Monday, September 28, 2015

Numbers that matter: Georgia w/ a decided edge over Alabama

OK, so we all know that statistics can be viewed, spun, etc. in any number of ways to make a point. As such, allow me to indulge myself with a couple that you maybe weren't as familiar with.

When you talk about SEC and national rankings of certain categories, the most common ones are scoring offense/defense, total offense/defense, and passing a rushing stats. That's all fine and good, and you'll likely hear how Georgia and Bama compare in these categories ad nauseum over the next few days.

With that said, the two numbers I'd like to focus on during our time here today, ladies and gentlemen, are offensive efficiency and red zone defense.

Let's start with offensive yards per play. It's a good indicator of how well an offense has its proverbial crap together, but also how adept it is at explosive plays. Generally speaking, if you have a high number in this category, you're not throwing an abundance of incomplete passes, you're not giving up a lot of sacks or TFL's, and you're not getting stuffed at the line too often.

Here, Georgia ranks 2nd in the nation (!) behind only Baylor. The Bears are light years ahead of everyone at 9.55 yards per play. The Dawgs are 2nd at 8.26, and Southern Cal rates 3rd as the only other team above 8 ypp.

Bama, conversely, comes in at a fairly pedestrian 63rd in the nation, averaging nearly 2.5 yards fewer per play than Georgia.

This is a significant difference, and demonstrates some of the struggles in consistency and big plays that Bama has encountered on the suddenly not-so-young season.

The second statistic I'd like to draw your attention to is red zone defense. Georgia ranks 9th in the nation, holding opponents to a 62.5% scoring rate. Alabama, on the other hand, allows opponents to score 81.8% of the time they get inside the 20 yard line. This is good for 65th in the country.

To be fair, this stat typically takes more than 4 games to flesh out, because 1 stop or one score will drastically change things given the small sample size, but it does go to show that the Dawgs are able to bow up when the chips are down. The Tide, on the other hand, are not just shutting people down the way they have in the past.

I'd be remiss if I didn't do a reality check. Alabama has played some tougher opponents to this point. Wisconsin is solid, and Ole Miss is above average (although we're beginning to see that they love hanging 75 on the paycheck teams, but struggle against SEC competition).

Again, the point is that Georgia is rolling out a very effective, efficient, and at times, explosive offense. The Crimson Tide have had trouble staying in rhythm. Georgia has stiffened when the opposition is driving, and the Tide have, well, meh.

There will be so much that can and will happen, so we can't know what these or any other stats will look like by Saturday night. They wouldn't bother playing the game if we did. But, if you're a Georgia fan, these two statistical areas should make you feel pretty good.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It does NOT matter that the Dawgs haven't played "anybody" yet

Despite beating a South Carolina team coached by one of the game's best handily, Georgia found itself being leapfrogged by 1 or 2 teams in the most recent polls, depending on which one you look at.

Ole Miss, fresh off an impressive, albeit fortune-assisted victory at BD Stadium, was one of those teams.

Can you fault the pollsters? Not really. Tuscaloosa is a tough place to earn a victory, and the Crimson Tide were ranked #2 at the time. So, it stands to reason that the Rebels would jump up significantly in the polls.

The issue at hand is that we don't know how good Alabama is, just as we didn't know how bad Auburn was before a near-death experience at home against the Sisters of the Poor, followed by the debacle against LSU, just as we didn't know how good OR how bad Stanford is, and so forth.

We go through this nonsense every September, as the voters try to figure out who's who. It's not until mid October when we at least get some idea of the, wait for it, contenders and pretenders.

Look at it this way: IF (still a big "if" against Bama/Saban) Georgia beats the Crimson Tide a week from Saturday, the victory will not carry nearly as much weight as Mississippi's win over that same team did. Why? Because at that point, the Tide will have lost 2 of their last 3 (assuming a victory this week), and they will have been ranked ~#10-15 instead of #2.

Having said all that, let's turn our attention to the Dawgs themselves. Post-Vandy, it was bridge-jumping time. Post South Carolina, it was Lambert for Heisman time.

Either way, pollsters and playoff committee people alike (I'm looking at you, Condy) have nothing but box scores and SportsCenter highlights to judge.

What I want to focus on is, how did the Dawgs actually look?

You can tell a completely over-matched team from one that was outplayed and outcoached. ULM was the former. South Carolina was the latter.

It's not as though the Gamecocks were getting completely pushed around or getting torched on go routes. On the contrary. The majority of yards gained by Georgia on the ground were hard-earned. The majority of passes (the one to Reggie Davis notwithstanding) were amid reasonably to very tight coverage.

No, the lopsided victory Saturday, especially offensively, was the result of talent, execution, and a game plan that exploited weaknesses and kept South Carolina's defense off-balance all night. Spurrier has never been more dumb-founded as when, post game, he read the stat sheet indicating the Dawgs only even got to 3rd down 4 times the whole game.

I'm not here to tell you that Georgia will win the SEC and National Championships. I'm not even proposing as a matter of fact that they will not be on the losing end of a lopsided game, either. What I am telling you is that, barring injuries or illegal memorabilia signings, this team is prepared to, on a given Saturday, beat any team in the country.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Lambert is/will be depends on what you focus upon

Clearly, the worst of Greyson Lambert last Saturday against Vanderbilt was bad. He threw some of the sorriest passes I've seen in a major college football game (that were not interceptions, at least).

We know about the 0-fer he put up in the first half, so there's no point rehashing that as the Dawgs finish prepping for South Carolina the day after tomorrow.

The food I do want to feed you for thought is, what about the best you've seen from Lambert thus far? Does the apogee of a player count less than his lowest point? Granted, we haven't really seen any down field passing as of yet, but we have seen some precision passing. While we've seen some happy feet lead to some proverbial worm-burners, we've also seen Lambert stand tall in the pocket, deliver a strike with some zip on it, and take the hit (see: Lambert to Blazevich last Saturday).

I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about with regard to true on-field potential. By that, I'm not talking about the big body and big arm potential of someone like Jamarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf.

If you take Matt Ryan (now far from a 'young' QB in the league) and compare him to a true elite QB (Brady, Manning, or Rodgers probably comes to mind, but whoever you like), you'll find that Ryan generally stacks up pretty well for about 80% of a football game. The thing that has kept him from being mentioned in the same breath as those guys (aside from a Super Bowl win, of course) is that he seems to just disappear or have a WTF moment for about 3 or 4 offensive series. Serieses? Series. So, we know Ryan is easily capable of being elite, but he just tends to mix too much trash in with the good stuff.

All that is to ask again, being that Lambert is young and new to this Georgia offense, will the well-thrown balls and smart decisions become the norm as the season progresses, or are the one-hoppers and tap dancing in the pocket going to be a constant part of his game. If it's the former, then Richt and Schottenheimer's faith is well-placed. If it's the latter, then they'll have no choice but to give Ramsey and/or Bauta a shot at the title.

Bottom line, though, is that the operative word is still "if." The sample size is far too small at this point to draw any conclusions, but I think this Saturday's prime time contest will go a long way toward leading us to a valid one.

Monday, September 14, 2015

QB Situation May Not Be That Bad

OK, first, note the word "may."

Here's the deal. Greyson Lambert did not look sharp on Saturday. He looked downright horrible in the first half, and improved to "serviceable" in the second half.

But, before declaring the season a loss, consider a few things to bring yourselves away from the ledge.

First, I think we can all agree that, had Lambert been throwing one-hoppers and the like throughout fall camp, he wouldn't have won the job.

Second, every player is going to have a "worst" game of the season. Was Saturday Lambert's worst game? We won't know until a few months from now, but Vanderbilt did field a nice defense, and some other things didn't quite go Georgia/Lambert's way, so it went beyond just bad throws.

Third, and this is the thing I'm most concerned with, but hopefully can be fixed...Lambert was not put in a position to be successful early on.

Without having re-watched the game (so please excuse any mis-remembrances), it appeared that just about every offensive series was run-run-pass. Basically, you're giving your QB (who needs reps) one opportunity to throw the ball before sitting back down and waiting for his offense to get back on the field. In other words, complete this one pass...or else.

