Earlier today I wrote that while I was disappointed with this loss, I think we saw enough positives to believe that we have reason to hope that this may be a better than average year. That's still true. Still, I think it's worth thinking a little more about some of the issues that cost us this game. I'd say those issues are, in order of importance, kickoff coverage, red-zone offense, penalties, and interior defense.
Kickoff returns, quite simply, probably made the difference in this game. The issues are a bit difficult to figure out. For one thing, this hasn't been a huge problem for us in the past, so this game may have just been an aberration. Moreover, you have to give credit where credit is due sometimes; Brandon Boykin looks to be a quality return man, and he made his own luck last night. However, I'm thinking that this may be something to watch this year. First of all, we've been spoiled over the past few years with Ryan Succop, who consistently kicked into the end zone. Spencer Lanning appears to have a strong leg and has sent some into the end zone, as well, but he doesn't appear to be able to do it as consistently as Succop did. Second of all, while some tackles were inexcusably missed, the truth is that Georgia had huge running lanes on their big returns. The problem wasn't so much tackling as poor coverage. You want guys to swarm the return man; you don't want to rely on one guys to make an open-field tackle on a return, as the returner is probably a burner and will be hard to get in the open field. Hopefully Shane Beamer can figure out where the snafus occurred, because teams like Florida and Alabama have return men that are just as capable of lighting us up as Boykin was, and pooching it to around the 35 isn't a viable long-term option.
Red-zone offense was also a big problem last night; if we had scored a touchdown just one of the times we settled for a field goal, we've got a tie ball game. Garcia was able to read Georgia's zone all night and sustain drives by exploiting the short passing game, and I expect that will continue to be the case throughout the year. However, when we got into the short-field game on their goal line, we lost those options and struggled to find new ones. The same thing happened against N. C. State, suggesting that this may be a trend. Luckily, Lanning picked himself up from last week and went 5/5 on his field-goal tries, and if you had told me that he would do that before the game, I would have picked us to win, for sure. As it happened, though, we needed touchdowns in those situations. I think the big issue facing this offense in the red zone is getting more out of our receivers and figuring out some plays that take better advantage of Garcia's mobility. As far as receivers go, our only truly reliable one right now is end Weslye Saunders, and defenses are trying to take him out of the game as soon as we get down there. We appear to be trying to go to Tori Gurley in these situations. Gurley is a good choice, as his size gives him an advantage in post-up situations. However, he's both yet to learn how to take advantage of his size, and Garcia appears to need work placing fades and throws to the back of the endzone. I would also like to see us open the playbook up a little bit in the red zone and roll Garcia out, let him find a receiver while on the run, or maybe even incorporate some option. I would have even been down with seeing the wildcat in these situations. What we're doing so far isn't working, so we need to get creative.
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Related to these problems are all the penalties we are racking up. Gurley has now had three touchdowns called back due to penalties of various sorts.Penalties are par for the course for a team that has so few seniors, especially in a loud road environment. However, last night was just ridiculous. We had 11 penalties for almost 100 yards, many of them coming at the worst possible times. We've gotta get it together on that end.
Finally, Joe Person has an interesting read up on the interior of our defense. Last night, we were without Ladi Ajiboye, Nathan Pepper, and Rodney Paulk, and it showed, as UGA was very effective between the tackles and we didn't generate much pressure when using a limited rush. As Person notes, the line doesn't seem to be so much the issue, as Ajiboye will return for Ole Miss and Pepper will either be back for Ole Miss or the following week. Moreover, Travian Robertson seems to be emergin as a viable part of that rotation. Replacing Paulk, though, seems to be a problem. Shaq Wilson had some good plays against N. C. State, but he's undersized for his position, and it showed last night against a Georgia offensive line that was obviously superior to that of the Wolfpack. Wilson will be a liability again against elite SEC competition, so we need to hope that young players like Josh Dickerson and Tony Straughter are ready to step up.
So, anything else jump out to people about the game? What else needs work?