Bulldogs’ ‘NFL talent’ have their heads somewhere else

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore has been among those who've dented Georgia's defense. (Gerry Melendez/The State)

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is among those who've dented Georgia's defense. (The State photo)

ATHENS – Ten months ago, Mark Richt stood in front of a room in Butts-Mehre Hall and pronounced, “Today is a great day for Georgia.”

Notwithstanding that those words came at an orchestrated media event — two weeks after a bowl loss to Michigan State (please forget) and two weeks before national signing day (please come) – nobody could dispute the sentiment. In the room with Richt were 15 players who announced they were bypassing the NFL draft to return for another season. Nine played on defense. Another returnee was Jarvis Jones, who was attending a football camp that day.

Expectations were high for Georgia this season primarily for one reason: defense. There were nine returning starters. There were nine upperclassmen. There were four players projected to go as high as the first round in the next draft. There was a defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, lauded to such a great degree after the last season that he was given a contract extension, a raise and the title of associate head coach.

So how many games has the Georgia defense shown up for this season?

One: Vanderbilt.

Cornerback Sanders Commings said when he looked around the room at that January photo, “I was thinking national championship.”

Now the Dogs need help just to get out of their division. They’ll beat Kentucky Saturday. This game is more about trying to show that preseason expectations won’t amount to more empty Georgia promises — because otherwise, forget about the Florida game in two weeks.

The defensive rankings scream mediocrity. Expected to be among the top five units nationally, they’re not even top five in the SEC. They’re giving up more yards per games than Ole Miss and Missouri. They have fewer sacks than Kentucky.

With so much projected NFL talent on the roster, it’s not unfair to pose the question: Are players thinking more about the next level than the next game?

It’s not uncommon for agents — excuse me: “family advisers” — to get inside players’ heads about what pro scouts might be looking for, clouding more pressing matters like that week’s game plan.

“Not at all,” Richt said when asked if players might have lost focus because of their pro prospects. “Everybody wants to win. A lot of guys have an NFL future, but they know the better we play as a team, the better everybody looks. Even when we had that press conference in this room, I didn’t tell them what to say. As a matter of fact, I  was trying to find out why they wanted to stay, and a big part was because they wanted to have a great season.”

He has alluded to “communication problems.” That seems unusual for a defense with so many returning starters and seniors.

“I don’t want to get into making excuses about anything,” Richt said. “The bottom line is we should be doing better.”

Better than this: eighth in scoring defense in the SEC, ninth in total defense, 10th against the run, ninth against the pass, 10th in interceptions, ninth in takeaways, ninth in third-down defense, 11th in sacks.

Jarvis Jones (ankle, groin) hasn’t been healthy. Suspensions to four starters (Commings, Bacarri Rambo, Alec Ogletree, Chase Vasser) prevented the starting unit from being together until the fifth game.

But that doesn’t explain allowing 199 rushing yards to Buffalo. Or seeing Missouri connect for early touchdown passes of 41 and 69 yards. Or Florida Atlantic driving to two TDs on its first four possessions, with a likely third scoring drive ending with a fumble. Or Tennessee totaling 478 yards and 44 points (even if half that was set up by Georgia turnovers). Or South Carolina driving for touchdowns on its first two possessions and rushing for 230 yards.

Ask what the problem is, you’ll hear general vague responses: mental mistakes, missed assignments, overaggressiveness.

“Sometimes when you have a lot of veteran guys back, you’re all hungry and anxious to make plays,” Commings said. “Sometimes you just have to let plays come to you. I think we realize that.”

Defense was supposed to carry them. Somebody didn’t get the memo.

By Jeff Schultz

Some recent ramblings

Falcons are NFL’s last unbeaten team: Here’s fate of others (with video)

Falcons 6-0 but Turner is frustrated with running game

Fan revolts out of control, one even wanted to fight UGA player

Weekend Predictions: No sacrifices, but Falcons, LSU win

Radakovich says Johnson is ‘right person for job’

Al Groh’s problems at Georgia Tech weren’t pure ‘fantasy’

Falcons are easy highlight in Atlanta’s dark sports weekend

Braves’ Frank Wren needs to fix good, but not great, team

Chipper Jones on loss in his finale: ‘Ultimately, I’m to blame’

Spurrier should take a lesson from Richt on handling criticism

367 comments Add your comment

Vain Jangling

October 16th, 2012
4:53 pm

Vain Jangling

October 16th, 2012
4:53 pm

Thanks. I’ll be getting back to work now.

Tripp Bowden

October 16th, 2012
4:55 pm

Great article, Jeff. As always.

hans kershaw

October 16th, 2012
4:55 pm

Good article. Very true. Go Dawgs.

Beast from the East

October 16th, 2012
4:55 pm

I haven’t seen all of UGA’s games, so I really don’t know what the problem is but they certainly are not performing to the level that was expected. That said, last year they did not do well against quality opponents. That #5 ranking was because they dominated the patsies.

Steve Spurrier

October 16th, 2012
4:57 pm

They get all these great players at Georgia. I don’t know what happens to them when they get there. Oh, yes, I do … they get pancaked by Gamecocks.

Commander in Thief

October 16th, 2012
4:59 pm

Don’t be too hard on them. I haven’t had a great year either. Baroke Obozo. (Overrated….)

Silly Bloggers

October 16th, 2012
4:59 pm

Jeff, I don’t think anyone is looking ahead, particularly to the NFL. This has been a recurring problem at UGA for years, NFL or not. I, for one, am not a Richt hater, but I can see why the haters want to see him go…albeit without all the hate. You can no longer point to defensive coach, strength and conditioning coach, etc. Eventually, it points back at Richt and our teams simply haven’t shown up prepared to games in recent years.

Haters point out Murray is not a big-time quarterback, and who can reasonable argue they are wrong. Preparation was non-existent against Bama years ago, Central Florida two-years ago, Boise St. last year, etc.

I love Richt and my dogs, but the pessimist in me sees us losing, and losing badly to Florida. In the event we don’t show up against Florida, it may be time to take our chances with a new staff and hope we can maintain a strong recruting class.

Why?

October 16th, 2012
5:01 pm

Agreed, Jeff. With all of this talent and a “supposedly” stellar DC, the piss poor play does not add up. These players need to look themelves in the mirror and truly step up for the balance of the year. The year is not over and with a FL win over SC this weekend, these clowns can get back in the mix. Hopefully, if we get another shot at something special, we execute and play to our ability.

clock stoppa

October 16th, 2012
5:02 pm

same ol Georgia..over promise and under deliver…its “the Georgia way”…failure without pride, losers looking for the next lottery ticket…

Silly Bloggers

October 16th, 2012
5:02 pm

If Bama were to hoist the crystal football this year, does anyone believe Kirby will leave for a head coaching job? Would you want him at UGA as head coach and possibly even running the defense as he runs a 3-4?

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
5:05 pm

The UGA Coaching staff lost focus after the 2005 SEC championship game

The UGA players have been following the coaches lead on focus loss every year along with them

;)

Dum-Bass

October 16th, 2012
5:10 pm

The DAWGS are beginning to remind me of the Braves more and more each week. All that talent, no leader, no enthusiasm, no heart, no anything. They use to be fun to watch. What has happened to the UGA of old?

Bad Dawg

October 16th, 2012
5:10 pm

Transcript from this week’s coaches meeting:

CMR: Wow, I’m super excited to be back. Had an awesome week off; caught up on my sleep and got my Xanax prescription renewed! Had a very nice vigil over at the house of local townsfolk showing their support with torches and pitchforks. Stayed all night chanting stuff. Just an incredible show of support.
CMB: Support? Did you feel threatened?
CMR: Gosh no. Apparently they thought we’d lost 4-5 games. I reminded them it was just one eencey-teensey loss and that we planned to compete during the off week. They all just eventually left…well actually, a couple of folks yelled so much they spontaneously combusted-but that was kinda cool.
CMB: This week we are playing KY and since it isn’t a big game, we should roll-up 500 yards and 50 points. No real gameplan-just let talent do its thing.
CMR: I love it! Truly cutting edge football. No coaching, just let the Big Dawg Eat! Well, enough about the offense, what about you big fella? What’s with the nametag?
CTG: It says, “Hi, My name is Todd”. All the players are wearing them this week. I thought heck, with all the suspensions we should re-introduce ourselves.
CMR: But the suspensions were over a few games ago.
CTG: Well, I need to keep the theme alive. No other explanation for having one of the worst Ds in the SEC.
CMR: Agreed, but gosh darn it, we were so close against USC! If BR picks that first pass, we probably win by 4 TDs.
CTG: Huh? Ah, er, yeah, OK.
CMR: Great stuff guys! You are the best! I’ll see you in Lexington. I’m going up early as I’ve heard that one of the horse farms has actual Unicorns! Been chasing those my whole life! See you on the sidelines!

Ask the Question

October 16th, 2012
5:11 pm

You have hit on what I think is a big problem with the program: agents getting access to players. And the athletic deprtment seems overmatched by the challenge of getting it under control. Worth asking: What has McGarity done as our AD, apart from firing coaches in our women’s programs?

UGA Football= GT Basketball

October 16th, 2012
5:18 pm

UGA football has the same problem as GT basketball used to have. Athletes coming to team for entry into NFL/NBA versus any commitment to winning anything in college. Hope UGA figures it out before spiraling down to the ranks GT basketball found and continues to deal with today.

GT

October 16th, 2012
5:21 pm

The real insult is they did show up for the Vanderbilt game only because Todd Grantham had a vendetta to be paid on the game from last year. This has got to be the most immature coaching staff in the SEC. Grantham’s antics in the Florida game and then the Vandy game, and the whole time the press claiming he had lots of capital in the bank because he had beaten second tier teams. Like Bear once said when one of his boys was losing votes for the Heisman to Ed Marinaro, of Cornell. “If Johnny Musso was running in the Ivy League, he never would get tackled.” Of course when Spurrier says stuff like that it sets off air raid sirens. When Grantham plays a real team his numbers aren’t near as good as when he is playing Kentucky or Vanderbilt, who this year is not as good as they were last year. You make these paper tigers, it sells your ink, you know they aren’t that good for the very beginning, but your ink cost Georgia lots of money paying these not prime time coaches.

sad fact

October 16th, 2012
5:22 pm

Rambo is the most over-rated player in the SEC… needs to do his job first

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
5:23 pm

I wonder how those “”FUN”" practices have been going

I bet some tasty brownies were baked for the players

Hopefully Richt want do a drug test anytime soon

Hopefully they can show they can hang with FL for a half; at least they can say they gave it the ole college try right ;)

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
5:26 pm

GT

Maybe Turkey Neck should hire Grantham they both have their Antics;

Together they could go out and punch a UGA fan in the mouth ;)

Maybe Coach Grantham can help Turkey Neck with the upcoming fish fry. :)

Delbert D.

October 16th, 2012
5:27 pm

That’s very harsh of you, Jeff. Now you’ve hurt some feelings. Some group hugs are going to be needed.

claytondawg

October 16th, 2012
5:28 pm

Most of us on the blogs have said it time and time again: it does not take a rocket scientist to see that this lackluster team has not been prepared for a game. Even arm-chair quarterbacks like us can see a team that is NOT playing to its potential. Or, better yet, maybe this team has no potential. It doesn’t look as if the “coaching” can see any potential at all. If the ‘Dogs truly have the athletes as so many proclaim, then a coaching change is needed ASAP.

Mike S.

October 16th, 2012
5:29 pm

I think a lot of it has to do with the suspensions. yeah they were slow to answer the bell for Buffalo and FAU, but who really cares about that. Playing lights out against teams like that means nothing…just ask FSU. Missouri did hit some big plays on them, but they also had a lot of new players in the defensive backfield.

I dont think its a coincidence that UT and SC have been their worst defensive outings. A week after the FAU game, they totally shut down Vandy in a very impressive outing. I think that was where the D really had gelled with all the new faces. All the sudden, Rambo and Ogletree are back for the UT game which shuffles the lineup again. Jarvis Jones being in and out of the lineup and slowed by injury hasnt helped either.

Moobs Johnson

October 16th, 2012
5:31 pm

It’s not just the defense, the whole program screams mediocrity.

Mike S.

October 16th, 2012
5:32 pm

Bottom line: all the suspensions not only have been a distraction in the offseason, but it screams selfishness. Maybe these guys came back thinking they would be rock stars or something, but they sure didnt have their heads where they needed to be. Now here we are mid-season trying to get everyone on the same page and in full game shape.

Gorilla Biscuit

October 16th, 2012
5:34 pm

All you so-called Georgia fans should maybe take up curling. That’s a sport that might suit you better. Quit whining. You ain’t hit a single blocking sled or done a single monkey roll this season. Your feelings are hurt because you won’t have bragging rights over Bama, or SC, or Fla. These guys ain’t the Falcons and they ain’t gettin’ paid. Get over yourselves.

Mike S.

October 16th, 2012
5:36 pm

Dont think missing players arent a distraction for the rest of the team either. Im sure its been frustrating and unsettling for the rest of the defense to have to bring along backups thrust into starting roles. Then you have to consider who’s backing up those new starters. Its frustrating and distracting when your not playing with your full team.

bamaguy

October 16th, 2012
5:40 pm

Now Jeff, you surely can’t be agreeing with Coach Saban about the “pimps”, I mean “agents”, I mean “family coaches” can you?

Mike S.

October 16th, 2012
5:42 pm

All that being said, I didnt expect UGA to win at South Carolina. Not on the road after playing UT. South Carolina has a lot of next level talent themselves. To sit here and pretend UGA has far superior talent to them is absurd. LSU, Bama, Florida…all stacked with better recruiting rankings than UGA. When your #5 in the nation like UGA was, and you usually expect to be the top dog in the conference. UGA looks up…sees Bama and LSU ahead of them. Look back…sees South Carolina on their heels with UF not far behind. UGA is #11 in the BCS and people are talking Peach Bowl at this point LOL. Thats how absurdly talented and good the SEC is right now.

dwalk

October 16th, 2012
5:43 pm

Big Time Players, make Big Time Plays, in Big Time Situations!!!!!!! Just wondering if we ever have Big Time Players??????

Starring Kam Fong as Chin Ho

October 16th, 2012
5:46 pm

Bama didn’t get out of it’s division last year either. The difference is UGa will not get a second chance. Their only hope for a title is another SC loss, beat Fla and somehow show up for 4 qtrs in Atl. A guy can dream can’t he.

sad fact

October 16th, 2012
5:48 pm

Mike S., you sure use a lot of words to say absolutely nothing! Are you Obama’s debate coach?

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
5:50 pm

Anyone on hear know what happened to “”THE DREAM TEAM”"

:(

Dawsgone

October 16th, 2012
5:51 pm

Had the offense not gotten lucky and played over it’s head in 5 out of 6 games this year our record would be 3 and 3. Make any excuse you want to about this team, they were not ready to play in any game this year except Vanderbilt. Lord help us if we have gotten so meidocre that our best outing of the year is against Vandy. We never seem to put an entire team (offense, defense and special teams) on the field ready to play. Please anyone, remine me of the last COMPLETE game we played. Sugat Bowl vs. Hawaii maybe???

Dawsgone

October 16th, 2012
5:52 pm

Sorry, remind me

Dawsgone

October 16th, 2012
5:53 pm

And Sugar Bowl

AJ

October 16th, 2012
5:53 pm

Funny how Bama’s 4 and 5 star recruits develop and play up to expectations. At UGA we talk about how darn hard it is to project how a kid will play 2-3 years after signing them.

Spurrier was right back in ‘92 when he correctly observed that UGA gets the talent but something seems to happen to them once they are in the program. It is just as true 20 years later as the day he said it.

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
5:54 pm

Anyone on hear know what happened to “”THE DREAM TEAM II ””

:(

ur mom

October 16th, 2012
5:54 pm

somewhere else = up their azzes

Jim

October 16th, 2012
5:55 pm

I like CMR but he has to go. All the talent and never play up to it. I’ll not go to another UGA game till we get a new coach.

Jim

October 16th, 2012
5:55 pm

I like CMR but he has to go. All the talent and never play up to it. I’ll not go to another UGA game till we get a new coach.

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

October 16th, 2012
5:55 pm

The only way half of those UGA players listed get into an NFL game is like myself…they will have to buy a damn ticket! Until UGA hires a football coach that the players actually fear then you are stuck at your level. Name one school that has come looking for anyone on your football staff including the HC. Not one. Richt should be at Wake Forest but Grobe can out coach Mark anyday. Heck Alabama has lost 5 good players for the years already and now the QB has a hitch in his kiddy up. Just man up and play.

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
5:55 pm

Anyone on hear know if “”THE DREAM TEAM I or II ”” has finished studying the book called

“”"ENERGY VAMPIRES”"”

I hear its a great read

;)

Jim

October 16th, 2012
5:58 pm

Sugar Bowl vs Hawaii? That should have been 80 to nothing. They just went through the motions. Hawaii sucked.

collegeballfan

October 16th, 2012
5:59 pm

What was the title of the Charles Dickens novel – “Great Expectations”?

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
6:00 pm

Anyone on hear know if “”THE DREAM TEAM I or II ”” will be allowed to have a Uniform Change

Ive heard that wins championships

;)

LeRoy

October 16th, 2012
6:03 pm

Good stuff Jeff!

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

October 16th, 2012
6:05 pm

Anyone on hear know if “”THE DREAM TEAM I or II ”” will be allowed to go to the High Dive Championships

jerry

October 16th, 2012
6:05 pm

Preach or coach, do one or the other.

GB's Hamburgers

October 16th, 2012
6:08 pm

We always have talent but we invariably lose to teams with equal talent. In those games we get out coached. Actually, in games we win, we get out coached but great players make the difference. If the player’s heads are elsewhere, then a meaner than hell head coach needs to re-orient their thinking. In years gone by the best, the most consistent UGA teams where coached by men the player feared, but respected. These coaches were not the player’s buddies. Our coaches are soft. The team is soft. Under perform and the coaches will love you anyway.