Monday August 25, 2014
It’s almost a rite of passage for those attending the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but the days of the Jacksonville Landing might be numbered. In coordination with a plan to revitalize downtown Jacksonville, the owners of the Landing have presented a vision that includes tearing the place down and replacing it with a development that has more emphasis on apartments and residential space than it does restaurant and retail. Of course they’re after public money, and the plans could change once all stakeholders have their say. Still, a popular Georgia/Florida gathering place and landmark seems to be in for a big change.
Monday August 25, 2014
It’s game week! As we turn the page from 2013 to 2014, Georgia has some big questions heading into the season. Who’s going to play in the secondary? Can the defense turn it around under a new coach? How will the holes be filled along the offensive line? Not much good will happen without positive solutions to those problems. Other than fewer visits from the injury bug, what are some of the more specific changes we’ll be looking for from 2013 to 2014?
Can Hutson Mason start games as well as he’s finished them? It’s a small sample size, but it’s taken the Georgia offense a while to get going in both of Mason’s starts. Tech surprised Georgia on both sides of the ball before the Dawgs managed a score just before halftime, and it took well into the second half before Georgia mustered a touchdown in the bowl game. This was occasionally an issue for Murray due to nerves, and Georgia’s first two 2014 games will be nothing if not hyped and emotional. If the offense is supposed to be the strength of the team, it can’t take its time before showing up.
Will Collin Barber be back in form? Barber has been a solid punter, but he wasn’t quite the same after taking a brutal hit on a blocked punt at Tennessee. Barber averaged an impressive 46.75 yards per punt over the first five games in 2013 but only 40.8 yards per punt after the Tennessee game. After a poor outing at Auburn, Barber was replaced by Adam Erickson for the rest of the season. With so much of the special teams under scrutiny this offseason, we haven’t talked much about punting. We hope we never have to punt the ball, but we’ve seen how much of a weapon a strong punter can be and how much an inconsistent punter can cause problems for a struggling defense.
As good as the linebackers are, they’ve struggled defending the pass. Will that remain an exploitable weakness, or will Pruitt fix it?
Can the team sustain a setback? The middle of the 2013 season was a Jekyll and Hyde experience for Georgia’s defense. The defense actually helped the team build double-digit second half leads against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida. That defensive success proved fragile, and each game had a very clear turning point that eventually put Georgia’s lead at risk and saw some good defense turn into bad rather quickly. The 2014 defense can show improvement in many areas, but one of the most important might be developing the ability to overcome a turnover or special teams mistake that could swing momentum back to the opponent.
Can Pruitt really be transformative? Of course Georgia’s new defensive coordinator has the freedom to remake the defense as he pleases. He’s left his mark on the hiring of positional coaches, and he’s taking on an exhausting audition of talent to construct the 2014 secondary. The hiring of Pruitt though implied more than just improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
There’s a hope that Pruitt will leave as much of a positive impact on Georgia’s culture as he does on its defense. It’s what was behind the pining of so many fans for Kirby Smart, and the success of Pruitt’s last two programs gave him instant credibility with Georgia fans. To put it crudely, we want some of the success of those programs to rub off on Georgia.
Agents of change can face resistance, and Georgia has some very established ideas about how to handle everything from academics to discipline to recruiting. Importing cultural change has big risks, especially in a field where large egos are the norm. This is still Mark Richt’s program, and it will ultimately reflect his core ideals and values. That doesn’t mean Richt must be inflexible in all areas, and we’ve already seen some subtle changes – most visibly in the higher numbers Georgia seems to be targeting for its 2015 signing class. To what extent will Pruitt (and the new assistants) be able to nudge the program towards its championship goals, and how much of that change can show up on the field in 2014?
Friday August 22, 2014
If Todd’s Grantham’s scheme brought one bit of vernacular to the Georgia program, it was the “star” position – a kind of hybrid linebacker/safety/cornerback popular in 3-4 systems who most often roamed the field as a fifth member of the secondary. Traditionally this was a nickelback – a third cornerback who came on the field to provide pass coverage help in obvious passing situations. As we saw with Grantham’s star position, this role is evolving as the spread offense demands a different response from modern defenses. Georgia used everyone from an outside linebacker (Floyd) to a safety (Harvey-Clemons) to a cornerback (Swann) in that role.
Football Study Hall has a piece up today about the rise of the nickelback (the position – thankfully not the band) as a full-time position which explores this versatility and the difference between what’s asked of a nickelback in college vs. one in the NFL. Since college teams are playing a lot more nickel personnel (even Grantham’s 3-4 was often a variant of a 4-2-5, 3-3-5, or even a 2-4-5), a lot is being asked of players at this position.
Jeremy Pruitt uses this type of player in his defense, but there’s one big difference: “We’re gonna play with DBs at that spot,” Pruitt said. “We’re not gonna play with linebackers.” So, yes, hopefully no more Leonard Floyd out in space asked to defend a much faster receiver. That opens the door for players like converted tailback J.J. Green and incoming freshman Malkom Parrish. These two, at 5’9″ and 5’10”, are far cries from someone like Floyd or Harvey-Clemons, both of whom towered at least 6’4″.
Using a third corner in this role is common. As Football Study Hall notes,
The main way teams are finding to be option sound against today’s option is to embrace man coverage, so every position in the defensive backfield typically needs to be able to man up with at least some offensive skill players. The more good man coverage players you can put on the field, the better things will be for everyone else on the field in your defense.
At the same time, they warn that “it’s impossible to protect the nickel from all run responsibilities.” That becomes an especially important point when you go smaller at the position. If Pruitt is going to use a third cornerback, they will be involved against the run, especially against option teams. Green and Parrish, two guys who have never played a college snap yet as part of a college defense, will have a big job right away against some very good offensive schemes.
Tuesday August 19, 2014
While Georgia prepares for an assault on the senses, Baylor is harnessing technology to offer visitors to its new stadium an application featuring “in-seat mobile video replays, team information, customized camera angles and up-to-the-minute real-time statistics.” The application will “(push) the envelope by being the first college athletics app to provide instant replays from multiple views.”
Baylor’s app will be backed by the same high-capacity cellular distributed antenna system installed in Sanford Stadium over the offseason but also a free high-density wi-fi network.
I’m a little ambivalent about too much mobile technology in the stadium – I’d prefer fans be engaged in the game rather than buried in their phone or tablet. At the same time, real-time access to replays and stats on a high-speed network fills a need I would bet all of us have wished for at Sanford Stadium one time or another.
Monday August 18, 2014
Grab the popcorn. Via SI…
Bobby Petrino says he’s changed. But in reporting a story about the new Louisville coach that is in SI’s college football preview, it appears Petrino is still just as difficult to work and play for. Sources with ties to the Cardinals’ football program and Petrino said there’s significant friction between Petrino and feisty defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The two have feuded often since Grantham’s hiring in January.
So much that one source insists Petrino would have already gotten rid of Grantham if not for his guaranteed five-year contract that pays him nearly $1 million annually. He came to Louisville after four seasons as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. “He’s stuck with him,” a source said.
Worth reading also for the introduction to Todd Gurley’s golf game.
Thursday August 14, 2014
We’ve been up and down Georgia’s 2014 schedule looking where the breaks and tough road stretches are. The flip side of that is where the Georgia game lies on the schedules of our opponents. Who has a bye before they play the Dawgs? Who will be licking their wounds from a rough stretch of games?
Clemson: A lot will have changed for both teams from last year’s Clemson win. Most obvious will be the quarterback position. Both teams will have a guy making his first Sanford Stadium start, but Clemson’s will be doing it in front of a hostile crowd.
