Georgia’s brief scare with Orson Charles’s eligibility came and went quickly yesterday. Charles was put into a potentially bad situation by his former teammate and his high school coach, but he was alleged to have received nothing but a tour of an expensive home and a recruiting pitch from a booster. That’s a problem for Miami, but it has no impact on Orson’s eligibility since he signed elsewhere. Had he signed with the Hurricanes, his visit and contact with Nevin Shapiro would have been a much bigger issue.
With the eligibility scare past and Charles cleared, his relationship with Miami becomes more of a curiosity than a Pandora’s box. Why didn’t he end up signing with a school that he considered his favorite for much of the recruiting process? Miami’s recruiting of Charles is an interesting story, mainly for how it ends. Many of the links I’ll use here are behind the paywall, but you’ll get the gist of it. The short version is this: sometime in late 2008, Miami went from being Orson’s favorite to disappearing completely off the radar.
Miami was Orson’s favorite as early as the first updates on him in March of 2008. Though he mentioned several other schools, including Georgia, he did call Miami “my dream school.” He got his Miami offer at the end of March but made it clear that he wanted to wait and take his visits before deciding. Over the spring and summer, he made several trips to Miami but also got out to see other schools like FSU, Florida, and Georgia. Charles’s visit to Shapiro’s house took place after his junior year of high school.
After an unofficial visit to Miami in mid-August, Charles told Rivals.com that he “would put Miami ahead of everybody.” In fact, he was close to committing on the spot but held off. Charles continued to talk about Miami and his “real good relationship” with coach Joe Pannunzio through early November. (Pannunzio, currently director of football operations at Alabama, is one of the individuals named by Yahoo! Sports in their investigation of the Miami program.)
Things really began to change during that November-December 2008 period. The catalyst was the turbulent status of Hurricane QB Robert Marve, a friend and former teammate of Charles. Things went downhill for Marve in 2008, and he was in a fierce competition for the starting job with current Miami signal caller Jacory Harris. Marve was eventually suspended for the team’s bowl game for violation of team rules. Charles maintained as late as December 20th that Marve’s situation, while troubling, didn’t necessarily eliminate the Hurricanes from consideration. “[What happened with Robert] doesn’t really affect me,” Charles said. “It just keeps me guessing. I’m just going to talk to Marve and see what’s going on. But everybody is still in it.”
Subsequent events just after the bowl game only increased the uncertainty at Miami. Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix was let go just before the New Year. That seemed to be the last straw for Marve who decided to transfer. Miami coach Randy Shannon restricted Marve’s transfer options to any school outside the SEC, ACC, and the state of Florida.
Shannon’s treatment of Marve ended Miami’s chances with Charles. Robert Weiner, the high school coach of both Marve and Charles, unloaded on Shannon. According to the Miami Herald, Weiner said that no player of his would play for Shannon, and “Weiner said tight end Orson Charles…definitely won’t be attending Miami now.” Whether Weiner’s definitive statement about Charles came with Orson’s blessing is unknown, but that’s how things played out.
By the end of 2008, Miami was out of the picture. Charles stated that he had decided on his five official visits, and Miami was not among them. Now it’s often the case that a prospect won’t “waste” one of his limited official visits on a favorite nearby school that he’s visited unofficially several times. That didn’t happen here; it looks as if Miami really had been eliminated by that time. The events at Miami certainly finalized things between the Hurricanes and Orson Charles, but it’s unclear whether Charles had begun to change his mind much earlier. A Rivals.com article posted around the same time as Nix’s departure and Marve’s transfer decision had already annoited Georgia as the new “team to beat” for Charles.
Orson’s recruiting process ended up going beyond Signing Day, but he never really wavered from the five schools he named as his official visit destinations shortly after the beginning of 2009. Georgia, FSU, Florida, USC, and Tennessee were his finalists. Eventually Florida State and then Florida were eliminated, and he announced his decision for Georgia over the Vols and the Trojans.
Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist known for, among other things, having a strange preoccupation with China’s authoritarian model of government. Wouldn’t it be great, he asks wistfully, if, just for one day, we could bypass all of the annoying politics and “authorize the right solutions” for our nation? It’s not such a strange notion, actually. How many of us have had a great idea that would solve everything if only the stupid people would do things our way, the right way?
You don’t have to look much further than the topic of a college football playoff to find this at work among sports fans. My idea is so simple and would make everyone three trillion dollars, but the stupid, evil, greedy conferences aren’t smart enough to realize it. If only there were someone who could make them fall in line.
The college football punditry is in this mode now. Blutarsky goes to work on Pete Thamel’s lament that “no one is in charge” of college football. Tony Barnhart joins in with a call for “a commissioner of college football” as a way “to get college football out of the ethical ditch.”
No one ever really says what this commissioner is supposed to do, but we expect that this Solomon will, as Thamel dreams, “look out for the greater good of the game.” (The “game”, incidently, that’s never been more popular, more lucrative, and which has television networks lining up to bid for rights.) Barnhart has a vision that such a commissioner would have “the last word” on such matters as the Cam Newton case. As opposed to the last word belonging to the NCAA’s enforcement division? Is this commissioner supposed to step in and overrule unpopular decisions made by the current governing processes?
Newton wasn’t allowed to play because no one did anything. He was allowed to play after the NCAA applied its own rules (as flawed as they were) and made the appropriate decision based on the information available at the time. So would Barnhart’s commissioner ignore these rules, make up new ones on the fly, or find some miscellaneous reason to suspend someone that looks guilty in order to get the result demanded by the conventional wisdom?
Why not get rid of that tangled mess of NCAA rules and come up with new ones? Barnhart’s vision goes in that direction. Who needs the NCAA?
The sport has become too big to be managed within in the limitations of the NCAA framework. If a way cannot be found to accommodate these schools then they should leave the NCAA and form their own organization and make their own rules.
That idea might have support from both sides of the aisle, as it were, but not for the reasons Barnhart imagines. Top schools and conferences would love to operate without having to subsidize the bottom 75% of the 346 Division I schools. The end result though wouldn’t be the top-down structure Barnhart describes. It would be a federation of a handful of conferences with even greater visibility and influence than they have now.
Barnhart laments that what makes college football great leads to what he sees as a flaw.
At the end of the day, every institution has a right to self-determination. Texas A&M is currently a member the Big 12 conference, not the National Football League. It does not have to subjugate its mission, either academically or athletically, to a larger body unless it chooses to do so. Conference membership is voluntary. The conference serves the collective needs of the institutions. The institutions do not serve the conference. They cooperate, they consult, and they compromise, but they do not serve.
That’s a beautiful summary of college athletics, but somehow the competing self-interests of the member schools and conferences is a problem. Things would be a lot smoother if everyone would just align themselves to the “greater good” enforced by some central figure. Sure, it might not be the best for your school or even your specific conference, but think of the game! That paragraph also captures but doesn’t explore the essential difference between college athletics and a pro league. The schools aren’t franchises and cannot be operated that way.
Barnhart’s description of the conference structure shouldn’t stop where it does. The same language can be used to describe the relationship between the school, the conference, AND the NCAA. The NCAA is run by and serves its members, not the other way ’round. Barnhart suggests that “if NCAA President Mark Emmert wants to get a handle on some of the excesses of college football, then go to the presidents and sell them on the idea for a commissioner of college football.” That’s backwards. If the presidents that make up the NCAA decide there is a problem with “the excesses of college football,” they will empower Emmert or whomever they appoint to take action. From where I sit, they don’t seem to be moving in that direction.
We’re not used to good news on the NCAA/compliance front, so we had to read it a few dozen times. The AJC reports that linebacker Jarvis Jones has been cleared to play and will not have to miss any games as a result of an investigation into possible improper benefits received from a Columbus recreation director.
The investigation stems from a June report in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. While there doesn’t seem to have been much of a dispute about Jones receiving a benefit, there was a question about the existing relationship between Jones and the men alleged to have provided the benefit. According to Eric Baumgartner of the UGA compliance office, “Georgia’s investigation showed that there were not improper benefits for Jones, a sophomore, based on his prior relationships before he became a prospect.” Because there was an established relationship before Jones entered the ninth grade, the benefits were allowed. Ninth grade is when kids become prospective student-athletes in the eyes of the NCAA.
Jones is expected to jump right in and start at SAM linebacker after sitting out the 2010 season as a transfer from Southern Cal. Jones suffered a neck injury during the 2009 season, and the Trojans would not clear him to play. While much is expected of Jones this year, that neck will be something worth watching as his career in the Red and Black gets underway. He’s gone through a full year of practice including spring drills, and no problems have yet manifested themselves. We hear great things about his progress and readiness, and now we learn that Georgia will have one of their fast-rising defensive starters for the season opener.
It should be noted, and it was mentioned by the AJC, that things are still up in the air for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the incoming Georgia basketball freshman who was named in the same Columbus report. I’m sure most fans consider this case closed now that Jones’s part of it is resolved, but Caldwell-Pope’s availability is central to the outlook of Georgia basketball this year. His absence, relatively speaking, would be of much greater impact to his team than Jones’s absence.
And while we’re at it, it would be nice to get some resolution from the NCAA Clearinghouse on Kent Turene. The longer his exile drags on, the worse it looks for his chances of joining the football team this year.
Hartman Fund contributors got a note from AD Greg McGarity on Monday. The e-mail was just much of the standard compliance boilerplate that is now part of the booster education efforts of any responsible program. Though the actual rules aren’t really this restrictive, McGarity’s note boiled it down to leave no gray area.
Members of The Georgia Bulldog Club can have NO interaction with any prospective student athletes, nor can members of The Georgia Bulldog Club do anything for any current student athletes. If we just remember those two things, we will go a long way in avoiding any NCAA violations in this area of our program.
You can’t blame them for going well beyond the actual letter of the law – every athletic director has to be on edge now. “Improper benefit” violations having nothing to do with the school are all over the news, and “do nothing for anyone” leaves no wriggle room for inadvertent violations. With that in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that going forward pictures will be pretty much the only thing you’ll be taking from Picture Day. Leave the jerseys and footballs at home.
Due to recent public issues surrounding student-athlete autographs across the country, no outside items may be brought to Picture Day. The Georgia Athletic Association will provide each fan with two free schedule posters to be signed by the players and Coach Richt. No other items will be permitted.
Aaron Murray had one of the best years of any Georgia quarterback, let alone a freshman quarterback. His 61% completion rate and 3,049 passing yards placed him among the top 5 in both stats among Georgia quarterbacks of any experience level. Those 24 touchdowns were just one off the Georgia record of 25 set by Stafford in 2008. His TD/INT ratio was an impressive 24/6 during the regular season, and half of those interceptions came during one game.
So when you hear Murray talk about giving himself a “C” for his performance last season, you might get that eye-rolling reaction that comes when the perfectionist A-student complains about only getting a 98 on the exam. He’s right, though. I especially liked the discussion of accuracy. Green, Durham, and other receivers made several nice catches on slightly mis-thrown balls that might have resulted in big yards-after-catch had they been caught in stride. Screen passes were especially problematic.
Getting beyond the mechanics, Murray and his team will also have to work through a more nebulous problem. If Georgia’s emphasis this off-season on the 4th quarter pays off, we’ll see improvements in some of these areas:
Georgia didn’t beat a ranked team last year but had several late chances to do so.
Given the opportunity to engineer several significant 4th-quarter drives last year, Georgia came away empty almost every time. Late comebacks against Arkansas and Florida were wasted with key mistakes on Georgia’s final possessions.
Georgia was 5th best in the SEC at creating redzone chances, but 7th best in getting touchdowns from those chances.
Georgia was 4th in scoring offense but was in the bottom half of the conference in both first downs and third down conversions.
Travis’s observation that “we stalled on a lot of drives, right when we needed momentum” has some substance to it. It’s important to note that none of those points above are solely on Murray. He didn’t fumble at Colorado or leave a tailback to block a defensive end against Arkansas. Like a baseball pitcher, a quarterback often takes the blame (and also the praise) for the play of his teammates and the decisions of his coaches. Acknowledging that, coming through in those clutch situations is the biggest step forward that Murray and the Georgia offense can take this year. As Arthur Lynch put it, Murray “will judge himself on wins and losses, rather than stats.” Fans and history probably will too.
The Georgia homer in me is just happy to be ranked at any point in the season. The Georgia fan in me who’s spent much of the past seven months trying to reconcile last season wonders what seemed rankable about a 6-7 team that lost its best play on both sides of the ball.
We could get all analytical and wonder if it’s the effect of offseason changes or belief in Mark Richt by his peers or anticipation of the Dream Team or any other factor that led to coaches ranking Georgia. Or we could remember that it’s a preseason poll and that coaches (or their SID interns) put as much thought into it as what they had for lunch. “What do you mean I haven’t ranked Georgia, Florida, or Texas yet? OK…stick them on the end.” Silly and pointless, but not ever going away.
There is one angle worth talking about: if Georgia finishes ranked where they begin, that implies a 3 or 4-loss season. Would you take a 9-3 or 8-4 season right now with this schedule? More specifically, would 8-4 and a #22 ranking mean that Mark Richt is still coaching when the Dawgs head to their bowl game?
A few other thoughts about the SEC in the poll:
Alabama and LSU are ranked about where you’d expect. The two have been favorites to battle for the West since last year ended.
That said, a lot of people seem to be sleeping on Arkansas. There they are at #14 and fresh off a BCS win game. Mallett will be missed, but his replacement is capable. They have more preseason All-SEC players than any other team.
Has Auburn fallen that much to be closer to 6-7 Georgia than someone like Arkansas? I know they lose Cam and Fairley, but I also know that Malzahn can do a lot with a little. Add in a little swagger after the national title, and they’ll be a lot tougher to knock off their perch than these pollsters think. One thing working against them is the conference schedule; 7 of their 8 conference opponents are ranked in this poll.
On the other hand, I’m not buying Mississippi State. Mullen gets the genius label due to a sometimes-competent offense and a defense that got a good bit better. The man behind that defensive improvement is gone. This is a team that was 4-4 in the league last year, and is there really that much more room for improvement to merit a top 20 ranking? That early game at Auburn will tell us a ton about both teams and whether the preseason read was correct about either of them.
With Garcia and his coach in the news so much lately, it’s not hard for the South Carolina offense to dominate much of our thoughts about the game. They have a quarterback as polarizing and potentially effective as anyone since Tanneyhill. They have a tailback who launched a career off of his performance against Georgia last year. There are few receivers I’d take ahead of Jeffrey. It’s not quite Stafford-Moreno-Green, but it’s a skill triangle few SEC teams can match.
We’ve seen plenty of evidence for Garcia’s impact on the productivity of the South Carolina offense. I don’t deny that stopping Garcia, Lattimore, and Jeffrey presents problems for any team. But viewing the problem through a Georgia lens, cracking the South Carolina nut has a lot more to do with Georgia’s own ability to put the ball in the endzone.
Other than the scoring binge in the 2009 game, this has been a tight, low-scoring game over the past ten years. The Bulldogs have averaged just 18.1 PPG against the Gamecocks during Mark Richt’s ten years, and that includes the 41-point outburst in 2009. Fortunately South Carolina hasn’t done much better and managed less than 14 PPG over that span. Last year wasn’t much different on the South Carolina side of the scoreboard. Even with the unforgettable debut of Lattimore, Georgia only gave up 17 points to the Gamecocks – only 3 or 4 points more than their typical showing against a Mark Richt team. And this was a “good Garcia” game. He threw no interceptions and completed 70% of his passes. South Carolina was able to run their freshman all day, take few risks, and throw only 17 passes despite having the ball for 35 minutes because the Georgia offense put no pressure on them to do otherwise.
Georgia, meanwhile, posted their lowest score against South Carolina since a 2-0 loss in 1904. Georgia limped along to 253 yards of total offense (their lowest total of the year) and managed just a field goal in each half. The Bulldogs rushed for only 61 yards, and seven of their nine drives finished in five plays or less. Over half of Georgia’s possessions were three-and-out gaining a total of 20 yards.
You can blame the suspensions of A.J. Green and Caleb King. You can point to a freshman QB’s first SEC road game. You can even credit the defense’s inability to get South Carolina off the field. Just don’t expect too much drop-off from the SC defense this year, especially up front where they’ll provide a second tough test for Georgia’s offensive line. Three of their defensive linemen earned preseason All-SEC mention, and they have a newcomer up front you might have heard of.
There might be better defenses in the SEC, and there probably are. But from year-to-year, few have been as much of a problem for Georgia as South Carolina. For a while, we thought it was all about Charlie Strong. But they’ve maintained that effectiveness pretty well since Strong’s departure, and it doesn’t look to let up this year.
One of the big memes that’s driven the Georgia program during the offseason has been better fourth quarter performance. True enough, Georgia was right there in the fourth quarter in most all of their 2010 losses. The offseason focus then, particularly from the new strength and conditioning regime, has mainly been on finishing those games better and turning the close games into wins. No problem there. But it’s also useful to ask why those games were close after three quarters in the first place. As important as it is to finish strong, starting better could be even more important.
Was Georgia really, as Bill Connelly put it, “a rock solid team for 45 minutes?” Well…sometimes. That can certainly be said of their SEC wins. Georgia had the Tennessee, Vandy, and Kentucky games in hand by the second quarter and played well enough to make the fourth quarters of those games irrelevant. We can pretty much say the same for their cakewalks against UL-Laf. and Idaho St. The Tech game was more of a mixed bag: the offense was generally productive early, and the defense let Tech back in the game on several occasions.
Georgia’s several losses tell a different story. Georgia failed to score a touchdown over the first three quarters in three of their losses (SC, MSU, and Central Florida). You can’t play crap offense for three quarters and expect that the fourth quarter will be different. Those games remained close enough to support the fourth quarter meme only because of the defense and some cooperation from the opponents. Yes, we’re talking about the same defense that made Lattimore a star, but the Bulldog defense allowed those three opponents an average of 8 points through three quarters. You can say that allowing late and decisive scores in those games proves that Georgia didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish off those close games, but that’s a cynical way of looking at the water the defense carried for much of those games.
In three of Georgia’s other losses (Colorado, Arkansas, and Florida), the defense joined the offense in ineffective starts as the Bulldogs fell behind by double-digits during the first half. The key in those games wasn’t the fourth quarter: Georgia outscored each of those three opponents in the final period. The Bulldogs either came back to tie or hold the lead in the second half of those games. But finishing games is a lot easier when you haven’t used a ton of energy to dig out of a deep hole.
Let’s look at it a different way. Here’s Georgia’s fourth quarter performance grouped by the final margin of victory:
Times Ga. Outscored Oppt.
Won by 10+
Won by < 10
Lost by < 10
Lost by 10+
There you go, right? Georgia was outscored pretty badly in the fourth quarter. Only three times did they outscore their opponent. The thing is, they lost two of those games. Had they played the rest of the Arkansas and Florida games as they played the fourth quarter, we’d have those games in the win column. If giving up fourth quarter scores to those teams was so bad as to require a complete overhaul during the offseason, what of the first three quarters that saw them fall behind by a combined 45-20?
