There’s been an interesting contrast in statements coming out of preseason practice in Athens this week.
On the one hand you get the usual player happy talk, which we’ve had all summer (like usual). That relentlessly positive spin from players about this year’s team and how much better it is than last year’s team generally is good for getting the Bulldog Nation revved up but has proved in past seasons to be not a very good indicator of how things actually are going to go.
Sure, I always hope they’re right when they’re gushing about the up-and-coming talent, but they do tend to go a bit overboard.
Take this week, for instance. While the coaches are trying to keep the tone very even when it comes to the tailbacks, particularly Todd Gurley, star of the first two scrimmages, the players aren’t holding back.
Shawn Williams, in particular, was effusive on the subject of Gurley: “When I’m standing on the sideline and watching, all I can say is, ‘Wow!’ I don’t want to say too much, but when I saw that [No.] 3 running down through there today, I was like, ‘that’s going to be a Trent Richardson right there.’ That’s what I can say. Big and fast, that’s all I can see.”
And Chris Conley chimed in: “I’m seeing a lot of great things out of Todd. … It gets me very excited whenever you see a running back who can create plays like that when there’s really nothing there.”
Head coach Mark Richt tried to keep things in perspective. “Well, he had one big run,” Richt said. “I forget the situation but the one that broke out I think was a short-yardage run. A lot of times that happens. . . . But, yes, he’s done well and I’m impressed with him. I was impressed with the running backs today. They all ran well.”
But that was one of the few semi-positive things Richt had to say after this week’s scrimmage. Mostly he was complaining about mistakes and lack of effort, particularly singling out the quarterbacks for an excessive number of turnovers.
“I saw a lot of bad things,” Richt said. “I saw three bad interceptions, just bad throws. Every time a quarterback got touched, they fumbled the ball.”
I thought for a moment there that maybe Richt had been possessed by Steve Spurrier.
Richt also wasn’t pleased that “our No. 2 offense drove the field on our No. 1 defense and scored. Brandon Harton broke a tackle in the backfield for a first down that got them going. The No. 1 offense started out great, but after the No. 2 offense scored it must’ve inspired the No. 2 defense because they stoned the No. 1 offense on the next three drives and during a one-minute drive. The No. 1 defense got scored on on the goal line, and I didn’t like that. The No. 1 offense scored on one of two tries from the 2-yard line and the 1-yard line, which is not too impressive.”
On the other hand, Aaron Murray said he “thought we had a great day offensively. We scored, I think, 50 percent of the time. We scored six touchdowns. I think we took a step forward. Were we perfect? No, but we have 16 days to continue working and continue working better. And I think if we continue on this pace, we’ll be good.”
And Mike Bobo, after watching video of the scrimmage, said he thought Murray played pretty well. “The one interception he had was a protection blow down,” Bobo said Thursday. “He had to run up in the pocket and the defense made a great play. I think he was 9-for-13 for 69 percent and the one interception was really not his fault. So I thought he had an outstanding scrimmage.”
As for the fumble Murray had, Bobo said: “We’ve got to protect the ball at all times, but that was more of a situation where he said, ‘Well, OK, I’m sacked’ and just kind of sat there and somebody ran in and knocked the ball out.”
Maybe there was an element of good cop/bad cop there with Bobo providing the counterpoint to Richt’s grousing, but frankly I’d rather have the offensive coordinator coming off as demanding as his boss rather than making excuses for turnovers. Especially considering turnovers by Murray were a key factor in at least two of Georgia’s losses last year.
Now, having the head coach and his quarterback and playcaller not on the same page might concern some fans. But I find Richt’s peevish tone oddly reassuring. The knock in many quarters on Georgia’s head coach has been that after his second SEC championship he got a bit complacent, and as a result the program lost its edge. I’d much rather have Richt demanding more of his players, particularly his starting quarterback, than making nice all the time.
I liked it that Richt even got a bit sarcastic in summing up the scrimmage. “I thought we looked like a pretty good team,” he said. “But pretty good is about 8-4, maybe 9-3 if you’re lucky. We’d like to be better than 8-4, but that’s about how we played today. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great. Did we have great effort on every play? No. Was every guy busting his tail on every play? No. Was there great effort on some of the plays? Yes. I didn’t see a team that was ready to be great. I saw a team that was still pretty good, and I’m not that thrilled about it.”
In general, there’s been a noticeable edge to Richt this preseason. There was even some bite in his address to the Rotary Club in Athens this week, as reported in the Athens Banner-Herald. Asked if some games mean more to him than others, Richt noted, “Over the years, it has become more personal. I was at FSU for 15 years and … I wasn’t mad at anybody. We were winning. Now that I’ve been in this league for 11 seasons of football, it gets personal.”
Maybe it’s something another team’s coaches did or said. Or perhaps Richt’s time on the hot seat made him less inclined to turn the other cheek.
Either way, I’m hoping Richt stays in this we-can-do-better mode throughout the season. The team needs it.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg