Looking ahead to the upcoming season, it’s not so much who will start at what position that concerns me, but whether Mark Richt and Co. can fix some of the recurring problems that nagged the Dawgs throughout the 2008 campaign and even before. The kind of problems that put you in a hole and give the other guy an advantage.
A lot of these problems speak to coaching, or a lack of it. They’re fixable. But I’m not convinced Richt’s staff has a handle on some of them; at least, they didn’t last year.
So here we go, in no particular order on things I’d love never to see again from the Dogs:
1. Those high, short directional kickoffs that either sail out of bounds or give the return team a head start, resulting in the opponent getting the ball at the 40-yard line or even near midfield. Richt has talked on both sides of this issue; at season’s end he was lamenting the need for a kicker who could boom it out of the end zone, while earlier in the season he defended the directional kicks, saying they were easier to defend than a returnable kick down the middle. The latter is a problem because Georgia doesn’t seem to be able to get rid of that big seam down the middle of its kick coverage, which generally is slow getting to the ball carrier. And those pooch kickoffs? Don’t get me started!
2. Awful special teams play. No. 1 on this list is actually a subset of the bigger problem: special teams at UGA aren’t special. I know, I know, I’ve harped on this incessantly. But it’s the second longest-standing problem of Richt’s tenure, after clock management difficulties. Special teams coach Jon Fabris, who also handles the defensive ends, hasn’t gotten the job done and Richt doesn’t seem to put a whole lot of importance on special teams, unlike Urban Meyer, who coaches special teams himself and puts great emphasis on them. Meyer knows, like some other great coaches, that special teams win and lose games for you.
3. The Dogs offense suddenly going conservative in the red zone. We saw this time after time last year, including in the Florida game and even the bowl win over Michigan State. What is it with Mike Bobo and the red zone? Georgia came out looking great in its no-huddle offense and raced down the field against the Spartans, only to go away from the no-huddle and sputter once they were inside Michigan State’s 20. Why does Bobo depart from what’s working when Georgia gets within scoring territory? And why does Georgia so often go into a mid-game lull of predictable playcalling that leads to too many three-and-outs? Without Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to rely on, we’re going to see whether Bobo is really capable of blossoming as an offensive coordinator.
4. Penalties, penalties, penalties. The Dawgs’ ridiculous penchant for drawing flags played a big part in Alabama’s first two scoring drives and deprived Georgia of the fast start they needed against the Tide. Early in the season, Richt sent mixed signals on this, too, saying he wanted the team to stop putting themselves in a hole with needless penalties, but also saying they were the result of aggressive play and he didn’t want them to be less aggressive. The penalties were part of a larger problem last season that Richt does appear to be addressing already: a lack of team discipline. I don’t know if making them tuck in their shirts and shave their goatees will do the trick, but at least it shows he’s thinking about the problem.
5. Penn Wagers and his inept officiating crew working another major Georgia game and blowing another call by not knowing what the rulebook says. I know UGA has no control over this, but it’s just gotten ridiculous over the past couple of seasons.
6. Georgia showing up for a game looking unprepared and unfocused. Last season, this manifested itself in the team’s difficulty putting together two good halves of play, most noticeably in the Alabama game but really throughout the season. And that was still the case in the bowl game, where Georgia kept the Spartans in it through turnovers, penalties and poor special teams play in the first half. Again, this would appear to be a coaching problem.
7. A Georgia opponent scoring more than 30 points. Or, worse, Georgia scoring 42 points and losing. This isn’t the Big 12 or Mountain West. You’ve got to play shut-down defense in the SEC. Georgia played four major games last season and had fatal meltdowns in three of them for losses. And even the LSU victory saw our defense hemorrhaging points. Same thing in the too-close-for-comfort victory over Kentucky. Yes, Georgia had some personnel deficiencies and didn’t get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but that’s no excuse for the rampant poor tackling that was a hallmark of the D for most of the year. The defense looked much improved in the bowl game, but can that be sustained? Whether Richt is willing to acknowledge it or not, his pal Willie Martinez is definitely on the hot seat in the upcoming season. One way or another, things have to change.
8. Georgia just squeaking by teams that it should thrash and looking less than impressive even when it wins easily. Playing down to their opponents’ level is a longstanding problem with Richt teams and the one that made Georgia’s tenure as the nation’s No. 1 team so short last year. I know we’ve upgraded our schedule, especially compared with some other SEC powers, but the problem really seems to be a lack of killer instinct. The Dawgs need to develop it. And I don’t think Richt’s “Hey, a win is a win” attitude helps.
9. Another epidemic of pass-dropping. I know the G-Day game isn’t really indicative of what we can expect this fall (at least, I hope not), but wasting scoring opportunities because you can’t hold on to the ball is the worst way to lose. Remember the South Carolina game two years ago?
10. The Dawgs wilting in the face of adversity. This one’s related to the earlier problem about not playing a complete game. Think back to the season before last. After Georgia’s opening score and end zone celebration, the resulting flags helped the Gators race back down the field for their own score. But Georgia didn’t flinch. That wasn’t the case in the 2008 season. Too often, the Dawgs played scared. Perhaps that was a result of the reported lack of on-field leadership. And maybe fiery redhead Joe Cox, known for rallying the troops in that long-ago win over Colorado, is part of the solution. We’ll see.