Friday, October 26, 2012

Still Searching

Aaron Murray is making his third trip to Jacksonville as the UGA starting quarterback. After a rough first half his freshman year, he has been pretty strong in what used to be termed the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, bringing Georgia back from a 21-7 hole to force overtime in 2010 and rallying Georgia from a 17-3 hole to win last year. 

But Georgia’s quarterback is still searching for that elusive signature victory. Murray is without a landmark victory that years from now Georgia fans will reminisce over at tailgates before lumbering to Sanford Stadium. 

As good as Murray has been, Georgia fans are still let unsatisfied as he has never delivered on the big stage. He will likely leave Georgia with multiple passing records, but he doesn’t have David Greene’s win over Tennessee from 2001 or the win over Auburn in 2002. He doesn’t have DJ Shockley’s win over LSU in 2005 or Matt Stafford’s wins over Auburn in 2006 and 2007 and Alabama in 2007. 

Murray has a golden chance Saturday to seize that victory with No. 3 Florida waiting for Georgia down in Jacksonville. Win that game and Murray will likely lead Georgia back to the SEC Championship game for the second time in a row, something only the aforementioned Greene has pulled off at Georgia. A win over Florida would give him two for his career, something Greene, Stafford, Shockley or Joe Cox (joking) could never pull off. 

The crazy part is, I remember saying something very similar when Murray was set to face South Carolina earlier this year and LSU last year and Boise State last year. Murray keeps yakking on the big stage. Georgia fans are hoping he can play like he has in the second half of the last two Georgia/Florida games for four quarters. If he can and he gets some help from his defense, Murray will finally have his signature victory. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Case of UGA Acid Reflux

Watching the Georgia/South Carolina game a few weeks ago, something struck me and I immediately became sick to my stomach: I had seen this before. As I watched Jarvis Jones fail to make an impact in Georgia’s blowout loss to the Gamecocks, I was transported back to Halloween weekend 2008. I watched that day as future first-round pick Knowshon Moreno was a non-factor as Georgia was blown out by a top-10 team. Moreno appeared to take himself out several times during the game to seemingly save himself for the NFL. Many Georgia fans still shake their head at Moreno’s actions (or inaction) and wonder what would have happened if he had gone full-out.

That is not to say that Jones took himself out of the South Carolina game or is saving himself for the NFL. He looked like he wasn’t giving 100 percent towards the end of the game, but afterwards, injury news broke. Over the bye week, word came out that Jones was more injured than he let on, and it is possible that he will not suit up against Kentucky because of various ailments. Georgia would likely rather have Jones on the field for next week’s Florida game over the Kentucky game. 

At the end of the day, the sickening part is a first-round lock failed to make an impact in the biggest game on the schedule to this point. Can Georgia still win the SEC East? Yes. But a big game from Jones against South Carolina could have done some big things for the program, much the same way a big game from Moreno in 2008 could have done some big things for the Georgia program. Alas, Georgia fans had to be wondering, haven’t we seen this before all throughout the South Carolina game. Hopefully for Georgia fans, they will be saying the same thing next week in regards to Jones’ performance against the Gators one year ago. That is the kind of repeat performance the Bulldog Nation wouldn’t mind seeing again. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Georgia Will Survive Sans Bennett

The loss of wide receiver Michael Bennett is certainly significant for the University of Georgia offense. Bennett was the team’s leading receiver this year with 24 catches, 345 yards and four touchdowns through the team’s first five games. He snared two scores in the second half against Tennessee, allowing the Bulldogs to pull away from the Vols, but late in Tuesday’s practice, Bennett tore the ACL in his right knee and will require season-ending surgery. 

Bennett was part of a five-wide set that Georgia flashed early in the season, and the formation would have certainly helped against South Carolina as Georgia attempts to snap a two-game losing streak to the Gamecocks this Saturday. 
That being said, though, wide receiver was perhaps the best position for the Bulldogs to suffer a season-ending injury because the receiving corps is so deep. Marlon Brown has 17 catches for 272 yards and three scores so far this year while Tavarres King has also recorded three touchdowns and 307 yards on 16 catches. Rantavious Wooten and Chris Conley have each shown some positive flashes and Malcolm Mitchell will now likely see his offensive snaps increase. Factor in Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome at the tight end position, and Bennett’s loss, while it hurts, isn’t as bad judging from the outside as it could be. 

