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.
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.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg