Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Recovery comes before rebuilding

Monday October 16, 2006

Andy Johnston had it right in Sunday’s Banner-Herald. You’re shocked that Georgia lost to Vanderbilt, but you’re not surprised. The Dawgs had been flirting with this possibility all season, and it finally caught up with them against the SEC opponent against whom a defeat traditionally indicates your arrival at rock bottom.

The praise of Vanderbilt began as soon as the game ended. Georgia coaches and players graciously gave credit to the Commodores for "making plays". Everyone pointed out how Vandy wasn’t as bad as their record indicated and had come really close to such a breakthrough win against other teams. That’s fine, but I also wonder why opposing coaches aren’t crediting Georgia for making plays or out-scheming them or taking it to them. Vanderbilt is a well-coached team with playmakers on both sides of the ball who came up big and a young quarterback starting to make his mark. So what is Georgia?

Georgia is not rebuilding, as Mark Richt confirmed on Sunday. Building implies construction, progress, and improvement. Instead, the Bulldogs have seemed willing to blast the foundation each week and start over. Back before the Tennessee game I wrote, "The offense in particular seems to be frozen over decisions that seem much more appropriate for August than October." Here we are going into Game 8, and the same questions persist. The starting quarterback might change again. The unfortunate injury to Thomas Brown might be the only thing that gives some sort of direction to the running back position. Every time a receiver seems poised to take over a game, he fades back into the shadows. You can’t build – or even rebuild – on top of that.

Coach Richt seems poised to make an announcement on that front today and announce some sort of plan for the quarterback position. Will that be the panacea for all of Georgia’s problems? Not at all, and I don’t expect that kind of effect. If Matt Stafford is named the starting quarterback, and I mean in a more permanent sense than what we’re used to, it might at least offer some younger players a chance to lead this team.

Questioning leadership is an easy target for fans because it’s more or less subjective. Poor results? Must be a lack of leadership. Leadership is a vague concept, but usually it comes down to a context of trust. We trust someone to catch a touchdown pass. We trust them to make a key block or a tackle or a deflection. We trust them to show up with great effort in practice and the weight room. We trust them to show up for class and stay out of trouble. Often upperclassmen become leaders by virtue of their experience, but we frequently see younger players in leadership roles because their teammates discover early on that they can depend on them to make plays.

I think what fans are really asking for is reliable playmakers, and there don’t seem to be many in the ranks of the upperclassmen. The senior at quarterback can’t carry the offense. The senior at tight end still struggles with drops. The senior at defensive end hasn’t been heard from in games. The senior at offensive tackle is a loose cannon. Postgame quotes from senior Ray Gant help to illustrate what is lacking from the upperclassmen on the team.

"We weren’t ready for the challenge that they brought to us, and by the time we did realize it was going to be a fight, it was too little, too late," he said.

That says a ton. Georgia wasn’t ready…for Vanderbilt. After losing to Tennessee and barely surviving two earlier games against unranked opponents, they couldn’t get ready and motivated to respond. Gant continues,

"I thought it was a wrap. I thought it was a wrap," Gant said. "Emotions were high. I just knew it was over from there. Somebody had to make a play, we did it, and I just knew it was over. After that, I don’t know what happened. I guess we melted down at the end."

I’ll be honest and say I also felt a great sense of relief after Taylor’s interception. The Dawgs were back on top and had the crowd and momentum back. But there were over nine minutes remaining in the game. Georgia’s defense hadn’t done much before that interception to stop Vandy in over two quarters. It was far from over. The lack of a killer instinct and no purpose to finish at the end wasn’t just the story for the defense. The offense had a chance to seal the win but couldn’t even after a facemask penalty bailed them out. The coaches played for the field goal and opened the door for Vanderbilt’s winning drive. Offense, defense, special teams, coaching – it was a true team effort when Gant says "we melted down at the end."

So is that leadership? Coaching? Talent? Haitian voodoo? A little of everything?

Coach Richt hesitates to use the "rebuilding" label because there’s still quite a bit of this season left. I’m not ready to write the year off. Even if it’s not a championship season, the current state of the team doesn’t have to be how this team is remembered. "When you start talking rebuilding, you start telling the seniors their year is not that important," Richt said. That’s true, but their senior year is not everything. I’m not one to join the "fire/bench everyone" mobs, but a loss to Vanderbilt (no matter how much you build them up) by a ranked team is usually a sign that something’s wrong and a signal to make some adjustments. The size and scope of those adjustments is up to Richt who has probably earned the most trust of anyone involved in this story. The indication that we might finally be moving past this paralyzing starter-of-the-week loop is a good first step.

PS…I’m not sure if I’ll watch the CSS rebroadcast on Tuesday, but I’m fairly certain that analyst Buck Belue won’t make as much of a horse’s ass of himself as this Miami guy did.

Comments are closed.