@ South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a fairly demanding couple of home games before Georgia comes to town. Texas A&M, even with their losses, will be a quality test in the season opener. East Carolina isn’t a cupcake; they’re a quality mid-major looking to build off of a bowl win. With that kind of start, South Carolina won’t have many secrets by the time Georgia comes to town on September 13. The Dawgs have a bye week before this game, so it will be a solid two weeks of preparation for this game to determine the SEC East frontrunner.
Troy: We should get a good idea of the challenge Troy will pose in the second week of the season when they face Duke. They’ll get their own cupcake (Abilene Christian) before coming to Athens, so we should expect a team that’s been focused on Georgia for several weeks.
Tennessee: The trip to Athens will be Tennessee’s SEC opener, but they’ll have been tested by a trip to Oklahoma. Opening games against Utah State and Arkansas State are no automatic wins. The Vols get a bye week before traveling to Athens, so they’ll have two weeks to prepare and stew over last season’s near-upset.
Vanderbilt: Vandy will have played three SEC games by the time they visit Georgia. The trip to Athens will be Vanderbilt’s second straight road game, and it’s possible they’ll be coming off their first SEC win (Kentucky).
@ Missouri: Mizzou ends September with a highly-anticipated rematch at South Carolina. But even if that game lives up to 2013’s meeting, the Tigers will still get the benefit of a bye week before the Georgia game.
@ Arkansas: Any game in Little Rock gets a little extra attention from the Arkansas faithful, and Georgia’s first game in Little Rock will add that much more novelty to this game. It will also be a second straight long road trip for the Dawgs – they’ll have to fly back out to the western frontier of the SEC after doing it a week earlier at Missouri. One thing in Georgia’s favor – Arkansas will have just played Alabama.
Florida: As is often the case, both Georgia and Florida have a bye week before this game. Each team will have faced Missouri plus an SEC West foe (LSU for Florida) heading into that bye week. The difference is that Florida won’t have left Gainesville since October 4th while Georgia will be resting from a long stretch on the road.
@ Kentucky: Georgia will have to shake off the Cocktail Party hangover for the trip to Lexington. Georgia hasn’t lost in Lexington since 2006, but they’ve survived several sloppy games. The last really comfortable win up there was in 2004. Kentucky will be coming home from a road trip to Missouri, and it will be towards the tail end of a long stretch of games. Georgia will be Kentucky’s seventh straight opponent since a September bye week.
Auburn: It’s nice to get Auburn at home for a change. The Auburn game will be Georgia’s first true home game since Vanderbilt on October 4th, so there is likely to be a little travel fatigue. In addition to it being a road game for Auburn, the Tigers will have just endured a tough stretch featuring South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. We’ll see what’s left in the tank for both teams.
Charleston Southern: Not that it matters, but this will be the final game of the season for Charleston Southern. It will be interesting to see how they fare against Vanderbilt the week after the Commodores come to Athens.
Georgia Tech: Tech has scheduled a bye week before they bus over to Athens. They had a virtual bye week last season against Alabama A&M and used the time to install a few defensive wrinkles that caused Georgia problems at first. The Dawgs will hopefully get a couple of weeks of Tech preparation with a lightweight game the week before.
Thursday August 14, 2014
Kudos to the guys at Good Bull Hunting for putting together this comprehensive guide for the SEC Network launch.
Unfortunately Comcast, one of the largest launch partners, didn’t announce their SEC Network channels in advance, and the channels will vary by market. The network will appear on the launch date (today), but it’s left for us to hunt and spread the word ourselves.
In Gwinnett County, the SEC Network can be found on channels 300 (SD) and 792/1738 (HD). I can’t confirm the channels for any other Atlanta-area Comcast franchisees, but try those channels first.
UPDATE: From the comments: “It is 804 and 805 alt. plus 310 and 311 in Asheville NC”
UPDATE 2: SicEmDawgs is putting together a roundup of channel locations across the state of Georgia for all carriers.
Wednesday August 6, 2014
Georgia announced today some changes and enhancements to the Sanford Stadium experience for the 2014 season.
There’s news about concessions (Sonny’s…ugh) and where you can cool off during the warmer games.
Fans should notice improved cellular service throughout the stadium. Service providers, especially AT&T, have installed millions of dollars worth of equipment to handle the flood of demand during games.
The biggest change is a controversial one. The sound system has been improved. That’s good news. But Georgia will also be taking advantage of new SEC rules that allow schools to pump in music and artificial noise at almost any the ball is not in play. Georgia promises to “respect the collegiate atmosphere and traditions.” We’ll see how far that respect goes.
Wednesday August 6, 2014
In September Georgia’s Athletic Association board of directors will consider an indoor football practice facility.
The idea of an indoor facility has been on the table since the Donnan years, so what finally got it on the agenda? When we looked at the pros, cons, and questions associated with the facility last year, this was the conclusion: “If you’d like to see an indoor facility, the good news is that there aren’t many higher priorities remaining.” Georgia’s coaches and administrators had given higher priority to other projects several times when funds became available, but this time there isn’t much else at the top of the list. Athletics director Greg McGarity explained, “It’s always been on our project sheet. We basically have priorities on that sheet. Some move up quicker than others.”
Even if the board decides to go forward with a facility, there are several specifics to be hammered out. These three questions cover most of them:
- Where will it go?
- What’s the scope (and cost) of the facility?
- Who will pay for it?
The location seems to be pinned down to the soccer/softball complex out on Milledge Ave. Ideally the facility would be adjacent to the on-campus practice fields, but there just isn’t the room. Neither the outdoor practice fields nor the track will be sacrificed for the facility. I had wondered about the vet school property with its large new campus set to open soon, but it looks as if most of the current vet school buildings will remain in use. So Milledge it is.
The scope is a little less certain, but $15 million is the number we’ve see most often. What does $15 million get you? For comparison, this is what Auburn got for $16.5 million in 2011. Clemson’s 2013 facility ran about $10 million, complete with videoboard. Virginia recently completed a similar facility for about $13 million.
Mark Richt’s initial vision called for a much more ambitious complex with offices, a weight room, a dining hall, and an indoor track. The price tag for that kind of project would have been well over $30 million. How would a scaled-back $15 million facility square with Richt’s vision? Much of what Richt wanted was accomplished with the $40 million Butts-Mehre expansion completed in 2011. From a football perspective, all that was missing was a 120-yard covered field. Georgia’s indoor facility won’t need many extras.
McGarity is clear that the athletic department won’t be footing the entire bill for whatever comes of this discussion. As with the ongoing Foley Field renovation, some level of private donations will have to be raised before athletic department funds kick in. “There will be a fundraising piece to this,” McGarity said. If the board does decide to go forward with the facility in September, expect those who have been calling for an indoor facility to be asked to show just how important it is to them.
Thursday July 31, 2014
Two more signs that football season is right around the corner: players report for preseason camp today, and USA Today released the preseason coaches poll.
Georgia’s 8-5 finish left them outside of the final 2013 poll, but they’ll begin this year ranked #12 by the coaches. The Dawgs started 2013 ranked #5.
Georgia is one of seven SEC teams ranked among the top 25. The Dawgs are scheduled to face three ranked teams (#5 Auburn, #9 South Carolina, and #16 Clemson), and four other opponents (Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, and Georgia Tech) are among those receiving votes.
Thursday July 31, 2014
Tyler asked a good question earlier in the week: “Why do we keep listing Quayvon Hicks as an H back?”
The role of the fullback has been on our radar for several years since we learned in 2011 that former tight end Bruce Figgins would be moved into the backfield. Figgins never really strayed from the typical fullback role, but his move started a discussion about the fullback’s place in a more diverse offense beyond good ol’ 344-Fullback.
Since then it’s been a rough time for fans of the fullback. Kyle King noted after the 2011 season that production from the position had been falling. When Brendan Douglas arrived last year, we wondered if he wouldn’t find his own niche in a crowded backfield. The injuries at tailback made any experimentation a luxury in 2013. Mike Bobo explained yesterday that Georgia in 2013 was a “one-back team 74 percent of the time,” trading a fullback for a third receiver.
So once again it’s preseason and we’re talking about a new way to use a former fullback.
The difference this year is that the coaches are talking about it too. The H-back has more or less been idle fan speculation – daydreaming about the best ways to use someone like Figgins. Now it’s a position mentioned by coaches, and there even seems to be a plan behind the position. Two players are now allocated to the position, and the staff has put thought into how to split the training between the tight end and backfield coaches. With that information, Tyler’s hunch about some tweaks to the offense seems to have been spot on.
No, it’s not going to be a dramatic change in scheme or an every-down look. As Bobo notes, there will still be a need for the power sets with a true fullback, and hopefully a healthy Jay Rome and Jordan Davis can fill the traditional tight end role that has been so important for Georgia under Mark Richt. It won’t even be the first time we’ve seen Hicks involved as an offset fullback or tight end – watch this play-action pass against Clemson. Not bad. (Incidentally, note the respect for Gurley by the Clemson defense on that play-action that opened so much room for Hicks.)
So why didn’t we see more of that? We were all excited for Hicks and his distinctive facemask after some big plays early in the season, but he was used less and less afterwards. From October on, Hicks had just two carries and three receptions. He ended up starting only six games and didn’t touch the ball in the final four games. A big reason behind his dwindling role had to do with blocking. As Bobo explained, “His issue sometimes blocking has been out in space, which causes him not to fit up properly.” You can see what Bobo was talking about on the blocked punt at Tennessee last year.
With another player added to the position and a more structured approach to coaching the H-back role, we should expect to see the role featured more often in the offense. How often will depend on the readiness of Blazevich and Hicks’s ability to develop consistency and clean up the details that kept him off the field in 2013.
Monday July 7, 2014
Blutarsky points to an AJC piece about Tech’s increase in ACC money while dealing with a projected shortfall in ticket revenues. The reasons for that shortfall?
A projected slight drop in season ticket sales, six home games (as opposed to seven) and the even-year schedule without a home game against Georgia are primary factors.
When we learned in 2012 that Georgia would face back-to-back games at Auburn in 2012 and 2013, one idea that came up was shifting the Tech series. Georgia would maintain a schedule that alternates between Auburn and Tech at home. But there was also a win for Tech.
Tech’s current home schedule in even years stinks on ice. Look at it. What’s the best home game there? Virginia? Miami? BYU? There’s nothing close to what you’d consider a rivalry game. There are few, if any opponents with large groups of road fans. Now look at an example of an odd-year schedule for Tech. Carolina. Virginia Tech. Clemson. Georgia. From a Tech perspective, that’s relatively loaded and a lot easier to sell….The issue then is how badly Tech wants to balance its schedule.
But that plan meant that Tech would have sacrificed the 2013 game in Atlanta for consecutive trip to Athens. That didn’t happen. As a result, Tech is stuck with its six-game home schedule featuring Clemson, a Miami fan base that doesn’t travel, and little else. You can’t say we didn’t try…
Monday July 7, 2014
Speaking of demand for football tickets, Georgia has released the first pass of cutoff scores for 2014. While most of the big road games won’t be announced for several weeks, there are some interesting things to note:
- After a few seasons in which all new donors received renewable season tickets, there is once again a cutoff score for new applicants. “Hartman Fund donors with 1,001 priority points who contributed a minimum of $250 per seat and ordered renewable season tickets will receive them.” Georgia hasn’t had a cutoff for new adjacent renewable season tickets since 2010.
