First of all, let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Joe Cox and I am really looking forward to seeing what he is going to do this year. His attitude during the time he's been on campus has made him one of my favorite Dawgs, even though his playing time has been limited.
But I want to talk a little about the REASON his playing time has been limited. There have been rumblings that this team will actually be better off with Joe Cox, with an implied "Good riddance" to Matthew Stafford...not HUGE rumblings, but enough that I noticed it.
My opinion is that Matthew Stafford is the best quarterback we've had at UGA since Fran Tarkenton. Period. Better than Greene. Better than Shockley (barely). Better than Zeier.
His detractors like to talk about unfulfilled potential and lack of big wins during his tenure...well, allow me to retort.
I'll grant you that it seems almost impossible that we didn't even PLAY in an SEC Championship Game while we had him and Knowshon, but let's look at the numbers...
Games I would consider "big wins":
Auburn '06: On the road against the number five team in the country, in what was shaping up as a disastrous season for the Dawgs. As a true freshman, Stafford goes 14/20 for 219 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT. Also, ran 11 times for 83 yards and a TD.
Georgia Tech '06: Remember, this was supposed to be the year that the gnats finally broke through against us...they were getting ready to play in the ACC Championship game, Bulldawg legend Reggie Ball was a senior, they had the best WR in college football, one of the best defenses in the country. After struggling for most of the day, Stafford drives us down the field on a 7 minute, 64 yard touchdown drive, culminating in a clutch 3rd down TD pass to MoMass, and providing probably the last truly great call from the legendary Larry Munson (on a related note...if somebody can find a link to the entire last drive, I would greatly appreciate it. The whole drive was just classic Munson, and I used to have the link, but I can't find it anywhere, even larrymunson.com).
Virginia Tech '06: I brought this one up a couple of weeks ago...posted here. But this was our third straight win against a ranked team, and served as the springboard to the '07 success. One of the greatest comebacks in Bulldawg history.
Alabama '07: ONE and DONE, baby!!!
Florida '07: Probably the biggest win of Stafford's career. This game is most notable for being Knowshon's breakout game (well, that and The Celebration), but Matt was 11/18 for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns (almost 20 yds per completion, and 12 yds per attempt).
Auburn '07: In what was definitely the trend, we beat Auburn up with the run, but Stafford was 11/19 for 235 yards and 2TD (21 yds per completion and 12 yds per attempt). The numbers from '07 are pretty telling...we were definitely a team that would beat you down with the run and then throw the deep ball off play action.
Hawaii '08: Yeah, it was Hawaii, but it was also a BCS bowl...Stafford was 14/23 for 175 yds.
Arizona State '08: First game west of the Mississippi for the Dawgs in about 50 years, national TV, many pundits predicted trouble for the Dawgs. Instead, it was no contest, and Stafford had a big night...16/28 for 285 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT.
LSU '08: On the road at the #13 team in the country, Stafford was 17/26 for 249 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT, and the Dawgs put up 52. We needed everything Stafford and the rest of the offense gave us, cause our defense gave no help. Dawgs win 52-38.
Yeah, the '08 wins are kind of weak...but also keep in mind that without his performance against Kentucky, then the season becomes a disaster rather than a disappointment. In Lexington, he went 17/27 for 376 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, and THIS:
That play shows the kind of athleticism that I don't know that Stafford gets credit for...as much as I love David Greene, if he's the QB there it's a sack.
As for those disappointing losses, let's look closer (I'm taking out the early '06 losses...he was a true freshman and wasn't even named the full time starter until about 4-5 games in):
South Carolina '07: Ugh. Plenty of blame to go around in this one, including a horrible game by our WR and TE corps and an inexplicable lack of touches by Knowshon...but Stafford definitely deserves his share. 19/44 for 213 yds (4.8 per attempt), 0 TD, 1 INT. Again, he got no help from his WR or TE, and the INT was on a desperation pass on the last drive, but still...this one was ugly.
UT '07: Dawgs get the ball first and go three and out...Stafford is 0/1. Defense allows the Vols to march right down the field and score, and it's 7-0. On the ensuing drive, Dawgs run 4 times, pass twice (Stafford is 1/2 on the drive) and then punt. Dawgs D force a punt on the next drive, but an illegal block on the return means we start at our own 12. Three straight rushes (including one of the infamous QB draws on 2nd and long) nets 8 yds and we punt. Two plays later it's 14-0 Vols, after the trick play for a 56 yd TD. Dawgs go three and out, get the punt blocked, Vols drive for another TD, 21-0, and the game is basically over.
I find it hard to put this one on Stafford. Our defense was just SHREDDED in the first half of this game, which took us totally out of what our strength was in '07. UT no longer had to worry about the running game, which rendered the play action game useless. We ended up being outgained 411-243, with a TOP deficit of around 12 minutes.
Alabama '08: Alabama gets the ball first, drives straight down the field, gets helped by a stupid Dawgs penalty, goes up 7-0. Dawgs get the ball back, pick up 2 quick first downs off two 13-yd completions, then bog down and have to punt. Alabama drives right down the field, helped by another stupid Dawg penalty, kick a field goal and it's 10-0. Dawgs go three and out (Stafford is 0/2 on the drive), Mimbs punts the ball freaking 19 YARDS, Alabama takes advantage of the short field, shreds our defense, scores a touchdown, and it's 17-0. Dawgs get the ball back, Stafford completes a pass to AJ Green, who fumbles. Alabama gets the ball, drives STRAIGHT DOWN THE FREAKING FIELD AGAIN, scores to make it 24-0. Ball game. Remind anyone of the UT '07 game?
Dawgs came back and almost made a game of this one in the second half, and Stafford ended up 24/42 for 274 yds, 2 TD, and one interception that came on the last play of the 1st half. He was running for his life for the whole game, as well, and was sacked multiple times.
This one was NOT on Stafford. Dawgs committed 10 penalties for 81 yards, and the defense allowed JOHN PARKER WILSON to go 13/16 for 205 yds, and basically rolled over and played dead the entire first half.
Florida '08: This one is tough...most people forget, the Dawgs were actually in this one early. Missed an early 37 yd field goal, which is when I started having a really bad feeling. After kicking a field goal to make it 7-3 Gayterds, we try a stupid onside kick that UF recovers and turns into 7 quick points, 14-3. We come right back down the field, stall out on the 10...and then miss ANOTHER field goal, this one from 27 yards.
To start the second half, defense stops them and forces a punt. We get the ball, drive to the UF 30, looks like we're about to make it a one score game...and Stafford throws a pick that gets returned all the way to our 1, UF punches it in and makes it 21-3. Ball game.
Lots of bad stuff in this one, including bad special teams play and a generally poor outing by the defense...but you can definitely point to that INT as the turning point in the game. Once we were down 21-3 in the third quarter, it was over. Didn't help that the defense made virtually no stops from that point on, but we would have had to score on pretty much every possession at that point. The Gayterds D knew that, and ended up picking off two more passes that would not have even been attempted under normal circumstances.
So this one is at least PARTIALLY on Stafford.
Tech '08: We ALL know where the blame for this one lies, and it ain't on Stafford. He ended up 24/39 for 407 yds and 5 TD. Defense COMPLETELY let the team down in this one.
So....bottom line? Stafford won more big games than he lost, and the majority of the losses during his tenure were for the most part out of his control. For his career, he was 564/987 (57.1%, including 61% his junior year), 51 TD, 33 INT (including 25/10 his junior year). Passer rating progression his three years was 109-129-154.
7-4 as a starter against the Big 4 (Auburn, Tech, UT, and Florida)...unfortunately, you'd be hard pressed to find a QB with that kind of record against those 4, at least in the non-Herschel era.
This turned out to be a lot longer (and a lot more cathartic, actually) than I originally intended, but some of the criticisms I have heard about Staff kind of ticked me off. He was and is a DGD, and we will miss him next year...anybody who says otherwise is engaging in some revisionist history, in my opinion.
I hope for nothing but the best for him in the NFL.
Now, bring on The Ginger Assassin!