Let’s get straight to some Junkyard Mail …
Eastside Dawg writes: Bill, we all know what the toughest games will be this season for the Dawgs: Clemson, South Carolina, LSU and Florida. But looking at the 2013 schedule, which game strikes you as the potential “trap” game, where Georgia gets caught coming down from a high or looking ahead and gets tripped up by a team they ought to beat? I’m thinking Vanderbilt, how about you?
You’re not alone in picking the Oct. 19 game against Vandy as a potential trap game for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs. I’ve seen at least a couple of pundits saying the same thing. But I have to disagree. I don’t see the Dogs suffering any sort of letdown after playing Missouri in Athens the previous week. And while some of them might be thinking about Florida, as long as James Franklin is coaching the Dores I don’t think Georgia’s players are likely to overlook or lightly regard the program in Nashville. No, if there’s a potential trap game on UGA’s schedule I think it’s the Oct. 5 game at Tennessee. Now, this doesn’t mean I think the Vols are likely to beat the Dogs. First-year coach Butch Jones may have the UT fan base all fired up, but with him having to basically rebuild Tennessee’s passing game and having a defense that looks to be mediocre at best, it would take a massive underperformance by Georgia for the Vols to win. But that’s the point of trap games. This one comes right after the Bulldogs finish their ultra-demanding September run with LSU in Athens. And if there’s one thing that can be said for Tennessee, it’s that they have a really good offensive line and are likely to have a couple of decent running backs. If Todd Grantham’s 2013 defense has the same sort of trouble handling the running game that last year’s team had, that could spell trouble. Remember the Kentucky game? I don’t think Georgia’s really likely to overlook Tennessee, but if there’s a trap game on this year’s schedule, I believe that’s it.
Glen Lennon writes: Hey Bill, I know you’ve harped on Mark Richt’s problems with special teams in the past, and frankly that’s the aspect of this year’s team that continues to scare me the most. Can you offer any assurance things are going to get better in that regard?
Wish I could, Glen, but I’d say special teams play still presents Richt with his greatest challenge. It’s worth noting that ESPN.com recently ranked Georgia’s special teams last in the conference in a season preview. As they said: “The Bulldogs continued the trend of having issues defending returns, ranking last in the SEC in punt coverage (11.1 yards per return and a touchdown) and eighth in kickoff coverage (20.2 yards per return). Another concern is kicker, where Marshall Morgan could miss at least one game this fall following an arrest on June 29 for boating under the influence. He’s Georgia’s only scholarship kicker and was shaky last year, hitting 8 of 14 field goals. Punter Collin Barber averaged 41.5 yards per punt and pinned 19 of his 60 kicks inside the 20. Malcolm Mitchell has all the talent to be a return star, but his ill-advised decision-making has turned him into a liability.” That’s pretty much the situation in a nutshell. I feel good about Barber’s punting, and I think the Dogs can survive a game without Morgan. But the return situation (both covering and receiving kicks) concerns me. It’s possible someone else could rise up in preseason camp and earn a shot at returning kicks, particularly punts, but, if not, the Georgia coaches appear to have a choice between Mitchell, who never seemed at ease in the role last year, giving us a few scares, and Rhett McGowan, who’s ripped off a couple of decent returns but more often is put out there just to make a fair catch. Mr. Safe Hands may not have the upside of an explosive player like Mitchell, but at least he can be counted on to make good decisions, and that might be the way the coaches decide to go. As for dealing with placekicker Morgan’s inconsistency, as long as Richt chooses not to have a coach devoted to special teams, I think that’s a potential problem.
Keith McCants writes: What’s the outlook for Georgia’s defense, especially along the defensive line? And CharlieDog writes: Bill, I’m a bit worried about the Dawgs’ defensive line. I know Mike Thornton, the presumed nose guard, has a fair amount of game experience, but he’s nowhere near as big as John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Is he going to be able to stuff the middle? And what do you think about our DL prospects in general?
Well, they’ll definitely be smaller in the middle, but hopefully more aggressive than last year’s defensive front, which underperformed most of the season, particularly against the run. While Thornton is a bit undersized for a nose guard at 295 pounds, he does have the most game experience and is likely to be the starter, at least initially. Grantham noted this week that the starting job there is “an open competition” between him and Chris Mayes and John Atkins. Junior college transfer Toby Johnson will start out at end, he said, as will 336-pound John Taylor, who Grantham seems to want to also try out at nose. You could see either one of them shifting inside if need be, so the DL’s depth is encouraging. And, of course, senior Garrison Smith should be a team strength at DE. Whether new DL coach Chris Wilson is an improvement over Rodney Garner, now making the big bucks at Auburn, remains to be seen. Otherwise on defense, the linebacking corps looks solid, with a couple of potential standouts, and the secondary, while inexperienced, has a wealth of young talent.
Jeffery Stubbs writes: I think the 1st player, most likely a DB, who gets to tackle Sammy Watkins should lift him up & slam him to the ground. I understand that it would result in a 15 yard penalty and believe that the DAWGS get penalized excessively since the team danced in the end zone against UF. However, I believe it would be worth it to send a message that we do not take trash talking lightly. e.g. “old man football”, and help establish the young DBs as threats for the next 11 weeks. I do not mean being dirty, just hyper-aggressive and 4 (mostly 5) wide dropping the hammer.
Sorry, but I disagree. I think shutting down Watkins and preventing him from making any big catches, but doing so with class, is the way to answer the Clemson receiver’s trash talk. Georgia doesn’t need any unnecessary penalties in that game.
Ricky writes: I heard this week that the Gamecocks are considering wearing a chrome helmet and wonder if they’re planning on rolling that out for the game in Athens. Which brings to mind those silver Nike Pro Combat helmets that the Dawgs wore a couple of years ago against Boise State. They were the only part of that Power Rangers uniform that I think most fans liked. What do you think, Bill, should those Nike silver helmets be brought back for a special game this season?
Well, actually, the chrome helmet picture apparently was just something the South Carolina equipment managers tweeted to stir fans up. As they subsequently noted, it “got outta hand fast!” They also tweeted that “we will be wearing our traditional white helmet this year. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’” As for Georgia wearing silver helmets, you’re right that the helmets were the only part of that Pro Combat gear that wasn’t, um, uniformly hated by fans.
But while I liked the nod to the silver lids that the Dogs wore in the Wally Butts era, I wasn’t quite sold on the Nike version. I really didn’t like the wide red stripe down the middle. I do, however, think a sort of retro silver helmet, with the traditional power G added on the side, might be something Georgia ought to consider for the future, maybe for homecoming or a bowl game. I don’t really see it happening this season, though. By the way, if you want to read about the Dogs’ silver helmets from the past, UGA football historian Patrick Garbin sums their history up pretty well in this look at Georgia’s uniforms.
Jim P. writes: Bill, I wanted to jump for joy after hearing Kolton Houston regained his eligibilty, even though I do not know, nor have ever met the young man. This was such a long and incredible story, that I, like many Bulldogs, cannot help but feel emotion for Kolton. It makes me proud there are so many heroes in the UGA athletic department that helped support and get Kolton to this point. Ron Courson is a great human being and Coach Richt, keeping Kolton on scholarship, shows tangible proof that UGA is a true family (may recruits take note). I think a perfect exclamation point would be all fans giving Kolton a standing ovation, while cheering his name when he takes the field in our first home game.
I agree with you completely Jim. The way Courson, along with Greg McGarity and Richt, handled this situation should make the Bulldog Nation really proud. As for an ovation for Houston, whenever he manages to take the field this year I think there’s a pretty good chance that will happen.
Our Ice Dawg correspondent, Connor Kelly, writes: Hi Bill, It appears all the hard work has paid off … an ice rink is on the verge of coming to Athens! The arena itself will have a prime location: Inside the Classic Center. From my understanding the rink will be portable, with the ability to install or remove it within a 36-hour window. My guess is it will only be functional in the fall and winter months due to cost. This will also allow the Classic Center host non-ice rink events in the space as well. It may not be too long before the Ice Dawgs have a true home in downtown Athens!
Indeed, Connor, the Athens Banner-Herald reported this week that the Classic Center’s executive director, Paul Cramer, said the center’s board of directors is making progress on a plan to purchase portable seating, scoreboards and ice rink equipment for the recently expanded exhibit hall, which also could play host to volleyball, basketball and events like circuses. The chief aim would be to bring ice shows to Athens, but the paper also reported that UGA hockey club coach John Hoos is hopeful the arena also could provide a home for his team, which now has to travel to Duluth to play a “home” match. “It’s exciting and gratifying to see the possibility that we could host events right on the doorstep of campus,” Hoos said. “I’m excited both for the players on the team but also for the Athens community and the student community, that they might be within walking distance to those games.” The plan still hasn’t been completely worked out and has to be approved by the Athens-Clarke commission, since it would require the Classic Center to take on some debt. But if it all works out, UGA fans might be able to see the Ice Dawgs play in Athens. Sounds like fun!
Finally, UGA fan Sravanthi Meka passed along to me information about the Suits & Sneakers Gala that UGA basketball coach Mark Fox and his wife Cindy are holding Aug. 17 at Stegeman Coliseum, in connection with the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ and American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer initiative to raise money to help people living with cancer. The gala, held on the floor of the Coliseum, will include a putt-putt golf extravaganza as well as silent and live auctions of prizes that include a vacation in Manzanillo, Mexico, and a gourmet dinner for eight at Fox’s house with celebrity Athens chef Hugh Acheson of “Top Chef” fame. Dress code calls for business attire (suits, dresses) and sneakers, hopefully decorated for the “Best in Shoe” contest. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $150 per person or $1,250 for a table of 10. For more information, call Gracie Rice of the American Cancer Society at 318-230-6688.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the upcoming football season or UGA athletics? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg