Dogs’ 2014 prospects: Playoff contenders or more of the same?

Todd Gurley will be back in 2014. But will he ever be at full-strength? (Associated Press)

Todd Gurley will be back in 2014. But will he ever be at full-strength? (Associated Press)

Immediately after the disappointing loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, Mark Richt and his coaches and players were anxious to look ahead to next season.

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins was typical of the Bulldog locker room chatter when he talked about the Dogs just needing to fix “the little things” in order to be back on track.

That put the team in sync with many fans, who back in midseason 2013 already were waxing optimistic about Georgia’s chances next season once all those injured star players are back healthy.

After all, assuming Malcolm Mitchell, Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley come back 100 percent to join Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett, Mike Bobo’s record-setting offense should be a mostly veteran unit loaded with talent. True, the quarterback who owns most of the SEC’s records, Aaron Murray, will be gone, but projected starter Hutson Mason has years in the program and got a head start by playing the last couple of games this season.

Also, Georgia doesn’t look to lose any underclassmen to the NFL, and it will lose only one defensive starter. And while the schedule starts out with Clemson and South Carolina, it again doesn’t include the likes of LSU, Alabama or Texas A&M from the SEC West.

Sounds like a pretty good situation. But looking at the nagging problems that plagued Richt’s program this year, and the likelihood that some of them might continue to be issues, perhaps the Bulldog Nation needs to temper its expectations slightly for 2014.

Hutson Mason isn't quite ready yet to operate the offense to full capability. (Associated Press)

Hutson Mason isn't quite ready yet to operate the offense to full capability. (Associated Press)

For starters, Mason has quite a way to go before he’ll be capable of operating Bobo’s offense fully like Murray did. Against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, it wasn’t just a slippery ball that hindered the former backup QB. Postgame talk indicated he had “trust” issues with not only his inconsistent offensive line against the Cornhuskers’ formidable pass rush, but also with his receivers (hence all the passes to Gurley out of the backfield and the lack of many long throws downfield). Plus, Mason’s penchant for wanting to go uptempo means he’s less likely to check out of a bad play than Murray, who was like a coach on the field at times.

Speaking of inconsistent or underperforming offensive lines, that’s been a weak point of Richt teams ever since Jim Donnan’s players graduated, and the prospects for 2014 are cloudy at best, with starters Kenarious Gates, Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee departing. Chances are the OL is going to take a few games to gel, and even then that doesn’t guarantee consistency, based on past seasons.

Elsewhere on the offense, the skill players should all be back, but assuming tight end Jay Rome gets completely healthy will he be able to block and catch at the level of departing Artie Lynch?

Of course, Gurley is supremely talented and is alone reason for optimism, but he was never fully healthy during the 2013 season and getting him back to 100 percent and keeping him there is a must for Georgia’s oft-questioned conditioning staff in 2014. Georgia doesn’t need a repeat of the Gator Bowl scenario, where the team’s best player at times was kept on the sideline while the offense was in the red zone because the coaches felt he was too tired.

Fans are skeptical about defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. (Associated Press)

Fans are skeptical about defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. (Associated Press)

As for the defense, there’s a lot of skepticism out there about Todd Grantham and his ability to get his players all on the same page. The run defense was much improved this year and the defensive front should again be a strength in 2014, but while the mostly young players in Georgia’s awful secondary will have a year of experience under their belts, the almost complete lack of progress seen during the 2013 season isn’t very encouraging.

I thought the dismal situation with the defensive backs, so often out of position or failing to make tackles this year, was summed up pretty well by safety Quincy Mauger talking about whiffing on his attempted tackle on Nebraska’s 99-yard touchdown pass. “In the SEC and I guess in the Big 10 you have to wrap up. At all times,” Mauger said. “I failed to do that so next time I’ll have to put that in my head.”

Thirteen games into a season and he hadn’t figured out yet that you have to wrap up a tackle??!! You wonder whether it’s the players who are unteachable or the defensive coaches who simply don’t have a clue when it comes to developing young talent.

Marshall Morgan is back on track, but special teams are still a problem. (Phil Sears / USA Today)

Marshall Morgan is back on track, but special teams are still a problem. (Phil Sears / USA Today)

And then there’s the most clueless aspect of Georgia football under Richt: special teams. Luckily enough, Marshall Morgan righted himself this season and became money in the bank on PATs and field goals, and while he had trouble getting touchbacks, Georgia’s kick coverage generally was pretty good. Late in the season, the problem getting punts off without having them blocked even seemed to be fixed.

But Richt has all but abandoned a key aspect of the game: punt returns. The tendency in the past to bite on fake punts has meant Georgia now plays punt safe, meaning the defensive starters are left in and no real attempt is made at crafting a return. As long as you field the ball safely, that at least doesn’t hurt the team, though it passes up a chance at improving field position or even breaking a score.

But too often this year we saw players back there receiving punts who acted like they’d never been taught how to do it, resulting in fumbles and easy points for the other team. If they’ve even been coached on how to receive a punt, the lessons obviously haven’t taken.

Special teams is an area where fans long have been demanding change, but it’s also one where Richt has shown his most stubborn streak, and I don’t anticipate special teams getting any better in 2014. Which means you can figure there’ll be at least a game or two where catastrophic special teams plays might be a factor in an unexpected loss.

And then there’s that schedule, which really doesn’t look to be quite as easy as many anticipated when it first was announced, thanks to the return of Auburn to elite status and the rise of Missouri and Vanderbilt, both of whom beat Georgia in 2013.

So, the bottom line is that a lot needs fixing, as Jenkins put it, if the Bulldogs are going to do better than nine or 10 wins next season and have a shot at making the new college football playoff.

I’m not feeling that optimistic right now; how about you?

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

712 comments Add your comment

dawgfan

January 3rd, 2014
11:16 am

Well Bill we’ve been told that “continuity is a good thing” so I think we already know the answer to that question.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to play Nebraska again.

Dawg_Mike

January 3rd, 2014
11:27 am

Reality is as long as we have the same Coaching staff we should expect mediocrity.
Buck Belue said it best – he said we are lifeless and need a shakeup .

I watched a lot of Bowl games and the only team I saw that looked totally lost in the secondary was us. Example: Swann jumping up and down waving his arms for others to get into whatever position thet were supposed to be in while the ball was being snapped in the 13th game ??

We may very well have some unteachables out there but how will we ever know?

LoyaltotheG

January 3rd, 2014
11:34 am

My fellow Dawg fans need to spare themselves the usual disappointment associated with expecting more than this program and current staff are capable of producing. Regardless of the players coming back and what from the outside should be a really good team, when you factor in: suspensions for games, injuries, a pretty tough schedule, and our coaching deficiencies….I suspect ‘13 will look a lot like ‘13. Road games at USCe and Mizzou, home games with Vandy (yeah they are not a given anymore for UGA), Tennessee, Auburn, and Tech, neutral with UF….and throw in that this is UGA we’re talking about, so road games at Arkansas and UK can always turn into disasters…..oh yeah, we start the season with Clemson and will no doubt have a few key players suspended (Justin Scott-Wesley already out if we uphold our discipline policy)….I say 7-5 or 8-4.

LoyaltotheG

January 3rd, 2014
11:35 am

meant ‘14 will look a lot like ‘13 (maybe ‘09 too)

True DAWG

January 3rd, 2014
11:36 am

No I cant be optimistic till the the current coaching staff proves me wrong!

Heath

January 3rd, 2014
11:37 am

Cuz

January 3rd, 2014
11:41 am

Unless Grantham has some Christmas Carol change of life moment, I see the defense playing the same as it has the last two years.

Maybe that is what he needs, the Ghost of Football past, Erk Russell. Skip the rest of the ghosts. Just have Erk visit him.

Cuz

January 3rd, 2014
11:42 am

Maybe 9-3 if we are lucky with some spine tingling rides to the end of games.

Heath

January 3rd, 2014
11:42 am

When the score was 24-12 in the second half, I think Bobo was thinking, ‘only 4 field goals down. We can do this!’

Roswell Dawg

January 3rd, 2014
11:44 am

I’m expecting exactly the same thing next year. Clueless secondary, underperforming OL, abysmal “Special” Teams, thug suspensions, losing top state talent to out of state schools, lack of discipline on and off the field, and a coaching staff that doesn’t take responsibility and doesn’t hold players accountable. Utlimately this is Hoody Doody McGarity’s mess to fix, but he is apparently as clueless as the coaching staff. Keep filling up the stadium and you’ll get more of the same. I’m thinking of starting a campaign to raise money for a billboard in Athens that says “Medocrity Lives Here”.

Heath

January 3rd, 2014
11:47 am

Erk would bloody his forehead with Todd.

Heath

January 3rd, 2014
11:52 am

We will win 8 games again next year, purely from the talent and grit of our players. This definitely is not the fault of them, they give it everything they have and fight hard. We win 8 in spite of our coaching staff.

Skokie Dog

January 3rd, 2014
11:53 am

More of the same
Bill, you wrote, “…you can figure there’ll be at least a game or two where catastrophic special teams plays might be a factor in an unexpected loss.” If it’s not special teams gaffes, having the team arrive poorly prepared or motivated, watching them wait until the second half or fourth quarter to begin playing to their potential, or devising a game plan that won’t work well against the opponent, the 2014 ‘Dogs will likely find a way to lose a few games that they should have won, based on their talent level. Any such loss won’t qualify as “unexpected” for me, unless it’s a loss to Charleston Southern. That’s where this program is currently, although plenty of our friends here deny that that is the case.

Heath

January 3rd, 2014
11:54 am

Now give this team to someone like Spurrier and watch out.

dawgs01

January 3rd, 2014
11:56 am

we will win nothing with todd grantham as coach on the sidelines. I have back the head coach the whole time he has been there but I am done with this staff. who changes punt returners three times in a rainy game. that still blows my mind. it was like he was mad they were not fumbling so he was gonna keep changing returners until they finally fumbled.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
12:00 pm

So you are saying I dont need to buy the “2014 Pre-season National Championship” t-shirt this year that the kool-aiders, a.k.a “Underachievers” will be selling in a few weeks?

I figured I needed to get it in red since we mostly likely will have another red out cause the team lost motivation to go out and win a game

Russell Hall

January 3rd, 2014
12:01 pm

Hope springs eternal, but there’s no rational reason to think next year will be any better.

Russell Hall

January 3rd, 2014
12:02 pm

Good summary, by the way. Thanks to Bill King for being reliably candid and insightful without being hurtful. He’s one of us.

AM

January 3rd, 2014
12:05 pm

Wake up people. We are in for more of the same. Next year 7 and 5 tops. It is time to put an end to this silliness.

Denver Dawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:07 pm

speaking of “unteachables”, how many idiots will be suspended for the first couple of games because of
something they do this summer?

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
12:08 pm

Anyone want to take a guess at what game will be the motivational “Red Out” game?

Vanderbilt maybe?

Reality Dawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:12 pm

It seems that the Athletic Department at the University of Georgia cares more about money than delivering a premiere football program. I don’t know why they have to be mutually exclusive.

Expect the Athletic Department to continue to reap enormous profits off of the goodwill, hope, and passion of a loyal fan base without delivering what we all want: a powerhouse football team.

AM

January 3rd, 2014
12:13 pm

I love the players and I think they are all DGD. Unfortunately they are carrying this coaching staff on their backs like lead bricks. But hey, we will have the best swimming football team in the SEC. Do we get a trophy for that?

