Mark Richt began his spring tour of booster clubs this past week with a stop in Greenville, and it being South Carolina the subject of Georgia’s season-opener with Clemson in Athens naturally came up.
“It’s exciting to play that type of game in game one,” the Greenville News quoted Richt as saying. “It was a tremendous amount of excitement at Clemson a year ago. Their fans did a phenomenal job. Their staff and players did a great job and won the game. So, we need to match that or exceed that type of intensity as a fan base and as a staff and as a team. We’re looking forward to that challenge.”
Richt, who’ll be missing a few players of his own (as usual) for that first game, commiserated with Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who’s having his own problems, having previously suspended four players for the UGA game and now having announced the dismissal from the team of sophomore quarterback Chad Kelly, who was battling senior Cole Stoudt and freshman Deshaun Watson for the starting QB spot. (Stoudt was subsequently named the starter by Swinney.)
The Georgia head coach said that when it comes to making such a difficult decision like kicking a player off the team (which he’s done several times), what matters is the long-term best interests of your program.
“I don’t know how good Kelly is. I don’t know where he was in their mindset, and I don’t even know what happened,” Richt said, “but somewhere along the line, they were like, ‘We can’t have this and sustain this program the way we want to sustain it.’ I’ve tried to make decisions based on the long haul. You can make a lot of decisions that may help you in this game or in this recruiting class but won’t really help you down the road. If you’re consistent with those types of things, it helps you have the stability and the longevity.”
With Missouri coach Gary Pinkel also having recently kicked a star player — wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham — off his team, perhaps the Richt approach to discipline is starting to catch on just a little bit. One can hope, at least.
Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail …
Bob the Bulldog writes: Bill, I didn’t get to the G-Day game, but I watched it on TV and I’m concerned about the state of the Dogs’ defense and new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. I was expecting to see some improvement from last year with [Todd] Grantham gone, but the first-string offense hung 405 yards on our first-string defense, and 314 of it was in the air, thanks to a secondary that didn’t look any better than before. There were too many pass interference calls and they got burned on long balls way too often. And what’s this with starting Aaron Davis, a redshirt-freshman walk-on? I’m as into warm and fuzzy success stories as much as the next guy, but if a walk-on who’s hardly played any football in a couple of years is considered one of the best we got at defensive back, I’d say we’re in deep doo-doo. And then, after G-Day, I heard nothing but negative talk from Pruitt about our defensive players and how nobody stood out, nobody deserved an award, they’re too fat and all that. Tell me something about our defense to pull me away from the ledge, Bill!
OK, here goes, Bob. First of all, don’t dwell too much on yardage and points given up in the spring game by the first-string defense. Unlike Grantham, Pruitt didn’t really care whether his Black team won that scrimmage or not. That’s why he kept telling his team not to bother looking at the scoreboard. Some of those long balls might well have been sacks, too, if the Red team quarterbacks hadn’t been wearing noncontact jerseys. The defensive line and pass rush looked pretty good to me. Pruitt also didn’t want to tip his hand to early opponents Clemson and South Carolina. Pruitt was running a vanilla defense and didn’t even spend much of the spring installing his schemes, preferring to spend time evaluating the talent he has. That’s why he made spring practice an open competition this year, with the idea that everybody has to earn their playing time.
Pruitt was sending a message to players who, in the past, might have gotten a bit complacent with their position on the team. Thus, you had someone like Davis getting elevated to the first team. Don’t get me wrong, as I said in my G-Day report, Davis acquitted himself well and I could see him getting playing time down the road. But I’ll be shocked if he winds up as a starter. Also, keep in mind that former running back J.J. Green, who drew plaudits all spring for his transition to defense and his aggressive manning the star position, was held out of G-Day by an injury, as was the oft-ailing Tray Matthews, and that makes a big difference.
I liked the energy and the pace I saw from our defense on G-Day, but, yes, the secondary remains very much a work in progress and, out of all the position groups on the team, it’s the one we should be most concerned about. As for Pruitt’s rather brutal assessment of the state of his players, I think that’s a case of the old tearing-them-down-before-you-build-them-up approach. I’ll be surprised if we hear him talking like that in August. Plus, I think he’s right. Georgia’s defenders didn’t just look confused by Grantham’s complicated schemes and late signals last season, they also looked a tad slow. In today’s world of no-huddle, hurry-up offenses, putting a greater emphasis on getting in shape is a must.
Jim P. writes: Bill, thought you might like this Hutson Mason quote. It was in a taped interview on “Dawg Report” before the G-Day game on CSS: “We’re doing our best. I’m doing my best to lead this team. Anybody that doesn’t want to be all in the Georgia way is gonna have to be gone. These guys are your best friends, but sometimes they need a kick in the butt. They need to realize what’s your mission here. Are you trying to make friends with everybody or are we here to win a championship?” Sounds like a leader that is focused. Makes me believe he has also read his teammates the riot act about misbehavior and to cut out all the nonsense. Gotta love the attitude. Go Dawgs!
Thanks, Jim. Mason sounds and looks focused, and as one of the senior leaders of this team, that’s a real plus. Let’s hope we’ve already lost all the players to disciplinary action that we’re going to lose for that first game. We can’t count on Clemson continuing to lose players, too.
Sandy Barrett writes: Bill, I saw your comments on how loud the canned music was at G-Day and how people were plugging their ears, and I certainly can believe it. Even on radio and TV you could tell the music was cranked up way too loud. I don’t mind them trying to rev up the crowd, particularly the student section, by playing music between plays, especially since other schools do it, and I don’t even mind it being hip-hop or hard rock, even though those aren’t my personal preference. But making it physically uncomfortable for folks in the stands when you’re trying to enhance the game day experience to stem declining attendance doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
I’m with you on that, Sandy. I have no problem with playing pre-recorded music — though I will say I hope they’ll continue to amplify the Redcoat Band, as was done late in the season last year (and unfortunately was not done at G-Day). Also, I hope the recorded music will be used judiciously to complement the Redcoats, rather than replace them. But most of all, as I said after G-Day, I hope they turn it down a few notches. Particularly under the overhang in the lower level, where the p.a. speakers are, it was deafening.
TopDawg writes: Bill, I can’t help but notice that all the recent discussions about nonconference opponents and whether or not to play all cupcakes or a couple of major programs, end with the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not the SEC is going to go to a nine-game conference schedule. Seems like we’ve been in limbo on this for a couple of years now. What’s the latest?
According to ESPN, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said recently that the conference will decide at the spring meeting in Destin next month whether to stay at an eight-game conference schedule, or go to nine beginning in 2016.
I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. On the one hand, I can see why the conference’s coaches are against adding another SEC game, since it’s the toughest conference in college football and the top teams tend to beat each other up already. Plus, for teams that have a major-college nonconference rival on the schedule every season (like Georgia), that only leaves you room for a couple of easy games.
However, I can also understand the argument in favor of the nine-game schedule since the other major conferences are going in that direction and strength-of-schedule could end up being a deciding factor in choosing the four teams that make the new College Football Playoff. Don’t forget, the main impetus behind the playoff finally coming into being was dissatisfaction in the rest of the country over an all-SEC BCS championship game. So the odds of the SEC getting two teams into that four-team playoff (as it probably should most years) are already a bit long. If the SEC gives the selection committee an easy out by playing one more cupcake than other conferences do, it’ll be even tougher.
GYM DOGS IN SUPER SIX!
Finally, Danna Durante’s Gym Dogs advanced to the Super Six of the NCAA Championships in Birmingham Friday by placing second in their semi-final session. That’s the second year in a row UGA has made the Super Six, a nice turnaround from the down years under former coach Jay Clark. Now it’s time to take the next step and get back on top, where UGA gymnastics was for so many years under Suzanne Yoculan.
Georgia was one of four SEC teams that made it into the Super Six this year, along with defending champion Florida, Alabama (which won in 2011 and 2012) and LSU. The other two finalists are Oklahoma and Nebraska.
The Gym Dogs will begin their quest for an 11th national title on beam Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT. Links to live video, live audio and live scoring will be available at GeorgiaDogs.com.
Go Gym Dogs!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg