Georgia comes home Between the Hedges this week with a clear mandate: If the Dawgs win their next two games they get to return to the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship.
The question worrying Bulldogs fans all week is whether that will be enough to keep Todd Grantham’s mercurial defense fired up like it was against the Gators, or whether this will be another of too many games this season in which the Bulldog defenders sleepwalked through the first half and let a lesser team hang around much closer than they should.
Yes, Georgia is the better team Saturday, which is why the point spread is a couple of touchdowns. But Ole Miss isn’t the jabroni of the SEC West like they were under Houston Nutt. After being embarrassed by Texas, the Rebel Black Bears made a respectable showing against mighty Alabama, holding the Crimson Tide to to just 305 yards of offense and managing to score twice in a 33-14 loss. They then scared Texas A&M, losing to Johnny Football and company by only a field goal, and since have won two conference games in a row — albeit, against the two worst teams in the SEC.
New coach Hugh Freeze has his team believing they can play with anyone, and that could be dangerous if Georgia shows up lacking motivation because no one insulted them this week. Mississippi runs an uptempo quick-snap offense that got under Nick Saban’s skin and could interfere with Grantham’s liberal substitution policy, and quarterback Bo Wallace is yet another of those mobile quarterbacks that can burn you both ways. He also is prone to throwing picks, however, and the Ole Miss line has given up quite a few sacks this season. A repeat of the defensive game plan used against Florida’s Jeff Driskel would seem in order.
On defense, the Rebs’ most dangerous player has a familiar last name: freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche of Loganville, brother of recruitniks’ favorite obsession. He leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss, forced fumbles and interceptions. But overall Ole Miss ranks ninth in the conference, and considering the defensive coordinator is Dave Wommack, who ran the Georgia Tech D during the 2009 “We run this state” game, you might figure Mike Bobo will be tempted to keep Todd Gurley pounding away at them, setting up Aaron Murray’s play-action passing attack nicely.
One thing that’s likely to be different from last week: Ole Miss is one of the least-penalized teams in the SEC. Let’s hope the Dogs follow suit.
Bottom line is that Ole Miss is just good enough to make this game closer than it should be if the Bulldogs play like they did against Kentucky. But in the end Georgia’s tremendous talent differential should rule.
If you’re headed over to Athens Friday for an early jump on homecoming festivities, Vince Dooley will be signing his various books and copies of the “1980 Dawgs” DVD from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Red Zone, 155 E. Clayton St. in downtown Athens. Also downtown, the homecoming parade is set for 6 p.m. Friday. The Redcoat Band will be marching and UGA Olympian Reese Hoffa will be the grand marshal.
Friday night, the Georgia men’s basketball team kicks off its season with an exhibition game against Young Harris. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and admission is free.
Saturday, there are a lot of homecoming gatherings planned at the various schools of UGA and a Healthy Dawg Tailgate — with free food, alcohol-free drinks, T-shirts, games and an inflatable slide for the kids — runs 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University Health Center on East Campus. The Red Zone also will have another signing session from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., this time with Rex Robinson, Scott Woerner and Tim Crowe of the 1980 national champions on hand.
The Dawg Walk is set for sometime around 2 p.m. in the Tate Center parking lot.
Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
Jeff Myers writes: Bill, the great win last week has me fired up to welcome the Dawgs home after a month away. It was not a well played football game, but winning is what matters. All those worried about our defensive ranks, or offense woes, kicking, etc. I would remind you that despite our rankings last year, we lost 4 games; I will take a win every day over a ranking. CMR is too nice a man to call out his players or the fans, but I have been really bothered by the lack of home crowd enthusiasm and noise this season. Heck the half stadium crowd last week in Jacksonville was louder than Sanford Stadium this season. When the Dawgs went to Columbia, that crowd topped anything I have seen at UGA in quite a while; they were loud and obnoxious from warm-ups on. For all those that say CMR is emotionless, I would point out that every home game this season, with the defense on the field and 3rd down. CMR is on the sideline waving his play sheet in the air, begging the fans to get the noise level up, and get it up sooner. Not just make it hard at the snap, but in the huddle and at the line. I can think of no better way to show your support for the Dawgs great victory last week then bringing your best voice this Saturday. The team will need the “12th Man”, especially on defense, as those guys gave it everything and have reason to be low in the tank. Hopefully the offense and special teams will be better and can energize the team as well. I don’t care if Murray throws a pick six on the first play, we have to get right back into the game UGA fans, we are fighting for a trip to the Dome. Maybe Shawn Williams needs to call the fans soft. Calling on all Dawgs Fans this Saturday to Rise UP, Homecoming, National TV, let’s show them our team and fans our top 10 in the country.
