Was Bobo so wrong for not giving the ball to Gurley?

"What the heck did we just do?" (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

“What the heck did we just do?” (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

"What the heck did we just do?" (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

“What the heck did we just do?” (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

If a good decision yields a bad result, can it have been a good decision? Mike Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, made what seemed a terrible choice — terrible in hindsight, we emphasize — by opting not to let Todd Gurley, the nation’s best tailback, run on first-and-goal from the South Carolina 4 with the Bulldogs trailing by a field goal. (Perhaps you’ve heard a bit about this.)

Georgia’s failure to score on that series — Marshall Morgan pushed what would have been the tying field goal wide right — has led to much criticism, some of it from this sector. Criticism of Bobo for calling the play that wasn’t a Gurley run. Criticism of Mark Richt for not ordering Bobo to run the darn ball. Criticism of the Bulldogs as an entity for being too stupid to see what everybody else could see.

But wait. Play-action — meaning a fake handoff that becomes a pass — is among the most effective weapons in football, especially on the goal line. A backed-up defense surging to stop the run cannot easily backpedal into coverage. Faking the ball to a back and throwing it instead to a tight end who, for half a second, has pretended to block is so elementary that it can be found in Chapter 1, Section 1 of the offensive coordinator’s handbook of how to attack a stacked defense.

(An example can also be found in the canon of Great Bulldog Moments under “Hobnail Boot”: P-44-Haynes — the winning touchdown pass from David Greene to Verron Haynes against Tennessee in 2001 — was a play-action pass from the 6, albeit with five seconds remaining. The play call was Richt’s.)

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Hutson Mason had faked a handoff to Gurley and thrown to tight end Jay Rome for a touchdown. That had come after the Bulldogs had handed the ball to Gurley on first-and-goal from the 2 in the third quarter (he scored), and also after Bobo had called three consecutive runs — two to fullback Quayvon Hicks, one to sub tailback Sony Michel — with first-and-goal from the 6 inside the final eight minutes (Hicks scored on third down).

Meaning: Bobo had mixed his goal-line plays nicely. He’d ordered tailback runs, fullback runs and a play-action pass and banked three touchdowns. With 5:24 to play and the game on the line, South Carolina figured to be guessing that Bobo would return to Option No. 1 — Gurley up the middle. Bobo chose Option No. 2. Mason faked to Gurley and rolled right. The bootleg action should have added an even greater amount of safety. The play was either going to work or, if it didn’t, result in nothing worse than second-and-goal from the 4.

The Gamecocks, however, reacted expertly. (Sometimes you have to credit the other team.) No receiver popped open. Defensive end Gerald Dixon crashed into the backfield to pressure Mason, who sought to avoid a sack by throwing the ball away. In contemporary football, it’s hard for a quarterback to be called for intentional grounding. Mason was.

(Having viewed the tape, Richt said on his Sunday teleconference that the Bulldogs would send a copy of the play to SEC officiating chief Steve Shaw. Georgia coaches believe a defender touched Mason’s pass — which wouldn’t necessarily have negated the intentional grounding the way a tipped ball negates pass interference — but could have affected the ball’s flight. What looked like a blatant throwaway mightn’t have been so blatant. What looked like intentional grounding might not, at least in Georgia’s view, actually been.)

Play-action on the goal line is, 95 times in 100, a safe call. Either it’s a touchdown or the quarterback throws it out of the end zone. Being called for intentional grounding was close to a worst-case scenario. (Only an interception or a sack-and-fumble would have been worse.) It lost 10 yards and a down. Even a holding penalty, which carries no loss of down, would have preferable to that. So now Georgia had second-and-goal from the 14, and now Bobo ordered the run to Gurley.

That was, to me if no one else, a much worse call than a bootleg on first down. Even the great Gurley isn’t apt to score from 14 yards out on second-and-goal. He got three yards. On third-and-goal from the 11, Georgia had no choice but to pass. I’m not sure who the target was — it appeared Mason was forced to look for a secondary receiver — but he wound up throwing short over the middle toward Gurley and the ball was batted down. (Yes, another batted Georgia pass in a goal-line setting. Shades of Alabama in the Dome.)

Criticisms of Georgia’s tactics have taken several offshoots, this chief among them: You have to put the ball in your best player’s hands with the game on line. Or this: You can’t let the game come down to a quarterback making his first SEC start when you have Gurley in the backfield. I understand that reasoning, but I also recall Bobo chastising himself after the 17-6 loss at South Carolina in 2010 because he’d called a vanilla game in the attempt to lighten the load on Aaron Murray, a redshirt freshman making his first SEC start. Georgia have faith in Georgia quarterbacks, and it wasn’t as if Mason had been throwing the ball to the Gamecocks. The Bulldogs made no turnovers on the night.

Another criticism: Bobo overthought where the obvious would have sufficed. But wait again: If letting Gurley run it was such an obvious call, wouldn’t it have been obvious to South Carolina, too? If so, wasn’t the choice to fake the ball to Gurley the wiser course? Case in point: The Bulldogs’ first series. South Carolina was arrayed to stop Gurley, so Georgia threw two passes — and scored a touchdown.

In the grand scheme, it matters not what Bulldog scores so long as Georgia scores. That’s where the defense of Bobo/Richt/Georgia unravels: Their team didn’t score a touchdown, didn’t score a point. Their team lost a game it might have won had it only handed the ball to its best player. In the overheated aftermath of a frantic finish, my first thought was that the Bulldogs had indeed tried to run around their backhand, as they say in tennis, and made things way too tricky. In the colder light of a Monday morning, I’m not sure they did.

Richt has since conceded, “If I had it to do again, I’d have hammered it.” But that admission came after the play-action fake had yielded an almost unthinkable grounding penalty; the dumbest human alive wouldn’t run the same play knowing that would be the outcome. Bobo could have had no reasonable expectation that such a call would have produced such a yield. He expected this to work, same as the earlier play-action fake had generated the Rome touchdown.

Coaching college football is a results-oriented business. If you don’t win, you lose. Georgia didn’t score and lost. Since the play didn’t work, we can’t say it was a good play. But I ask again: Does that make it a bad call?

Oh, and one thing more: For all of you who’ve said, “Nick Saban would never throw the ball down there.” Actually, Saban’s team did — in a loss to Texas A&M in November 2012. With first-and-goal at the 6 in the final four minutes and Alabama trailing 29-24, AJ McCarron dropped to pass three times. The first two times he had to scramble; on fourth down he threw an interception. Only once did Bama hand the ball to Eddie Lacy; he gained one yard on second down. Alabama governor Robert Bentley would later say, “I’d have run the ball four straight times.”

Reader Comments 3

935 comments
DogBreath
DogBreath

OK, several points here.

First, it appeared to me that Gurley. as good as he obviously is, was pretty thoroughly gassed. I'm not so sure he could have made it to the end zone, especially with the defense probably looking for him.

I would have been more inclined to hand the ball off to Hicks. He is about 20 pounds heavier than Gurley, and just plain one bad dude.

Second, somebody obviously should have at least done something to try to slow down S.C's end. I think that would likely have been Hicks, but due to the play call he was not in a position to do it. Someone should have...

Third, if Mason had dunked the ball over the end as he came in with a soft arched throw or perhaps a jump pass (Tebow figured it out),Hicks would have likely scored.

Last but not least, How is it that there wasn't more uproar about the pass being tipped? It was fairly obvious. I noticed it instantly in real time. Or is that one of the arbitrarily picked "non-reviewable" plays? I can't seem to keep up with all the rule tweaks they seem to implement on the fly.

And that doesn't even take into account the questionable targeting call when J.J. Green led with his shoulder (to shoulder) or the phantom holding call on Kublanow that negated Gurley's earlier long touchdown run that would have made all of this a moot discussion.

So, to finish this ramble, does this just come down to blown calls and/or poor officiating, or is it possible there is a bit of complicity and a pre-set agenda at play. I know you are probably think that sounds a bit paranoid, but let's give this a good look without dismissing possibilities. There have been targeting and other questionable interpretive calls in other close games a few too many times lately (Vanderbilt last year, just to pick one) not to at least bring this to mind.











bigmarv
bigmarv

well lets see------I am thru on this week---we are all just beating a dead horse at this point---


bigmarv
bigmarv

What a waste of time----these guys are idiots plane and simple---Richt is passed by every year because this is the bible belt and blah blah blah----I have never seen such idiots with so much talent blow games they should have won by 2 touchdowns-----its the same ol crying game every year ---year after year after year------------God I am over it------------time to change folks ----its old ---4 yards?  You cannot run 4 yards????  I mean what is Richt doing to not get fired is the real question.  God help us please,

CaliDawg
CaliDawg

Yes! Then he panicked with the next two play calls.

forexbomb
forexbomb

Yes, you have to run the biggest and best asset...  I am amazed at the call, but hey, this is UGA.. They do the least with the most.

KenAlbertson
KenAlbertson

Forget the excuses.  Everybody knows that a great power running team like Georgia should not try to finesse a touchdown on first and ten on the four year line with the game and a shot at the national championship on the line.  Maybe it is too obvious for the big brains.  You take your BEST shot since these opportunities do not come up that often. 

ALB-Dawg
ALB-Dawg

Yes.  When you are on the 5 with minutes left on the clock, there should be no hesitation or second guessing.  Give it to the big guy repeatedly.  When you are on the 5 with seconds on the clock and no time outs, spike the ball.  Set up the pass.  It is my one complaint about the Richt/Bobo combo.  That being said, one set of downs or one call did not win or lose the game, and I am happy to see the team and coaches hanging together.  

BMOC
BMOC

WhiskeyDawg  - Your entitled to your opinion, and you are right about if Gurley would not have scored from the 4, there would have been a bandwagon for that too.  Even if Gurley would have scored there's always a chance that S.Car could have scored again & still won.  But the point is, if you look at the larger picture, Bobo seems to make these 'predictable' mistakes in big games, over & over & over.  He's a lot better than he was a few years ago on average, but he still chokes more often than not in big games.  If you have someone like Gurley in the backfield, does it really matter if S.Car thinks you're gonna run it up the middle?  Just RUN the BALL!!!

BMOC
BMOC

OK Bradley, I read the article, but there is one point that really needs to be emphasized: "With 5:24 to play and the game on the line, South Carolina figured to be guessing that Bobo would return to Option No. 1 — Gurley up the middle. Bobo chose Option No. 2."

This is exactly where Bobo goes wrong.  Bobo choose 'option 2' because he likes to 'trick' the opposing Defense, however he does this type of thing so often that instead of being unpredictable, he's actually very predictable.  But the larger point not to get away from is, Who cares if S.Car thinks, knows, guesses, etc, etc that Gurley is running the ball up the middle???  With Gurley running the ball, and 4 chances to get 4-yards, surely he would have scored.  This is what people are scratching their heads about.  Earth to Bobo: No need to 'trick' the defense on 1st & goal at the 4 yard line when you have the best RB in the country!

jay7155
jay7155

Regardless of opinions on this one call, the fact remains that Georgia so often finds ways to lose big games in close situations. That said, while we had the single best player, South Carolina looked like the better team to me for most of the night. Better QB, better at the line of scrimmage....and hate to say it, but better coach. Let's face it, Spurrier has been our daddy for 24 years. The beat goes on.  

AtlantaWolf
AtlantaWolf

How do you not run Gurley at this point in the game? With under 5 minutes to play, even if he gets stopped twice, you are taking time off of the clock before  giving the ball back to SC.


One of my old football coaches once told me that we you pass the ball three things can happen and only one of them is good.


It was a very bad decision and one that will haunt the dogs all year.

ResidentGeorgiaFan
ResidentGeorgiaFan

@AtlantaWolf You are right. Bobo's foolish call doomed our season. Here we are no. 1 in a lot of expert's minds and all we need to do is keep winning. But no we have to get fancy and blow instead of giving it to the best RB in the country. We won't overcome this boneheaded call, not by a long shot.

NomoBobo
NomoBobo

WhiskeyDawg, I believe Bobo is also the mastermind behind the 6 points against central fl in the 2012 Liberty Bowl.  6 points.  He is also the OC behind a 33% winning percentage against ranked teams over the last 3 years, first two games of this year included.  Blame the defense all you want, and believe me I know they are struggling.  But I knew after the Clemson game that Bobo thought he'd be able to line up and run over anyone in the country.  Spurrier knew what he was thinking.  Bobo was wrong and I predicted it 2 weeks ago.  There was no plan B.  


A smart OC would've seen the same thing and been prepared.  he came out throwing and what happened?  We scored.  Then he did nothing but run Gurley, which that in itself will yield 35 points.  No genius needed there.  With the kind of talent we have at UGA 35 points should seem like a let down.

NomoBobo
NomoBobo

Mark, a fake toss sweep and a play action pass are two separate things, right?  It's easy for a defender to see when you don't actually toss the ball, therefore making it easier to defend.  A fake hand-off up the middle would've been much better and the DE would've bitten, no doubt.  IMO, just poor coaching and game management.  The same D that was cussed all game gave them a gift on the 4 and Bobo found a way to puke on it.

WhiskeyDawg
WhiskeyDawg

If Bobo had elected to try to run it in and that failed he would have been racked over the coals for doing what seemed so obvious; exactly what the SC defense was looking for.How could you be that dumb? Hindsight always has the answer.The offense scored 35 points and we still lost.It is not the offense.I was hopeful after Clemson that the defense had come a long way.I think progress has been made and I believe we have a coach that will make the Dawg defense outstanding, but it is not there yet.


C-Kirk
C-Kirk

Our best Quarterback was not on the field for the South Carolina game. Texas A&M and East Carolina shredded South Carolina's Secondary . Against South Carolina we needed a Quarterback who can throw the ball. That would have kept South Carolina from boxing the middle and then Gurley would have had even a better day than he had. I hate this entitled BS that Richt can't get away from. Mason is not our best Quarterback , he just knows the playbook better. Bauta and Ramsey has been there long enough that they know enough of the playbook that it wouldn't hurt. 

I admit that with Ramsey we would have more interceptions but his middle to long pass threat would exist for real and  keep the opponents spread out so Gurley could have his way up the middle or on sweeps.

C-Kirk
C-Kirk

I can't believe that 39% thinks that was a good call that had bad results. If Murray was still at Georgia then that answer would have been the right one but everybody needs to read this and especially Richt and Bobo. MURRAY GRADUATED LAST YEAR , MASON IS THE QUARTERBACK .He would be considered equally to an average Freshman coming in . The only difference is Mason already knows the playbook. People need to stop thinking that Mason is our answer just because he has been there 5 years. 

Dawg350
Dawg350

Stupid joke!!! Stupid!!!!

Retired2x
Retired2x

Winners vs. whiners.  The whiners will be overwhelming favorites for the next 12 weeks.

BobLeeSwagger
BobLeeSwagger

350 what you want to bet on the TROY game? You think the Dogs can win that one?

BobLeeSwagger
BobLeeSwagger

Still butt hurt after this game? Wow you should be used to these kind of losses after all the years with Richt.

Dawg350
Dawg350

We will get this thing turned around. I have faith in Pruitt! It's great to be a Georgia bulldawg!

RockyTopp
RockyTopp

@Dawg350 Drunk, Fat, Stupid, Uneducated, Unrefined, Unemployed, Moronic, and Delusional is no way to go through life, 350 Pounder. You lost out on the whole lot. It must really suck to be you.

Gopher86
Gopher86

Rocky T-errible you guys win Saturday? Go to a bowl last year? Year before that? If there was ever a critic that needs to shut up, YOU ARE THE GRAND PRIZE WINNER!

RockyTopp
RockyTopp

@Gopher86 Who are you, 350 Pounder in Training?


No we did not win last Saturday. We played the #4 team in the country. thUGA played the #24 team in the country and LOST. Get it? No we did not go to a bowl last year. But to me tha'ts better than going to a bowl and getting your doors blown off by Nebraska. Get it?


See you PussDog 'necks in Athens in 12 days....the azzwhoopin is coming courtesy of Butch Joooooooooooooones.

Dawg350
Dawg350

Haha....just being you is no way to go thru life bro....your pathetic existence is futile

RockyTopp
RockyTopp

@gtcaryd @RockyTopp Yep....loser has to leave town.

No, 350 Pounder I am not talking about you. Well, yes you are a loser but I am not referring to you this time.

UA Grad
UA Grad

The answer to the question is yes. But as Pat Dye once said, "Hindsight is 50/50."

SinceVince
SinceVince

The Good news.. We will beat VANDY!

SinceVince
SinceVince

My prediction  for this year was 9 - 3 or even 8 - 4. Looks like Im gonna be spot on again. With that said.... even Kentucky and Arkansas looks very dangerous.

SinceVince
SinceVince

Mark Richt and BOO BOO are a laughing stock throughout the college landscape.  Everyone knows they blew the game once again.  This game feels like when we blew it against Bama and Clempson.

gtcaryd
gtcaryd

@SinceVince Exactly like the SECCG in 2012, didn't do the obvious and spike it. At least this time CMR admitted he was wrong.

gtcaryd
gtcaryd

DawgnIT and OH-IO finding common ground...........you guys should head to the Mid-east.

Gopher86
Gopher86

DawgnIT, I took care of him for you!!!

OH-IO
OH-IO

Still beating this dead horse?

DawgnIT
DawgnIT

@OH-IO I'm with you there.  Mondays are for retrospective but now it's time to turn the page until the next disaster if things don't change.

RockyTopp
RockyTopp

Just wait til Troy beats them......350 Pounder will have to be put on suicide watch. Then he will be screaming 13-2.......13-2........13-2........

Dawg350
Dawg350

We will still beat your hapless vol's mr toothless wonder! You redneck sob!

Trackbacks

  1. […] and gutsy call by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo made with the game on the line. In fact, our Mark Bradley made some good points this morning about why there was little wrong with the call itself. Play-action passes have a long […]

  2. […] piece that kind of defends Mike Bobo’s actions. Now, if you agree with Bradley, feel free to read here, but I certainly do not. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that stupid quote about hindsight being 20/20, […]

  3. […] trouble with what the Seahawks did wasn’t that they threw. (I made the same argument after Mark Richt and Mike Bobo were pilloried for not handing the ball to Todd Gurley and first-and-goal f….) My issue was with the kind of throw Seattle […]