Georgia let two games get away from them in the fourth quarter. We include the South Carolina game in the “big loss” category, but the Gamecocks only added a field goal in the last 15 minutes. Three points allowed might not seem significant, but that lone SC field goal was the difference between a one-possession game and a hopeless chasm of 11 points that might as well have been 50. We’re talking more about the Mississippi State and Auburn games. Only once last year, at Auburn, did the Bulldogs come out strong and fade late. Auburn outscored the Dawgs 14-0 in the final quarter and opened up a 35-31 game. Mississippi State was also a lopsided fourth quarter. Thoguh just a 7-6 game entering the quarter, MSU scored 17 points. They didn’t put the game away until a touchdown with about 4 minutes left and finished Georgia off with a short-field drive just minutes later.
I don’t like to think about that Mississippi state game, but two things stand out when I do: first is Georgia’s difficulties with the option. Dealing with that QB/RB read was a problem that plagued them first at South Carolina, and it played a big roles in losses to Florida and Auburn. Second was the missed opportunities in the first half. Ealey’s fumble at the goal line comes right to mind, but Georgia also had a third down conversion inside the 20 wiped out by a holding penalty. The Dawgs got zero points on both of those trips. We’re deep into “if only…” territory now, but I have a tough problem putting the South Carolina or MSU losses primarily on an inability to finish in the fourth quarter. Yes, Georgia would have had a better chance to win had they not given up any points in the fourth quarter, but that’s saying something entirely different.
If you think I’m trying to prove (or talk myself into believing) that Georgia was a fine fourth quarter team, I’m not. When you’re coming off a 6-7 season, there aren’t many aspects of the program that should go unscrutinized. We’d much rather be the team that turns it on and puts people away in the fourth quarter as Auburn did so many times last year. I’m more of the opinion though that what we see as fourth quarter problems were issues in quarters 1-3 also. The same defense that gave up a 51-yard fourth-quarter score to Florida’s Trey Burton was on the field when Georgia got down 24-10. The offense certainly wasn’t great in many fourth quarters. Sometimes it was because they didn’t have to be, and others it was because they stunk from the opening kickoff.
A lot of our postseason analysis is puzzling because we look at season-long averages. I think we’ve come to the realization that the ups and downs of the season smooth out those averages or lead to some conclusions that don’t quite work. Georgia scoring only 68 fourth quarter points was a bad thing if they were in close games and couldn’t score in any quarter. It’s an inconsequential thing if they had done enough work in the first three quarters to shut it down, and that was the case five times last year. Georgia impressively outscored opponents 107-38 in the first quarter over the season, but it was only 37-35 in Georgia’s losses, and that’s skewed by 21 first-quarter points at Auburn – again, the only game in which Georgia came out strong but ended up losing. In Georgia’s six other losses, they were outscored 16-28 in the first quarter and only scored a single touchdown (vs. Arkansas).
Hopefully some of the offseason emphasis on conditioning and finishing trickles down to affect how the Dawgs start the game. Sometimes you just find yourselves in close games; that’s life in the SEC, and you want a team capable of winning those games. We cited Auburn’s ability to turn it on and finish strong, but they tempted fate several times last year by falling behind. Not a lot of teams could pull that off, and Auburn nearly didn’t. I’ll take a tougher team at the end of a game, but I’d appreciate more consistent effort earlier in games that would make those fourth quarters a little less close and a little less dire.
I appreciate the effort and intentions of all of the highlight/hype videos. I really do. But it drives me crazy every time I see that Green catch at Colorado only to think back on how it felt to wander through Boulder after the game. Remembering that night doesn’t get me pumped for the future. I don’t want to be reminded that incredible talents like Moreno, Stafford, and Green left Athens without titles of any kind. That’s what I see any time I watch any footage from the last five seasons that isn’t from late 2007.
Would Zeier-era highlights have made much sense or had much relevance in 2002? We’re about at that point now with Pollack and Hobnailed Boot clips and dozens of others in standard-def. We might as well show Herschel and Trippi highlights.
The best hype video right now is this one. It’s blank. This is a program that needs to make new highlights. It’s to be filled in with team accomplishments from the present and more meaningful plays than just sporadic individual moments of greatness.