The 2009 Georgia Bulldogs have spent a lot of time being dissected, debated, and doubted by fans and critics alike.
It isn't that they have been an awful team so much as they have been a victim of their own prior successes.
No matter what anyone has to say about the coaching ability of Mark Richt, the stats simply don't lie—he has put this Georgia Bulldog team in the upper echelon of Division I football and that is nothing to scoff at if you are a die-hard fan.
However, this season has been a major disappointment because of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team on the field each week. We can't seem to find our identity and when we come close, we digress into poor play, bad effort, and lackadaisical output on the field.
That said, sitting at 4-3 on the season, it's time to give the Dawgs a midseason progress report.
This isn't the first of its kind for our beloved Bulldogs. Fellow Dawg fan Mike Foster has already put forth a solid effort of his own that you can see here if you are interested.
This article is just another report from a different angle.
The Defensive Line
The 2009 campaign started with so much hope for the defensive line. Our front four was supposed to be fierce with Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens, Justin Houston, and Roderick Battle leading the charge.
Well, Justin Houston was suspended for the first two games and Roderick Battle was lost for the season during the South Carolina game—there went the possibility of the defensive end spots being dominant.
The tone of the defensive line was set from that point forward and, so far, the production from each spot has ranged from decent to average as our guys have proven to be more stout against the run than the pass.
We are still struggling to find a consistent edge rusher but Justin Houston's return has been a boon—he has recorded three sacks since his return.
However, neither Jeff Owens nor Geno Atkins have been the terrors that we hoped.
They have performed well but not as expected. Owens' return was thought to elevate the play of Geno Atkins. However, neither has found pay dirt this season and both have made only quiet contributions at best.
Moving forward it would be nice to see more aggressive play from our line and increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Defensive Line Grade: C+
SEC Sack Rank: 6th
SEC Tackles for Loss Rank: 7th
There's Rennie Curran and then there's everyone else. Rennie again has shined at the Will (Weakside Linebacker) spot, making sure tackles and keeping runners honest.
The remainder of the linebacker corps has played fairly well overall despite injuries to key players.
Both Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent have missed time, but freshman Christian Robinson has played well in their absence and will likely continue to get playing opportunities even after they return.
Sophomore Marcus Dowtin has played exceptionally well this season and is the seventh leading tackler on the team—behind Justin Houston. He has been slowed in recent weeks by injury, but his performances in the first five weeks of the season have proven that he has the goods.
Overall, the linebackers have performed well and could be better if the front four were able to bring about a better pass rush and force more of their opposition to be balanced offensively. At this point many teams are comfortable passing the ball on Georgia.
That said, the Tennessee game did expose some weaknesses in tackling and technique. If there is an area of improvement that needs to be made it's in the mental aspects of our linebacker play. They have to be more focused on every play, know when to stay home, and when to pursue.
Moving forward, consistency and focus will be key.
Linebacker Grade: B+
Our corners, Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith, are young and still in a learning phase. Both have done a better than average job of using their speed to make up for deficiencies in their coverage ability.
Georgia is still playing a lot of zone coverage. That has been a good deal of the problem this season as it has meant that our safeties are typically caught out of position on the deep ball, as was the case against Arkansas.
Further, there have been total lapses of concentration on the field leading to poor tackling or poor angles taken on the ball by our safeties, particularly Bryan Evans. He has been on the receiving end of a good many plays that have resulted in a score or big yard gain.
Nice spot performances by Bacarri Rambo have given Dawg fans hope that we do have talent waiting in the wings, but overall the secondary has been just as poor and inept as many thought it would be coming into the season.
Moving forward it would be nice to see less zone coverage and more man coverage. That would allow us to use the team speed we have at the corner spots while taking some of the heat off the safety positions.
Overall Grade: F
SEC Pass Defense Rank: 11th
SEC Passes Intercepted Rank: 8th
The Offensive Line
We suffered a loss early as Trinton Sturdivant went down again in the first game of the season. However, we were not in panic mode because it was not a situation we hadn't been in before. We figured we'd be fine doing the o-line shuffle again in 2009.
However, it should not have been understated that the loss of Sturdivant happened later this season than the last. It happened after many of our guys had settled into their spots both physically and mentally. None of those guys were looking for Trinton to go down again.
There is an excellent interview with ex-Georgia offensive lineman, Matt Stinchcomb, that goes into the mental aspects of run blocking as they apply to the loss of a key player. Find it here.
That said, there is an obvious marriage between the ability of our running backs to pick up yards and the inability of our offensive line to produce adequate gaps and lanes for those backs to run through. Currently the marriage is a poor one.
Offensive line coach Stacy Searles did a fine job last week of coaching the line up and allowing for some success on the ground against a Vanderbilt team that is ranked last in the SEC in rushing defense. Again, though, the line only did what it should have done in that instance by blocking well against an inferior opponent.
Moving forward it would be nice to see more consistency from the line and more effort from the running backs in general.
Pass Blocking Grade: B- (but steadily falling with each lackluster performance by Joe Cox)
SEC Rank: 2nd
Run Blocking Grade: D- (with signs of life after the Vanderbilt game)
SEC Rank: 12th
Joe Cox has been in a free fall over the last several games as he has seen his numbers drop across the board.
He was efficient early on but has not been as reliable of late as opposing defenses have been able to disrupt his timing and key in on A.J. Green, Joe Cox's primary target.
It is beginning to become clear that Joe Cox will only go as far as the pass protection will allow. If it's not there, he does not have the ability to make plays with either his arms or his legs.
He is dangerous when placed under the pressure of a pass rush and doesn't read defenses quickly or well enough to make adjustments on the fly.
Moving forward it will be interesting to see how much the move of coach Mike Bobo from the booth to the sidelines will help in evening out the play of Joe Cox. He definitely needs to adjust the game plan a bit in order to limit costly turnovers.
Overall Grade: C+
SEC Pass Efficiency Rank: 6th
SEC Pass Interception Rank: 8th
The Wide Receivers
There is A.J. Green. Period.
Where are Michael Moore and Tavarres King? Both have been largely absent from the passing game with little to no impact on the outcome.
A lot of the problem lies with Joe Cox and his total dependence on Green. He has 41 receptions this season for 682 yards and six scores.
The next most receptions comes from Michael Moore with 19 followed by Tavarres King with 11. Orson Charles chips in another 10.
It doesn't take much to see who needs to be shut down if any team wants to throw the passing game off it's kilter. A.J. is a phenomenal player, but the passing game needs more balance to be effective.
Both Moore and King have been the victim of some key drops this season, and that has likely caused a lack of confidence in them by Joe Cox.
Moving forward there needs to be a more even distribution of the football by Cox and more consistency by the other receivers on the team. Bad route running and dropped passes cannot be tolerated.
Overall Wide Receiver Grade: B+/A- (mostly due to the stellar play of A.J. Green)
Other Wide Receivers: C+
SEC Passing offense rank: 2nd
Take away A.J.: 11th
The Running Backs
It's difficult to assess the run game due to deficiencies in the run blocking, but it is clear that there aren't many guys on the roster who are capable of making big plays on their own. Our guys are young and inexperienced.
What will need to happen is the line play will need to get better in order to compensate for the inexperience and youth of our rushers.
Richard Samuel needs to work on his technique. His upright running style is killing him in the yardage department as it does not allow him the leverage needed to get key yards on the ground.
Caleb King could be more balanced in his attack but has issues staying healthy. His best offensive output of the year came against Vanderbilt last week. Many hope that is a harbinger of things to come.
Carlton Thomas can be an excellent third down back if he is used correctly. He has tremendous speed off the edge and can make plays in space, not to mention he has a nice set of hands with which to catch the ball.
Washaun Ealey is the total package but needs more game experience to become polished.
In all of their cases, the offensive line will be key to giving them the proper running lanes to make something happen offensively. That in turn could do wonders for Joe Cox or whomever is chosen to call the signals.
Moving forward it would be nice to see more maturation on the part of our runners. They have to become more savvy and intelligent in their approach.
Overall Running Back Grade: D+
SEC Rush Rank: 12th
The Special Teams
Both Drew Butler and Blair Walsh have been exceptional this year. Walsh has been panned a bit by the coaching staff for his inability to successfully perform the directional kick, leading to too many footballs sailing out of bounds.
However, the decision to continue utilizing the directional kick is one that has come under scrutiny by many fans and critics alike since it really has done nothing more than ensure good starting field position for the opposing team.
Brandon Boykin has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this year, and we have been solid as a punt return unit overall with both Prince Miller and Branden Smith leading the way.
If there is a weakness in our special teams it is our coverage unit. Poor tackling and inappropriate formations on kickoffs have led to big yardage by teams with speedy return men.
Moving forward we need to get better tackling from our special teams players so we can limit the good field position gained by the opposition.
SEC Net Punt Average: 1st
SEC Punt Return Average: 3rd
SEC Kickoff Return: 9th
Thoughts and Accolades
Players who should see more playing time: Bacarri Rambo (S), Fred Munzenmaier (FB)
Players who should see less playing time: Bryan Evans (S), Shaun Chapas (FB)
Most surprising players: Marcus Dowtin (LB), Washaun Ealey (RB), Orson Charles (TE)
Rising Stars: Bacarri Rambo (S), Cornelius Washington (DL), Marcus Dowtin (LB)
Defensive MVP: Rennie Curran
Offensive MVP: A.J. Green
Special team standouts: Drew Butler, Brandon Boykin, and Blair Walsh