Atlanta Sports – A Look Back At A Not So Distant Past

In the summer of 2007 there weren’t many towns that were suffering a worse sports slump than Atlanta.

Town superstar Mike Vick was indicted on charges of dog fighting after a disappointing 7 -9 season at the helm for the Falcons.  The Hawks were putting the finishing touches on a stellar 26 win season, (give them a break – they doubled their win total from the previous year) and made it seven straight years without a playoff appearance.  And to cap it all off, those faithful 14-straight-division-title-winning Braves were coming off their first losing season since 1990 on their way to a four year playoff draught.

Although the surface of sports in this town looked bleak, behind the curtain two moves were made that summer that drastically altered the future of Atlanta.  First, the Braves drafted a local prospect Jason Heyward 14th overall in the 2007 MLB Draft.  The Hawks for some reason drafted (it’s hard to say this) intelligently by taking Al Horford 3rd overall a few months later.

Fast-forward a year and the results on the field don’t look much better.

The Hawks got a whole 4 wins better and failed to reach the playoffs again finishing with a .366 winning percentage.  The Braves finished 2007 with 84 wins but for only 3rd in the division.  They would follow up in 2008 by dropping 12 wins from the previous year and another spot further down in the final division standings.

The Falcons?  They found a way to make the Hawks and Braves woes seem like nothing.  Joey Harrington led us to the 29th ranked offense and Bobby Petrino decided midway through the year that he’d rather go scream “Pig Souie!” than coach an NFL team.  And in a generous display of class and dignity he snuck out of the city at night after one of the worst loses of the year.  (We wish him the best though and hope he enjoys a wonderful season this year – good luck without Mallett!)  Please pardon my bitter aside.

It was during that summer the Falcons made one of the best draft decisions any franchise in Atlanta has made.  They took Matt Ryan in the first round with the third overall pick.  In a draft stocked with offensive line talent and accuracy question marks with Ryan, they took a calculated risk and struck gold.

These three draft decisions have led to some pretty incredible sports stories.

For the Falcons and Braves, the glory of their top prospects came in their very first plays.  These have been two of the sweetest moments I have ever witnessed in local sports.

Ryan came to Atlanta with much hype but also many doubters.  In his first game as a Falcon, Matty Ice dropped back from under center and threw his first NFL pass complete to Michael Jenkins for a 62 yard touchdown.  That was the start of an 11 win season for the Falcons that launched them into a consistent winner and title contender.

NFL Network has recently been counting down the top 100 players of 2011 as voted by the players.  Last week Matt Ryan was featured with narration by our own Jerry Glanville. (Pardon the quality)

When Heyward stepped in for his first major league at bat he had the eyes of everyone in Atlanta on him.  Chip Caray made the call of his life on a 2-0 count with his immediate classic description of Heyward’s two-run bomb into the right field dugout.  His famous words have become sacred to baseball fans and the call was recently rated 46 on the MLB Network’s countdown of the 50 greatest all time calls in baseball history.

Swing and a drive – belted to right – welcome to the show!

This was the start to an incredible season from Jason Heyward who deserved Rookie of the Year honors.  Apparently a half a year at catcher is more impressive than a full year of quality at bats with a boatload of walks. (How’s that leg feeling now Posey?)

If you haven’t seen it before, check out more of Heyward’s story in this ESPN E:60 piece:

Since then the three Atlanta teams have combined for seven playoff appearances with all teams looking promising for the future.  Horford, Ryan, and Heyward are all all-star players who are becoming the cornerstone for the future of their teams.  While they have their ups and downs they have begun a new era of success in Atlanta sports in just a few short years.

The State of Atlanta Sports Address

Another playoff loss…

As Matt Ryan rolled left and tossed a pick-six to Tramon Williams with 0:00 left in the first half I had flashbacks to a 3 error game by Brooks Conrad against the Giants and a blown coverage by Keith Brooking in Arizona. All of which were costly plays on the way to disappointing playoff losses. None of these players deserve all the blame for the horrible way each season ended but all three plays are a microcosm of how poor Atlanta plays when the games matter most.

