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.