Fan talk: Playing it coy on suspensions isn’t helpful

Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather says his suspension is because of an academic problem. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather says his suspension is because of an academic problem. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Hope you had a good holiday week. The King family had a very nice Christmas, including lots of UGA-related gifts exchanged, ranging from shirts, a fleece jacket, basketball shorts and books to a Bulldog cutting board and coasters featuring the arch!

And, of course, between feasting and watching a John Wayne movie marathon we spent a little time talking Georgia football as Mark Richt’s team was making its way down to Jacksonville for Gator Bowl practice— amid news reports that, predictably, a couple of members would not be taking part in the game because of suspensions.

That’s never a good thing, no matter what sort of infraction was committed by defensive players Josh Harvey-Clemons and Sheldon Dawson, but the way Richt handled the situation this week, repeatedly refusing to answer any questions about the suspensions, allowed rumor and speculation to run rampant for a few days, which isn’t helpful to his program.

Let’s face it, when you heard the two Dogs were suspended for the bowl game because of a “violation of team rules,” the first thing that popped into your head was drugs, right? In recent years, that phrase has come to be considered a sort of code for “caught with weed” or “failed a drug test.”

Fortunately, some sources close to the program quickly started leaking to reporters word that the suspensions actually were related to academic problems, and then Friday Harvey-Clemons’ grandfather confirmed that was the case with him, though we still have no certain word on Dawson’s suspension. But resorting to the “grapevine” to manage this sort of PR problem seems wrong-headed.

I understand if school policy precludes the head coach talking to the media about a player’s academic standing, but if that’s the case UGA should urge the players involved, or their families, or some designated spokesman (usually their high school coach) to speak up and set the record straight. Or perhaps Richt could at least say publicly what the suspensions are not about.

Playing coy in these instances doesn’t serve the player, the team or the school’s best interests.

Now, let’s get to some holiday week Junkyard Mail …

Jackie T. writes: Bill, I’m really more of a “neutral” observer than a Dawg fan, having gone to NYU before moving down here, but I enjoy reading your Blawg and getting some insight into all my Red and Black friends and neighbors. Speaking of which, I get the distinct impression the Bulldog Nation is greeting next week’s bowl game with a collective yawn. I realize the Gator Bowl isn’t part of the BCS, but there are a lot of fan bases out there that would love to have their team playing in the postseason, and especially in a New Year’s Day bowl game in Florida. Are your Bulldog brethren spoiled or fair-weather fans or what?

Jackie, I’d say your characterization of UGA fans’ interest in the Gator Bowl as a “collective yawn” is a bit of an overstatement. Yes, it’s true that a mid-tier bowl after an 8-4 season isn’t what Bulldog fans had hoped for — or expected after Georgia had knocked off South Carolina and LSU — and facing a rematch with the same opponent as last year certainly hasn’t helped stoke fan excitement for either Georgia or Nebraska. But from talking with fans over the past couple of weeks, I get the impression that UGA backers are anxious to see the team close out the season with another win and also want to see whether Hutson Mason can continue the progress he started with the tremendous comeback effort against Georgia Tech. While Bulldog fans understandably are disappointed with the unfortunate way record-setter Aaron Murray’s career at UGA ended prematurely, I think they’re a bit excited about next year’s starting QB getting some valuable playing time against major competition in advance of that looming 2014 season opener against Clemson. But, to get back to your point, fan bases for major SEC programs like Georgia generally aren’t satisfied with anything short of a top-level bowl, if not a conference championship and a shot at the national title. And I don’t think Richt and his staff would want them to be.

In a related question, Kathleen White writes: Just curious — how are ticket sales for the Gator Bowl going? I read a week or so ago that UGA had only sold about 7,000 tickets in mid-December and that Nebraska had only sold about 3,000. I think the schools had allotments of 12,000-15,000.

Kathleen, UGA sports information chief Claude Felton tells me that the most recent figure he heard, which was from the end of the week before Christmas, showed Georgia had sold about 7,500 tickets. Of course, more UGA fans than that are expected to attend the Gator Bowl, as a lot of folks buy tickets on the open market rather than through the school. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s athletic department announced this week that it had sold about 4,000 of the 12,750 tickets it was allotted for the bowl. About 1,000 of those tickets were donated to the Veterans Ticket Foundation.

From California, Napoleon writes: What happened with our secondary this year? And who’s to blame? Lakatos or Grantham? It seems like Swann took a step back although he was the most experienced.

You’re right about Damian Swann not living up to expectations, though he improved as the season went on. Do you put the blame for that on his position coach, Scott Lakatos, or the player himself? A bit of both, probably. As for the rest of the secondary, admittedly it was the weak link of Georgia’s defense this season, and there’s a combination of reasons that can be cited. A lot of experience was lost off the 2012 team and any time you have to start true freshmen or inexperienced players in the secondary in the SEC you can expect to have a hard time. Plus, because of injuries Lakatos had to constantly reshuffle his lineup all season long, which didn’t help in the secondary’s development. Another aspect of the problem: A couple of very talented players who would have been expected to be starting in the secondary this season were kicked off the team. One of them, of course, wound up switching to quarterback and leading Auburn to this year’s BCS championship game. Also, a bit of the blame for the lack of depth that resulted in Georgia having to play so many green players this year probably should be placed on recruiting failures. Ultimately, of course, all of that falls on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. If you can say that an assistant coach is on the hot seat, well, I think Grantham faces that prospect next season.

Hutson Mason likes to run a hurry-up offense. (Johnny Crawford / AJC)

Hutson Mason likes to run a hurry-up offense. (Johnny Crawford / AJC)

Bill Collier writes: Bill, I always look forward to your columns and I appreciate your honest insight to Dawg football. Couple of questions. Hutson Mason has said that he likes a “fast paced” offense. Can/will Mike Bobo accommodate him? Or will the offense coaches make him adjust do the “slower” pace that they have run with Aaron Murray? Second question. Ed Orgeron is available. He was defensive line coach/head recruiter for USC (hmm, sounds familiar). I would think coach Richt would want to look into something for him with UGA. Any thoughts or rumors?

Actually, Bobo instituted a hurry-up, no-huddle aspect of Georgia’s offense a couple of seasons ago and used it with Murray whenever the flow of the game dictated it. But you’re right that Mason prefers an uptempo pace even more, having played that way in high school, and based on what we’ve seen in the past game and a half it looks like Bobo is going to accommodate him. After Mason got off to a bit of a rough start against Tech, Bobo went hurry-up, emphasizing the quick passing game, and that seemed to get his new QB back on track. So, yes, I expect we’ll see even more uptempo offense next season. As for Orgeron, first of all, Richt doesn’t have a staff vacancy at the moment, despite many fans’ wishes. And let’s just say I don’t think Orgeron would be a very good match for the way Richt likes to run his program. Aside from past domestic personal issues, Orgeron has generated some controversy over his recruiting style. He’s managed to land some top talent but has become known for recruiting moves that have pushed the envelope on what’s considered acceptable by NCAA standards. Not what Richt likes to call the Georgia Way.

Luke writes: Hi Bill, Really like reading your Blawg! I love the Dawgs ever since I could understand what football is. However, I have a question that is imprinted on my mind each season, especially as I read through Georgia fan comments. Why do us Georgia fans expect a national title contender each year? Fact: UGA has won 2 national titles according to the official Georgia athletics site. I’m not coming at this from a critical nature, just curious what your thoughts are and the thoughts of other fans out there.

Luke, my answer harks back to what I said above about the Bulldog Nation’s feelings about the Gator Bowl. Georgia certainly hasn’t had the sort of success at winning national titles that, say, Alabama has, but UGA still has a top-tier program in the nation’s best college football conference and so a shot at the national title is certainly a reasonable expectation. And last season Richt’s team came within 5 yards of making it to a BCS championship game that they would have been favored to win. Even this year, take away the incredible rash of injuries to key players on the offense and, despite a suspect defense, Georgia probably would have made it to the SEC championship game for a third year in a row, and the winner of that game usually is in the national title conversation. Bottom line: UGA is frequently in contention for an SEC championship, and that means it’s not out of line for the fan base to dream of another national championship.

One last note: If you’re looking to watch the Gator Bowl game with other UGA grads, the alumni association has up a list of 18 cities across the country that are planning viewing parties. You can check them out here.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at  junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

192 comments Add your comment

Macclenny_dawg

December 28th, 2013
11:58 am

JB

December 28th, 2013
12:21 pm

The offense mostly always been there for the Dawgs under Richt. The defense has kept this program from poor to average the last 5 or 6 years. It’s not the lack of Athletes. It’s lack of coaching. Dawgs will stay at 8,9, 10 wins until fixed, and lose to 2 or 3 of the best teams on the schedule until fixed.

DawgVoiceofReason

December 28th, 2013
12:35 pm

This is a great opportunity for Hutson Mason to get more playing time, “big game” (used loosely) experience and hopefully a “W” under his belt in preparation for next season. I would have rather seen us play Michigan but a repeat matchup against a storied Nebraska program will have to do.

DawgVoiceofReason

December 28th, 2013
12:39 pm

To the question of competing for National Championships, yes we should be. We have had outstanding talent in our program, we are in the best football conference and we have tremendous resources to draw from. Coach Richt needs to win one in the next few years but will only be able to do so if he corrects the current deficiencies that everyone has talked about.

Glendale Dawg

December 28th, 2013
12:49 pm

Bill, for the first time in a while I really disagree with your call for more transparency regarding announcing the specifics of a player’s transgressions on violating team rules. Regardless of the reason, the player has a right to a private life regardless of the impact to the team. Whether it is for grades, drugs, or any other personal failing, it’s personal. While we as fans feel we have a right to know, we really don’t just as we wouldn’t want our personsal transgressions broadcast to all in the media.

ARdawg

December 28th, 2013
12:54 pm

I’ve never understood why so many fans give Richt a pass on the woes of the defense and more recently the special teams. He is in fact the Head Coach and no matter how his assistants perform, the onus is on him. Granted he doesn’t appear very accountable for it

Bulldawg35

December 28th, 2013
1:00 pm

Chris Conley went down to injury. Well either we are cursed or it’s the strength & conditioning program! You people decide!!!!!

Macclenny_dawg

December 28th, 2013
1:35 pm

Suspended players and hurt players. Just another excuse for Richt to lose to a top 25 team. Losing players to injury is just part of the game. Its next man up. No excuses. If Richt would recruit the max amount there is no excuse.

Taco

December 28th, 2013
2:17 pm

Go Huskers!!!!!. It is sad the minute a player is suspended from UGA everyone assumes drugs. I guess that is where the program is today and for the foreseeable future. Good Luck with that and as my UGA friends always say, ” Wait til next year!”

Taco

December 28th, 2013
2:19 pm

It is also very rare any player has acedemic trouble at UGA so I can understand how folks could make that leap. First one I can remember since Pulpwood Smith. My apologies.

Bulldawg35

December 28th, 2013
2:20 pm

Taco

Hey man go eat another taco…..geez

Gator Bowl 2014

December 28th, 2013
2:57 pm

CMR has been going through the motions for the last 4 or 5 years. 5 yes or 500 yes we blew the SECCG last year.

The Vandy game was a hugely disgusting quit job by the entire team and staff.

Clemson game was lousy tackling, ball handling by our extremely nervous 5th year QB and special teams.

AU game tough, tough loss due to Dbacks lacking basic smarts.

MIZZO, UGA at home? We just laid down and their SECOND TEAM QB was superior to our 5th year, over hyped QB.

