Georgia’s defense, which has failed to live up to preseason expectations, came in for quite a bit of criticism in this week’s Junkyard Mail. Let’s check out a sampling of what some fans are thinking. …
James Colvin writes: I’ve read what [Todd] Grantham and the players have said, but it boils down to this: There isn’t a team that has better personnel than UGA on defense this year. The analysts know this, Grantham knows it, all the players know it. All of these guys will be playing on Sunday next year or the year after. [But] we have not had a team defensive effort except Vandy. During the USC game, I recall seeing safeties not trusting the front seven to get the stop and getting torched on two long pass plays. Our ridiculously talented individual defenders have to play as a TEAM, and when they do, nobody can move against them.
And Jeremiah Johnson writes: I don’t want to blame the offense too much. Granted, they deserve their share, but the defense let the game get way out of hand way too early. … I’m beginning to wonder how dominant the defense actually was last year that allowed for all the hype this year. They were fantastic during the middle of the season, but in the beginning and end they didn’t pull through (the stats for sacks and tackles for loss resemble a bell curve, for instance). They have yet to really control an opponent’s backfield, which I think has led them to be susceptible to big pass plays. I don’t feel like I’m seeing the D blowing up the line to get sacks, it’s either they rush in untouched to get one, or eventually get a coverage sack. … It looks like they play with too much nervous emotion, as opposed to fight, fire, etc. Most of the defensive mistakes early in the game were because they were overcommitting to the run and trying to get too much pressure on [quarterback Connor] Shaw too fast. [Jarvis] Jones, for instance, was trying to outrun his tackle, leaving a huge hole for Shaw to scramble through and the safeties were jumping hard on the play-actions and bootlegs. Once they settled down, the game slowed down; this is why I blame the defense. Even though it was a teamwide meltdown, the defense was the first cog to break down, I think.
I have to agree with both James and Jeremiah. Georgia’s defense is the most disappointing aspect of the 2012 Dogs so far. A friend of mine was ranting along similar lines this week. As he noted, Grantham hasn’t slowed down South Carolina in three games. And playing into the soft-schedule theory, you could argue he earned his huge raise based on seven games where our defense was overwhelmingly dominant — and they all came against struggling offenses. Last season, Georgia had trouble stopping Boise State, South Carolina and Vandy. And while the defense looked like worldbeaters in the first half of the SEC championship game, they fell apart in the second half and wilted in the fourth quarter of the bowl game against Michigan State. My friend pointed out that even the SEC’s worst offense last year — Florida — had some success against the Dogs after being unable to do anything against the rest of the league. And this year’s defense has been troubling with the exception of the Vandy game. A lot of people have pointed to the suspensions and the resulting unsettled nature of Georgia’s defensive starters in the first five games, and that probably was a factor. But the Dogs’ defensive game plan against South Carolina wasn’t very good. A lot was expected of this defense, especially since several members of it could have left early for the NFL. But perhaps all that optimism overlooked the fact that Grantham’s D really hasn’t performed well to date against a top-notch offense. Too harsh? Well, the Florida game should tell us a lot.
Richard Moss writes: I saw a discussion on a couple of UGA fan blogs this week about whether Todd Grantham used his time wisely last week in preparing for the Gamecocks. Someone was complaining that they saw Grantham attending a 5th-6th grade football game in Athens last Thursday night in which his son was playing. The gist of their argument was that he should instead have been watching film and game-planning for South Carolina. What’s your take, Bill?
I certainly can’t argue with the fact that Grantham’s troops looked unprepared for a Gamecocks offense doing basically what everyone expected them to do, but I can’t believe anyone actually would blame that on Grantham taking the time to attend his kid’s game. Talk about overreacting! Football coaches spend little enough time with their families during the season as it is. Besides, complaining that Grantham wasn’t in his office on Thursday night ignores the fact that game plans are made and implemented early in the week, not on Thursdays. And not only was Grantham probably at work before the sun rose that day, but he may well also have gone back to work later, after he’d watched his son. These guys keep killer hours, but part of a college coach’s job is molding young men, and it’s important to show the players that you should never be too busy for your children.
Another popular topic this week among Junkyard Mailers was the Dogs’ poor record against ranked teams. ShreveportDawg writes: Hello Bill, love the blog. Turned 39 this past September and have been a Dawg fan for 30+ years and I cannot remember a game where we looked totally unprepared and gave such a lackluster performance. The one thing that keeps lingering in my head is the stat that Georgia is 0-10 now vs. top 10 teams under Richt and his staff. If something doesn’t change there soon what is Georgia to do in the next couple of years when the playoff system is put into place? If Georgia is wanting to be considered a national contender and be involved in the playoffs we will have to play top 10 teams. I never thought I would say this because I love Richt so much as a person, BUT there has to be a shake up from the ground up.
Along the same lines, DCDawg writes: OK Bill, do you think it is time to consider that Mark Richt is not able to take Georgia to that next level? Since the 2008 sUGAr Bowl, not only has this team looked less like a national power, but ESPN mentioned during last Saturday’s game that in the last three seasons, the Dawgs have not beaten a ranked team. The rest of the country wants to believe Georgia can win, evidenced by the rankings before the South Carolina game, but that is based on talent. You have to coach the talent and maybe Richt is unable to make that adjustment to get there. What do you think?
And Andrew writes: It feels like teams in the Richt era fall short more times than they persevere. I love everything Richt stands for, and I’m not calling for his job just yet, but I would like your thoughts.
First of all, the Dogs’ performance against ranked teams in recent seasons has not been good, but not quite as dire as Shreveport and DC indicate. Georgia beat two ranked teams last year: Auburn and Georgia Tech were Nos. 24 and 25, respectively, in the AP poll at the time those games were played. But, yes, the Dogs’ record against Top 10 teams since 2008 (when the current redshirt seniors started at UGA) is a dismal 1-9 (the last win being over No. 7-ranked Georgia Tech in 2009). Georgia’s record against Top 25 teams in that time period is 6-15. Actually, Richt’s record against ranked and Top 10 teams was pretty good in his early years at UGA but has gotten worse as his tenure has progressed. From 2001 through 2007, Georgia went 24-13 vs. ranked teams and went undefeated (5-0) against ranked opposition in both 2002 and 2007. What happened since then? Believe me, if I had that answer I’d drive over to Athens and slide it under Richt’s door. As for my views on his pluses and minuses as a head coach overall, see the answer to the next batch of letters.
Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill. I’m a fan of coach Richt, but can Richt and his staff ever get this program back to national prominence? Can we beat a nationally ranked team? In other words, can we ever challenge for a national championship? I just don’t know anymore. I’ve continued to see the same problems and issues in our losses and wins over the last several years … unpreparedness, slow starts, special teams, penalties, physicality.
Steve Yearta writes: Bill, Unfortunately my preseason concern about Georgia being overrated was justified in Columbia Saturday night. I take no pleasure in being accurate, and in fact it pains me to see our program in its present state. Your blog after the game spoke to the volumes of frustration that every Bulldog must be experiencing right now. I don’t see the present head coach being able to take the program beyond what it is now: A group of players that win most games based upon sheer superior talent, but when faced with a team of comparable players, the coaching required to overcome the talent parity is inferior and Georgia losses result.
I’m like you, Joe, in that I really like Richt. I think he’s a fine man who runs a program we can be proud of, and he’s the classiest coach in the SEC. But while he got off to a fast start early in his UGA career in terms of success on the field, it’s been much more of a spotty picture in recent seasons. Some problems he’s faced are unique to a particular season and can be written off as tough breaks, but there are some recurring problems that appear to be Richt weaknesses. The most obvious one is special teams, and I’m not very hopeful that will ever change under Richt because he was molded by Bobby Bowden, who rarely made that a top priority. Another recurring problem has been the offensive line. Ever since the linemen Richt inherited from Jim Donnan moved on, it seems the OL has rarely been a strength. That’s probably due to a combination of recruiting and coaching, but Richt ultimately gets the blame since he hired the folks responsible. And then there’s the frequent tendency of Richt teams to either play down to the level of a weak opponent or show up looking ill-prepared and unmotivated for a tough one. I supported giving Richt time to turn things around after a couple of rough seasons, and he got the Dogs back on track, up to a point, last season. But Georgia seems to be settling into a niche in the conference where they’re better than all the midlevel teams but a rung below the elite teams. Is that good enough? Can you seriously consider firing a coach who wins 10 games a season? And then there’s the point that UGA wouldn’t necessarily be better off making a change just because the longtime coach isn’t living up to his early resume. Ask Tennessee Vols fans about that. Next season, when Richt loses a bunch of veteran talent and the schedule gets tougher, may leave Greg McGarity with a tough decision to make. Good but not great wasn’t good enough for UGA in the Donnan years. What constitutes good enough now?
Phillip Joiner writes: Bill, My friend and I got to discussing possibilities for the [SEC] East and we had a question we hope you could answer. Here’s the scenario: Carolina already beat us. If we beat the Gators and the Gators beat the Gamecocks, it’s a 3-way tie where we all beat each other. If the division and league record would be even, is overall record the next tiebreaker? With Georgia Tech being a true “rambling wreck” we should win that one, while South Carolina has Clemson and Florida has FSU. How would that impact who goes Doming?
I’d advise not taking anything for granted in looking ahead, but if the scenario you describe were to occur, here’s how it works: Division standings are based on a team’s overall conference record (much to Steve Spurrier’s dismay last year). If three teams in the division wind up the season tied, the first tie-breaker is the combined head-to-head record among the teams, then their record within the division, followed by their record against the division team that has the best overall conference record. Then they look at their record against non-division teams. After that, the tied team with the highest BCS ranking after the end of the regular season gets the edge unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five or fewer places of the highest ranked team. In that case, the head-to-head results of the two top-ranked tied teams will determine who is the SEC East’s representative in the championship game.
Jon Wilhoit writes: Bill, I am an optimist, but also a realist. I have defended [Mike] Bobo, based on decent offensive production, but with a simmering level of frustration because his play-calling has time and again killed momentum and all too often kept opponents in games that the Dawgs should have easily blown the other team out. [Jadeveon] Clowney is the top defensive player in college football. How does Bobo not game-plan for him? How does Bobo not have a fullback dedicated to double-teaming Clowney on every passing down? We experienced [Marcus] Lattimore’s ability for the last two years and Shaw’s dual-threat ability [was well-known]. Is Richt not asking Grantham what his plan is to contain them? How about Alec Ogletree spying Lattimore and a DB on Shaw and make them beat us elsewhere? The point is, there was nothing special about our game-plan to counter what IS special about our opponent’s capabilities.
And Will writes: Bill, after watching South Carolina’s domination, with no bright spots for the Dawgs quite honestly, and [Kirk] Herbstreit’s bashing of essentially the team and the program late in the game on national television, I think this was a realization that under this coaching staff we cannot win the big games, which means we probably can’t win championships under Richt. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but … the state of our program is frankly just mediocre. Not great, definitely not worthy of a top 5 or top 10 ranking, and I believe #14 where we are is just right. If we want to crack top 10 again we have to earn it by beating a really good team in Florida to at least possibly REACH Atlanta. I don’t believe I’m the only one who thinks this. Your thoughts?
Will, even if Georgia beats Florida, it’s going to be up to South Carolina to lose two games in order for the Dogs to make it back to the Dome. And, Jon, you summed up pretty well the frustration most Georgia fans felt watching the game last Saturday night. Most observers figured Georgia’s young offensive line would need help, but Bobo’s plan to have a back “chip” the pass rushers obviously wasn’t enough, and a suitable adjustment wasn’t made. Likewise with Grantham’s defensive game plan. South Carolina has some talented players, but not more than Georgia. And I’m not convinced the Gamecocks wanted the game more. I think what made the difference in Columbia was that Georgia got outcoached.
Finally, on an off-field subject, Limeydawg writes: I have an idea I’d like to see gain some traction. Aaron Murray’s father has cancer. I’ll bet none of us has anything but prayers and good wishes for Murray senior, and for Aaron. As a fan, this hits home as I’m sure it will with many of you. My son, Dylan, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2, and the American Cancer Society is, therefore, one of my favorite charities. So it struck me that we, the Dawg Nation, have a chance to step up in a big, big way. So, when we play Kentucky on 11/03, how about we call for a pink-out to create a little cancer awareness on the national stage? Maybe the athletic department can collect money at the gates on that date and donate it to the ACS on behalf of the Murray family. To me, this is what Georgia is about. Yes, we’re passionate, unforgiving and slightly off kilter when it comes to our Dawgs. We’re also possessed of giant hearts. I’m locked down in SW Florida, but some of you know somebody who knows somebody. Put a bug in an ear. Show the nation that Georgia has a heart.
I’m not sure a pink-out is in order here since pink is generally used in connection with breast cancer awareness. I’ve seen one organization that touts a teal/pink/blue ribbon to bring awareness to thyroid cancer, which is what Aaron’s dad has, while another uses purple. But I don’t think either idea is well-known enough to be effective. Neither is the lavender ribbon used to bring awarness to all cancers. But I certainly agree that collecting at the gate for cancer research would be a great idea. If not the athletic department, perhaps one of the student organizations at UGA would like to take that on.
Since this is a bye week for UGA, the Blawg also will be taking the weekend off. But we’ll be back discussing the Dawgs next week. Have a good weekend and stay safe, everyone!
I’ll answer more Junkyard Mail next week. Do you have something you want to discuss concerning the current football season or UGA athletics in general? Got a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? If so, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg