|Jarvis Jones (Photo: Dale Zanine/US Presswire)|
If you look at Georgia’s schedule, you immediately get the sense that they’ve got a much easier road than the rest of the SEC. After all, they won’t have to play Alabama, LSU, or Arkansas, right?
That said, KC Joyner (NFL and College Football analyst at ESPN) offered six reasons the Bulldogs won’t win the East ($). While I won’t hit all of them, I will look at a few and offer my thoughts on his logic.
He begins with a few doubts about quarterback Aaron Murray. In his opinion, Murray’s efficiency and passing numbers were buoyed by the presence of both Malcolm Mitchell and Orson Charles.
That said, when neither of those players were on the field, his production wasn’t nearly as impressive.
“…Murray lost nearly a yard off of his overall yards-per-attempt (YPA) total and lost even more than that on his vertical YPA and stretch vertical YPA.
For those who might contend that every quarterback would see this type of drop-off when throwing to alternate targets, there are two points to consider.
First, Murray still had Tavarres King, the team’s leading receiver in 2011, to throw to. Second, Oklahoma State Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden was able to post Justin Blackmon-caliber numbers on aerials to receivers other than Blackmon.
This means Murray has a way to go to prove he can succeed when throwing to alternate targets.” (KC Joyner, “Why the Georgia Bulldogs won’t win the SEC East in 2012″, DawgNation, 3/20/12)
While I’ll admit that I’ve had my fair share of frustrations with Murray’s decision-making in certain situations, I don’t think this will pose a problem. If anything it might be a good thing because he’ll be forced to look for alternate targets on a more consistent basis—like he did against Auburn last year.
For all of Murray’s good points, his worst habit is locking in on his favorite targets—open or not—and trying to make something happen down field. Orson Charles and Malcolm Mitchell were his two favorite last year and Kine began to benefit more as the season wore on.
That said, Murray is most effective when he’s spreading the ball around and I have no doubt that he will be consciously looking to do more of that this season with both Charles and Mitchell out of the picture.
But, Mr. Joyner reminds us that, even if Murray does exorcise his demons in the passing game, his offensive line may let him down in due time.
“…Georgia will have to replace both offensive tackles (including first-team All-SEC nominee Cordy Glenn) and none of its five scholarship candidates at that position have started even a single game.
The Bulldogs will also have to find a new center to replace longtime starter (and second-team All-SEC nominee) Ben Jones.
In addition, it should not be forgotten that as talented as Georgia was on the offensive line last year, it still ranked next to last in the SEC in sacks allowed (33). Any kind of a drop-off here could make for a very long season for Murray.”
Okay, can we first have a laugh at the decision to use the words “talented” and “offensive line” in the same sentence?
Look, any Georgia fan can tell you that for as much “talent” the offensive line had last season, it didn’t do squat to help the offense—particularly in the running game.
Ben Jones often looked a flailing mess as a run blocker and neither Justin Anderson, or Cordy Glenn were always giving you cause for applause either. And, to be quite frank, it was embarrassing to watch a line that was the biggest in the nation (pros or college) get tossed and turned by smaller defensive lines last season—Michigan State was particularly brutal—and I’d argue that there are a fair number of fans who are ready to see the changing of the guard on the offensive line next season.
It’s time for younger, more athletic, guys like Watts Dantzler, John Theus, and Mark Beard to show what they can do while veterans like David Andrews, Kolton Houston, and Kenarious Gates step into the leadership roles vacated by the departures of both Jones and Glenn.
The offensive line, if it gels, can only be an improvement over last season—in my opinion.
And finally, there’s this,
Reason No. 5: The SEC East will be a much stronger division in 2012
“…the Gators are returning 10 starters from the nation’s eighth-ranked defense. The Orange and Blue are also returning eight starters on offense, and their 19 overall starters are the third most in the conference.
The Tennessee Volunteers fare even better in this area, as they are returning 10 starters on defense and nine on offense. Their 21 overall returning starters are the most in the SEC and, most important, they will have quarterback Tyler Bray under center for a full season (barring another injury)…
The SEC East also has a sleeper club in the Vanderbilt Commodores. They have a second team All-SEC running back in Zac Stacy, as well as one of most underrated wide receivers in college football in Jordan Matthews. Add Jordan Rodgers playing a lot more like his NFL namesake down the stretch last year and 18 returning starters, and it makes this a dangerous team in 2012.
And we haven’t even mentioned the South Carolina Gamecocks, the one SEC team to beat Georgia last season.”
Not to rain on any other SEC fan’s parade, but can we take off the rose-colored glasses for a moment and truly look at what the East has to offer?
Yes, the Gators are returning a truckload next season, but they also have yet to decide on a quarterback, are admittedly restocking talent cupboards that went frighteningly bare after Urban Meyer left, and are working with a new offensive coordinator for the second straight year.
They may be talented, but they’re still a year or two away from being the beasts everyone predicts they’ll be—if Muschamp is given the chance to make it happen.
Tennessee has Tyler Bray back from injury and that’s a big plus, but they’ve also brought in almost an entirely new coaching staff (they replaced seven assistants this off-season), are instituting a new defensive scheme (which they don’t yet have all the personnel for), and still have not answered the question of who will be running the ball for them—successfully—next season.
Again, plenty of questions to answer.
Yes, James Franklin is turning the Commodores into a pesky little contender, it’s a stretch to say that Jordan Rodgers is the next Aaron Rodgers. After all, Rodgers is already receiving heavy competition from Wyoming transfer, Austyn Carter-Samuels, and it’s not yet known if that depth pool will get murkier with the Danny O’ Brien decision still looming large.
Finally, there’s South Carolina who, no matter what the year or the talent level, always gives Georgia fits. They will be a tough team to wrangle, no doubt, but the hope is that by getting them much later in the season, Georgia will be infinitely more prepared for whatever Steve Spurrier has hidden beneath his visor.
Oh and there’s still some doubts as to who will take over the relatively large shoes left behind by the departed Alshon Jeffery.
In truth, I’ve continually said that Georgia won’t be cake-walking into the SEC Championship Game next season. The questions surrounding the secondary, special teams, and the offensive play calling of Mike Bobo are all things that give me pause.
That said, I still think Georgia has the best shot of any of the other teams in the East based on their experience at quarterback, a healthier, more focused, Isaiah Crowell, and the overwhelming potential the defense has based on returning so many key players.
Does that mean Georgia won’t fall flat on their collective face? No. But it does mean that the chances of that happening seem a lot less likely in Athens than anywhere else in the league based on the current landscape.
Either way, it’s a long wait til fall…let’s just enjoy the conversation until then.