Archive for October, 2010

Live from Athens: Will the Big Orange get to party in the UGA?

There's a clash of colors outside. (Photo by M.B.)

There's a clash of colors beyond the hedges. (Photo by M.B.)

Athens – Earlier this week I posed the musical question, “Where did it all go wrong for Mark Richt?” Walking into Sanford Stadium this morning, I got the musical answer.

The Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana song “Party in the USA” was playing over the stadium’s PA, and nobody who has followed Georgia football can hear that song without wincing. Not because the song is awful — it isn’t, and this is coming from someone who has seen Miley/Hannah in person — but because of the unfortunate orientation video in which the Bulldogs’ coach had a cameo.

Richt has since rued his participation, describing the “Party in the UGA” video as “awful.” But I respectfully submit that nothing has been the same for this program since Richt partook of the infamous “party.”

Today Georgia plays Tennessee, which is coached by Derek Dooley, whose dad was the greatest UGA coach ever and who hired Richt. Vince Dooley has said he won’t attend today’s …

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Glass-half-full dept.: How UGA might still win the SEC East

"Over? Nothing's over until we SAY it's over!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Over? Nothing's over until we SAY it's over! Who's with me?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Having spent the week hammering Mark Richt and Georgia, doing everything from crunching numbers to imagining the worst that could happen, it seems only fair to offer a corresponding best-case-scenario. Here goes:

The Bulldogs could win the SEC East.

I know, I know. They haven’t yet won a conference game, and they surely won’t be favored to beat either Florida or Auburn. (And Kentucky looks like a toss-up.) But it’s conceivable Georgia could finish 5-3 in the SEC, and that might — might, I said — enable them to take the division. Here’s how it would work:

Step 1: Georgia wins out. (Duh.)

Step 2: South Carolina, which has already beaten Georgia and lost to Auburn, loses to Alabama on Saturday, to Arkansas on Nov. 6 and to Florida the week after.

Step 3: Florida, which has lost to Alabama, loses to LSU on Saturday and to Georgia on Oct. 30.

That would leave Georgia and Florida at 5-3 in …

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Richt and UGA by the numbers: Where did it all go wrong?

Esteemed colleague Mike Luckovich senses downward trend as well.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm sensing esteemed colleague Mike Luckovich has also sensed a downward trend.

There’s the famous story of the Irish footballer George Best, who was, as they say in the UK, a bit of a lad. One night a hotel bellboy delivering champagne to Mr. Best’s suite was taken aback by the condition of Mr. Best’s bed, upon which rested a pile of money — the famous athlete had enjoyed a good night at the gaming tables — and the current Miss World. Whereupon the bellboy (allegedly) cried: “George, where did it all go wrong?”

There’s absolutely no connection between George Best and Georgia football, but the (perhaps apocryphal) question seems to apply to the undoings in Athens: For Mark Richt, whose team is 1-4, where did it all go wrong? And we turn, as is occasionally the case, to the numbers.

  • Richt’s first five seasons at UGA: 52-13.
  • Richt’s past four-plus seasons: 39-18.
  • Richt’s SEC record those first five seasons: 32-11.
  • Richt’s SEC record since: 20-15.
  • Richt’s …

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Do these Braves have a chance in the playoffs? Absolutely

This might not be the last celebration we see. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This might not be the last celebration we see. Just sayin'. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As the Braves flailed through the regular season’s final fortnight, losing more games than they won, one or two fans expressed the sentiment that they would rather this underwhelming team not make the playoffs than get in and get swept. Which overlooked the greater point of postseason baseball, which is:

Underwhelming teams can and do win.

  • The 2006 Cardinals limped into the playoffs at 83-78 and had lost closer Jason Isringhausen to boot. (They had to make do with a rookie, whose name was Adam Wainwright, whom they had gotten from the Braves.) They won the World Series.
  • The 1988 Dodgers were massive underdogs against both the New York Mets and the Oakland A’s. In the NLCS the Dodgers had to use Orel Hershiser in relief. In the World Series their most dangerous hitter, Kirk Gibson, was limited to one (admittedly famous) at-bat. Their batting order in the final Series game: Steve Sax, …

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New worst-case scenario: What if Richt loses to a Dooley?

A while back, I broached what I thought was a worst-case scenario: What would happen if Georgia lost in Starkville?

We now know, and it hasn’t been pretty. The Bulldogs have since lost again, spawning all manner of anti-Richt screeds from folks like me. And now I’m thinking of an even worse worst-case scenario:

What happens if Mark Richt loses to the offspring of the man who hired him?

Understand: I don’t think it will happen. I don’t think Georgia will lose to Tennessee. But I didn’t think the Bulldogs would lose to Mississippi State, and not long ago I suggested UGA wouldn’t lose again until Oct. 30. (Missed by 28 days, I did.) Meaning: You probably shouldn’t listen to me.

I ask again: What if Richt loses to Vince Dooley’s son? What if Tennessee comes to Sanford Stadium and wins again? What if 1-4 UGA becomes 1-5 UGA?

I say again: I don’t think it will happen. But I’ve been covering the SEC since the ’70s, and I’ve never before been able to describe the Bulldogs as “1-4 …

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What’s wrong with UGA? Sad to say, it starts with Mark Richt

"The meeting of the Mark Richt Fan Club is called to order." (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"The meeting of the Mark Richt Fan Club is called to order." (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Mark Richt’s teams use to have all the answers. Whether it was P-44-Haynes in Knoxville or 70-X-Takeoff in Auburn, his Georgia Bulldogs would win the sort of breathless games that stamped Richt as college football’s next great coach. But it has been a decade, and Richt hasn’t taken Georgia to the pinnacle — got close a couple of times — and nobody sees him that way anymore.

If you’re looking for what has gone wrong with this program, there it is: Mark Richt never quite finished the drill. Georgia was No. 3 in the final polls after the 2002 season and No. 2 according to the Associated Press after 2007 and No. 1 according to everybody in preseason 2008, but the Bulldogs could never do as Florida and LSU and Alabama did — they couldn’t get to the BCS title game and win.

And now they’re 1-4 and Richt isn’t the sleek young man just in from Tallahassee; he’s a 50-year-old who has been on the …

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Is the Falcons’ offense indeed uncoordinated? No, I submit

The Falcons never pass! Except for those times they do. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The Falcons never pass! Except for those times they do. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Mike Mularkey is getting the big heat from a certain segment of Falcons fans. They say he runs the ball up the middle on first down every time. They say he never lets Matt Ryan throw it deep. They say his conservative coordination will keep this team from true greatness.

I say this: Mike Mularkey is calling the game pretty much the way Mike Smith wants it called. And Mike Smith is the boss.

I went back and checked: In yesterday’s game, the Falcons ran the ball 15 times and attempted to pass 15 times on first down until their final possession started with 1:22 remaining, at which point they were obviously in passing mode. That’s not quite “running up the middle every time.” That is, on the contrary, a pretty fair balance. And let’s also note this:

Mike Smith, the boss, is a defensive coordinator by trade. When he and Mularkey consult, isn’t it safe to assume that the boss would say to his …

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Led by resolute Roddy, the Falcons win another test of wills

Another week, another Bryant winner. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Another week, another Bryant winner. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Three times in four weeks, the Falcons have been handed a second chance. The Steelers’ kicker missed at the end of regulation. The Saints’ kicker missed in overtime. On Sunday the San Francisco cornerback Nate Clements made a game-saving interception but wound up granting the Falcons a mulligan.

Three times in four weeks, the Falcons have been massively fortunate. Two times of the three, they’ve won a game they coulda/shoulda lost. And you know what this says? That this team is simply living on its luck?

Nope. It says this could well be the Falcons’ year.

Talent-wise, not much separates one NFL team from another. The reason the Falcons are 3-1 is that they’re skilled but also scrappy. They can take a punch. They can get hit hard and hit back harder. If another team wants to offer a gift, they’re happy to take it. And they will, no matter what, keep playing until the end.

Said Mike Smith, the coach: “You’re …

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Live from the Ga. Dome: The best team in town pans for gold

You all know what the Dome looks like. Still I felt compelled to take a picture. I know now why.

You all know what the Dome looks like, and still I felt compelled to take a picture. I know not why.

We pause today to say a few words about the Falcons, who have, it must be said, gotten short shrift from this correspondent the past couple of weeks. They’re the best team in town, and yet they’ve operated under comparative radio silence. The ups and mostly downs of our college football teams have consumed the weekends, and the palpitations of the Braves have become a source of nightly excruciation.

Meanwhile, the Falcons are just good.

They beat the Saints in New Orleans. (I called it a while ago. Even came within a point of nailing the score.) They won in the Superdome and were the better team. And that distressing opener in Pittsburgh doesn’t look nearly so bad now, given that the Steelers still haven’t had Big Ben but still haven’t lost, either.

Put simply, the Falcons are about as good as I thought they’d be, and I thought they’d be really good. And I, I’m sorry to report, …

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After a draining day, the Braves are down to last chances

The ceremony was a success. The game, not so much. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The ceremony was a success. The game, not so much. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

It was perfect. The Braves would honor the greatest manager they’ll ever know and then go out and win a game and, provided San Diego lost in San Francisco, everybody would toast the wild card with champagne. Who writes this stuff? Aesop? Clair Bee?

It was, alas, perfect only on paper. Because in those 35 minutes Bobby Cox was being honored before the game, it became clear the day wasn’t big enough for both a ceremony and a celebration. There’s only so much emotion that can be poured over one long afternoon.

This isn’t to say Bobby Cox Day rang false. On the contrary, it rang too true. You cannot say goodbye to a man who has meant everything to this franchise for a quarter-century and not have it hurt. And the ceremony itself was both weepy and funny, which was exactly as it should have been. “Unbelievably great,” Cox would say long afterward.

Trouble was, the same guys who sat through the …

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