Aside from the “Fire Richt!” and “Fire everyone!” laments from some readers, there were more reasoned fan responses and questions in this week’s Junkyard Mail. Let’s check some of it out. …
Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill, Mediocre defense, more special teams errors, the absolute worst called offensive game of the year, just terrible. The whole football program gets an F [against Vanderbilt]. Now, I know there were some TERRIBLE calls and, yes, we’re missing offensive playmakers, but we lost to Vandy. So, would you change your midterm grade for the team after seeing that performance? And even more importantly, but left unanswered in your report card, where is the UGA football program headed in the future? Bill, are we ever gonna win a national championship with coach Richt and his staff? I hate to be the Doubting Thomas, and I’m not gonna scream to fire coach Richt, but at what point do you say, “We need a new leader, we need fresh leadership to take us to a higher level.” These type of morale-busting losses have been too often over the last few years. To open the season the way we did, then to follow it up with these losses, especially against Vandy, is downright embarrassing. As always, thanks Bill …
Joe, I wouldn’t revisit my midterm grade for the Dogs (overall grade B-) because it was based on the first six games. But, yes, the Bulldogs are off to a very poor start on the second half of the season, though I’m not ready to write them off just yet. For the Vandy game, I’d have given the offense a D, the defense a C-, special teams an F and coaching a D. (And if I were grading the officials, they would have been expelled!) As for the future, Georgia returns most of its offensive talent next year (Aaron Murray being the notable exception) and the young defensive players will be a year older, though Todd Grantham’s record as a developer of talent at UGA is mixed so far. Next year also sees a very favorable schedule for Georgia. Good enough to win a national title? Well, barring another year of numerous and key injuries and a flop by Hutson Mason or whoever ends up succeeding Murray, it certainly would be possible. But, frankly, I’d say until Mark Richt adjusts his stubborn attitude on the subject of special teams and figures out a way to keep that aspect of the game from continually dragging down his program, the odds are long against any sort of championship. And I don’t necessarily mean just naming a special teams coordinator. Coordinator or no, what Georgia needs to do is figure out why execution in special teams play is so frequently poor. Do they need to practice more? Do they need to revisit what they do in practice? Do players need to be held more accountable? Would an Urban Meyer approach, where players compete for the honor of playing on special teams led by the head coach, be more effective? I don’t know, but, unless Richt figures out an answer, his teams are going to keep losing games they shouldn’t lose.
Mike Edwards, who attended the game in Nashville, writes: There are many reasons for UGA losing, but the main reason is the coaching staff approached this game with a let’s not lose [attitude] as opposed to let’s play this game to win it. We keep hearing the mantra “next man up,” then ask them to play with their proverbial hands tied behind their backs. Other teams are winning with backup players because they trust them to execute the plays they have been coached to play. Players know when a coaching staff does not trust them to make the plays and they will play to those expectations. If you truly believe in the “next man up” mantra then coach them in a way where you demand and expect them to execute the plays. This loss is on the coaching staff. Hopefully things can be turned around for the rest of the season. Let’s play to win the rest of them! Still a UGA fan!
I think you make a very good point, Mike, especially when it comes to Georgia’s anemic offensive showing against the Dores. While, yes, you’d expect Mike Bobo to have adjusted his playcalling somewhat in the absence of talent like Todd Gurley and Justin Scott-Wesley, his ultra conservative game plan against Vandy and his refusal to challenge Vandy deep backfired. I think his approach also may have rubbed off on his quarterback, who admitted he already was having “trust” problems with his replacement receivers. The only way for Murray to gain trust in those players is to challenge them to get open and break the big play that has been Bobo’s mainstay.
Josh Cuevas writes: Bill, Undoubtedly the defense is the biggest problem right now, and it hasn’t improved with experience. Last year the defense was porous even with a slew of NFL players-to-be roaming the field. This year with younger players it’s one of the worst in the country. That should never happen with the kind of recruits UGA gets, even if we had to start 11 true freshmen. … With the exception of the 2011 Dawgs, Grantham’s defenses have vastly underperformed every season given the type of talent he has on the field. Even with the rash of recent injuries, Georgia would have still been a Top 10 team this year if the defense had simply been average, instead of terrible, unable to make stops on 3rd and 4th downs even against the worst teams. Certainly the Bulldogs have experienced other problems (special teams, horrible officiating, injuries, overly conservative play calling, etc.), but teams with a talent base like Georgia’s should be able to overcome those sporadic flaws. They can’t overcome a defense that can’t stop 2nd string quarterbacks from 2nd tier programs from marching down the field on every possession.
A tough but fair assessment, Josh. Normally, when an opponent’s starting quarterback goes out, you’d expect a defense to be react like a shark when there’s blood in the water, but against Missouri and Vandy Grantham’s defenders seemed, if anything, to relax. Not a sign of good coaching.
