The Big Chill
In inexperienced Georgia offense, QB Greene is calming influence
Posted: Wednesday September 17, 2003 3:28PM; Updated: Thursday September 18, 2003 3:06AM
By Luke Winn, SI.com
Georgia had an offseason of anxiety and discontent, with nine of its players under NCAA scrutiny for hawking their SEC championship rings, and five others facing suspension for marijuana charges. On the field, the Bulldogs opened the season with an entirely new offensive line -- all either freshmen or sophomores -- and in September, they still have what one assistant calls a highly "unstable" situation at running back.
The circumstances don't seem conducive for a repeat SEC title. And yet the mood in Athens isn't punctured by anxiety or instability -- there's a neutralizing force behind center. A big lefty. A big calm.
Junior quarterback David Greene, in his third year as a starter, appears to be at ease, regardless of the veritable nursery protecting him in the trenches, or the tailback-by-committee receiving his handoffs. The seventh-ranked Bulldogs are 3-0 heading into Saturday's showdown with LSU, and Greene has completed 68.1 percent of his passes so far, more than 10 percentage points higher than his pace during 2002's conference title run. He last threw an interception on Nov. 16, 2002, against Auburn, seven games ago.
"He's a very poised, smart, cool young man," said offensive coordinator Neil Callaway. "Nothing rattles him. He brings a sense of calm to our offense."
Cool, calm, collected. The adjectives may seem superfluous, but how else do you describe a quarterback who was 7-for-7 on third-down pass attempts in the Bulldogs' last win, a 31-7 thumping of South Carolina? Greene is in a passing zone; that's something even he'll admit.
"I've just gotten really comfortable with the system," Greene said. "It's gotten to the point where I can feel what's coming and know exactly what I need to do before the play happens, and so it's just a matter of throwing a good ball."
LSU probably won't let Greene play pitch-and-catch, as other opponents have done so far by playing soft coverage on the Bulldogs' wide receivers. "The outs and curls have been open for David so far, but LSU will play more press coverage and give him a bigger challenge," Callaway said. With injured wideout Fred Gibson and tight end Ben Watson on the sidelines, Greene probably will focus on his newfound connection with junior Reggie Brown (two touchdown catches vs. the Gamecocks).
Greene has been entrusted with a considerable amount of freedom in the offense, checking off and making reads about 30 percent of the time, according to Callaway. The inexperienced offensive line, perceived to be a major weakness early on, hasn't been a problem -- it's merely altered the way the Bulldogs run the ball.
The interior of the line -- guards Josh Brock and Bartley Miller and center Russ Tanner -- are smaller than their predecessors, but "it's not like they're little guys," Callaway said. "We're more athletic now at the guard spots -- it allows us to pull them more effectively." Georgia's running game is still a work in progress, after sophomore Tony Milton, the initial No. 1, was injured against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 6. While head coach Mark Richt and Callaway alternate Michael Cooper and Kregg Lumpkin and junior Ronnie Powell, the coaches will no doubt depend even more on Greene to carry the load.
LSU head coach Nick Saban is well aware of the damage Greene can do. Despite having a solid signal-caller of his own in Matt Mauck, Saban heaped Lou Holtz-like praise on Greene on Monday -- and you get a feeling it's not just posturing.
"He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and probably the best quarterback in the SEC," Saban said. "He makes good choices and decisions; they only have one turnover all year. ... He doesn't make a lot of bad plays."
Greene, who is forced to share a portion of his snaps with sophomore D.J. Shockley, probably won't have the passing numbers -- yards or touchdowns -- to keep up in the Heisman race. But he doesn't need to make big plays to be effective, with Georgia's defense ranked third in the nation in both points allowed and turnover margin. Defensive end David Pollack, the SEC defensive player of the year in 2002, is perhaps the Bulldogs' most eligible candidate for postseason hardware. Greene's roommate and best friend of 15 years, Pollack is a one-man wrecking crew who strikes a vicious pose, menacing opposing offenses.
Greene's pose on the field is less striking; instead, it's calm and confident. But it's exactly what Georgia needs to make another run to Atlanta.
Who's at fault for Texas' stunning 38-28 loss to Arkansas last Saturday? Ask head coach Mack Brown, and his hand goes up. "Coaches lose games; players win games," he said. "Put this one on me. I scheduled this game. It's all me. You don't have to look anywhere else."
Ask senior wide receiver Roy Williams, and it's him. "If I don't fumble, we win the ballgame," Williams said, referring to his first-half miscue, which occurred inside the Arkansas 5 and led to a Razorback touchdown. "I'm the one who cost us the ballgame. But we have to live with it now. This put something in us. We just have to win every week. This is business. This is real."
Funny, we were going to blame it on the defense, which gave up 265 rushing yards to the Hogs.
Wait, Tennessee is a better team than Miami? You wouldn't know it by looking at the AP or Coaches polls ('Canes No. 2; Vols No. 12), or, for that matter, casually observing games (Miami's stunning comeback vs. Florida; Vols looking average vs. Marshall). But after reviewing game tape, Ron Zook's Gator staff has a high opinion of Tennessee heading into Saturday's game at the Swamp. "A couple of coaches have made comments [the Vols] look better than Miami,'' Zook told the Tampa Tribune. "And we all know how good Miami is." That you do, Ron, that you do.
Running on empty
Wisconsin's Anthony Davis, the nation's No. 2 rusher before injuring his ankle against UNLV, is listed as "day-to-day." Based on the poor play of quarterback Jim Sorgi (two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown) and backup tailback Dwayne Smith (two fumbles, one returned for a touchdown) in an ugly loss to UNLV, it's evident the Badgers aren't so well off on offense without Davis. But will they risk re-injuring their star against North Carolina on Saturday, or save him for the Big Ten opener against Illinois on Sept. 27? Coach Barry Alvarez told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he wouldn't speculate on Davis ... but he plans on both Smith and third-stringer Booker Stanley carrying the ball.
Ohio State entirely abandoned its running game in overtime against N.C. State. This isn't what Jim Tressel meant when he said he would open up the Buckeyes' offense in the preseason -- it was a desperation move. And like all Buckeye desperation moves over the past 17 games, it worked.
In some twisted way, were those knee injuries good for Oklahoma's Jason White? A mobile guy back in the day (in 2001 against Baylor, he ran the ball 20 times), White was forced to become more of a pure, pocket passer. In a 52-28 win over Fresno State on Saturday, he threw for four touchdowns and 338 yards. He ran just once.
In the preseason, this site picked Arizona State to win the Pac-10. The Sun Devils have a long, long way to go to reach that level, however, especially on defense. ASU has given up at least 370 yards of total offense to its first two opponents, Northern Arizona, a Division I-AA team, and Utah State, which was ranked dead last in I-A in SI's preview issue. It could get ugly at Iowa on Saturday.
Here's where readers get to chime in.
This week's question: Oklahoma opened its season wearing retro jerseys from the Bud Wilkinson era. Which team would you most like to see break out the retro rags, and from what era? Be sure to explain why.
Last week, we asked: In the current AP top 10, which team has the most vulnerable defense? Here were the best answers:
Miami's recent successes have always been predicated on defense, but I think they are much more vulnerable this year than the last three. Florida's retooled offense ran over and around them, threw short and long, and scored almost at will for the first 2 1/2 quarters. The outcome of the game was determined more by Florida's lack of conditioning and depth than anything Miami did on offense or defense. The 'Canes' D just didn't seem to get to the ball as quickly, did not get in a position to make plays, and did not make the sure tackles when they had opportunity, all things they have had the uncanny ability to do over the past three seasons.
Georgia has the most vulnerable defense in my opinion. To lose so much beef up front, plus their entire linebacking corps, and still be a great defense is too much to ask. Beating a down-and-out Clemson program while struggling against MTSU doesn't bode well for the Dawgs, who will have Florida and Tennessee both licking their chops.
The weakest defense in the current AP Top 10 belongs to Kansas State. The only halfway competitive team they've faced so far, Cal-Berkeley, hung quite a few points (and yards) on them, particularly the secondary. Not good, Wildcat fans, when you've got guys like Chance Mock and Joel Klatt down the road. Doug Gillett, Birmingham, Ala.
(Perhaps this guy will reconsider ...)
I hate to say it, but my beloved Michigan Wolverines gave up over 200 yards rushing to Central Michigan. I can't excuse that performance, in spite of the domination of Houston. Of course, with Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor back, that may be the difference. We will see against Notre Dame. Jack, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Miami has a far more vulnerable defense than most people think. Florida managed 397 yards offense against them, including a startling 178 yards rushing. Florida's three inexperienced QBs went 18-27 for 219 yards against UM. If a young team like Florida can post those numbers in the Orange Bowl, what will a more experienced offense like FSU accomplish? Some of Miami's opponents must be licking their chops looking at the Florida game film.
Virginia Tech's defense always scares me when they play a team with a balanced offense -- like Miami, Pitt, or Virginia. If a team is one-dimensional, the Hokies are fine, but they really struggle when it's not obvious what the opponent is going to do. Misdirection and screens always seem to work well against VT, and I close my eyes if they're not in the QB's face within a couple of counts. Mobile QBs, like Texas A&M's Reggie McNeal, also create problems for them. I'm sure Bud Foster still has nightmares about Donovan McNabb.
Luke Winn is college football producer for SI.com. The Beat appears every Wednesday on the site.