Wednesday February 27, 2013
Junior linebacker Alec Ogletree will be in the NFL next season, and we learned today that his brother Zander will leave the team because of “medical concerns.” He will remain in school and on scholarship.
Zander’s career was one of the more puzzling ones to track. He played in every game (as a reserve) in his sophomore season, and he seemed poised to enter 2012 as the starting fullback. We got almost daily updates about the early-season suspensions on the defensive side of the ball, but apparently Zander sat without much fanfare during that time too. Rambo, Alec Ogletree, and the others on defense stepped right back into their roles upon returning from suspension, but Zander found himself displaced by a mix of players up to and including walk-on Merritt Hall. We asked after the Kentucky game whether we’d seen the last of Zander.
Then came the Florida game. Ogletree re-emerged in Jacksonville to catch two passes from the fullback spot. He built on that performance against Ole Miss with two more receptions and a run that would turn out to be the only touchdown of his career. He saw a couple of more carries against Georgia Southern but faded as the season ended.
We wondered a bit when Georgia got a commitment from Augusta RB/FB Brendan Douglas at the end of January, and some rumors about Ogletree’s future came out not long after. We’re glad to learn that Ogletree remains in good standing and will continue in school and that he hasn’t been dismissed from the team. This news does make more sense out of the Douglas signing – it fills the roster spot left by Ogletree, and it leads us to believe that Ogletree’s future had been thought about as long as a month ago.
The fullback position will look again to Merritt Hall, its most experienced returning player. We also expect to see big strides from Quayvon Hicks whose reputation as a solid and fearless hitter turned heads in preseason camp last season. Of course Douglas will be in the mix too, but he could very well redshirt.
Tuesday February 26, 2013
As the ACC schedules were announced on Monday, we learned that South Carolina’s season opener with North Carolina would be moved to Thursday night, Aug. 29th. ESPN is credited with arranging the move.
I’m probably not the only person who assumed this was set as a Thursday game already – it’s been a popular and successful setting for South Carolina to open the season. The Gamecocks have had a Thursday opener six times in eight seasons under Steve Spurrier, and they’re a perfect 6-0 in those games.
The new date gives South Carolina an additional two days to rest and prepare for their Sept. 7th trip to Athens to open SEC play against Georgia, but does it matter? The Gamecocks are just 1-4 in the Spurrier era when they face Georgia in the week following a Thursday game. They’re 3-0 under Spurrier when they’ve had the usual week to prepare for the Dawgs. Now had Georgia entertained the idea of moving the Clemson game to Labor Day…
Tuesday February 26, 2013
For Andy Landers, an uneventful win at Ole Miss is newsworthy. Despite the vast gulf in class between the two programs over the years, Oxford has always been a bit of a tar pit for the Lady Dogs. Georgia entered Sunday’s game just one game over .500 in 15 games at Mississippi. But a pair of double-digit runs to start each half (13-0 in the first half and 12-0 in the second) put to rest any concerns of an upset. Andy Landers notched his 900th career victory with a 73-54 win over Ole Miss. Georgia has won three in a row and stands at 23-4 overall and 11-3 in SEC play, good enough for a tie for second place in the conference.
The Lady Dogs enter the final week of the regular season with a good shot at claiming second place outright thanks to Sunday losses by Kentucky and Texas A&M. Georgia is currently tied with those two teams at 11-3, but the schedule is much more favorable for Georgia. Kentucky and A&M both face Tennessee this week while Georgia’s toughest test will come on Sunday at home against Vanderbilt. Tennessee has had some shaky moments though, and there’s a small but not insignificant chance that we could see a four-way tie for first place at 13-3.
First things first, though. Georgia has to do its part and handle its final two games. Road trips are never a given (see Tennessee’s improbable loss at Missouri), and Mississippi State has won three of its last four home games. It should at the very least be a tougher game than Ole Miss was. Vanderbilt is going through some rebuilding this year, but they’ve begun to figure things out. They’ve won two in a row with attention-getting wins over Florida and Texas A&M. Georgia will host Vandy on Sunday in what figures to be a very emotional Senior Day. The Lady Dogs will bid farewell to seven seniors, and you never know how the team will respond.
