I’ll be off next week and away from the Blawg as we get my daughter settled in Athens — which is sure to get me even more primed for football season to begin!
In the meantime, let’s jump into some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
David Youngerman writes: Bill, I enjoy your blog and the attempts to stay grounded as a fellow diehard fan. With all the chatter around Top 5 question marks going into the season, I’m in agreement the OL, RB’s, and special teams are potential watch-outs (even though special teams is the only one that scares me). That said, my biggest concern going into the season isn’t one of those three topics and I’m worried my concern doesn’t get discussed more often. Recent years have shown a pattern (particularly from the offense) of not having the ability to close out a team when we have them down. I honestly believe this reflects Coach Richt and Bobo’s personalities as we repeatedly “play not to lose” once we get a nice lead (see Michigan State, Vandy, Miss. St. last year). Seems to me we used to close out games with sustained, time-killing drives and end up in the “victory” formation at the end more often before Bobo started calling the plays. We just seem to have a soft mindset towards really closing a team out.
The lack of a killer instinct has been a common complaint, really, throughout the Mark Richt era, not just since Mike Bobo started calling the offensive plays. (Although, once again, I have to say that Bobo’s maddening tendency in games to go away from whatever has been working offensively drives me up the wall.) But I don’t think it’s just a matter of the coaches trying to play it safe in their play calling (though that certainly appeared to be the case in the bowl game against Michigan State) or generally not keeping the pressure on offensively when they’re ahead (which we’ve also seen quite a few times). More than that, conditioning was a problem for the Dogs late in quite a few games in recent years, and although last season showed some improvement in that regard, the bowl game against the Spartans was an example where our defense looked gassed in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, the continued changes in the strength and conditioning program will help turn that around.
As for your reference to areas of concern, I tend to agree with you that special teams is the scariest, especially since Richt hasn’t taken any really concrete steps to revamp that portion of the game, aside from saying they’ll practice it more and more starters will play kick coverage. Like many fans, I wish he would name a special teams coach to focus more directly on that area, though I understand that NCAA coaching limitations complicate that.
There apparently are ways to get around those limitations, however, as Nick Saban is showing at Alabama. Al.com recently reported Saban’s staff now includes nine “analysts,” up from six last season and three the year before that. Five of the “analysts” work with the offense, three “analysts” work with the defense, and John Wozniak, most recently the running backs coach and co-special teams coordinator at UAB, is Alabama’s new special teams “analyst.” If he can’t free up a coaching position to handle special teams, maybe Richt needs to follow the Saban model and add a special teams “analyst” to his staff.
Andy M. Johnson writes: As a Dawg Fan, I worry about our recent years of “slow starts” and wonder what coaching strategy has been implemented to rectify this ongoing issue…
I don’t know what changes might have been instituted, but I just hope the Georgia coaching staff avoids doing whatever they did in getting the team ready for last year’s season-opener against Boise State! That was as poorly prepared a Georgia team as I’ve seen in a while, which made the improvement (at least, in terms of the offense) from that game to the game against South Carolina all the more remarkable.
Along those lines, Steve Upshaw writes: I have absolutely no confidence that Mark Richt will have the Dogs prepared when they go to Columbia, MO. We already have our tickets, as we do for most road games with the Dogs. For 30 years, we’ve traveled with and supported the team, but this organization is on a very long, slow and steady slide. The facts clearly bear this out. I remember standing in the stands at the Superdome the night we beat Hawaii and quietly thinking how lucky and blessed we are to have Richt as our head coach. I have stood by, supported and defended Richt as long as I can. So I’ll state this before even the first game of the season: It is absolutely time for a change in Athens. Of course, we could be satisfied with our 10-win seasons and a Jan 1st bowl game, but that’s all we’ll accomplish with the current regime. I’m in the high-end medical hardware business. My travels take me to every corner of the nation. Outside the SEC region, UGA is never mentioned as a power team and one to be feared, as are Alabama, LSU and even Florida. We have become Tennessee. Like Alabama a few years back, it looks like we will spend the next few years lost in the wilderness looking for a way out.
I’m glad to hear your pessimism hasn’t prompted you to give up supporting the program, even if you’ve given up on Richt. That kind of school loyalty is what makes the Bulldog Nation a great fan base. I haven’t yet given up on Richt, but I know you’re not alone in your view. As for what folks in other regions think, that’s pretty much a function of who’s taken home the crystal football. That’s the millstone hanging around Richt’s neck.
Glenn Goldstein writes: Bill, It’s fairly easy to point out Georgia’s expected strengths — defense, QB, receivers — and potential weaknesses and questions—OL, tailback, special teams — going into the season, but where do you think the unexpected surprises will come from?
On the positive side, I think the receiving corps might surprise a lot of folks this season, and I believe Aaron Murray may surprise the many naysayers about him in fan forums. Daniel Jeremiah, who covered this summer’s Manning Passing Academy for NFL.com, was impressed by Murray and said he was surprised at how powerfully Murray threw the deep ball. “Murray had as much range as any quarterback at the camp,” he said.
On the negative side, I’m tempted to say we’ll probably have some suspensions crop up during the season, but I’m not sure that would really qualify as a surprise any more.
Bill C. writes: I think Richt is doing a really good job coaching UGA in a highly competitive league. Why can we not get over the hump though? I can think of lots of reasons: inconsistent at best special teams, really bad luck (i.e. losing Shockley before UF), we play in the toughest league ever, etc. But those aren’t the reasons why we haven’t won it all. We haven’t won it all because, unlike his peers, Richt does not value winning above all else. Urban Meyer almost killed himself winning his championships, Nick Saban would kill anyone within 200 miles of Tuscaloosa if he thought they might negatively affect his team, Gene Chizik and Auburn bought their championship, Les Miles isn’t smart enough to care about anything but winning, and it’s no mystery how Steve Spurrier feels about winning. Richt runs an ethical and clean program. I respect where winning ranks in Richt’s overall values: I am guessing 4th, behind his religion, family, and the overall well-being of his players. However, if we’re going to win it all, that value ranking has to change. Winning needs to move to number 2 behind player health for 3 1/2 hours 14 times a year. I’m not talking about partying in the end zone, I’m talking about players never letting up or losing to someone who wants it more. I hope Richt finds that killer instinct somewhere inside of him and finally brings a team above and beyond its potential. Thoughts?
I’m not sure I agree that you have to be ruthless and obsessed to win a national championship, though I’m sure it might simplify the process. A bit of fire in the belly certainly doesn’t preclude having high standards and sticking to them. And despite his laid-back demeanor, I think Richt is probably every bit as competitive inside as the coaches you named. What will it take for Georgia to win a national title? A Heisman-winning player usually helps a lot in that regard. Plus a dominating defense. I don’t know whether Georgia has that kind of game-changing player on the roster right now, but I think the Dawgs are on the right track defensively. A bit of luck usually comes in handy, too. Maybe that’s why so many Georgia fans get so frustrated with Richt: the program isn’t that far away from rejoining the elite.
Do you have something you want to discuss concerning the upcoming football season or UGA athletics in general? Got a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? If so, send it to email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg