Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post “What’s the point of having season tickets?”

Friday September 11, 2015

The Banner-Herald highlights an issue I’ve been stewing over for a month or so. I’ve been a season ticket holder for women’s basketball for a little more than ten years. This summer, we received a letter alerting us to a ticketing change:

Season ticket holders will be located in six sections…with general admission seating offered in those sections on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats in those six sections will be reserved for season ticket holders until the five-minute mark of the first quarter.

No more reserved seating. A “season ticket” (at the same price as before) will now only buy you access into certain restricted sections before the game with no guarantee of a specific seat or section. Shortly after tipoff, all sections will become general admission.

The rationale is this: between unsold reserved tickets and no-shows, fans are scattered throughout the seating area. Making tickets general admission should lead to a crowd that is more compact and closer to the court. That should increase crowd involvement and noise and help the homecourt advantage. A “season ticket” that allows access to specific sections prior to tipoff is offered as a premium.

This plan is similar to something Georgia tried during the 2014 NIT. Tickets were sold as general admission, but Basketball Enhancement Fund contributors received priority on seating in Sections D, E, and F. I’ll admit – it worked. Crowds were small but close the court and involved in the games. Still, it was an ad-hoc ticketing plan for a postseason event for which Georgia only had a couple of days to come up with a way to distribute tickets. Men’s basketball went right back to reserved seating for the 2014-2015 regular season.

The difficulties come from how people actually attend games. It’s the difference between fans and administrators who perceive a problem (“we need a better homecourt advantage”) but who attend games with credentials rather than tickets. These are just a few examples of some practical concerns you’d hear from season ticket holders:

  • The most loyal boosters are offered a “chalk talk” before the game where coaches discuss the matchups and state of the team. It’s a fantastic perq. With the new plan, these fans must either claim seats and leave personal items behind or risk losing their seat while away at the chalk talk. These are also the fans most likely to have season tickets, and this booster club was not consulted on the change.
  • Fans coming from the Atlanta metro struggle to make it much before the 7 p.m. weeknight tips. They’re left to take what seats are available.
  • At $40, a season ticket is steep but not out of reach for fans of teams with large followings (think UT or South Carolina) who want to take over premium sections.
  • Fans have built up relationships with those sitting around them year after year. Areas of different sections have even developed their own personalities as groups of friends and families congregate in their familiar locations. Now they must deal with the inconvenience and stress of saving seats, hoping they arrive on time to sit with friends, and accepting that they might have to watch this game from another section.

Yes, these are largely minor inconveniences. But why intentionally inconvenience your best fans? The experience of going to the game is now diminished by the uncertainty of where you’re going to sit and with whom. My friend Red put it well: “What’s the point of having season tickets?” If the concern is filling up the lower bowl, I have much less of a problem with allowing fans to claim unused seats after five minutes.

Decisions like this usually come down to money, but I can’t see how this move will result in more revenue. Fans can now just buy tickets to the subset of games they plan to attend. The timing is odd, too. The program is on shaky ground, there’s a new and unproven head coach, and the last time we saw the team on the Stegeman court they scored a whopping 26 points. At a time when the athletic department should be building excitement for the renewed energy in the program, they unnecessarily piss off the people most likely to buy in.

All that said, I renewed my tickets. I’m willing to still support the program, and I guess we’ll see how this turns out. I expect that a lot of us will gravitate towards the seats we’re used to. I’ve been a fan long enough to know what loyalty will get you, but with more and more games on the SEC Network, I expect I’ll have a tougher decision in a year.

Post Two simple requests for the Vandy game

Friday September 11, 2015

My wife and I love the trip to Nashville. Our last two visits to Vanderbilt Stadium have been less than pleasant as Georgia twice blew double-digit leads leading to some tense finishes and a loss in 2013. It seems as if some of the players who remember that game are also ready to get the bad taste out of their mouths. This time all I ask is two things that should make for a much more relaxing road trip.

Clean special teams: The last two games in Nashville were much closer than necessary thanks to a truckload of special teams breakdowns. There was the center-eligible fake punt in 2011 followed by a kickoff returned for a touchdown and then a blocked punt that brought Vandy within 20 yards of stealing a win.

The fun continued in 2013: Vanderbilt executed a fake field goal to grab a brief first half lead. The game turned late in the third quarter when Damian Swann fumbled a punt return. In what looked like a replay of the 2011 game, another late botched punt operation gave Vanderbilt the ball deep in Georgia territory, and this time the defense yielded the score that sealed Georgia’s loss.

Georgia showed some progress on special teams in the opener – kickoffs were usually boomed into the endzone, coverage was effective, and punt returns were uneventful. Georgia got to one punt and affected another. The day was a win for special teams. If we get more of that in Nashville, Georgia should win comfortably. After the special teams disasters of the past two games in Nashville, it’ll be a positive development if special teams are just a non-factor.

Deliver the knockout blow: Aaron Murray’s 2013 keeper just before halftime gave the Dawgs a decent 24-14 lead going into the locker room. They had several opportunities in the third quarter to extend that lead to at least 17 points but could only manage a field goal during the entire second half.

Georgia got good field position at their own 44 on their first drive of the second half. They moved the ball to set up a first-and-goal at the Vandy 7 but gained only two yards on the next three plays. The field goal gave Georgia a 27-14 lead – a nice margin but still a two-score game that left room for a Vanderbilt comeback.

Vanderbilt’s next series ended on an interception just inside Georgia territory, but the Dawgs couldn’t cash in and went three-and-out. The Georgia defense held again and forced a punt, but Swann muffed the return and set up the Commodores on Georgia’s 36. A few plays and a couple of fourth down conversions later (including the infamous Ramik Wilson penalty), and the Commodores scored to move within six points. With momentum on their side, Vanderbilt chipped away at the lead and pounced on the opportunity presented when a high snap went through Barber’s hands.

It was a different Vanderbilt team last season, but it was still important that Georgia responded with a touchdown just before halftime after Vanderbilt closed to within 21-7. Besides, it gives us a chance to watch Todd Gurley throw the ball again.

Post SEC Championship remains in Atlanta through 2026

Friday September 11, 2015

For the first decade-plus of the SEC Championship game, there weren’t many other alternatives to Atlanta. The only other SEC town with a dome was New Orleans, and playing on an outdoor field in Nashville or even Jacksonville wasn’t much of an option.

That changed with the SEC’s addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Three more cities – St. Louis, Houston, and of course Dallas – within the SEC footprint had domed stadiums with experience hosting major sporting events. You’d expect a little more competition for the conference’s best event.

It’s significant then that the SEC announced this week that Atlanta would remain the host through at least 2026. The championship game will remain at the Georgia Dome through 2016 and move to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for 2017 and beyond.

The presence of the game in Atlanta has coincided with the rise of SEC football as an athletic and economic powerhouse, and the game hasn’t been so bad for those of us here in Georgia either:

As reported by the GWCCA, the economic impact of the SEC Football Championship Game to the State of Georgia since 1999 is estimated at more than one billion dollars.

Post Georgia 51 – Louisana-Monroe 14: Ride the lightning

Monday September 7, 2015

A review of the season opener coming up just as soon as I change into my Gameday Gown.

Georgia 51 – Louisana-Monroe 14

Let’s get the big stuff out of the way: the Georgia debuts of Brian Schottenheimer and Greyson Lambert went about as well as could be expected. The tailbacks and outside linebackers are everything we thought they were. Special teams has improved. Georgia got out in front and put away a weaker opponent, survived some lapses around both ends of halftime, and responded to put the game away before Mother Nature ended things.

Schottenheimer’s playcalling wasn’t put to the test, but the execution of the plays that were called was solid, and that’s as much on the coordinator as the playcalling is. It’s a low bar to set, but seeing some of the problems other teams around the nation had just running their offense, we’ll take a fairly clean performance. It’s the downside of a runaway win like this that Georgia didn’t have to open it up much. Mitchell’s outstanding touchdown catch was the lone pass attempt downfield, and only two wide receivers caught passes. We knew though that Georgia isn’t going to air it out when they have a tailback roster this deep, and Schottenheimer was able to manage exactly the kind of game he wanted.

Lambert also wasn’t asked to do much, but he looked competent running the offense. The two touchdown passes were well-placed throws. He adjusted the formation to set up Chubb’s second touchdown run. Perhaps most important for this type of offense, he didn’t make mistakes that cost the team field position. There were no turnovers or sacks, and even unproductive drives ended in long punts that put ULM deep in their own end. That was enough for the defense and special teams to set up some short early scoring drives and ensure that Georgia would have the lead that would put them in complete control of the game.

Lambert didn’t face much pressure – a positive for him getting comfortable running this offense but a negative if you wanted to see how he’d respond. There were a few plays where he might’ve held on to the ball too long or not pulled the trigger against tight coverage. We’d rather he do that than force bad throws, but hesitation won’t be a virtue when the game is moving much faster against better opponents. The batted passes were a concern for a 6’5″ quarterback. Given a clean pocket though, Lambert showed he could make accurate throws up to 30 yards down the field. The performance was good enough that no one batted an eye when Mark Richt announced postgame that Lambert would remain the starter. No controversy.

That’s a good thing because Brice Ramsey gave us enough in his one series to start a controversy had Lambert opened the door. The sack on second down wasn’t Ramsey’s fault (ULM sent three defenders at two offensive linemen, and neither Hicks nor Chubb picked up the additional rusher), but Ramsey rebounded to throw one of the nicer passes of the day – a laser across the middle to hit Godwin in stride. Ramsey’s touchdown screen pass to Michel was another impressive throw. Ramsey had to be patient against another ULM blitz while the screen set up, and he executed a delicate pass. Georgia fans will be pleased that the screen game is alive and well.

The defense didn’t have as much to prove, but they gave us plenty to talk about. As dominant as they were for much of the first half, they had difficulties against the pass and one specific area of the run. ULM had some success using play action out of a read option to make it a fairly efficient 23-for-29 day for the quarterback. Georgia held ULM to around 7 yards per attempt, so they usually did well to keep these passes short. It was when ULM could string together a few longer passes that they scored. There wasn’t a specific weakness. Sometimes it was a rookie corner like Rico McGraw taking his licks. Other times it was an interior linebacker out of position. These are all areas we should expect to improve with experience and coaching, and the defense more often than not made enough plays to get off the field.

ULM’s offense isn’t going to run the ball much, and Georgia did well to make sure they didn’t get many cheap yards on the ground. The most successful running plays were quarterback keeps on the read option. That’s something we’re likely to see again soon from teams like South Carolina and Tennessee, particularly on third and short.

  • We saw a healthy Marshall and Mitchell. It’s great for the offense but you’re also happy for them personally. The cheer Marshall got from the fans was one of the best moments of the day. Mitchell’s touchdown was a highlight, but his ability to shake the first defender on his other receptions will be a valuable skill.
  • You can’t mention Marshall without Michel. We had seen Sony in the passing game at South Carolina last year, but putting him in the slot with Chubb in the backfield is almost cruel. He beat a cornerback on that long gain, but often he’ll be matched up with a linebacker. As bland as the offense was, Michel was a nice reminder of the possibilities. He looks to be a more physical runner too – both he and Marshall were impressive finishing runs.
  • Again we talked a lot in the preseason about the depth at tight end. We saw plenty of them – at least three touchdowns in the first half came on two-TE sets. Their role in the passing game was more limited – only Blazevich caught a pass.
  • The weather saved us from Georgia killing the clock, but the final delay came at a time when we were just starting to see significant numbers of newcomers take the field. Georgia ended up playing 19 true freshmen, but many of them only got a series or two before the game was called. We might’ve also seen another series for Ramsey (or even Bauta), but it was the young talent on defense that I was most interested to see.
  • That said, freshmen still had a big impact on the game. Godwin was the headliner (just hold onto the ball!) D’Andre Walker had the big special teams play. McGraw took his lumps, but that’s what happens when you’re thrown into the fire as a true freshman starting at cornerback.
  • Floyd had a very good game, but I’m still not sold on him at the star spot (or even ILB.) He’s terrifying coming off the edge and can be very quick in pursuit, but I don’t know about the pass coverage or taking on a big back running downhill. I get moving him around just to get him (and Carter, etc.) on the field, but in certain roles he’s just good rather than exceptional. For this defense and its personnel, “good” might be the best option though.
  • The team should get credit for using the first weather delay to refocus, and they looked sharper once play resumed. But the play before the delay was significant – Parrish fought off a block on a receiver screen and made a tackle for loss that set up a longer third down coming out of the delay. Parrish quietly had a solid day.
  • The up-tempo offense is also alive and well. Georgia sped it up several times during the game.
  • Barber was impressive on kickoffs (except when he wasn’t.) His first punt – after a high snap – was rough, but the rest looked good. Field position mattered throught the game, and Barber was a big part of that. Coverage was exceptional even on the kickoffs that didn’t make it to the endzone. Seeing guys like Lorenzo Carter, Natrez Patrick, and several touted freshmen on special teams is encouraging.
  • Que sure looks the part, doesn’t he?

It was a game settled long before the second lightning delay made it official. There were no significant injuries, no turnovers, and no real controversies going forward about the lineup. Without much else on the line, that outcome is just how Georgia wanted to head into SEC play.

Post The secondary’s lost generation

Wednesday September 2, 2015

In a bit of good news, the attrition that hit the secondary a year ago seems to have slowed (or even stopped!). But those departures took their toll. Jeremy Pruitt had to piece together a thin secondary in 2014 that included a walk-on and true freshmen, and the results were mixed. Teams like South Carolina were able to pick apart the pass coverage, but there was gradual improvement.

That improvement might have been due in part to the offenses Georgia was facing. After Clemson and South Carolina, every other regular season opponent ended up in the bottom half of D-1 for passing offense. Six of Georgia’s final nine regular season opponents were 90th or worse (out of 125 teams) in passing offense. You’d hope to look a little better against the pass facing those offenses. (As for the run…)

Still, there were positive developments. New faces like Aaron Davis, Malkom Parrish, and especially Dominick Sanders emerged. Quincy Mauger took a big step forward from a shaky 2013. Though the unit will miss the versatility of Damian Swann, those four returning players will have big roles in 2015.

The depth chart released earlier this week bears that out. All four figure to start with true freshman Rico McGraw pushing for playing time at cornerback or star. Sanders is athletic enough to slide into a safety role this year. Davis, who recently earned a scholarship, will work at corner with Parrish. None of that was a big surprise.

The rest of the depth chart raised some eyebrows. All four of the remaining spots are occupied by true freshmen. McGraw and Juwuan Briscoe might be the highlights of the incoming defensive back class, and they’ll see plenty of action right away. Jonathan Abram and Jarvis Wilson are listed as the depth at safety.

Yes, so many freshmen on the depth chart is a byproduct of necessity as Georgia restocks its roster after the attrition. But there’s also a group of older players with playing experience who, for the time being, were passed over in favor of the newcomers.

  • Reggie Wilkerson: Wilkerson was a likely starter in 2013 before a season-ending injury. He saw action in only one game during his comeback in 2014. He has a hunger to get back out there and has been working at safety and star, but he’ll have some players ahead of him.
  • Tramel Terry: Terry was a big recruiting coup where he was expected to shine at receiver. Depth issues in the secondary led to a position change. New to defense, he struggled to find playing time last season and remains locked in competition for a spot on the second team.
  • Devin Bowman: Bowman, a senior, might be the most experienced defensive back. He’s slipped in and out of favor and started eight games in 2014 (with a nice pick six against Vandy.) Will he be called on again as a senior?
  • Shattle Fenteng: Fenteng was a top JUCO cornerback prospect who was expected to help stop the bleeding after all of the defensive back attrition. He injured his shoulder during preseason and never got back into the rotation, appearing in only one game in 2014. It didn’t help that he missed spring practice with a rib injury. The shoulder problems of 2014 led to a medical redshirt, so he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Fenteng’s 6’2″ size would make him an interesting matchup against larger receivers, but he’s at risk of falling behind the newcomers.

There’s the usual caveat about paying too much attention to the depth chart (especially a Pruitt depth chart), but this is what we have to go on now. There are no medical or disciplinary issues that we know of keeping any of them off the field, and it’s likely we see some if not all on special teams or if the game gets out of hand. The question though is whether any of these players can hold off the freshmen before the defense moves on to the next generation of defensive backs.

UPDATE: To show how fluid things can be, this practice report was filed just a few hours after I put up the original post. This is good news – players competing for spots on the field is much better than the lineup-by-default Pruitt had to use a year ago. The overall talent level in the secondary might not be what we want yet, but this is nice progress.

“I’ll tell you what, in the last week Shattle has really improved,” Pruitt said after practice. “… I actually told him yesterday, he’s done some really nice things. Hopefully he’s getting back to his old self.”

Post Athletic board approves $30 million IPF

Wednesday September 2, 2015

This story made a splash on Monday before the quarterback news sucked all of the oxygen from the room, but it is a more important long-term story for the program. The athletic board approved a $30.2 million plan for a multi-use indoor facility adjacent to the Butts-Mehre building. “The facility will be 80 yards wide, 140 yards long, 65 feet high inside and 75 feet high outside.” It won’t be just a football facility; there will be areas for batting cages and track.

The cost of the facility is expected to be split between private donations (fundraising) and athletic department funds. Construction could begin as soon as the 2015 football season ends, but an anticipated 100 days of site preparation work makes it unlikely for the facility to be ready before January 2017.

The athletic department released some renderings to give us an idea of the location and footprint. Some impressions:

  • The large event room / 20-yard turf walkthrough area that was part of the recent $40 million Butts-Mehre expansion will be replaced by the new facility.
  • The facility will be constructed on the grass practice fields on the southeast corner of the football complex.
  • Replacing the multi-purpose room of the Butts-Mehre building allows the facility to slide to the south which will preserve the two lower artificial turf practice fields along Smith Street across from Stegeman Coliseum. This is important since construction will likely continue through the 2016 regular season. Practice field space will be at a premium during construction.
  • It’s tough to tell, but it seems as if there might be room for a grass practice field between the new facility and the track complex. Since most of Georgia’s games will be played on grass and outdoors, having at least one outdoor grass practice field would be nice, no?

Post Lambert gets the start

Wednesday September 2, 2015

Greyson Lambert has been named Georgia’s starting quarterback for the season opener.

No one knew how the quarterback competition would turn out; even Mark Richt admitted “I can’t tell you how many times we went back and forth on the thing.” But I was wrong in my impression that Georgia was shopping the graduate transfer market last spring primarily for depth. And as much as we’re told to discount Lambert’s past, that’s the narrative hanging over this quarterback decision since Lambert arrived: could a guy who lost his starting job elsewhere come in for little less than a month and compete against two upperclassmen who had the benefit of a complete offseason with the new offensive coordinator?

To his credit, Lambert did. He overcame a shaky start and improved enough to just edge out the rest of the field. Coach Richt has been clear that they’ll continue to evaluate the position, and we should expect to see multiple quarterbacks play in the opener even if there isn’t an official rotation.


  • Relief? Yeah, I get it. Actually, I was surprised how much of a relief it was just to have the announcement done and over with. It’s not the end of the story, but the team can now approach things like a typical game week.
  • Disappointment? I’m not especially disappointed with Lambert as the starter. That might be because I had no particular expectations for the next Aaron Murray to emerge from the group. Is there a twinge of disappointment that a different quarterback couldn’t stand out after several seasons with the program? Quite possibly. I’d feel the same way if it were Everett Golson who transferred in.
  • Nonchalance? It’s all moot since the only job of Georgia’s quarterback will be to hand the ball to Chubb, right? I’m glad Schottenheimer touched on this last week. “There’s going to come a time where somebody’s going to slow down the run or certainly say we’re not going to let Nick Chubb beat us or even just to play in a game, whether it’s a third down or a redzone play where the quarterback’s going to have to make a big-time throw.” You only need to go back to the Florida disaster last season. Chubb still got his 150 yards, but Georgia’s difficulty moving the ball (until the outcome was in hand) was as big of a story as the defense’s meltdown. Georgia will face a compact field until they prove they can extend it with deep passes. They’ll have to convert third downs in order to sustain drives. They’ll probably have to play from behind at some point. All of that had to factor into the decision.
  • Pass blocking becomes more of a concern. I have some confidence in the experienced line when it comes to clearing lanes for the backs, and Georgia’s tailbacks are good enough to create on their own even if run blocking breaks down. Lambert is the least mobile of the three quarterbacks, and a stationary guy with a penchant for turnovers needs as clean of a pocket as possible. I do want to see more consistency from the tackles, and a new center is an unknown.
  • When you read Schottenheimer’s portrait of Lambert, he mentions or references intelligence at least three times. This stuff matters to the decision makers. The ability to know the playbook well enough to get the offense in a good play has been a hallmark of Mark Richt’s quarterbacks. Seeing Schottenheimer gush about those attributes in Lambert tells us quite a bit about why they chose someone who might not have the best arm or mobility. Now about execution…

Though Richt is responsible for the decision and ultimately for the offense, I agree with the analysis that we wouldn’t have had much of a competition without a new coordinator. (That’s not necessarily a good thing – there’s something to be said for a fresh look.) Schottenheimer has his quarterback now.

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 Let the second-guessing begin

Thursday July 30, 2015

It’s unavoidable that Brian Schottenheimer will be compared with Mike Bobo. Hopefully the transition will go well, and we’ll only have to tune out the minority that is already hard at work dreaming up the clever equivalent of “Coach Booboo.” If things go less smoothly, you can already hear the Bulldog Hotline calls asking about this:

Post An unlikely key to Georgia’s offense

Thursday July 30, 2015

Which player on offense could Georgia least afford to lose this season?

Yes, the discussion pretty much starts and stops with Nick Chubb. I’d put Malcolm Mitchell up there too.

But in terms of Georgia’s offensive identity, the running back position is still fairly deep. Productivity would reasonably fall without Chubb (knock wood), but I could see the approach remaining the same. I’m thinking more in terms of which players the coaches need in order to run what they want to run.

We’ve read more this offseason about the possible role of the tight end in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. The Dawgs targeted big, tall targets in the 2016 recruiting class including Garrett Walston and Charlie Woerner, and they might be back in the picture for the nation’s top HS tight end, Isaac Nauta. Georgia is placing an emphasis on the position in recruiting, and Schottenheimer won’t waste much time involving the current tight ends in his offense. With that in mind, I tend to focus in on Jay Rome.

Rome, now a senior, was as much a part of that heralded 2011 class as Malcolm Mitchell or Ray Drew. Rome made an impact right away as a freshman with 11 catches, 152 yards, and touchdowns against both Tech and Alabama. But that promising freshman campaign remains his most productive. Much like Mitchell, another key veteran in 2015, injuries have derailed Rome’s attempts to top that freshman season. And again like Mitchell, Rome is as healthy as he’s been. More important, Rome’s had time to regain the conditioning and strength that were missing last year in the wake of his injury.

With a healthy and conditioned Rome, Georgia is deep at tight end. He and Blazevich have starting experience. Jordan Davis has paid his dues and showed at G-Day that he won’t be lost in the new offense. Jackson Harris might be a true freshman, but he was an early enrollee who went through spring and was among the top 10 high school tight ends a year ago. Quayvon Hicks(*) is now in his second season at the position. It’s not hard to imagine some effective multiple TE combinations from that group.

Without Rome, the picture changes. The position becomes much younger. Though Hicks and Davis are upperclassmen, they’re very much unproven. Harris is a true freshman. Blazevich had a fantastic freshman season but is still only entering his second season. Can he carry a position from which much more is expected this season? There is still depth, but you start to wonder if the group behind Blazevich is ready for a multiple tight end look to be a regular and dependable part of Georgia’s offensive approach. With Rome, you’re much more comfortable with a younger or less-experienced player being used situationally.

For their own sakes, I really hope Rome, Mitchell, and also Keith Marshall can put their injuries and frustrations behind them and enjoy some personal success as seniors. If Georgia plans on using the tight end position to compensate for a thin group of receivers and a newcomer at quarterback, it would be much more difficult, if not impossible, without a healthy Jay Rome.

(*) – Hicks. Barrels of ink and enough bytes to fill a server farm were spilled last August with the news that Hicks was moving to H-back. Oh, the possibilities. I don’t think many of us expected he’d have fewer receptions as an H-back than he did in 2013 as a fullback. Maybe I’m still numb from his adventures on the kick return team, but Hicks is another player who can really change his legacy at Georgia with a productive senior year.