It was a mixed weekend in Athens.
On the positive side, many UGA families, including mine, were celebrating graduations at Sanford Stadium and Stegeman Coliseum, the men’s and women’s tennis teams both advanced to the NCAA Round of 16, and the softball team was selected as the No. 1 seed for the Chapel Hill regional. But the results at Foley Field and the confirmation of disciplinary action against two members of the football team were disappointing.
The final baseball home stand of the season got off to a dismal start with the Diamond Dogs dropping Friday and Saturday’s games to Vandy, a middling team. At least Sunday’s win over the Dores clinched an SEC Tournament birth for the Bulldogs (15-12 in SEC play with South Carolina still to go), though just making it to Hoover is a bit of a comedown for a team that led the league (and the national rankings) much of the season.
Hosting an NCAA regional seems unlikely at this point, but at least the team will keep playing past the regular season and is pretty certain to go somewhere in NCAA play. And who knows, Rally Rat, their new mascot as detailed in the Athens Banner-Herald, could see an extended run if they can get back on track. Worth noting: The 2,361 fans at Sunday’s game set a new season attendance record at Foley Field of 93,360, surpassing last season’s 93,152. Up next: a shot at revenge against the Jackets Tuesday at Turner Field in Atlanta.
But what most Dawg fans were talking about this weekend was Mark Richt suspending junior tight end Bruce Figgins for six games and sophomore defensive end Justin Houston for two games, while junior receiver Tony Wilson was medically disqualified but would have been suspended otherwise.
Richt didn’t announce the reason for the suspensions, but ESPN reported that Figgins failed a drug test, and his penalty is in line with UGA Athletic Association policy of automatic suspension for half a season in those cases.
One Athens observer with close ties to the football program says that Richt generally bends over backwards to work with players who screw up and violate team rules, but not if drugs are involved. Which is as it should be. With this being the second time Figgins has been suspended (he missed last year’s season opener for an unspecified violation of team rules), he’s lucky he wasn’t kicked off the team completely.
As for the on-field repercussions, I’ve already touched on the justifiable fan hand-wringing about Houston missing playing time when we need all the help rushing the passer we can get.
Missing six games will pretty much make Figgins, who sat out spring practice, an afterthought at tight end and move up the timetable on the expected ascension of incoming freshman Orson Charles as the eventual starter. It seems likely, though, that Charles and redshirt sophomore Aron White (the probable starter at the beginning of the season) will be used more as receivers in a hybrid flex tight end position, which gives the other incoming freshman, Arthur Lynch, a chance to earn playing time as the blocking tight end. Bryce Ros could figure in there, too.
While Kris Durham being out for the season means the Dogs will have just six scholarship receivers, including incoming freshmen Marlon Brown and Rontavious Wooten, I’m not convinced Wilson’s departure will make all that much difference. He was having a really slow rehab from a season-ending injury last year and had not shown that much in his time on the field. A lot of folks are really high on Brown, touted as possibly the next A.J. Green, and I really liked the way Michael Moore finished the season. Israel Troupe and Tavares King have shown promise, too.
Lots for fans to talk about in the 116 days until the season starts. What do you think? Are these suspensions a minor hiccup or a serious blow to the Dogs’ 2009 prospects?