Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post SEC Spring Meetings news

Wednesday May 31, 2006

Marc Weiszer in today’s ABH has a nice rundown of news from the SEC spring meetings going on this week in Destin. A few comments on each item…

  • It’s obvious that the drums are beating louder for the indoor football facility. The relatively minor upgrades to the Butts-Mehre facility are all necessary but are in a different class of magnitude. As the beautiful basketball and gymnastics facility takes shape within sight of the football offices, the drive to make the indoor facility our next major capital project will only increase. It’s interesting to see Richt back off his vision of the facility a bit. Where earlier reports had more of an “all-or-nothing” tone for a grandiose football office and practice facility that would also house indoor track events, Richt concedes now that “some things may be done in phases”. Is that a concession to move things along?
  • Georgia can’t seem to ever get an off week before the Florida game, but at least the SEC has ensured that no team will have the advantage of a week off before the SEC title game.
  • There was only one change among the SEC’s football and basketball coaches this year. You have to get a chuckle out of Phil Fulmer’s comment on that news. “That’s good,” he said. “I hope it’s the same thing next year.” LOL. I’ll bet you do, Phil. If there’s one high-profile SEC coach starting to feel some heat, it’s Fulmer.
  • The mystery conference for the SEC basketball challenge is a poorly kept secret. Bring on the Big East. Better than the ACC-Big 10 Challenge? That would be something. At any rate, such a matchup would be another reason why the basketball regular season is so underrated. You’ll never see such a group of quality nonconference regular season games in football.
  • Great to see that the falling-out-of-bounds timeout is on the way out. This practice was the “intentional grounding” of basketball – a bogus way of turning around a bad situation. Make plays within the white lines.

Post RIP Jody Friedman

Wednesday May 31, 2006

This is heartbreaking. Jody was such a good guy as anyone around the 2001 team will remember, but what really won the fans over was his family. They were truly wonderful people who really soaked in and gave plenty back to the unique flavor of a college baseball community.

We’re sure that Jody’s memory will take its rightful place in the Athens regional this weekend.

Post Diamond Dawgs get ready for regional

Tuesday May 30, 2006

What a season. From midseason desperation just to qualify for the SEC Tournament to a national #7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Diamond Dawgs have given us a very enjoyable spring. Georgia worked hard to earn the right to host the regional, so I hope the stands are packed to reward the Dawgs with a good homefield advantage. “I wasn’t expecting us to see a national seed because they usually stiff us over every year,” said Joey Side in the ABH. That’s true, so let’s make the most of the opportunity to have the home field all the way to Omaha.

A few observations on the upcoming tournament:

  • Georgia and Tech for once would not meet before the CWS. Both are national seeds (Tech received the #8 seed, rightfully after Georgia) and would host their own super regional if they advance to that stage. I have mixed feelings – it was very satisfying in 2001 and 2004 to send the annually overrated Yellow Jackets home.
  • Florida State is the #2-seed in the Athens regional. The FSU program has a strong baseball tradition, and their visit to Athens in 2001 for the super regional was memorable. The raucous Georgia crowd caught FSU’s attention, and hopefully some of the same will be waiting for them this weekend.
  • It’s easy to dismiss unknown programs like Sacred Heart and look ahead to sexier big-name opponents like FSU, but all Georgia has to do is look back to the beginning of their late-season winning streak and the loss to Western Carolina to know how much the name on the jersey is worth. All it takes is one hot pitcher to take control of a game, and most teams good enough to make the NCAA Tournament have that potential.
  • Georgia won regionals in 2001 and 2004 by going through the loser’s bracket. Hopefully that won’t be necessary this year. The pitching staff was stretched very thin in the SEC Tournament, and it would be nice to do things the easy way for once.
  • Georgia needs Mickey Westphal back. Dating back to the Auburn series, Westphal hasn’t fooled many batters and has caused Georgia to dip into the bullpen early. Much was made during the season of his injury-motivated transition from a power pitcher to finesse and location, and hopefully some unfamiliar opponents will help him recover some of that midseason success.
  • I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that Jonathan Wyatt had passed Joey Side in batting average by the end of the season. Wow. Just a few years ago, Wyatt was purely a defense and speed substitution, and any offense was gravy (making his legendary home run against Tech in 2004 that much more of a great story). Now he’s almost an even-money threat to get on base, and as a leadoff man that is pure gold.
  • It’s also great to see Matt Dunn batting well. With Jason Jacobs on fire in the 6 spot, Peisel a consistently solid eigth batter, Dunn getting some hits makes the bottom of the order rather potent and turns Wyatt and Side into big RBI threats with their high averages.
  • Speaking of Dunn, if Virginia and Georgia both win their respective regionals, Dunn’s Dawgs will play host to his former team in the super regional.

“This was as tough an environment as I’ve ever played in,” Seminoles coach Mike Martin said in 2001. “We ain’t ever coming back up here again.”

Wrong, Mike. We’ll see you this weekend.

Post Redcoats in China – photos

Monday May 22, 2006

The Redcoats are currently on a two-week tour of China and have done everything from call the dawgs atop the Great Wall to enjoy rockstar treatment at all of their tour stops.

The AJC has a short photo gallery up from their stop in Chengdu.

Post Notre Dame figures it out

Monday May 22, 2006

It’s somewhat satisfying to see Notre Dame figure out what the SEC has known for a little while now. But it’s a bit sad as well as it’s an acknowledgement that, yes, this is what the great game of college football will look like without drastic changes.

Notre Dame’s approach in this new era of “barnstorming” is pretty clever. They will play some mid-majors in fertile recruiting territory and move the games to larger venues where the Notre Dame brand recognition will allow them more fans. Hmmm…Jacksonville, Orlando, New Orleans, and Dallas. Not much prep talent in those parts, is there? So Notre Dame wins all around…they get a game on their schedule that’s a likely win, they play it in a nearby neutral professional-quality venue that allows their national fan base to outnumber the smaller local following for the “home” team, and they play the game in the backyard of some of the nation’s best high school prospects. Oh, and they even pocket the gate receipts. My hat’s off to them.

As much as bowl-system purists will complain, the reality is that there is just too much at stake to pay much attention to emotional and hypothetical appeals to play a tougher-than-necessary schedule. Such things are nice for those of us playing offseason parlor games and making lists of the greatest schedules ever, but we are not those whose jobs depend on win-loss records, titles, and postseason money. Notre Dame obviously recognizes this reality, and their scheduling will reflect it.

Is it bad for the fans? Of course it is. I’ve admitted that. In fact, I’d expect those most upset by this “red flag” as CFR calls it to be at the forefront of those pushing for change because the current system of incentives is incompatible with the kinds of schedules we’d like to see. I’m glad to see it. When a program like Notre Dame takes a stand on this issue, people pay attention.

Something has to give.

Post Hoping Hoover doesn’t suck

Monday May 22, 2006

The SEC baseball tournament begins this Wednesday as always in Hoover, Ala. Georgia will open on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. (ET) against sixth-seeded Vanderbilt. Georgia will start Mickey Westphal, and Vandy will likely turn to their ace, 6’6″ fireballer David Price. Georgia beat Price 9-7 in Nashville earlier in the season.

Generally speaking, there aren’t many more useless things than a conference baseball tournament, particularly in the SEC. The season has determined the conference champion. Most of the NCAA positioning has been settled. An SEC team that qualifies for Hoover as one of the top eight teams in the league has usually wrapped up an NCAA bid. The sixteen teams across the nation who will host a first-round NCAA regional have stood out well enough by this point.

What makes baseball different than, say, a basketball tournament is pitching. Fatigue is a factor in other sports, but only in baseball could you see your best player available for only part of a game once every three to five days. In a conference tournament, teams that advance any distance, especially those who have to fight back from the loser’s bracket, will spend a lot of pitchers. The problem is that the NCAA Tournament begins the very next week with its own potential double-elmination marathon.

Georgia’s recent history provides a good illustration. En route to their CWS trips in 2001 and 2004, Georgia won a combined ONE game in the SEC tournaments. Did Georgia have a poor team? Of course not – they were regular season conference champions and advanced to Omaha. But they placed the right relative importance on Hoover and didn’t last long. In the subsequent NCAA regionals, they needed every bit of pitching they could find as they had to survive double-elimination and come from behind to advance.

Are there benefits to winning or even advancing deep in the SEC Tournament? Maybe. Georgia is definitely a candidate to be one of the eight national seeds who would potentially host a two-team Super Regional prior to the College World Series. A good showing in the conference tournament might help that bid, but I’m skeptical. I think it’s clear that the SEC tournament is an eight-team crap shoot with eight teams who all approach the tournament with the same conservative eye towards the NCAA regionals. Winning it is nice, but I think it’s about as meaningless as not winning a single game.

Do I hope the Dawgs perform well in Hoover? Sure. They’ve never won the conference tournament, and it would be the one missing crown to add to several regular season titles, CWS appearances, and the national title. Will I be broken up if they’re done by Friday? Not at all.

Post Dawgs and Cats

Friday May 19, 2006

It’s impossible to do justice to last night’s Diamond Dawg win. Down 4-0 after 1, down 8-2 soon after. Perno was ejected. Down 9-4 in the 7th. Looks like the streak was over, and there would be no shame in losing to a good Kentucky team that hammered Mickey Westphal. I should have known better. Josh Morris erupted for two home runs and a game-changing grand slam in the 7th. Bobby Felmy, for the second consecutive Thursday, drove in the winning run. Joshua Fields left no doubt and mowed down the Cats in order in the 9th. This isn’t even remotely the same team that we saw in April.

There were a couple of questionable late decisions from the Kentucky dugout that helped:

  • Morris had a great day, and so Kentucky elected to intentionally walk him in the bottom of the eighth. By doing so, they loaded the bases and put the potential go-ahead run on second base. Sure enough, that runner on second scored the winning run on Bobby Felmy’s hit. Morris, even on his best days, is as likely to strike out as he is to hit one to Anderson, SC. Felmy is a steadier hitter and has a hitting streak of at least 11 games. While Kentucky might not have wanted to pitch to Morris, they could have at least made him look at some pitches to earn the walk – he doesn’t walk very often.
  • In the 9th, Kentucky pinch-hitted for a player who had gone 2-3 with 3 RBI. The pinch-hitter struck out.

Had this happened earlier in the season, this game might be remembered as a turning point. Now, this weekend, it’s a huge blow in a season-ending fight for the division title. Yankees-Red Sox stuff. Incredibly fun.

Perno discussing the Will & Grace finale with an umpire

Post Kentucky baseball series moved up a day

Wednesday May 17, 2006

There’s a lot at stake in Georgia’s final regular season baseball series this weekend against Kentucky, and a lot of people don’t seem to know that the series will be Thursday-Saturday instead of the usual Friday-Sunday. The SEC Tournament begins next week, so games are moved up a day to allow Sunday as an extra day of rest for the teams.

Game times are also different: Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 6:00 p.m., and Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

With a sweep, Georgia wins the SEC East and has a chance at the overall SEC title. Win two of three, and Georgia will likely finish second in the East and 3rd overall in the conference. Not bad at all considering how they began SEC play. Kentucky is a tough team, and they produce a lot of offense with the long ball.

Post SC kickoff time set for 7:45

Wednesday May 17, 2006

Whoever emerges as Georgia’s starting QB will quickly be thrown into the fire. Georgia’s second game at South Carolina will be a nationally-televised prime-time contest on ESPN at 7:45. As South Carolina and their fans are typically still high on preseason delusions until they lose to Georgia, it should be a wild environment.

As an aside, I’m thinking more and more that the Dawgs need a starting QB identified before the season opener. A nationally-televised night game in Columbia is no place to continue an audition, and the starter should get as much work in the Western Kentucky game as is necessary to have him ready for the conference opener.

As Toon Dawg on the DawgVent so well illustrates in these pictures, you’d want to play in the dark too if this were the scenic setting for your football program:

Columbia tailgating

Post The Georgia-Florida Gathering of Temperance and Togetherness

Tuesday May 16, 2006

Since Adam and Eve, the appeal of the forbidden fruit hasn’t changed. The best thing that can happen to an entertainer now is to have some authoritative stuffed shirt try to silence them, and acts from Elvis to Marilyn Manson have made successful careers out of cashing in on controversy.

So when UGA President Michael Adams put out a weak request that CBS drop references to the “World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, it was predictable that the outcome would be to give fresh legs to the previously-stale nickname for the Georgia-Florida game. I can’t recall seeing very much merchandise or many promotional items in Jacksonville in recent years using the name, but that’s all going to change thanks to Dr. Adams. Watch the explosion of t-shirts and banners and anything a merchant can slap the “WLOCP” name on this season.

The ABH wonders correctly just what would change if everyone did agree to drop the nickname. Nothing, of course. Fans would still enjoy a beach weekend. Students (shhhh…don’t tell) would still leave during the week to head down. And, yes, even a spirited foot-ball contest with patrons picnicking behind their automobiles would still take place. Call it what you’d like; I’ll still be on Amelia Island for a week with some fishing, beach time, and the Dawgs.

Why go after the Cocktail Party? After all, it’s just an unofficial nickname used by fans and media. Unlike the Oklahoma-Texas Red River Shootout (which recently decided to drop the “Shootout” part), there is no sponsorship, trademark, or involvement from either school, and we know there would never be official sanction for the Cocktail Party.

The answer is perception. UGA is fighting an overzealous war of perception right now, and athletics is an easy target and foil. The war of perception begins with phrasing the issue as a question of athletics versus academic priorities (stop me if you’ve heard this before). Why…you wouldn’t want to be the yokel who would take the side of athletics over academics, would you? This is such a successful tactic that even Florida AD Jeremy Foley has to bluster about Florida’s stance on the issue. Hrm, um, well…we too would never want our proud University to be associated with something so base as a cocktail party (aside from the stadium suites, of course).

The climate on the UGA campus now is reactionary when it comes to academic reputation. A critical observation last year that UGA students might not spend as much time at study as their peers added to the disgrace of the Cole/Harrick scandal has the academic leadership hypersensitive to any perception that classes are too easy or that academic excellence is not the highest priority for the University. It’s silly to have to make this clarification, but the presence of other priorities outside of the serious pursuit of education – even if indulgent and fun – does not make the University into a diploma mill, and the recognition and enjoyment of those other priorities are not contrary to high academic standards.

But UGA must keep up appearances, and that’s exactly what’s going on. Window-dressing. UGA has seen lots of this lately as folks fall over each other showing how serious they are about academics. There’s the Key – a publication showing the grade distribution for professors used by some to find easier classes and professors. Instead of asking the professor to stop handing out As like candy, UGA will just stop publication of the Key and obscure the information. Perception. Window-dressing. Then there’s Fall Break. Students for decades have headed south for the Georgia-Florida weekend, and the semester system made it possible in the late 1990s to time a short midterm break to coincide with the Florida game. But that too has been attacked because of the perception that the game is more important than attending classes. You’re going to have a Fall Break regardless, and you’d think that timing that break around an event that’s important to much of the University community would be a wise application of common sense, but to the academic leadership it’s just another endorsement of the party school image. More window-dressing.

Kept within the small scope of University minutiae like Fall Break, this perception battle might be successful. We all want UGA to have a shining reputation in everything it does. This Cocktail Party story has become a national joke though, and it illustrates perfectly how ridiculous this climate has become. Georgia’s academic leadership now has a perception problem of their own as they become the butt of this joke – not the guardians of academic integrity but rather a bunch of stuck-up sourpusses who make Doug Neidermeyer seem like a fun guy.

Last weekend, the University of Georgia had a record number of First Honor Graduates – those who completed their degrees with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Over 40 graduates earned this honor. Given the tougher and tougher requirements for admission to the University, we might expect and celebrate this outcome. The quality of student is just better now, but I’m waiting for someone to use the record number of perfect GPAs as another example of how loose academic standards are at UGA. That’s just how things are now on campus, and the insecure pursuit of approval from God-knows-whom is getting pathetic.

Post Evans up for a well-deserved contract extension

Monday May 15, 2006

From consistent academic performance to outstanding on-the-field accomplishments to rock-solid financial standing, I’d say the Georgia athletics program is rolling along just fine, and the leadership transition from Vince Dooley to Damon Evans has been a success. It’s good to read that Evans is working on a contract extension. If he could budget some cash in the future for student-athlete Drivers Ed, the program just might be spotless.

Post UGA vs. GT – who’s better at baseball?

Friday May 12, 2006

It’s tough to admit this, but I’d have to say that Tech is considered the better program over the long term. It has a lot to do with consistency. Tech has made every NCAA Tournament since the 1990s, and it’s news when Georgia can make it to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons. Tech typically begins the season ranked highly and never falls very far through the regular season. Whether they choke in the postseason or never quite put it together despite some incredible talent, they are at least still there every year. Georgia, admittedly, is not.

But head-to-head tells a different story. Georgia has a clear advantage in recent years. It’s not total domination, but it’s not a fluke either. Since 2001, Georgia is 13-8 against Tech. They are 10-6 in the regular season and 3-2 in the postseason. Georgia is 3-2-1 in regular season series and has twice eliminated Tech from the postseason.

2001: Georgia wins the season series 3-0. They eliminate Tech from the Athens regional with a convincing win en route to the College World Series.

2002: Tech wins the season series 2-1 with several close games. They then beat Georgia twice in the stifling heat of the Atlanta regional, eliminating the Dawgs from the NCAA Tournament. In the final game, Tech builds a big lead, and a late Georgia comeback falls just short. This is Tech’s best season against Georgia since 2001.

2003: Georgia sweeps the season series 2-0. No game is played in Athens – it was cancelled due to final exams. Georgia fails to make the postseason.

2004: Tech wins the season series 2-1. The Turner Field game is the rubber match, and Tech ends a big Georgia winning streak. The Dawgs get the last laugh in the postseason, sweeping Tech 2-0 in the NCAA Super-Regional in Atlanta. Jonathan Wyatt hits his first career home run in the second game to clinch the series. Georgia advances to the College World Series.

2005: The season series is split 1-1. Again, no game is played in Athens – this time because of rain.

2006: Georgia takes the season series 2-1. Each team wins big on its home field, and Georgia wins in 11 innings at Turner Field. Both teams seem likely to make the postseason, but it’s not clear yet if their paths will cross again.

There you have it. Aside from 2002, Georgia has been at the very least an even match for Tech lately.

Post It never gets old

Friday May 12, 2006

From Theron Sapp to Jonathan Wyatt, there’s a list of Georgia players who can do no wrong in our eyes after making a single play that led to a win over Georgia Tech. Last night, Bobby Felmy added his name to that list. Felmy, who has struggled from the plate for most of his senior season, came through with a double in the 11th inning against Georgia Tech at Turner Field that allowed Gordon Beckham to score from first with the winning run.

The Dawgs picked themselves up after a devastating ninth inning where an error and a home run allowed Tech to tie the game. But Bulldog reliever Stephen Dodson came in and shut down the Tech offense for the next three innings.

Apart from the fireworks in the 9th and 11th innings, there were two earlier situations that you could point to as reasons why Georgia won.

In the top of the fourth inning, Tech loaded the bases with no outs. That wasn’t a good thing, but Adam McDaniel buckled down on the mound to hold Tech to just one run on a sacrifice fly. Georgia just had a huge shot in the arm with Josh Morris’s home run in the bottom of the third, and they were close to losing control of the game the next inning. Escaping the 4th and 5th with the lead was key.

Then there was the 7th inning. For as many fundamental breakdowns as you see in the college game, the Georgia half of the 7th was a textbook lesson in offensive execution. Ryan Piesel led off the inning with a hit to center field. Tech was slow to field the ball, and Peisel alertly turned that hit into a double. Matt Dunn followed with a very nice sacrifice bunt. Everyone expected it, Tech was playing for the bunt, and Dunn saw some very difficult pitches to bunt. But he laid one down the third base side in perfect position to advance Peisel to third. With a runner on third, one out, and decent speed on the bases and at bat, it was the perfect situation for a suicide squeeze. Perno called the play at the right time, Peisel was nearly to home plate when the pitch came, and all Wyatt had to do was make sure the ball was fair and on the ground. It was a perfectly-executed series of plays that gave Georgia a very important insurance run.

Though there weren’t many hits, there were still some noteable performances. Morris’s home run in the third tied Georgia’s career home run record. Beckham had an RBI single in the first, scored on Morris’s home run in the third, and turned a leadoff walk into the winning run in the 11th. The best was the pitching. The patchwork group of young and old lasting an inning here, two there, and finally Dodson’s solid three innings at the end kept a decent Tech lineup from doing much damage.

This was a fun one – the streak runs to eight games, the Dawgs win a season series over a Top 10 team, and Tech gets their hearts ripped out just when they thought they had grabbed control of the game in the ninth. In any sport, it never gets old.

Post Memo to Tommy Bowden and Spurrier

Wednesday May 10, 2006

Best of luck recruiting the state of South Carolina, but just remember one thing: if Mark Richt and the Georgia program really wants a prospect from South Carolina, Georgia will get him.

The latest is linebacker Charles White who stood out at the Athens NIKE camp and receiver an offer shortly afterwards. Following such standouts as Prince Miller and Clifton Geathers from last season, the Dawgs are again off to a good start towards having the cream of the crop from the Palmetto State.

Post On the air!

Wednesday May 10, 2006

I’m a guest on this week’s edition of UGASports LIVE radio show, discussing football scheduling and defending my “do what the system rewards” approach.

If you’re not a regular listener to UGASports LIVE, check it out. It’s a two-hour long show put together by the guys who cover the Bulldogs and Bulldog recruiting for UGASports.com. And it’s free. This is a goldmine of information. You can also subscribe to it as a podcast via iTunes or directly using this RSS file.