Mark_Another_One

January 3rd, 2014
12:18 pm

Until the players start holding each other accountable for missed assignments and blown plays, nothing changes. I watched Alabama (lose) last night and both defenses were led by upper class men who knew the defensive assignments and were directing traffic. Players work out together during the off season and spend more time with each other than with coaches. Our players were confused and didn’t know their assignments. Getting them during the game is too late.

As for the special teams, it’s easier to accept a missed field goal and a player being physically beat than to accept a mental mistake. Neither is good but the issue I have is with the types of errors our players make on the field. I have a hard time believing our coaches don’t know how to coach. They all have track records that show otherwise. Players have got to play.

dawgfan

January 3rd, 2014
12:22 pm

Think about what all will likely have to happen for us to win a national title in the playoff format. First, we’d probably have to beat a Top 10 team in the SECCG, something Richt has done only once in his entire 13 year career. Second, we’ll then have to beat a Top 5 team at a neutral site in the semifinals. Finally, we’ll have to beat the #1 or #2 team to claim the top prize. And under the playoffs it probably won’t be some hyped up media darling like Ohio State or Notre Dame. It will be a damn good football team. It could even be an SEC team. That’s THREE elite teams that Mark Richt will have to beat all in a row. On what planet is he capable of such a feat? It’s not Earth.

Richt can’t even beat Vandy with the greatest passer in SEC history.

Snoop Dawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:22 pm

Dawgnation, that’s a depression assessment, Bill. Unfortunately, you are right on the money.

Richt has clearly lost his mojo–assuming he once had some. He and his entire staff are mediocre on a good day.

Seems the culture on the team is not focused on serious preparation for a game and no focus during the game. They all–coaches included–seem to just do enough to get by their next opponent. This explains the inconsistency consistent among every one of Richt’s teams. No killer instinct, no eye of the tiger, lots of narcissistic hair and egos. This is clearly a leadership issue. The buck should stop with Richt but never does.

It’s refreshing to hear a coach accept blame for the team and accept responsibility for losing. Richt has NEVER done this. Bobby must have taught him this for his “survival” coach’s tool box. Blind loyalty to his senior players and friends he has installed on his incompetent staff, his stubbornness results in making the same mistakes over and over again. Year after year.

This year’s disaster from a #5 preseason rating with a team of perennial top 10 recruiting classes to a postseason drop even from honorable mentions tell me Richt doesn’t have a clue about being a true honest coach. Great recruiter, great PR logo man, but also a slickster that he hides behind his excessively public spiritual claims. Guess what? The Georgia high school coaches mostly understand what Richt really is. They know what a disgrace Georgia football has become. Recruits want to be winners, not on a PR ship with no captain at the helm. They want a passionate and powerful and brilliant leader who sets the example every day. That, my friends, is not Mark Richt. I predict that this year’s recruiting class will be rated lower than itis today on Feb 6.
We are Paying Mark Richt over THREE MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR for a coach and program that has no energy, direction, leadership, or competence. If he had any sense of honor, he would resign, step aside and enjoy the $50m or more in his checking account. But what are the odds of that. If he is competent, then why hasn’t a single other football program tried to hire either Richt or any of his staff? Why does McGarrity keep giving them all pay raises and contract extensions for their demonstrated incompetence?
Will the Bulldog Nation ever demand better?
I don’t think so…
Happy New Year. Next year…

robodawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:24 pm

Lots of room for improvement. In some areas I feel like we’re close and it won’t take much to get us over the hump, just need a good offseason. But special teams, OL, and pass defense will take some work. It is frustrating that we don’t even try to return punts.

We should not be ranked high in preseason, but I believe it could be a breakout year for us.

Im sure the BAMA bandwagon has seats open

January 3rd, 2014
12:25 pm

The only thing worse than the UGA football team itself this season is the “fan” base. You dislike the team that much and have so little confidence in them, then leave. Find another team. I’m sure there’s plenty of “fans” that jumped off the BAMA train last night. I don’t care if we field the entire squad with walk-ons, I’m going to have to same expectations that I do every year. I’m going to support them the same…I’m going to have the same confidence in them no matter what.

dawgfan

January 3rd, 2014
12:26 pm

Mark-Another-One, Richt has an excellent track record of winning absolutely jack freaking squat with a roster full of NFL prospects. No championship in 8 years.

I guess that’s all our current player’s fault? They really should have executed better in ‘08 when we saw the same sloppy defense and weak O-line play that we’re seeing now. They were in freaking middle school of course, but that’s no excuse.

Richt deserves a raise for having to put up with these bums.

dawgfan

January 3rd, 2014
12:28 pm

Bama bandwagon, I have plenty of confidence in our players. With better coaching they wouldn’t have lost to Vandy.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
12:33 pm

Mark_Another_One

Yea its the players fault :roll:

Thats why we have had 6 seasons out of 8 with 3 or more losses

And here is another exciting fact; 3 seasons out 5 with 5 or more losses; something Ray Goff accomplished

robodawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:34 pm

Entering next season with less optimism is not such a bad thing. Before a ball was ever snapped there was way too much optimism coming into this season, and our weaknesses were being overlooked. This offseason the deficiencies to work on should be obvious. Richt teams seem to do better when they have something to prove.

Bulldog_greg

January 3rd, 2014
12:35 pm

Bill – this is just what the kool aid drinkers needed to get that glean in their eye for next Fall. Many said it above, coaching staff needs some changes. No passion, no enthusiasm, we look flat week after week and can’t get up for a bowl game on New Years Day. More of the same, with Mark Richt a sleep at the wheel. Team has no discipline or heart. Look for more suspensions prior to Clemson and SC. For god sakes McGarrity – change the schedule to help us with the drug suspensions!!

maconexpress

January 3rd, 2014
12:35 pm

After losing to Neb, I have ZERO confidence in this team. More of the same.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
12:37 pm

Bama Bandwaggon

Vanderbilt and Kentucky need more Underachieving loving fans; you don’t have expectations there

bdjazz

January 3rd, 2014
12:38 pm

I’m thinking that Coach Richt would be a great fit at Penn State…who’s with me? And it’s at the point that I don’t care who replaces him in Athens. We can’t be any more mediocre!

Reality Dawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:40 pm

The program is being treated like a brand and it’s very profitable to keep a coach with a clean public image delivering “acceptable” results that won’t do much damage to the brand. The problem is, mediocrity becomes acceptable and the next thing you know, your brand is the college football equivalent of McDonald’s and you start serving your fans crap served in a pretty package.

We may not be there yet, but the fan base might want to start comparing what they are expecting each season (Championships) versus what they are actually getting (8-5) before it’s too late.

SC Dog fan

January 3rd, 2014
12:41 pm

Thanks to Cuz for summoning the ghost of Erk Russell. I’m often one of those prone to imagine next year as the year, but not this offseason. We will continue to try and fair catch every punt and still drop it anyway in our redzone multiple times. Mr. King’s assessment of the secondary, “almost complete lack of progress,” hits the nail on the head. It’s not reassuring when you can joke with your friends about 3d and long for the opponent spelling our doom, only to have a 99 yard TD pass materialize once again in front of your eyes. Everone laughed about it, but I felt like throwing up. No, 2014 will be a fun season if we accept from the outset that all these problems will return in new and unexpected ways.

Rafe Hollister

January 3rd, 2014
12:42 pm

I just find it absolutely amazing that Richt has not been grilled about this latest fiasco. He seems to have just walked out of that stadium and said lets move on.

Seems Mason is taking heat for the short passes and the TV production was so sparse it was hard to tell what the explanation was. Were the wide outs covered up, was he hesitant to throw the wet ball, was the game plan to throw short, was Nebraska’s db’s that good.

