Archive for April, 2011

Dogs can learn from Justin Houston’s NFL slide

One of Justin Houston's "poor decisions" might have been taking plays off. (Associated Press)

One of Justin Houston's "poor decisions" might have been taking plays off. (Associated Press)

There’s a lesson in the Justin Houston story for his former teammates who remain in Athens, and not just the one about getting caught one toke over the line.

Houston’s surprising slide to the third round of the NFL draft, after being considered a consensus second-round pick and some analysts even speculating he could go late first round, would have been a real shock had it not been for the FoxSports.com report this week that he had tested positive for marijuana at the February NFL combine in Indianapolis.

After all, in his junior year, playing outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme at UGA, Houston became a regular visitor to opposing teams’ backfield, racking up 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 44 quarterback hurries, along with 38 solo tackles, 67 total tackles, forcing two fumbles, recovering a fumble for a touchdown and making an interception. He wound up all-SEC, made …

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Mark Richt is losing his patience … and that’s a good thing

Mark Richt gets a little thin-skinned sometimes when his strategy is questioned. (Associated Press)

Mark Richt gets a little thin-skinned sometimes when his strategy is questioned. (Associated Press)

In general, Georgia Bulldogs fans like it when “Evil” Richt, the guy who sent the team onto the field to draw a celebration penalty in Jacksonville in 2007, rears his head.

So when Mark Richt clashed verbally Thursday night at the Macon Bulldog club gathering with a fan upset about the Dogs’ lack of offensive success, several observers were quick to declare “Evil” Richt is back.

Actually, I’d say this was closer to “Prickly” Richt, the thin-skinned guy who has gotten his back up a few times in the past when a reporter or fan has questioned his strategy (usually something to do with offense, Richt’s longtime domain). You know, the guy who essentially said that unless you have been “in the arena” you don’t have any business questioning those who are “brave enough” because you’ve “never been in there.”

What happened Thursday was a fan pressed Richt during the question-and-answer …

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What’s it gonna be, Washaun?

Washaun Ealey has come to something of a crossroads in his career at UGA. (Associated Press)

Washaun Ealey has come to something of a crossroads in his career at UGA. (Associated Press)

Man, it’s got to be tough to be Washaun Ealey right now.

This time last year a lot of folks were predicting the Georgia tailback was going crack the 1,000-yard mark in the 2010 season and give the Dogs a potent running attack that would allow them to bring their untested quarterback along slowly.

As it turned out, the QB scrambling was more of a running threat than the tailback position much of the time. And while Ealey did lead the team, running for 811 yards and 11 touchdowns, he started out the season missing a game because he’d been driving with a suspended license (something his coaches had warned him about), fumbled at key times in losses and developed the reputation of spending more time running his mouth than the ball. Georgia’s running game ended up ranking 10th in the conference.

Then, just as Georgia was signing Isaiah Crowell, who looks to be the next great SEC running …

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Has NFL-caliber talent underperformed at UGA?

UGA certainly didn't get the championships it expected out of Matthew Stafford's time in Athens. (Associated Press)

UGA certainly didn't get the championships it expected out of Matthew Stafford's time in Athens. (Associated Press)

In anticipation of Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft, Rivals.com came up with a Top 10 for total draft picks since 2000 and UGA placed fourth with 61 behind Ohio State (73), Southern Cal (69) and Miami (67) and just ahead of Tennessee, which had 60.

The rest of the Top 10 was rounded out by Florida and FSU (both with 59), LSU (55), Virginia Tech (52) and Michigan and Oklahoma (both with 49).

When it came to having the most first-round picks, the Dogs were ninth, with 11, including the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 with Matthew Stafford. UGA trailed Miami (26), Ohio State (16), Southern Cal (15), FSU and Texas (14), and Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee (12). Penn State followed Georgia with 10.

As a Georgia fan, there are two ways of looking at this.

On the one hand, Georgia’s consistent status as a producer of NFL players no doubt was a factor in Mark Richt

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Dogs drawing mixed predictions in SEC race

If Aaron Murray can lead the Dogs past South Carolina, just how far can Mark Richt's team go? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

If Aaron Murray can lead the Dogs past South Carolina, just how far can Mark Richt's team go? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Amid all the speculation about Jim Tressel being toast and Will Muschamp’s Gators being toasted (giving new meaning to the “Florida Way”!), some college football observers have been paying a bit of attention to Mark Richt’s 2011 Dogs, who seem to have become something of a dark horse favorite in the SEC East.

As I wrote last week, Georgia has a high-risk start to its season that could pay off big, opening with Boise State and South Carolina. And while the game against the Broncos has the higher profile, the meeting in Athens with the Gamecocks could have more impact on UGA’s season, since a win there would put the Dogs in the driver’s seat in a division where Florida and Tennessee are rebuilding and Kentucky and Vandy are Kentucky and Vandy.

Barrett Sallee of College Football News says that with “the quarterback issues at South Carolina, the offensive …

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How long before the new Bronze Age gets going at UGA?

Even Nick Saban doesn't look too sure about his creepy-looking bronze self. (Associated Press)

Even Nick Saban doesn't look too sure about his creepy-looking bronze self. (Associated Press)

It used to be that getting your own statue was almost as difficult as having your face on a U.S. postage stamp.

You might not have had to be dead 10 years like with the stamps, but unless you were a dictator putting up your own monuments, the idea generally was that some time for historic appreciation had to elapse between whatever it was you did that was noteworthy and having your visage erected in bronze.

That was pretty much the case even in the sports world, where the words “all-time” and “greatest” get thrown around with abandon. Bobby Bowden had been head coach at Florida State for 28 years before the school erected a statue of him, and Joe Paterno didn’t become a target for pigeons at Penn State until 19 years after winning his first national championship.

In this Twitterized age of instant gratification, however, the bar for bronze immortality has been lowered considerably.

The University of Florida didn't wait long to honor Tim Tebow with a statue. (Associated Press)

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Richt: Dogs’ lack of effort at times last year ‘embarrassing’

ga flaMark Richt continued his spring speaking tour Thursday night in the town that’s been the site of his greatest frustrations, addressing a couple of hundred of the Bulldog faithful at the Marriott in Jacksonville.

The Florida Times-Union was on hand and reports the UGA head coach didn’t mince words in talking about his team’s lack of effort at times last season. The Dogs lost some games, he said, because the other team played harder. “That’s embarrassing,” Richt said. “It’s our shame and it’s my fault. We’re not going to let that happen again.”

While Richt told Dogs fans in Savannah earlier this week that “I don’t feel any pressure” coming off a losing season, he at least admitted in Jacksonville that the pressure is there. “There’s always going to be pressure in this type of job. There’s pressure every year.”

Talking about opening the season with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Richt seemed to embrace the challenge he faces with the idea that the bigger the risk, the bigger the …

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Dogs’ first two games could make or break Mark Richt

Dogs face a big challenge with their opening game.

Dogs face a big challenge with their opening game.

“None, I don’t feel any pressure. None at all.”

That’s Mark Richt’s not entirely convincing answer to the question of whether he’s feeling pressure coming off a losing season. Richt made the comment when his spring speaking tour stopped at the Savannah Golf Club on Wednesday, as reported by the Savannah Morning News.

I know the guy is supposed to have ice water in his veins, but with most of the football world figuring his job is probably on the line in the coming season, you’d have to figure that maybe, deep down inside, Richt is feeling the pressure. Just a little.

Something Richt also said Wednesday night does a nice job of summing up the enormity of his situation.

“I think the biggest challenge is to be at midseason form for our first two games,” Richt said. “They’re big games for us. [The Boise State game] will help set the tone for our season. The very next week, South Carolina will be big. Since they’re …

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Dogs come out of spring drills with areas of concern lingering

Caleb King and the running game didn't make much of an impression at G-Day. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Caleb King and the running game didn't make much of an impression at G-Day. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

There were some aspects of what we saw in the G-Day game that definitely should be encouraging to Dogs fans, particularly when it comes to the defensive side of the ball.

But a lot of the questions facing Mark Richt and his staff as they entered spring drills remain unanswered and could be potential areas of concern.

Since they were split up between two teams, it was difficult to get a real fix on where the offensive line stands, but as I noted in my G-Day wrap-up the run-blocking still was unimpressive and there were too many sacks given up. And, unfortunately, this is one area where the incoming true freshmen aren’t likely to make much of a difference. The OL worries me. A lot.

As for the running game, the best you can grade it after G-Day is an “incomplete,” since Washaun Ealey sat out most of the spring and Isaiah Crowell is still finishing up high school. Caleb King was …

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Who really won the G-Day game?

Christian LeMay showed a lot of promise on the winning touchdown drive. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Christian LeMay showed a lot of promise on the winning touchdown drive. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

When I was a kid and we attended G-Day games, a favorite joke was to ask who won the game and answer, “Georgia.”

Ask me who won Saturday’s G-Day game on a sunny but breezy day in Sanford Stadium, and I’ll answer “the defense.”

Doesn’t matter whether they were wearing red or white jerseys, Todd Grantham’s troops looked surprisingly solid Saturday, despite the fact that most of the first-string secondary wasn’t participating because of injuries.

In the first half especially, the Red and Black team offenses had trouble sustaining drives, as witnessed by the baseball-like halftime score, with the underdog Reds leading 5-3.

And, in fact, the most scintillating player on offense in the intrasquad game was borrowed from the defense: Branden Smith, who had a couple of nice runs and caught two passes, including a beautiful 28-yard scoring play on which he juked cornerback …

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