This is the way that it is lately, for UGa.

Insider

December 28th, 2013
3:03 pm

Taco is a Techie without a life or a real team!

Other Voice of Reason

December 28th, 2013
3:04 pm

Oh yeah, we’re gonna get hammered by Nebraska!! That’s what the fools on here were saying last year too, and that was with Taylor Martinez on the team… 45-31 last year and Murray torched their highly-touted secondary. Sorry, but Nebraska will be without their starting quarterback and one of their best pass rushers in this game. Their defense is so bad that my Husker friend told me they got torched by Iowa’s mediocre offense. And people think they’ll actually stop Todd Gurley? That’s highly unlikely. I’m not worried. Go dawgs!!

Touchdown Gurley

December 28th, 2013
3:08 pm

Even with a backup quarterback who had never started a college game, and an early 20-0 lead, Georgia Tech STILL couldn’t beat Georgia. You’ve got to wonder if that was their best chance to beat us anytime in the next five years. With Park coming in, the starter’s job after Mason leaves will be between Ramsey, Bauta and Park… And based on the recruiting ranking for two of those three quarterbacks, it’s hard to imagine much changing in this rivalry.

dawgfan

December 28th, 2013
3:14 pm

Bill, I usually respect your opinion but claiming we could have been in the national championship discussion without the “rash” of injuries is laughable at best. We had already dropped one game and the defense did not have a “rash” of injuries but remained a disaster. To think that we were just going to drop 40+ on everyone to win out is simply delusional Bill. I’m sorry. I’m just sick of this crap.

And as for Luke, nobody is expecting a national title “each year.” We had only expected that Richt would have won one by now in the 13 years he’s been here given the resources available to him. Since that hasn’t happened it leads one to believe that it never will so long as he’s out coach.

Other Voice of Reason

December 28th, 2013
3:16 pm

Bill King, I believe it is totally foolish for fans to blame Scott Lakatos for the faults of the secondary… Does our fan base not realize that Georgia’s pass defense was ranked EIGHTH in the nation last season?? Lakatos developed Rambo, Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings into very good college players. Wiggins has grown a lot as the season has progressed and I believe it is unreasonable to expect the injury-riddled secondary to be good when we’ve got three freshmen out there a lot of times. Wiggins, Matthews, Mauger, Langley were all very raw and that is to be expected out of true freshmen. Harvey-Clemons is a good tackler, but has a lot of work to do in coverage. I could see him switching to outside linebacker full-time if he is able to put on more weight this off-season. With Tramel Terry moving to safety, Reggie Wilkerson returning from injury and some talented recruits coming in (and we have a great shot at landing Wesley Green) I believe the secondary is bound to be a lot better. In short, I don’t buy that this is Lakatos’ fault. If you want to blame anyone, blame the man who is the DC.

Other Voice of Reason

December 28th, 2013
3:20 pm

Bill, I usually respect your opinion but claiming we could have been in the national championship discussion without the “rash” of injuries is laughable at best.

I agree with most of your points in your earlier comment. Defense wins championships and no matter how good Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett are, they aren’t going to outscore the opponent every game without at least an AVERAGE defense behind them. Since our defense is poor, I’d say only the Vandy loss would be a guaranteed win had we not suffered the rash of injuries. Something tells me Gurley would have absolutely changed that game.

gtcaryd

December 28th, 2013
3:20 pm

Great question from Luke, often wondered that myself. Bill just did the woulda, coulda, shoulda. Maybe 2014

Oldschooldog

December 28th, 2013
3:28 pm

I cannot think of a better reference to ANY violation of team rules than “violation of team rules. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

Other Voice of Reason

December 28th, 2013
3:29 pm

Correction- I was looking at the wrong stats for the pass defense. But the point remains that Georgia’s secondary was solid in 2011 and 2012 and was not a problem for the team. Get those boys healthy, recruit some more talented players like Wesley Green and the two four-stars we’ve got commits from and we should expect a lot of improvement in the secondary.

steelydanDawn

December 28th, 2013
3:52 pm

“If ya can be with the one you love honey Love the one your Richt”

Insanity

December 28th, 2013
4:07 pm

The definition of Insanity is to do the same thing each time and expect a different result.

