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Post Ten minutes with Schottenheimer’s offense

Monday August 31, 2015

Georgia’s offense isn’t expected to change much despite the new coordinator. Mark Richt will still influence both scheme and playcalling. That said, Brian Schottenheimer will be running the show. We saw a limited preview of the offense at G-Day. Here’s a video highlighting some of his passing plays while with the Rams.

If you want an area to key on, watch the tight ends. As much as we’ve heard about Georgia’s depth at the position, it’s encouraging to see some ideas in action here. Tight ends feature in everything from tight formations to the four-wide look. We see them in motion, in multiple TE sets, flexed out, offset in an h-back look…nothing too revolutionary but just what you’d expect from a pro scheme and a coordinator who recognizes the usefulness of the tight end position.

As a bonus, watch some of the Tavon Austin plays and imagine someone like Sony Michel (or, if you’re a recruiting nut, Terry Godwin) in that role.

Post Sprechen Sie playbook?

Monday August 31, 2015

As preseason camp comes to a close, the biggest question facing the Georgia program remains unresolved. With the possibility of the starting quarterback decision lingering into the season, we’re not much closer to a resolution. It might or might not be down to two candidates – even that much can’t be confirmed. What we do have though is a broader sketch of what the coaches are trying to evaluate.

We’ve also seen discussion of the attributes each of the three candidates brings to the field. By this point we can distill each guy down to one key strength: Ramsey – upside. Bauta – work ethic. Lambert – intellect. You’d love to combine elements of all three, and each strength makes sense in different situations. I’m sure that’s some of what’s been making the decision tougher than we’d like.

While things like arm strength (gotta make the throws!), avoiding turnovers, and not tripping while handing off to Chubb matter, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner says something else should be near the top: learning the playbook. Warner is writing in a more general context of making an NFL roster spot, but it applies to the quarterback hierarchy too. A quarterback with a shaky understanding of the playbook limits what the coaches can call and, potentially much worse, can screw up the execution of the plays that are called. No surprise there. We’ve read for several weeks how Lambert’s quick study of the Georgia offense has him right back in the mix.

But as Warner points out, the challenge isn’t just learning the playbook of the team you’re on. It’s reconciling your new playbook with everything you’ve already learned elsewhere. As Warner explains, what a newcomer like Lambert will do at first is how most of us approach a second language: performing translations on the fly to our native tongue. It isn’t until much later (or even until a long period of immersion) that you begin to think in the idioms and vocabulary of your second language. Lambert is very likely still speaking “Virginia” in his head as he translates Georgia’s offense.

And that takes time to master. From what I’ve experienced, new terminology is not fully adopted by a quarterback for one year. They’re still able to call plays and function in a system before then, but it’s difficult to get beyond thinking and learn to react…It’s why every year, a huge contingent of playoff teams will be those that came into the season with a quarterback who already “spoke their language.”.

You’d expect that to put Lambert at a disadvantage, but the great equalizer is Brian Schottenheimer. The other quarterbacks are also adjusting to a new playbook even if it’s more of a new dialect rather than a completely new language. Though much of Georgia offense will remain the same in philosophy, Schottenheimer admits that “we probably just call it something different.” Georgia’s other quarterbacks have had a little longer than Lambert to make this transition, but if Warner’s estimate of one year is accurate even for somewhat simpler college playbooks, there’s still some ongoing adaptation of the new system by all of the quarterbacks.

By the way, if you want to get ahead of things, Warner also has some thoughts on what it’s like to sit behind the “future of the franchise.” That’s a whole other can of worms that might be opened up as soon as December.

Post Georgia on opponent schedules: 2015 edition

Wednesday August 26, 2015

Schedule is already a part of the 2015 discussion, and it’s something we like to look at before the season gets going. Many Georgia observers are pointing to the Alabama-Tennessee-Missouri stretch as a key to Georgia’s season, but mid-to-late November could also put the Dawgs up against a couple of top 15 teams.

We’re familiar with Georgia’s schedule, but equally important is where Georgia falls on the schedules of their opponents. Will they be coming off a bye, an FCS opponent, or a grueling stretch of SEC games? At first glance, Georgia fans should like where the Dawgs appear on most of these schedules. Here’s what each opponent will face before they take on the Dawgs.

Louisiana-Monroe: A long, brutal summer.

@Vanderbilt: vs. Western Kentucky

For most SEC teams, this is a moderately-interesting mid-major tuneup against a WKU team that finished with a winning record and a thrilling Bahamas Bowl win. For Vanderbilt, this is nearly a pick-em: most early lines have Vandy as a 1.5 to 2-point favorite. An early loss would deflate what little enthusiasm there is for the second year of Derek Mason. An unexpected big win would get the buzz going about another tight Vandy-UGA game in Nashville.

South Carolina: UNC, Kentucky

The Gamecocks start the season with two fairly strong tests. The North Carolina game in Charlotte will be a good measuring stick for both teams. The Kentucky game will be a rematch of a Wildcat upset in 2014. Georgia fans will be watching that SC-UK game to gauge their confidence for the Gamecocks’ trip to Athens.

Southern: A battle of the bands (they win.)

Alabama: Ole Miss, Louisiana-Monroe

Alabama will get not one but two September quality opponents. They’ll start with a neutral-site game against Wisconsin and a couple of weeks later will try to avenge their 2014 loss in Oxford. Alabama will be more than battle-tested in time for their first true road game of the season at Georgia. People starving for common-opponent comparisons will note that both Georgia and Alabama play ULM.

@Tennessee: Oklahoma, WCU, @Florida, Arkansas

Much will be / has been made about Georgia’s “trap game” at Tennessee, but the Vols will have three tough opponents of their own in the four games before the Bulldogs visit. They’ll have a high-profile home game against Oklahoma and an important trip to Gainesville that could establish or diminish the SEC East hopes for both schools. A physical game against Arkansas likely won’t give the Vols much time to look ahead.

Missouri: @Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida

Like Georgia, Mizzou will have played half of their SEC East slate before this mid-October game. The difference is that the Tigers will see three straight divisional foes before they visit Athens. If this is to be the year Missouri fades from the top of the division, it’ll show up during this stretch. On the other hand, these are the only teams that could keep Missouri from rolling into Athens undefeated. (They won’t lose to UConn, right? Right?)

Florida: Ole Miss, @Missouri, @LSU, BYE

The Gators will have the usual bye week before the WLOCP, but the rest of their October looks tough. This was the time when things began to fall apart for Muschamp last season (not that it mattered in Jacksonville), and we should know plenty about Jim McElwain’s first season after facing this stretch that includes Ole Miss and two difficult road games.

Kentucky: Auburn, @Miss. St., Tennessee

We’re in the thick of the conference schedule by this point, and Kentucky has a tough few games before they play Georgia. Not much else to say here. Unusual to see Kentucky play Tennessee before the end of the season, but the Louisville game takes that spot now.

@Auburn: @Arkansas, Ole Miss, @Texas A&M

There are a number of reasons why Georgia thumped Auburn last year, but I have to think that three straight dramatic one-score games took a toll on the Tigers before they came to Athens. It’s a similar path for Auburn this year: before Georgia comes to town, Auburn must run an SEC West gauntlet at Arkansas, back home against Ole Miss, and then at Texas A&M. Once again, what will be left in the tank for Georgia?

Georgia Southern: BYE, @Troy

I just wanted to make sure GSU didn’t have a bye directly ahead of the Georgia game, but they have the next best thing – a bye followed by a weak, rebuilding Troy team. Give them a little time to focus on Georgia, a Bulldog team looking ahead to Tech, a sleepy Sanford Stadium crowd, and this one could be close for longer than we’d like.

@Georgia Tech: BYE, Virginia Tech, @ Miami

Tech doesn’t have a bye or even a cupcake ahead of the Georgia game, but they do play their November schedule at a leisurely pace. After a bye, they’ll close conference play with some big games against Virginia Tech and Miami. They should be fairly well-rested at this point late in the season though: the Thursday night game against the Hokies will be their only game between November 1st and November 20th.

Post 2015 ticket cutoffs announced

Wednesday August 26, 2015

Georgia released its final ticket cutoffs for 2015. What’s surprising is that some of the biggest games away from Sanford Stadium didn’t require an additional cutoff. All Hartman Fund donors requesting Tennessee, Auburn, and Florida tickets will receive them.

That doesn’t mean that any donor could request those tickets: each game had a minimum cumulative score required just to place an order. Florida required 9,000 points. Tennessee required 12,000 points, and Auburn required 20,000 points. In practice, those were the cutoffs. Often though there is a higher limit depending on demand.

For context, these are still fairly low cutoffs. Auburn has gradually decreased from 25,850 in 2008 to 22,501 in 2012 to 20,000 in 2013 and 2015. Tennessee decreased from 22,200 in 2007 to 21,950 in 2009 to 15,000 in 2013 to 12,000 this season. Florida cutoffs have been more erratic: 9,200 in 2009 to 8,401 in 2011 to 8,000 in 2012 to 10,261 in 2013 to 9,633 last season and back down to 9,000 for 2015.

Are fans showing some sensitivity to price? While Georgia fans can buy a 7-game season slate of home tickets for $315, it’ll cost nearly that much just to attend the three games mentioned above. Auburn raised their single-game ticket price to $115 for Georgia and Alabama, up from $95 two years ago. Tennessee wants $95 for a Georgia ticket. The Florida game has seen a steady increase from $40 just over five years ago to $70 now. That’s $280 just for those three games.

Georgia fans aren’t the only ones weighing the decision to purchase expensive tickets. Hartman Fund donors received an e-mail on Tuesday with the news that South Carolina had returned a limited number of $80 tickets.

Post What now for Richt?

Wednesday August 26, 2015

We’ve heard a lot about changes in the Georgia program during the offseason. Nearly the entire staff has turned over in the past two years. The support staff has been filled out. Even little details like travel and the logistics of where to stay before home games have been scrutinized and addressed. It’s been an invigorating offseason that started shortly after the bowl game (that’s its own story), and there’s a momentum and enthusiasm that’s seen in both the 2015 preparations and the ongoing recruiting efforts.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the head coach. To me, that’s a good thing. There’s no confusion about what we get from Mark Richt as a man and figurehead of the program. That man has never been more empowered to succeed.

One effect of the offseason changes is to begin to abstract away things – call them excuses, deficiencies, obstacles, whatever – that reasonably could be seen to hold back the program. Richt the salesman/recruiter has to be happy with the resources at his disposal. Richt the CEO has to be pleased with the organizational and facility improvements required to compete at a high level. These developments are the source of the “no excuses” attitude (*) that I and several others have bought into this summer. But what about Richt as a coach of football?

(*) Speaking only for myself, this doesn’t necessarily mean to expect an SEC or national title in 2015. To begin with, some of the biggest recruiting coups aren’t even on campus yet. Others (Thompson) have just shown up. The defense is still reloading. A window is opening though in which the program should be expected to become more consistently successful.

We’ve had plenty of examples over 15 years to see Richt experiment and grow in his approach to the game. Right out of the gate he had to address clock management. We’ve seen different strategies in special teams – some worked, some didn’t. We’ve seen attempts to press tempo on offense. He read the tea leaves after 2009 and endorsed a change to the 3-4 defense. That change, whether due to coaches or personnel or the scheme itself, has had mixed results. The progress hasn’t been linear, but progress rarely is. So what’s next? What growth, if any, do we need to see from Richt himself in order to make the most of the new investment in the program?

Our nature is to file the decisions that work into the “correct” bucket and those that don’t into “failure.” It’s more complicated though – strategies can succeed or fail for any number of reasons, and all you can do is try to evaluate the thought process behind them. The spike/no-spike decision at the end of the 2012 SEC Championship is a good example. Things might have gone differently had Georgia clocked the ball, but the call itself was defensible. Other decisions have been less defensible.

If Georgia does have the opportunity to have a championship season at any level (divisional, conference, national), the season will almost surely feature a handful of decisions that rest on the head coach. Georgia will be in a position to compete for a title because of the recruiting, preparation, and all of the other work that leads up to the game. All of that will get us to those few moments of truth. That’s nothing new; we’ve seen these situations come up and go both ways for Richt dozens of times. You have the 4th down decisions that won the 2011 Florida game. You have the squib kick against Tech in 2014.

Richt’s way of doing things will be left to stand on its own. We can’t blame a lack of support anymore or point to advantages and resources other programs possess that Georgia does not. With so much progress off the field, I’m approaching the 2015 season looking forward to seeing if Richt can make comparable progress in his approach on the field. It will be how we end up evaluating this next phase of Georgia football.

Post Welcome to 2015

Tuesday August 4, 2015

Georgia’s 2015 football season begins today with the first practice of fall camp. There will be many questions to answer over the next month, and some of those might linger into the first game or beyond. It’s been a relatively quiet offseason, and we hope that trend continues into August and the daily injury reports.

Georgia fans won’t have to wait to get a look at this year’s team: Georgiadogs.com is hosting a live webcast of the first practice and will have content throughout the day from Coach Richt’s press conference live at 12:00 to the 3:00 webcast of practice.

The live webcast will be free for all fans to view. The video will be archived for fans that are unable to watch live.

Post 20 Years

Tuesday August 4, 2015

Late last year author W. Joseph Campbell published a book titled 1995: The Year the Future Began. He argues that 1995 was an especially significant year of cultural change: the O.J. Simpson trial popularized the 24-hour news cycle. The Clinton-Lewinski affair began. The Oklahoma City bombing brought home the reality of domestic terrorism. The rise of the Netscape browser brought the World Wide Web from an academic pursuit into widespread personal and commercial use.

1995 was also the year during which I graduated from the University of Georgia, began my first full-time job, and threw together a few web pages which would become this site. Somehow all of that was left out of Campbell’s book, but here we are 20 years later. Some of the old stuff still exists thanks to the Internet Archive. Those pages were cobbled together by hand and uploaded over an agonizingly slow dial-up connection that got cut off when someone called. Now these posts can be tapped out on my phone, pushed over a high-speed wireless network to a complex content management system, and broadcast to thousands of people in 140 characters or less.

Bulldog sports saw their own changes in 1995. It was the last campaign for Ray Goff, and his departure closed the book on the Vince Dooley era. The coaching change and the first spring under new coach Jim Donnan provided us with some of our first content. The basketball program was in transition after 17 years of Hugh Durham, and Tubby Smith would soon give us a brief taste of success. These were the first teams and coaches that would have to deal with the Internet, and it was fun to find our way along with them.

I did the retrospective for our 15th year, and not much has changed. The need for longer-form blog posts is less with Twitter and Instagram out there, but it’s still nice to have a place to write when the muse strikes. That’s the way I imagine things will continue. Blogs have become big business with nationwide networks hosting teams of authors. But there’s always going to be a place for the lone, unedited voice of the individual, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted from this site.

I want to echo what I said in 2010 – I’ve gotten far more out of having done this site than anything I could hope to give back. I’m grateful for the other writers out there keeping the conversation going, the professionals who give us something to talk about, and most of all for the readers and people I’ve had the privilege of meeting or just chatting with over these 20 years. I can’t imagine what things will look like in another 20 years, but I can’t wait to find out.