Continue reading

Auburn Breaking Trends

Auburn is trying to break a long standing trend that defense wins championships in the SEC.  History has shown that to win the SEC you have to have one of the top ranked defenses in the league.  This is what has lofted Florida and Alabama to such high standings in the past few years but Auburn is going against the grain.

The Tigers lead the SEC in the current standings despite being ranked 9th in total defense in the SEC.

Team G Pts/G Yds/G
LSU 7 14.4 242.1
Alabama 7 12.9 288
Georgia 7 17.4 290.1
Florida 7 18.7 297.9
Arkansas 6 23.3 330.3
Mississippi St. 7 16 332.9
Mississippi 6 31 355
Kentucky 7 29.9 361.9
Auburn 7 24.4 367.9
South Carolina 6 20.8 371
Vanderbilt 6 25.5 378.8
Tennessee 6 27.5 381

NFL Draft – Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

Looking over some numbers from the NFL Draft over the last 10 years it is interesting to see the effects that coaching staff’s have in the development of players.  Any top-tier high school football player in the state of Georgia will likely consider both UGA and Georgia Tech as two options for college.

Here is one statistic some of those recruits may want to keep in mind:

Since 2000, UGA has had 10 first round picks in the NFL Draft…Georgia Tech has had only 1.

Here is a detailed look at the number of players drafted from both schools sorted by round:

Round 1 10 1
Round 2 9 2
Round 3 9 6
Round 4 8 4
Round 5 5 1
Round 6 5 3
Round 7 10 5
Total Players 56 22

The Curse of the Number 1 Pick

Check out these statistics of the difference between the lofty No. 1 overall pick compared to the No. 2 pick since the turn of the centruy:

Number 1 Picks:

Year Player Position School Team Years Played Pro Bowls
2009 Jason Smith OT Baylor St. Louis Rams 1 0
2008 Chris Long DE Virginia St. Louis Rams 2 0
2007 Calvin Johnson WR Georgia Tech Detroit Lions 3 0
2006 Reggie Bush RB Southern Cal. New Orleans Saints 4 0
2005 Ronnie Brown RB Auburn Miami Dolphins 5 1
2004 Robert Gallery OT Iowa Oakland Raiders 6 0
2003 Charles Rogers WR Michigan State Detroit Lions 3 0
2002 Julius Peppers DE North Carolina Carolina Panthers 8 4
2001 Leonard Davis OT Texas Arizona Cardinals 9 2
2000 LaVar Arrington LB Penn State Washington Redskins 7 3

Number 2 Picks:

Year Player Position School Team Years Played Pro Bowls
2009 Jason Smith OT Baylor St. Louis Rams 1 0
2008 Chris Long DE Virginia St. Louis Rams 2 0
2007 Calvin Johnson WR Georgia Tech Detroit Lions 3 0
2006 Reggie Bush RB Southern Cal. New Orleans Saints 4 0
2005 Ronnie Brown RB Auburn Miami Dolphins 5 1
2004 Robert Gallery OT Iowa Oakland Raiders 6 0
2003 Charles Rogers WR Michigan State Detroit Lions 3 0
2002 Julius Peppers DE North Carolina Carolina Panthers 8 4
2001 Leonard Davis OT Texas Arizona Cardinals 9 2
2000 LaVar Arrington LB Penn State Washington Redskins 7 3

There are 9 Pro-Bowls for the No. 1 pick players in the last 10 years while the No. 2 picks have 10.   Since we know that the significance of pay difference in these two picks is substantial it is a pretty obvious argument that there is little to no value to getting the No. 1 pick over the second spot in the NFL draft.

Creature vs. Creature: Every Dawg Needs An Extra Cocktail

Bulldog fans all around the Southeast are stocking up to take their annual pilgrimage to Jacksonville.  Some feel the need to bring extra tailgate supplies from the alcoholic beverage isle in the supermarket with a doubtful prognosis.  Take another look before you doubt the Dawgs; Florida may be in for a rude awakening.

The Gators are on a 17 game winning streak with Superman himself in the bid for his second Heisman and a defense that is third in the nation.  My counterpart Trey Jones covers the Gators view of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in his article Creature vs. Creature: A Gator’s Take on a Bulldog Beating in Jacksonville.

Despite the obvious talent gap between the teams, the Dawgs aim to stop the bleeding of a 3-16 record in the last 19 matchups against Florida.  While Georgia is still atop the all-time series record, the Bulldogs have spent far too long playing the role of younger brother to the giant of the sunshine state.

Let’s set things clear for any doubters; this game still constitutes as a rivalry.  If Georgia could be guaranteed a win in one game each year, they would always pick Florida.  Bulldog fans have never hated the Gators more and a win may not ever be as satisfying as one this year could be.

At the beginning of the season I wrote an article that analyzed the Florida Gators and looked for any cracks in the armor. (SEC Scouting Report: How to Beat the Florida Gators)  Since the dawn of the Tim Tebow era in Gainesville the Gators have lost only six games.  Several trends emerged that could provide the game plan Georgia needs to upset their rivals.

The Georgia Game Plan

One common thread to every Florida loss during this span is the presence of a solid run game by the opponent.  Georgia can forget about that idea though as they rank dead last in the SEC with 108 yards rushing per game and they are going up against the Gators who are second best in the conference against the rush.

An interesting note about Florida’s vulnerability is that teams who stick around have a great chance at knocking them off.  Since 2006, Florida is just 2-5 when trailing at any point in the second half.  If Georgia can survive the initial surge then there is hope.

Sacks have also been a pitfall for Florida as Tebow becomes very mediocre when he gets rattled.  In the Bulldog’s 2007 victory they were able to get to Tebow six times which helped hold him to -15 yards rushing.  This year the Florida offensive line has allowed 15 sacks; the same number they allowed all last year.

The last two weeks both Arkansas and Mississippi State have been able to exploit this weakness as Tebow went down nine times.  Both games proved to be nail-bitters for Gator fans and Georgia will be looking to continue the trend.

Speaking Of Tebow…

While Tebow is unquestionably the best quarterback in the SEC, do we dare admit that he is not performing at the level we are used to from him?  Numbers don’t lie and while the Gator great will go down as a legend of college football, something is missing from Florida’s quarterback this year.

All offseason there was talk of how Tebow was going to improve his passing game and become a greater threat through the air.  That prediction could not be further from the truth.  So far he has matched his 2008 total interceptions of four while passing for only eight touchdowns compared to 30 a year ago.

With all the Gator’s directional schools and junior college opponents taken out of the stats, Tebow’s SEC numbers tell all.  In conference play the star quarterback has thrown for just 147 yards per game while last year he put up 193 yards through the air on average.

Can Georgia Move The Ball?

It would be unrealistic to assess this weekend’s matchup without taking a good look at Georgia’s offensive woes.  No matter how much the Florida offense may struggle, it will be impossible to win without a strong performance from the Bulldogs offense.

One statistic that stands out is third down efficiency.  While Georgia has been good on third down, converting just under 40 percent, the Gators defense has held SEC offenses to just 13 for 62 on third down this season.

With the absence of a running game, a lot of pressure will be put on Joe Cox to move the ball through the air.  Look for a lot of quick throws early to compensate for the running game and boost the confidence of Cox.

“Must-Have” Keys For A Win

While there is no exact recipe for an upset, there are trends that emerge and factors pointing the Bulldogs to several must-have components.

  • A.J. Green Must Have An Impact - Sophomore receiver A.J. Green is the best player on the Georgia offense and he must have a lot of touches.  He can work miracles with the ball in his hands and this game is a great platform to showcase his talent.
  • Joe Cox Must Avoid Turnovers – Without exception, the Dawgs must play mistake-free football and Joe Cox becomes the most important part of that equation.  The Florida defense is too good to expect big numbers from Cox but interceptions will be a dagger in the heart.
  • Defensive Line Must Dominate - The Georgia defensive line has shown spurts of brilliance while also managing to perform with much mediocrity at times.  The front four will have to be explosive and get Tebow rattled for the Dawgs to have any shot at slowing down the Gator offense.
  • Special Teams Must Make A Play - While the kicking game for Georgia is solid, they need a game-changing play in the form of a blocked kick or a return for a score.  Look for freshmen Branden Boykin to light the fuse and spark a Georgia victory.

If Georgia manages to excel in these areas they put themselves in a position to upset the Gators and take back bragging rights in the rivalry.

No amount of talent can overcome the hatred that these two teams have for each other and Meyer and Richt will have their boys ready to play on Saturday.

Who are the SEC’s Biggest Flops of 2009?

Midterms are the time of the semester when teachers have a pretty good idea of who’s going to be falling on the low side of that famous bell curve.

At the halfway point of the 2009 football season, the SEC classroom has several players who have been playing hooky for too long.

Here are a few of the SEC’s “best” who have not been living up to the reputation.

Julio Jones – Alabama – Wide Receiver

Last year, Julio Jones came into Tuscaloosa as one of the highest rated freshmen in the league.

The first half of 2009 was good to Jones who scored four touchdowns in his first five games. Since his touchdown against Georgia on September 27, 2008, he has been quiet. Jones went one day short of a year before reaching the end zone again with a touchdown grab against Arkansas.

In six games this year, Jones has crossed the 50 yard receiving mark only once. It is safe to say the Julio Jones is a prime candidate for the SEC’s most overrated player of the year.

Charles Scott – LSU – Running Back

During his junior season, Scott bulldozed defenses with 1,174 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns in 2009. While LSU has been a dominant team this year, Scott has failed to be a factor.

In six games, Scott has gained only gained 327 yards rushing and only two touchdowns on the ground. He has failed to cross the 100 yard mark in a game and his yards per carry is down significantly from last year.

Richard Samuel and Caleb King – Georgia – Running Backs

While 2009 wasn’t predicted to be a standout year for the Bulldogs, the running game was supposed to carry the team.

There was little fear in Athens because both Samuel and King were highly touted recruits who were both capable of filling in behind Knowshon Moreno.

The running game has been stagnant at best with an SEC worst 108 yards per game.

Together, King and Samuel have only rushed for three touchdowns and less than 500 yards. The tandem that was expected to dominate defenses has been unimpressive and a big part of why Georgia has lost three games already.

Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech: ACC’s Most Crucial Game

In a weekend filled with rivalry games, one ACC matchup may be getting overlooked.

Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech both head into Saturday night’s game with their seasons on the line and with defining statements to make in a crowded ACC Coastal division.

While the Yellow Jackets suffered a deflating loss to Miami, their ACC title hopes are very much alive.  After this week, Georgia Tech has a very manageable schedule with no ranked teams remaining and out-of-conference Georgia as the only real battle.

If the Jackets can hold their own at home, then all they need is another Miami loss for a trip to play in the ACC Championship game.

The Hokies have bounced back from their early-season loss to Alabama and lead the conference with a 3-0 ACC record.

Like their opponent, the rest of their schedule looks promising, with North Carolina as the biggest obstacle between them and an ACC title appearance.

For the Hokies, this game is huge because a win all but guarantees them an appearance in the conference title game.

Currently, Virginia Tech is favored by three points.

On offense, the two teams are very similar, scoring an average of around 33 points per game.

Defense is the key statistic, with Virginia Tech giving up 17.7 points per game and Georgia Tech 26.5.

With this in mind, expect Virginia Tech to not only win but cover the spread.  With all respect to the Paul Johnson offense, they do not have the same “surprise” factor that they did last year and the Hokie defense will be ready.

Prediction:  Virginia Tech 31, Georgia Tech 24.

By The Numbers: Is Willie Martinez’s Job Safe At Georgia?

With the current struggles of the Bulldogs, many fans are looking for someone’s head to roll. Impatience among the Georgia faithful is growing and the heat is being turned up on Mark Richt to make the right decisions regarding his coaching staff.

Another week and another loss has the current spotlight resting on defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.  Since taking over the job in 2005 the program has seen the defensive plummet from what was formerly known as one of the SEC powerhouses. The following is a list of some daunting defensive statistics in the Martinez era.

2005          2006          2007          2008          2009

14.6            17.1          21.0            25.6           27.8 Points Allowed Per Game

298             264           325             318             358 Yards Allowed Per Game

2                  4                 3                10                11 SEC Rank On Defense

The numbers don’t lie; Georgia’s defense has grown steadily worse from year to year.

Currently the defense is giving up nearly twice the points per game that the team was allowing in Martinez’s first year. In addition, the yards per game have increased by over 60 yards.

With the increasing talent level in the SEC, it would be easy to dismiss the points and yards as a product of playing against the nation’s best offenses. The last statistic is the killer though showing that Georgia has quickly fallen from one of the best defenses in the conference to the bottom of the pile.

Another scary statistic for Georgia fans is one that links SEC Championships to defensive ranking in the conference.

Every team in the last six years to win an SEC title was ranked either No. 1 or 2 in total defense in the conference. Currently Martinez has not been able to produce that caliber of defense leaving the Bulldogs looking out and looking up to the top teams in the conference.

While Martinez has his strengths, he is unable to produce the type of defense that Georgia needs if they are going to compete among the best. The Bulldogs are obviously a step or two lower than Florida and until they get back to their roots on defense they will continue to play the role of little brother.

Regardless of how the rest of the season turns out, I expect that Martinez’s days are limited in Athens. Look for Richt to replace the defensive coordinator and try to reestablish Georgia as a power defensive team in the South.

ACC Football Buy or Sell List

The big picture is starting to shake out in the ACC, as most teams have played enough games to give us perspective on their futures. Several teams are threatening to fall off the map, while a few programs are on the rise.

ACC SEC Football brings you a breakdown of teams in the ACC Buy or Sell List.

North Carolina: Sell

The Tar Heels had high expectations leading into 2009, but their youth at receiver and the inability to spark the offense has hurt them. They have struggled in almost every game so far, and the loss to Virginia proves they are heading south. Things don’t get any better either, as their schedule still has Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College left.

Miami: Buy

The Canes survived a brutal stretch of games and started their season 3-1. The loss to Virginia Tech puts them in a tough position to try to win the Coastal, but they still have potential for a great season. Their schedule gets very easy for a while, and they will put up big numbers in Jacory Harris’s bid for a Heisman.

Georgia Tech: Sell

This year has not been good to the Georgia Tech offense in big games when they couldn’t be touched in 2008. The defense for the Jackets hasn’t been the same either, and they are heading into their two biggest games of the year.

With consecutive road games at Florida State and Virginia Tech, look for Georgia Tech to give up a lot of points. If they don’t win at least one of these games, they will put themselves out of contention in the ACC Coastal race.

Boston College: Sell

While this was not supposed to be a big year for the Eagles, they raised a lot of hopes with a big win last week over Florida State. Things don’t look promising down the stretch though, as next week holds a road game in Blacksburg, Virginia. Later in the month another road game looms in South Bend against a strong Notre Dame team.

Florida State: Buy

Seminole nation may be in an uproar regarding the future of head coach Bobby Bowden, but when the politics are stripped off, they are a talented team. Their 2-3 record doesn’t look good, but the schedule ahead is promising.

After hosting Georgia Tech this weekend, Florida State has a long stretch of games with no ranked opponents until their annual rivalry matchup with the Gators. Look for a strong second half from the Noles.