Why do we think UGA will be a better defensive team next year? We weren’t a good team with pro caliber talent in 2012 or young talent in 2013. UGA will disappoint as always next year and the fan base will be told consistency is a good thing.

Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU & Tennessee all have national titles in the BCS era and we haven’t even played in the game for the title. Are we really a top tier SEC program?

muleshoe

December 28th, 2013
4:12 pm

The biggest problem a UGA is a fan base that is more proud of beating its ACC weak sister program than winning the SEC/Nat Championship. Who gives a rats behind about beating Tech??? Man up idiots! Start holding CMR accountable.

Teacher

December 28th, 2013
4:17 pm

Any status on Nick Marshall still be academically eligible for the title game?

MariaMuldour

December 28th, 2013
4:19 pm

Yeah right…..grades. that’s their story and they’re stickin’ to it! Even got old grandpappy to perpetuate the lie. CMR said team violation. Grade violations are an NCAA thing. Good luck vs. Nebraska….dogs are gunna need it.

dawgfan

December 28th, 2013
4:24 pm

I really just tired of all the BS excuses, rationalizations and shoulda, woulda, coulda’s. Let’s just call an ace an ace here. Richt hasn’t gotten it done. You’re either okay with that or your not. That’s really all it boils down to.

That’s the real debate.

I dropped my fried twinkie

December 28th, 2013
4:38 pm

Neither does HIDING from AJC POSTERS.

supsalemgr

December 28th, 2013
4:41 pm

Bill, have you ever considered politics? The way you handled the Orgeron question was classic. There were many questions about his tactics at Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin keeps dragging him around. Nuff said.

I dropped my fried twinkie

December 28th, 2013
4:45 pm

Academically Ineligible is an NCAA issue so there should be NO ISSUE with saying it was because had had GRADE Issues. I remember when we heard Reggie Ball at Tech didn’t make the ACC CG because he didn’t make grades it was announced as such. Have the rules changed?

Insanity

December 28th, 2013
4:52 pm

At least UGA isn’t in the Chick Fil A bowl and has to wear the uniforms that Texas A&M is going to wear.

Other Voice of Reason

December 28th, 2013
4:54 pm

Nebraska is banged up too. Taylor Martinez is not going to play and one of their best pass rushers will miss the game as well. So injuries are no excuse for Georgia or for Nebraska. I’m looking forward to the game.

Other Voice of Reason

December 28th, 2013
4:58 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing Mason play in this game and to watching Todd Gurley break the 1,000-yard mark. Two great running backs and two running backs that can’t stop anyone. I expect a high-scoring game.

Also, don’t blame Lakatos. People weren’t bashing him when he developed Rambo, Williams and Commings into good players in our secondary. The guys were very young. We need to get Reggie Wilkerson back to full health and add to the commits we already have in the secondary. We’ve recruited well in that area so far and I’ve heard we have a great shot at Wesley Green. You never know with recruiting though.

Taco

December 28th, 2013
5:04 pm

BTW Nebraska does suck and UGA should win. You are correct I am a Techie but I can assure you Tech has nothing to with the problems at UGA. Beating Tech does not improve your street cred, even BYU did that. Tech has their own problems and CPJ is not the answer but I can assure you with the talent in Athens you are not getting your money’s worth either. Not even close.

Taco

December 28th, 2013
5:05 pm

Todd Gurley may be the best I have seen since Herschel Walker. I do love to watch that guy run.

dawgfan

December 28th, 2013
5:28 pm

“UGA is frequently in contention for an SEC championship…”

I hate to keep picking on Bill but delusional is delusional. We have been in the SECCG a grand total of two times in the past 8 seasons and in one of those games we got our brains beat in by LSU.

If that’s “frequently in contention” then I’m Elvis Presley.

hit a single

December 28th, 2013
6:08 pm

Discipline has been UGA’s achillies heel. I remember when Coach Richt made Tony Gilbert cut his hair so it would not be seen out from under his helmet. This may seem like alittle thing, but guess what these little things lead to big things. Oh by the way Tony Gilbert was the last LB we had that would put his face mask on another players numbers. UGA’s tackling is a joke. Wilson led with tackles because he ran people down or they ran into him, same with Jarvis Jones and Ogletree. We don’t feel any holes anymore. I bet CJ Mosley of Alabama does! We need to get back to discipline. Make’m cut their hair, if it means more to them than being a Dawg, let them go to Jacksonville State or Alabama A&M. Like I said may seem like a little thing but if it was good enough for Tony Gilbert it is good enough for today’s players.

I dropped my fried twinkie

December 28th, 2013
6:43 pm

Insanity…………You MUST be a Magna Cum Laude UGa grad if you think those are the GAME Uniforms….Those are Bowl SWAG and nothing more.

ShoalCreek

December 28th, 2013
6:45 pm

Bill, You continue to “Outkick” your coverage..

dawgfan

December 28th, 2013
6:50 pm

Tony Gilbert=Jim Donnan recruit.

Things that make you go hmmmm….

davo

December 28th, 2013
7:39 pm

Bill, I enjoy your articles, but I must say that your critique of Coach Richt on the recent suspensions is way off base. First, the UGA release did not say violations of rules; they said violations of regulations. I knew and everyone I know knew this meant grades. Ease up and be more supportive.

Frustrated

December 28th, 2013
8:11 pm

I appreciate Bill’s passion for the Dawgs, but he really needs to get real. There absolutely is a collective yawn from the fan base about this bowl game. The ticket sales say so. Also, I haven’t talked to one Dawg fan all season that said they are happy with Richt. They all believe Grantham should go and that Richt needs to get it done or move on. I do believe Richt is of sound moral character and would never embarrass the program, but running a clean program and winning a national title are not mutually exclusive. Especially not when you operate in one of the top states in the country for producing talent. Richt just hasn’t gotten it done and I don’t think it even bothers him.
It should though, when you consider this job has made him a multi-millionaire.

Vampire Bill

December 28th, 2013
8:20 pm

I don’t think any dawg fan expects a national championship every year. However I agree that CMR should of won at least one by now and I doubt his ability to bring home the big hardware. Seems like we lack a major component (or two) every year. I don’t see the dawgs being a truly elite top 5 team anytime soon. Sad really…

maconexpress

December 28th, 2013
9:44 pm

Every team in every sport should expect to win championships. To be a champion you have to think like a champion. When they walk on the court, on the field, into a meeting or in a classroom they expect to win. If you don’t think you have what it takes to be a champion then you’re already defeated.

Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, John, McEnroe, Greg Louganis, Vince Lombardi, and Michael Jordan would never accept anything less than a championship. They understood that defeat is a possibility but they also believe that their best days are ahead of them, not behind them.

Macclenny_dawg

December 28th, 2013
10:15 pm

Vangorder to Notre dame as defensive coordinator.

monte cristo dawg

December 28th, 2013
10:55 pm

Next thing we will here is Granthum going to NYJ! Say it aint so!

dawgfan

December 28th, 2013
10:56 pm

I hope he takes Richt with him.

Outsider

December 28th, 2013
10:58 pm

Insider, UGA hasn’t been a “real team” since 1980.

monte cristo dawg

December 28th, 2013
11:13 pm

dawgfan: Me too but too many UGA fans love 8-4 seasons!

monte cristo dawg

December 28th, 2013
11:15 pm

I’ll take 8 yrs of crap seasons to get to Natl. Champ game! You bloggers?