Season report card: Georgia

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
9:00
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The regular-season grades are a mixed bag for the Georgia Bulldogs, who won the Eastern Division crown.

OFFENSE: B

The Bulldogs moved the ball consistently all season and led the SEC with 281 first downs. It wasn’t the best start for sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, but he made up for it the second part of the season by throwing 20 of his school-record 33 touchdown passes in his last seven games. Murray had plenty of targets, too, and threw touchdown passes to 10 different players. Junior tight end Orson Charles had an All-SEC season, and the Bulldogs’ younger receivers, led by freshman Malcolm Mitchell, made big impacts. The offensive line had a rough debut against Boise State, but played much better as the season progressed. The real enigma was freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell, who rushed for 847 yards and looked great at times. But Crowell wasn’t very durable and struggled to finish games. The Bulldogs averaged 32.2 points per game, which was fourth in the league, and were one of three SEC teams to average more than 400 total yards per game. Had it not been for the Boise State and LSU games and the crippling turnovers against South Carolina, this would have been a solid A.

DEFENSE: A

Alabama and LSU received all the accolades this season on defense, but Georgia was also one of the better defensive units in the country. The Bulldogs head into the Outback Bowl matchup against Michigan State ranked fourth nationally in total defense, allowing just 268.5 yards per game. They gave up very few big plays on defense, but made a lot of plays. They forced 29 turnovers, which was third in the league, and were second with 34 sacks. Jarvis Jones stepped in at outside linebacker and had a sensational debut season in the SEC. He led the league in both tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (13.5). Junior safety Bacarri Rambo also led the league with seven interceptions. The Bulldogs wore down in the second half against LSU in the SEC championship game, but held the Tigers without a first down in the first half. Georgia’s defense deserved a lot better in that game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Prior to this season, special teams would have been considered one of Georgia’s strengths, especially with punter Drew Butler, place-kicker Blair Walsh and return specialist Brandon Boykin all returning. But that’s not the way it played out. The Bulldogs were awful on special teams, and outside of Butler’s 44.3-yard punting average, didn’t do anything well. They gave up two kickoffs for touchdowns, two punts for touchdowns and also allowed a fake punt for a touchdown against South Carolina. They’re fortunate a late blocked punt against Vanderbilt didn’t cost them that game. Walsh lost his confidence and was just 19-of-31 on field goals, and the Bulldogs finished 11th in the SEC net punting. They also didn’t make anything happen in the return game.

COACHING: B+

Keeping his team focused and confident after the two losses to open the season, Mark Richt engineered one of the better turnarounds you’re ever going to see this season. The Bulldogs won 10 straight games and clawed their way into the SEC championship game. Remember, too, all the negativity that was swirling around Richt back in September and all the questions being asked about his job security. There was immense pressure, and this staff responded. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham helped bring a mental toughness to the defense that was the cornerstone of this team, and the entire offensive staff did an excellent job despite a lack of depth in the offensive line and youth in key spots. The only thing keeping this from being an A was the meltdown on special teams.

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