Thursday, November 08, 2007



Week 10

Opponent: Auburn Tigers

Kickoff: 3:30 PM


It was an up and down experience that sort of typified the season this year. Ultimately we managed a win against a strong team in a game sandwiched between two heated rivals. It could’ve gone much, much worse.

About the Troy game

It’s hard to say exactly what we saw on Saturday. Troy is a good team and they certainly did some things very well but we seemed content to try a few different things and seemed set on working on a few aspects of the team rather than doing what was necessary to blow them out. There were several times in the game, for instance, where it made perfect sense to run the ball to pick up a first down or put ourselves in a manageable situation and we elected to pass or if we ran, we did so with Chapas at FB or into the teeth of their D. It was like we were either challenging ourselves or trying very hard to avoid establishing trends in our playcalling. It’s hard to argue with our results, scoring 44 points, but you got the feeling that had we chosen to, our offense could’ve been even more productive.

With that being said, I don’t know what to say about the defense. They gave up lots of yardage and a fair amount of points although to their credit, they were put in a considerable hole early and managed to dig themselves out of it with minimal damage. They did force a few turnovers, something they’ve struggled with this season. In the end, the first unit gave up 27 points, not too bad considering some of the numbers that Troy has hung on people all year.

AU Offense

· The AU offense will remind you some of ours, right down to the ridiculously young OL. They’ve struggled to establish a consistent passing game this year but have managed to run the ball decently. They’re averaging just over 25 ppg, 9th in the conference. In conference games though, their scoring output drops under 20. They’ve managed to piece together a solid 7-3 record after losing 2 of their first 3 with their only other loss coming to #2 LSU on the road in a nailbiter.

· At QB, AU has the enigma that is 5th year senior Brandon Cox. Cox took over the reigns to the offense from Jason Campbell after the 2004 season and has fought through ups and downs over the last 3 years. Despite the fact his completion percentage is up slightly over his career numbers, his TDs are down and his INTs are up. He suffered through the worst game of his career against UGA last year, throwing 4 INTs, so he’ll be looking for some more of the magic he tapped into in his other visit to Sanford Stadium in AU’s 2005 win (although I was surprised to see he didn’t throw a TD in that game). He’s not mobile and (as shown in last year’s UGA-AU game) is prone to mistakes when pressured consistently. On the year he’s only topped 200 yards passing twice. On the year he only has 8 TDs to 7 INTs. Backup Kodi Burns is a freshman that serves as the change of pace at QB. He’s mostly a running threat at this stage in his career.

· Like any successful Tiger team, the 2007 group features a strong ground game. They have 3 RBs with 70 or more carries on the year. Jr. Brad Lester has only played in 4 games this season after academic issues sidelined him early in the season but he’s managed to already garner 73 carries and nearly 350 yards (over 82 ypg) in his short exposure. He’s a quick, hard running back that reminds me of Thomas Brown only more elusive. He missed the Tigers’ last game with a groin injury but is expected to be ready to go. So. Ben Tate leads the team in yardage and attempts and is a strong, physical back. He and Lester both average right at 4.5 ypc. Mario Fannin is the wildcard. The converted HS QB has the size, speed and moves to be a gamebreakers down the road and he’s averaging 5.3 ypc. Tate, Lester and Fannin each average about 1 reception per game played. None are as dynamic as the Kenny Irons, Cadillac, Brown group they’ve been running out in recent years though.

· The AU WR corps is anchored by Rodgeriques Smith. Smith leads the team in catches (43), yards (593) and receiving TDs (5). He’s not big, he just gets open consistently and makes plays. He’s got more than double the catches of the next receiver. Montez Billings is 2nd on the team in catches and yards. AU FB Carl Stewart is actually 3rd on the team in receiving yardage. Starting TE Cole Bennett has managed only 4 catches on the year but backup Gabe McKenzie has reeled in 13 including 2 TDs.

· The AU OL, as mentioned before, is as young as ours. They have 3 freshmen starting on the OL including both OTs. The group is among the lightest we’ve faced all year, with only one starter listed at over 300 pounds. The starting group averages under 295. As expected, this young OL has given up their share of sacks, especially considering the immobility of Cox. Cox has been sacked 18 times on the year, including 4 sacks against UF. They did manage to hold LSU’s potent DL to a mere 2 sacks though. Like ours, this young group has really gelled as the season has moved along.

· Bottom Line: AU has struggled some this year on offense. In SEC games they’ve managed the following point totals…14, 20, 35, 9, 24 and 17, an average of under 20 ppg. Drop out the Vandy game and they’re only averaging 16.8 ppg. The AU offense has struggled with consistency this season. Against MSU the problem was turnovers, as they managed 5. Against Arkansas, they were a horrid 1-13 on 3rd downs. In their loss to LSU they averaged under 3.0 yards per rush (although LSU does that to lots of teams). The point being they’ve been plagued by different things each week that has managed to set them back overall. Some would say they’re due for everything to click. Others would say they still have yet to show they can score consistently on anyone. The answer, as always is in the middle somewhere.

· Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: Last year’s UGA-AU game was decided early on when UGA got after Cox and rattled him some. He never looked settled and by the end of the game he looked positively shaken. He’s prone to hold onto the ball. He’s been sacked at least once in every game this season (except last week in limited action) and even going back to last year when he had some veterans on the OL he was sacked in all but 3 games (Tulane, Ole Miss and Ark St didn’t get to him), heck in 18 of his 33 career starts he’s been sacked 2 or more times so there’s no reason to expect we can’t get to him. If we can pressure Cox and keep them in long yardage conversion situations, we can take them out of running situations and make Cox carry the offense, something he’s struggled to do at various times.

AU Defense

· Not surprisingly, AU sports a stout defense. They’ve put together a strong unit despite suffering some personnel losses from last season. They are 10th nationally against the pass and 24th against the run. Their total defense ranking of 8th is incredibly impressive, as they are allowing less than 294 ypg. Even more impressive is that they are 5th nationally in scoring defense, allowing less than 15 ppg. Despite the presence of All-American DE Quintin Groves, AU is struggling to pressure the QB this season (9th in the SEC in sacks), something they’ve done extremely well in recent memory.

· The Tiger DL is solid. Sr. All-American Quentin Groves is currently tied for the AU career record in sacks and is a quick, strong DE that gets upfield in a hurry. He dislocated 3 toes in their win over FL earlier this season and missed a few games, but in his place So. Antonio Coleman has emerged as a real threat, enough so to allow Groves to move to LB. Coleman’s 12.5 tackles for loss have him currently tied for 5th in the conference. His 6 sacks lead the team over Groves’ 3. Sen’Derrick Marks holds down the opposite DE spot and at 6-1, 290+, he’s more of a run-stopper. The interior of the AU DL is capably handled by Sr. Josh Thompson and Jr. Pat Sims. Thompson’s 43 tackles rank 5th on the team, surprising for an interior DL, especially one who barely tops 6’. Sims is a beast at 6-4, 320+.

· The AU LB corps is made up of a fleet of small, fast guys that they’ve featured the last few years with one major exception. They lost senior Will Herring off last year’s unit but haven’t missed a beat this year. Junior first year starter Chris Evans (6-0, 221) leads the team in tackles. Sophomore Tray Blackmon (6-0, 223) has struggled with injuries for the 2nd year but when he’s healthy he seems to always be around the ball. You may recall he had a big early game fumble recovery last season against us. Quintin Groves has moved to OLB and plays there in certain formations, shifting to DE at times as well. He’s athletic enough to pull it off and brings some serious size to the group, which even in the 2-deep features a no one (outside of Groves) much bigger than 6-1, 220 or so.

· The Tiger secondary continues the undersized, fast theme shown in the LBs. They’ve rotated several guys at safety, with the main two guys being Eric Brock and Zac Etheridge. Both are in the top 4 in total tackles. Sophomore Aairon Savage and Freshman Mike McNeil provide excellent depth. Senior Patrick Lee has started 19 career games at CB (including every one this year) and has played well on the year, pulling in 4 INTs. Sophomore Jarraud Powers starts opposite him at the other corner spot, moving in to replace departed David Irons. The secondary has played MUCH better than projected coming into the season.

· Bottom Line: This is a stout bunch both on the ground and through the air. When you look at their incredible numbers against the pass you have to remember that in the SEC they’ve faced the following teams: MSU, UF, Vandy, Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss. Of that group, only UF and LSU can be considered good passing teams. While AU did manage to hold UF to 201 yards through the air, LSU teed off for 319 yards. I’m not saying we’re the cream of the SEC crop in terms of passing by any means, but we’re certainly better through the air than most of those teams they’ve faced. The thing that makes our offense so dangerous right now is the development of Moreno. With his steady rushing, it’s allowed Stafford to continue his development and avoid those costly turnovers that marred much of last season. We’ll need a focused, efficient effort like we saw in Jacksonville in order to put points on the board Saturday. AU hasn’t gotten to the QB as much as they have in the past. I still expect them to be their typical aggressive selves under Muschamp. Look for us to utilize screens and counters to try and neutralize their speed.

· Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: I think Chandler could have another big day due to matchups against considerably smaller defenders plus we throw to him pretty regularly. If you must look at one guy though, pick Brannen Southerland. If he’s in the game, you can bet he’ll be involved in the play. Whether it be as a lead blocker, pass protector or passing option, he’s playing at such a high level of each that he’s a FB worth watching. If Moreno is going to have the day we all hope he does, Southerland will likely be playing a large part.

The AU Game Overall

Nothing in the numbers points to one team being the clearcut favorite. Georgia has the better offense, Auburn has the better defense. Both teams are playing fairly well but neither is close to playing at an elite level that both schools have grown accostumed to. The relatively high rankings of the two schools has more to do with parity in college football than actual great play from either of the two, although each school does have their key wins. AU’s played well in Athens over the years. UGA has played well at home this season (with the exception of the SC game).

In a game featuring two well matched teams, the result could easily boil down to two things (assuming the defenses and offense play as they have this year…a particularly poor assumption given both teams’ inconsistencies, but an assumption I’m going to have to make) special teams and turnovers. Shocker, huh? I know, it’s not earth shattering or profound, but football ain’t roacket science and in some games such as this, it becomes even more important to control the ball. These factors are obviously important in every game, but in games that have as much riding on them as this one, these things become even more amplified. Special teams come into play big time from a field position standpoint, especially against a defense as formidable as Auburn’s. Turnovers always play a big role, as you have to look back no further than last season to see what can happen if a team starts getting careless with the ball, as Cox’ poor outing contributed directly to UGA’s early lead and subsequent win.

Positional Notes

· How much has Stafford progressed this year? Last year he had one game where he threw 2 TD passes (MSU) and he only had two games (after the gained the starting job) where he threw at least as many TDs as INTs (AU and GT both with 1/0). This year? Through 9 games he’s thrown 2 or more TDs in 6 games and has thrown for more TDs than INTs in all but two games (SC – 0/1 and Bama- 2/2). Sure it hasn’t been the explosive development many thought it would be, but the kid is actually playing really well.

· If Weston can’t go that’s a huge absence in the interior of our DL. He’s really been a rock lately, but right now, DT might be our deepest position on the D, especially with the emergence of Atkins as a big time disruptor. Owens has been solid as usual and Irvin is logging quality minutes as well.

· Depth at safety will be an issue this week. CJ Byrd and Reshad Jones will likely start and usual starter Kelin Johnson will probably be available but the other member of the two deep is out, with Quintin Banks getting injured on Troy’s late LATE scoring drive.

· Thomas Brown appears set to return to the lineup after missing the last several games due ot a broken clavicle. His return is HUGE from a depth standpoint as Knowshon won’t have to worry as much about pacing himself (the coaches too for that matter).

Random Thoughts

· Alright, I said it was over and I really thought it was, but Steve Perry just won’t leave me alone. The first song I hear when I walked into the stadium was Separate Ways (yep, same one from the video). Then at half time the redcoats start playing…that’s right, Journey tribute. What’s the deal there? Earlier this year they were doing a James Brown tribute. How did we go from the godfather of soul to the godfather of the mullet?

· We need some serious work on the mic guy (and girl) that try to get the crowd going prior to the games now. The have to pick up the pace on those chants…like double time. Folks in our section wanted to join in but the rhythm was just way off…so they just quit.

· Big, big kudos to the pre-game video folks. Excellent job on the inclusion of the UF game highlights into the video. Just perfect. Maybe the biggest cheer all day outside of the 80-yard scamper.

· About the blackout…look, I can count on one hand the number of times the football team has made a request of the fans (and I mean specific, not just to show up and cheer). If they want me to wear black, I can handle that…it is, after all, one of our school colors.

· I’m pretty sure the upper deck of the south stands is about 15-20 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the state when it’s in the shade. Somehow it turns into a wind tunnel.

· I’ve avoided this until now, but basically the way this works out is we have to win our next two games (AU and UK) and UT has to lose one of its remaining 3 games (Ark, Vandy and UK) for us to win the east. Given how well UT’s played at home, our best shot might be UT’s lone remaining road game (@UK), especially when you consider that with ND’s loss to Navy, I think UT-UK might be the longest win streak over a single opponent in football. UT has won 20+ in a row over UK and this year is clearly the year to break suck streaks. Of course, the way Arkansas is playing they could easily win this weekend too.

· Speaking of ND, they have 1 win on the year, against UCLA and that was when UCLA had a walk-on 3rd string QB starting (if I’m not mistaken). Without that hallmark win, ND would have a real shot at going from BCS bowl to winless season. Good thing they nailed Weis down with that extension before the NFL started calling.

· You think some UGA fans have been frustrated with out defense? Imagine being Nebraska. They just gave up 76 to Kansas. In football. Nebraska has already given up more points this season than in any previous complete season in their history (if I read that Sportscenter blurb right last Saturday).

Have a safe weekend,



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