Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The vanishing class of 2010

Thursday September 29, 2011

Georgia’s 2011 freshman class, anchored by the “Dream Team”, already had pressure on it to do many things for the football program. Replacing the 2010 class wasn’t supposed to be one of them.

The 2010 class was small, especially by SEC standards, with 19 members. It was rated #15 by Rivals.com. Not bad, but also not up to par with programs at the top of the conference. Fortunately there were some gems – Bennett is making an impact. Alec Ogletree is a star. Gates has been a lifesaver.

Every program deals with attrition, but the knocks to the 2010 class have been extreme. Only 12 of the 19 are still with the program, though two others are working their way to Athens via the JUCO route. Three of the 12 are injured, and only Alec Ogletree is projected to play this year. Kolton Houston’s eligibility status is up in the air. So pretty much only 9 of the 19 players from the 2010 class are available to the team this year, and that number is reduced to 8 until Ogletree returns.

Lopping the 2010 class in half is bad enough, but it comes on top of an exceptional amount of attrition across all classes. I’m stealing the work of a friend here, but Georgia has seen 15 players leave the program in the past year with eligibility remaining. This doesn’t even include those who failed to qualify or enroll in the first place. For a lot of programs, this would be the foundation of a really nice recruiting class.

1) OL Brent Benedict, RFr. – Transferred to Virginia Tech
2) LB Marcus Dowtin, Jr. – Transferred to North Alabama
3) TB Washaun Ealey, Jr. – Transferred to Jacksonville State
4) FS Jakar Hamilton, Sr. – Seeking transfer
5) TB Caleb King, Jr. – Academically ineligible
6) WR Logan Gray, Jr. – Graduated w/ eligibility, transferred to Colorado
7) WR A.J. Green, Jr. – Early entry into NFL draft
8) OL A.J. Harmon, Jr. – Transferred to Alabama State
9) LB Justin Houston, Jr. – Early entry into NFL draft
10) DE Jeremy Longo, Jr. – Medically disqualified
11) RB Ken Malcome, RFr – Seeking transfer
12) CB Derek Owens, So. – Seeking transfer
13) OL Tanner Strickland, Sr. – Graduated with eligibility remaining
14) OL Trinton Sturdivant, Sr. – Knee injury, career over
15) S/LB Nick Williams, Jr. – Transferred to North Alabama

3-star recruits: 1
4-star recruits: 13
5-star recruit: 1

You can argue about whether some of those are better off gone or whether others would have ever contributed anyway. You can’t begrudge the guys going to the NFL, and injuries happen. The larger point is that Georgia is coming close to 70 players who signed Letters of Intent. About 23 of those are newcomers. I’ve lost track of the exact numbers, but I would expect that there are no more than 50 scholarship players left on the team who aren’t true freshmen or former walk-ons. Georgia has the talent to weather that situation to some extent, but it really shows up on the depth chart. You don’t have to dig deep to see the effects – just look at tailback or the offensive line or middle linebacker to see where the depth is being stretched pizza-thin and where the coaches are having to make creative (or desperate, depending on your outlook) moves just to fill out the depth chart.

There’s not much to do but sign more players, and Georgia should be able to load up this year. That’s fine, but Georgia now finds themselves under pressure due to the same class size restrictions that were lauded during the offseason. You can’t make up a large numbers gap with one class now, and you’d better make those 25 count.

Post What Texas A&M brings to the SEC in other sports

Thursday September 29, 2011

There’s no question that the realignment underway in college sports is driven by football. But the SEC has had strong programs in many other sports, and its newest member will more than pull its weight after bowl season. As a major state school, A&M funds most of the sports you’d expect. What you might not expect is how established competition already is between A&M and current SEC powers in their respective sports.

The Aggies do not (currently) participate in gymnastics, but they do field one of the nation’s best equestrian programs. In 2011, A&M placed third at the national championships behind Auburn and Georgia. In 2010, the Aggies came in second behind only Georgia. In fact, A&M will face off against Georgia on October 8th.

Texas A&M’s athletics program placed eighth in the 2010-11 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. That was tops among Big 12 schools and second only to Florida among SEC schools. How did they get there? Though football, basketball, and baseball are all good programs, A&M is a track school.

How good is Texas A&M track? They’re the reigning men’s national champion. Oh…reigning women’s national champion, too. Want more? Aggie track and field has won both the men’s and women’s national title for three years running. Forget the football matchups – between A&M, Arkansas, LSU, and Florida, the SEC Track and Field championships will just about be the Olympics.

Here’s how A&M looks in some of the more major sports.

Men’s hoops:

Texas A&M comes into the SEC as an above-average basketball program. If you had to place them put them somewhere just below the good recent Florida or Tennessee teams. They might be considered a little “new money.” They’ve played in six straight NCAA Tournaments, but their 2006 appearance broke a dry spell that went back to 1987.

Billy Gillispie is a punchline in the SEC for his belly flop at Kentucky. But Gillispie is the coach that took A&M from a pretty bad place and laid the foundation for their current level of play. Gillispie took the program from 6–24 in 2002–2003 to 24–8 in 2003–2004. The bid to the 2004 NIT was A&M’s first postseason play of any kind in over a decade. Gillispie’s apex was in 2007 when the team earned a #3 seed for the NCAA Tournament – their highest seed ever. 2007 also saw the first top-ten ranking for the program, and their appearence in the 2007 Sweet 16 was only the third in program history and its first since 1980. That strong 2007 season was enough to get Kentucky’s attention, and Gillispie headed to the SEC to be replaced by Mark Turgeon.

There wasn’t much drop-off with Turgeon. The team was right back in the 2008 NCAA Tournament and has returned every year since. What Turgeon didn’t do was get A&M quite back to that 2007 high water mark. The team was decent, competent, and dangerous enough to be an occasional threat to the stronger Big 12 teams, but titles and greater glory eluded them. A&M most recently finished 24-9, earned a #7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and was bounced in the first round by FSU.

The Aggies are currently in a state of transition. Turgeon was hired by Maryland during the offseason. A&M went into the mid-major ranks for their new head coach, hiring former A&M assistant and recent Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy. Kennedy’s last two teams at Murray State went 54-14 and won consecutive OVC titles.

Despite Turgeon’s relative success, his time in College Station was occasionally rocky. Fans were a bit spoiled by 2007 and grumbled about Turgeon’s inability to get the team back to that level. For Turgeon’s part, he made it clear that he was unhappy with lukewarm and inconsistent fan support. SEC hoops fans and coaches can probably relate. Turgeon’s background in basketball-mad Kansas made it tough to be happy in a football-first climate. He won’t really have that problem at Maryland.

The Aggies play at Reed Arena with a capacity of 12,500 – about middle of the road for the SEC.

Women’s hoops:

What does A&M women’s basketball bring to the SEC? Oh, nothing – just the defending national champs. The Aggies didn’t get nearly the press of UConn and Baylor with their mega-stars, but A&M caught fire in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, finally got past their local nemesis Baylor, and followed MVP Danielle Adams to a thrilling national title win over Notre Dame. The SEC is familiar turf for A&M head coach Gary Blair who led Arkansas from 1993–2003 before leaving for College Station.

Their system is a little unique in that they have a designated “defensive coordinator”, Vic Schaefer, whose sole job it is to break down opponents and develop the Aggies’ defensive approach. If you saw Georgia’s Sweet 16 humiliation at the hands of the Aggies, you know how effective this approach can be. Blair’s current team doesn’t figure to be as strong with heavy senior losses, but he’s a good coach who will have a quality team most every year. Kelsey Bone, a freshman star and rebounding machine at South Carolina, transfered to A&M to be closer to home but will be right back into SEC play in a year.


The Aggies are coming off the program’s fifth trip to Omaha and the College World Series. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament for five consecutive seasons and have won either the Big 12 regular season or tournament title in four of the past five seasons. Rob Childress took over the program in 2006 and has since been named Big 12 Coach of the Year while building the program into a contender.

Many of the SEC’s best baseball programs are used to having strong local non-conference rivals. Florida has FSU, Georgia has Tech, and South Carolina has Clemson. A&M’s rivalries with nearby baseball powerhouses Texas and Rice will only add to the conference’s national slate.

Post Containing the Mississippi State option

Monday September 26, 2011

I’m glad Tyler raised this issue:

Edge contain. Yes, Ole Miss only gained 34 yards rushing (the running backs had more like 60 on 16 attempts), but the edge players were bailed out time and again by Williams and Rambo. Washington and Vasser had a couple of nice stops, but both sucked inside too often.

As Georgia tries to go above .500 in conference for the first time in nearly two years, I had a similar thought. If Georgia showed a weakness on defense at Ole Miss, it was on the edge. The Rebels didn’t have the players or scheme to exploit it, but the next opponent does. I’m confident in the interior line to slow the dive plays and even the inside zone-reads of the MSU spread option. It’s when the outside defenders bite on the dive and the option develops outside that I get a little more concerned.

You can see a bit of what I’m talking about on MSU’s first score against Georgia last year. (Sorry for the video quality – it’s the only clip of the play I could find.) The inside fake draws in the defense. Though the quarterback is covered, the pitch isn’t, and it’s an easy score.

Georgia’s pursuit on defense can be a blessing, and it’s a big reason why Ole Miss could do so little on Saturday. They got after everyone. It’s a fine line between GATA and overpursuit as we saw on the punt return reverse. Georgia will at least study and practice against the MSU offense this week, so the need to stay at home and pay attention will be driven home a lot more than they would against a random trick play.

At the same time, Georgia’s defense – even with Robinson back – will have a lot of young guys who are seeing these option plays for the first time, and they’ll have to make good decisions all afternoon. Cheating inside leaves you vulnerable on the edge, and watching the edge leaves the middle open for tough runners in Relf and Ballard. Georgia’s objective will be to limit gains on early downs and force MSU into longer second and third downs where the Mississippi State passing game becomes much more predictable and inefficient.

Post A needed double-digit win? Yeah, but…

Monday September 26, 2011

Saturday’s game at Ole Miss was one of those classic Mark Richt games that lets you read into it what you want. Fans who were looking to the game as some sort of benchmark for the rest of the season were left wanting. Had Georgia escaped at the last minute or, God forbid, lost to Ole Miss, the prognosis would have been easy. Had Georgia put up a number in the 40s while holding the Rebels scoreless, we might have enough data points to buy into the belief that the team was getting its act together for a strong push through the rest of its schedule.

But, no, progress is rarely linear. This was hardly a regression, unless you’re talking about some very specific special teams plays. Some of the most important aspects of the team – the defense, Crowell, Murray’s efficiency – were as good as they’ve been all year. There’s definitely much to build on. It’s a double-digit SEC road win, and those are rare even against what might be the worst team in the conference. At least we can say with some certainty that Georgia won’t hold that distinction.

I imagine a few fans had this discussion with themselves after the game…

Georgia was able to hold Ole Miss to 183 yards of offense and outgained the Rebels by nearly 300 yards while holding the Rebels at arm’s length all day.
Yeah, but… You’d hope to get more than 27 points and three touchdowns out of such a statistically dominant performance.

Still, they needed trick plays to even make it a game.
Yeah, but… Those points still counted. It’s one thing to fall for a fake or turn the ball over, but it’s another for those errors to put points on the board. Two of Georgia’s four opponents to date have successfully used gadget plays for scores, and it’s been a sore spot for the program going back to the 2005 loss to West Virginia.

Ole Miss had two touchdowns called back due to penalties. This game was uncomfortably closer than it should have been.
Yeah, but… Georgia’s decisions on offense, especially in the third and fourth quarters, were guided by the situation. We would have liked to have seen more points result from those drives, but Georgia ate up clock and yards, didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, and finished with a second-half shutout.

So Georgia ran over 50 times and dominated the time of possession. Classic ground-based way to manage an inferior opponent, right?
Yeah, but… Georgia still showed some punch through the air. Charles’s sideline touchdown reception was pro-quality. White’s route down the seam was perfect, and then he showed a nice move to bounce off the lone defender and turn the play into a score. Mitchell continues to become a player for defenses to worry about. Most encouraging was the continued use of passes out of the backfield. Samuel had a couple of quality catches. Murray’s recognition of a blitz and finding Samuel releasing outside in the fourth quarter is something he needs to file away for future use.

Crowell put up 150 yards – well, at least until he went backwards on those last few carries.
Yeah, but… Are we going to have to start a Crowell Durability Watch? He’s playing with injured ribs, then he wasn’t in the right pads, and now 30 carries leaves him winded. Is that good news for a guy who’s clearly a difference-maker when he’s on the field?

Georgia has proven stars in almost all areas of special teams.
Yeah, but… With the exception of Butler’s leg, it was not the best day for Georgia’s special teams. There’s no shortage of amateur shrinks trying to figure out what’s wrong with Walsh. Punt coverage was burned once and got bailed out a second time on a penalty. Branden Smith’s Nutmeg Technique of fielding a punt was very nearly a disaster. Poor Marc Deas was all but helpless to defend the onside kick against three or four oncoming Rebels. Even Boykin couldn’t do much of anything with two kickoff return opportunities.

A few other things:

  • The defense is coming on without two of its most talented players. It will be huge to add ‘Tree and Robinson back to the mix. That said, Williams, Gilliard, and Herrera have done nice work holding down the middle. Noticing a player doesn’t always mean the guy is playing the correct assignment, but you saw a lot of Herrera’s #52 jersey around the ball on Saturday.
  • The same can be said for the receivers. The emergence of Bennett and Mitchell has been a boon, and the trio of King, Bennett, and Mitchell are a good first group. But the group is still missing a starter (Brown) and an experienced reserve (Wooten). On the other hand, if a depleted receiving corps leads the staff to look more at the tight ends and backs in the passing game, it’s not the end of the world.
  • I appreciate the late-game strategy to salt it away with the running game, but the offense showed it’s not really built for that. The line is mangled and struggled to make consistent holes against a defense that gave up 281 yards on the ground to Vandy. Crowell is a freshman still building endurance. Thomas isn’t a power back, though he ran well on Saturday. Samuel is often stopped for little gain. Boykin was inserted a couple of times but saw no carries. I guess Ogletree and Figgins aren’t options to carry the ball – if they are, the staff doesn’t act like it.
  • I have to credit Ole Miss. After the awful loss at Vandy and going down 17-0 to Georgia, they didn’t fold. Of course Georgia was culpable in getting the Rebels back in the game, but the execution on the gadget plays that defined the second quarter and framed the closer-than-we’d-like second half was sharp. There is of course a lot of talk about Houston Nutt’s future, but I saw nothing to show me that he’s lost his team.
  • Only one Ole Miss player caught more Rebel passes than Bacarri Rambo.
  • I’m crazy for referencing one of Georgia’s greatest wins, but Crowell’s second quarter run out of the end zone on third down had me thinking back to this run by Musa Smith at Auburn in 2002. Both runs bailed Georgia out of horrible field position, and both sparked long scoring drives.

Post Opponent watch

Friday September 16, 2011

Two games this weekend will give Georgia a look at three of their next four opponents. One took place last night, and one will be the early game on Saturday.

The Mississippi State offense doesn’t look that different from what we saw in Starkville last year, but they did look more comfortable in what they do (as much as one can against LSU). Our challenges will be similar – stopping the option while paying attention to shots taken downfield. I doubt we can count on Georgia’s defensive front to be as disruptive as LSU’s was, but the goal is the same: get into the backfield to make the read difficult, and put the Bulldogs into longer-yardage situations where they become much more predictable and vulnerable. LSU and a few MSU injuries along the offensive line made that look a lot easier than it is.

On the other side of the ball, MSU looked tough on defense. LSU was effective in pounding the ball with a series of wrecking balls at tailback, and the MSU defense gradually softened. I don’t know that Georgia has the kind of running back that LSU used to good effect last night – Samuel is probably the closest. Crowell isn’t slight – any more than Hearst was – but he’s not going to be confused for a power back. That said, it’s not as if Crowell won’t have opportunities. MSU looked tough at home, but this was the same defense that yielded 150 yards to Michael Dyer a week ago.

LSU did provide a useful lesson in the way they used their passing game. Though much of their approach had to do with Lee’s capabilities, they were efficient, patient, and effective with short passes. Georgia found similar success against South Carolina in the second half. Those slants and screens will be there, and the tight ends will have big opportunities.

One other game worth watching, or at least following up on, this weekend is Mississippi’s trip to Vanderbilt. This is the 12:21 SEC Network game, so those of us at the Georgia game won’t be able to see much of it. Two of Georgia’s next four opponents will play their SEC opener, and we’ll get a better idea of the relative threat of these teams. Ole Miss struggled on offense in their opener, but they were in a position to beat BYU. They got a bit of a scare from FCS team Southern Illinois a week ago but avoided a repeat of the Jacksonville St. debacle of a year ago. Vandy, with a win, would move to 3-0 on the season. They’ve already notched a win over a weak UConn team.

Post Mindset for the next stretch

Friday September 16, 2011

Tuesday’s news that DL Jordan Watkins chose Stanford over Georgia brought into focus one of the chief problems Mark Richt will have on the recruiting trail between now and December. The issue isn’t even that Watkins went elsewhere. It’s how any news like this will be reported for the next several months.

Here’s the AJC’s take on the story. It’s reported five paragraphs in that “the Cardinal gained inside position after (Watkins) took an official visit to the California school in July.” Watkins said after the July visit that “I felt like it was the place I really wanted to be.”

But what was the lede? “UGA’s 0-2 start and widespread speculation over Mark Richt’s future may have cost the Bulldogs the chance to land one of the nation’s most-heavily recruited college football prospects.” Really?

It’s not worth dwelling on. Even if Richt’s status weren’t a factor in this particular decision, you can bet top prospects across the region are being beaten over the head with the uncertainty. It doesn’t help that Georgia’s own athletic board is contributing to the fodder. No one is making it up though – 6-7 happened, the program has been in decline for a few years, and Richt’s position is shaky. If the media and negative fans stopped piling on tomorrow, the body of work still says it plainly and loudly enough. Richt can get rid of the gray area by winning games and titles. It’s a losing proposition when you have to waste words about the exact temperature of the hot seat.

With a win expected on Saturday, a lot of people are using the down time to reassess Richt and the goals for the season. Some of them have a lot sharper crystal ball than I do. If he wins these games, if he loses that game, if he finishes with this record…they seem to have the formula down. I can’t see much further than the last game.

It’s an indefensible position to claim that things are better for an embattled coach after another loss and an 0-2 start, but I think there’s a little tone-deafness in how Georgia fans were reported to have taken the latest loss. You’ll find someone to support any claims of “unabating vitriol.” Still, I’ve been surprised with the reaction to the South Carolina game. It’s not unbridled optimism, but the mood is definitely not as black and lynch mob-by as it was a week ago – even after another loss was added on top of the first.

I think the best we can say is that not many minds were changed by the South Carolina game. A loss didn’t cheer those already resigned to the need for a new coach. On the other hand, that wasn’t the kind of game that left you exasperated with the coaches and without hope for the rest of the season. You can’t say that about the opener.

I was disappointed by Saturday’s loss, but even sitting there as the stands emptied I couldn’t wait to see the team back out there again. It was just starting to get good. I want to see what Crowell, Mitchell, Boykin, Jones, and even Bennett will do next. It was exciting and entertaining football by a team that picked itself up from the mat half a dozen times – again, a 180 from last week. That’s certainly no claim that the ship was righted and all of the problems are in the past. It even has little to do with Richt. Whether this is his last year or not, Georgia won’t lack for interesting players, and that makes for fun games.

Of course the progress won’t be linear, and two points don’t make a trendline. We all know what we’d like to see this weekend, but we’ve also all seen mid-day yawners in front of a disinterested half-full stadium before. It’s also wrong to think that things will get easier even if the immediate schedule might not feature many ranked teams. Three of Georgia’s next four SEC games are on the road, and the one conference home game is against a quality opponent that will be desperate for their first SEC win. Mark Richt’s next challenge will be sustaining the urgency and fight the team showed against South Carolina. That game, although a loss, still gave the fans hope that the team has enough to navigate the rest of its schedule. It’s now up to Richt to deliver on that potential.

Post How was your game day experience?

Monday September 12, 2011

It was our first game back in Sanford Stadium since the Dawgs sent Tech home with a loss last November. What did you think?

The Scene

Traffic wasn’t bad around town even at 11 AM. Though central campus was pretty thick with tents, we were still able to navigate down Milledge and Lumpkin without much standstill. We must’ve been between the early arrivers and the last-minute crowd. Postgame traffic wasn’t terrible after an hour or so. Downtown was packed since the ~8:00 finish allowed for things to move right into a full evening of Athens nightlife. I saw a lot more charter buses than I remember in the past, and they didn’t help things move through downtown.

It was unfortunate to find the Visual Arts building blocked off for renovation. The College of Environmental Design will benefit from the refurbished building, but it will affect some nice tailgating spaces on the eastern edge of North Campus. Otherwise, I didn’t see many problems in and around North Campus. It was a perfect day for a tailgate and a nice change from the typical blast furnace of a Georgia-South Carolina game.


I liked the new scoreboard. At a cost of $1.4 million, I hope you did too. The display was crisp, the animations popped, and no one in our eastern perch had a problem seeing anything. The board looked great when it went full-screen. I had to remember to look at the scoreboards rimming the upper deck to see time as well as down and distance when the main display went full-screen, but that’s not a problem. Some constructive criticisms:

  • If you’re going to run scores, keep them updated. I think there are still 7 minutes left in the Auburn/MSU game. Those running the show must’ve realized the problem because we started seeing the sides of the scoreboard increasingly used for stats, and I prefer that anyway. You have this large screen with its best feature being the dynamic repurposing of areas of the display. Some individual stats mixed in would’ve been nice, too.
  • The live video on the board was cropped too closely. I tried to watch a bit of the 3rd quarter on the board since it required less looking directly into the sun, but it was difficult with the shot so tightly zoomed in on the QB. Pull it back a bit and let us see the play.
  • There’s a fine line between augmenting the game with the videos and music and going into ACC territory. I’m not even talking about the blatent ads that pay the bills. Keep Zombie Nation out of our stadium.


I have mixed feelings about moving the band to the west stands. The point was to project their sound to more of the stadium, and that worked. Of course the sound isn’t going to be as strong in my part of the stadium as when they sat three sections over from me, but I think they project well to all corners now. It’s not an ideal arrangement with the visitor’s band so close – the result more often than not was just indistiguishable noise.

Another problem was the separation of the band from the cheerleaders and main block of students. You lose a bit of punch there without the cheerleaders, band, and students in the same corner – coordination starting and sustaining cheers was tough on Saturday.

The new pregame was a welcome refresh. The only hiccup was the attempt to start a GEORGIA-BULLDOGS cheer, but that will work itself out as fans get used to what’s going on. It’s necessary but not good that the band has to exit the field in the east endzone and hoof it along the track all the way back to the west stands. I think it was the midpoint of the first quarter and several series into the game before they were able to play much of anything from the stands. You can only do so much with the congestion of that narrow track corridor, but the pace of getting them back into the stands after pregame has to pick up.

This was a great touch:

The Crowd

For the most part, the back-and-forth flow of the game led to an involved and supportive crowd. Of course there were people around who were overserved or had their minds made up about players and coaches a long time ago (easily identified with the clever and original nicknames they used like “Booboo”.) I can only speak for myself, but a lot of the optimism with which I left the stadium despite the loss came from observing how the people around me handled the events and outcome of the game. If the tone after the Boise game (from those who even bothered to stay) was one of torches and pitchforks, the tone Saturday was one of disappointment tempered by anticipation of what this team and its young stars can become.

Post Ole Miss kickoff set for 12:21 ET

Monday September 12, 2011

Georgia’s September 21st at Ole Miss game will be the early SEC Network game and will kick off at 12:21 p.m. ET (11:21 a.m. local time). Enjoy your dusty brunch at the Grove.

For Atlanta viewers, you’ll find the game on Peachtree TV as before.

Post You do it to yourself

Saturday September 10, 2011

Much will be made of Georgia’s inability to finish the game on several occasions, but neither team could get the other off the field. What’s keeping Georgia from the driver’s seat in the East is themselves. Killer penalties at the worst times, a missed field goal from our money kicker, 14 points handed directly to SC, and another undefended fake kick all contributed to the loss.

And yet I’m not as despondant as I was a week ago. Am I nuts? We saw a lot of improvement, many mistakes to be sure, and an effort that can win a lot of games this year.

Post Can Georgia have another good day against the run?

Friday September 9, 2011

If there’s one stat from the Boise game that gives me hope, it’s this:

Doug Martin: 24 carries, 57 yards. Long 9.

Martin is a legitimate tailback who averaged 6.3 YPC in 2010. You saw how good he can be on his touchdown run – he bounced outside and beat Branden Smith to the corner. He wasn’t the reason why Boise State won.

You didn’t hear a lot from Geathers, Jenkins, or many of the Georgia defensive linemen on Saturday, but that’s not unexpected. The usual role of the DL in the 3-4 is to get a push and watch the linebackers clean up. Sure enough, there was Christian Robinson with a career-high 13 tackles and Jarvis Jones with an impressive 11 tackles (and 17 helmet adjustments) in his debut. Somewhere in there was pretty solid play in the middle by the defensive line. The Dawgs were rarely, if ever, gashed for long runs up the middle. Tackling, though there were a couple of breaks and misses, was generally solid. Put another way – for the problems they had getting worn out, covering the short routes, and dealing with the loss of Ogletree, they weren’t the “soft” group that they were a year ago.

The disappointing part is that Georgia didn’t come with much pass pressure behind that line, so we’re left with a perception that the line play was less-effective than it was. Georgia did have some success when they brought overpowering numbers, but apparently that’s not to be considered a most-of-the-time strategy. Boise’s up-tempo system certainly also contributed to Georgia’s lack of pressure. Against a quarterback that’s potentially mistake-prone, you’d hope they would be more aggressive.

Marcus Lattimore is too good of a back to neutralize, but Georgia should at least be more disruptive against inside runs and the zone read play that killed them a year ago. Can they be effective enough to force Garcia to have the kind of game that Kellen Moore put up a week ago?

Post Georgia needs offense to beat SC – can they get more from the no-huddle?

Friday September 9, 2011

In a way, I’m glad that the offense has been under such scrutiny this week. Not that the defense is perfect, but I place special emphasis on the offense against South Carolina. Georgia’s output in Columbia last year was their worst against South Carolina since 1904. Lattimore or no, that’s not going to win games.

Despite the anemic output, the Dawgs were still in the game entering the fourth quarter. (This was another game where the failure to finish goes back to the failure to start.) You can point to the killer fumble or the absence of A.J., but you don’t expect to be in such a hopeless position when you only allow 17 points. This isn’t to discount the Garcia-Lattimore-Jeffrey show (not forgetting wildcards like Sanders). Their presence and ability makes it even more imperative that Georgia score more than the 18.1 points they’ve averaged against the Gamecocks under Mark Richt.

To that end, it looks as if Richt and Bobo will be sticking with the no-huddle approach that didn’t work so well a week ago. There are some good explanations why it wasn’t effective. Boise’s hurry-up offense, as explained by Kellen Moore, aimed to “get the defense into more base coverages and base defenses. They don’t have time to throw in their unique blitzes and things like that when they only have a short few seconds to call plays.” Sound familiar? Georgia’s approach to the no-huddle didn’t look to gain that same kind of schematic advantage. Instead, Georgia was focused more on the quantity of plays run. But by using a slower no-huddle that “90 percent of America” uses according to Coach Richt, they still let the Boise defense dictate the play and ended up running only 60 plays with little to show for them.

If no-huddle, damn-the-torpedoes it is, all is still not lost. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the shotgun or hurry-up, but there are problems if it plays against Georgia’s advantages on offense. (It’s fair to say that these “advantages” are still theoretical since we haven’t seen much of them.) Georgia’s primary formation against Boise was the shotgun, three receivers, one TE lined up tight, and one back.

The use of three receivers exposed one of Georgia’s weaker positions. King didn’t have his best game. Mitchell was a revelation but still got lost on a few routes (the perils of playing a true freshman.) Brown, Wooten, and King combined for 4 catches and 28 yards. Hopefully that will be the low-water mark for the group, but it’s significant enough to ask whether Georgia would have been better off trading a receiver for Figgins more often. There was a tangible benefit in the running game, Figgins also could have helped in pass protection, and we know he can catch the ball. If Charles is, more or less, going to be a third receiver, treat him like one and add a fullback.

The Dawgs altered that grouping on Boykin’s touchdown run. Figgins replaced the tailback. Boykin shifted to give Georgia a two-receiver, two-back look just before the snap. The tight end blocked inside, and the right tackle, along with Figgins, pulled outside to give Boykin the lane he needed.

Granting the fact that Figgins is still new to the fullback position, this is the kind of stuff that got fans and coaches excited thinking about the possibilities of an experienced tight end in a full-time fullback / H-back role. We saw precious little from Figgins Saturday after Boykin’s run, but it’s hard to do much from the bench. Yes, there’s a trade-off: someone has to sit, and there are matchups to consider. I’m just not so sure that with Charles in the game, the receiver situation what it is, and the need for better protection that Figgins shouldn’t see more time.

The shotgun look Georgia ran against Boise doesn’t have to be as vanilla as the Dawgs made it out to be. Murray isn’t Cam Netwon and can’t take the constant pounding running the ball that a 240 lb. quarterback could, but he’s still a rushing weapon. Georgia’s running plays out of the formation were all to the tailback and usually into the teeth of the Boise defensive line. There were many opportunities where a zone read option for Murray might have produced a big play.

The tailback also has a role in the passing game beyond blocking. On Monday night, I liked how Maryland used swing passes out of the backfield with some success. Their tailback ended up with four receptions from such passes – that would have been second-best for Georgia against Boise and more than any wide receiver. Crowell supposedly has above-average hands, but the offense didn’t do much to get him out in space where he’s at his most dangerous. Samuel had Georgia’s only two receptions out of the backfield, and only one late in the fourth quarter went for any yardage. With Crowell’s hands and Figgins’ experience at tight end, Georgia should be able to augment its receiving corps and attack aggressive defenses with more passes out of the backfield from its spread look.

Post Georgia in an expanded SEC

Thursday September 8, 2011

I’m ticked to have to be writing about this during a game week, but it’s pretty much unavoidable. I’m not especially concerned with the mechanics and drama, but it seems inevitable that the SEC has opened the door to expansion. I won’t pretend to guess where it will stop, but I doubt that 13 is the magic number. I’m a lot more concerned with what it will mean for Georgia. What will their division and schedule look like in the coming years?

Divisional Lineup

The structure of the SEC’s divisions depends of course on whether the SEC stops at 13 teams, adds a 14th team, or goes all the way to 16 teams. The extent of realignment will also depend on which team(s) get added. If you add an eastern school such as West Virginia, no one would have to change divisions. If the 14th team is another former Big XII member, the conference would be unbalanced to the west, and you’d expect a school like Auburn to be moved to the SEC East. That wouldn’t affect the Auburn-Alabama rivalry (or even Florida-LSU) as long as the “permanent rival” system remains a part of the scheduling.

If Auburn moves to the East, that would require Georgia to take on a new permanent rival. To cause the least amount of disruption, that new opponent would probably be the new school, Texas A&M. Trips to College Station every other year?

How many conference games?

Coaches are predisposed against a ninth conference game, and with good reason. It takes away a certain amount of freedom in scheduling, and it by definition would spread more losses around a conference. If other conferences don’t follow suit, you’re at a relative disadvantage. Mark Richt put it this way: “As far as I’m concerned, you can add more teams, but I just don’t want to play any more league games.” It’s not just a question of bowl eligibility for a number of borderline teams, though that’s certainly a factor. BCS bids can also be torpedoed by those extra games.

A nine-game schedule is almost unavoidable if you go to 16 teams, especially if the permanent rival is maintained. You’d never play anyone else from the other division otherwise. But let’s assume a 16-member SEC and a nine-game conference schedule. Under the current SEC system of a divisonal round-robin, a permanent opponent, and a rotating cross-divisional schedule, it might be over a decade between trips to places like Baton Rouge, Oxford, and Fayetteville.

Why? Here’s a sample 9-game SEC schedule against a 16-team league. Assume for now that Auburn stays in the West.

  • Year 1: 7 games against the division. 1 against permanent rival (vs. Auburn). 1 other cross-divisional game (@ Ole Miss)
  • Year 2: 7 games against the division. 1 against permanent rival (@ Auburn). 1 other cross-divisional game (vs. Ole Miss)
  • Year 3: 7 games against the division. 1 against permanent rival (vs. Auburn). 1 other cross-divisional game (@ Alabama)
  • Year 4: 7 games against the division. 1 against permanent rival (@ Auburn). 1 other cross-divisional game (vs. Alabama)

Under that model, it would be Year 15 before you saw Ole Miss again as you rotate home-and-home through the other 6 teams in the West. The only way around that is 1) Increase the number of conference games to 10. Good luck with that. 2) Eliminate the permanent rival and add another rotating cross-divisional opponent. Possible, but you’d kill some of the conference’s oldest rivalries (UT-Bama, UGA-Auburn). 3) Don’t play a true round-robin against the division. That would free up a cross-divisional game or two, but it would kind of defeat the point of having divisions and divisional champions.

The Division as Entity

This is a side-effect of expansion we talked about a bit last summer. As conferences become larger and more abstract, the identites of the individual division becomes stronger.

The larger megaconference is just an administrative abstraction between its divisions. It exists for revenue-sharing purposes and for the clout it brings negotiating for collective deals and postseason positions.

Look at our schedule example above – a school you play twice a decade isn’t much different than Clemson or some regional rival from another conference. The only bond is that the paycheck comes from the same address, and you bump into each other in the buffet line at the spring meeting.

Consider an SEC West of the current members plus Texas A&M and Missouri. That’s a pretty good 8-team league unto its own. It wouldn’t be a stretch to rate it above the Big East and, in many years, the ACC. The idea of the Pac-16 pushing for two BCS automatic bids gave us a good chuckle last summer, but many of these eight-team divisions will have the membership and mass of what we’ve heretofore considered power conferences. I don’t suggest you’ll see the SEC East Network any time soon – the SEC is still the brand, and the conference will still do the negotiating and finance. But I do think we’ll come to look at divisions, even more than we already do, as more or less distinct entities that begin to take on identites of their own.

Who knows – in 15 years, we might be talking about the decentralization of the megaconferences as the divisions start to chart their own courses.

Post You can’t finish what you don’t start

Sunday September 4, 2011

“Finishing” was the theme of Georgia’s offseason conditioning efforts.  Mark Richt explained, “The difference between really good teams and average teams are how well you finish. Do you make plays, big plays, at the end of the game? That’s going to define us, really I think.”

But a team’s disposition at the end of the game is the result of what has happened up to that point.  Did Georgia struggle to finish in games last year because of conditioning and other issues that could be identified as fourth quarter problems, or were the seeds of sluggish finishes sewn earlier in the game?  This is a dead horse around here, but it’s an important point: in Georgia’s six 2010 losses that weren’t against Auburn, they scored a total of just ten first quarter points.  Why would we expect a team that wasn’t effective in the first quarter (and often beyond) to be able to turn it on just because the fans have four fingers in the air?

Georgia’s defense started the Boise State game well.  Boise’s first three drives were no longer than four plays, and each resulted in a punt.  Georgia’s offense, on the other hand, looked a lot like the one that began last season without A.J. Green.  Georgia took the opening kickoff, but whatever momentum they hoped to gain was torpedoed with three unforced errors and lost yardage.  The next drive featured Isaiah Crowell tripping during his first collegiate carry and a pair of Bulldog receivers slipping on the turf. 

In fact, only a single Georgia drive in the first half (out of eight) lasted longer than three plays. Boykin’s run was in there, but that turned out to be fool’s gold.  Georgia got 81 yards on Boykin’s run.  They netted 54 yards on their other first half drives.  Georgia’s eyes might’ve been on the finish, but they were stuck in the starting gate.

Georgia’s stagnant offense contributed to put a much better Boise offense back on the field, often with decent-to-good field position. As we anticipated earlier in the week, both teams turned to a faster pace during the game. The results couldn’t have been more different.  Georgia had very occasional success ending more often than not with drives that stalled.  Boise efficiently moved the ball in small chunks, attacking the middle of the field and flats.

The strategy to take the opening kickoff backfired in more than one way.  Not only was Georgia stuck with awful field position for much of the game, they also ended up giving Boise consecutive possessions before and after halftime.  Much like the Auburn game last year, those two scores that bookended halftime served to swing the game to the opponent.  Boise engaged its no-huddle out of halftime, ruthlessly moving down the field in 11 plays in under 4 minutes, averaging around 21 seconds between plays.  

Kellen Moore, explaining Boise’s no-huddle look last year, said, “(the defense doesn’t) have time to throw in their unique blitzes and things like that when they only have a short few seconds to call plays.” Whether it was that strategy, poor execution by Georgia, or a combination of the two, the Bulldogs couldn’t muster much of a pass rush against Moore and left one of college football’s most accurate passers free to do his surgery against the Georgia pass defense.

Once Georgia’s offense showed signs of life, the Bulldogs were unable to sustain momentum as the gassed defense couldn’t get Boise off the field.  Injuries at key positions, Kellen Moore’s effectiveness, and the failure of Georgia’s own hurry-up offense left Georgia’s defense on their heels when it came time to finish and get the Bulldogs back in the game. This was something we worried about…

There’s a down side to speeding things up on offense. If you’re not successful sustaining drives and scoring, your defense is put right back on the field. Worst case for Georgia? A reprise of two common 2010 maladies: a defense that hasn’t solved its third-and-long problems coupled with a an up-tempo offense that struggles out of the gate could have the Georgia defense sucking wind by halftime.

Georgia lasted into the third quarter, but they definitely didn’t have what it took to finish the game.  The offense took too long to find even a marginal amount of success, and the running game never got going.  The defense made some nice early stops but wore down as Boise adjusted and Georgia’s own hurry-up couldn’t move the ball consistently.  A team that had been constructed to finish close games put itself in a deep hole where “finishing” meant desperation. 

Post Boise thoughts

Saturday September 3, 2011

1) Can Georgia match Boise’s intensity from the start? Though most of the offseason emphasis was on finishing games, we looked at how Georgia had their best games last year when they started well. Auburn was the only exception. In Georgia’s other six losses, they scored a combined ten first quarter points. Boise, on the other hand, likes to start quickly. Until their bowl game, they scored first in every game and never trailed at the end of the first quarter. And then there’s this

2) How will Georgia handle adversity? There’s never a leadership problem when things are going well. Hopefully, Georgia can play mistake-free ball and get a lead they’ll never surrender. That would make for a nice opener. But how will the team handle a turnover? Or a deficit? Or momentum swinging to Boise in a comeback? Georgia has done the right things in the offseason to forge its leadership and get everyone “on the bus.” Will they stay on board if the bus looks to be breaking down, or will they stay to get it running again?

3) Can Georgia hold off the Boise comeback? I see a lot of Ryan Mallett in Kellen Moore (apart from the significant size difference). I keep thinking back to the end of the Arkansas game last year and the effortless way Mallett led Arkansas to the win after Georgia had recaptured momentum. Georgia’s defense surely contributed, but you got to see what happens when a team believes in its veteran quarterback at the end of the game. Kellen Moore is every bit that kind of clutch quarterback. Even in their 2010 loss to Nevada, Moore drove the Broncos into position for the win. He engineered the drive that beat Virginia Tech. It’s a dangerous situation when a team never thinks it’s out of a game. Georgia’s preseason emphasis has been on finishing games, and they might not get a more stubborn opponent this year.

4) How will the freshmen handle the stage? There’s no doubting their ability. Reports from practice are glowing. It’s different when you step in front of 80,000, even if they’re on your side. The best thrive, and it’s not too soon to expect an impact: Mark Ingram announced himself to the world in 2008 against Clemson in this very venue.

5) How have the coaches adapted? From Mitchell to Smith to Figgins to Charles, the offensive coaches have no shortage of versatile weapons with which to create mismatches and advantages. The defensive coaches have speed across the board and an intriguing set of combinations on the defensive line. They’ll be contrasted with one of the game’s best at getting efficient production from his talent.

Post Pushing the reset button – the 2011 Georgia Bulldogs

Saturday September 3, 2011

Most of this will be familiar if you’ve paid attention to the team over the summer. I’m just putting this up to clear my head before the opener.

When we last left them…

Georgia was last seen in a lifeless effort against Central Florida, losing 10-6 in the Liberty Bowl. The defense did well against a decent UCF offense, but Georgia’s own offense petered out after a promising opening drive. Georgia’s coaches chose to lay up for a field goal in sight of the goal line, and that decision would prove to be a lightning rod for criticism after a disappointing 6-7 season.

A year after completely revamping the defense, Mark Richt decided not to make any coaching changes after 2010. Instead, he felt a cultural change was necessary. It started with a change in the conditioning program. The men appointed to the job weren’t exactly known for modern cutting-edge methods, but they were living and breathing symbols of the toughness and attitude Richt wanted back in the program.

Richt’s credibility received a huge boost in early February when Georgia hauled one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. It was arguably Richt’s best group of incoming players, and it happened at a very dark time for the program. The class was looking shaky in January with several key names still uncommitted. Even former Georgia players were questioning Richt’s ability to salvage a recruiting class after such a bad season. It was a good year for high school talent in the state, and Georgia’s recruiting strategy focused on this “Dream Team” of elite in-state talent. A big announcement from a pair of Valdosta players late in January got the ball rolling, and other Dream Team targets continued the momentum right up through Signing Day.

The off-season has been relatively quiet. There have been few run-ins with the law, but there are several players no longer with the team. Some hung up the cleats due to chronic injuries. Others didn’t see eye-to-eye with the changes being made and transfered. A couple were, to put it bluntly, weeded out. But the vast majority have spent the spring and summer dedicated to the new conditioning program and arrived ready to reverse the course of the program.

Key Losses and Departures

  • WR A.J. Green: The most talented receiver in Georgia history is in the NFL now. Green was playmaker, magician, and security blanket.
  • DE Justin Houston: As he became more familiar with Georgia’s new 3-4 defense, Houston became an increasingly dangerous pass rusher. He finished the year with 10 sacks, second only to Nick Fairley in the SEC. Unfortunately we only got to see Houston shine for one year in this system. His departure leaves a void at a key spot in Georgia’s scheme.
  • Strength coach Dave Van Halanger: With criticism mounting on Georgia’s conditioning program, Coach Van accepted a transition to a mentoring role and opened up room for changes in the weight room.
  • Tailbacks Caleb King and Washaun Ealey: The duo that formed the core of Georgia’s running game over the past two years is no more. Ealey was disgruntled over playing time, and King hadn’t made sufficient academic progress to return for his senior season. With their departure, Georgia suddenly had a big problem with both depth and experience at tailback.
  • LB coach Warren Belin: Coach Belin was only in Athens for a year, but his contributions were seen not only at the linebacker position but also in much improved coverage units on special teams.
  • OT Trinton Sturdivant: Sturdivant’s injury-plagued Georgia career came to an end in the spring with another knee injury. Senior Cordy Glenn will move from guard to handle the important left tackle position.

Impact Newcomers

  • RB Isaiah Crowell (#1): There’s no beating around the bush: Crowell was a must-sign for Mark Richt. Heralded as Georgia’s next great tailback, Crowell will get a chance to contribute from the start. With such expectations comes an enormous amount of pressure, and how Crowell handles the spotlight will be as big a part of his story as how he handles defenses. He’s already grown up quite a bit in the short time he’s been on campus. Reports from camp haven’t been over the top, but they’ve made it clear that Crowell looks every bit as advertised.
  • OLB Ray Drew (#47): Drew’s reputation as one of the best high school defenders in Georgia led every major program in the area to his door. He also is expected to play early. But his value to the program will go beyond his play. He’s already an ordained minister. Call him “The Pastor of Disaster” or the “Pastor of the Pass Rush,” but Drew has already asserted himself as a leader of the future for Georgia football. He’ll be one of the players looked to as a solution to replace Justin Houston. He’s wearing #47 in honor of (and with the blessing of) David Pollack.
  • WR/DB Malcom Mitchell (#26): Georgia’s “Dream Team” incoming freshman class has a lot of talented players, but few are as interesting as Mitchell in terms of how the coaches might use him. He could easily be one of the better cornerbacks on the team right away, but Georgia has good depth at that position. Mitchell will get his first opportunity at wide receiver. Though he’s technically not a starter, Mitchell has the speed and hands to get on the field early. He can be used as a straight-up receiver or even like Branden Smith on running plays.
  • Strength coaches Joe Tereshinski II and John Kasay: It’s laughable to consider these guys “newcomers” as each, in various administrative roles, has been associated with the Georgia program for decades. But these were the men charged with the revitalization of Georgia’s strength and conditioning program. With the support of the new athletic director, the new conditioning program has involved everything from nutrition to just making sure the players are accountable and in the gym. There’s definitely a different, leaner look to the team, but we’ll have to wait until the season to find out if that leads to better play at the end of games.
  • DT Jon Jenkins (#6): Georgia’s switch to a 3-4 defense last year lacked one important piece: a big plug in the middle of the defensive line. DeAngelo Tyson was talented enough to hold his own, but he was undersized against better opponents. Jenkins, a JUCO transfer, was the answer. He’s a big prototypical nose tackle with impressive speed and agility for his size. Jenkins won’t start, though. His arrival lit a fire under Kwame Geathers (#99), and Geathers got into shape and earned the starting job. So Georgia went from a big hole at a key defensive position to having two promising solutions. You’ll see plenty of both of them – maybe even at the same time.
  • LB Jarvis Jones (#29): Jones, a Columbus native, spent his first season at Southern Cal. His freshman season was cut short by a neck injury, and the Trojans wouldn’t clear him to return. He chose to transfer to Georgia, sat out last season, and the neck is fine. His arrival was an instant shot in the arm to the linebacking corps, and he’s already a starter.

