Five Georgia questions with Bernie’s Dawg Blawg

As part of the leadup to the Outback Bowl, I have teamed up with Bernie’s Dawg Blawg  to help our readers better become familiar with the opposition. So I answered five questions he had about Michigan State — here are my responses — and he broke down the Georgia Bulldogs by answering my questions.

Here are his responses:

1. Georgia lost its first two games of the season to Boise State and South Carolina before rattling off ten consecutive wins going into the SEC title game. What changed? And just how hot have these Bulldogs been since that time?

I think it’s fair to say a couple things changed. For one, the competition changed. Those first two games of the season were our most difficult until the SEC Championship Game. So that’s a part of the turnaround for sure. But mostly the team’s confidence improved greatly. In the past couple seasons Georgia has been a team that found ways to lose. In 2011 Richt had his team prepared to win each game in the fourth quarter. They’ve relied heavily on a stout defense and took their shots when they could get them on offense.

2. Georgia seems to have a stable of running backs, led by injured Richard Samuel and SEC freshman of the year Isaiah Crowell. Mark Richt has said he has an open competition going for the running back spot. What should we expect to see from the Bulldogs rushing attack?

Isaiah Crowell

This is a question on many Dawg fans’ minds as well. It’s been an issue really since the Vanderbilt game in mid-October. Isaiah Crowell is a difference maker, a threat to take it the distance each time he touches the ball. However, he has had some nagging injuries and, like Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome, he has had a tendency to find the doghouse nearly as much as the endzone. The good news for Georgia is we should see Richard Samuel return from that ankle injury. Samuel is a big, powerful back with good speed. He’s a junior but doesn’t have a lot of experience because of position changes and last season’s redshirt. But if he’s able to practice a lot leading up to the bowl game I see him as our most dependable back, on and off the field.

With extra practices this month leading up to January 2nd, you could also see some of Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin in the backfield. Both are defensive backs (Boykin is a starter) that have also been used in the backfield. Although neither are true every down backs by any means, they both are electrifying players. Smith is the fastest player Georgia has seen since Champ Bailey. He gets a small window he’s likely leaving a trail of Tampa turf towards the endzone.

The short answer for Michigan State fans is that the less you see of Crowell and Samuel the better your defense can concentrate on the pass. And Georgia’s offense is a pro-style offense that relies a lot on play action.

3. Obviously, Georgia comes into this game in a similar situation to Michigan State having lost its conference title game. How do you expect missing out on the chance to play in a BCS game to play into this game for Georgia?

I think there’s more disappointment among the fans than the team. The players were obviously disappointed in losing to LSU, but considering the fact that we were once 0-2 I think most players are thrilled to be in a New Year’s Day tier bowl. Especially when you consider the upperclassmen on the team have survived a trip to Shreveport and a loss in last year’s Liberty Bowl. The Outback is a welcome change. I think they’ll be eager for the challenge of playing Michigan State under a national scope.

4. Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo rank among the national leaders in sacks and interceptions, respectively. What does this defense do that makes it so successful against some pretty good SEC offenses? And what role does Jones, who is playing linebacker for the first time, play in that scheme?

Jarvis Jones

This is the second year under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. There were glimpses of special things to come last season, but they were few and far between as we transitioned from a 4-3 base to a 3-4. This season Grantham has the personnel to make his defense click. And you’re right, Rambo and Jones have been a BIG part of that.

I think it starts with pressure so I’ll answer on Jones first. This guy is an absolute terror. I haven’t seen a team that isn’t intent on holding him to contain him yet. And the smarter teams hold him early rather than wait for him to create a big play first. In a word he is dominant and has to be double teamed. The problem is that Grantham’s system makes that hard. Jones will create pressure and cause problems for the Spartans offense. The fact that you have an experienced quarterback in Kirk Cousins to try and manage it will help Michigan State, but at some point you can expect him to hit the ground repeatedly.

Once the pressure is created is where Rambo comes in. He’s an experienced safety that is enjoying his best season. His experience has helped him understand where the ball is going to end up on certain plays and in certain situations. As a result he’s 4th on the team in tackles, and like you said is 2nd in the nation in interceptions. So opposing quarterbacks have to account for the likes of Jones at the snap and then Rambo as the play develops. It has worked well pretty much all season.

5. You can’t help but notice the offensive line gives up quite a large number of sacks (Murray was sacked 28 times this season, 24 last season) — which can be attributed to playing some tough defenses. How do you expect the Bulldogs to gameplan for an aggressive Michigan State defense?

Georgia has gotten some recognition for having the largest offensive line in football, college or pros. But body mass doesn’t always translate into great protection. They haven’t developed much consistency over the season mostly because of injuries. We may be big in size, but our depth is rail thin. Justin Anderson has struggled transitioning to a tackle position, but because of depth issues there isn’t another option really. So we’ll likely rely on tight ends and fullbacks to help protect as well as our running backs. If we can get quarterback Aaron Murray in a rhythm early I think we can neutralize the pass rush enough to buy time in the pocket. We likely will use the pass to open up the run. So hopefully our wideouts can get open early to help Murray settle into the flow of the game.

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Posted on December 13, 2011, in Football and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Enjoyed it Mike! I hope your starting front 7 overslept every exam.

    Just kidding….no, not really.

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