Let’s get straight to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. There were a lot of letters from anguished fans wanting to vent about the way the Auburn game turned out, and especially about Todd Grantham and the defense in general. We’ll start off with a representative sampling of those. …
Craig A. Howard writes: Watching the Dawgs attempt to play defense is very frustrating. The defense has not improved all season. Before every play they never appear to be set to play football. For SEC defenders they are the worst tackling team in the league. I have never seen a Dawg defense so undisciplined, poor fundamentally and unable to get turnovers or get off the field in third down. If Todd Grantham and the linebackers and defensive back coaches are not fired at the end of this season every young man that has committed to come to UGA to play defense should decommit and go somewhere else to play football. … Grantham has to go. Enough is enough!
Also on the defense, John Stancil writes: Bill, Love your column, it is always the first one I read. Being somewhat far removed from Athens (Lakeland, Fla.), I don’t have much of a feel for what the rumors and thoughts are. Do you foresee any changes in the coaching staff for next year? Specifically, will Todd Grantham be back and will the Dawgs finally get a kicking and special teams coach? Thanks for your insight.
And Lamar Westbrook writes: Hey Bill, once again the defense got torched! … Somebody needs to remind Richt of these disturbing numbers: They have played 10 games and the defense has given up an average of 30.2 points per game. The offense has scored an average of 35.8 points per game! But the most disturbing numbers that matter are in the SEC games. Through seven conference games they have scored 33.2 points per game but gave up a 33.6 points per game average. There is no way they can win with these numbers! The offense has been good enough at Georgia over the last 3 years, but the defense has kept them from winning and will keep making them lose until Grantham leaves! Do you think he will get re-signed? If so, they will never do anything but keep losing.
Overall, it has been a disappointing year for the Georgia defense, which started out very young but hasn’t progressed (particularly in the secondary) as much as might have been expected. They’ve also done poorly in generating turnovers and getting off the field on third downs. But keep in mind there were injury problems on that side of the ball as well, and they played some pretty formidable (and tough to defend) nationally ranked offenses.
On the subject of Grantham’s job security, I’ll just note he signed a new three-year contract in the summer of 2012, paying him $825,000 annually, and he is now in the second year, with one year remaining. Unless Georgia’s defense falls apart completely in the last two regular season games and the Dogs lose to Kentucky and Tech, I don’t see Grantham getting fired at the end of this season. On the other hand, I’d definitely be surprised to see him get an extension, even with the message that might send to defensive recruits in next year’s class.
Asked about his view of the defense’s performance this week, Mark Richt declined to throw Grantham under the bus, but he also didn’t issue an explicit vote of confidence. He rather vaguely said: “We’re a team here at Georgia, and we’re going to keep coaching and trying to make improvements and corrections on everything we do in all phases of the game. We win together and lose together.”
In listing his takeaways from the Auburn game, Richt did note, “There are a lot of things — angles or just doing a better job of pad level defensively. It’s just fundamental things. You’ve got to play a little bit lower, you’ve got to maintain your gap a little bit and not get moved or create too much space for skilled runners to get through, and guys need to wrap up better.”
On continuing to develop defensive consistency, Richt said he was “pleased with how we finished that last game. Other than that one play, there was a string of some great defense being played, just to allow us to get back into the game without trying to do some desperation onside kick. The way the game was going, even after the first touchdown, you’re wondering if you should kick an onside or not. The goal was not to do that, especially the first time around, and with the defense getting that three-and-out, we had the faith to kick off again.”
He added he thinks the defense is “playing hard as heck and trying to get better.”
Lastly, I’ve seen or heard nothing to make me thing Richt has changed his mind about a special teams coach.
Pete Talmadge writes: Here are my thoughts : 1) Our secondary is truly clueless — we don’t have defenders who can cover receivers (I wonder how many teams we play have their best passing game vs. UGA ); 2) Why does it take Bobo & Co. one or two quarters to get things cranked up? For once, I want to see us go full-bore on offense from the opening play; 3) I guess Todd Grantham will never learn that rushing two or three on 4th and long doesn’t work. Obviously we do our best work on the line of scrimmage vs. the secondary, so put ‘em up there, coach; 4) This team has heart and doesn’t give up, largely due to Mr. Murray, who has the heart of a lion. Someday, I would like to see Murray be UGA’s QB coach. I really hate to see him leave, but perhaps he will come back someday.
As I’ve noted previously, Georgia had that fourth-and-long covered well. The players just didn’t do what they were supposed to do (knock the ball down). I agree about Aaron Murray. Some fans denigrate any quarterback whose team doesn’t win a championship, but there have been too many games over the past four years that the Dogs wouldn’t have had a chance in if it hadn’t been for No. 11. As Steve Spurrier, who knows a thing or two about QBs, said this week: “Aaron Murray is one of the best passers to ever play in the SEC.” I also hate to see him go, though I wish Hutson Mason (or whoever succeeds him) much success next year.
Lenny Daniel writes: Bill, That was a great point you brought up regarding the Penn Wagers crew just killing the Dogs the past few years. My daughter and I have noticed that numerous times and commented on it ourselves. Why on earth would this happen so often? Do you think it’s just an odd coincidence or does he and his crew have some weird vendetta against Georgia? Can Richt or Greg McGarity actually approach the SEC about this and request they not have the Wagers crew officiate their games? I would be all for that. Those 2 first half calls Sunday really had a huge impact, and to deny that is just naive.
It seems to happen a bit too often for coincidence, but perhaps it’s just his usual ineptitude and Georgia fans are watching a bit more closely. I actually doubt the conference would heed any such request by UGA officials and I also doubt Richt and McGarity would consider asking it, though I think it certainly would be justified. But as I alluded to in my earlier blog, I’d like to see them at least go on the record acknowledging the elephant in the room when it comes to Wagers. More than that, I’d like the folks in charge of SEC officiating consider the damage this officiating crew does to their credibility.
Dave Lindner writes: I first want to say I do not think this is why the game was lost, just a question to see what you think: On the very last play, the hit on Murray, was that not the definition of a “targeting” hit on Murray by the defender? He left his feet, led with his helmet, and hit Murray above the shoulders. If the roles had been reversed I bet Auburn would have gotten one last play. Your thoughts?
I didn’t really notice it when it happened live (I was focused too intently on where the ball was), but after watching replays, I agree with you. Asked about the hit made by Tigers defensive end Dee Ford, Richt lamented, “I don’t know what a targeting hit is anymore sometimes. I’ll look at this one and it is; I’ll look at another one and they say it’s not. And I’m like, what’s the difference? I think it’s been a very difficult thing for everybody to define… There’s gotta be something done with it.” But, to be fair, Murray himself said he thought it was a clean hit and not targeting. “No, I went back and watched it. He hit me in the chest,” Murray said. Of course, there have been targeting calls made this season where the hit also took place in the chest. Or even the shoulder. Bottom line: The flag should have been thrown, I think, whether or not an ejection would have been upheld. So, yes, Georgia should have gotten 15 yards and one more play.
Gerry Flynn writes: Just wondering if you know what the rule is on non-crowd noise, like the band and PA system. Auburn did a great job of keeping their fans revved up with exciting music/sounds from the big speakers. But I think they pushed the limits on when to cut them off when we were on offense. I don’t know what the actual rule is or who is supposed to enforce it, but I was under the impression that only crowd noise was allowed after the team breaks the huddle. Of course, nowadays, there aren’t many huddles, so what is the cut off? Most of the time during the game last Saturday, which I attended, our team would be in formation, with Murray frantically trying to communicate with other team members with the PA blaring and the band playing. They seemed to cut it off only after they were “set.” I certainly don’t blame them for using the tactic, we could do much better at Sanford than we do, but is that legal?
Richt said on his call-in show that his understanding is that as long as the music stops before they get ready for the snap, it’s legal. Obviously, though, some schools/stadiums are pushing it. Generally, I’d say if they’re still blaring noise when the official indicates the ball is ready for play, a flag should be thrown.
Stephen writes: I’m a recent UGA grad (MA ’09, Ph.D. ’13) and a Bulldog diehard. I like your articles and I generally find myself in agreement with your commentary. I feel, however, like I am in the minority of UGA fans who are not freaking out over the recent loss to Auburn. Actually, after the game was over, I was all smiles. Think about how that game went down. Georgia was dead in the water for three quarters, staged a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback after being down 20, scored a go-ahead touchdown that was followed by a dramatic review that upheld the call, and then we lost on a one-in-a-million type play. Based on the pure entertainment value alone, I wonder how, as a college football fan, you couldn’t find this game to be awesome. Having said that, I am a supporter of UGA, and Auburn is a rival, so obviously winning would have been better than losing. But what did Georgia “lose” exactly? What did we realistically have to play for? The only way we were going to the SEC championship was if Missouri loses to BOTH Ole Miss and A&M, and that ain’t happening. It won’t ultimately play much of a factor in our bowl destination, either. … So in the end, UGA didn’t really “lose” much, college football gained a lot, and I for one was highly entertained. By the way, don’t sleep on UGA in ’14. I would put money on UGA being in the first ever college football playoff somewhere, very likely as the SEC champions.
Good points, Stephen. If I had been a general viewer without an allegiance to either team, I would have been very pleased by that game. As a UGA fan, however, the disappointment over that one play undoing the comeback was hard to overlook. Maybe in future years we’ll be able to appreciate that game more.
Sandy Brown writes: Bill, I realize the season isn’t over yet so we can’t really assess whether it was a success or not, but I take a certain measure of pride in the fact that, despite a horrendous string of injuries, this team beat two Top 10 teams and nearly beat two others. Am I blinded by loyalty to UGA?
No, I’d say you’re on the money. Ryan Scates, a former student rep on the UGA athletic board, sends out an entertaining weekly email before each game, and this week he included a link to a ranking on a Fox site, Outkickthecoverage.com, that still has the Dogs ranked ninth in the country. (They have FSU ranked No. 1 over Bama, by the way.) Analyst Todd Fuhrman reasons that if you think Auburn is a Top 10 team, then Georgia should be as well. “Without one of the more improbable 4th down conversions in league history, UGA would have gone on the road and won in a hostile environment Saturday. Georgia’s current record makes it hard to validate them as a top 10 football team yet their overall talent and strong computer metrics keep them there.”
Andrew Smith writes: Bill, [Your] Blawg was spot on. My family and I have been lamenting the coaching to “not lose” approach in many games in the last 5 years. You nailed it man! More points of emphasis can be made for the stupid penalties. I have counted in at least 5 games where the Dawgs have received penalties immediately following a called timeout or end of play. The majority of those are too many men on the field! I mean honestly, how can they not get that right?
That’s one of my pet peeves about the Richt coaching staff, Andrew — confusion on the sideline. At this point, I’m not sure what it would take to clear that up.
Beach Dawg writes: Bill, I look forward to and enjoy your reporting and even though it’s obvious that you are a true Dawg you clearly cannot be considered a “homer!” I sincerely appreciate your objective and unemotional reporting. A sincere thanks and keep it up! Secondly, I just saw interviews with Aaron Murray and Artie Lynch discussing the devastating loss Auburn — what great young men. In recent years too much has been written about the off field incidents involving UGA football players and, unfortunately, some in the press and a number of vocal fans often imply that behavior is the character of the Dawgs. You only have to listen to the likes of Murray and Lynch to know that our beloved school and football team is well represented by men who are selfless, team focused and of high character. Unfortunately, the naysayers do not take the time to get beyond the headline!
Thanks, Beach. I agree completely about Murray and Lynch. They’re both wonderful examples of what college athletes should be.
Finally, Matt Mashburn writes: OK, the National Championship would be better, but Georgia-Michigan in the Gator Bowl would be a terrific matchup. Two of the most storied college football programs in the country. Two of the most recognizable “brands” in college football. Two teams that NEVER play each other, even in bowl games. And Jacksonville is a great host for Georgia-Florida and for bowl games. Highlighting Murray in his final game in a city that he might very well play pro ball. Close enough that the players can drive and get some reimbursement “walking around” money. Easy drive for all the South Georgia fans and students who are home for the holidays. I think that would be a really fun bowl game. I’m sending in my ticket form today hoping that this game comes to pass. Keep up the good work.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta is still a possibility, as is, unfortunately, the Music City in Nashville. You can’t completely rule out the Outback in Tampa, but that would require a bunch of SEC dominoes falling. But the Gator does look like the Dogs’ most likely destination if they win out. Since Georgia and Michigan have only played twice ever, and haven’t met since the huge 1965 upset pulled by the Dogs in Ann Arbor, I’d say that’s the potential bowl opponent I’d be most excited about.
That’s all for now. If you’re going to Saturday night’s game (and if you have tickets, I hope you are) be sure to wear black.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg