Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Richt, staff did nice job keeping team together

OK, before you lambaste me with insults and cries of "Disney Dawg," let me be perfectly clear: A 6-6 season is wholly unacceptable for a Georgia team, and more so when it follows an 8-5 season. We fully agree there.

Having said that, there never appeared to be a time, at least not publicly, where players were yelling at each other, coaches were pointing fingers, and most of all, a time when the team appeared to quit. Further, this was not a team that looked altogether clueless in any facet of the game (even the defense, which was giving up a busted play or two each game early on seemed to, at the very least, improve on that aspect).

I agree that I am looking for moral victories, a practice normally reserved for Carolina fans, but unfortunately, that's where we are this year. Obviously, there are going to be those who believe that a 6-6 season is a 6-6 season, regardless of effort or having the team look like a bunch of monkeys having relations with, well, a football. But, to me, there is something to be said for a coach that never "lost" his team nor his coaches.

Again, there's no room for a .500 football team at Georgia. The record must vastly improve next year, moral victories or not. However, when I look at a team like Texas, which lost 7 of its last 8 games vs. BCS conference opponents (including a pasting at the hands of Kansas St.), I do see a team that phoned it in, and to me, that's a whole lot worse.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Georgia win over the Gators hinges on mentality, key plays

During their ridiculous 17-3 record against the Dawgs over the last 20 years, the Florida Gators have certainly trotted out their share of teams that were just flat-out better. However, it's been far more common to have two relatively evenly matched teams, and even a few editions of Bulldogs teams that were probably better than the Gators.

After Georgia had pretty much dominated the series prior to the 1990s, something changed. Where once Florida would make the key mistake or give up the big play, now it was Georgia that was dropping a key pass, committing a big penalty, or turning the ball over at the most inopportune of times. It's just something that changes mentally, and there's not a whole lot you can do to change it...except win. A bit paradoxical or catch-22-ish, but there it is, because Georgia has wilted at the earliest signs of adversity in most cases. It's as if the Dawgs come in fired up and ready to play, but when a play or two doesn't go their way, it's "Oh boy. Here we go again."

This year, aside from Florida having an extra week to get some of their own issues sorted out, and getting back into the fold a very talented young RB/WR adept at avoiding tackles and issuing death threats via text, Georgia would seem to have the upper hand. The Dawgs seem to be hitting their stride in virtually every aspect of the game (one of the scariest things could be that kicker Blair Walsh has hit a bit of a rocky patch lately). Meanwhile, the Gators' clunky offense has caused things to really come to a head.

The Bulldogs should be coming into this one with about as much confidence as any Georgia team has gone into GA/FL week in recent memory. We'll find out Saturday how long that lasts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep the dawg in the dawghouse or, The case for keeping Richt

Many Georgia fans have seen enough out of Mark Richt-coached teams over the past few seasons to have delivered a verdict of guilty, and levied a punishment of termination. To those, I can only say that I feel ya, Dawgs. Several editions of his teams of late have not lived up to the standards we expect for a University of Georgia football team, both on the field and off.

That being said, if the Bulldogs are able to finish the '10 season stronger than they started (i.e., show improvement across the board), I submit that head coach Mark Richt should be given another season to turn this thing around, and here's why...

First, this was going to be a transition year. New (freshman) QB, new defensive coordinator AND defensive scheme, and in addition, unfortunate incidents leading to suspensions. Sure, the losses to MSU and particularly to Colorado should not be simply explained away by the transition period, but to think that the 2010 Bulldogs should have been National Title contenders is a bit much.

However, I'm not using that so much as an excuse for Richt this season as I am saying that I'd like to see what happens when QB Murray comes back for his sophomore year, and what happens when Grantham's had a year to not only coach, but to better evaluate his players and get some of his own players in here. If you get rid of Richt after the season, you risk disrupting all the knowledge and confidence Murray will have built up, and depending on who comes in, he may have to learn a whole new offense to boot. If you get rid of Richt, then Grantham will likely be gone as well, and not only will we never know how good he may have been, but all the defensive players may have to go back and switch to the 4-3 again.

There doesn't seem to be any big name coach out there that would necessarily be available to Georgia next year anyway, so I would suggest backing off Richt for just a little while longer. Georgia has more to gain by keeping him then it has to lose.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mark Richt's Proverbial "Lid" Back on at Georgia

When Richt talked about UGA's 2002 SEC Championship, its first in 20 years, he repeatedly mentioned 'blowing the lid off' the program.

He discussed the idea that Georgia had several quality teams under both Goff and Donnan, and had come very close to being an SEC Champion, but could just never quite get over the hump.

He talked in retrospect about the '01 Tennessee 'hobnail boot' game, in which it was looking like another "not quite" game for the Dawgs, until David Greene, Randy McMichael, and Vernon Hayes (sic) changed the fate of the Bulldogs, not only for that day, but for the next few years.

He spoke of the all-important '02 Auburn game, in which Georgia was against the ropes; its chances of finally winning the SEC East looking dim after falling behind and getting physically outmatched for the first 30 minutes, but rallying to come from behind in dramatic fashion to clinch the division.

