Archive for November, 2010

Mark Richt and UGA return to Auburn, but nothing is the same

Nov. 16, 2002: Michael Johnson soars, UGA wins. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Michael Johnson soars, UGA wins. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

It was at Auburn in 2002 where Mark Richt lifted the lid, to use to his metaphor of the breathless moment, from the Georgia program by clinching the SEC East. It was at Auburn four years later where Richt broke the first drought of his career as a head coach, upsetting the nation’s No. 5 team. And now, four more years on, it is to Auburn where the Bulldogs go, trying to rise above .500.

Think of the three Auburn games, four years apart, as referendums. In 2002 Richt was the People’s Choice. (Indeed, when he spoke at the Touchdown Club of Atlanta the Monday after the famous victory, the folks there — or at least their caterers — baked him a cake.) In 2006 he was the proven steward of a championship-caliber program. But here it is 2010, and we need ask: What is Mark Richt today?

Seven SEC teams are ranked in this week’s Associated Press poll, the Georgia Bulldogs not among them. The team that under Richt finished in …

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The Falcons are 6-2 and still we wonder: How good are they?

They’d just won a game against a team that arrived being billed — actually, billing itself — as the NFC’s best. And yet Mike Smith, the head coach, characterized the Falcons’ mood thusly:

“We’re 6-2, but there’s some guys in that locker room who are ticked off because they know we haven’t put together 60 minutes of football.”

The good news is that the Falcons lead the NFC South and hold the best record in their conference. The better news is that they’ve done this much while working hard not to make the opponent feel bad about itself. On Sunday they got the fourth-down stop they needed to hold off Tampa Bay. What failed to compute was how a game so lopsided — the Falcons had 26 first downs to the Bucs’ 14 and didn’t turn the ball over — came down to a fourth-and-1 inside the final three minutes.

Said Dunta Robinson, the cornerback: “We made a lot of mistakes. We kept them in the game.”

The Falcons couldn’t have made a brighter start. They led 14-0 after 16-plus minutes. Then …

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Live from the Dome, with the big-time Bucs(?) on the card

Having tired of taking a photo of the Dome, I added this week's flip card. (Photo by M.B.)

Having tired of of the standard Dome shot, I added this week's flip card. (Photo by M.B., auteur)

The standings say this is a big game, both teams being 5-2. The visiting coach thinks it’s a big game, his Bucs being the best team in the NFC and all. But I have a confession:

I’m not feeling  it.

I’m thinking the big game at the Dome this week comes Thursday night when the Ravens visit. (Super Bowl preview!) I’m thinking Baltimore is legit. I’m thinking Tampa Bay is not.

My pals in Vegas — not that I have any, having never been there — would seem to agree. They’ve levied a 10-point spread on this titanic tussle. In the NFL, with its parity and any-given-Sunday ethos, a 10-point spread is fairly massive, especially in a game featuring two 5-2 teams. But that’s where we are: More than simply being favored by 10 points, the Falcons are the biggest favorite on this week’s card.

I’m thinking the Falcons take their bye week and make short work of Tampa Bay. I’m thinking they’ll win …

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College basketball 2010-2011: Will these Dawgs really hunt?

Is there a lid on how high Trey Thompkins and UGA can climb? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Is there a lid on how high Trey Thompkins and UGA can climb? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

With the season almost here, our thoughts naturally turn to that bastion of college basketball — the University of … Georgia?

Speaking of which, will the Bulldogs be as good as some people seem to think?

Florida coach Billy Donovan suggests Georgia could be the conference’s best team. The Bulldogs’ Trey Thompkins, already projected as an NBA lottery pick, was voted the SEC’s preseason player of the year. And here we pause to wonder: Is all this too much too soon?

Reality check: The Bulldogs were 14-17 last season. They finished last in the SEC East. They were 0-11 on the road. For all the good work done in Mark Fox’s first season — beating Illinois, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida — Georgia operated without an ounce of pressure. Fox’s second band of Hounds is expected to reach the NCAA tournament. That’s at least 16 ounces of pressure.

For Georgia, the cheery news is that the …

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Without Joshua Nesbitt, is Tech’s season over? Nah, I say

Joshua Nesbitt: A tough break, literally and figuratively. (AP photo)

A tough break, literally and figuratively. (AP photo)

Watching from afar, my first two thoughts were:

1. Without Joshua Nesbitt, Georgia Tech won’t win again.

2. Mark Richt’s job is now safe for this year. (Weird how I made that leap.)

But then, after 30 seconds’ reflection, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think Tech will lose its final three games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jackets and Tevin Washington — and Paul Johnson — don’t give us a finish to this regular season. Because Paul Johnson can really coach.

We saw it again last night. With his team a two-touchdown underdog on a rainy night in Blacksburg, Johnson saw to it that his men got the required fast start and kept them playing after the one indispensable Jacket had been lost to a broken arm before halftime. When inevitably Virginia Tech pulled ahead, Tech and Washington managed to re-tie matters.

When the Hokies ran back the subsequent kickoff for a touchdown, darned if the visitors didn’t muster up another …

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Sad the Falcons didn’t land Moss? Dr. Bradley offers counsel

Moss is impossible to defend? Don't tell Brian Williams. (AP photo)

So Randy Moss is impossible to defend? Don't tell Brian Williams. (AP photo)

I’ve heard from a few Falcons’ fans who are disappointed their team didn’t land Randy Moss. (The Tennessee Titans did instead, and goody for them.) And to those saddened by the thought of not seeing Mr. Moss in Bird regalia, I have one question:

Are you nuts?

The Falcons needed Moss the way Mark Richt needs to lose to Idaho State. The Falcons already have the NFL’s best receiver. They’re tied with the Giants and the Bucs for the NFC’s best record. They have a remarkably serene locker room.

The risk/reward factor on Moss is massively skewed to the former. He has already played for two NFL teams this season and talked his way off both. One of the teams was New England, which knows what it’s doing. Minnesota is the other, and the Vikings are 2-5 and willing to try anything — except keeping Randy Moss on their roster.

There was a time when Moss was the most gifted receiver in the NFL. That time, it should …

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Braves’ offseason mission: Make Atlanta a place for glovers

What did these guys do that the Braves didn't? They caught the ball. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

What did they do that the Braves didn't? They caught the ball. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The Braves were one strike away from forcing San Francisco into an elimination game on the road. The Giants, as you’ve heard, won the World Series. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Bradley’s going to tell us the Braves were one strike from being world champions.”

You’re wrong. I’m not. Even if the Braves had gotten past the Giants, which seemed eminently possible with two out in the ninth inning of Game 3 and two strikes on Freddy Sanchez, they wouldn’t have beaten the Phillies in the NLCS. The Giants weren’t much better than the Braves — they won 92 games to the Braves’ 91 and lost the regular-season series 4-3 — but they were superior in one essential area.

The Braves ranked 14th among 30 big-league teams in hitting; the Giants were 15th. (The Braves scored 41 more runs and had a much better on-base percentage but hit 23 fewer homers.) The Giants ranked first in …

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The rumor has Josh Smith getting dealt, but I don’t believe it

Me, I can't see Smoove sailing away. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Me, I just can't see J- Smoove sailing away. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

No sooner had the Hawks announced they’d re-upped Al Horford for $60 million over five years did the next logical dot get connected. Chad Ford of ESPN.com was the first to do it, writing:

Several GMs believe the Hawks won’t be able to keep [Joe] Johnson ($18.5 million in 2011-12), Josh Smith ($12.5 million in 2011-12),  Marvin Williams ($8 million in 2011-12) and Horford ($12 million in 2011-12) together past this season for financial reasons …

That situation is already leading to speculation that GM Rick Sund may be forced to put Smith on the market soon. Sund briefly flirted with trading Smith last summer, before pullng back. While no one is claiming he’s been made available yet, a number of GMs around the league expect his name to be in the mix by the February trade deadline.

On cue, Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press has written that the Pistons “could be interested” in Smith. (As fate would have …

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Should Richt be untouchable at UGA? Consider Jim Donnan

A side-by-side comparison for y’all:

Coach A: Went 40-19 and 25-15 in league play over a five-year span at an SEC East school at a time when two division brethren won BCS titles.

Coach B: Has gone 42-19 and 23-16 in league play over a five-year span at the same SEC East school at a time when one division rival has won two BCS titles.

Coach A was Jim Donnan, who was fired by Georgia president Michael Adams in December 2000.

Coach B is Mark Richt, who succeeded Donnan and who’s under contract through 2013.

I know, I know. In Richt’s first five seasons he took Georgia to the SEC title game three times, which Donnan didn’t manage once, and won it twice. In those five seasons Richt bought the kind of good will Donnan never could. But Georgia, which has the same president now as then, has had essentially the same record the past five years as in Donnan’s tenure, and it has had many more off-the-field embarrassments.

(By Donnan’s count, Georgia had five players arrested in his five …

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Paul Johnson on Tech: ‘I’ve seen sicker children get well’

"You see my kickers? Aren't they just terrible?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

"Have you ever seen worse kickers than the ones I've got?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson isn’t thrilled with how his team has played, but there’s always tomorrow. To be precise, there’s Thursday night. Almost everything Georgia Tech has gotten wrong could be put right if it beats Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Said Johnson: “I’ve seen sicker children get well.”

The Georgia Tech coach was in vintage form at his press briefing Monday, which is to say he spoke softly, smiled occasionally and wielded the customary PJ edge. (Ask him about his kicking game. Or, better still, don’t. It, he said, “has been godawful.”)

This time a year ago, Johnson’s Jackets were headed for the ACC title game. That Tech has been humbled a bit this season doesn’t mean PJ has turned humble. He still believes in his offense — heck, he designed the thing — and believes in the potential of his team, its lapses notwithstanding.

The 45-28 home loss to North Carolina State? “It wasn’t a blowout. It …

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