2011 Season Preview: The Georgia Bulldogs And Time To Earn The Hype

ATHENS GA - NOVEMBER 27: Cordy Glenn #71 and Ben Jones #61 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrate with Orson Charles #7 after Charles touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 27 2010 in Athens Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Mark Richt's tenure in Athens has been incredibly successful, but after two years of diminishing returns, the pressure is on the 2011 Dawgs to surge in a vulnerable SEC East. If some former blue-chippers come through, the sky is the limit. But if former blue-chippers had come through, Georgia wouldn't have gone 6-7 last year.

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom. As always, if you don't like numbers, just skip to the words.

From 1984 to 2000, Georgia finished in the postseason AP Top 25 eight times, in the AP Top 10 twice. In his first eight years in Athens, head coach Mark Richt matched the first total (eight times in the Top 25) and vastly exceeded the second (five in the Top 10). He is No. 3 on Georgia's all-time wins list, No. 1 in terms of win percentage (among coaches who spent more than three years there). He has sent an incredible number of players to both the NFL and the graduation stage. He has avoided any major sanctions in a time when such a thing is incredibly common ... and he's on the hot seat.

Welcome to the SEC, eh?

Richt's last two seasons have produced just 14 wins, he hasn't locked down that elusive national title (always a silly argument considering the timing involved; his 2002 squad might have made the national title game in 2001 or 2003 but didn't in 2002) and though he has won at an incredibly high level overall, he has produced diminishing returns the last two years, and ... well, in big-time football, a third time is usually a charm, if you know what I'm saying. Whether it is fair or not (and I'm leaning toward "not," really), it is what you take on in the SEC. Your salary is probably obscene, and your tenure will probably come to an end before you're ready. Richt is the dean of SEC coaches, and odds are good that he'll need a strong 2011 to keep his job long enough Wallace Butts for No. 2 on Georgia's wins list.

Luckily for Richt, 2011 should work out rather well for him and his Dawgs as long as some recent blue-chippers strap on their hobnail boots and start earning their hype.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk**: 29
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep UL-Lafayette 55-7 W 24.1 - (-4.6) W
11-Sep at South Carolina 6-17 L 23.9 - 29.3 L
18-Sep Arkansas 24-31 L 36.3 - 27.9 W
25-Sep at Mississippi State 12-24 L 31.7 - 29.7 W
2-Oct at Colorado 27-29 L 33.1 - 31.4 W
9-Oct Tennessee 41-14 W 41.1 - 29.0 W
16-Oct Vanderbilt 43-0 W 38.6 - (-2.3) W
23-Oct at Kentucky 44-31 W 39.1 - 20.3 W
30-Oct vs Florida 31-34 L 33.6 - 32.7 W
6-Nov Idaho State
55-7 W 24.0 - (-0.1) W
13-Nov at Auburn 31-49 L 37.3 - 30.4 W
27-Nov Georgia Tech 42-34 W 44.0 - 31.7 W
31-Dec vs Central Florida 6-10 L 21.0 - 13.8 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 32.1 30 22.1 36
Adj. Points Per Game 32.9 23 20.7 15

With a freshman quarterback, a new defensive scheme, and a star receiver unfairly suspended for the first month of the season, Richt had his Dawgs playing well enough to beat an 'average' team, with an 'average' number of breaks, 12 out of 13 times. But that doesn't really matter when a) you're not usually playing average teams, and b) you're not making plays when you need to. The Bulldogs were not strong enough to win tight games overall, going 1-4 in games decided by one possession. They were really, really, close to about nine wins, but coulda, woulda, shoulda doesn't typically matter much to college football fans.

Aside from an egg in the bowl game, Georgia's offense was consistently solid overall, managing between 31.7 and 44.0 Adj. Points in nine of 13 games. As would have been expected, the Bulldogs struggled to get their footing with Aaron Murray figuring things out at quarterback without A.J. Green. But once Green came aboard, UGa got rolling.

Georgia Offense Without A.J. Green: 29.0 Adj. PPG
Georgia Offense With A.J. Green: 34.6 Adj. PPG

The defense, meanwhile, would probably prefer you use averages instead of median numbers. Their Adj. PPG average of 20.7 was almost a full touchdown ahead of the national average, but as you can see above, that was primarily because of three games (four if you include UCF).

Georgia Defense Versus UL-Lafayette, Vanderbilt, Idaho State and Central Florida: 1.7 Adj. PPG Allowed
Georgia Defense Versus Everybody Else: 29.2 Adj. PPG Allowed

The Georgia D ranked first in defensive covariance in 2010, meaning that more than any other D in the country, they played well against poor offenses and poorly against good ones. They will need to find a stronger baseline performance against offenses with a pulse in 2011; they should have the experience to do just that.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 27 30 27
RUSHING 36 38 35 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 22 26 22 11
Standard Downs 31 45 24 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 23 16 31 74
Redzone 77 93 59
Q1 Rk 19 1st Down Rk 18
Q2 Rk 29 2nd Down Rk 36
Q3 Rk 6 3rd Down Rk 30
Q4 Rk 96

With Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, etc., the 2008 Georgia offense was one of the best in the country. Any disappointment surrounding that season is because of what transpired on the defensive side of the ball. But since then, there has been a definitive step backwards; this was not a mediocre unit last year by any means, but it obviously wasn't quite as good as it needed to be, particularly in the fourth quarter. Like Arkansas, the Dawgs were 45-minute men in 2010 (as we see in today's Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit, that doesn't say good things about 2011), and while you can win while struggling late (the best teams have the game won by Q4), it certainly isn't a particularly encouraging thing.

Georgia's primary weaknesses (fourth-quarter aside) were areas which could, in some way, be blamed on a new quarterback. As we've found in these previews, teams with freshmen behind center almost always have poor Adj. Sack Rates, something that will improve as Aaron Murray (3,049 yards, 8.9 per pass, 61% completion rate, 24 TD, 8 INT; 358 pre-sack rushing yards, +3.5 Adj. POE) further gets his bearings. He was absolutely magnificent for a youngster, but obviously he still has some growing to do. He tucked and ran a lot on passing downs, resulting in an odd split of run-pass ratios -- Georgia passed slightly more than normal on standard downs and ran a ton more than normal on passing downs.

Assuming further maturity from Murray, he should be able to make something happen even without A.J. Green (848 yards, 14.9 per catch, 68% catch rate, 9 TD in nine games) and the underrated Kris Durham (659 yards, 20.6 per catch, 62% catch rate, 3 TD). Junior Tavarres King (504 yards, 18.7 per catch, 68% catch rate, 3 TD) averaged a robust 12.6 yards per target, and ... lord knows players like Marlon Brown (133 yards, 12.1 per catch, 61% catch rate, 1 TD) and Rantavious Wooten (38 yards, 6.3 per catch, 60% catch rate) look the part. Brown in particular has had monster potential for a couple of seasons, and now would be a pretty good time to live up to it. At tight end, Georgia is loaded as well; Orson Charles (422 yards, 16.2 per catch, 54% catch rate, 2 TD) is a stud, senior Aron White (125 yards, 13.9 per catch, 82% catch rate) has shown loads of potential (while also disappearing for games at a time), and incoming four-star signee Jay Rome (6-foot-5, 255) will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact.