Aaron Murray seemed to build a fine rapport with Bennett over the last season and one half, but now Conley can step into the fray and perhaps take Bennett’s catches. Wide receiver was a deep position that just got a bit shallower, but if Mitchell returns to the offense in a larger capacity, not much figures to be lost at the playmaking position. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

UGA can hang with anybody

The University of Georgia was not going to lose to Vanderbilt Saturday. The ‘Dores were lucky that Jarvis Jones didn’t just rip Jordan Rodgers a new one when he was going nuts once back on the field. Todd Grantham kept his starters in to ensure Vanderbilt didn’t get a touchdown after last year’s fireworks. Georgia wasn’t in any danger of losing like last year, when Drew Butler needed to make a crucial save to prevent a game-winning touchdown return. Georgia dominated from the start of the game as more history was made as UGA finished with 48 points, the fourth straight game UGA has posted at least 41 points.

The biggest thing we learned from the action at Sanford Stadium Saturday night was that Georgia can be “on” just like the other top teams in the country. Was Vanderbilt an opponent like Clemson, Michigan or Oregon? No, but the way Georgia played last night, any of those teams would be hard-pressed to have beaten the Dawgs. The defense bent at times but never once broke while the offense looked unstoppable in the first half. Aaron Murray has found a nice rhythm with his receivers while the running game looks as loaded as it was back in 2007. 

These backs run harder and with such a variety that, while LSU gets the pub for going five-deep, Georgia’s top three could be viewed as a more dangerous unit. Todd Gurley’s stiff arm was certainly pregame-videoboard-worthy while Keith Marshall’s speed was finally on display during his long run Saturday night. Gurley is getting the acclaim right now, as he should, but don’t count Keith Marshall out just yet. His best days are ahead of him. And Ken “Boo” Malcome also runs hard enough to punish defenses tired of seeing Gurley and Marshall run around and through them. 

As for the defense, what more can be said? Oh, yeah, it is about to get better with the return of Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo. The rest of the SEC just shivered. How explosive will Jones be now with Rambo and Ogletree out there, taking attention away. The way LSU played Saturday, Georgia has to believe it can take down the Tigers. Alabama may be the defending BCS champions, but the Tide may not even have a shot at Georgia as Bama has to go to Baton Rouge.

Now the Bulldog Nation must hope that this week’s Tennessee game doesn’t become a classic trap game. Georgia had extra motivation for the Vanderbilt game and the South Carolina game will be weighing on the minds of a bunch of 19- to 23-year-olds. The onus will be on the Georgia coaching staff to keep the Dawgs focused on a Tennessee team that was ranked a few weeks back and could possibly pull another classic Tennessee upset (see: 2004, 2007, 2009). Georgia must be ready for a desperate Vols squad that has enough firepower to take out an unfocused team. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Aaron Murray: Under appreciated superstar

Henry David Thoreau, Vincent Van Gogh, John Keats and Galileo Galilei: all people who were vastly under appreciated while they were writing, painting or otherwise doing what they do. It wasn’t until much later that people truly started to appreciate what they brought to the table and how they missed the chance to witness greatness. 

Perhaps Aaron Murray can relate to these great poets, artists and scientists. Despite putting up quality numbers as a freshman and leading the Dawgs to the SEC East title last year as a sophomore, all Murray heard over the offseason was rumblings about how Bulldog Nation couldn’t wait for Christian LeMay and high school senior Brice Ramsey to take over because Murray can’t win the big one. Fans ripped Murray for his turnovers and nitpicked his numbers coming against weak competition. 

All Murray has done this season is go on the road and beat Missouri, a team with a quarterback more hyped but not nearly as talented as Murray. He has Georgia (3-0) sitting at No. 5 in the country after passing for 842 yards on 51-of-80 passing and eight scores. He registered a career-high 342 passing yards against FAU last Saturday while amassing four touchdowns. During the FAU game, he moved into a tie for second on Georgia’s all-time list touchdown list and is within five of David Greene. Murray still has nearly two years of eligibility left, by the way. 

Perhaps if Murray leads Georgia through this upcoming rough patch, past Florida and to yet another SEC title game, maybe then the Georgia faithful will stop counting down the days until LeMay or Ramsey moves under center. Brandon Cox, Blake Mitchell and Casey Clausen this guy isn’t. He is quite talented but under appreciated. Georgia fans shouldn’t be trying to push this guy out the door. If anything, show some patience and let this guy do his thing. By the time he leaves Georgia for the 2014 NFL Draft, he will likely have every UGA passing record one would want and he may just have a little golden stiff arm statue and some hardware on his finger.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What we learned from beating Mizzou

I wanted to wait a few days before I wrote what in fact we learned from the Missouri game, if anything. It is too easy to get caught up in the emotion directly after a win or loss and sometimes hyperbole seems about right when you are basking in the glory or muttering in the darkness. 

What did Georgia learn from going to Missouri and picking up a big SEC East win in just the second week of the season? The answer is, sadly, not much.

Georgia knew it had a solid defense anchored by Jarvis Jones. Was it fun for the Bulldog Nation to watch Jones take over a game and shut down Missouri’s attack almost all by himself? Sure. But didn’t we know that he was incredibly talented already? He was a finalist for the Butkus Award in 2011 and he won the CFPA Elite Linebacker Trophy. He was a first team All-American by several publications, and he led the SEC in sacks last year. He is really good. We knew that.
Georgia has a plethora of receivers that can make plays, but we knew that after last season. Tavarres King, Michael Bennett, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten have all made plays this year and Brown really seemed to come to play against the Tigers. 

Georgia’s rushing attack will have ups and downs, but we knew that already as well, considering Todd Gurley is a true freshman and one of this top backups, Keith Marshall, is also a true freshman. They will have some great moments (the Buffalo game for Gurley), but they will have some rough ones too (the first play for Gurley when he fumbled). 

As fun as it was for Bulldog Nation to pound its chest and say “Old Man Football,” Missouri was an unranked foe playing its first SEC game. Their nerves showed on the first drive, and once the Georgia avalanche started in the fourth quarter, the Tigers didn’t know what to do.

Georgia still has plenty of work and it starts with getting John Theus healthy. He will likely go on to be a stud for Georgia as he started the Missouri game, and, despite giving up two sacks and being called for three penalties, the coaches stuck with him out there. That either says the coaches are really high on him or there is zero depth/trust behind him. For a true freshman to get as many reps with an apparent injury like that says the coaches really believe he is the guy. 

If we learned anything from the Missouri game, it is that Theus is a warrior for not asking out and continuing to play. The coaches should love a tackle  that stands 6-foot-6, 309 pounds. Take that away from a game that really didn’t offer much of a chance to teach Georgia anything. Missouri was an opponent that shouldn’t have scared Georgia, and the Bulldogs rightfully returned home with a victory.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

UGA dodged a bullet

Just days before National Signing Day 2010, Calhoun standout Da’Rick Rogers shocked the Georgia Bulldog Nation by de-committing from UGA in favor of Tennessee where his high school teammate Nash Nance had just committed. Georgia fans were irate and vented anger towards Rogers anyway they could via radio recruiting shows, message boards and the social network world. Several Georgia players even promised to “introduce him” to the SEC when they met on the field. 

After a quiet first year (11 catches, 167 yards, two touchdowns), Rogers was All-SEC last year with 67 catches, 1,040 yards and nine scores. Despite a huge 2011 for Rogers, Georgia fans are likely extremely happy he never stepped foot on the Athens campus.

Rogers has run into trouble throughout his Tennessee career which may have come to an end Thursday when he was suspended indefinitely by head coach Derek Dooley for violating team rules. Dooley later admitted to the Knoxville News that Rogers likely won’t return to the program. 

Rogers was involved his first year in a bar brawl that led to his arrest, but after charges were dropped, he was not suspended by Dooley. Rogers was suspended during the spring, then rumors circulated that he was mulling a transfer out of Knoxville. He stuck around, but apparently not for long. 

Back on National Signing Day 2010, Richt and company signed a pair of wide receivers in Lonnie Outlaw and Michael Bennett. While Outlaw has yet to enroll at UGA, Bennett appeared in 14 games last season, hauling in 32 passes for 320 yards and five scores. The 6-foot-3 receiver has great hands and showed them against Florida, bringing in a tough fourth down touchdown reception to help the Dawgs take down the Gators. He also posted seven catches against Vanderbilt and chalked up scores against Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Auburn. 

Meanwhile, Hutson Mason was the quarterback Georgia seemingly choose over Nance, and Mason has appeared in eight games over his first two seasons as a backup to Aaron Murray, throwing for three scores during his time on the field. Nance, on the other hand, has already transferred to Hampden-Sydney, a Division III program after never sniffing the field in Knoxville.

Rogers will be a huge loss for Tennessee, no doubt. His talent had nearly every program battling for his signature during the 2009 season leading up to February 2010. But his actions since then have many Georgia fans agreeing that maybe it was for the best that he went to the Vols. One less headache for Georgia to have had to deal with. After the Isaiah Crowell debacle, Richt and company may have been low on Advil.