Jim P. writes: As bad as Georgia’s play was [against Vanderbilt], it was good enough to win the game. But the refs and the asinine [targeting] rule stole the game at that point. People are lying if they say otherwise. The Dawgs had the game under control at that point.
As much like sour grapes as that might sound, Jim, you’re right. That belated second targeting call, in particular, was abysmal and showed every sign of resulting from an official feeling pressure from the Vandy bench right behind him. We probably won’t ever know whether that officiating crew was disciplined or reprimanded in any way by the SEC, but they certainly needed it.
Bubba King (no relation) writes: Bill, Over the summer, I wrote to you regarding my major concern going into the season. You were nice enough to post my email, and in your reply, you scoffed at my concerns. Do you recall what it was? It was long-snapping. My point was that we had been spoiled by the mistake-free play of Ty Frix, and you pretty much told me that there were two players there who were more than capable to do the job and long-snapping should be the least of my worries. How do you feel about that now? LOL, just busting your chops a little.
Consider my chops properly busted, Bubba!
Morton Johnson writes: Bill, Looking ahead at next season, I’m growing very concerned about the fact that the presumed heir to the starting quarterback position will have hardly played in a real game in more than two years. I know Georgia has had a tough schedule up to now that didn’t allow for a lot of second- and third-team players to get in, but shouldn’t the coaches be thinking ahead at least a little bit when it comes to Hutson Mason?
Good question, Morton, and a tough one for Richt and his staff to deal with. On his “Bulldog Hotline” show this week, the coach was asked about the backup QB and responded that he would have expected Mason to have played by now, but noted: “It’s just been one of those kinds of seasons … every single game has come down to the wire.” Unless Kentucky turns out to be a cakewalk, the only game left on the schedule where you might expect Mason to see much playing time is Appalachian State. While I know it might seem unfair to fifth-year senior Murray to ask him to give up any playing time, I think perhaps starting Mason in that game might be good, just to let him feel what it’s like to be the starter. Even if he sits most of that game, Murray is still likely to get the remaining records within his reach. I have a feeling Richt and Bobo wouldn’t be willing to go so far as to start Mason, but I certainly hope he gets the bulk of the playing time against App State. Just as Murray deserves kudos for coming back to play his senior year, Mason is due some credit for taking a redshirt year last season and staying at Georgia when he could have transferred elsewhere. I think he’s owed some playing time for that.
Beach Dawg Living Among Equally Unhappy Gators writes: We all feel the pain and, as you know, the blogs are humming with passionate views on who needs to be fired, what needs to be done, etc, etc. About the only thing that I have not seen recommended is abolishment of the football program! So, Mr. King, if you choose to accept, what are the top three actions you would take at the end of the season if you were the AD and/or head coach.
Interesting challenge, Beach Dawg. OK, I’ll bite. The first thing I would do wouldn’t wait until after the season. I’d tell Grantham now to simplify his defensive schemes and get them in to the players quicker because I didn’t ever want to have to burn another timeout because the defense was confused as to the call. That’s just inexcusable. Same thing goes for whoever is responsible for getting the special teams out on the field; Georgia should never have to burn a timeout for that, either. Speaking of special teams, I’d address that problem as I outlined in the answer to the earlier question. And, lastly, I’d take a good, hard look at what’s being done to recruit and develop players on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Paula Bechtler writes: Hi Bill! Any update on Chris Conley after his injury on Saturday? Can you tell me if there is going to be a Dawg Walk in Jacksonville, and if so, when and where? Also, I have noticed that some UGA players have face masks that look slightly different from the others, with a tighter-knit web pattern. Do you know why that is? Thanks!
Last word on Conley was inconclusive but it didn’t look like he was that close to being able to return to practice. And if he doesn’t practice, he won’t play against the Gators. The grill-like facemask you’re referring to, worn by fullback Quayvon Hicks, is similar to one worn by a couple of NFL players. Before the season, when the players were getting new helmets, Hicks told the equipment manager he wanted something more “intimidating” than a conventional facemask. As for the Dawg Walk in Jacksonville, UGA athletic information chief Claude Felton tells me it will be the same as the last few years. Players unload from the buses near the stadium loading dock and make a short walk into the stadium. It’s scheduled for 1:39 p.m. ET.
Barbara Sarco writes: Hi Bill, is Adrian Scott, a monster senior defensive back out of Valdosta High, on Richt’s radar? Think I should tweet him (CMR)? Scott is leading the defensive charge down in God’s country. Thanks.
Barbara, we won’t really know until the coaches get on the road next month for evaluations what late-bloomers they’re pursuing, but AJC recruiting guru Michael Carvell says he hasn’t heard anything yet about Georgia and Scott. A tweet to the head coach certainly wouldn’t hurt.
That’s it for this bye week. Next time, we’ll talk Dogs and Gators!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg