Monday, September 8, 2008

The Verdict on Matt Stafford: Coming Saturday?

For 2+ years the Georgia faithful have waited for the most talented quarterback ever to play Between the Hedges to put together a consistent if not spectacular season of work under center. We've been blessed with flashes of brilliance and sure-fire 1st round NFL potential. Stafford has tools that every NFL scout, GM and owner gush over when watching film. Big frame, quick release, cannon arm. He even runs the ball fairly well for someone as big as he is.

Still, to this day it seems that for every Georgia fan defending Stafford to the bitter end, there are critics everywhere (many of those Georgia fans as well) ready to talk about everything that he does wrong. Those critics certainly have plenty of evidence to support their position. Of the 25 games that Stafford has started in his career, he has suffered through 6 games completing 50% or less of his passes. His passer rating was only higher than 100 twice in his true freshman season, and only 4 times in 2007. Coming into this season, his career TD total was barely ahead of his career interception total. There are plenty of individual plays that anyone (Stafford fan or not) can point back to where he missed a wide open receiver, badly overthrew a deep ball, or made an ill-advised throw resulting in an interception.

When you're the #1 rated quarterback prospect in America coming out of high school and headed to one of the best college football programs in the land, your mistakes are magnified. As well they should be. I'm quite certain that if Matthew Stafford reads and hears his critics, he's not completely shocked that there are people who still don't believe in him. Following 2 players in David Greene and DJ Shockley that led UGA to not only its first 2 SEC titles in over 20 years, but to the cusp of BCS Titles, most of the Dawgnation expected (and still expects) that Stafford would ultimately push the UGA program beyond that precipice. Those disappointing moments get remembered well before those highlights, which Stafford's critics will tell you are merely expected of a player with this much talent and expectation.

Early in the 2008 season, we've seen alot more good from Stafford than bad. He's eclipsed that magical 60% completion percentage (which somebody, somewhere, at some point, decided would be the standard by which all quarterbacks should be measured.) He's thrown 4 touchdowns against no interceptions. His passer rating is among the Top 15 quarterbacks in the country, ahead of Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, and believe it or not, even ahead of Tim Tebow. That said, we all know who he has played in his first 2 games. His completion percentage against Georgia Southern and Central Michigan is eerily similar to what he produced in the 4 previous games he started in his career against non-BCS conference teams, right around 62%.

Which brings us to this Saturday afternoon in Columbia. The South Carolina defense has been Matt Stafford's kryptonite the past two seasons. Two games (only one start, although he played the majority of the 2006 game after Joe Tereshinski's game-ending injury), 43% completion percentage, zero touchdowns, 4 interceptions. Statistically speaking, Stafford's effort against Kentucky in 2007 was his worst game of the season, but most UGA fans remember the 16-12 loss to the Gamecocks as the best evidence of Stafford's deficiencies. Tyrone Nix had the formula to get in Stafford's grill early and often, and you can bet that Steve Spurrier will be sharing what he's observed with new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. (You get the feeling that Spurrier has absolutely no respect for Stafford as a quarterback, which is ironic given what he trots out to stand under center just about every week in Columbia.) Sure, South Carolina is battered and bruised after an embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt. The Gamecock fans, usually whipped into a frenzy for the UGA, may be a little more "down" than usual heading into this one (this year's game marks the first time UGA has visited Columbia since 1986 that South Carolina wasn't undefeated.) But make no mistake what the gameplan will be this weekend at Williams-Brice Stadium: Shut down Knowshon Moreno. Sell out, and make Matt Stafford beat you. Spurrier and Johnson would be silly not to do so. There isn't a more dominant player in college football today than Moreno. Given the success they've had against Stafford the past 2 years, why wouldn't they focus on Knowshon and the rest of the UGA stable of tailbacks?

Granted, "selling out" to stop Knowshon Moreno isn't exactly a given for anybody. If you watched the Vandy game, you noticed Commodore running back Jared Hawkins slicing through the Gamecocks like a hot knife through butter in the 4th quarter. If you tend to fold against the run late in ball games, #24 isn't necessarily the guy you want to see coming to town. That said, Stafford is going to have his chances, and he's probably going to have alot of them. Everything we've seen going back to the spring seems to indicate that he's more than ready. He looks and acts like a different quarterback. Hopefully this Saturday we'll see it confirmed against his first "real" test of the 2008 season.

Leave no doubt, Matt.


Anonymous said...

Prepare for "The Truth"

Anonymous said...

Well said, but I don't care if Stafford goes 0 for as long as we come out of Columbia with a win.

JJ said...

Could not agree more, Free Man. I'm certainly not putting this entire game on his shoulders. But f SC is able to contain Moreno (which is a BIG if), Matt will need to play a little better than he has the last two times he's played the Cocks. I believe he will.

Anonymous said...

JMO...somebody has to catch the ball....last years SC game...our WRs forgot how to do that.

Maybe Stafford should just pass to himself.

Hunker Down said...

I am expecting a laser-like focus on the part of Stafford. The receivers have shown great soft hands thus far this season and that is a result of the summer workouts and focus. Mo Mass has been brilliant. Durham has been reliable. Moore has been fearless. And Green has been breathtaking. As in every time he streaks down the field, you are looking for a home run. He would love to do it in his home state.

With all of these weapons to try and stop, SC has to pick their poison. I'm with Free Man, whether we do it through the air or on the ground... just win!


JJ said...

Good point @ 7:57 AM.....Stafford needs his WRs to do what they are supposed to. #7 will take care of the rest.

Anonymous said...

He will not need to play a lot better. We won one game by 18 points, lost the other by 4. A little better to get a win, not a lot. If he plays a lot better it's not even close.

BTW, you've got to be wrong on that four games over 100 pass efficiency in 2007. AU, UF, OSU and Hawaii are four right off the bat I can name where his rating was at or over 200 or so. 100 is not that great and I'm sure some of the cupcakes and maybe the bama game were better than 100.

JJ said...

10:25 AM: I didn't say he needed to be "alot better", I said he needs to be "a little better." (You seem to be read whatever you want to when it comes to what I write.) I think asking him to be "a little better" is more than fair. He was 19 for 44 with an INT in 2007. While I am not going to put all the blame on Stafford for that (dropped balls and lousy 4th quarter play calling were as much to blame), he is without a doubt part of the discussion as to why we lost that particular game. Stafford would probably tell you that himself.

Regarding passer rating, he was over 100 vs OSU, Western Carolina, Florida and Auburn. He threw 2 INTs vs Alabama. The college rating system (at least the one that most of the sites I research) penalizes a QB for interceptions more than anything else, and probably over-rewards for touchdowns.

A 200 rating is off the charts. There are only 5 QBs in Division 1A football right now that have ratings over 200 through 2 games.

Don't take my post as Stafford bashing. There isn't a QB anywhere in college football right now that I'd rather have. I'd take him over about half the QBs starting in the NFL today.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say this was a great post. Thanks, JJ.

I like what I've seen and heard from Stafford ever since the spring. I think he has yet to have the kind of game he wants (and knows he is capable of), and I think he's going to get it soon.

(I'd love to see that happen right in front of the OBC on Saturday.)

MOT Dawg said...

Being one of those folks that believes Stafford has not yet come close to reaching his potential (or hype), I agree with JJ completely... this weekend may be a defining game in Stafford's career. I definitely hope so! While there is no doubt that Stafford is a prototype NFL QB, I have yet to see him consistently put this team on his shoulders to win ballgames. I understand that this can be attributed to many factors. One of the most important being the fact that UGA has had such talented RB's the past few years that CMR and Bobo have not asked him take over too many games. Don't get me wrong...I am not a Stafford basher or hater. I think he was a fine SEC QB last year. In his 20+ starts though, I just haven't seen that big game performance that convinces me that he is is anything more than a fine SEC QB. He will definitely have plenty of opportunities this year to show us all that I have no idea what I am talking about though. Hopefully he will begin shutting me up in 4 days...