Other tidbits:

  • There are still some options, but wow, has Georgia had a tough offseason when it comes to the running back position. Washaun Ealey (811 yards, 5.2 per carry, +5.7 Adj. POE, 11 TD) announced his transfer, Caleb King (430 yards, 5.4 per carry, -4.2 Adj. POE, 2 TD) was ruled academically ineligible for 2011, and Carlton Thomas (272 yards, 4.2 per carry, -5.3 Adj. POE, 2 TD) was suspended for the first game. That leaves RB-turned-LB-turned-RB Richard Samuel (395 yards, 4.5 per carry, -4.2 Adj. POE in 2009), redshirt freshman Ken Malcolme ... and the stud. If five-star back Isaiah Crowell were to pull a Marcus Lattimore on the SEC in 2011, everything changes. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Crowell is as blue as a blue-chipper can be, but relying on a freshman to dominate from day one typically doesn't work out well, especially when the schedule starts with games against Boise State and South Carolina.
  • The offensive line is, strangely, simultaneously experienced and green. Left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones are both three-year starters, and OL-turned-DT-turned-OL Justin Anderson has 12 starts under his belt. Even without tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who was lost to another torn ACL this past spring, the Dawgs return 86 career starts, but 71 come from two players. The guard position is quite thin, with Kenarious Gates (three starts as a true freshman) and an unknown (Chris Burnette? John Bodin?) as the likely starters, and with but 13 scholarship linemen (including incoming freshmen), it would behoove the Dawgs if Sturdivant was the last major injury this unit suffers.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 33 37 35
RUSHING 39 42 43 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 32 39 31 29
Standard Downs 30 22 32 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 36 49 29 30
Redzone 71 87 65
Q1 Rk 6 1st Down Rk 32
Q2 Rk 56 2nd Down Rk 25
Q3 Rk 32 3rd Down Rk 42
Q4 Rk 56

Much was made of Mark Richt's hiring of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Georgia's subsequent move to a 3-4. They weren't immediately equipped for the move; DeAngelo Tyson (22.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks) manned the nose tackle spot despite 'only' weighing in at 290, and the line registered just 19.0 TFL/sacks as a unit. Their line were decent, but with another year of adapting the personnel for the scheme, things should be quite a bit better in 2011.

Three ends -- DeMarcus Dobbs, Brandon Wood, and Kiante Tripp (combined: 9.0 TFL/sacks) -- depart, but with Tyson moving back to end, the unit has promise. Tyson, Abry Jones (23.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks), Derrick Lott (6.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks in three games) and incoming four-star freshmen Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey give Grantham options. But the biggest improvement could come at tackle, where huge sophomore Kwame Geathers (4.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks in eight games) surged this spring, and equally enormous four-star junior college transfer Big John Jenkins comes to Athens with high expectations. The two combine to weight somewhere in the neighborhood of 690 pounds; if the 3-4 needs a Terrance Cody at the nose, they have a couple of strong candidates.

As a whole, candidacy is the name of the game for the Georgia line. There are options aplenty, but somebody still has to produce.

While the line should get better, the linebacker corps is a bit questionable. Only three returning 'backers logged major playing time last year, while five are gone. With the departure of outstanding playmaker Justin Houston (52.5 tackels, 18.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU), the pressure will be on players like Cornelius Washington (21.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks) and Jarvis Jones (9.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks in 2009 at USC) to produce. Houston was honestly the best thing about Grantham's first defense, and he will be missed. The inside should be solid with the return of Christian Robinson (36.5 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks) and Alec Ogletree (29.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks), but in searching for playmakers it would not be entirely surprising if incoming four-star freshmen Amario Herrera and Ramik Wilson worked their way into the rotation. Lord knows Washington and Jarvis were both quite highly-touted, but like Marlon Brown and a lot of former star recruits, it's time for them to produce.

Other tidbits:

  • The secondary is potentially loaded. Six of the top seven defensive backs return, including star safety Bacarri Rambo (69.0 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 3 FF) and corners Brandon Boykin (35.0 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 3 PBU) and Sanders Commings (27.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 2 PBU). This was not a particularly aggressive unit last year, but ... well, it should have been. And it should be in 2011, especially if an incoming blue-chipper like Malcolm Mitchell, Damian Swann or Corey Moore quickly gets up to speed quickly. A more disruptive line could do wonders for the secondary.
  • Ah, the ridiculousness of quarterback hurries. This could be such a useful statistic, but it is neither standardized nor usable. Case in point: according to Georgia's official website, the Bulldogs logged an amazing 129 QBH's in 2010. Their opponents: 21. Um, considering UGa actually got to opposing quarterbacks 24 times while getting sacked 25 times ... color me skeptical. Either a) Georgia defenders were the worst tackling team in the country, b) Aaron Murray was incredibly unable to get away from pass rushers, or c) QB Hurries stinks as a stat. Or, I guess, d) all of the above.

Georgia's 2010 Season Set to Music

Honestly, I'm not picking a song this time. I'm just referring to this epic, wonderful set of interviews. The whole thing is great, but the music part shines a light into coaches' personalities, to an unexpected and, frankly, uncomfortable degree.

What's one of your favorite songs, or name your favorite musician.

Spurrier: A song I've been listening to lately is that Kenny Rogers song, "A Blaze of Glory." (Does that have any particular meaning?) Well, I hope to go out in a blaze of glory. I hope to. Yep. ...

Nutt: I'm a wide variety. I'm a '70s guy. So what do I love? Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire. Elvis Presley. I got a long range. ...

Chizik: One of my all-time favorites is Neil Diamond. Love it. Absolutely. "Coming to America," "Red Red Wine," I've got 'em all.

Phillips: I used to listen to a song when I played from Morris Day and the Time called "777-9311." I don't know why. Just because I liked the sound and the beat of it. I listened to that one before I played [in a game].

Richt: Believe it or not, it's called "Thinking About You." And it was written and performed by my son, David. It's pretty cool. But that's by far my favorite song.

Petrino: Oh, gosh, going way back. It's hard for me to pick one favorite. I'm not a big music guy. ...

Miles: I love Lil Wayne, I've listened to him a bunch most recently. I like Akon. I've really kind of got away from hip-hop, and I listen to country. I listen to Kenny Chesney pretty routinely. I enjoy a variety of music, it's not just one guy. There for a while, I was all over Toby Keith. I kind of move with what's going on.

Saban: I'm a big Eagles fan. I've seen them in concert three or four times. I have their concerts on tape that i watch at home. I have about four DVDs that I play on my boat, in my car, at home. And the only other artist I spend any time listening to is Michael Jackson. "This Is It" really kind of rejuvenated some of his talent to me. And I really enjoy listening to that.

The image of Les Miles hanging out at home, listening to Akon, gave me shudders all weekend.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Here.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 16
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 6
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** +10 / +9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -2.9

Survive the first two weeks. That's the name of the game for Georgia in 2011. If they start the season 2-0, having beaten Boise State in Atlanta and South Carolina in Athens, then suddenly this talented, super-athletic, and still semi-young team becomes a name in the national title race. But even though UGa could lose both of those games and still be a damn fine team, the negative sentiments will grow significantly with an 0-2 start, especially after two diminished years and endless 'hot seat' discussion.

After South Carolina, things ease up quite a bit. Georgia's three conference road games are trips to Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- all winnable (though Tennessee's going to be tricky this year) -- and they get Auburn at home. Football Outsiders' projections have them tying with South Carolina for the East title precisely because of this schedule. However, the psychological impact of the first two games could be significant, and Georgia certainly has quite a bit to overcome, namely the fourth-quarter struggles, the reliance on former star recruits who have yet to star at the collegiate level, and the fact that the Dawgs' fumble recovery rates and YPP margin suggest they weren't particularly unlucky last year. For at least one more year, they get the benefit of the doubt from the numbers, but another disappointing season would change that. In recent years, the whole has not been greater than the sum of the parts. With a potentially great quarterback and a defense more equipped for its scheme, things should be looking up in 2011; their path to an East title still contains more 'ifs' than South Carolina, but the ceiling is certainly as high as ever.

 

Be sure to purchase your Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 today! The college portion is available for just $5, and if you pre-order the entire book, you can download the college portion instantly.

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* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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