When we look at the Georgia program now, it's obvious that there are some X's and O's issues, probably a couple of talent issues, and a litany of other things that have just added up to Georgia's less-than-successful past 15 games. Certainly, the Dawgs have been asleep at the wheel for entire halves of games, and that's something to consider. However, the biggest difference I see right now is that Mark Richt's teams of late haven't shown that same confidence, drive, or determination that says, "Hey, I don't care what's happened for the past 40 or 50 minutes, we're in this game, and we're going to win."

Everybody with an opinion on Georgia has got their reasons for the Dawgs 1-2 start this year, and 2-6 record over their last 8 SEC games. Some label Bobo's play-calling far too conservative. Others cite a dip in elite talent, while the rest talk about an overall lack of effective coaching. These reasons certainly range from the plausible to the probable, and everywhere in between.

In the end, though, you've got to win in the end. Georgia has been losing more close games than it's been winning lately, and that's the biggest difference. The program's lid has been screwed back on, and if Richt can't figure out how to once again blow it off, he too may be screwed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Preview: UGA vs. Arkansas, & Sit-Rep

Rather than a straightforward preview of Saturday's game vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks, I thought I'd spend a bit more time to assessing the general state of Georgia's team as it is after two games.

Let me begin by stating that I am in no way absolving Georgia's coaching staff from the many lackluster performances over the past couple of years. It is the job of the coaches to prepare their team as well as possible to give the Dawgs the best chance to win each week that they possibly can. Whether you're talking about scheming, mental preparedness, fundamentals, or any other aspect that falls under the wide umbrella of coaching, a coach is ultimately responsible for what happens on a given Saturday.

Having said that, the players are the ones who must step on the field, apply what they've learned, and execute (as if that wasn't obvious). What I think we've seen, and what was thrown into sharp relief at Williams-Brice Stadium last weekend, was not so much about playcalling, defensive alignments, or even preparation as it was that Georgia's players simply didn't make plays.

A few examples....

Many fans were not particularly happy with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's (and/or Mark Richt's) conservative play-calling. Hard to fault them for that, going on the road for the first time with a freshman QB, a defense that looked superb (against lesser talent, I grant you), and an offensive line that in everybody's eyes was pegged to be one of the nation's best. When the Bulldogs were in the midst of a burgeoning drive facing a third and two, Bobo called for a simple trap (I believe it was a trap; apologies, but I've not seen a replay of the game, but it's relatively immaterial). His thinking, I'm sure, was that "our guys can push your guys off the line, and our 215 lb. running back can drive for 2 yards." Obviously, it was unsuccessful, but I refuse to fault the play call. It was pure smash-mouth football, which I'll remind many Georgia fans that that's what they would love to see, and the line didn't move a soul, and RB Washaun Ealey was unable to drive the tackler back.

Another example...

The Dawgs did make "a play" when, behind just one score late, QB Aaron Murray connected w/ WR Kris Durham on a long pass play after he'd gotten behind a South Carolina CB. There wasn't much special about it, the guys just made the play. Then, what happens? 1st and goal from the 10, and Georgia rushes for a few yards, setting up 2nd and goal from the 6, but before they run the next play (keep in mind, they're going for it on 4th down if it comes to it), WR Israel Troupe commits a false start penalty. A WR should NEVER commit such a penalty. The Dawgs are backed up to the 11, and forced to get a few yards back to take a couple shots at the end zone, and Washaun Ealey fumbles. Both things (false start and fumble) are, I have zero doubt, drilled into these players' heads from the start of camp. They just flat out screwed up.


Again, apologies for not knowing the exact situation, but Georgia's defense had SC 2nd and 8 around mid field. They bring what equates to a run blitz, and hit RB Marcus Lattimore about 4 yds behind the line of scrimmage. No doubt, that kid is going to be a star, but the call was sound, and really, the form was fine (this was no hockey-style body check), but Lattimore slipped away, and picked up a first down. Georgia's players just didn't make the play. Plain and simple. If/when something like that happened in fall practice, I can promise you Georgia's coaches lit into that player and made sure he knew exactly what happened.

What's the point of all this? Hell if I know. But, it seems to me that, for whatever reason, very few players (Houston, and AJ Green if he is ever allowed to play again are exceptions) seem to have that "swag" or the "it" factor. At least, right now they haven't got it.

If the Dawgs are going to rebound and make this season a successful one, Georgia's coaches need to shore up a lot of things in a lot of areas, but they're gonna need some help from the guys who actually suit up for 10 of the next 11 (hopefully, 11 of the next 12) Saturdays.

Now, briefly on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Great offense, pitiful defense.

Thanks for reading, and Go Dawgs!!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Preview: Georgia at South Carolina

Offensively, QB Stephen Garcia is one of those players that seems to have been at a school forever, and yet he’s just a junior. While considered to be a physically gifted quarterback, his two years at South Carolina have been marred by questionable behavior off the field, and questionable decision-making on it. Steve Spurrier has long been known as a coach with little patience for inconsistent QB play, and has seemingly held the threat of taking the starting job away over Garcia’s head since he arrived on campus. To his credit, Garcia has battled and stayed out of trouble lately, and entrenched himself as the unquestioned starter…until he screws up and Spurrier replaces him with freshman QB Connor Shaw (who will probably see a few snaps with some plays designed to take advantage of his athleticism).

The Gamecocks scored a major recruiting victory earlier this year when they were able to keep RB Marcus Lattimore in-state. Lattimore was regarded by many to be the top RB prospect in the nation for 2010, and he immediately assumed the starting role. At 6’ and 220lbs, he’s a great combination of speed, power, and agility, though it’s safe to assume his blocking ability has not yet caught up to his running prowess. He’ll be spelled by sophomores Kenny Miles and Jarvis Giles, who are a bit smaller in stature, and are used more in a change-of-pace capacity.

At WR, South Carolina has had some good ones over the past several years (Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice), and this year looks no different, with standout WR Alshon Jeffery leading a young, but physically imposing group of wideouts. Jeffery, D.L. Moore, and Tori Gurley stand 6’4, 6’4, and 6’5 respectively, with 5’7 freshman Ace Sanders providing a smaller, quicker option off the bench (he’ll also get some carries on end arounds, reverses, etc). Still, it’s Jeffrey who has emerged as the go-to guy for Garcia. Senior TE Patrick DiMarco gets the start, as Weslye Saunders (who killed Georgia’s secondary last year) has been suspended indefinitely.

The Gamecock O-Line, while not quite as experienced as Georgia's, is seasoned, and features only one underclassman out of the starting five, though that is at center with T.J. Johnson. Johnson moved from guard after last year, and while he's expected to do fine, you never know until he actually does it.

As you might have heard, Georgia unveiled it's new look 3-4 defense under Todd Grantham, and met the "challenge," giving up just 14 yds rushing, and 128 yds overall. A new defensive coordinator and a new scheme is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Dawg defense is still getting acclimated to a new scheme and style, so it's likely to encounter some growing pains. On the other hand, teams have very little to go on as far as devising an offensive game plan. That's not to say that they've never seen a 3-4 defense before, but they simply haven't seen film of Georgia running it. The Dawgs' primary goal here will be to make Garcia uncomfortable. In his 2 years as QB (albeit, his freshman and sophomore years), he has shown that he can pick apart a defense if he gets in a rhythm, but he has a veryhard time righting the ship if he's knocked off his game. Georgia showed a great ability to crash the line and fill the gaps against ULL's running game, and while the SC offensive line will be better than that of ULL, the practice remains the same.

For the Cock's defense, injuries and NCAA limbo could play a huge role in the game. SC is already without last year's leading tackler in LB Shaq Wilson. Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson (one of the better DC's in the country) has also stated that starters DT Ladi Ajiboye (Hey Lady!!), and Spur (kind of a LB/DB hybrid) Antonio Allen will be extremely limited in playing time/effectiveness, while starting CB Chris Culliver's status for the game is unknown as of now.

Carolina's recruiting philosophy, especially for the front 6/7, has been to go quick and agile. They've sacrificed a bit of size in the middle in favor of linemen and LBs adept at penetrating gaps and getting around blocks (which is not to say they're small). DE Cliff Matthews led the team with 7 sacks last season, as is probably the Gamecocks' top pro prospect on D.

The SC Secondary is the strength of the defense. While they were not particularly adept at intercepting passes (amassing just 6 all of last year), they were in the top 1/4 of teams in pass efficiency defense, a credit to their cornerbacks' and safeties cover skills. Returning most key components to what was a young secondary should lead to an improvement in both these categories.

For Georgia offensively, I don't think anyone will be surprised if the Dawgs' primary game plan is to run the ball as much as possible. To do this, the O-Line will have to run-block better than it did last weekend. With an extra week under their belts, the reunited unit (is that redundant?) should be much more cohesive, and much stronger physically (continuing to recover from various ailments and infirmities). It will be a recurring theme, but nonetheless appropriate that not too much will be asked of Aaron Murray, particularly in this, his first SEC road game. That being said, where Richt seemed irked, even downright mad about Murray tucking the ball and taking off in week one, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see some designed runs, and even a halfback option pass back to Murray to take advantage of his speed. The ultimate key will be for Murray to understand that even several three-and-outs are better than one bad turnover. He can't be out there playing scared, but he must be adept at assessing risk/reward situations.

So, what will happen?

Obviously, the AJ Green sitation (suspended for the next 3 games, pending an appeal in case you are new to the Internets) is not a good thing, and I think everybody would like Georgia's chances better were he playing. But, sometimes these types of things can actually galvanize a team into playing better as a whole, because everybody knows that this guy isn't there to lead, or that guy isn't there to make the big play. I won't use the term "vanilla" (other than to let you know that I wont use the term "vanilla"), but Georgia certainly left plenty to the imagination against ULL, and I expect the Dawgs to open things up a bit more offensively this week.

The Dawg D seems be eating up the new scheme and ideology of Todd Grantham like a fat kid eating free cake. That analogy may not work so well, but I really wanted to get a fat kid reference in here somewhere. More than anything, they'll need to avoid those one or two big mistakes that lead to early scores. If they do that, I think the South Carolina offense will have a hard time going 70 or 80 yds every drive to score. Punter Drew Butler and kicker Blair Walsh could very well end up being the keys to victory, as the Dawgs take another close one in Columbia, 24-20.

Offensive Player of the Game: The Dawgs welcome back Washaun Ealey in a big way. My gut tells me the Dawgs are up mid-way through the 4th quarter, and burn out the clock with a steady diet of #3.

Defensive Player of the Game: Darryl Gamble had been the talk of the preseason, so hopefully he'll be in Garcia's face much of the afternoon.

Thought for the Game:
It's no secret that the loser of this game is instantly behind the 8-ball in the SEC East. With all the problems the team has encountered/brought upon itself during the off-season, it would really say something about the intestinal fortitude of the Dawgs to put all that behind them and get a leg up in the SEC East.

So, that's what I got this week. Looks like it will be warm, but not brutally hot in Columbia, and it should be a real battle 'til the end.

Go Dawgs!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

South Carolina game most important for the Dawgs in '10

OK, we all know the importance of beating Tech, for, as a decorated Georgia alumnus once said, "if you don't think beating Tech is important, try losing to them." Nor is there any reason to pretend that a victory over Florida wouldn't be huge.

I'm not sure what it says about where Georgia is or where South Carolina is when I find myself realizing that the Carolina game is, in fact, the most important game of the season for Georgia, but here's why.

Assuming the Bulldogs handle LaLafayette in the opener, South Carolina becomes the tone-setter for what Aaron Murray is to become, and what Todd Grantham's new 3-4 defense will be. That game is usually important anyway, because, as Richt so often mentions, the winner typically goes on to have a good season (last year notwithstanding), while the loser is immediately fighting an uphill battle just to finish 2nd in the SEC East, never mind having a realistic shot at the SEC Title (well, the Gamecocks really go into every season without a realistic shot at the SEC Title).

This game's been unnaturally close for most of the past 10 contests, and this year figures to be no different. Carolina usually has a steady defense, and unless QB Stephen Garcia pees the bed in their opener, so to speak, he will not yet have drawn the full ire of Coach Spurrier. Furthermore, the 'Cocks haven't realized that they're not a good team when Georgia comes a' callin' in week two.

So, if the Dawgs want to earn the right to treat the 2010 season as anything more than a 'reset button' year, they must beat South Carolina.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reading Into Fall Practice Reports and Comments

With the anticipation of a new season that's now just a month away, most every Georgia fan is gleaning every last bit of information he can on the 2010 Bulldog football team. Practice reports, player bios, and even the most trivial of anecdotes (I found the "story" of a young Ben Jones catching a snooze atop a potentially prize-winning pig to be particularly enthralling).

Every pre-season period has its story lines, and this year is no different, with a new quarterback, position changes, and the unfortunate off the field issue or seven. But, when it comes down to it, what we're really interested in is hearing about who's made the biggest strides since last season, and what the new recruits and redshirt freshman seem to be making waves. After all, with a champagne cork popped for every 5-star recruit signed, these are the kids that are going to determine the future of Georgia football.

Having said that, it can be easy to put a bit too much stock in what various reporters, coaches, and players are saying about what's going on at the 110 degree practice fields. If I sat down and thought about it, for every player that was going to be "the next big thing," I'm sure I could find at least 50% of those mentioned who ended up making little, if any significant impact when the lights were on.

Seemingly every summer during his time here, when asked who was going to be the impact receiver, quarterbacks unanimously named Bryan McClendon. Later, I can recall both Michael Moore and Mohamed Massaquoi arriving on campus, and though MoMass was the more highly touted recruit, "everyone" was saying how it was Moore that was looking better. That is not to say anything disparaging of McClendon or Moore, but neither was ever an All-American candidate.

Conversely, who really remembers hearing all that much about David Pollack during the fall practices leading up to the 2002 season? Obviously, he was the starter and had a monster game against Clemson right out of the gate, but there was little, if any, talk of "watch out for #47. We can't block him in practice."

In the end, we all like hearing how AJ Green made an impossible catch over three defenders, how Caleb King had two long runs during yesterdays scrimmage, and how Justin Houston and Cornelius Washington have been dominating off the edge. However, I wouldn't place my expectations on what kind of season Aaron Murray's going to have based on his scrimmage stats, and would automatically put a redshirt on Ken Malcome just because his name has not been mentioned yet.

It's still just practice.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Richt's "The Right Stuff" Comments Not Surprising

For most Dawg fans, any glowing comments made by head coach Mark Richt about the upcoming season are reminiscent of Jim Donnan's infamous "I've waited 158 years to coach a team like this."

During all the Bulldog Club meetings, preseason interviews, and general off-the-cuff statements, head coaches typically walk the very fine line between tempering expectations while still drumming up enthusiasm in anticipation of the season to come. Some, like Vine Dooley, erred on the side of temperance, while others, such as the aforementioned coach Donnan, went a bit too far on the enthusiasm side.

With Richt and the Dawgs coming off their worst season during his tenure, it really only made sense to fire up the Bulldog Nation this time around. While a new season, regardless of the previous year's record, tends to bring new excitement (just ask South Carolina fans), spirits and hopes of Dawg fans have been noticeably lower. Furthermore, if Georgia turns in another 7-5 season (or worse), a little verve and garnish during some summer speaking engagements really isn't go to make things worse for Coach while he's answering for his crimes, so to speak.

The bottom line is that, this time around, Richt really has nothing to lose and, not everything, but some things to gain by pumping up the various Bulldog Club crowds. Besides, this team might really have "The Right Stuff."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What the heck is a "hot seat" anyway?

Been saving up my earnings from publishing this blog for a while, and while I'm still a couple pennies short, I figured I'd throw in my two cents to this "discussion" about Mark Richt possibly being on the proverbial hot seat.

At this point, you doubtless know the various numbers and percentages of Richt during his tenure at The University of Georgia, so I won't rehash them here. Suffice it to say, he's among the top 10 of active coaches in virtually every important category. Whether Georgia fans and the administration have a right to expect more is a topic for another day.

What seems to be going unchecked on these Internets is the frivolous, profuse usage of the term "hot seat." It used to be, a head coach would be on the hot seat toward the end of (yet another) disappointing season. If he finished up poorly, it probably meant he was getting canned. This made complete sense insofar as we, the football fanatics, are in constant need of something with which to occupy our time when not hanging on every word out of a 17 year old QB's mouth, or photo-shopping pics of Tim Tebow's head on an apostle's body.

Then, the usage of the term slowly migrated toward the beginning of an actual season. Such and such would be on the hot seat if fans, GM's, AD's, etc. perceived him to have underachieved for a few years, or grossly underachieved the previous year. A little bit of a stretch, being that the season had either just begun, or was only a game or two old.

Now, though, the term has taken on a life of its own. We've got every blogger, columnist, and joker with a keyboard (like me) debating whether a coach will be on the hot seat in the upcoming year, or if another lackluster season will land said coach on the hot seat.

What? Did I miss something (again)? The hot seat itself is enough a position of conjecture enough as it is, since it's basically used to describe someone who is potentially in danger of losing his job. So, by trying to predict if a coach might possibly be on the hot seat, we're suggesting that he's in danger of being in danger (of being in danger) of being fired.

Imagine a married couple, and the gossip queen says, "Uh oh. If Peter and Lois have a couple more arguments, they could be 'having problems.' If they start having problems, and continue to have problems, they could get divorced."

What's the point of all that?

I'm not going to address Richt's hot seat status in particular. There's still a season to be played (and it's 4 months away).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

G-Day Intriguing, but Hard on the Fan's Psyche

If the weather people are right, and they rarely are, we're looking at a picture perfect day Saturday in Athens for the annual G-Day Spring Game, with the forecast calling for sunny skies, and temps in the low to mid 70s. Fans who attend the game (or watch on TV) will also be hoping for some picture-perfect play out of the 2010 Bulldogs. You see what I did there? I brought 'picture-perfect' back around, describing the weather and the play of the Dawgs.

It's always an interesting thing, trying to decide what you want to see out of G-Day, being that it's your own offense going against your own defense, particular if/when it's 1's vs. 1's. Obviously, with a new QB taking the reins in the fall, you'd like to see Georgia's offense have success, particularly in the passing game, and definitely don't want a stagnated, clueless, and otherwise inept aerial attack. You'd also prefer some of the younger guys, like Tavarres King and Orson Charles, continue to grow into key roles, and not just have AJ Green catch a few deep jump balls.

On the other hand, with a new (and hopefully improved) defense taking the field, it might be a little scary if the offense racks up 400 yds (given a running clock, i.e. a shorter game), suggesting the defense is far from where it needs to be. If, say, Caleb King breaks a few tackles and outruns the secondary for a 70 TD run, that's where we as fans are kind of at odds with ourselves. Do you think, "wow, Caleb looks unstoppable," or do you say to yourself, "man, our defense just got embarrassed?" It's the one time we get to see both sides of the coin, because during the regular season, it's all about us. If Arkansas throws up 45 pts, it's only going to be because our defense was lousy. If the Dawgs pile up 530 yds of offense, it's definitely because we are so balanced and dangerous.

I suppose that, after it's over, you want to see a 23-20 kind of game, where both sides of the ball, 1's and 2's, have their moments. You'd like maybe one or two INT's coming, but only by way of a terrific play by one of our DB's. And, of course, you hope there are minimal penalties and no serious injuries.

At the end of the (G) day, though, it's really just a chance to get your Sanford Stadium fix; to get out there, show your support for the Dawgs, see a few of the younger guys running around making plays, and get a vague, ridiculously premature idea of what to expect come late summer.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Scrimmages More About Not Screwing Up

If you've been following Georgia's spring practices with any regularity (cue Fiber One jokes), you've doubtless come across the statistics from the Dawgs' first official scrimmage.

All eyes/ears/etc. are focused primarily on the Bulldogs' overhauled defense, and the QB battle between Aaron Murray, Zack Mettenberger, and (supposedly) Logan Gray. Statistically speaking, Murray and "Mett" had the most impressive games, with Gray trailing far behind.

I think that, in the early going here, a 'big' game is far less important on the positive side than laying an egg is on the negative side. Right now, coaches would seem to be looking more at who's picking things up, giving consistent effort, and protecting the football. If you'll recall, former QB Blake Barnes had a near perfect G-Day a few years back, but really never saw the field for Georgia. Just last G-Day, Logan Gray looked very impressive, but when live bullets were flying in the fall, he was hardly an option at all behind Joe Cox.

So, sure, it's nice to see a guy like WR Rantavious Wooten have a big game, and it's a good thing that Mettenberger appears to be pushing Murray for the top spot. However, keep an eye out for those statistically awful numbers. Fumbles, holding penalties, interceptions, drops, and so forth. That, to me, is going to tell the story of who's got the top spot at various positions heading into the fall.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Secondary a Primary Concern During Spring Practice

[First, sorry for the hiatus (for those of you who noticed)]

With Georgia's overhauled defense, both in scheme and coaching, one of the main improvements on the field will need to come in Georgia's secondary. The Bulldogs' pass defense was porous, and just as importantly, showed little in the way of play-making ability (Brandon Boykin and Reshad Jones had a few nice moments).

The big buzz over the last week or two was the line from one returning DB, who basically said that, under Willie Martinez, defenders were taught to generally shield the receiver from the ball, rather than turn, locate the ball, and make a play on it. This was evident even to the casual observer over the past few years, and it will be interesting to see how Georgia's corners and safeties adapt to new secondary coach Scott Lakatos' approach of playing the ball as much as the receiver.

However, tantamount to being more aggressive and forcing more turnovers is the back-to-basics (or, sadly, the first visit to basics) mentality when it comes to hard-nosed, sure-handed form-tackling. I seem to be wearing out my "-" key.

Let's face it, you need guys who play with consistency within a given system. That being said, it seemed Georgia's defense was far more concerned with a guy "knowing what to do" than playing a guy who was perhaps a little less experienced, but simply made plays (I'm looking at the Bacarri Rambo v. Bryan Evans situation). The VERY early returns on spring practice suggest that, while playing time will ultimately be earned based on the complete package, guys who are hitting, tackling properly, and making plays will be favored over guys who "know the system." That's one of the many great things about a new philosophy. Because nobody really knows what they're doing, from the 5th year seniors on down, a lack of superior talent or playmaking won't be camouflaged by a few years of experience.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What do Georgia Fans Have a 'Right' to Expect?

The Georgia Bulldogs have now gone four consecutive seasons without winning the SEC, or even just the SEC East (although, they finished the 2007 season ranked #2, which is not too shabby). They've also had what should be considered below-par years for two of those four seasons. After finishing out a recruiting class that was less than stellar according to the 'experts,' there continues to be a slow and steady increase in the volume and pervasiveness of rumblings around Athens that Georgia is not where it should be in the overall conference/national pecking order of college football programs.

While last season would not be considered a great success by any measure of Georgia football, the overall performance of Richt's teams begs the question, "How good is Georgia really supposed to be?"

Looking at it from a competition standpoint, there are, in my estimation, six teams that have a "right" (the quotes imply a bit of sarcasm, in that many fans of many schools believe it's their right) to win the SEC: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee. By that rationale alone, Georgia should average one SEC Championship every six years. They have two in nine years under Richt, so they're still ahead of the game there. Georgia should also average one SEC East Championship every three years. With three in nine years, they're right on pace there.

Obviously, there's an ebb and flow of the overall strength of competition throughout the SEC in a given year, and teams go through both upturns and downturns (clearly, Tennessee has not been a powerhouse the last few years). On the flip side, Georgia hadn't won the SEC in 20 years before Richt arrived, a fact his proponents are happy to acknowledge.

Look, the Bulldogs had one of the all time greatest 4 year runs from '80-'83 of any program in history, but to suggest that two SEC Championships, three SEC East Championships, and six top-ten finishes since 2002 is below Georgia standards is completely ridiculous.

People have also cited the pattern or trend that seemed to be forming lately, but with a revamped defensive coaching staff, and one of two highly touted redshirted freshmen quarterbacks taking the reigns this fall, there is at least a reasonable chance that the Dawgs will be competing for more SEC Championships and top 10 finishes very soon.

The bottom line is, Georgia is as good (probably better) than they have been during just about any time during their storied history. More to the point, either live in the past or don't. If you think the 'real' Georgia is the incarnations of the early 80's, then acknowledge the successes of the past 10 years.

Whatever the case, tempering expectations as a Georgia fan does not a loser make. The fans aren't playing anyway.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Recruiting, She's Over or, Put Away the Hemlock

OK. Georgia's overall recruiting class could have been better, and it appeared it was going to be until about the last week leading all the way up to Wednesday morning. A few highly regarded defensive players and possibly the best WR prospect the state of Georgia has had in over a decade all left the Dawgs standing at the altar. You always want to sign the best and most complete class you can every single year, and there is no two ways about it: Georgia's class looked like it was going to be better than it turned out.

Having said all that, it's really not that big a deal. Again, I want to reiterate that it could have been better, but let me also repeat...It's really not that big a deal.

Georgia needed to get some depth on defense, and that's what they did. They also needed to make sure to get about 3 solid offensive line prospects (something I think we'll see each and every year to avoid past issues along the O-Line). Obviously, any time you have a chance to get one of the elite players at a position, you want to try to do that, but wide receiver was really not an area of absolute need this year. Georgia filled out the D-Line, and got some "flex" guys that could end up at DE/LB, or S/LB, and got one of the better true safeties out there. I would have liked to get one more top-tier CB, but that is really the only true shortcoming I saw.

Recruiting, at the end of the day, is a bit of a crap shoot. Like craps, it's predicated on a degree of odds. So, yeah, you want to give yourself the best odds possible that a particular class will grow into a junior/senior class of All-SEC caliber players. You do that by signing as many highly rated kids as you can. However, those are still just odds, and there is still a very good chance this class will be as solid as any Georgia's had when it's all said and done.

To put it in perspective, and without calling out any Bulldogs of years passed, but say Georgia had signed one more 5 star and one more 4 star. The class would then have been ranked in the top 10 in most lists. Well, it's no secret that we've had more than one 5 star, and plenty of 4 star kids that, due to injury or simply never blossoming, never even started a game.

I don't want to get into a debate about the value of the rankings system, and am certainly not suggesting that rankings don't matter. I'm simply making the point that there is an extremely fine line between being ranked 15th, and being ranked 9th, and one year of 15th is far from a death sentence for Georgia. So, just relax, breathe, and get ready for spring ball. You might not have heard, but there's supposed to be a pretty decent battle for QB lined up.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Recruiting Limbo

National Signing Day fast approaches. That day of days when National Championships are won with the signing of a 5 star Offensive Tackle, and entire families are burned in effigy with the last minute switch of a 4 star Tight End.

While entirely too much importance is often placed on a single player or ranking, the process as a whole is obviously crucial to the success of a program. After all, teams that consistently finish in the top ten in recruiting have consistently finished in the top ten in rankings during the actual season (yes, Georgia has fallen off a bit in the actual rankings the past couple of years).

Barring a complete meltdown and mass exodus of the supposed verbal commitments Georgia has lined up for the 2010 recruiting class, the Dawgs will finish with what would seem on paper as, at the very least, a solid recruiting class. Further, the coaching staff has once again put together a very well-rounded class with some players that could potentially play more than one position.

There have already been a couple of defects after the firing of Willie Martinez, coupled with the hire of Charlie Strong at Louisville, oddly enough. There are also rumors swirling about Georgia's prized WR recruit switching to Tennessee on National Signing Day. Regardless of what happens, this blogger/expert is here to tell you that an SEC Championship is not made by the signing of one or two Blue-Chippers, nor does a decade of .500 football become Georgia's fate with the loss of a couple.

"Busts" are equally as common as those diamonds in the rough, and while hardcore recruitniks get inappropriately aroused by the prospect of prospects, the rest of us will be fine with whoever we sign.

As Norman Dale said in Hoosiers, "I was hoping you would support us for who we are, not who we are not."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hoop Dawgs, and "What If"

With Georgia's dominating performance over then #8 Tennessee in Athens over the weekend, the Bulldogs climbed back over .500 at 9-8. Interestingly, 9-8 was the last time Georgia would sniff a winning record last season, which proved to be Dennis Felton's last. The Dawgs would go on to lose 7 in a row after being 9-8 (they had already lost 4 in a row to fall to that record). While it's easy to harp on the narrow losses for Georgia early in SEC play and ask "what if they'd just managed to pull a couple of those out," there's reason to ask, "what if the Dawgs can put together a nice little run over the final 12 games and make the Tournament?"

Georgia is obviously not ready to be counted amongst the Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, etc. type teams, but they've already proven they can play with that caliber of team. Georgia currently ranks 68th nationally in the RPI, which is very heavily utilized in selecting non-automatic qualifiers for the NCAA Tournament. Their strength of schedule ranks as high as 4th according to some formulas, and with the SEC looking a bit tougher than it did earlier in the year, that number doesn't figure to drop too far throughout the season.

So, I ask, "What if?"

What if Georgia can go, say, 8-4 to finish out the SEC schedule? Well, you'd then have a Bulldog squad that finishes at 17-12, and a 9-7 SEC record, again, with one of the toughest overall schedules in the country (that is going to be key). In that scenario, the Dawgs would likely have to make a strong showing in the SEC tournament to get a bid.

What if Georgia can go, say, 9-3 to finish out the SEC schedule? This would certainly not be easy, but with Georgia's toughest games seemingly being a home game against Kentucky, and road games at Florida, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, then winning one of those and taking care of business for the rest would at least be fathomable, however unlikely. Ending up at 18-11 (10-6), and maybe winning at least one game in the SEC tournament, I think, would get Georgia in.

Don't get me wrong, this is extremely premature, and though the Dawgs have played some very good teams right down to the wire, they are still just 1-3 over their last four. However, Georgia already has two victories that are more impressive than any they had last year, and bigger and better things appear to be on the horizon.

With Georgia's strength of schedule, this team has been battle-tested, and a climb up the RPI could be in their future.

Now, just gotta go beat the Gators in Gainesville...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dawgs Finally Have A Grantham Defensive Coordinator

Just as Steve Perry was right in singing "I'll Be Alright Without You" regarding the failure of Georgia to lure away Kirby Smart from Alabama, Bud Foster from VA Tech, and John Chavis from LSU, so too was he right in singing "The Search Is Over."

Mark Richt has found his defensive coordinator, and it's Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham. Although it would have been nice to have been able to hire one of the aforementioned "Big Three," this could very well be the best case scenario for Georgia in several ways.

First off, he's spent a lot of time at both the college and NFL levels, and gained a lot of experience under some good defensive coaches (Nick Saban, Wade Phillips), and yet he's still young and energetic. It should be noted that Saban had actually asked Grantham to be his defensive coordinator in Miami a few years back, but Grantham ended up taking the DC spot in Cleveland.

Second, although he's achieved some recognition for his successes, he's still a guy building his name and reputation. With some of the other folks, I almost got the idea that they would feel they would be doing Richt/Georgia a favor by coming here.

Third, and this is based on very little, but it seems he has a solid combination of fire and X's and O's smarts. A lot of people will tell you that good defense is due in large part to emotion. While that's true, it in no way means that your defensive coordinator MUST be all piss and vinegar to be successful. The point is that, when you have a defense like Georgia's that has shown steady decline, it's a good time to bring someone new in that has the personality to really light a fire and challenge his personnel right off the bat.

The Dawgs are going to be losing a lot in terms of the two-deep line-up on defense. Some of that, fortunately, will result in addition by subtraction, as there are a couple of seniors leaving that drew the ire of Georgia fans on more than one occasion. However, that, plus the fact that there will be a new scheme implemented, means there could be some growing pains. That's not to say that Grantham won't have the defense playing better from the word "go," but I think the most important thing to look for in the '10 season will be steady improvement.

Todd Grantham, although not Richt's absolute first choice, was apparently near the forefront of the search for several weeks. I like his personality, his age, and his credentials, but only time will tell if we like his results.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

When Georgia Gets a New Defensive Coordinator

There are still several names popping up as potential candidates to replace Willie Martinez as Georgia's new defensive coordinator (I suspect local sports writers have had a "rumor mill" button installed on their keyboards). Although Mark Richt has been tight-lipped regarding those with whom he's spoken or considered, it would seem that the two highest profile candidates, VA Tech's Bud Foster and LSU's John Chavis, have simply used the possibility of going to UGA as a bartering chip.

Whoever ends up with the job, though, it's important for fans to be realistic about a few things. Of course, staying realistic has never been a strong suit of the rabid SEC fan.

First, and I don't say this lightly, trust the coach. The general feeling out there is that 'everyone' wants either a big name, or the flavor of the month. The two things to keep in mind here are that the big names weren't always big names, and that the big names aren't always all their made out to be. Brian Van Gorder was a 'nobody' in the eyes of many when he came with Richt to Georgia in 2001. He left as one of the most respected DC's in the nation. And, while I'd personally like to see Kirby Smart (or another up-and-comer) come to UGA, keep in mind that he's been learning the ropes under one of the best defensive minds in college football in Nick Saban. While all signs point to his being the real deal, there's no guarantee he'll be successful when he's out on his own.

Second, and I may be in the minority on this, but schemes and calls can only go so far. Sure, some defenses are generally better prepared week in and week out than others (which is why Martinez was fired), and some DC's have a knack for calling the odd blitz at better times, etc, but at the end of the day, players have to make plays. Case in point: The 2007 Florida defense was atrocious. This was due, in large part to youth and inexperience, but they were not good as a unit. In '08 and '09, they ranked among the nation's elite in most important defensive categories. What got Willie fired was that there was a general trend of ill-preparedness for random quarters/halves/entire games for the past several years. The point here is that fans shouldn't expect someone to just walk in and be in the top 10 in defense every year. What should be expected is that allowing 30+ points in a game goes back to being a rare exception as opposed to a common occurrence.

Finally, Georgia's offense and special teams are going to play a big part in the resurrection of its defense. Let me be perfectly clear when I say that Richt was absolutely justified in firing Martinez. Having said that, I'm not sure any defensive coordinator would have had what could be considered a great season given all the turnovers committed by Georgia over the last couple of seasons, particularly on its own side of the field. The problem with Martinez (and Richt's take, at least publicly), was that these turnovers were treated as Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards, as if they just shrugged their shoulders and said, "What are ya gonna do?" That attitude does need to change.

I'm pretty confident that Coach Richt is pouring over tons of game film and statistics, and talking with everyone in the business to get the best person available. He knows his own job could ultimately be tied to the success of his new defensive coordinator. So, whoever Georgia gets should be welcomed with open arms, big name or not. Hopefully, all the tangibles and objective, qualitative, quantitative, and otherwise immeasurable attributes will translate to a return to dominance for the Bulldog defense.