Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The go-to guy

Thursday December 22, 2005

Georgia’s basketball team was very close to knocking off a Top 20 team three time zones away last night. Repeat that a few times and let it sink in.

I’m so happy, and it’s such progress, to be talking about nuances instead of just hoping we find a way to break 40. I could dwell on foul shots or freshmen mistakes, but they all add up to something bigger.

Georgia lacks a go-to guy, and it’s going to continue to hurt them in close games.

Marginal players get points every now and then. Good players get their points more consistently and don’t talk halves off. But the real difference-makers get their points when their team needs them most – on those half-dozen possessions or so in each game where you either must answer a score on the other end or take advantage of a mistake and go for the jugular.

I’ve thought about Georgia football’s running game in this context for most of the season. It’s nice if you can run for 200 yards a game, but what does that really mean if you can’t be counted on to convert the 3rd and 2 to sustain the key drive?

Last night, there wasn’t a single person you’d want to have the ball at the end. Stukes and Toney were non-factors all night. Mercer was erratic. Gaines isn’t a consistent enough shooter. Humphrey had cooled down considerably. The posts were worn down and ineffective. Idrissi was the closest thing Georgia had to a go-to guy, and he’s not ready for that role yet. And none of them could hit a free throw.

Contrast that with Nevada’s Nick Fazekas. Fazekas finished with a double-double, but it’s four critical points that made the difference in the game. With the game still very much in question and around four minutes to play, Fazekas twice got separation inside and got two significant consecutive baskets. It had been eons since either team had a two-possession lead, but Nevada’s go-to guy gave them just enough separation to get the upper-hand in the game and force Georgia to make plays on the offensive end, and Georgia wasn’t up to it. “He had two big-time plays that deflated us,” said Coach Felton, and that’s exactly what this kind of player brings to the table: the huge basket or defensive play that takes a mental toll on the opponent.

The good news is that Georgia has too much talent for a more dependable option not to emerge. It’s just a matter of who and when. In the shorter term, it could be a guard such as Humphrey. He’s not there yet. It’s great to get a slew of three-pointers in the first half, but that shot needs to be there with two minutes left and down a possession or two. Improvement on his game inside the arc can help prevent him from becoming a streaky one-trick pony like so many long-range specialists. He is big and quick enough, and his outside shot is enough of a threat, that he should be able to penetrate to the elbow and either knock down the midrange jumper or pass. I think that’s what we had hoped to see from Levi Stukes at this point in his career, but he continues to play hot and cold from game to game.

Jarvis Hayes of course was the consummate go-to guy at Georgia, and players like him haven’t come along too often in Athens. Some guys like Rashad Wright develop in that role as their careers progress. Given this much talent getting this much playing time and doing relatively well already with solid coaching, I have to believe that Georgia will find their Robert Horry who is clutch and money and often unstoppable during the crucial final four minutes of a game.

We know now that Georgia is good enough to expect to play in a lot of close and competitive games as this season wears on. The difference between winning and losing those close games will be just this kind of player. Nevada had one…at least one. Most postseason-quality SEC teams will have one. Georgia doesn’t have that guy yet, and that might make for a very frustrating season as a team that shows a lot of promise comes up just short in several games. But if someone – or a small group of regulars – can become that consistent second-half option, look out.

Post Lady Dogs struggling

Tuesday December 20, 2005

Temple had lost two straight to Florida and Stony Brook. The only way I’m familiar with Stony Brook is that it’s on the Long Island RailRoad right after the Port Jeff station, so we’d go by it all the time on our way into NYC.

Anyway, Temple got it together after some time off and beat Georgia in Philly on a buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime.

Usually talk turns to Georgia’s frontcourt, but this was an all-around loss. On offense, the guards were ineffective, especially from outside. On the boards, Georgia was outrebounded. We know that teams are going to pack in on Humphrey. Despite that, Tasha had another incredible game. But that strategy also creates chances outside for the guards, and they did a poor job Monday shooting in the 20s from outside.

On defense, Georgia’s 2-3 zone was supposed to force the game outside, where Temple is weak. The result was a game to Temple’s liking – low-scoring and played in the halfcourt. Georgia was deadly when they could force turnovers (points off turnovers was about 10-0 in favor of Georgia), but the passive nature of the zone kept those transition chances down. Besides that, Temple’s top two scorers were post players, so the zone wasn’t as effective as hoped. Temple had decent success penetrating the zone and passing.

Where to begin? It was certainly not the best night for the guards. It’s said that Humphrey’s play controls the fortunes of the team, but it remains more accurate that the team will play as its senior guards do. The Lady Dogs have survived slow nights from Humphrey, but they have not overcome outages from the guards. Kendrick, battling an ankle injury, was ineffective and did not score from the floor. Baker, with a sprained knuckle, was 6-18 from the floor. The two combined for four assists and seven turnovers, and they were a non-factor from the perimeter.

Georgia’s last offensive series was telling. Georgia had the ball in a tie game with about 4 seconds separating the shot and game clock. Humphrey had been dominant in the second half, and Temple’s top two post players had fouled out. So of course Humphrey doesn’t touch the ball. Instead, Kendrick, who had not made a field goal from the floor all night, tries to drive the baseline and is denied with well over ten seconds remaining for Temple to set up the winning shot.

I like that Kendrick wants the ball. Against Santa Clara earlier in the season, she had another rough night but sunk a dead-on runner at the buzzer for her only field goal of the night to win the game. You want your senior point guard to have that confidence. But you also expect the senior to recognize the situation and, given time and a chance to set up an offensive play, find the hot hand instead of freelancing and rushing the shot. You also expect her coach to emphasize that point.

Cori Chambers and Megan Darrah are in tough spots. Both were planning on doing damage from the wing this year, and they find themselves defacto post players. Darrah especially is challenged. She has been placed in the power forward position, and she is having a tough time getting rebounds and defending the post. But there are no other options – Bostice can only give a few minutes, and the light hasn’t come on for freshman Danielle Taylor yet.

With all that was deficient last night, we were still in overtime with a Top 25 team on their court. That tiny moral consolation isn’t much, especially when contrasted with the hopes for this season. Still, we know this team can do some nice things. It reminds me of the 2004 men’s team – there was a solid starting lineup good enough to beat a Final Four Tech team and UK twice but which also lost several games it should have won because the margin of error was so slight. The Lady Dogs have more relative talent in the lineup than that men’s team, so they should win more games and make the tournament, but there are going to be some more nights like the Temple loss ahead, especially with the tough SEC this season.

Post And the beat(down) goes on

Thursday December 8, 2005

When asked whether Georgia’s nationally-ranked football team, nationally-ranked women’s basketball team, or the young men’s basketball team which lost by nearly 40 in Atlanta last year would stand the best chance of delivering a sound beating to Georgia Tech, not many people would have picked Dennis Felton’s squad.

But while the football and women’s hoops teams survived nailbiters against their North Avenue counterparts, the men’s basketball team decided to give us a nice, solid rout to keep us warm until the spring sports. The Dawgs took control of a back-and-forth game, built a double-digit lead in the first half, and maintained it against against a few second-half Tech pushes.

Even though the Steg wasn’t sold out, the crowd was vocal and into the game as you’d expect when Tech is in town. Kudos to the students in the nerd outfits. Beyond the outfits (wait ’til Florida comes to town), this group has more importantly been behind the program since Felton got on campus, and they are a fixture now.

Georgia maintains an important advantage over Tech with the win. The Dawgs are now 7-4 against Tech since the series went home-and-home for the 1995-1996 season. Georgia has won all six meetings in Athens. Given that the glory years of Tech hoops were roughly from 1985 into the early 1990s, they had been dominant while the series was in “neutral” Atlanta. No longer. Hewitt will continue to recruit well, and Tech will improve, but Felton is now 2-1 over the Jackets, and his program is also on the rise. Tech’s recent trips to the NCAA Tournament and Final Four make it seem strange for Georgia to claim that it is the premiere program in the state, but the head-to-head results over a decade tell another story.

After last season, there’s so much to be excited about, but let’s start with the obvious: Georgia can score. So long as they’re not attempting a free throw, the Dawgs can put the ball in the basket. Georgia’s offensive output last year frequently resembled totals from the era of the “Four Corners” offense. Dennis Felton preached intense defense, and he had to with a team struggling to put more points on the board than your typical PAC 10 football team.

So with an infusion of freshmen, Georgia suddenly has something that resembles a frontcourt and depth. Talented shooting guards no longer have to do everything from bring the ball up the court to parking the team bus. A cold hand no longer means a 12-minute scoring drought; someone else just starts scoring. Role players can be role players and do not need double-doubles every night in order for the team to be competitive. It was enjoyable to see Felton turn to his bench without having to hope the guy just didn’t screw anything up.

What am I saying? The foundation for a complete team is here. There are guards who can handle the ball and distribute. There are guards who can shoot from Winterville. There are posts who can bang, posts who can leap, and posts who can defend. We saw all of this promise last night.

With that promise, and with the hunger all of us have to see the Dawgs back on top, I can’t help but think immediately of the top areas where improvement will really turn this bunch into something dangerous.

  • Posts: It’s as simple and as complex as hands. Georgia’s big men surely made their presence known, esepcially on the defensive end. They shut down Ra’Sean Dickey, who had a huge game at Michigan State. They made it so that the vast majority of Tech’s offense came from the wing (Morrow’s and Smith’s performances do create a bit of concern for the Georgia defense). Yet for all they did well, Georgia was soundly outrebounded. Loose balls and blocked shots ended up in the hands of more assertive Tech players. It wasn’t until late and Dave Bliss came up with elbows swinging that Georgia showed some determination on the glass. They’re already doing a good job of blocking shots and altering shots with defensive position – now just get two hands on the ball.
  • Guards: Patience. This is one of those things that comes with experience and maturity. Georgia frequently put up quick or difficult shots when a pass would have been the better option. Sure, some of the quick shots went in, and everyone is talking about Humphrey’s impossible shot this morning. Still, those are decisions that will cost Georgia in SEC play. Particularly when protecting a lead, you want aggression but also good decisions. I think specifically about a time with around 9:30 remaining where a few rushed shots fueled a Tech run that put them in a position to bring the lead under ten points. Fortunately, Georgia was able to hold off the run and build the lead back up, but other teams will take better advantage of that situation. Georgia’s guards will learn that there are four other guys on the court, and the offense will become even more efficient when these emerging weapons get better shots under control.

Let’s not mistake Tech for a good team. This isn’t the team that came into the previous two meetings ranked in the top 5. They impressed themselves by beating Virigina last weekend; Virginia just lost to Fordham. Still, it’s Tech – a rivalry game, an ACC name, and a much more visible opponent than better teams Georgia might face before the SEC season. If anything, Georgia should now after seven games have the confidence it lacked last season of being able to challenge any team on its schedule, and that’s remarkable progress.

Post Felton lands a big ‘un

Tuesday September 20, 2005

As soon as Dennis Felton arrived in Athens in 2003, he began recruiting…the class of 2007. Even back then when junior high was barely in the rearview mirror, it was becoming clear that the class of 2007 would be one of the best collections of basketball talent ever produced by the state of Georgia.

So while Felton made the effort to recruit well in the short-term (crowned by the signings of Mercer and Williams last season), his aim continued (and continues) to be on 2007. He hit the pavement and began developing the relationships that would be neccessary to compete for these prospects against more successful programs. Keeping as much of that in-state talent at home as possible would set Georgia basketball up very nicely.

The first fruits of that effort came yesterday as Jeremy Price, a 6’9″ 260 lb. junior PF from Decatur, committed to Georgia. Price had been getting interest from, among others, Kansas and Indiana.

Things are looking up in hoops land. Price is only one commitment, but if his pledge is any indication of the quality of Felton’s 2007 recruiting effort, watch out.

Post All hail scheme

Friday September 16, 2005

I’ve been doing some reading from the Book of Scheme lately. There are some good points of course – scheme matters -, but all religions (beginnnig with SEC football) have their fanatics. This post over at HP shines a little light on how warped the discussion has become.

If a scheme is so inflexible that a better chance of success might lie with someone who is taking his first college snaps instead of someone who can get Heisman pub with a straight face, there’s a problem. We’re not talking about Noah Brindise here. The semi-legit Heisman candidate is the one catching heat for not maybe not being the best fit for the Almighty Spread Option. The Creator coach gets a pass, more or less, for not adjusting his offense to maximize a guy who should be checking travel deals to New York. Bassackwards.

More on scheme later. This is interesting stuff.

Post A couple of overrated storylines this weekend

Friday September 9, 2005

The Spurrier issue is overshadowing everything about this game. While it’s huge for the fans, it’s not for Richt or the team.

Revenge for 1995 is paramount to the fans. That blowout loss in Athens was the lowest of the lows in a decade of dispair against Spurrier’s Florida teams. Just the mention of the name is enough to send many Georgia fans into a fetal position, and they would be nervous if Spurrier brought a Pop Warner team into Sanford Stadium.

A friend of mine said that we’d struggle with Florida until we “beat the Spurrier out of them”. That was a great way to sum up the situation – the players on the Florida sideline knew they were in Georgia’s head, and Georgia’s players knew they were owned. Georgia fans still live with that damage when Steve Spurrier’s name comes up.

Fortunately, none of that is an issue for the current Georgia team. The currently players were 12 years old or younger in 1995. Richt and his staff (except for Bobo and Smart of course) were scattered across the nation. Only the 5th year seniors have gone to battle against a Spurrier team. While the Spurrier name surely brings recognition and respect, the current team does not have the Battered Fan Syndrome that comes from years and years of beatdowns.

That’s a very good thing. While they might not have the hatred and the zeal to run it up, they are able to approach this game with a much more level head than the fans. We want them to be fired up and motivated against a decent opening SEC test, but we don’t want the out of control emotions that come with rabid revenge on the mind. More importantly, they won’t get into a funk if they find themselves behind. Georgia overcame a 16-0 deficit in Columbia last year. Hopefully they won’t find themselves in that position again, but they’re much less likely to pack it in than a team that had lost years in a row to South Carolina.

Another storyline making the rounds is the myth that South Carolina always plays Georgia close. That might be the case in Columbia, but it’s not in Athens. In the past ten years, only the 2001 South Carolina win has been a close game in Athens. 1995, 1997, 1999, 2003 – all big Georgia wins.

Post The Big Game

Wednesday August 24, 2005

In a big game that people figure to be a close battle, the intangibles that might give one team a slight advantage get analyzed to death. My favorite is the weather – how will Boise St. come off the polar icecap and react to a summer afternoon in Saharan Africa Georgia?

But one thing I think is being overlooked is the big game factor. Some in the Bronco camp, even the athletic director, are pointing to this game as the biggest in the history of the Boise State program. That program, looking for further legitimacy against an SEC power, is staking a lot on this game. It could be a huge boost towards a BCS at-large bid and all the spoils that come with it. Boise is no lightweight. They won’t be intimidated by Georgia; they’ve played teams from major conferences recently and won some. They played an outstanding Louisville team very close last season. They’ve beaten Oregon State. They’ve faced and dispatched respectable mid-major programs and are ready to move beyond that point.

So if Boise isn’t going to be rattled by facing the #13 team in the nation, how does the intangible of the big game come into play?

Building this game up to the biggest in program history could be a big emotional motivator for the Broncos, but it also comes at a risk. Following the season-ending loss to Louisville last season, a loss to Georgia to begin this season would go a long way to chop down Boise’s claims for legitimacy and attention despite many, many wins. This is a huge opportunity on a national stage, and it’s not one they’ve seen before. Even a somewhat major bowl matchup against Louisville did not have the focus and significance placed on it that this game does. Boise’s attempt to come into an SEC stadium in front of 92,000 fans against an opponent with the tradition, history, and recent success of Georgia and claim equal footing is a huge story.

Big games are becoming routine for Georgia, and they’ve started winning more than a few lately. Veterans still with the team have played for conference titles, played in some of the most difficult settings in college football, and have faced the situations of coming back and defending leads against some very good teams. While it’s shaky to predict the emotional state of a bunch of college students, what is a huge game for a team like Boise is something Georgia faces at least five times a season. As recent SEC champions and a Top 10 program, Georgia is used to wearing the bulls-eye and getting the best effort from opponents looking to knock off a top team.

There has been a not-so-subtle shift in the stakes for Boise St. Instead of taking the typical role of the upstart underdog with nothing to lose, they now have a great deal invested in this game. With that comes a different kind and different level of pressure. With some very good years behind them and a decent preseason ranking for 2005, Boise is expected not just to push Georgia but to play an extremely competitive game with the possibility of earning the win.

It’s a credit to Boise State that they’re in this situation. They are not the usual early season cupcake. Much like Gonzaga on the basketball side, they’ve moved well beyond being Cinderella and just hoping to compete with good teams. They now approach these games against major conference programs, few as they might be for a WAC program, with every intention and expectation of winning them. But with those expectations come consequences when you don’t win. No one is going to give you credit anymore for a valiant effort or hanging close.

In sports, you most often see this intangible come up when talking about the postseason. Teams that have players with playoff experience are generally considered to have the upper hand over a team making its first trip, talent being equal. The spotlight, the distractions, and the pressure when certain situations arise can derail a good team not used to one game meaning so much. At the top of college football, a single loss can dash the hopes and goals of an entire season, and Boise certainly has those lofty aspirations this season. Having that – what it means to fail in the big game – in the back of your mind only adds to the pressure of the situation.

The stakes for Georgia are well-known. Everyone knows the wrath and scorn that awaits a ranked SEC team that dares to lose a game.

Putting such a label as the biggest in program history on this game sets Boise State up for quite a breakthrough if they can pull the upset in Athens. Everyone is talking about what a win would mean for the Broncos. “It’ll kind of set the tone for the way our season’s going to go. If we can run the table like we did last year, unless you get an Oklahoma and Southern Cal undefeated like last year, I don’t see how you could keep us out of the national championship,” dreamed quarterback Jared Zabransky.

But the same label also means something else. If everything – five 10+ win seasons since 1999 – has been building towards this moment and this game in Athens, what does it mean if you come up short?

Post Running backs

Thursday August 18, 2005

For some reason, I find myself really scrutinizing the running game. UGASports.com named them the top unit in the SEC. Some are already looking for a nickname for the unit. It’s pretty much a given that Georgia’s backfield is loaded. It’s not that I doubt the talent of anyone involved, but the running game is held up as something we can lean on this season, and that deserves a closer look.

Taking into account the four Richt years, the running game has been hit or miss. The 2001 season saw an injured Musa Smith and an ineffective Jasper Sanks eventually give way to an amazing finish by Verron Haynes. Haynes’ performances against Ole Miss, Tech, and Boston College not only earned him a shot at the NFL, but they also eased concerns that Richt wouldn’t run the ball or feed a hot tailback. The end of 2001 set the table for 2002. A healthy Musa Smith and a veteran offensive line produced Georgia’s first 1,000+ yard season for a tailback since 1992, and Musa eclipsed that mark easily.

In 2003, the running game slipped somewhat. A new offensive line and the lack of a feature back put much more of the offense onto the capable shoulders of David Greene. The Dawgs started 2003 with Tony Milton and Michael Cooper as the backs. Tyson Browning also saw some time but was much more of a situational back. 2003 also saw the emergence of freshman Kregg Lumpkin. Lump turned a lot of heads in Knoxville and had a strong performance in the bowl game, but the legacy of the 2003 running game was defined by the lack of a single 100+ yard game from a tailback. But Lumpkin’s forward momentum was stopped cold on the first day of fall practice in 2004 by a season-ending ACL injury.

Danny Ware made sure in the very first game that the 100-yard mark wouldn’t be the unreachable upper limit for tailbacks in 2004. A Georgia back ran for over 100 yards in seven games in 2004. The freshman duo of Thomas Brown and Ware were up to the job, and a maturing line helped matters. Though the performance of the freshmen backs was far and away the story of the running game in 2004, two negatives helped to shape how the story would end. First was the injuries. Both Ware and Brown missed playing time with a variety of injuries. Ware had to leave both the South Carolina and Kentucky games after great starts. Brown’s hamstring delayed his debut. Then came the fumbles. Georgia’s 14 fumbles lost in 2004 were second-worst in the SEC, and two games with multiple fumbles by Ware gave Brown the opportunity to finish out the season as the starter. Brown had a decent game at Auburn, but he (and much of the Georgia offense) was shut down against Georgia Tech. Brown finished the season on a high note in the Outback Bowl with a touchdown run and a critical late-game conversion which enabled Georgia to run out the clock for the win.

So now we come to 2005. For the first time in a while, the offensive line has a couple of seniors. Lumpkin has finally been cleared for full-speed practice. Ware has changed how he holds the ball to address the fumbles, and he too is healthy. Brown is still one of the strongest guys on the team pound-for-pound and looks to be the starter.

Even with all of these pieces coming into place, the accolades for the running game comes mostly from its future potential. All of the three backs have had very, very good moments. But Dawg fans are still waiting for someone other than Musa Smith to break the “Jasper Line” – the 900 yards earned by Jasper Sanks in 1999 which still stands as the second-highest season rushing total for a Bulldog running back since 1992. Thomas Brown came close last year. For he and any of the others to distinguish themselves and challenge the totals of Hearst and Musa Smith, there are a few things that have to happen:

  • Can the three-headed monster stay healthy? All missed some games as freshmen.
  • Can the line lead the way consistently? The OL showed us something against a very good Wisconsin defensive line, but the Georgia Tech performance was rough. “Veteran” and “experienced” doesn’t in and of itself mean “good”.
  • Can the passing game keep defenses honest? Coach Richt has been candid about the need to find a playmaker at receiver so that the Dawgs can go over the top when defenses focus on the run. Shockley to Bailey was pretty effective at times in limited action last season. Leonard Pope is another proven weapon. However they manage it, the Dawgs must find a way to keep safeties and linebackers thinking about the pass and get these tailbacks into the open field. It’s funny to suggest that the prospects of the running game rest on a receiver, but that’s the way it is – a weakness or imbalance would help keep the Georgia running game in low gear.
  • Can the backs be an effective weapon in the passing game? Auburn’s unit last year is the obvious model. With the exception of Tyson Browning’s nice touchdown on a screen pass against South Carolina last year, screens and other passes to the backs were generally recipes for disaster right up to the end of the Outback Bowl.

I’m as excited as anyone about seeing what this running game can do. As Coach Richt has noted, Georgia has been led in rushing by a freshman for two seasons. Finally the backs getting the bulk of the carries will have a bit of experience and age under their belts with some quality results to show for it. Georgia fans have been teased for nearly five seasons – as soon as Haynes and Smith got going, their eligibility ran out. Cooper fought injuries during the season. Lumpkin got hopes up with a good bowl game and then an injury put his career on hold. Ware and Brown had no problems getting to 100 yards – sometimes. The Bulldog Nation is salivating over the prospects of a 1,400-yard back or a thunder-and-lightning duo…the thought of a dominating trio seems too good to be true. Will it turn out that way? Georgia’s success on the ground is not a given – several of the things listed above need to happen first, and those questions have implications across the entire offense.

Post Unfortunately, the NCAA got it right this time

Friday August 12, 2005

No, I’m not talking about the ridiculous ruling about Native American mascots and nicknames. Go Noles.

Our story started this week with the news that a gentleman would be paying his own way from his contractor’s position in Iraq to see his son, who plays football for Boise State, play against UGA in Athens. A few enterprising DawgVenters with their intentions in the right place set the wheels in motion to subsidize or even cover the cost of the trip.

Enter the big, bad NCAA. They decree that DawgVenters picking up the tab would be an improper benefit to the family member of a student-athlete, even if that student-athlete is on the other team.

This is a situation where you have to look past the emotionalism of the moment and let the rules work. This basic rule – no benefits to student-athletes or their families – cannot be guided by exceptions. Even though his kid plays for the other team, the father would be receiving a (quite substantial) benefit because of his son’s status as a student-athlete. What if he has another son considering where to play college ball? What if a real Boise State booster or two snuck a check into the DawgVent’s effort? Those hypotheticals aren’t true this time, but they’re other reasons for the rule – it’s impossible to control each and every exceptional case, and so the common sense baseline is to allow none of it. Abstracted out a little bit, it speaks directly to the amateur (nonprofessional) status of his son.

An emotional case could be made to provide benefits to families of many players and prospects. Handicaps…exceptional service to the community and nation…single parents sacrificing…abject poverty – these circumstances if made public would stir many of us to action. And under the rules and the spirit of amateurism that the NCAA struggles to maintain, it would be wrong to do so. Allowing those benefits on a case-by-case basis makes the application of a cornerstone rule even more arbitrary than it already seems to be and would make this rule and principle basically worthless.

The fact that the gentleman is working in Iraq and is making this one trip just to see his son play ball in the greatest setting in college football makes for a very touching and inspirational story. The NCAA, which ususally desrves the criticism it gets, must say “no” and of course is set up to look like the jerk. For the trashing they justly receive in many cases, they deserve some recognition this time for sticking by a difficult, unpopular, and – in the end – correct decision.

Post …and that’s OUR Dawgs!

Friday August 12, 2005

While Ann Althouse is claiming “UW” for her University of Wisconsin, we need to correct one more thing that her Husky corespondent missed. “Dawgs” refers to the school with the top mascot in the nation – Georgia. Saying “Go Dawgs!” requires a Southern accent. Otherwise, it comes out with a Midwestern “dahgs” or Lawngyland “dowahgs” or plain ol’ “dogs”.

As they are the occasional New Year’s Day victim on our path to a 10-win season, we’ll support the Badgers’ exclusive use of “UW”.

And while we’re at it, a note to our friends to the east:

  • USC means Southern Cal
  • Carolina means North Carolina

Post Strange quote

Wednesday July 27, 2005

It’s the time of year for the preseason media blitzes, and as usual, there are some gems coming out.

“I get excited every time I think about going up to play at Clemson,” said Eric Winston, the 6-foot-7, 312-pound all-America candidate left tackle for the Miami Hurricanes. “I’m told it’s the biggest stadium in the ACC — Death Valley — that they have great fans who make a lot of noise; I think all of us are excited about it; that’s why you come to play at Miami, to be in situations where you’re on the road in front of 80,000 people.”

Um…so to play in front of 80,000 you choose a school that will only see 80,000 for road games? He sure as hell won’t be playing in front of 80,000 at the Orange Bowl. “Playing at Cameron Indoor really gets me going, so I think I’ll go to Wake Forest.”

Post Five worn-out preseason memes

Monday July 25, 2005

1) Tennessee 1998

Some Georgia fans bring up the transition from Peyton Manning to Tee Martin almost as proof that Georgia won’t miss a beat in the post-Greene era. OK, the Vol run to the title in 1998 and many other instances before and since showed that life can go on or even get better after a superstar leaves. Can we leave it there? If I never hear another comparison to the 1998 Vols, my blood pressure will be much better off. Shockley and Martin have skin color in common, and that’s about it.

If you want something from Tennessee 1998 to think about, look to the other side of the ball. Those Vols came into Athens and held a sky-high Georgia offense to three points. That’s championship football. Does Georgia have anything resembling the defense that Al Wilson led into Athens and into the postseason that year?

2) Relishing the underdog role

There is a line of thinking that Georgia’s likely preseason ranking in the low-teens is somehow an advantage. There is somehow less pressure on Georgia and they can make some noise in the underdog role.

Don’t buy it.

To begin with, underdogs are usually underdogs for a reason – you’re not as good as the favorite. But overlooking that obvious point, let’s look at the realities of this season. The Tennessee and Florida games are the only instances where Georgia might be an underdog. OK…possibly Auburn as well. Tennessee will be hungry to end a two-game home losing streak to Georgia. Florida will be very focused on showing that the new coach can dominate Georgia as well as the past couple of coaches have. We are past the 15th anniversary of Georgia’s last consecutive wins over the Gators. Entering those huge games as underdogs is somehow supposed to be a good thing?!?! The Vols are going to think less of Georgia and the Hobnail Boot and Sean Jones because the Dawgs’ ranking is slightly lower?

I guess some people are just gunshy. Georgia is not the kind of program that “sneaks up” on an opponent from the underdog role – there are too many rivalries on the schedule for that to happen. Teams like Northwestern or TCU come out of nowhere and surprise people. It’s not a good thing to make a run at a title or even the BCS coming from so far behind. A top program like Georgia, even in a “down” or “rebuilding” year should strive to be the hunted. All of this is silly anyway – no team with three straight 10+ win seasons is going under anyone’s radar.

3) Georgia will just run over people this year.

I don’t doubt the talent in the backfield or on the line, but in this case it’s all Missouri: Show Me. Show me the attitude and will to run the ball that prevailed at the end of the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Show me the ability to stay healthy and turnover-free in the backfield. Show me the next fullback ready to get nasty and lead the way. Show me a line that is not only not a liability anymore but is a strength. Show me a passing game that prevents a defense from focusing on stopping the run.

What’s led to the optimism about the running game is the flashes that were shown by Lumpkin, Ware, and Brown over the past two seasons. Who couldn’t be excited about the way Thomas Brown closed the Outback Bowl? But a dominant running game is built on consistency, and Georgia hasn’t come close in a while. The Dawgs were able to run the ball to hold off Wisconsin and their NFL-quality defensive line, but they couldn’t get out of reverse against Georgia Tech. As soon as one back heated up, an injury or the long offseason has cooled him down.

The pieces seem to be in place, but several big things must change if the running game will be a strategic weapon for the Dawgs. It can’t just be measured by yardage. The effective running team must be confident enough to use the ground game at key situations and remain with it even if early success is slow to come.

4) Boise St. has no idea what a summer night in Athens is like

This ballgame is not being played in the Iraqi desert or even Waycross, and Boise State players don’t have to dodge polar bears during summer workouts. An early September evening in Athens could very likely be warm and sticky and even stifling. Both teams will have to deal with the conditions, and both will be practicing in plenty of heat this summer. Besides – if we’re counting on oppressive heat to turn the game…there are bigger concerns.

5) Increasing academic standards

All handwringing to the contrary, there has not been a single instance where a football player was denied admission who legitimately met NCAA minimum standards and who has kept his nose clean. There certainly have been some bizarre and unfortunately very public cases over the past couple of years. Still, every report about the several signees who will not enroll at UGA this fall seems to mention athletics and football in particular faced with a “climate of increasing academic standards”. That’s nice, and entrance standards at UGA certainly are increasing for the average applicant, but the entrance standard for a scholarship athlete remains the same: meet the NCAA minimums, do so honestly and legitimately, and stay out of serious trouble in high school.

Post Hilarious R&B Editorial

Thursday July 14, 2005

The admission of student-athletes at UGA has been in the news lately because five signees from the incoming football class won’t be enrolling at the University (this year, anyway). There has been a misconception that Georgia’s academic standards for student-athlete admission are somehow higher than at other SEC schools. There has also been some ridiculous backslapping going on congratulating Georgia for upholding “academic integrity”. The Red and Black chimes in today with the best example yet of this self-congratulatory nonsense.

In late spring, former recruits Darius Dewberry and Brandon Sesay were denied admission …because they failed to meet NCAA academic requirements. The fact that they could not get into the University regardless of athletic skill proved a point: academics matter.

No, the point it proved was that these two did not meet minimum NCAA requirements. They would not have been able to play ball at Stanford, Auburn, nor anywhere in between.

Was the University simply using them as an example, only to let other subpar student athletes in under the radar?

What!? Dewberry and Sesay didn’t even make it to the point where UGA admissions would have had a say. Congratulating Georgia for turning them down is a bit like congratulating United States border authorities for not allowing someone into the country who was kept from boarding his plane in Berlin.

We got our answer when Jamar Chaney, Corey Moon and Jamar Bryant also could not gain admission for various academic reasons.

Again, both Moon and Bryant had problems with the minimum NCAA requirements. Chaney’s case is the only instance where the University’s Faculty Admissions Committee came into play.

What follows though takes the cake:

Yes, we want skilled and talented athletes on our teams, but we want them to measure up to the academic standards of this University as well. With academic standards improving every year, it is reasonable to expect recruits to meet the same standards as the rest of the student body.

Wow. Is the Red and Black under the impression that those student-athletes who made it in come anywhere close to the same academic standards applied to the rest of the freshman class? Do they believe that the average test scores of this football class, unlike all others before it, will lie above the bottom of the lower quartile for the whole freshman class? They’re not that out of touch, are they?

It’s amazing. The Red and Black is not alone in complimenting UGA on their academic integrity based on the fact that these five won’t be suiting up for the Dawgs, but this is the most over-the-top case I’ve seen. The rest of the class prepares for life in Athens, many of whom have three-digit SAT scores, and not a word is said.

The fact is that Georgia will admit any student-athlete that legitimately meets NCAA minimum standards and does not have questions of character. They will even admit partial qualifiers (see Jermaine Phillips, Martrez Milner, and Greg Blue as three recent examples), though the program is limited to two partial qualifiers at any one time. It’s worthy to note that these “subpar” partial qualifiers are now 2-2 in graduating from the University.

It’s clear that the Red and Black editorialist has not thought through the consequences of expecting “recruits to meet the same standards as the rest of the student body.” No Division 1 football program, even Stanford or Duke or any other academic powerhouse, has an average test score for incoming football players anywhere near the average for the rest of the class. Even Stanford’s freshman football class would have an average test score well below the average UGA freshman.

If someone is going to make these ridiculous platitudes praising academic standards, at least be honest and admit what it would do to the landscape of college sports. Many alumni fully acknowledge and can live with the lowering of admissions standards for incoming athletes. Those gushing praise over the 2005 “stand” taken by UGA to deny admission to these five players either don’t understand the NCAA’s minimum standards, don’t understand the academic credentials of most of the rest of the class, or are so hung up on Georgia’s academic standing that they are willing to seize upon this news as proof of integrity and standards. In any case, the posturing comes across as ridiculous and unintentionally quite funny.

Because even the best athletes should at least be passing students.

Let’s finish up an editorial on academics with a sentence fragment.

Post Kelin Johnson

Thursday July 14, 2005

UGASports profiles Kelin Johnson today. Not many fans knew who he was, and even some recruitniks questioned why the Dawgs would want a lesser-known safety from Florida. No one knows how good a safety he’ll be, though that interception at Kentucky was pretty (and nearly a touchdown). But what everyone does know is that #30, whoever he was, was in on most every special teams tackle last season, and there was usually a nice hit involved. So we have a guy that can get down the field quickly and get quality hits on the speedy, elusive types that are put on kick returns. Not bad traits for someone looking for work in the defensive backfield. Special teams success doesn’t automatically lead to a spot on the two-deep elsewhere – just ask Ryan Davis. Still, Johnson is hoping to turn his freshman success into a starting job and is competing with Tra Battle for that starting role opposite Greg Blue.

Coach Richt and staff have a nice history of turning lesser-known defensive propsects into success stories. Thomas Davis was the biggest. Tim Jennings has beaten the “too small” rap to become a four-year contributor and multi-year starter. Is Johnson going to be another?

Post Ely-Kelso Earns Scholarship

Wednesday June 15, 2005

Good to see punter Gordon Ely-Kelso rewarded with a scholarship. He’s obviously earned it, much like Billy Bennett capturing the placekicking job a few years ago. Ely-Kelso joins placekicker Andy Bailey on scholarship, though Bailey’s status as a starter isn’t as stable. If Brandon Coutu continues to press Bailey for the kicking job, Coach Richt may face the decision of leaving a scholarship player on the bench in favor of a walk-on. Given Richt’s historically stingy use of scholarships for special teams, it’s unlikely that a third specialist would be put on scholarship.

I believe OL Ryan Schnetzer has earned a scholarship for his senior season. Schnetzer was a walk-on, but he was pressed into duty over the past two seasons, especially in 2003 where he started two games. Georgia’s offensive line has been thin since 2003, and it was fortunate that Schnetzer was able to contribute alongside the few scholarship linemen who were able to play. Though the line situation is better entering 2005 and Schnetzer’s playing time might be diminished, the scholarship is well-earned for the service he’s already given to the program.