The home fans have gotten pretty loud at times this season, but overall you make a good point: Sanford Stadium crowds aren’t nearly as noisy or involved in the game as they ought to be, especially if it’s not a big-time opponent. I’m not sure what can be done about that. Anyone have any ideas?
Nathaniel W. Roper writes: Hey, Bill. Love your Blawg. I have a theory that I am not hearing anyone else mention, but wonder what your take is. My theory is that CMR -— in a brilliant move, if so — was completely behind the Shawn Williams comments. I mean, when is the last time something that CMR did not want said by the players was spilled to the media? I would find it hard to believe that, out of nowhere, Williams just took it upon himself to vent his frustrations, especially being a senior. Maybe I am way off base here, but would like your thoughts. And may I also add that, while perhaps Mark Richt doesn’t have the win-at-all-costs mentality that some others in the SEC have (how many “suspensions” did Garcia get at South Carolina without missing a down?), if my sons were ever offered the chance to play for an SEC program, I would much rather him be their coach, mentor, and role model than anyone else in the conference.
Thanks, Nathaniel. I’ve heard that theory several times this week, and comments made last week by Mark Richt and Grantham in the wake of Shawn Williams calling out his teammates would seem to indicate that, if it wasn’t all planned, at the very least they weren’t upset with what Williams did and they were hopeful it would “jolt our guys,” as Richt put it. Asked if he had advance notice of what Williams planned to say to the media, Grantham danced around a bit but seemed to indicate that he did. “Shawn and I are pretty close and we talk. He’s a guy who wants us to play well and physical and do those kinds of things. So, you know, I don’t know.” If it was a deliberate motivational ploy, it worked brilliantly. But it’s a shame that such things are necessary with this team.
KnoxDawg writes: Bill, I’m a lifelong Dawg fan who lives in Knoxville. I was born minutes from the stadium in 1961 to parents who both graduated from the university. I have an uncle who played for the Dawgs (Jim Smith ‘63) before an injury ended his career. A job change for my dad brought me north to Volunteer land in 1966 and I have endured the taunts of Vol fans every year since then. God smiled on me though, and got me into Neyland Stadium on September 6, 1980 when Herschel started his 3-year dominance of the SEC. I got to see it with my own two eyes. In fact, these eyes have seen a lot of good days and bad days on Georgia football Saturdays. I say all that as a foundation for these words on coaches and coaching changes. I would love to see us get back to the days when we could expect to retain a coach for 25 years just because he’s a good man, he wins consistently (as opposed to constantly), he brings character to the program and he’s a Dawg through and through. I’ll admit from the start; I’m a Mark Richt homer. I will be until the day he leaves Athens for the next leg in his journey. But I’m so tired of Dawg fans who scream at the top of their lungs for coaching changes every time we stumble. Let me ask those fans one question. How long would you have “tolerated” Vince Dooley? He’s only one of the most iconic coaches in modern college football, period. But, if you take the time to examine the numbers, you’ll find that his record had some extreme ups and downs. From ‘64-’70, his regular season record was 46-20-4. From ‘71-’79 it was 68-30-2. From ‘80-’88, including ‘The Glory Years’ and the NC, he guided the Bulldogs to a 79-18-2 record. His overall bowl record for 25 years was 8-10-2 and the Dawgs were unranked by the AP after 13 of those seasons. Yet, even today, Georgia fans everywhere hold Vince Dooley in extremely high regard, as do I. So, what’s the difference in the game today? I don’t believe the tired old excuse of, “It’s the huge amount of money” we’re paying coaches today. If Mark Richt were making $500K instead of $3M, none of the usual critics would be saying that 10-win years are OK ‘for that amount of money’. They’d be saying we need to ‘open the bank vault’ and find the next Nick Saban. Sadly, in today’s world, Vince Dooley would never have had the chance to win a NC or become a Georgia legend. The requirements are simply too stringent, the expectations too unrealistic. More likely than not, our pride has swelled to such enormous levels that we can not tolerate NOT being number one.
You make a good point, Knox, but the fact is that times have changed and fan bases’ expectations are different from the Dooley era. So unless Richt wins a national championship, even 10-win seasons are not going to be enough to stop the griping.
Dan Smith writes: What are your thoughts on a UGA-Bama SEC Championship game? Would we look unprepared and be steamrolled by Nick Saban and company, again? I suppose it could still be LSU representing the West (though I don’t think they’re going to be able to overcome the losses they’ve had on the O-line to line up with Bama all four quarters). But, at this point, how do you see the (currently hypothetical) Dawgs against the Crimson Tide in Atlanta?
I think it would take the Bulldogs playing a nearly perfect game in all facets and Ole Lady Luck, as Larry Munson used to call her, stepping in, but, yes, Georgia is capable of beating Alabama. Do I think it would be likely to happen? No. I think a return match against LSU would work more in the Bulldogs’ favor than meeting the Crimson Tide. I’d like to see what Jarvis Jones could do against Zach Mettenberger, wouldn’t you?
Patrick Yaggy writes: Hi Bill, Let’s extend the post-match euphoria with some rampant speculation. With four teams currently undefeated in front of them, what are the chances that a Georgia team which runs the table to make it to the Dome and then beats still #1 Alabama makes it to the title game? How far would taking down #1 and #2 in the nation go?
As Jeff Schultz outlined this week, it’s theoretically possible for Georgia to make the BCS title game if they win out. But it would require at least a couple of the currently undefeated non-SEC teams to lose. I think a one-loss Alabama is a better bet to make the game than a one-loss Georgia team.
Chris Watson writes: Hey Bill, I am a huge fan of your posts and thoughtful insight. One question I have had that I have not heard mentioned involves our running backs. Why is it that we do not switch between the 2 (or 3) on a single drive? Instead we have Marshall for a complete drive, and then we have Gurley for a complete drive. Because of how different their running styles are the defense would have to be extra prepared and not to mention, giving the backs a break every few runs would bring them back fresh and ready to pound. What are your thoughts on this?
While generally the same tailback stays in for an entire drive, the Dawgs have done some mixing it up this season. Against Tennessee, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley both ran the ball on Georgia’s third scoring drive. And in the Vandy game, the fourth scoring drive saw Gurley in at first, then Marshall was put in, followed by Boo Malcome, and then Marshall came back. Generally, though, the idea is that if you keep swapping the backs in and out you prevent any one of them from getting into a rhythm.
@DCDawg writes: Bill, One thing that drives me crazy is that when Murray goes to audible, the entire offense that has not been set looks to the sidelines. Aside from being distracting, annoying, and amateurish (can you tell I don’t like it?), it is signaling to the defense that something is being changed and that the game is being micro-managed from the sideline. All the opposing team has to do is key in on the signal caller to find a pattern to figure out what is about to be called — maybe that is how South Carolina knew how to shut down the Georgia offense. It also takes time and there have been a few delay of game calls against the offense. Why is Georgia doing this?
Actually, many teams do it that way. I remember when I first saw opponents like Troy do it a few seasons back I found it irritating, too, but since Mike Bobo installed the semi-hurry-up last year I’ve gotten used to it. The key advantage is that it allows the offense to change its call after having seen the defensive alignment. As for South Carolina, I think the mismatch between the Gamecocks’ defensive front and the Georgia offensive line was the main problem there.
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