The defense comes out on the first two plays and gets them into a 3rd and 4, the whole stadium is roaring, everyone can sense the victory, C'MON DAWGS, JUST HUNKER DOWN ONE MORE TIME!!!!!!!! Then, it happened..........Defensive pass interference, automatic first down. What was inevitably going to be a win for us almost immediately felt like was now inevitably going to be their win.......and it was. From there, our players' lack of ability to perform in the clutch took over, and the rest is history. Last week after the Boise State game I was just pissed. But this one wasn't one to get mad about, this one just hurt really, really bad. I rode all the way back to Greenville without ever even turning on the radio, just in kind of a stunned silence.
You know, we used to be the team that found ways to win games that we had no business winning.......now we're the other team in that equation, that loses games we had no business losing. I'm not saying that the Gamecocks should apologize for winning, they capitalized on the opportunities presented to them, which is what winning teams do. Again, it's what we USED to do. But congratulations to South Carolina, they made one more big play than we did, and that was the difference.
So here goes my breakdown of everything.
Night and day difference from the Boise State game. I have to give Grantham respect after calling him out last week. He had a good gameplan, had the team well prepared, and ultimately the defense really only gave up 17 points to an offense that has the 2nd best receiver and arguably the best running back in the country (the other 28 points cannot be pinned on the defense). Obviously at the end of the game, we showed that we still do not have a defense that can close out a game for us, but we still looked better in this game.
My biggest complaint about the defense though? You HAVE to seize the opportunity when turnovers present themselves. We only created one turnover (Yes, Garcia had a 2nd interception, but that was one of those meaningless ones at the end of the half that was on a desperation heave........I don't really consider that to be a turnover in the sense of a play that affects the game in any way, it had no more effect than if we had just batted the ball down). We should have had two more interceptions.........one would have easily been a pick-6 and the other would have prevented them from kicking the 49 yard FG that put them up 31-28. That's a 10 point swing right there, points that the defense left on the field. The reason SC won this game is not because their defense played well, but because their defense was opportunistic......they not only created turnovers, they scored 2 touchdowns and ran another one inside the 10......essentially their defense gave them 21 points. Again, those are the things that winning teams do.........things we USED to do. You can't fault the coaches on this point though, it's up to the players to start taking advantage of opportunities when presented.
And again, our defense just does not have the ability to perform in the clutch. In no way do I pin the 7 points on them from Gilmore's fumble return inside our 10 yard line..........that being said, a top notch defense will come out in those types of scenarios and at least occasionally hold the opponent to a field goal. But with our defense, if they ever get thrown into a quick-change situation like that with good starting field position for the opponent, it seems like they are never able to come out and make a stand, you can pretty much just bank on the fact that the other team is going to get a touchdown. I'm not criticizing them for not holding them to a field goal, that is much easier said than done, but that's something we used to see our defenses do, and it would be nice to see it happen again at some point.
All in all, I'd probably give the defense a solid B. In no way were they the reason we lost, but they also still could have done a lot more to help us win. Lattimore still went for big yards, mainly due to his fabulous 4th quarter performance, but it didn't feel anything like last year when he ran over us the entire game. The defense still needs to find a way to perform in the clutch, but I actually thought this was one of the better overall defensive performances in a while.
Again, I have to give some credit to the coaches here. Did Bobo call a perfect game? No, but this game was called much better than the Boise game, especially the 2nd half (more on that later). It looks like we've finally accepted the fact that chunking the ball deep isn't going to be a great strategy with this group of receivers. Once we finally went to the high percentage passes, and dumping the ball off to Crowell in space, the tide really seemed to turn for the offense. We did a lot of small things really well.
But boy, when we did something wrong, we went BIG with it. It's one thing to have 3 turnovers......but it's something else entirely when those 3 turnovers lead directly to 2 TD's and another possession where the opponent is starting inside your own 10 yard line. You cannot win in the SEC that way. And very little about those turnovers can be pinned on the coaches.......that was on the players. A poor throw by Murray, Crowell not handling what looked to be a perfectly good handoff from Murray, and the offensive line not even laying a hand on Clowney at the end there........as a coach, you can coach and coach and prepare and prepare, but the players have to take ownership from there and go out and execute.
Speaking of playcalling in the 2nd half, my Dad is convinced that Richt was at the very least filtering the playcalls in the 2nd half........and I'm not so sure that he isn't right. There was a marked shift in the playcalling about midway through the 3rd quarter where we finally opened things up for Murray and let him work us down the field with short, high percentage throws. It was funny, Dad kept saying to me "Why don't they just dump it off to Crowell and see what he can do in space?" Lo and behold, we finally do that a couple of times, and it lead to a touchdown. Then, what's more, since that strategy was working, WE ACTUALLY STUCK WITH THE STRATEGY, and the receivers did a great job running those short routes. In short, the sudden change in the playcalling and sticking with what was working (not to mention never throwing it deep on 1st and 10, which you know Bobo was chomping at the bit to do) was very un-Bobo like. Like Dad said, I don't know that Richt was actually calling the individual plays, but I think there's a good chance he was at the very least providing some pretty direct suggestions on what types of plays to be calling. We will probably never know if it's true or not, because Richt would never hang Bobo out to dry publicly and say "Yeah, I had to tell him what to do", but I think Dad's theory is a plausible one. Regardless of who was calling the plays though, that was a nice adjustment, and it opened up running lanes for Crowell in the 2nd half as well. Hopefully that is something to build on the rest of the year.
Mr. Crowell, welcome to Athens. You're gonna be a good one, and without you our running game would be non-existent this year. Please, please, please, please, pretty pretty please, stay healthy.
I really don't know what grade to give the offense. Like I said, they did so many little things really well, but those were wiped out by 3 REALLY BIG bad things. The offense kept us in the game but was also the main reason that we lost. How do you grade that? I guess I'll split the grade between the coaches and the players. For the offensive coaches, I'll give you a B. Nice adjustments were made, but it would have been helpful for those adjustments to have been made earlier when we only got 6 points out of our first 3 possessions. We should have been up at least 14-17 points on them early, but couldn't seem to find the formula for success until the 2nd half. But our guys actually looked prepared this game, and for once we weren't the team that was burning timeouts all game long due to confusion on the field. For the offensive players, I'll give a C-. Again, did a lot of good things, it's always impressive to put up 42 points on an SEC defense, but you cannot overlook the huge mistakes that lost the game. Hopefully this is something to build on, but I'm not a moral victory kind of guy. You either win or lose, and the offense lost this game for us.
Brandon Boykin is a stud. Boise kept him pretty well contained, but he refused to be stopped last night, he was really fun to watch on those returns. He probably could have taken one of those to the house if he had cut back outside instead of inside, but he was still amazing. As for trickeration, they got us on that fake punt, that was a great call by Spurrier. Likewise, Richt had a great call too on the onsides kick, we were just a hair offsides.......isn't that the story of being a UGA fan, always just a half step away from success? Being offsides was an absolute killer though, because the ensuing drive after we re-kicked is when they ran that fake punt for the TD. So instead of us having the ball in great field position, they end up with a touchdown, for at least a 7 point swing. Between that and the missed turnovers by the defense, we really left a lot of points on the field, even not factoring in the turnovers. Walsh had the one missed FG, but converted 2 others and drilled his kickoffs deep all night. Butler averaged a little over 44 yards per punt. Branden Smith had an impressive punt return. Kick coverage was solid. All in all, after disappointing in the Boise game, the Special Teams pretty well lived up to their preseason hype last night. Yes, Walsh's missed FG was the difference in the final score, but I still put that blame on the offense because we should not have had to attempt field goals on all 3 of those possessions, you have to score touchdowns to win games. I'll give the special teams a B+, with the missed FG and giving up the fake punt keeping me from giving an A or A-.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Like I said early in this post, this one just hurt. There were so many things I liked.......despite the mistakes, the players showed way more heart last night than we are used to seeing........and credit for that goes to both the coaches and the players. The coaching staff could easily have lost the team after the Boise game, and the players could have given up on the coaches, but it was obvious that they all pulled together with the right attitude. We looked far more organized and aggressive than I have come to expect from this coaching staff. And there were times when the players looked like they were really starting to believe in themselves again. Again, I am not a moral victory kind of guy, but I am at least happy that in no way can I look at this game and feel like we lost due to a lack of effort and desire. The effort and desire were there, and were there in large doses.
But yet again, we fell just short on the execution side, which has become a consistent theme with this football program. Just short of staying onsides on what would have been a huge momentum turner. Just short of making some big interceptions. Just short of making a great defensive play instead of committing pass interference. Just short of getting out of our own way to win the game. And how do you overcome that? I don't know the answer. And I feel like if Richt knew the answer, we'd already be a much better team than we are now. The blame for this particular loss definitely falls more on the players than the coaches. But at the end of the day, coaches have some level of responsibility for mental mistakes by the players too.......the coaches have to prepare the players physically AND mentally for success. Then the players have to take ownership from there and execute. Somewhere in that sequence is a breakdown within the UGA football program. I'm going to have a post up later this week with some pretty detailed thoughts on Richt, the state of the program, and what I'd like to see happen. But for now, I'm proud of the effort put on the field last night, but stinging like crazy from the loss.