- There are no adjacent pairs of non-renwable season tickets this year. We don’t know if that means individual season tickets might be available, but we usually see an announcement about that later.
- Auburn, Tennessee, and Clemson – to no one’s surprise – lead the demand for additional home tickets. There wasn’t even a cutoff for additional Auburn tickets.
- Arkansas is a hot road ticket. The Dawgs have never played in Little Rock, and so Arkansas joins Florida and South Carolina as games whose cutoff score is still to be determined.
Monday July 7, 2014
Thanks in large part to high demand for Clemson tickets, Forbes and TiqIQ claim that the Bulldogs have the highest average secondary market ticket price among SEC schools. The average secondary market price for a Georgia football ticket this year is $227.01 – making Georgia the only SEC school with an average price over $200. An average price of $359.26 for the Clemson game leads the way.
If you put your bottom line-driven athletic director cap on and look at those numbers, Georgia’s leaving a lot of money on the table with a $40 ticket face value. The difference between that primary price of $40 and the secondary average of $227 is going mostly to brokers, scalpers, and ticket holders rather than into the UGA coffers.
Other schools are starting to recapture some of the gap between face value and the secondary markup with higher overall ticket prices and variable pricing for premium games. Georgia’s still a relative bargain at $40 per ticket and $280 for the season, but you can be certain that discussions are underway in Athens. For perspective, A&M and Auburn season tickets are $450.
We’ve already seen Georgia sign on to higher prices for the Florida game, following a nationwide trend of premium prices for neutral site games. It’s a risk – with the at-home experience more and more appealing, demand for tickets can become increasingly sensitive to price. It’s one thing to see the opportunity with a good 2014 home slate, but will fans be as willing to pay premium prices for a 2015 schedule that offers little more than Alabama?
Thursday June 26, 2014
The Dr. Saturday site recently ran a series on the top five offensive players poised for a comeback in 2014. Their choices are fine, but the category immediately brought one Georgia player to mind: Malcolm Mitchell.
Mitchell’s freak injury just minutes into the 2013 season, but his entire career has been plagued by fits and starts with injuries and position changes keeping him from putting up the numbers you’d expect from the team’s most talented receiver. When healthy and on his game, he’s among the best receivers in the nation. His catch rate (how often a receiver catches passes thrown his way) was well over 70% in both 2011 and 2012. It was a whopping 79% on passing downs in 2011.
That kind of dependable target certainly contributed to Aaron Murray’s rise, but Mitchell (along with Tavarres King) gave the Bulldog offense something else: a downfield threat. As Jon Gruden observed, “Nobody throws the ball down field better than Georgia.” Murray was a big part of that downfield attack, but you have to have the targets. As Georgia’s receivers began to fall during the 2013 season, the vertical element of the passing game dwindled to the point where they didn’t even try to go deep at Vanderbilt.
Justin Scott-Wesley stepped up well enough in 2013, until his own season-ending injury, to maintain that vertical threat after Mitchell went down. Freshman Reggie Davis had his moments, but it would have asked a lot of a rookie to take on a larger role. The lack of a vertical passing game that was so glaring at Vanderbilt returned in the bowl game and made things that much more difficult for Hutson Mason.
On an offense with such a high-profile tailback and a very visible quarterback transition, it’s fairly easy to question the impact of a receiver who’s only had one 100+ yard game since his freshman season in 2011. Durability will naturally be a concern as injuries hit Mitchell early in both 2012 and 2013. It’s encouraging to hear that Mitchell (and some other key returnees on offense) are doing well and participating at full speed. We’ll still be holding our breath with every daily preseason injury report.
We were excited about seeing Mitchell last season in his first year completely dedicated to receiver, and we’ll double down on that this summer. His combination of reliability, explosiveness, and what he brings to the downfield element of the passing game will open up a lot of things for the rest of the offense. There are several important players poised for a 2014 comeback – even Gurley if you look at it a certain way – but few who can bring so much to the offense.