No, Georgia should not get too far away from its bread and butter on offense; Chubb, Michel, et. al. However, Schottenheimer needs to give Lambert some easy throws on first and second downs from time to time. It's a lot easier to get into a rhythm if you know you can check down for a 3 or 4 yard gain without having to punt on the next down. It's a lot more of a confidence-saver to know that missing a throw doesn't mean having to sit back down and look at formation/game photos for the next 5-10 minutes.

Ultimately, Saturday's game was never truly in doubt. Perhaps very briefly, but only as much as a 17 point victory can really be. And, although one pass "should" have been picked off, Lambert (and Ramsey) are not turning the ball over.

So, before you ready the nooses, planks, cyanide capsules, etc., keep in mind that it's early, and things can definitely be fixed.

Let's hope they are.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

We'll NEVER learn, will we?

I couldn't count on all fingers and toes the number of superlatives, iron-clad predictions, assessments, or otherwise factually-stated opinions that have been bandied about after just one weekend of college football.

Josh Rosen is the single greatest true freshman QB that's ever played. 

Ohio State will win every game this season easily. Zeke Elliott, Cardale Jones, and Braxton Miller will finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in some order for the Heisman this year. 

Auburn's defense has arrived under Muschamp. 

Texas A&M's defense has arrived under Chavis.

Georgia still can't throw the ball down field. 

I know why you did it. 8+ months of no football. 1 weekend's worth of games to fill 88.2 hours of talk radio in every city in America. I get it. 

Look, nobody's here telling you that any or all of these aren't accurate statements (side note: Coaches, it's pronounced 'ack-yer-ut,' not 'ack-er-ut'). 

Ohio State is a terrific team with a cupcake, nay, a cream puff schedule. Josh Rosen looked like the greatest true freshman QB ever, and on and on. 

All I'm  saying is, dial it back a notch, you talking heads and gun-jumping fans. 

Remember, if we went by such observations after week 1 last year, Ohio State doesn't finish in the Top 25, and Georgia wins the National Championship. Let's hope both those things happen this year, actually. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The QB Debate: Of Opinions, Preferences, and Agendas

There have been a lot of rumblings lately that not only do Mark Richt and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not see eye to eye on Georgia's would-be QB, but that Schottenheimer actually wants to go with Lambert because it's "his guy."

With so many insider tips, hearsay, and secondhand accounts of the QB situation floating around, it's difficult to distinguish what's real and what isn't.

I have no insider tips, no secondhand accounts, and plenty of hearsay to offer you. What I will suggest to the average fan is to use your head. It's difficult to do, as we've all waited 8 months for football, and it's reached a fever pitch. Nonetheless, try to digest a few suppositions that I will present as givens.

First, Greyson Lambert transferred in early June. Schottenheimer was hired in early January. The timeline of events alone  suggests that Lambert really couldn't be Schottenheimer's "guy." It is entirely possible that Schottenheimer decided fairly early on that Ramsey, Bauta, and Park were, none of them, viable candidates for the job. It's also possible that Schottenheimer was dead-set on bringing in somebody else, but he couldn't have known that there would be an eligible transfer who would even have a shot at earning the starting nod.

Second, Schottenheimer's coaching credentials have not necessarily been trending up lately. That's not an indictment on him; he was an OC in the NFL for several years, which has to stand for something. But, if he bombs out in this role, he's going to be relegated to being a college position coach for the foreseeable future. You don't come in and rock the boat if you know that this gig carries that much more weight. From both his mouth and Richt's, Schottenheimer was considered the ideal fit because his offensive philosophy would not impede the recent success Georgia's offense has had. Now he's going to take that harmony and butt heads with the HCIC? Not likely.

In this age of instant information about any number of subjects, it's easy to take the latest quote or report and spin it any number of ways. Everyone, it's assumed, has some sort of ulterior motive.

So, let me propose this wildly outlandish idea: Ramsey and Lambert (it seems Bauta is no longer in the running, but who knows) are neck and neck for the starting job. Ramsey is currently the team favorite, having been with the team for awhile, and finishing out last season as the quarterback. Lambert is the new guy. He is viewed as a guy who left his school because he wasn't going to be the starter (this, apparently, is 100% true). As such, the team is a bit torn between trusting the coaches and aligning with one of their own.

Taking these things into account, it's easy to see how someone heard from a guy who is best friends with the third string long snapper that Lambert is only going to start because Schottenheimer wanted to use "his guy."

Personally, I choose to believe that we can win with either Ramsey or Lambert, and that Richt and Schottenheimer will evaluate everything and go with the guy that gives them the best chance to win. It's simplistic and not nearly as exciting as hearing that my friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with a girl who saw Schottenheimer and Lambert pass out at 31 Flavors last night. But, it's probably the truth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why It Makes Sense to Not Name a Starting QB (Yet)

Here we are with just two and a half weeks before the season opener, and, according to most credible reports, the coaching staff has not yet decided who will lead the Dawgs' offense. They definitely haven't named a starter publicly. Some have speculated that Greyson Lambert, fresh off a transfer from UVA, will be the starter. Others have long held that Brice Ramsey will nail down the job, or at least, that it's "his to lose" (which also suggests that it's not "his" at all, but I digress). Faton Bauta, meanwhile, is reportedly the early odd man out, which begs the question, why would you bother rotating him in at this point if he wasn't still firmly in the race? But, you already know all that, even if you've just been ducking your head in at the daily updates. We can rule a couple things out in terms of Richt and staff playing this one close to the vest. First, there's no reason nor opportunity for the element of surprise; they'd only be surprising ULM and Vandy. Second, while each candidate brings a little something different to the table, no single QB is so drastically different than the others that it makes sense to go w/ the (gasp) two-headed quarterback scenario, at least, not schematically. So, those reasons aside, what the hell's taking so long? First off, we're dealing with a transfer who just got the playbook a few months ago, and has only been officially practicing with the team for 2 weeks. I'll make the assumption that, while he almost certainly started at the back of the pack, he's made enough progress for the coaches to say, "he's come this far in 2 weeks, so what might he look like in another two weeks?" In other words, if the game was tomorrow, we might see Ramsey or Bauta, but it's not. Ramsey/Bauta might be better right now, but will they be better come kickoff? If Lambert is close enough to being #1, then the staff has to give it more time. Secondly, and this only applies if you're a true believer in head games, the staff needs to find out which, if any, of the candidates can deal with the daily pressure. It's getting to the point of 'win or go home' in a manner of speaking. Obviously, whoever's second in the pecking order stands a decent chance of playing anyway, either by injury to or ineffectiveness of the initial starter. But, generally speaking, if Lambert, Ramsey, or Bauta were to have an especially off day this late in the process, that might put him too far back to catch up. That's a lot of pressure to deal with. It's nothing compared to the pressure of a prime time showdown against a top 10 team, but it's as close as you can get at this point. Who can best handle the rigors? Lastly, there has to be a calculated assessment of strengths and weaknesses. I have no idea if Richt and Schottenheimer have a weighted scale or anything like that, but the bottom line is that they have to measure the pros and cons of each guy. And, it goes far, far beyond saying, "This guy knows the system better, but this guy has been more accurate." Percentages to be weighed surely include: Percentage of playbook knowledge/expertise, what percentage of the playbook is the QB physically able to run (with confidence), getting into the right play pre-snap, post snap adjustments (check down vs. taking a sack vs. throwing it away, etc), turnovers, and passing accuracy to name a few. From there, they've got to check the drive charts. Under which QB do we move the ball most effectively? Does any one QB seem to have the team behind him more than another? Taking all those percentages and measurements into account along with a few dozen other criteria, you begin to understand that the best thing is to keep on keeping on until they're sure. They have the luxury this year of being able to sacrifice a few pre-season reps for the eventual starter because we open with (all due respect) Louisiana-Monroe. The reps will be there before the meat of the season begins, so we're better off giving this thing a little more time now, rather than rushing it because of some sense that a starter must be named sooner than later.