Ok, its been more than 24 hours and I have had time to collect my thoughts and come to grips with the fact that my Georgia Bulldogs nearly blew it against the Gamecocks. The same Gamecock team that has lost consecutive games to Vanderbilt nearly toppled the nation's number 2 ranked team. Of course, we're number 3 now, but that's neither here nor there.
The fact of the matter is, this should not surprise anyone. Georgia historically has trouble with SC-east. Take 2002 as just one example. In route to a 13-1 record and an SEC championship, the Dawgs needed a miracle interception/touchdown from David Pollack to pull off the victory in Columbia. The Dawgs, despite holding a huge advantage in the overall series, always seem to struggle with the Cocks. Especially in Columbia.
So this result of this game alone is not enough to cause panic in the Bulldog Nation. However, there are some real concerns at this point.
First and foremost is the lack of a consistent pass rush from the Georgia defense. The scheme yesterday was clear, shut down the run and force the Carolina QB's to beat us. The fact that South Carolina only managed 18 rushing yards and 7 points over four quarters shows this plan to be a success. However, there was almost no pass rush to speak of from the Georgia front four. Last year, and for quite a few years before, the Dawgs have had defensive ends and tackles that could get to the quarterback without the need for a blitz from the linebackers or secondary. That is obviously huge for a defense to be able to rely on its front four for pressure and allow the other seven players to cover the passing lanes. This year we don't have those guys that can get in the backfield and disrupt the passing game on their own. South Carolina's quarterbacks are simply not very good. When facing a more accurate passer, Willie Martinez and the Georgia defensive coaches are going to have to figure out a way to get some pressure in there or we may be in trouble.
Second is the kicking game, specifically kickoffs and kickoff coverage. It is amazing, but no matter how good Georgia's field goal kicker is year in and year out, we never seem to have a guy that can consistently put the ball in the endzone and force a touchback. Now this may simply be a matter of scheme. Defensive ends coach Jon Fabris also coaches the kickoff and punt teams. He seems to favor the directional style kicks that go high and deep to around the five. In theory this can be better than a touchback because it gives the coverage team more time to get down the field and forces the returner to start from a corner without much room to wiggle. The problem is, Georgia does not seem to have the kicker or the coverage unit to pull this off successfully. Yesterday South Carolina started three possessions from the 30 or better after a Bulldog kickoff. This is unacceptable and will surely come back to bite us against the better teams on the schedule.
I also have a major issue with us playing nine different receivers when two of them are head and shoulders above the rest. Not having AJ Green and Mohammed Massaquoi in the game in crucial situations is mind boggling to me. Also, I don't know what the coaches see at practice, but the last three Saturdays, Richard Samuel has not shown himself to be a better number two back behind Moreno than Caleb King.
Of course, with all that being said, it was still a win. It was a win, on the road, in conference, against an opponent and a coach that live to beat us. All in all, I can't complain too much.
On a positive note, despite the lack of impressive stats, Matthew Stafford continues to show himself to be a warrior and the unquestioned leader of this team. He made several key checks at the line of scrimmage yesterday and also completed a pass on a rope to AJ Green on 3rd and 31 that maybe only 4 or 5 other quarterbacks in college football could've completed. The kid is going to be very wealthy someday soon, but selfishly I hope that is still a couple of years away.