Let’s get straight to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail, which was dominated by concern over the state of Georgia’s defense and the future of coordinator Todd Grantham. Here’s just a representative sampling. …
Cohen Moore writes: Hey Bill! I’m a current Grady [College] student at UGA and next football season will be my final one in Athens. I just wanted to say that after watching Georgia play this season, the lone reason we have four losses is our defense. I blamed injuries for a while. But even with all those injuries, we still put up 30-something points a game. If a defense can’t keep opponents under 30, that’s a huge problem. I tend to be optimistic every season, so I think that if UGA can SIGNIFICANTLY improve the defense (which I think will happen), then next year should be nothing short of a BCS bowl. I would love for Richt to stay for the long haul and get our program some championships. Your thoughts?
Along the same lines, Jeff Myers writes: Bill, let me first say, it is a pleasure to read your articles and blogs each week. More often than not you hit on the exact points and questions I am thinking about as a fan. You are informative, fair, and bluntly honest. Thank you for being a fan’s writer. The elephant in the room for me is the fate of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. I am a glass half full kind of person, but in this case I am falling on the side of half empty. Past experience for one, Mark Richt held on to Willie Martinez one season to long and it almost cost him his job. Even more so is the entire body of work from Grantham, which shows a lack of ability to teach and develop players; lack of ability to adjust, or adjusting too late; lack of game management; lack of being an in-game play caller; and lack of the ability to recruit the top recruits on the board each year. Bill, all these things are repetitive over the Grantham tenure. Yes can you point to player turnover, injuries, improved run defense, key stops to win games, shutting down teams in the second half. We can all find silver linings, but the overall body of work supports change in my opinion. Even if Grantham stays, his contract most likely will not be extended, making recruits see him as a lame duck coach. What exactly do you think will change if he stays? The body of work shows us we will still be wasting timeouts on defense, players will continue to line up late, the defensive calls will be late, the defensive angles and tackling will be average at best, no in-game adjustments will be made until it is too late, and we will not be able to get off the field on third downs. The reason some say Grantham should get another year is the lost starters from last year. Well, that defense was woeful as well. With the great talent it possessed, the same problems existed. Time for change!
And J.Johnson writes: I’ve read in several places … that we shouldn’t be so down on the defense and things are actually better than we think. But a lot of commentators from the Bulldog faithful seemed to be hard pressed finding a silver lining. Who do I believe?
I always figured Grantham would be back next season (assuming he doesn’t finally bolt back to the NFL during the offseason). The performance of the Dogs’ defense over the past couple of seasons, while troubling, wasn’t dire enough to prompt a firing by Richt, who’s never quick with the ax. And the head coach has a point in touting the benefits of continuity. Switching to a different system under a new coordinator likely would result in a step back next season rather than progress.
However, do I think Grantham is the long-term answer for the Dogs’ defense? Probably not. One way or the other, I don’t expect him to still be in Athens a couple of seasons from now.
Let me say up front, though, that I don’t consider Grantham a complete failure as defensive coordinator. Sporadically, Georgia’s D under him has been very good. That even applies to this season. There’ve been some big-time stops, especially in the fourth quarter, but also a tendency to give up big plays. Overall, it’s been maddeningly inconsistent. Last year, the secondary was a strength but the NFL-caliber defensive front underperformed, especially against the run. Substituting more liberally under a new defensive line coach this season, the front has been good against the run (even against Tech’s triple option) and the linebacking corps productive as usual. But the inexperienced secondary has been pretty much a disaster (although there are extenuating circumstances there, as I noted the other day).
Of greater concern to me has been the slowness with which Grantham adjusts his schemes during a game and the fact that they appear to be needlessly complicated, resulting in defenders having to think before reacting. The defensive sideline also has appeared disorganized, with too many flags for 12 men on the field, and signals from the coordinator coming in so late that the players often are still shuffling around and trying to find where they’re supposed to be when the ball is snapped. Worst of all, they’ve had a real problem getting off the field on third and fourth down. And they haven’t done well in takeaways, either.
In terms of stats, things appear to have gone downhill. The Dogs finished the regular season ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring defense (29.4 ppg), 10th in passing defense (232.8 ypg) and seventh in total defense (381.3 ypg). The scoring figure is the highest in school history and the latter figure is the highest since 1999. Nationally, they ranked 80th, 68th and 47th in those categories, respectively.
But in addition to having to start a lot of inexperienced players this season, including several true freshmen, it’s only fair to point out that this year Georgia faced five of the nation’s Top 25 scoring offenses. And some of the defensive stats are skewed by the fact that special team errors and offensive miscues resulted in opponents getting gimme points or a short field.
Basically, assuming Grantham sticks around UGA to fulfill the year remaining on his contract, next season should tell the tale.
Travis Hill writes: This season has really been bittersweet. At home getting to see UGA beat the Cocks and LSU was just awesome … and I was lucky enough this year to be able to go to most of the away games. The way our team was decimated by injuries was just unreal this year. I can’t imagine how good we would have been without so many players suffering injuries that were catastrophic. With that being said, we have some MAJOR issues that Richt and [Greg] McGarity have to address this next season. 1.) special teams. Marshall Morgan aside, this has become one of UGA’s biggest Achilles heels. We gave teams so many points this past year off special teams. Richt has not done what it takes to make our special teams ELITE. Our special teams have to rank at the bottom of the SEC. Why can’t Richt hire a consultant ( like Alabama does) if we are not going to do any coaching changes and have a designated special teams coach? McGarity needs to step in and put his foot down on this. It’s inexcusable … 2.) pass defense. I know we have young defensive backs playing for us, but I did not see any significant improvement with them as the year went on. Our pass defense made Nick Marshall and Vad Lee look like prolific passers. Both had their best days as passers against UGA’s defense. Something is not jelling between [defensive backs coach Scott] Lakatos and Grantham. This is Grantham’s defense, so he needs to take the steps necessary to improve this. … Now for some positives: 1.) Mike Bobo’s offense. I have been VERY critical of Bobo’s play calling in the past [but this year] his play calling was pretty good in the games where we had most of our major horses ready to go, He had problems trying to adjust the offense when [Todd] Gurley and half of our wide receivers went down to injury … but I think anyone would have had that kind of problem. … I know there are a lot of Bobo haters out there, but I think he has matured … he seems to be able to figure out defenses pretty well. 2.) defensive line. I really thought our defensive line play improved a lot under coach Chris Wilson. We just seem to play the run a lot better this year. And our pass rush improved as the year went along as well. … We did not lose any coaching when Rodney Garner left for Auburn. 3.) recruiting. I think our recruiting has stepped up a notch in the past year. This recruiting season should be a great one… I can’t wait until signing day.
I’d say that’s a pretty evenhanded assessment of the football program, Travis. But while I agree the loss of Garner as defensive line coach was a net gain for UGA, I think the verdict is still out on how it impacts Georgia’s recruiting. While he appeared to coast some in his later years in Athens, since arriving at Auburn Garner seems to have gotten a second wind as a recruiter. The Dogs have a good start, but they still have a way to go to have another elite class. I think the fact that Richt decided to postpone bowl practices a couple of weeks in order to concentrate on recruiting before the newly expanded monthlong dead period with no contact begins in mid-December is a good sign he’s committed to closing strong. Hope it happens.
Gary Payne writes: Hi Bill, Enjoy your passion and perspective. When I was a freshman in 1980 and we won the [national championship], I recall being amazed that UGA’s last championship came in ‘42, a ridiculous 38 years prior. Don’t look now, but at 33 years, we have only 5 years to go before we equal that drought. Do you think we win it all in the next 5 years? The playoff format should help but I’ll take the over. Seems like there is always some glaring deficiency that we just can’t overcome and there never seems to be an overriding sense of urgency to fix or even acknowledge the obvious. Yes, we came a few yards short last year, but that is the point – even at our best we always seem to be a few yards short.
A few yards short of making it to the national championship game is still closer than a lot of teams come and closer than UGA has come in a long time. I think if the defense and special teams improve and Georgia continues to have an elite offense, the Dogs have all the makings of a national championship. Even with the problems this season, Georgia was in a position to play for the SEC title (and possibly the BCS title) before the injury bug hit. So, yes, I believe a national championship is a realistic goal for this program.
Barry Clinton writes: Bill, I have to wonder about officiating in the SEC. How bad can it get, including replay officials? Is there no accountability for egregious errors in judgment on the part of the officials? Oh, it was real bad this year, indeed. Out of respect for you and your readership, I will forgo any comments pertaining to the competency of a Mr. Wagers other than to say he is bad for college officiating and college football, in general. As for the targeting rule, what lamebrain committee came up with that? I could go on, but I would ask you to please comment on any or all of the above rantings. Thanks Bill. I truly enjoy your blog.
And in a similar vein Kevin Lee writes: Why has there not been an investigation done on SEC football refs and the blatant bias against UGA? Look, I know there are a number of reasons that we lost each of the four games this season (and almost lost to UT), however there is something to be said for the major blown calls (and “no-calls”) that added significant detriment to the team in each of those loses. There are many to choose from, but this goes for the horrible targeting calls in the Missouri and Vandy games to the fumble recovery and no-call on the late hits on Aaron Murray in the Auburn game. I mean, Richt got a flag for arguing about that Auburn fumble — and venting his frustration at the horrendous officiating at that game. When was that last time THAT happened? This has been going on ever since the 2007 UGA/UF game. Think of the celebration call on A.J. Green in the LSU game in ‘09 or the horrific hits on Murray against Auburn and Alabama the past few years with no flags. Is there anything to be done, Bill? What do you think? Am I way off base?
I don’t really think there’s any sort of conspiracy among SEC officials against UGA. I think they’re just generally inconsistent in their calls and some of them (the Penn Wagers crew, in particular) flat-out aren’t very good. OK, I’ll grant that I suspect Wagers might tend to be a bit harder on the Dogs than he is on some other teams, but my main complaint in the calling of games in the conference is that they’re overly strict on some calls (the controversial targeting rule being a prime example) and turn a blind eye to others (chiefly offensive holding) while inconsistently calling many other violations. And the conference really needs to give a hard look at the way the video replay officials operate. What can UGA do? Keep sending those videos to the conference office and perhaps now that the regular season is over have a sit-down with conference officials to express their displeasure with the level of officiating. And that’s about it, unfortunately.
Chris Pugh writes: Bill I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but do you think UGA will ever build a indoor practice field? I mean, come on, Duke has indoor practice field! I think that’s pretty sad and pathetic that schools like Duke, Vandy and Georgia Tech have indoor practice field and we don’t, especially knowing how much money this program brings in on a yearly basis.
I think UGA will one day have an indoor practice facility. But unless Mark Richt wants to make it a priority I don’t expect it to happen any time soon. As has been noted here before, a decade ago Richt was agitating for an indoor facility but then he opted to take a reworked weight room as part of the renovated Butts-Mehre facility instead. Another complication: Basically, there’s no room in the current Woodruff Practice Fields for such a facility, which means it would have to be built out near the soccer and softball stadiums. There’s only a couple of times per season when such a facility actually is needed, which makes the estimated cost of $20 million to build one look a bit over the top. Still, there’s no doubt that the lack of one at UGA probably is noticed by recruits. “It would be nice to have a practice facility indoor,” Richt said back in the spring. “I don’t think we have to have it, but like I said it would be nice to have it.” But until he gets a bit more gung-ho on the issue, it’s likely to remain on the wish list.
Kevin Howard writes: Bill, I have the answer about Georgia and its unfortunate spate of injuries and bad luck, including the targeting call in the Vandy game … and, of course, the immaculate deflection. How can Dawg Nation expect good things when Coach Richt endorses Ford while Uga IX is a Chevy fan? A house divided, it is! I can’t really see a bulldog pushing a Ram, so perhaps we can settle on a Tundra. How can we have team unity, esprit de corps, and good ole fashioned Dawg karma, when Richt and Russ are competing with one another?
Hmmmm. And there I was blaming the bad luck on my switching game day shirts! I don’t know about Russ, but Richt obviously has financial reasons for favoring his brand of wheels. As for which brand might bring more good karma, how about compromising with a switch to Mack trucks —I like their distinctive logo. Woof!
That’s it for now. I’ll be on vacation next week, but when the Blawg returns we’ll look ahead to the Dogs’ bowl game.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg