First of all, congrats to the Hawgs. They did exactly what they needed to do for Petrino's first road win in eight tries. They protected the tall, power-armed Ryan Mallett on all but one drive and he picked Georgia's secondary clean. Mallett hit three absolutely wide open receivers for long touchdowns and engineered a efficient second quarter drive for a touchdown that showed why Arkansas was picked to challenge Alabama for the SEC West crown. Congrats to the Hawgs, enjoy your trip to Dallas or Orlando on New Year's Day. (Image: Kris Durham makes a play. Image by Jim Hipple)
On to the Dawgs. The defense was fundamentally better. There were fewer missed tackles and our defensive line was much improved on inside runs. The trouble was scheme execution. The Dawgs couldn't get to the quarterback enough, despite a variety of blitz packages. The defense registered only one sack and it was in the waning minutes of the fourth. Without pressure on Mallett, our DBs weren't able to keep up with Arkansas receivers in man-to-man coverage. When they could keep up, they couldn't make a play on the ball. On the few occasions that our pressure hurried Mallett, there always seemed to be a shallow crossing route consistently open for him. Grantham still has a bunch of work left to do.
On offense, I am just absolutely puzzled. How can an offensive line that experienced and who dominated at the end of last year be so mediocre? Last week, they couldn't run block. This week, they couldn't run block or protect. And when the line did protect, Washaun would completely whiff his protection assignment. On that last offensive play, I thought Ealey had gotten Murray beheaded.
I know a bunch of folks are getting all over Bobo, but I really think the problem is with the line. We have to be able to run the ball. Without it, our passing game isn't as effective. I don't know how many times I can say that. Bobo's offenses have put up points in prior years. The team has to execute. Look, Bobo made some curious calls on specific plays, but those didn't get us beat. The thing I can fault Bobo with was not giving more variety in formations in the first half. If we absolutely cannot run it, show some shotgun looks and run some swing passes and a few quick, horizontal passes to the wideouts. We never tried to mix it up much other than the Wild Dawg, which wasn't very effective without solid blocking.
Lastly, I'm really sick of the fourth quarter pep talk. It seemed to work, but why didn't we have that same sense of urgency and desire that we showed for most of the fourth quarter when we started the game? Richt publicly stated how important this game was to the program and we looked stuck in second gear for three quarters. Move the pep talk to the first quarter, please.
So here we are, fighting to cling to any scrap of national relevance. We aren't going to Atlanta. Adding to that, our head coach is facing a confidence crisis. The Bulldog Nation is about to become a very nasty place, divided between those who want a change and those who want to persevere. I'm still thinking about which side I'm on, but I'll say this: Since 2005, our program, when compared with our peers, is behind. Is it recruiting? Is it coaching? Is it discipline? I think it's a mixture of all of those things. Mark Richt is a great man and has proven himself a good coach. For many, the memories of past glories are forgotten and all that remains is the pain and aggravation of the present. Is all that Richt has accomplished enough to maintain our faith in him? The fact that I'm asking the question shows the problem.
P.S. I know the TV announcers went on and on about A.J. missing the game. Get over it. We knew the default position all week was that A.J. would not play. Would it have changed the outcome? First, A.J. doesn't play defensive back. Second, Durham's no A.J., but he made his share of plays. Our offense can't be solely dependent on a single wide out. There's another team in the SEC who's been missing the Heisman Trophy winner and has still absolutely destroyed people. A.J.'s a great player and he would have made a difference, but he was suspended. We can't change that or use it as an excuse for a loss.