One of those seniors has been the constant during Georgia’s streak of seven wins in their last eight games. Forward Jasmine Hassell has posted four double-doubles over the last five games, most recently 23 points and 10 rebounds at Ole Miss. Though the seniors will be in the spotlight on Sunday, an outstanding freshman class has made a big difference on this year’s team. Tiaria Griffin added 12 points at Ole Miss, and Shacobia Barbee earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for strong games against Arkansas and Ole Miss. The contribution of the freshmen make this team fairly deep – an unusual luxury for an Andy Landers squad – but they’ll need more consistent offense from seniors Jasmine James and Anne Marie Armstrong to be a postseason contender.
The SEC Tournament begins next week in Duluth, and Georgia will have the small advantage of being the “home” team in any game not involving Tennessee. Georgia’s seeding and the rest of the SEC standings should be determined by Sunday evening.
Friday February 15, 2013
In addition to wanting more rotation along the defensive line, Todd Grantham also had something to say about the inside linebacker position. I don’t know if there was a more turbulent position on the team in 2012 than ILB. Ogletree was a rock, but even his four-game suspension factored into the story.
We began to hear a lot about the position’s role in communication among defenders. It’s the job of a middle linebacker to identify the offense’s formations and get the defense adjusted and lined up correctly. In 2012 you had a situation where the more experienced players who could do a better job aligning the defense weren’t necessarily the best athletes or tacklers, and a younger player like Amarlo Herrera was better at making the plays but maybe not as good at quarterbacking the defense.
This issue came to a head in Shawn Williams’ midseason tirade. The “soft” challenge to his fellow defenders got the most attention, but Williams also had some things to say about the inside linebacker position.
“As a player, that’s what I want. I want to see Amarlo Herrera and Ogletree in the game at inside linebacker. I don’t want to see anybody taking them out of there. I feel those are two guys who will go out and give everything they’ve got, even if they mess up. I feel they will get to the ball. That’s what we need – get to the ball.”
That statement might’ve ruffled some feathers inside the locker room, especially since Williams implied that two seniors, Gilliard and Robinson, should see less time on the field in order to get Herrera out there. But that got to the point – was it more important to “get to the ball” as Williams put it, or did the larger responsibilities of the position matter enough to keep the allocation of playing time as it was? Gilliard was no slouch, and Robinson thrived against the option teams late in the season, but here we are talking about the need to improve the defense against the run.
Herrera saw plenty of playing time of course. He started nine games, and he was fifth on the team with 70 tackles (second behind only Ogletree among inside linebackers). That doesn’t mean that the issue was settled: though he forced a fumble on special teams in the SEC Championship, the defensive coaches didn’t use him much even as Alabama’s running game got going. He finished with only two tackles in the game.
I think Herrera is emerging as one of the most important keys to the success of the 2013 defense. With Gilliard, Robinson, and Ogletree gone, Herrera enters his junior year as the most experienced ILB. He can make the tackles, and now his leadership and analytical abilities will be tested. If Grantham is looking to this position to help improve the defense’s success against the run, Herrera’s role is central.
Friday February 15, 2013
Blutarsky highlights a Todd Grantham interview with Chris Low, and a few things jumped out at me from Grantham’s prescription for getting better against the run. The first is this imperative for the defensive line: “We’ve got to play more players up front and keep them fresh.”
Much of the attention given to Rodney Garner’s departure has focused on recruiting, but the change is also an opportunity to take stock of the defensive line, and that includes a look at the rotation. In a discussion about defending the option offense, Rodney Garner gave some insight into his approach to rotating linemen:
Garner has no desire to play a lineman he does not have faith in simply to give one of the regulars a breather.
“Obviously if you’ve got more depth that you can have that’s quality depth that you feel like you can win with and compete with, I think that’s good. But I think people think it’s real easy to play a bunch of people,” Garner said. “Well, the game’s always on the line. People can score like that, so you’re constantly trying to put guys out there that give you a chance to win it, to finish, that you have confidence in…We’re all creatures of habit, so if I’m confident and I know this guy right here’s going to do his assignment, then obviously you want to go with that guy that you know. With such-and-such, ‘Well he’s 50-50,’ you play the odds.”
That makes sense – you don’t want to put a liability out there just for the sake of resting a starter who, even tired, might be the better choice over a fresh reserve. At the same time, Garner was infamous for his “doghouse“, and there’s a difference between “playing the odds” as Garner put it and just not trusting your players. One early thing to watch with new line coach Chris Wilson is whether the defense takes a few more chances with playing reserves. Grantham is the coordinator, but substitution decisions are often left to the position coach. We’ll see if a new position coach is more amenable to Grantham’s vision than the entrenched guy was.
