Special Teams

GDay – what I’m looking for tomorrow


First of all it will be interesting to see how many folks get turned away. With only 78,ooo seats available tomorrow and record crowds for this event thus far under Kirby’s watch, ain’t everybody gonna get a first hand look at Justin Fields arm and Holyfield’s legs.

Regardless of seating arrangements and availability, I think the first thing I want to see is how well the middle of the field is covered by our defense on passing downs.
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You see, one does not just replace a player like Roquan Smith. It’s impossible. But I have great confidence that the coaches have recruited talent behind him. So I’m confident that we have someone that can blitz through the heart of the offensive protection. Afterall, the name Natrez Patrick comes to mind. And I’m confident we may have someone that can defend the field laterally from sideline to sideline.

But what made Roquan so very special was how well he defended the middle of the field in passing situations. He could cover a tight end. He could take away a slot receiver’s crossing route. And there was nary a team that would dare to throw a middle screen in front of Roquan Smith.

In other words, opposing quarterbacks had a lot to process at the line of scrimmage when they looked across and saw Roquan staring at them. Were Monty Rice and Nate McBride paying close attention? I hope so. And again, I have full confidence that the coaches have recruited the right players.

Because it’s been since before the disgraceful John Jancek linebacker coached era that we could defend that area of the field on any down that effectively. I miss Roquan a lot already. I’ll miss him a lot more if we see a lot of successful seam routes and crossing patterns.

Elijah Holyfield should have himself a day. The fans aren’t the only ones I suspect that want to see how he manages 20 or so touches in a game(like) situation.

Pass protection. Kirby says it is structured to be a quarterback’s game. As nice as it is to have a true sophomore quarterback that lead us within a breath of a National Championship, I think everyone would be thrilled if Justin Fields made some plays. Still, in a spring game it’s hard to gauge things like pass protection. However it will still be something to keep a close eye on.

And not just for the obvious reasons of seeing how the coaches rotate tackles and guards. We lost two absolutely amazing pass protection runnings backs in Chubb and Michel. Holyfield and Herrien have big shoes to fill as (probably) the only scholarship backs available tomorrow. We know Fromm can hurt teams with his arm as well as his legs if need be. And we suspect Fields will eventually be able to do the same to opposing teams’ defense. But we’ll need to have solid pass protection, and that sometimes means a small running back stepping up into the path of a blitzing monster.

Special teams are typically hard to truly evaluate, but Kirby had this to say yesterday:

“Our special teams, we think we’ve got some good competition going on, so we’ll be coming after punts, we’re going to do everything real on kickoff and kickoff return, we’re just not going to tackle live,” he said. “But everything is going to be as real as possible other than that. Same thing with punt and punt return, so we’ll be rushing them and we’ll have punt returners back there trying to return them. We’ve got great competition at punter, great competition at returner. I’d love to see some guys have some pressure on them and have to make kicks and catches.”

So perhaps we can at least see some of these punters under rushed conditions. And those are a few things I’m watching for, in addition to seeing some new guys that have supposedly stepped up big thus far, like Brenton Cox and Cade Mays. What’re you ready to see from some football in April?

Georgia vs. Alabama – could special teams tilt the balance?

Like many, I expect a pretty even matchup Monday night between Georgia and Alabama. Two complete teams with elite talent going head to head should make for an exciting game.

Not exciting like the Rose Bowl was, where dudes were scoring every time you managed a breath. But exciting as in close, and hard fought. Every yard inch will  matter. So could this one come down to special teams play?

In a word, absolutely.
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The teams are pretty even in punting and place kicking, although Rodrigo puts it in the endzone more proficiently. But there is a decided Georgia advantage in both kickoff and punt return. (via cfbstats.com)

Mecole Hardman, who has been so, so close to breaking a return all season, averages 11 yards per punt return and 27 yards per kick return. Alabama's top punt returner is Trevon Diggs who averages nearly nine yards a return and their top kick returner is Henry Ruggs who averages 18 yards.

If this evolves into a plodding game of field position, there are two things that can turn things - turnovers and punt returns. I glad we have 4 on our side. Even if he doesn't break one - and good God is Mecole overdue for that one last block!! - a nice return from inside the 20 to their side of the 50 can be a HUGE play for us.

Two more days! Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing...Go Dawgs!

Even the little things are The Main Thing

It's taken a while to digest exactly what happened. It's so much more than the game itself. It's the experience and the sheer joy you feel when you see your team come out on top on that kind of stage. After a day of thinking and reflecting I still can't come up with the words. But I highly recommend you read this Tommy Tomlinson piece on his experience and why moments like what happened Monday night are so important.

As for the game itself, it was truly an instant classic. Reminiscent of game like the 2006 Rose Bowl which served as the National Championship game between Texas and USC. But this one was our own Georgia Bulldogs! Two amazing teams with amazing talent, both who clearly wanted to be there and wanted to win.

It was a game full of huge swings in momentum from sideline to sideline, as each big play seemed to be one that would finally turn the tide for good. But then there was another, and then another. And then there was another!

I had wondered a few weeks ago if time of possession would be the key factor in stopping the Oklahoma offense and giving us our best shot. I was right about being able to run the ball effectively, I just didn't take into account how effectively we would run it. Something like three drives that took less than a minute. It was the game we knew Sony and Chubb could and should have. So glad Sony got the chance to atone for that fumble and seal the deal himself. And more on that in a minute...

But there were a couple of smaller things that also became the Main Thing. I'll leave the argument of whether the decision to squib kick it to end the first half up to the Sooner fans. But the heads up play by a former reserve running back turned reserve linebacker in Tae Crowder to instinctively snag that kick and lay on it, was amazing.

Think about how easy it would be to just go out there as a kick return specialist and simply go through the motions. Special Teams coordinator Shane Beamer mostly gives credit where it is due, to Crowder, but I'm sure they had been warned to watch for an "nontraditional" kick off. Still, to be ready to go back to your days as a Harris County HS shortstop and snag that ball ended up being a game changer. It was. We had to have it!

Because with just a few ticks on the clock (and with our offensive coordinator in an elevator on the way to the locker room), we were able to call a quick out to Godwin and grab another nine yards and stop the clock with just a second left.

At this point I'm thinking, "Well, that makes Fromm's heave to the endzone a little shorter." But the coaches had another bold idea and Rodrigo took it from there. And there was never a doubt.

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Another small thing I noticed that was huge was not just the blocking on that Sony Michel 27 yard touchdown trot, but actually who was blocking - reserve wide receivers and Nauta. Of course, Fromm gave his man on the outside all he could handle to give Sony the room to run. But to send out guys like Crumpton and Simmons and Blount, all with fresh legs and bodies in the second over time to lay some wood was a great call, and refreshing to see.

And now it's on to Alabama in the biggest game our Dawgs have been in since 1982. We've had games where we were playing for this chance. It just wasn't until Kirby preached to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing that we actually succeeded in getting it done.

Go Dawgs!
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