The title tells you all you need to know about this post. Tryptic and I have been working over the past few days on a Q&A with our friends Sanchez and Audit, and here's what we've got: (link to our responses to their questions to come):
1. Every opponent the Dawgs have faced so far this season has surpassed the century mark in rushing. Tennessee had 281 rushing yards last week at Sanford Stadium (averaging 4.9 per carry) - by far the Vols' best performance on the ground this season. Are you concerned that the Gamecocks will be able to exploit the run against Georgia as in the two previous USC-UGA meetings; or do you feel Coach Grantham's unit has been playing some rope-a-dope and will step-up to stifle the Carolina running attack? In other words, what success will Georgia have stopping Marcus Lattimore - and how will the UGA defense go about doing it?
Sanchez: Yes, I am. Lattimore has owned the 4th quarter for two years, and until I see otherwise, I expect him to be a near unstoppable force again in this game. I've seen plenty of comments about how the defense was playing deep to stop long passes against Tennessee, but I also saw a lot of our 700 pounds of nose tackle in Jenkins and Geathers on the field together against Tennessee, and the Vols were grinding yards. I think the defense has plenty of ability to stop the run, and South Carolina's struggles with their offensive line gives me hope we can hold Lattimore under 100. But how strong the previously poor Vols running game looked gives me strong doubts they can stop Lattimore without bringing a S in to the box and lots of run blitzes.
Audit: Concerned? When it comes to Georgia football, the answer is "always". While the numbers Tennessee put up were alarming, it was largely a product of the scheme (safeties lined up 20 yards deep to prevent big play). However, with that said, it was certainly alarming to have them just line the ball up and ram it down the middle in the 4th quarter on a pretty tired defense. I imagine Georgia is going to be schemed to take away the running game like in Missouri which they did pretty well against. Until proven otherwise, I expect Lattimore to continue owning this game, though.
2. Both Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree suited up to play against the Volunteers after serving four game suspensions. How did you evaluate their individual performances against Tennessee, and their overall contributions to the Dawg defense - in terms of whether they were rusty, or made an immediate impact for their unit? Do you see them as the difference-makers against South Carolina, or will the UGA "D" rise and fall with the play of All-American Jarvis Jones?
Sanchez: They were rusty, as you'd expect. Rambo made some plays, but his name wasn't called much. Ogletree made a lot more, but his timing seemed a bit off. He is a very dynamic playmaker, using his athleticism and power hitting people, and his length and agility in pass coverage over the middle. There were a couple balls he barely missed big interceptions on, and I expect both to look much more comfortable this week than they did last Saturday. I also think they make us less dependent on Jones. Ogletree is just as talented, if not more so. He isn't as consistent, but I think 'Tree emerges in a big way in this game as the Gamecocks focus on Jones. Jarvis makes a ton of plays, but he can do so with help from the DL occupying blockers and creating space for him to roam. We've had huge contributions from guys like Amarlo Herrera and Shaun Williams. Jones is our biggest playmaker, by far, but part of the reason why is because the rest of our D is talented enough to let him show his multitude of skills.
Audit: The lack of a pass rush against Tennessee last week was a bit unnerving to say the least. A lot of which could be contributable to the fact that the SEC doesn't seem to call holding this year (Seriously though, 70 combined passing plays and not one offensive holding call on any of them?!). They definitely were rusty, but Ogletree had a huge game and I imagine Rambo's got his sea legs under him now. I expect this defense to be demonstrably stronger the rest of the season as those two get more first team reps.
3. Other than the Bulldog superstars that everyone is talking about ... Murray, Jones and "Gurshall" ... is there a player for the Red and Black who might not be well known outside of Athens, but who you believe is poised to have a breakout game against Carolina? Will there be a new star for UGA after this Saturday? If so, who do you think it will be?
Sanchez: As said above, I think it'll be Ogletree. Big, fast, hard hitter, with a nose for the ball. If the focus is too much on finding Jones and stopping him, Ogletree will have plenty of space to cause his own havoc. Offensively, it looks to be setting up a chance for Malcolm Mitchell to bust loose. He isn't burdened as much defensively with Rambo and Commings back in their normal secondary spots. Michael Bennett has gone down, as you saw, and that means more opportunity for him as a receiver. He was our best pass catcher last year, and the breaks are falling where he may show out this game.
Audit: I'm looking for Damian Swann to have his breakout game at the CB position. He was a highly recruited guy out of Atlanta and has really been coming into his own locking down the starting CB position opposite Branden Smith (and dare I say out playing Smith). He's shown the last few weeks why he was so highly rated out of high school with several nice pass break ups and an incredibly acrobatic one-handed INT against Tennessee.
4. Are you guys finally loving Bobo after all these years? What's different this season? Is Georgia's offensive success this season the result of improved playcalling ... or entirely the handiwork of UGA's playmakers?
Sanchez: There's been more creativity so far than ever before under Bobo. The pistol has been used several times in the first several games (not Tennessee though for some reason), and we've been very successful with it. We've gone with 4 and 5 wide in early situations, which I can't recall since the early Richt days. For some reason, the offense still seems to revert to 3 runs and out once it builds a 2 TD lead, and a frustrating inability to get first downs and kill the clock late. Bobo is getting more love, and is showing more creativity than ever before in formations and how to get his playmakers the ball, but the camps are still firmly entrenched. The We Love Bobo crowd can still point to big point productions and great QB numbers, the We Blame Bobo crowd can still harp on the 4th quarter issues and lack of double digit play drives.
Audit: All disclaimers aside, I've generally been of the opinion that Bobo is a pretty above average to good offensive coordinator. That said, he suffers from the same affliction all OC's do. That is, every play call that doesn't work is an unmitigated disaster and never the result of a good defensive play. He has been much more creative this year with the pistol formation and playing to the strengths of this offense (very deep at WR) with lots of 4 and 5 wide sets. I'd say the biggest gripe the Bobo detractors have is how his play calling tends to go in a shell and gets predictable when trying to close out games and instead end up with lots of 3 and outs and giving the other team opportunities to score when a 1st down would have salted the game away. Honestly though, I think a lot of our fan base doesn't realize that a lot of his style of calling games late is being dictated by his boss man who prefers to go conservative late and ride the defense to the win. As long as Richt is running things, I can't imagine that changing no matter the who is calling plays and I think we have a pretty dang good one in Bobo.
5. Despite a lot of shuffling on the Athenian offensive line, true freshman RT John Theus has locked down the starter's spot at RT. He's obviously a great player, but is there any concern on your side of the Savannah River that he might struggle blocking Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor? How do you see him faring against the stunts and exotic blitz packages that USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will likely throw at Georgia, including the "rabbit" defense (i.e.. all-DE's across the line)? Will Coach Bobo give Theus help with an extra TE or FB - or zone block towards Clowney - or will he leave Theus on his own for most snaps?
Sanchez: Yes, we will almost certainly give Theus (and LT Kenarious Gates) plenty of help from a back or TE pass blocking. Clowney crushing the Kentucky LT last week was beyond impressive, so that 1 on 1 blocking of him will likely lead to him making a big play. I'm on record saying I don't think either team can block the other on the edge, so I definitely think Georgia will struggle with Clowney and Taylor. I'm also of the opinion that a large part of our plan to neutralize them will be a lot of off tackle runs with the tackles coming off the ball and hitting them in the chest.
Audit: This scares me the most about this game and I'm expecting lots of running right at the DEs or max protection passing plays. The OL certainly has been better then I expected, but I'm not sure how much of that is contributable to Gurshall or Murray making quicker decisions. Needless to say, this is the one area that Georgia has to do well at in order to win this game.
6. If you could have any one player on Carolina's roster, who would it be? Why? How would having that player impact this weekend's game?
Sanchez: Is there any other option besides #7? Brandon Shell, Shaq Roland were guys we recruited heavily and could fill needs. Lattimore is a special talent at RB, but we've got two pretty good ones. We've got some great players up front defensively too, but Clowney is too good not to take. A defense with him on one edge, Jarvis Jones on the other, and Jenkins/Geathers/Ogletree/Abry Jones/etc holding down the tackle box? That's a DCs wet dream right there.
Audit: After the lack of pass rush outside #29, I'll take #7 all day long. If he had the motor that JJ has (with respect to not taking plays off) I'd probably take him before JJ.
7. Coming into the season, we felt that one of the key issues in this game would be special teams play--specifically, which team would stink less on special teams. As it turns out, Carolina's special teams--knock on wood--seem to be better than expected, with the punt return unit being particularly impressive thus far. Georgia, on the other hand, has struggled on special teams. What does UGA need to do better against Carolina, and will special teams play a role in this game's outcome?
Sanchez: In all likelihood, special teams will play a role. We've made several mistakes on punt return, but with Rhett McGowan taking that role on full time, those mistakes should be over. The freshman P, Barber, kicks it a bit short, but he gets good hangtime, so Ace Sanders might not be able to break one with coverage in his face quickly. Marshall Morgan, the freshman K, well, I'm more confident in him from 50 yards than I am on extra points. But then, I wouldn't be confident in him or Yates for Carolina, if one or the other had to kick a long game winner in the closing seconds. In a game that looks this close though, a special teams mistake or big play almost always seems to make the difference.
Audit: Just play competently. If Georgia just plays competently on STs against Tennessee the outcome is closer to the 27-10 lead that Georgia built up in the early 2nd quarter. Right now it just needs somebody that can make the right decisions on fielding kicks and I think Georgia will be all right. Well...that and allowing our FG kicker to try PATs from 40 yards out.
8. How much do you guys buy into the idea that Aaron Murray struggles in big games? If you do buy into this idea, why do you think that's the case? What does Murray need to do to finally bag the big one this weekend in Columbia? Can Georgia still win this game if Murray makes significant mistakes?
Sanchez: I don't think it's big games as much as big pressure. Big games tend to be against good defenses, and good pass rushes, and Murray can be pressured in to mistakes. He holds on to the ball too long, and that can lead to fumbles from sacks, or picks if he gets hit while throwing. I don't think Georgia can win if we turn it over, so we really need the OL to do well and give him the time and space he needs to be comfortable slinging it.
Audit: I don't buy the "big game" BS that a lot of Dawg fans do (I'd argue every one of those 10 games last year was a "big game" with Georgia's SEC chances and Richt's job depending on them). I do believe he struggles in high pressure situations because he tries to do too much. This is largely due to craptastic OL play and little to no running game his first two years and he ends up pressing. I think Gurshall has gone a long way in giving him a reliable running game and he's been pretty lights out in clutch situations this season (2nd halves against both Tennessee and Missouri). With all that said, if South Carolina gets 14 points directly from him like last year, I suspect they'll have won 3 in a row for the first time.
9. The latest news about the game is that talented UGA possession receiver Michael Bennett is out for the season. Talk about how this could impact the game. Obviously, UGA is deep at receiver, but can the Dawgs afford to be without their leader in receptions in this game? Psychologically, could not having Bennett--a go-to, safety-valve guy on third downs--hurt Murray?
Sanchez: Getting Mitchell in to a larger role helps, but we'll see how much Saturday. Marlon Brown has stepped up this year, so that should help too. Bennett is our leading receiver for a reason. He has good size and speed (although not exceptional at either). He has good hands, and runs good routes. He makes big plays deep, and seems to be the guy Murray looks for when he needs a key 3rd down play over the middle. He will be missed, and as you say, not having his safety blanket could lead Murray to struggle as he looks for someone else to trust when he needs it most. If our OL can block, and front 7 get pressure, we can still have success without him, but he leaves a hole offensively that isn't likely to be filled.
Audit: He's definitely been his safety blanket this year. However, if it were going to happen; receiver is definitely the best position as there have been lots of guys stepping up this year and the receiving corps is as deep/talented as I can ever remember in Athens. With Mitchell playing mostly offense and the emergence of Marlon Brown this season, I don't think this injury will have as huge an impact as it would at another position.
10. Had to ask: Rivalry game or not a rivalry game?
Sanchez: It depends on who you ask, which is the case for any game we play not Auburn or Florida or Tech (and some will dispute them as a "rival" for various reasons). I think so, because of the emotion involved. Spurrier has helped raise the level of hate on our side of Clarks Hill Lake, and having both teams in the top 10, competing for the East will always raise the stakes. It's a borderline rivalry now (from a Carolina perspective, we're #2, but Georgia has too much history with too many programs for a similar level). If both programs can maintain the level of play we've seen the last couple years, there will be more Georgia fans who acknowledge the rivalry, and more on a national level who recognize it as such (just see how it worked for UT/UF due to little more than the 90s). Then again, there will always be a segment of Georgia fans that refuse to ever say it's a rivalry game, just because it irks South Carolina fans. And isn't good natured tweaking what a rivalry is all about?
Audit: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it's an increasingly important conference game that will likely decide who plays in Atlanta this year and likely the next several years. No in the sense that it's not the way ya'll want it to be perceived. There are legitimately some Dawg fans that just aren't going to give you the satisfaction of treating it like a rivalry game because ya'll will always be pathetic ole' South Carolina. However, the real reason lies in the fact that the majority of Dawg fans in the state of Georgia don't live in the CSRA* and will always view other games as more important (Florida/Auburn/Tech) regardless of competitiveness. Unfortunately for ya'll, that's just the reality for a fan base that is bordered by 5 states. Additionally, South Carolina has never been a team that regularly ruined Georgia's season like Florida and Auburn. While South Carolina is big to me (as a CSRA native) even I am hesitant to rank it high up there as one of the top rivals. Two good seasons do not make a dynasty unlike what a lot of South Carolina fans want to believe. Lest we forget that just a few years ago, South Carolina needed only beat Vanderbilt to reach .500 all time as a program and lost. For many Dawg fans, it's going to take a good 10-20 year stretch for ya'll to be considered equals or even superiors. Them's the breaks when history doesn't back up a lot of the talk coming from the Gamecock faithful.
*CSRA = Central Savannah River Area. I.e., a Georgia way to refer to the environs of "Augusta" and "Aiken." Not to be confused with the SRS that the US Government put upstream.
A big GABA tip of the hat to Sanchez and Audit for their thoughtful responses.