Friday February 15, 2013
Each season starts with fresh hope and promise, and so it is with the 2013 Diamond Dawgs. But a trip back to last May is sobering. A late-season collapse kept the team from making the NCAA Tournament even after a 10-1 start and a top-ten ranking. The evaluation of the season even prompted a defense of the program by AD Greg McGarity – one that included a puzzling statement about Georgia’s expectations to compete against the teams at the top of the league.
Georgia could be good this year, and the return of Kyle Farmer fuels that optimism. A deeper pitching staff will have to carry an offense that still doesn’t look to have a ton of power. The question is whether “good” will be “good enough.” The Dawgs are projected to finish fifth in the seven-team SEC East, and it could be another season on the bubble. If that kind of season pans out, it’s hard to imagine Greg McGarity having the same certainty about the leadership of the program.
Wednesday February 13, 2013
The Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors met on Tuesday, and as usual there’s some news:
Mark Richt has navigated some difficult seasons to produce back-to-back SEC East champions, and his compensation has been increased by about $400,000 to $3.2 million as a result. The raise is appropriate – it’s enough to acknowledge the performance of the program over the past two seasons, but it also doesn’t go crazy and put Georgia at the bleeding edge of SEC (and national) salaries.
Richt might consider passing on some of his raise to one of his former players. Shawn Williams’ role in the 2012 turnaround continues to get praise from no less than Richt’s boss. “Kentucky was a tough, tough game,” said athletics director Greg McGarity. “And then Shawn Williams stepped in, and made a few comments, and it just kind of seem to turn the tide….He’s one of my favorite players of all time.”
Richt and his staff now have the job of making the changes brought on by Williams’ leadership a lasting part of the program rather than a one-off push as the finish to the 2007 season turned out to be. There was no news concerning adjustments for the assistants, but AD Greg McGarity expects to discuss that with Richt soon.
Student attendence has been an issue since the 2011 season, and the school took steps in 2012 to rework the priority system and get tickets into the hands of students who wanted to come to games. But it was clear that the student section was just too large to begin with, and that’s been addressed now.
Georgia will take 2,000 student tickets and set them aside for a new “Young Alumni Program” designed to get recent alums (within the past five years) on the road to becoming renewable season ticket holders. The young alums will have no donation requirement the first year they buy tickets. This is similar to a program that was available when I graduated in the 1990s that subsidized the required donation for the first couple of years, but I guess that program had been ended at some point.
Anyway, this is a win all around. The student section gets reduced to about 16,000 seats (though, on average, fewer than 12,000 students have attended each game since 2009.) The school now has a way to reach out to the next generation of season ticket holders for whom the initial donation might’ve made the leap from student tickets to season tickets too steep. And though the school misses out on an initial donation from these recent alums, it still receives full face value for those tickets. The school will receive $448,000 a year in additional revenue (assuming a seven-game home schedule) by selling these 2,000 tickets at $40 face value rather than selling them to students at $8 per game.
Also of note
Fans visiting Foley Field this year will see welcome improvements to the facility even if a more ambitious overhaul or replacement is still needed down the road. The athletic department also boasts a stable and strong financial position, and the news is also positive on the academic front.
Wednesday February 13, 2013
The suggestion that Jadeveon Clowney should skip his junior season in order to train and avoid the risk of an in-game injury does seem silly, and it was roundly dismissed by both Clowney and his coach.
But watching Nerlens Noel go down last night, I couldn’t help but think of the Clowney story. Noel and Clowney are two student-athletes playing amateur ball at a professional level for no other reason than the barriers to entry erected by their respective professional leagues. Certainly they receive the benefits of development and exposure playing for high-profile college programs, but there’s no question that they’d be snapped up tomorrow by professional teams if eligible.
We’ve already seen Brandon Jennings’ long way around the one-and-done rule in basketball, but not many others have followed his lead. And why should they? For the elite basketball player, a one-and-done season isn’t a bad deal – with a good season and a tournament run, your profile is much higher than it was coming out of high school. Yes, players like Maurice Clarett have tried to work around the restrictions, but it’s not something that you’re used to hearing from someone in good standing, as it were.
I think the Clowney decision is the correct one – there’s something about commitment to a team and the experience that can’t be replaced, as Spurrier points out. Even if Clowney took the year off from competitive football to take an advance on future earnings and just focus on training, injuries are still possible. I just wouldn’t be surprised for someone in the near future to take a more serious look at stepping away from college football after a high draft status is wrapped up (and, granted, it could just as well be someone who’s received some very bad advice to do so). The emerging evidence of head trauma places a cost on every time a player steps on a field, and it’s not outrageous for a college player who’s gotten as much as he can out of the college game to consider if he wants to continue paying that cost.
Thursday February 7, 2013
If the vague answers on Signing Day didn’t give it away, we get official word today that, yes, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is going to interview with the New Orleans Saints. No one should be surprised – he has a strong NFL background, we know he has ambitions beyond Georgia, and we kind of want that from everyone but the head coach, don’t we?
We’d very much like for him to stick around, and we expect he will – for now. The Philadelphia Eagles have reportedly already found their man, so it seems to be either New Orleans or bust for Grantham this time. Grantham will be up against Rob Ryan who’s considered the favorite for the position.
I don’t see the Saints interview just as a means to better Grantham’s Georgia contract, and I also think he was sincere when he told recruits that he’d still be at Georgia in the fall. The Saints interview – with Ryan the strong leader – is a way to get word out that Grantham is very much on the market not for this year but for next year, and it’s a way to prepare for a much more serious attempt at a move towards the end of the 2013 season.
If that’s the case and he does return, the 2013 season at Georgia will be a big one professionally for Grantham. He’s had mixed results even with a loaded roster, and he’ll preside over a fairly large rebuilding project on that side of the ball. Georgia fans probably won’t be the only ones watching to see what he does with the challenge.
Thursday February 7, 2013
In looking for a way to reconcile a recruiting class that met needs and replenished the scholarship numbers with the lackluster results landing top targets, I settled on this: it’s the 2008 season of recruiting classes. Most programs would jump at the chance for a season like the Dawgs had in 2008: 10 wins, a win over the defending champs on their field, and a New Year’s Day bowl victory to close it out. But when the season began with a #1 ranking and the potential of a star-packed offense leading the team to SEC and national glory, it was tough to get excited about the outcome – especially when the three losses laid bare some unpleasant realities about the program.
So it was on Signing Day on Wednesday. There’s every reason to be thrilled with those who signed. It’s almost unheard of for a class of this size not to have many reaches, but Georgia’s signings all make sense. The immediate needs for 2013 were met: there will be impact players coming in at defensive back, linebacker, and receiver. We won’t sweat many of them qualifying – 13 of them are already enrolled. Georgia competed against some of the top programs in the nation for nearly every member of the class.
But when the state was loaded enough to give Georgia a very good shot at landing the nation’s top class, finishing just on the edge of the top 10 doesn’t move the needle. You’ll never get all of the top prospects from a talent-rich state like Georgia, but you also expect to do better than getting just two of the top 15.
It matters. If the whole ranking system is your problem, just focus on specifics. Could Georgia have used an elite tackle to give them flexibility with Gates, a good lineman who’s probably better suited for the interior? Could Georgia have used the state’s top tailback to spell Gurley and Marshall during the grind of the SEC season? Could Georgia’s thin defensive line, which had no answers against the Alabama running game, have used an impact player to rotate in to keep the group fresh for the fourth quarter? Georgia’s Signing Day targets weren’t just extraneous bling; they were all good enough to have very clear roles already defined for them. Georgia fans, of anyone, should understand very well how elite prospects can elevate a program. Even if they don’t all pan out (and they don’t), you increase your odds of finding that difference-maker the more you bring into the program.
We can stop with the 2008 analogy for a minute. That year helped to expose a rotten conditioning program and continued a downward slide on defense. There’s no crisis in Georgia recruiting. Led by the coordinators, the staff is full of strong recruiters. The behind-the-scenes organization is led by the right person, and that organization will be expanded and supported under new NCAA rules. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that Georgia can’t improve its recruiting. They’ll have to take full advantage of the NCAA’s more streamlined rules. There might be tactics used by successful rivals that are worth adapting. The departure of Rodney Garner might have cost Georgia a little at the end, but it also provides an opportunity for a needed re-vamping of everything from how prospects are evaluated to how they are contacted and offered.
We’re not going to rend garments over a strong class that features 14 of the ESPN 300, and hopefully it’s possible to talk about the big misses while giving those who did sign their due. It’s tough to say though whether this class gets Georgia any closer to the top of the conference or even shores up their position at the top of the division. As the 2008 season saw the beginning of the rise of Alabama as the standard against which the rest of the conference had to compete, Georgia’s recruiting only matters in the context of how well the program is stocked to play in the SEC and challenge for its top spot.