Spurrier is in Good Company

November 17, 2008

A lot was made this weekend about Florida giving Steve Spurrier his worst lost of his career in terms of margin of victory. He’s not alone.

The 51-21 win over LSU stands as Les Miles’ worst loss as a head coach. The 49-10 win over Georgia was Mark Richt’s worst loss as a head coach. That makes three worst losses ever for three coaches with 2 national titles and a 13-1 season between them. In the same season. Wow.

As for Spurrier, he told Urban Meyer to go on a four-game winning streak at the end of the game. Once a Gator, always a Gator.


Florida-Georgia: The Smack Talk Preview

October 30, 2008

Florida and Georgia play this weekend in Jacksonville in one of the most unique environments in college football. Half of the stadium is red, half is blue, and there’s a distinct line between them.

This game has almost always been played at a neutral site, though some talk has arisen every now and then about moving it back to the campuses. There hasn’t been much discussion along those lines in recent years though. Why you ask?

Well, the Jaguars coming to Jacksonville in the 1990s allowed the teams to play on the schools’ campuses for the first time since the 1930s. The reason is because the old Gator Bowl had to be renovated into an NFL-caliber stadium. The results?

1994, in Gainesville: Florida 52 – Georgia 14

1995, in Athens: Florida 52 – Georgia 17

So much for that talk. Florida becoming the first team ever to score 50 in Athens put a real quick end to the discussion from the northern side of the rivalry. So, it will be played on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville instead.

By the way, do you know why the St. Johns River flows north? Because Georgia sucks.

Bulldogs like to talk history in the series. Usually that history they tell has a big gap between Herschel and Knowshon, but whatever. Let’s talk history. They’re very proud of the fact that Georgia has the lead in the all-time series of 46-37-2.

That’s nice, but they don’t tell you that a good chunk of those wins came in the leather helmet days. In college football’s modern era, which began in 1946, Florida owns the lead 33-28-1. If you’re counting along at home, that means 18 of Georgia’s wins came before the game as we know it fully crystallized.

Despite the UGA win last season, Florida has still won 15 of the last 18 in the series, a dominating streak by any standards. Bulldogs usually retort “but it’s 2-2 in the last four,” completely ignoring the fact the first of those wins came against a team whose coach was fired the week of the game. Nope, no extenuating circumstances there.

They probably do this out of a love of their current coach, Mark Richt. He’s a stand up guy and I really can’t complain about much he’s done. He wasn’t even the mastermind of last year’s celebration incident; that honor goes to his dopey players who somehow took a simple directive about acting excited after the first touchdown way off the deep end.

You see, Mark Richt is the only head coach in Georgia history to have a losing record against three different Florida head coaches. He was 0-1 against Steve Spurrier, 1-2 against Ron Zook, and he’s 1-2 against Urban Meyer. He also lost out on a chance for a national title in 2002 by taking his only loss to Florida and watching undefeated Miami and Ohio State play for it all. In other words, he was far more of a thorn in Florida’s side as an assistant at FSU than he’s been as Georgia’s head coach.

When this weekend comes and the two schools’ faithful descend on Duval County, I will be there among them. I will be consciously avoiding anything red and/or black because there’s only so much inane barking by human beings I can stand without losing my faith in humanity. That, and relentless talk of Gators wearing jeans shorts, despite the fact I will be wearing long pants and it’s a tired old line from over a decade ago that they have yet to muster up the creativity to replace.

I expect to see a great game from way, way up there (row CC of the upper deck), and who knows? Maybe the listening and comprehension skills of Georgia’s players will have advanced far enough that they won’t again do something flagrant that is in no way what their coaches intended for them to do.

Then again, Georgia could also write a real fight song instead of ripping off an old folk song. Which is to say, don’t hold your breath on it. The smart ones have already got out…

How South Carolina’s Defense Slowed Down Georgia’s Offense

September 15, 2008

After two dominant performances, the Georgia offense looked rather pedestrian against South Carolina. Part of the difference is the fact that the Gamecocks have a very tough defense, whereas Georgia Southern is a I-AA team and Central Michigan doesn’t play defense.

I went to my recording to find out what the deal was. I didn’t go over the game as thoroughly as I did for my analysis of Miami’s defensive success against Florida because I don’t know Georgia or South Carolina nearly as well as I know my Gators.

I do know the Bulldogs and Gamecocks a bit though, so I give you this breakdown of SC’s relative success.

South Carolina’s Game Plan

There didn’t seem to be an overarching plan like Miami had. South Carolina’s defense did a lot more situational scheming rather than using Miami’s non-stop blitzing strategy.

SC dropped their linebackers into coverage a bit more often than they blitzed them. They blitzed the least on second down and blitzed the most on first down. They were definitely trusting in their defensive line to win trench battles over the young and inexperienced UGA offensive line, and ultimately that trust was well-founded.

On Georgia’s nine offensive drives, the Gamecocks forced three three-and-outs, caused three other punts, and allowed three scores.

Georgia’s Game Plan

As is normal for Georgia under Mark Richt, they went with a run-first mentality. The Gamecocks knew that was coming though, and they were ready. The Bulldogs ended up averaging just three yards per carry, so they passed a lot more than is usual. The mix was 25 passes to 35 rushes, but four of those runs were sacks. That makes the true ratio 29 pass plays to 31 run plays.

In case you weren’t aware, Georgia does not play around with formations much. The bulk of the offense was done from either a three-wide, one-back shotgun set or a two-wide, I-formation set.

The rushes were mostly your standard pro-style offense runs, a combination of handoffs, tosses, and counters. They did run a small number of read option quarterback draws to varying degrees of success.

The passing game was mainly quick, short passes and screens or deep heaves. The intermediate passing game was not used much, probably due to the pressure from the South Carolina front line. That is a shame for the Bulldogs since the five or so intermediate throws were the most consistently successful of any.

What South Carolina Did Right

The Gamecocks’ biggest success was making Georgia have to work for its yards on the ground. Knowshon Moreno had seven of his 18 rushes go for more than five yards against Central Michigan; against SC, just six of his 20 rushes went for more than five yards with none going longer than 11 yards.

The 3.0 yards per rush that South Carolina held Georgia to was the lowest amount since the Bulldogs’ 35-14 loss to Tennessee last season. Of Georgia’s 31 true rushing attempts, 15 of them were stuffed, meaning they got fewer than three yards and it wasn’t a short yardage situation. A third of those 15 run stops didn’t even require a blitz.

The corner blitz in particular was very effective for South Carolina. Two sacks came from the play, one of which forced a fumble. Gary Danielson pointed out on one of them that the fullback should have been picking up the blitz, and it’s likely that injured starter Brannan Southerland would have done so. His loss may have also played a part in Georgia’s struggles in running consistently.

South Carolina avoided giving up the big play, ultimately using Georgia’s offense to shorten the game. Two of the Bulldogs’ three scoring drives took 13 plays or longer.

What Georgia Did Wrong

The drop demon possessed the Georgia receivers once again. They had four drops in the first half, stunting any momentum they were able to create. Though they didn’t have any drops in the second half, three of the four first half drops were on third down.

It also did not help that Matthew Stafford was not very good on his deep passes Saturday. I would classify nine of his 25 attempts as deep passes. Four of those nine were on target, with two dropped, one thwarted by good coverage, and one that was completed.

Of the remaining five, three were overthrown and two were underthrown. One of the underthrown balls was easily picked off, though Stafford was bailed out by a moderately fishy interference call. It did not appear that the receiver could have come back and caught it, but the flag was thrown nonetheless.

After scoring its touchdown to take a lead finally, Georgia’s offense went very conservative. Eight of UGA’s final eleven plays were runs or screen passes, with the final drive consisting of three runs from a heavy running set with two fullbacks. That allowed South Carolina to rush the backfield aggressively, getting a sack on two of the three longer pass plays and giving its offense chance after chance to score.

Final Takeaways

Georgia helped out South Carolina some by not executing especially well, but some of those troubles came from the pressure the Gamecocks exerted. This year’s Bulldog offensive line is not as good as last year’s was, and a dominant defensive line should be able to rough it up. Take note, LSU.

When Stafford is not connecting on his deep throws and Moreno is not finding gaping holes, the Georgia offense looks rather ordinary. Stafford theoretically will do better on his long passes, but this game calls into question whether he can win a game against an elite team if the run is taken away. South Carolina easily could have scored on each of its last two drives, and better offenses will not turn the ball over in those situations.

Ultimately, it is still early in the season so there is time for UGA to work out its issues. There isn’t that much time, though, since their road contest in Arizona is next, followed by a bout with Alabama’s stout defense.

South Carolina provided a template for beating this Georgia team even if it couldn’t seal the deal. How much other teams can duplicate the plan and how much Mark Richt and his staff can counter it will define the rest of their season.

Spread Quarterbacks in the NFL

August 26, 2008

The NFL prospects of quarterbacks who play in spread offenses in college has been a hot topic this offseason.

The spread in general has been dissected more often than frogs in a fifth grade science classroom this summer, in part because it has been slowly taking over the college football universe. Some see it as a temporary phenomenon. Others think of it as the new West Coast Offense, a scheme initially derided as gimmickry but now is an accepted part of the football canon.

The debate often reaches its boiling point when comparing the pro prospects of Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford. Tebow proponents tout his size, arm strength, and mobility as things that will impress the scouts. Stafford proponents promote his physical features as well, but mostly the fact that he runs a “pro-style offense.”

Some have reported that many NFL teams shy away from spread quarterbacks because those signal callers operate from shotgun so much. The theory is that the pro teams don’t want to be bothered with teaching a guy how to drop back after taking a snap from under center.

Dennis Dodd has gone so far as to predict a demise of the spread in big time programs in a relatively short time frame. His point is that big-time high school quarterbacks who want to go to the NFL will seek offensive schemes closer to what most professional teams run and will forsake the spread schools.

Dodd’s biggest example against spread schemes was Missouri’s struggles against Oklahoma last season. He talks about the difficulty that Chase Daniel had at being comfortable against the Sooners’ big defensive front.

What he doesn’t mention is the fact that spread teams West Virginia (48), Texas Tech (34), and yes, Missouri (31) put up the three highest point totals against OU in 2007. When it comes down to it, Oklahoma simply had a great pass rush that most quarterbacks would struggle against, and spread offenses had the most success at putting points on the board against it.

What spread detractors often don’t mention either is that two of the best NFL offenses of 2007 employed spread sets.

The Patriots spread it out against the Eagles in 2007.

The Patriots spread it out against the Eagles in 2007.

The New England Patriots ran the most spread in 2007, and it produced one of the best offenses the NFL has ever seen. Brett Farve experienced a renaissance last season in Green Bay, also aided in part by running some shotgun spread. He particularly liked those sets, and he’s now on the Jets whose offensive coordinator, former Gator quarterback Brian Schottenheimer, also likes the shotgun spread.

Having Randy Moss helped the Patriots’ offense a lot. However, the key to making everything go was their smallish yet speedy and dynamic slot receiver, Wes Welker. Most NFL teams do not have three great cornerbacks, and there’s no way a linebacker could cover him. Coming from Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Texas Tech no doubt helped him play that role, and he caught 112 balls for over 1,100 yards last season.

Recent draftees Ted Ginn, Jr. and DeShawn Jackson could easily be molded to fit that position. Plenty of receivers who are in spread offenses in college right now could be that dynamic slot guy for an offense that desires one as well.

Much has been made of Alex Smith’s struggles in San Francisco and Vince Young’s difficulties in cobbling together a decent passer rating in Tennessee despite winning rookie of the year. The people who point that out though usually don’t mention pro-style poster boy Matt Leinart’s inability, now confirmed for a third straight year, to beat out an over-the-hill Kurt Warner in Arizona. Or, for that matter, the success of the spread-bred Drew Brees.

The fact of the matter is, most quarterbacks don’t make it in the NFL. If it was easy to do so, the top-end guys wouldn’t make so much money. The sample size of quarterbacks who have run this decade’s style of spread offense in college and have had a chance in the pros is far too small to make a lasting conclusion about their viability on the next level right now.

Besides, defense wins championships in the end. Even in today’s spread-happy college game, defense wins championships. Well, special teams helps too.

Some folks have even advanced the idea that the spread will trickle up to the NFL, much as it trickled up to college from high school. As more colleges run the spread, more spread players will be entering the draft.

Most offensive coordinators say they will tailor their scheme to the players they have, and if that is the case they will have no choice but to install some elements of the spread. The NFL will be a talent-poor place if it chooses to ignore the majority of the offensive players from Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Michigan, most of the Big 12, half of the Big Ten, a few Pac-10 schools, and whoever else in major college football converts to a spread scheme.

A true zone read spread option offense almost certainly will never be run in the NFL. Too much money is invested in quarterbacks to have them take that many hits. However, spreading the field has proven to be profitable to teams that have the receivers to do it. Plus, Florida has shown at times over the past two years how to run a spread offense with a tight end and fullback, two things that every pro team has.

I don’t think the spread is going to die out any time soon, especially in college. There simply aren’t enough collegiate DBs who can make one-on-one tackles to ever see it die. I would also expect to see teams experiment more with it in the NFL just in case it is viable. As I said before, the West Coast offense was laughed at initially, and we’ve seen the Run and Shoot, itself a spread variant, go through the league.

Should the spread catch on some more in the NFL, it will certainly mean good things for spread quarterbacks. Whether it will in time for the class of 2009 or 2010 is unclear, but if spread-wielding teams like the Patriots, Steelers, and Jets put up some big numbers, that offense could be the next target of the copycat league.

Until and unless that happens, we’ll have to take the spread quarterbacks on a case-by-case basis. It’s just as unfair to doubt Tebow on the basis of Alex Smith’s NFL play just as it would be to doubt Stafford based on the NFL play of David Greene, Chris Weinke, Danny Kanell, and other quarterbacks groomed by Mark Richt.

In the meantime, let’s all just relax and enjoy one of the most entertaining offenses to come down the pipe. And one more time, lest we all forget, defense wins championships.

SEC Power Poll Ballot: Preseason

August 19, 2008

The preseason SEC Power Poll this year (conducted by Garnet and Black Attack) is not a ranking of the teams, but a ranking of the coaches. Specifically, it is a ranking of coaching ability.

My ballot is based on who is good now, and it is slanted towards performance in this decade. No lifetime achievement awards are being handed out here.

Here’s my list and the explanations.

1. Urban Meyer

Call it a homer pick if you want, but he’s done well everywhere he’s gone. He turned in an undefeated season at Utah, becoming the first BCS Buster ever. Let’s also not forget that he did it before the BCS expanded to five games.

At Florida he won a national and conference championship and got a quarterback a Heisman. He proved the spread could work in the SEC and did it so convincingly that other coaches in the league are going to install some spread-style goodness of their own in 2008. Add to that his ace recruiting abilities, and you have my vote for top SEC coach.

2. Tommy Tuberville

I should specify that this is a vote for the Tuberville of 2004 and on and not for the Tuberville of 2003 and prior. There is a difference, and I outlined it here.

The post-2003 Tuberville has been one of the best coaches in the country in that span, though the fact he’s only parlayed that into one conference title is the reason why he’s second on the list. He also gets points for abandoning his old, conservative offense and actually giving former outcast/spread guru Tony Franklin the shot at major college coaching that he deserves.

3. Mark Richt

Richt is on pace for becoming the most successful head coach in Georgia history. He has two conference titles and a 13-1 season that wins him a national title in nearly any other year than the 2002 season in which he did it. He also lost to Vandy in 2006, something that a top league coach shouldn’t do six years into his tenure despite the strides the Commodores have made under Bobby Johnson.

He ended up third in the league on my ballot. That is still nothing to sneeze at in the best coaching conference in the country. How he does with the heaps of expectations on him this year will help to sort out his place in the hierarchy as well as help to define his legacy as a head coach.

4. Nick Saban

I know some people will be upset seeing him this high, especially given the loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season. It’s difficult to blame him too much for the negative goings on last season though given that his predecessor was Mike Shula, a guy who never should have been given a head coaching position.

Despite that fact, all six of the losses were by eight points or less so the Tide was competitive in every one of them. He had a blowout win over the SEC East champ Tennessee. Let’s also not forget the BCS championship he won at LSU and the incredible amount of talent he left there when he bolted to the Dolphins.

5. Les Miles

I decided that the first five guys on the ballot had to be guys who have won the national title in this decade, or at least have done enough to win one in a normal year. Since Miles won his national title with two losses while Meyer’s and Saban’s came with one loss (and Tuber ville had an undefeated season and Richt had a 13-1 year), he ended up fifth.

Yes it’s true that he walked into a treasure trove of talent at LSU. It’s also true that he has gone 11-2 each of the past three seasons with two blowout wins in BCS bowls and a Peach Bowl win that ended Miami football as we knew it. He also doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping the LSU team together after the Hurricane Katrina disaster just days before the start of his first season in Baton Rouge. He’s colorful, but he can coach.

6. Bobby Petrino

I’m going to throw out his time with the Falcons, which was spent under conditions that pretty much no one could succeed under. Instead, I’m looking more at his time at Louisville where he turned it into one of the country’s best teams, nearly made the national title game, and helped save the Big East.

The immediate drop off after his departure should highlight how good of a coach he was. He still did win his BCS game as the Big East champ though, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it was over surprise ACC champ Wake Forest, which makes it matter even less. He’s still got a bright offensive mind and knows how to build a winner, so he goes here.

7. Phil Fulmer

You could make a case for him being higher or lower on the list, but he’s listed here thanks to being the final guy who has won a division championship at his current school. His East Division title last season helped some, but the fact remains that he has not won a conference title since 1998 and none of his teams has truly been elite without David Cutcliffe.

He gets some points for hiring Dave Clawson but nothing big until we find out if the Clawfense can succeed long term in the conference. Fulmer didn’t really manage his staff as well as he could/should have in the time between the Cutcliffe stints, but maybe this is a step forward. He will have to win the conference again to move higher on my list though.

8. Steve Spurrier

It pains me a little to put him this low, but there’s not a lot he’s done at South Carolina to support putting him higher. The Orange Bowl win in his final year at Florida was this decade so it does count some, but not being able to break past seven wins at South Carolina hurts his ability to go higher on my list.

Now, he did go to two bowls in a row in 2005-06, which ties the longest bowl appearance streak in school history. Lou Holtz also left the school on probation and in questionable shape. However, I can’t ignore the epic collapse last season after climbing to #6 in the country. His upward mobility will be determined in large part by whether he can win the division.

9. Houston Nutt

This could be a little low, but we’re talking about ability to perform the duties of head coach with this list. He won the SEC West twice this decade, but with Matt Jones and Darren McFadden on those teams, you’d expect that to happen.

In recent years, his ability to be a head coach has appeared to decline. His regime at Arkansas had increasingly been marked by scandal, and last season there was precious little offensive talent behind the McFadden-Felix Jones combination. The cupboards at Ole Miss appear to be relatively full, so he’s going to need to produce quickly in Oxford.

10. Sylvester Croom

Mississippi State was a toxic waste dump of a program when he arrived, and he got it to eight wins and a bowl just four years later despite having no dominant offensive players. Even in Croom’s rebuilding years, he scored upsets over Florida in ’04 and Alabama in ’06 despite them being in better shape.

He has not been perfect; he initially wanted to run a West Coast scheme despite not having nearly the talent or practice time to pull it off. However he’s built a winner, and he built it the right way. If he can sustain it, he can move up.

11. Rich Brooks

Brooks has taken Kentucky to two consecutive bowls, and that should win him some sort of award. I mean, this is a school that used its newly-hired basketball coach to sell football tickets last fall despite having gone to a bowl the previous season.

I have a feeling though that any of the other guys on the list could have done that with the personnel Brooks had. I also suspect that many of them would have done it faster than he did. For that reason, he’s behind the rest.

12. Bobby Johnson

I actually like Bobby Johnson, so I don’t like ranking him last. He has made Vanderbilt a competitive team week in and week out, and he has defeated Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. That’s really good for a school that doesn’t even have an athletics director.

At the same time, he’s not yet made a bowl so I can’t put him ahead of guys who have. His 2005 team with Jay Cutler was his best chance to get eligible, but they lost late in the season to 3-8 Kentucky. As far as I know, Vanderbilt is happy with him so he’s not going anywhere, but I’d like to see him get a shot at a school with more resources.

The Georgia Celebration: Putting the Issue to Rest

August 4, 2008

With both Florida and Georgia expected to be in the national title race this season, a lot of people have been talking about Georgia’s on-field celebration last season. A lot of people have also been throwing around a lot of bunk, so hopefully I can set the record straight.

Did it work?

It depends on what you’re talking about.

In the context of the game itself, it’s far from certain that it made a huge difference. Florida immediately drove back down the field and scored, and took a 17-14 lead with 7:11 to go in the first half.

Florida lost the game because the Gator defense couldn’t get a stop when it needed to. Tim Tebow plowed into the end zone with 9:40 to go in the game to pull within five points. Had the defense got a stop on Georgia’s ensuing drive (which included a conversion on 3rd-and-12), Florida would have been in position to go on a game winning drive.

The inability to get a critical stop factored heavily into Florida’s losses to LSU and Michigan too, so the fact that Georgia was able to get crucial scores in this game was hardly a unique occurrence.

In the context of the Georgia fan base, it definitely worked. Since Georgia had lost 15 of 17 in the series, the Dawg fans were hungry for something to happen that made them feel like the aggressors.

Mark Richt didn’t need to do it to save his job or anything—only the lunatic fringe of the Bulldog faithful is genuinely upset over his not having won a national title yet—but he needed to do something in regards to Florida given his 1-5 record against UF at that point. Mission accomplished.

Was it a smart move?

Your answer to this question inevitably will come from where your allegiances lie. I will say that it was not intelligent from a risk management perspective.

On the play that prompted the celebration, Knowshon Moreno lunged for the end zone but it was not clear at first if he broke the plane. The side judge signaled a touchdown, but it was close enough that the play was reviewed. Replay confirmed that Moreno did, in fact, get into the end zone so it was a legit TD; I’m not arguing about that.

Just imagine though if he didn’t get into the end zone and replay overturns the score. Instead of 4th-and-inches, which probably would have resulted in a touchdown given Florida’s defense, it would have been 4th-and-31 thanks to the two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called on that play. You’re now looking at a 48-yard field goal attempt.

Despite Brandon Coutu being a great kicker, he was just 1-5 from 48 yards or more last season, with the one make a 52-yarder indoors against Hawaii. There’s no guarantee the Bulldogs get any points out of it, and you go from being hyped and motivated to having egg on your face with no points to show for it.

That more than anything is why I don’t think you’ll see that happen again. Replay could overturn the touchdown, and there’s also the matter of late holding flags that no one notices until well after the play is done (a specialty of SEC refs). Taking an intentional penalty when points are at stake is just not a smart plan.

On top of that, Richt could have been thrown out of the game if the officials were of a different mindset that day. There was also the risk of a brawl, which I am about 90 percent sure would have happened if Richt did that against a Ron Zook-coached Florida team. It will likely go down as a unique even in college football, never to be duplicated.

Was it the reason that Georgia played well the rest of the season?

Yes and no.

Yes, in that it was the first spark of the fire that Georgia showed the rest of the season. The Bulldogs looked lifeless against South Carolina, laid down and took a beating from Tennessee, and needed a last-second field goal to beat Vanderbilt. Something about Richt’s motivational formula had gone stale.

A win over Florida, given the one-sided nature of the rivalry since 1990, probably would have been enough without the celebration, so in that sense it wasn’t even necessary.

Was it the reason Georgia played well the rest of the season? In truth, we don’t know. Richt did other motivational things throughout the rest of the year, most notably when his team took off its red jerseys to reveal black ones just before the home game against Auburn.

The celebration against Florida probably played a part, but it was by no means the only thing as other actions by Richt and the team sustained the high level of excitement and motivation.

Is Urban Meyer jealous he didn’t think of it, and will he retaliate?

Urban Meyer’s offense and recruiting tactics (texting a lot and his Friday Night Lights camp) might be new “new school,” but philosophically he’s very much an old school guy. Thanks to growing up in Ohio, he’s a disciple of Woody Hayes and even has a picture of Hayes hanging in his game room. Earle Bruce, the head coach when Meyer was a grad assistant at Ohio State, is still very much his mentor.

That is why there isn’t a chance in the world that he’s mad that he didn’t think of that celebration first. Hayes and Bruce would never have pulled a stunt like that. That’s just not they way you did things back then, and that’s not how Meyer does things now.

He never would have thought to do that, and he’s not going to try to do it to Georgia this year either. Any payback will be administered solely with football and not theatrics.

What about 2008?

After what happened last year, the SEC will probably tell the officials before the game to be extra vigilant towards unsportsmanlike conduct. In officiating parlance, it will be a “point of emphasis.”

That fact is why I don’t expect there to be another stunt by either team. The refs will probably have their thumbs on their ejector seat buttons, and Mike Slive might already have the paperwork ready for fining either coach is something premeditated happens.

It will be a close, hard-fought game; nothing more, nothing less.

Coach Analysis: Mark Richt

July 1, 2008

Mark Richt is by any measure the Anti-Gator: a former Miami quarterback, former FSU offensive coordinator, and now Georgia head coach. All he’s missing is some sort of grad assistant tenure at Tennessee.

He also is by any measure the best head coach in Athens since Vince Dooley. Not that surpassing Ray “Goof” was going that difficult, and on close inspection Jim Donnan’s record isn’t quite as good as it looks. By the time he’s done, Richt may end up surpassing Dooley himself.

Since Richt arrived in 2001, it’s hard for any Bulldog fans to complain about his record there. Except, of course, that he hasn’t won a national title. And he’s 2-5 against Florida. And he lost to Vanderbilt. You know what? Let’s just move on to his record as a whole.

Here is the tale of the tape by venue for Mark Richt:

Mark Richt at Georgia
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 34 7 41
Away 25 4 29
Neutral 4 6 10
Bowls 5 2 7
Totals 68 19 87

If you’re counting along at home, he actually has a better road record percentage-wise than his home record. He’s been good in bowls, with the West Virginia blitzkrieg and a loss to Boston College in his first year as his only blemishes. That neutral site record includes his 2-5 record against Florida and his 2-1 record in SEC title games.

That home record could stand to be shored up some, but two of the losses did come in 2001 with Jim Donnan’s players. The away record loses some of its sparkle if you include his record in Jacksonville, but with the crowd there being split 50-50, it truly is a neutral site game.

Here is his his record based on quality of opponent. As with before, first tier is any team that finished the year .750 and up, second tier is .500 to .749, third tier is .250 to .499, and fourth tier is .249 and below.

Mark Richt at Georgia
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 9 10 .474 24 21
Second 32 8 .800 28 18
Third 18 1 .947 28 13
Fourth 9 0 1.000 37 14

Richt’s record against the first tier is pretty good, though nowhere near Bob Stoops’s 17-10 mark. The second tier record is good, showing that he wins four of every five against the group directly below him as Georgia has been a first tier team five of his seven years. The one loss to a third tier team was to Vanderbilt in 2006.

It is somewhat puzzling to see that his teams don’t average 30 points a game until you get to fourth tier opponents, considering how explosive his offenses at FSU were. It goes to show that as a head coach he’s been a bit more conservative on offense.

It’s also interesting to note that he averages a 24-21 win against the first tier if you look at points while he’s just 9-10 against it. Part of that is due to the fact that he has some large blowouts over first tier teams (Hawaii in 2007, Auburn in 2006, Tennessee in 2003 to name a few) and part is due to the fact that he generally doesn’t get blown out himself.

For you pattern watchers out there, he’s 0-2 against eventual national champions but 2-0 against defending national champions. That makes for two interesting weeks in a row when Georgia plays at LSU on October 25 and Florida on November 1, given what LSU did last year and the preseason magazines’ fawning all over the Gators this year.

Mark Richt has been good. He’s not been Bowden/Spurrier in the ’90s good or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma good, but not many are. He has two SEC championships, a 13-1 season (which wins a national title nearly every year except 2002 when he posted it), and for the most part he beats everyone he’s supposed to beat.

He’s also an all-around good guy and will have the Georgia job as long as he wants it. Putting partisanship aside, it’s good for college football to have him at a high-profile program like Georgia, and he likely will continue to be one of the game’s top coaches.