People were saying that Mason has a weak arm, yet where were they for UK and GT. He was zipping the ball all over the field. Didn’t some of the coaches say he had a better arm than Murray?

This whole defeat lack of explanation seems like an Obama style cover-up, just move along nothing worth commenting on here.

Although confused on exactly what happened and who was to blame, I do know that ST is a joke. We don’t even try to field a punt, just back off and let’er bounce. I knew our kick return team was bad, but the announcers said at the game, when we had a return to the fifty, that was the longest of the year. We are abandoning 33% of the game it seems. No excuse for the lack of ST efficiency at UGA. Someone should be held accountable.

Defense showed no, NO SIGNS, it will be better in 2014.

That guy that burned the UGA flag should have stuffed it under Richt’s tailbone before he lit it.

AM

January 3rd, 2014
12:44 pm

I have confidence in our players but the coaching staff – well that’s a different story. There are so many issues with the Ga program I don;t know where to begin. I dosent matter if you are running a 3-4 or a 4-3 or some other scheme, if you are not taught how to tackle, how to defend a receiver or how to knock down a pass then you are not being taught sound fundamental football techniques. Same goes for blocking, protecting the QB, opening a hole and on and on.

Snoop Dawg

January 3rd, 2014
12:45 pm

Bama Bandwagon: i’ve got a better idea. Why don’t YOU find another team? Your zombie laissez faire apologetic disposition toward losing makes you a better fit for a team like Tech. Your sorry attitude contributes to the UGA leadership’s know nothing attitude to make no changes for improvement.

This not your team. It is our team. 2014 starts the year of Zero Tolerance for incompetence and the Richt Zombie Brigade of Koolaid Boys.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
12:47 pm

A “Red Out” every game along with the easy schedule next year ….

might allow us to obtain the mythical 2 loss season

Dog4Life

January 3rd, 2014
12:54 pm

Bill, it is YOU AND YOUR ILK that must change the atmosphere in Athens–we fans on a blog have no voice or power–stop softballing the program and force them into accountability–to be as bad in the 13th game as the first is unacceptable. That is not youth, that is coaching–we have a sever systemic problem in Athens.

Dog4Life

January 3rd, 2014
12:56 pm

I have been abused and castigate for my loyalty to UGA–but i have finally reached the point that i have no faith in this coaching staff. I will support UGA and cheer for the players, but with very low expectations. Sad, but true.

Bulldawg Dead

January 3rd, 2014
1:00 pm

I have fully defended and given CMR 100% support during his 13 years. However, I have stomached enough. Nothing changes. There is never accountability from the coaches. It is always the players lack of execution of our brilliant coaching and game plan. The bottom line is that UGA is a very poorly coached team and will NEVER win with this staff! I can name at least 10 coaches that would win with the talent in this state. I can only hope and pray that McGarity has kept is ties with Charlie Strong. He is the one coach that could seal the borders in the state, recruit the athletes that we need to reload each year, command their respect, build a solid defense each year and get this program to where it should be. The stubborness and arrogance of the current coaching staff is the most frustrating part of the current situation.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
1:01 pm

Lets be a little positive

At least we didnt lose to another top 25 team again….

Thats something to be motivated about for 2014

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 3rd, 2014
1:03 pm

I think the problems could easily be addressed with more contract extensions

LoyaltotheG

January 3rd, 2014
1:03 pm

Charlie Strong would absolutely kill it at UGA. Unfortunately, he’ll be coaching against us at UF after next season….and we’ll have good ole Mark Richt to guide us to more 4-5 loss seasons.

dawgfan

January 3rd, 2014
1:10 pm

I lost my commemorative “2012 UGA 2 Loss Season” Coke bottle.

We need to make some more history so I can get another one.

Bulldawg Dead

January 3rd, 2014
1:10 pm

I am hoping McGarity has already contacted Strong. I am not too sure that Charlie and Foley are that tight. Otherwise he would be at Florida now.