers made a change at quarterback, but the offense generated just 213 yards and turned it over twice after having the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than Ole Miss. The defense was again walked on by its opponent, and you can tell that not everyone is all in at Auburn. When you look at how far this team has fallen, it's hard to comprehend that it won the national championship in 2010.
14. Kentucky (1-6; LW: 14): If not for Mother Nature, the Wildcats might have surrendered 40 more points to Arkansas. The Hogs did whatever they wanted to a Kentucky team that has just been ravaged by injuries this season. That young talent has had to mature quickly, but growing pains are holding this team back. The silver lining for the Wildcats is that all of those youngsters are getting valuable playing time for the future.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Considering the depth chart mess that existed within Georgia’s secondary before the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Bulldogs have experienced numerous continuity issues in pass coverage.
Whatever the reason, a defense that ranked 10th nationally against the pass last season (176 yards per game) and fifth in interceptions (20) looked nothing like its formerly dominant self -- even after most of the group reunited when All-America safety Bacarri Rambo returned from a season-opening, four-game suspension.
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Seven Bulldogs made preseason watch lists for various college football awards. Here is a list featuring each player, the awards they are in the running for and how they performed in their Week 5 win against Tennessee:
NG John Jenkins, Sr. (Bednarik, Nagurski, Outland, Lombardi):
He recorded just one tackle, but Jenkins had a solid game pressuring the quarterback and came up with a key fourth-quarter fumble recovery as the Bulldogs’ attempted to protect a one-touchdown lead against the Volunteers.
DE Abry Jones, Sr. (Hendricks):
Coming off an ankle sprain suffered against Vanderbilt, Jones was unable to contribute much against Tennessee. He contributed one tackle and half a tackle for a loss, but watched from the sidelines for most of the Bulldogs’ shootout win.
LB Jarvis Jones, Jr. (Bednarik, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT, Butkus, Lombardi, Camp):
Tennessee’s talented offensive tackles mostly kept Jones from harassing quarterback Tyler Bray, but he still recorded eight tackles, half a tackle for loss and one quarterback pressure.
WR Tavarres King, Sr. (Biletnikoff):
Both of King’s catches came on the same first-quarter drive. He caught a back-shoulder throw from Aaron Murray for a 31-yard gain, dragging cornerback Justin Coleman for nearly 10 yards after making the catch. Two plays later, King cut across the middle and caught a 7-yard Murray pass, dragging linebacker A.J. Johnson to within inches of the goal line. The officials initially ruled the play a touchdown before determining King’s knee was down at the 1 upon review.
QB Aaron Murray, Jr. (Maxwell, Manning, O’Brien, Camp):
Murray probably had his rockiest outing of the season -- an interception return for a touchdown and a lost fumble at the Georgia 8 leading to another touchdown are the main reasons why -- but he still led the offense to 560 total yards and 51 points. Murray finished 19-for-25 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
CB Branden Smith, Sr. (Hornung):
Smith was beaten in coverage several times and finished with three tackles against Tennessee, giving him 14 this season. Smith also has a team-high five pass breakups. He still has not contributed on offense or special teams.
DE/LB Cornelius Washington, Sr. (Butkus):
Washington made four tackles against Tennessee and had a key quarterback pressure on the Vols’ final snap when he nearly sacked Bray and forced him to rush a throw that was tipped and intercepted by Sanders Commings. Washington is second on the team with seven quarterback hurries.
Let’s review some of what I learned from watching a recording of CBS’ broadcast of UGA-UT in this week’s “Upon Further Review.”
Georgia is up 27-10 at this point. Everything is working right. The offense is absolutely crushing Tennessee and the defense hasn’t given up a touchdown yet -- the Volunteers’ lone TD at this point is Byron Moore’s 35-yard interception return for a touchdown -- but the train starts to veer off the tracks on this possession that could easily have started out near the Georgia 20 instead of up against the goal line.
The punt initially landed at the Georgia 17, and Mitchell was at the 11 at the time and clearly was indecisive about whether to try to field it. He thought about grabbing it at the 10 and again at the 5 (which would have been a really poor decision by that point), but opted to stay away.
Prophetically, CBS’ Gary Danielson said immediately afterward, “It might not pop up in this football game -- might not, but it could. But to beat the best, you’ve got to field those.”
Georgia’s offense went three-and-out -- and I should note here that on third-and-3, if Mitchell had done a better job blocking his man, Justin Coleman, on a Keith Marshall run to the right, perhaps Marshall could have picked up a first down instead of Coleman tackling him for a 1-yard gain and forcing a punt. Bad sequence there for Mitchell, who was later replaced by Rhett McGowan on punt returns.
" Georgia’s offensive balance has, in my opinion, been what makes the Bulldogs so difficult to defend. It’s tough for an opponent to give Aaron Murray and the passing game the attention it deserves when it has to focus on Marshall and Todd Gurley’s ability to make big things happen in the running game. The freshmen and the offensive line deserve a ton of credit again, as there were several runs in which they reached the secondary untouched -- seriously, I don’t think a single Tennessee player laid a hand on Marshall on either his 75- or 72-yard touchdown runs -- and that is obviously a bad sign for defenses, given their ability to make people miss in the open field.
Speaking of which, individual blocking credits on Marshall’s two long TD runs: 75 yards in the first quarter (Merritt Hall, Kenarious Gates, David Andrews), 72 yards in the third quarter (Jay Rome and Mark Beard cleared a huge hole and Andrews picked off linebacker A.J. Johnson to get Marshall loose).
That said, it will be interesting to see how well Georgia moves the ball when it’s obvious to everyone that they want to move it on the ground. The Bulldogs were completely ineffective in such a situation in the fourth quarter against Tennessee. They had three different opportunities to mount drives that would run some clock after Tennessee’s final touchdown made it a one-score game with 8:56 to play. Georgia’s final three drives: four plays, 12 yards, 1:25 time of possession; three plays, 4 yards, 1:49; three plays, minus-2 yards, 1:07. They’re fortunate that the defense bowed its neck and UT quarterback Tyler Bray made some big errors, because that was really bad.
At the end of three quarters, Georgia had 538 yards of total offense. In the fourth quarter alone, the Bulldogs picked up one first down and ran 13 plays for 22 yards (20 passing, eight carries for 2 yards). I will say that Murray made a great third-down pass over a leaping Curt Maggitt -- I mean a picture-perfect throw against a blitz that would have gone for a huge gain, if not a touchdown -- but it went straight through Rantavious Wooten’s hands at the 50 and Georgia was forced to punt. A completion there probably ices the game.
" Conversely, It was interesting to see how easily Tennessee moved the ball on the ground late in the game. At one point between the Volunteers’ last touchdown drive and the one that followed, they ran the ball on eight straight plays for 41 yards and three first downs and a touchdown. Every play went for positive yardage.
I’m sure Georgia was trying to respect the passing game in that situation -- and it didn’t help that defensive end Abry Jones was clearly not healthy yet -- but Todd Grantham’s guys are obviously not taking away the run first like they did a year ago. There was a 218-yard difference between Tennessee’s output on the ground in this game (197 rushing yards, right at 5 yards per carry) vs. its performance against Georgia last year (minus-21).
With South Carolina’s running game and an improving Marcus Lattimore ahead, that’s a huge red flag for Georgia’s defense.
" It would be unfair to describe Bray’s performance as awful, but it definitely left a lot to be desired. He passed for 281 yards and two touchdowns and made some crazy-good throws -- including a deep ball where a wide-open Cordarrelle Patterson had beaten Branden Smith and probably would have scored a touchdown, but he dropped the ball.
But Bray also made some horrendous mistakes, and not just by turning the ball over on each of the Vols’ last three possessions. Those were all bad plays, though. Both passes that Sanders Commings intercepted were poor throws -- one to the inside instead of outside to the sideline where Commings couldn’t have picked it; one was behind Zach Rogers, who tipped it up into the air and allowed Commings to make the interception; and he let Jordan Jenkins slap the ball from his hands after the pocket collapsed, causing a fumble that John Jenkins recovered.
Plus he missed open receivers on a couple of crucial throws that could have altered the course of the game. Early in the third quarter when Georgia was reclaiming control, Bray twice threw inaccurately on third-down passes that could have extended drives. On Tennessee’s first drive of the second half, he threw behind a wide-open Justin Hunter, who had beaten Smith, and the ball fell incomplete.
On the next drive, he nearly threw an interception to Alec Ogletree on back-to-back plays and whistled a pass to Hunter that barely missed him. Commings had fallen down in coverage and Hunter was open. Marc Deas blocked the ensuing punt and Georgia capitalized by driving for another touchdown and going up by two scores. Huge momentum change there.
" Speaking of that play, credit Deas for recognizing a tendency by Tennessee wingback Moore on the play and taking advantage of it. He told me after the game that Moore had been overstepping on his drop as he blocked and that left a crease for Deas to attack the punter. Sure enough, Deas started out on the far left on this punt, Moore dropped too deep and Deas cut inside him toward punter Matt Darr. Moore got a piece of Deas’ left shoulder, but he was still able to get his right arm free to block the kick. Very well done.
" Commings had a nice game. I think that SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week award he won today was well-deserved. Damian Swann had Georgia’s third interception and it was also highly impressive. Ogletree deflected a pass across the middle, tipping it high in the air, and Swann absolutely skied over Smith and Patterson and caught the ball with one hand at midfield. Tremendous athleticism there.
" Danielson saw Murray’s first touchdown pass to Michael Bennett coming even before Tennessee did. Bennett was lined up in the slot and Tennessee safety Moore had given him about an 8-yard cushion, prompting Danielson to draw a circle on Bennett on the screen just before the snap. Sure enough, he was able to cut in front of the UT safety and Murray whistled a TD pass to him for an easy score that helped Georgia go up 37-30. Good recognition there by Murray -- and by Danielson.
" The final score and the way things played out makes this an obvious statement, but this was a really sloppy game by Georgia. It seemed like I was consistently writing down about so-and-so blowing a blocking assignment or covering the wrong receiver or dropping a pass or not making an interception that was there for the taking. They can’t afford to make this many errors at South Carolina or it won’t work out so well.
A few examples:
- Bacarri Rambo tried to jump a pass route and went for an interception in first quarter. He doesn’t get to the ball in time and Tennessee’s Rogers makes a catch at the Georgia 35. He probably would have scored a touchdown there, except that he fell down. Rambo did come back with a big third-down stop to end that drive and force a field goal, however.
- On Rajion Neal’s go-ahead touchdown catch in the second quarter, three Georgia players covered Patterson as he ran toward the end zone and nobody covered Neal. Danielson said it looked like a blown assignment by linebacker Amarlo Herrera -- and it looked that way to me, too, although I can’t be sure -- although Herrera and safety Shawn Williams seemed to have a disagreement after the play about who was supposed to be where.
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1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Crimson Tide's offense didn't look great against Ole Miss and the defense actually gave up two touchdowns, but Alabama left the weekend with a 19-point win. Alabama looked a little lethargic out on the field, but the Rebels put up a better fight than most expected. This team has talked about cleaning up execution issues on offense and will get an extra week to do that with the bye here.
2. LSU (5-0; LW: 2): The Tigers are skating on thin ice in our power rankings. The previous week's sluggish win over Auburn was one thing, but the Tigers really struggled against Towson. What was most surprising about LSU's performance was how poorly the Tigers defended the run, as Towson gained 188 yards on the ground. One positive was that we finally saw more of a downfield passing game from Zach Mettenberger, and Odell Beckham Jr. stepped up in a big way at receiver.
3. Georgia (5-0; LW: 3): The Bulldogs could be considered 2b after the way LSU played, but Georgia's defense really struggled against Tennessee. We all knew the Vols had the potential to hurt this group, but Georgia's defense was absolutely gutted for 478 yards and gave up 37 of the Vols' 44 points. Things have to be cleaned up, but with the way that offense is playing, it's going to be tough for teams to keep up in a shootout with the Dawgs.
4. South Carolina (5-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks gave their fans a bit of a scare after being down 10 to Kentucky at the half Saturday. All was forgiven after a dominating second half during which South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 31-0. Connor Shaw continues to throw the ball with splendid accuracy, while Marcus Lattimore is looking stronger and stronger out there. However, the Gamecocks can't afford a sluggish start against Georgia this weekend.
5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators were off this weekend, so players got some much-needed rest and time to heal. It also gave Florida a little extra time to scout No. 4 LSU, which travels to the Swamp on Saturday. Florida has to feel a little more confident about this weekend after watching another ugly win by LSU. But expect the intensity to be way up for the Tigers. Saturday should be pretty fun to watch.
6. Mississippi State (4-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs were on their bye over the weekend. Quietly, the Bulldogs have had a very impressive start to the season. Their past two games should have been won by bigger margins, but this team is still undefeated and has the potential to be a 6-1 or 7-0 team heading into the last weekend of the month. On the season, only five teams have trailed for less time than Mississippi State.
7. Texas A&M (3-1; LW: 8): The Aggies just keep pounding away on offense. Johnny Manziel and his crew walked all over Arkansas' defense, racking up 716 yards of offense and 58 points in their blowout win against the reeling Razorbacks. We know that Texas A&M can score points and generate a lot of yards, but we saw a little too much bend out of A&M's defense against the Hogs, as they surrendered 515 yards to Arkansas.
8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 7): We saw a lot more fight out of Tennessee when Georgia went up 17 in the second quarter. The Vols had a couple of real chances to win in Athens, Ga., over the weekend, but late turnovers doomed them. Cue the questions surrounding Tyler Bray in big games. The defense looked overwhelmed and lost at times, but this team can take solace in one thing: It appears Tennessee has found a real SEC running back in Rajion Neal.
9. Missouri (3-2; LW: 9): James Franklin was better throwing the ball on Saturday, but this team has some offensive issues. The Tigers converted just 1 of 11 third downs and were outgained 395-346 against UCF on Saturday. Kendial Lawrence rushed for 104 yards, but Mizzou finished the day with a total of 89 rushing yards, thanks to Franklin's minus-18 yards on the ground. There are just too many athletes on this offense for the Tigers not to be explosive. Right now, they are hurting to find consistent firepower.
10. Ole Miss (3-2; LW: 10): Yes, the Rebels lost, but it's clear this team is more invested and tougher than the past two teams Ole Miss has thrown out there. The Rebels gave Alabama a little bit of a challenge and made it to the end zone twice against Alabama's vaunted defense. This team has to clean up a lot on defense, but that offense has the ability to carry this team to a few more wins this season ... maybe even a bowl berth.
11. Auburn (1-3; LW: 11): The good news for the Tigers is that they got to rest this weekend. The hope is that Auburn's defense takes the momentum it gained from its performance against LSU into this weekend's key game against Arkansas. Arkansas can move the ball, and Auburn's defense struggled mightily for most of September. This is a must-win for both teams and with the way Arkansas' defense has played, Auburn has to feel more comfortable with what its struggling offense can do.
12. Vanderbilt (1-3; LW: 13): The Commodores were off as well, and extra time had to be devoted to tweaking some of the offense. Vandy enters its game at Missouri with the SEC's No. 11 offense and we haven't seen the kind of explosion we saw last year. It doesn't help that there's a quarterback controversy in Nashville. Despite what happened in the Georgia game, the Commodores still own one of the league's top defensive units and provide a tough matchup for Missouri this weekend.
13. Arkansas (1-4; LW: 12): Things just get worse and worse for the Razorbacks. If Tyler Wilson thought his team quit against Alabama, you have to wonder how he feels after the way his Hogs were run out of College Station, Texas, over the weekend. That defense is dreadful and this team is just lost. The offense put up a lot of yards against Texas A&M, but couldn't finish drives and never developed any consistency running the ball. Losing to Auburn this weekend would pretty much end any ounce of hope for a bowl game this year.
14. Kentucky (1-4; LW: 14): For two quarters, Kentucky was on top of the world. Then, things fell apart, and South Carolina scored 31 straight points on the Wildcats. Things just aren't clicking for the Wildcats, and quarterback Maxwell Smith is injured again. This time, he has an ankle injury. This offense just can't do much unless he's in, and he can't stay healthy. The defense has to get tougher, as well. Joker Phillips' hot seat in Kentucky isn't cooling off one bit.
It’s somewhat hard to believe, given the considerable experience on Georgia’s roster, but two true freshmen -- tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- are near the top of this week’s UGA Power Rankings. The backfield duo combined for 294 rushing yards and five touchdowns in Saturday’s win against the Volunteers, which helped them surge past the team’s many veterans in the rankings.
Here is the full list after five games (last week’s rank in parentheses):
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Here is what Richt had to say:
On what he was pleased/disappointed by against Tennessee:
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And by the way, if you didn't know already, ESPN College GameDay will be in Columbia for the occasion.
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Peach State: Top Tier Recruiting Ground?
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