27 September 2011
Me and fellow blogger, Greg, over at Leather Helmet decided to swap Q&A prior to this weekend's showdown in Athens. It was fun and interesting. State fans should be aware that the Georgia faithful have their eyes on Mullen. First, here are my questions and Greg's answers, then Greg's questions with my answers.
1) We've seen the Georgia defense give up some big points early in the season, particulary against Boise and Carolina. Is there a defensive problem in Athens?
The short answer is, no. Boise was able to shut down the offense and kept the defense on the field all night. Late in the game the Georgia D was gassed and conditioning has been a problem for UGA in the past. The defense played well enough to win against South Carolina. In fact, the offense gave up 14 points directly with a pick six and a fumble that was recovered for a TD. Georgia fans would like to see a rock-ribbed defense harkening back to the Junkyard Dawgs days of Dooley and they may yet. Injuries at the inside linebacker position have taken a toll but defensive signal caller Christian Robinson may be back for Mississippi State.
2) We've seen the MSU defense have trouble defending the spread offense. With Murray's run-pass threat do you think Georgia may try to spread things out a little more against the Starkville Dogs?
Georgia's offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, started the year with a strong commitment to the spread. It was a miserable failure against Boise and, even though he (and Richt) defended the set vigorously, he has slowly moved away from the spread. Many UGA fans believe that Coach Richt has become much more active in play calling. Against Ole Miss the offense was much more reminiscent of Richt's early days in Athens when he was the play caller. I think you will see more of the Ole Miss game plan. Look for Georgia to do what it can to get the ball to Crowell in space and the traditional Richt passing game.
3) Georgia wins on Saturday if....? If the offensive line can give the backs a few holes and keep Murray upright. It has done neither of those things very well so far. There is a good bit of debate on the boards and in our comments about Murray's play. He has not made great strides over last year. Murray can not be careless with the ball either by starring down receivers or failing to tuck it away if sacked. Georgia has a lot of talented folks and are capable of performing at a very high level. We are waiting.
4) Mississippi State wins if....?
With all due respect to Mississippi State, there is no way that the western Dogs should win this game. Georgia simply has more players than MSU. I am not saying that MSU is a bad team - they are not. I'm saying that if UGA comes out and executes its game plan and does not give the ball away - they win. There is a huge "if" in that sentence. For the past couple of years Georgia has not played to the level of its talent. When I choose my teams in this weeks pick 'em, I'll be picking the Athens Dawgs but my confidence points will be low.
5) Does a loss on Saturday end Mark Richt's tenure at Georgia? And what does he have to do this season to keep his job?
No, Richt will not be fired immediately if he loses Saturday.
I have taken several minutes to form an answer to the second question. That should be a tell in itself. AD Greg McGarity has always said that there is no magic number of losses that will get Richt fired. A lot of folks will be very unhappy about a loss this Saturday.
Let's face it, a loss to MSU will not bode well for upcoming SEC games against Florida and Auburn. The fan base, already split, will be fractured and the boards will be ablaze. University officials always discount fan reaction but they hear it. I get the impression that McGarity is adept at holding a moistened finger to the wind.
Very interesting. And now Greg's questions with my answers. And if you get the chance swing over to his blog and check it out.
1) Why is Mississippi State less successful on offense than last year?
Two reasons: First is injuries. This is a team that put up nearly 1200 yards of offense in the first two games. They ran 97 plays against Auburn. Then they lose 3 starting O-Linemen (two seniors and a junior) and since have only managed 500 yards total. One of the three has played hurt, one is still recovering and the other is out for the season. State's offense has taken on a completely different character. They have struggled between the tackles and Relf has taken a lot of hits. Even more telling is Mullen's decision on Saturday to fake a punt on 4th & 1 with an end-around that failed and allowed Tech back into the ballgame. Last year against an inferior opponent State just lines up and knocks them off the ball to get that one yard. The O-Line struggles will plague all season unless the younger guys can mature really quick.
The other reason is just plain mental. State was heart-broken against Auburn and I don't think they've gotten over it, particularly Relf. That goal-line stop took something out of him and since then it seems he's had some strange mental block. He's not the same QB and since he's the team leader it's affecting the whole team. They're playing tight and no one is having fun. It's 22 guys afraid to make a mistake. I think there is a crisis of confidence on this team from Relf on down and the offense has struggled as a result.
2) How much is Manny Diaz missed?
I think what State misses more is their 3 starting linebackers and NFL defensive end from last year's team. This was a lot to replace and in the first two games it showed. But this defense has grown and seem to get better every week. Chris Wilson has done a good job with the D. He's not as aggressive as Diaz but he also doesn't take the same risks and State has been less vulnerable to the big play as a result.
3)Georgia wins if... if they score early and don't make mistakes. This State team is self-doubting right now and if Georgia can score a couple times in the first quarter this game will be over, and it may end up being a blowout. Murray and company need to keep it conservative and just run their offense. They CAN score that way so long as they don't turn it over. But if this game gets late and State stays in it you'll see Relf's confidence build and that could be enough to get their offense on track and come away with a win. Watch out for State's two dynamic corners, especially Johnthan Banks. He's got superb cover skills and likes to bait QBs into bad throws, 3 picks in the last 3 games, one of them saving Saturday's game against La Tech. Murray needs to stay away from those kinds of mistakes and not allow State's defense to keep them in it.
4)Mississippi State wins if... they can get the ball to their playmakers and get some big plays. I hate to say it but State will probably be moving away from their bread-and-butter power running game and going to more sweeps, counters, misdirection, flanker screens, etc. I just don't think they can go helmet to helmet with Georgia right now. They have 4 or 5 guys with blazing speed who can score anytime they touch it and look for Mullen and Koenning to try and get the ball to those guys in the open field.
5)Some Dawgs are saying that Saturday will be Mullen's interview for the Georgia job given the prior Relationship of Georgia's AD Greg McGarity and Dan Mullen at Florida. Would Mullen leave MSU for UGA?
That's the million dollar question in Starkville. Is Mullen using State as a stepping stone to bigger things or is this his home for good? Before this season I would've said he's not going anywhere, but now I'm not so sure. It's been tough so far for him and some of the more restless State fans have been a little critical of him. I think it's insane, but such is the case when unrealistic expectations rule the day. Why would he endure that kind of pressure at State when he can go to more prestigious surroundings where recruiting is much easier? Then again, why would he go to Georgia where Richt goes 98-36 and is on the hot seat? Do that at MSU and the guy is a coaching legend. It's a tough one. One thing's for sure, if MSU is Mullen's stepping stone this will be the year he bails. If he's our coach next year it's because he has Frank Beamer-like plans for MSU.