Georgia Bulldog football is in a curious state right now. No one outside of the rabid fan base wants to point fingers, yet everyone knows that there are problems that need to be addressed quickly.
Coach Mark Richt isn't ready to make any significant changes, but he's aware that something needs to be done with his team—and soon.
While both the offense and the defense have struggled mightily this season, it is the offense that has been the most disappointing because, unlike the defense, there weren't as many questions about how successful it could be—thanks in large part to the presence of a healthy offensive line, two semi game-tested running backs, and a quarterback that many thought would be better for Georgia.
Joe Cox was not going to have the awe-inspiring arm of Matthew Stafford, but the red-headed young man from North Carolina would bring leadership, poise, and stability to the huddle. For many of us in the Bulldawg Nation, that was considered a good thing.
For the most part, at least in the beginning, Cox performed better than anticipated. Two standout performances in Weeks Two and Three boosted optimism for the remainder of the season and had many fans thinking that this Georgia team, bolstered by it's new resiliency, could overcome the deficiencies in the run game and be competitive on a national level.
That was before the heartbreaker that was LSU and the disaster that was Tennessee.
Now, as fans, we are trying to decide who needs to go first and when. The overwhelming opinion is that defensive coordinator Willie Martinez can leave just a few steps ahead of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Neither has been effective this season and both have come under heavy scrutiny in Dawg Country for their playcalling mediocrity and overall inability to coach-up the talent that Georgia has on its roster.
Which leads to this question: How much of Mike Bobo's inefficiency can be blamed on Joe Cox?
Last season, with both Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford running the show, the Dawgs managed an offense that was ranked 22nd in the nation. This season, with Cox and a running back by committee (RBBC) approach, we have the 97th-ranked offense in the nation.
Clearly the offense was more negatively effected by their departure than we cared to admit or realize at the start.
Cox has a decent arm, better than many of us thought it would be, but he's only as good as his protection allows him to be. The offensive line has underperformed against better defenses this season and in the last two weeks that has led to sub-par outings by Joe Cox.
Add to that the total lack of a strong running game and you have a prescription for SEC implosion.
Where does coach Bobo come into all of this? After all, he can't coach the offensive line. That job falls squarely on Stacy Searles.
Well, for one, it seems that Bobo continues to keep the offensive playbook as minimal as possible for Cox. He is either not comfortable or not confident that he can execute all the plays called—honestly, no matter how effective Cox has seemed this year, it's obvious he cannot make every throw.
Secondly, Cox has developed chemistry with A.J. Green. That's great, A.J. can deliver the goods, but what happens when Green is shut down?
On Saturday, the Tennessee Vols held Green in check for the most part and rendered him ineffective—that left Joe Cox to find a second and, at times, a third option. He was unable to do so thanks to pressure from the edge by the Vol defensive line—the result was errant or ill-advised passes.
On a number of occasions he would simply go to his fullback, Shaun Chapas, which is fine, but again, the play became easy to snuff out and became yet another element of predictability in the execution of the Georgia offense.
Cox has become just as predictable as Mike Bobo. We know who his primary target will be (A.J. Green). We know who his safety valve under pressure will be (Shaun Chapas). We know who he goes to on screens and flats—we even can tell you who his first option will be on plays thrown in the middle of the field (Orson Charles).
If we know that...everyone in the SEC knows it, too.
The way to combat that is a good running game. If we had one, it would make it easier for Joe Cox to find some breathing room and perhaps Bobo could then find some wrinkles that everyone can't figure out after 10 plays.
The problem there, however, is our running backs are not performing well enough to be a factor. The o-line has a lot to do with that, but at some point you have to turn the spotlight on the guys toting the ball, too. Plain and simple, King, Samuel, Thomas...they aren't getting the job done.
The problem with Samuel is he is brought down at first contact and doesn't yet have the leg drive to continue to move the pile once he's been stopped—he may get better in time, but for now, he's just not ready to run well between the tackles.
King has the technique and is capable of absorbing and even running through tackles, but he is more effective if he can find some space after making his first cut. Once he does, he's gonna get the yards.
Washaun Ealey is the best combination of King and Samuel, but he doesn't have the game experience and needs more reps to be ready for continued play in the SEC.
As for Carlton Thomas, he's simply not built for the run game. He needs space to create plays and is much more valuable doing his thing on designed screens or plays out in the flat—between the tackles is not his forte.
All this said, none of these guys have been effective enough this season to allow for sustained success in the passing game. Joe Cox has had to be the heart and soul of the offense and he cannot carry this team on his shoulders.
Mike Bobo is certainly aware of this and has likely tailored the offense to suit the skills that Joe can bring to the table, but what that sets up is likely failure when everything else starts to fall apart (i.e. defenses start to catch onto what he is doing).
Bobo took over as offensive coordinator on December 16, 2006. He's only ever had great players to work with and those players made him look good.
The first true test of his coaching ability has come this season and so far he is failing with flying colors, as the Dawgs rank 51st in passing and 74th in scoring—he's been predictable and unimaginative in his play-calling and that has made it easy for opposing defenses.
To be fair, Joe Cox is the first Georgia quarterback in eight years that hasn't been blessed with either great talent or a great skill-set. Outside of A.J. Green, there are few, if any, current All-SEC players on the offensive side of the ball.
That said, fans and elite programs always feel that the talent can only go as far as the coaching allows them to go. Whether it is coach Bobo's fault or not, the proof of his value as a great coach comes with his ability to prepare his players for competition on Saturday.
If Bobo continues to rely on Joe Cox to bail out his mediocre play-calling, he will find himself exiting with the senior in 2010 and I doubt many Georgia Bulldog fans will find a need to buy him a parting gift.
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