Watch out for…

  • LB Alec Ogletree (#9): Ogletree played safety as a true freshman last year and eventually earned a starting job. This year he’ll be moving to linebacker – a Thomas Davis in reverse. He’s known as a devastating hitter and will be one of the first people on the scene to make the tackle after Jenkins or Geathers clears the way.
  • WR Marlon Brown (#15): Brown arrived two years ago as one of the top high school receivers in the nation. Though he didn’t have the immediate impact of an A.J. Green, Brown is finally a starter in his junior season. If he can play to his potential, it will give Aaron Murray another nice option and draw defensive attention away from other top targets Tavarres King and Orson Charles.
  • S/CB Sanders Commings (#19): It might surprise some people to not see Bacarri Rambo starting at safety, but Commings has versatility on his side. Not only is he the starting safety, he’s listed as one of the top backups as cornerback. He has the size to make the hits as a safety, but he also has the speed and coverage skills to play at cornerback. If the front seven can get decent pressure, Commings might end up as one of the team’s interception leaders.
  • The tight end position: most everyone knows about Orson Charles (#7), but Georgia is deep enough at the position to consider redshirting one of the nation’s best incoming TEs. Aron White (#81) is another pass-catching threat with a senior’s experience. Arthur Lynch (#88) sat out last year to improve his receiving and strength, and he gives Georgia that big, tough prototypical blocking tight end. With the receiver position a little more thin than usual, expect to see more out of this position in 2011.
  • The defensive front: With Geathers and Jenkins anchoring the middle, DeAngelo Tyson (#94) moves back to end, a position that’s a more natural fit for him. Holding down the other side is Abry Jones (#93), a junior coming into his own. There are also solid backups like Derrick Lott, Garrison Smith, and Mike Thornton. The capabilities of the players allow for some creative situational combinations. If they want a massive front, they can play a line of Tyson-Geathers-Jenkins. Or in pure pass-rush situations, they can have Geathers and Jenkins in the middle with outside linebackers Jones, Drew, or Washington moving up to the line as Houston did often last year. Don’t be concerned if you don’t see big numbers from this group. The defensive line in a 3-4 scheme is often asked to fill gaps and occupy the offensive line while the linebackers clean up the tackles. You’ll know the DL is doing its job if you see Jarvis Jones and Ogletree wreaking havoc in the backfield.
  • WR Michael Bennett (#82): If you’re looking for a darkhorse to contribute on offense this year, consider Bennett. He redshirted last year, but there’s always room on the field for someone who can catch.

The Schedule

The consensus is that Georgia’s 2011 schedule lends itself to a good year, but that was the case in 2010 also. You still have to play the games. Georgia again avoids Alabama and LSU. They swap Arkansas for Ole Miss and Colorado for Boise State, and those are about the only real differences in quality. Another reason why people like Georgia’s schedule is that many of the tougher games are at home or at least at neutral sites. Boise might as well be a home game, and South Carolina, Miss. St., and Auburn all come to Athens. Georgia’s SEC road games are at Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. If they can get past the first two games, the schedule looks very manageable if Georgia is really a better team this year.


  • Depth at offensive line: The starting unit looks pretty good with only one real newcomer. Hope they stay healthy. Redshirt sophomore Dallas Lee is the first off the bench, but after that you start playing true freshmen.
  • Receivers: Tavarres King (#12) is about the only proven guy on a roster of just six scholarship receivers. True freshman Mitchell should help, but Georgia really needs its upperclassmen – Brown, Troupe, and Wooten – to improve their productivity and consistency. The luxury of a deep tight end position is nice, but it’s no substitute for a lack of receivers.
  • Pass rush: Houston, the team’s sack leader, is gone along with several linebackers. Georgia has options here, but they’re young and/or unproven. Jarvis Jones, Drew, and Cornelius Washington will be three guys at the key outside linebacker position who will try to create pressure and generate sacks.
  • Confidence: It’s been a good offseason, but the team and its leaders haven’t faced adversity yet. How will this leadership and feel-good talk hold up to a real test? Georgia fans haven’t forgotten about last season, but most would like to see Richt succeed. It won’t take long for them to turn if it looks as if the problems from last season persist. On the other hand, winning the first two could give the team momentum it hasn’t had since late 2007.

Reasons for Hope

  • Aaron Murray: He has the temperament and skills you want from your quarterback. Murray has established himself as a leader off the field. Now he has to do it on the field. He hasn’t had that defining 4th quarter moment yet, but you have to think it’s coming soon.
  • All the right pieces on defense: Georgia lacked several elements to run a successful 3-4 this year, but they seem to be in place now. You have the stout defensive line, fast linebackers that can hit, and not many holes in the secondary. These pieces still have to mesh, and there are several players without much experience either at their position or playing together.
  • Some of the best special teams in the country. Walsh and Butler are unmatched. Boykin is always a threat to bring a kickoff back. Coverage took a big step forward last year. Georgia’s special teams will be the difference at some point this year.
  • The newcomers: Georgia had a lot of questions after last year, and they got answers to nearly all of them. You’d rather they be upperclassmen veterans, but Georgia doesn’t have the luxury. Still, several of them can contribute right away. It’s going to be enjoyable watching this group over the next 3-5 years.
  • The leadership: I’ve had it too – enough with the offseason stories about working harder than ever (we mean it this time!). Most of us are numb to them by now. That said, Georgia does seem to have some of its best and deepest group of leaders in several years. Underclassmen like Murray and Christian Robinson have earned a position of respect. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Butler, Tyson, Boykin, and Ben Jones are your senior captains. I couldn’t imagine getting on the wrong side of Ben Jones. Importantly, you’re also seeing some of the newcomers be very vocal about their role in Georgia’s turnaround. Ray Drew is a natural. When you see true freshman center David Andrews quote Erk Russell, you know that the right messages are getting through. The team has used the Jon Gordon book to build unity and align the direction of the team, and they’re not shy about calling out players who have strayed. Again, all of that won’t matter until it passes the tests during the season.
  • Mark Richt: Yes, the embattled coach. Call it reinvigoration, recovery, or just desperation – Richt has to know that he’s running out of time to return Georgia to the top of the SEC. That kind of pressure can be destructive, or it can be motivating. Athletic director Greg McGarity is making sure that Richt has everything he needs to run the program his way – you can see that in the new conditioning program, the nutrition staff, and especially the new weight room and football facility. Richt gives credit to McGarity’s support, and he recently told an interviewer that it “has revived me in a lot of ways. I’m energized right now and feeling great.” That’s encouraging, but it also means Richt is just about out of things to change with the program. He has the coaches he wants, a good level of talent, and he has the full support of the athletic department behind him. The rest is up to him…