There’s nothing like losing a bowl game you should have won to stir up the fan base, even after a 10-win season and division title. And it’s true, as Greg McGarity has noted, that had Blair Walsh made that field goal, fans overall would be extremely happy even though the same problems facing the team would still need resolution. Nevertheless, the Junkyard Mail this week was overflowing with notes from folks who definitely were not happy. Here’s a representative sampling …
Andrew in Charleston writes: Bill, I have watched, like the rest of Bulldog Nation, the coaching staff routinely coach “not to lose” instead of coach to win. Late in the fourth quarter, we needed one first down to ice the game and Bobo/Richt go with three stuffed runs. They put the pressure on the gassed D to “not lose” rather than the offense to win. Does the staff really not have enough faith in their players to get one first down? Shouldn’t a respectable SEC program be able to gain one first down?
The main complaint I hear from fans about Mark Richt is that he is too prone to play it safe. Sometimes that pays off. Against Michigan State, however, it resulted in the Dogs losing a game they should have won. At times, Richt does seem to coach as if he doesn’t have faith in his offense. Perhaps if the problems with the running game can be solved, he’ll loosen up.
Jeff Maran writes: Bill, what do you think of Mark Richt going for it on 4th and one in the first quarter versus taking the 3 points? I think you have to take the three points at that point of the game. The game never would have gone into overtime had he kicked the three. I think it had to do with the criticism he took in the game against UCF last year when he kicked the field goal instead of going for a first down. However, Michigan State has a top 5 defense, unlike UCF, and points are hard to come by. Also, I am so fed up with the conservative playcalling with 3:30 left in regulation: run, run, run. Richt plays scared, not Mike Bobo. Richt has the final say. Finally, what coach other than Mark Richt settles for a 42-yard field goal attempt on 3rd down in OT? … After intercepting Michigan State, you would think that is like playing with house money. Try to get at least one first down, to get a closer field goal attempt, maybe even a TD. So frustrating.
Tom Sinclair adds: I’d like to hear a discussion of just who should take the blame for the ultra conservative play calling near the end of regulation and in overtime. While I’m not a Bobo fan, I realize that ultimately Richt is the one that sets the tone and could intervene if he chose to do so.
And Roger Dixon writes: [Bobo] is Richt’s man, so they are both responsible. The real problem at Georgia is that Richt wins just enough to keep his job. He has proved he cannot take it to the next level. Georgia will forever remain a second-tier team under him. He looks good at times, but can’t deliver in the clutch.
To touch on Roger’s point first, I don’t believe Richt is incapable of winning it all. He knows how to recruit the talent needed and overall is a good steward of the program. At times, he’s shown he can even go for the jugular. I just wish he did that more consistently. To answer Jeff’s question, actually, I agreed with Richt in going for it in the first quarter for precisely the same reason that I wish he hadn’t played for a field goal in the first overtime: Blair Walsh was simply no longer a reliable placekicker, SEC all-time scoring record notwithstanding. But I was the only one in our group watching the game who felt that way. Everyone else would have gone for the field goal in the first quarter. And Tom is right about Richt being in charge. After Mike Bobo called the first two unsuccessful runs up the middle there late in the fourth quarter, Richt certainly could have interceded when he heard a third one called and said, “Mike, let’s throw it to Michael Bennett,” or something like that. Isn’t that why you have a possession receiver? Yes, Richt has always tended to be conservative during his time at UGA, but it’s not as if he never takes any chances. All we have to do is look at this year’s Florida game to see him doing it right, going for it on fourth down (resulting in two touchdowns) and throwing it to secure a key first down and kill the clock late in the game — exactly as many folks wish he’d done against the Spartans. I guess it takes Jacksonville and the Gators to get Richt’s juices flowing.
Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill, thanks for your info and insight all year. I’m a UGA alum, living with my wife in southwest Florida, so we appreciate your help in keeping us informed. So, after attending the bowl game, it’s pretty clear that we are much, much improved. However, except for our D, we are still lacking that swagger/killer instinct. Players and teams definitely take on characteristics of their coaches. And in our case, the calm, laid-back approach of coach Richt coupled with the Pontius Pilate coaching of coach Bobo (at crunch time, he appears to wash his hands via uninspired playcalling and is simply content to let the defense decide the fate of the game) leads to an almost blah type of football. It seems many times that the offense plays down to the same uninspired level as its coach. Do the coaches need an attitude adjustment?
Richt has gotten the Georgia program back on track, but I think this season’s tendency toward lackluster second-half play has provided ample evidence that in order to kick it up to the next level Richt and his staff are going to have to take a more aggressive approach in managing games. Keeping your foot on the pedal, as the saying goes.
Larraine Oakes writes: Re: your article “Same old problems …” I was so delighted to see someone spell out what was a source of extreme frustration during the game. I am not a football expert by any stretch. I’m the wife of Dawg fan that has become almost as passionate as he is about them. So when an amateur like me can see the absurdity of the runs up the middle that inevitably amount to nothing, I am scratching my head and figuring that there must be SOMETHING about the intricacies of football coaching that I cannot understand that would make them continue to do what isn’t working.
Bobo explained his reasoning in calling those run plays: He was trying to eat up clock and force MSU to use up its timeouts. But while that reasoning might have looked good on the laminated play board, it ignored the realities of what was happening on the field. The Spartans were getting so much penetration that those running plays took very little time off the game clock. And based on what had been happening throughout the second half, it should have been obvious to Bobo and Richt that it was a strategy that wasn’t going to work. Perhaps there was a bit of the “put it in the hands of the defense” notion at work there. But, again, that ignored the reality that by that point the Georgia defenders were tired. The result was Michigan State quickly throwing their way down the field and tying the score. That’s my main complaint about Bobo (and, by extension, his boss): Too often they stick to the script even when the situation calls for a bit of improvisation.
BassinDawg in Roswell writes: I am tired of Bobo’s pathetic playcalling, further evidenced this season — especially by those idiotic up-the-gut calls. Is there ANY chance of Bobo being replaced or CMR re-taking over some of the play-calling duties? With decent playcalling we could have won both the South Carolina and Outback Bowl games.
Along the same lines, Cleveland Williams asks: Do you see a need to change the OC or do you think it’s a matter of changing philosophy in the playcalling (adjusting the routes to shorter routes, calling more screen passes and crossing routes)?
And Ross Marshall asks: Can coach Richt overcome his loyalty thing long enough to get rid of Bobo? … Make him QB coach, he does THAT very well.
I’d say there’s little chance of Bobo being replaced as offensive coordinator and playcaller. But while publicly Greg McGarity is backing Richt all the way, one can only hope that perhaps he might gently nudge Richt and Bobo try a more aggressive approach. Already this season they tweaked what they do by going to the no-huddle, so it’s not as if they haven’t shown a willingness to change things up. And Ross is right, Bobo does know how to coach quarterbacks. Of course, we can’t lay the offensive problems all on Bobo. His hands were tied somewhat in the bowl game by the absence of a running game. Should the lack of production and off-field problems at tailback be laid at the feet of Bobo or running backs coach Bryan McClendon? I realize McClendon is a prized recruiter but I’m not convinced the former receiver is the best choice to mold Georgia’s young backs. And while I was encouraged by what Will Friend got out of the offensive line this season with almost no depth, the OL’s deficiencies were definitely a factor in the inconsistency of the running game as well as Murray’s troubles. So pinning all the offensive troubles on Bobo is misguided, I think.
Michael Clowdus writes: I would like to ask about Aaron Murray, as two things I see about him drive me crazy! I think Murray is a great talent and I think coaching has as much to do with both of these issues as well. First, can two former QB’s (Bobo and Richt) not teach Murray to look off defenders? He constantly stares down his target and I am surprised he has not been intercepted more. Second, it appears that ANY time UGA had 3rd and long (7-10 yards), Murray would throw it 35 yards down the field. Does our coaching staff not explain that a first down keeps a drive alive or do they not know how to run medium route patterns?
I think Matt Stafford is showing the NFL right now that Richt and Bobo indeed do know how to develop a quarterback and I would be surprised if Murray doesn’t get better in that regard, and also in his decisionmaking about when to take a sack and when to get rid of the ball. As for those slow-developing third-down downfield pass plays instead of quick slants or screen passes, I know they drive a lot of fans nuts. Unfortunately, I think that must be a personal preference of Bobo’s.
Jack Sanders writes: I heard Kevin Butler on the post-game show questioning the wisdom of Richt having Murray down the ball in the center of the field to set up the field goal in the first overtime. Kevin cited this as an example of where not having a special teams coach or coordinator hurt the Dogs. A special teams coach likely would have been more aware that Blair Walsh has tended this season to miss kicks wide right, so in fact kicking from the left hashmark would have increased the chances of the first OT field goal attempt being good, whereas centering the ball made it more likely he’d miss it. What do you think?
I think Kevin Butler knows more about placekicking than Georgia’s current coaching staff could ever hope to learn, and I would agree with his assessment.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg