Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Take on the future of Mark Richt and Georgia Football

In the few days since Georgia gave away their place at the table, I've had conversations with numerous people who are upset about this. They've asked questions about what's going wrong...about leadership, about intensity, etc. What follows is an amalgam of a few different email conversations I've been having. Hopefully this will answer any questions you may have about how I see the state of UGA football, and its future.


You say that the problem is the offense. Well, I submit this to you....Moreno is second in the conference in rushing yards and all-purpose yards.

Stafford leads the conference in passing yardage, and was tied for first in efficiency before that FL debacle. He'll likely now be second in efficiency.

AJ Green leads the conference in Receiving.

The Bulldogs lead the conference in Total Offense. Where we're lacking, is in execution when it comes time to FRIKKIN SCORE. I thought we had beaten that bug against LSU. Sadly, it returned this week.

This offense has really opened up in the last two years. The level of production we're seeing this year is one we haven't seen since 2005 - when the team was littered with Seniors. This year's team doesn't have that experience - that leadership. The scary part is the fact that we're oldest in the defensive secondary ... and those guys haven't been producing well. They didn't get us beat against FL, but they certainly didn't create game-changing plays like we need them to.

The injuries have hurt us. We've lost 13 starters at different points of the season. That's intense. But, that doesn't explain this past weekend.

Still, if you look at the team's future, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The line will be older and more experienced. Hell, we'll have something like 13 linemen who have played extensively this season. Assuming we can keep Moreno and Stafford in school, we will have a very seasoned and scary offensive attack. In the passing game, we lose Massaquoi, Harris, Chandler and Goodman. Massaquoi is the big loss there. But, I think Israel Troupe and Tavarres King are going to be able to make up that loss. Mike Moore has been better than Harris and Goodman...and he's only a Junior. Chandler has been underperforming for years. I like Aron White and Bruce Figgins. Next year's offense should be even MORE productive than this year's. It should be noted that we'll lose Southerland....but Chapas has really been coming on this year. You don't replace a fullback like Southerland easily...but I think Chapas will be able to toe the line pretty well.

When we look at the other side of the ball, we lose CJ Byrd, Corvey Irvin, Jarrius Wynn, Jeremy Lomax and Remarcus Brown. Do you remember hearing those names often? I remember hearing Jarius Wynn's name twice.....personal foul penalties that negated turnovers in our two biggest games. Brown hasn't been a huge factor on defense. Lomax has served as a decent DE, but hasn't been the pass-rush threat we need. Corvey Irvin has done well, standing in for Jeff Owens...but he hasn't been a dominant force. The biggest loss in the defense due to graduation is CJ Byrd...but to be honest, I struggle to see that as a HUGE loss.

What really strikes me is that when I go down this roster, I see a TON of freshmen and sophomores - the offensive line, the linebackers, the receivers...they're all pretty young. That gives me a little excitement. What has saddened me is that we haven't found an answer at Defensive End. We lack a truly great speed rusher for the first time in years, and none have developed into that this season. That hurts. I had hoped that Wynn or Lomax would develop enough to be a threat - but they have not. We have 2 DE prospects coming in next year...the one I'm looking to do something is Toby Jackson. You may remember his name from last season...he's spent the year at Hargrave Military - something that usually bodes well for players who come to Georgia. Hargrave is a good program, and teaches kids discipline. SO...he could make a spalce. The other is Abry Jones. I don't know how good he'll be at rushing the passer. All the upside I've read on him indicates his abilities as an undersized DT...that he can fight around blocks very well, and that he's good at making things happen behind the line. We'll see, though. I think the Freshman Houston may be developing into that role. He came to UGA as a linebacker, but he's been making his mark at DE.

I said before the season that we didn't have an excuse to lose a game. And I still think that's true. Poor execution has shown up many times this season, and most obviously in our two biggest games. Now, whether that comes down to coaching or players, I don't know. I can't say Richt doesn't get kids ready for big games, because his record won't allow that to be true. But, I can say that in the two biggest games this year, the kids didn't execute well, and it cost us. We've played two truly awful halves this year...the 1st against AL and the 2nd against FL. Sadly, those two halves have defined the season as a "underachieving" one.

Here's the big thing that worries me - FL is VERY good...and isn't going to slow down. Urban Meyer has lost ONE game to his rivals while at Florida...and that's last year's beating by UGA. TN is in the tank. The East should be FL-GA every year...and if we can't find a way to get that monkey off our back, we won't be looking at ANY KIND of title in the years to come. Now, that being said, that game was very winable. It wasn't Urban Meyer who beat Georgia. It wasn't Mark Richt who lost the game. Stafford made some bad throws. Walsh made some bad kicks. That game just plain got away from us. The big question for me going forward is this........

Does our team have the Sack to do what Florida is doing this year? Look at last year's FL and this year's FL. It's basically the same team. But, they've all matured and taken a HUGE step forward. Tebow is probably the best LEADER of a football team in college football today. The kid is passionate, smart, dedicated...and he gets what he needs out of his team. Does Stafford have the wherewithal to do the same? Will this team take this loss personally? Will they come out and avenge it every single day?

I don't know. I certainly hope so. The season isn't lost...but as my friend Scott put it, if we somehow end up in the SEC Championship game, it won't be because we won the right to get will be because Florida lost it. I hate that. I hate that our boys aren't getting it done. I hate that year after year we're "Almost There." The time has come at Georgia. The time has come to get past the Florida hurdle. That's the only rivalry that Richt hasn't been able to really take the reigns of. He's won 7 straight against Tech. He's won 5/8 against Tennessee and he's 4-3 against Auburn (the closest rivalry in college football). But, he's only 2-6 against Florida. It will take four straight victories over Florida just to even his own record against them. That's gonna be tough - and that's assuming that the restless fans around Athens won't begin to jump on the SEC bandwagon, and say that he needs to be replaced.

It is true that the program is in a much better place now than it was when he got there....but I wonder how long people will wait for "the big one." The team isn't mediocre, and I'm tired of hearing people say that. Georgia is one of the top programs in the nation. That's why we are consistently finishing in the top 10. But, we have yet to cross the hurdle that truly defines "greatness." Mark Richt didn't inherit a team with the greatest tools to secure a championship....but he's been here 8 years. Within those 8, he's certainly had some great players. Sadly, few of them have turned out to be all-world. The current group should be capable...but here, in Stafford's second full year as a starter, they have faltered. I have to hope that Stafford will return, because if he doesn't, then it will be very hard to win a title next year as well. Cox is decent, but I don't think he'll be the answer. Logan Gray is seeing alot of field time as a punt returner...that opens questions in my mind about his ability at QB. Aaron Murray...well, even if he's all-world, I doubt a Freshman QB is gonna walk into the SEC and deliver a title. If Stafford goes, I think we're in trouble. Then again, it might be the strongest statement of Mark Richt's ability to motivate people if he can get Stafford to stay. I think he's a higher NFL prospect this year than he is next year, when Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are on their way out. Then again, if his game continues to improve, he could prove himself to be head-and-shoulders above them...and have that thing that alot of NFL scouts really love...a championship ring.

still believe that we can win a championship under Richt. However, I believe that if he doesn't get it done next season, he may not be around in 2010.

People, the SEC is a beast...we all know that. But, when you have coaches that come in and win NATIONAL TITLES INSTANTLY....Saban - 3 years, LSU....Meyer - 2 years, FL....Miles - 3 years, LSU. If Saban wins the title this year, it will be the 2nd time he's won a title in 3 yrs or less at an SEC school. If Meyer wins it, it will be his 2nd in 4 seasons. This is the extremely high bar that is being set in this conference. Richt has been at UGA for 8 years, has had plenty of talent, and still hasn't found a way to get to the top of the mountain. It may very well be true that Richt is "the best coach to NOT win a National Title" as many media have named him, but in a conference that boasts so many coaches with NC rings, that doesn't cut it. Right now, I'd have to say that Richt is either the 4th or 5th best coach in the league (depending on whether or not you're willing to put Spurrier beneath him).

Mark Richt has elevated the program - but I believe that the powers that be may begin to get tired of the "there's always next year" mentality that we've been enduring for his entire tenure. Richt hasn't shown an ability to consistently beat Florida - in any of its iterations. He was 1-3 against Zook, and is now 1-3 against Meyer. That ain't good. He's had the talent, and hasn't had the production. Also, in the three big games we've had this year, we haven't looked great. Yeah, we beat LSU...but we beat them on the strength of two interception returns for touchdowns. Without those plays, we don't win that game. Even more, if they score even a field goal on either of those drives, we LOSE that game. We were blown out by both AL and FL, and didn't look good against South Carolina, Tennessee or Vanderbilt.

All told, we've been a tier-two SEC team fortunate enough to hang onto the top-tier for 8 weeks. Well, that's gone now. There are serious issues at UGA right now. The defense hasn't played this poorly since Richt first arrived. Even two years ago, when UGA lost 4 games, the defense didn't look this bad. I'm not using the FL score as a barometer, because I know they scored 4 touchdowns with under 100 total yards in offensive production. We put the defense in some terrible situations.

But, the lack of turnovers, the number of big plays given up in the passing game, the ability of opposing offenses to hit big gains right up the middle of our defense - these are problems we shouldn't be having...and yet we are.

Changes will have to happen this season. My two candidates for exit - John Fabris and Willie Martinez. Look, I'm a Martinez fan...but when I see a guy like Will Muschamp, a Georgia Boy, gettin' it done over at Texas, against vastly better offenses, I have to wonder why we don't have a guy like that UGA. A guy with FIRE. That's what Van Gorder had...even though Martinez was the BRAIN behind the defense, Van Gorder was its fire. I want a guy who's going to come in and excite these guys about playing defensive football. I want a guy who's going to come in and create a defense that people will FEAR. That hasn't happened at UGA since David Pollack was around. We need a Wil Muschamp type on defense....but I don't know that he'll be available. His name is already being thrown around in HC circles. As for Fabris, our defensive end play has never been great as a result of his's been good as a result of ridiculous talent on the part of the players. The special teams have been mediocre at best. Teams don't fear UGA breaking a kick for a TD....and they don't fear us pinning them within the 10 on a kickoff either. And why aren't we kicking into the endzone? I said it was inexcusable that Fabris didn't have the punt-return team ready for the fake in the Sugar Bowl against West Virgina. My MOTHER even knew that was coming. It was pitiful. That's why Fabris is my first to go. Martinez is second. I like him. I think he generally calls good games....but if we can get a DC who calls good games AND INSPIRES HIS KIDS TO PLAY...then, well, that's better.

Georgia needs fire. If not, you may see a change that we didn't expect even a year ago. If this team doesn't turn itself around and become dominant in 2009, expect to see a new leader in 2010.

Let me just add that I don't WANT Richt to get fired, but in a conference that could very well boast it's 3rd DIFFERENT national champion in three years, RESULTS are what's going to keep a coach around. If Richt can't prove that he can beat Florida in years when they're playing well, then the powers that be will wonder if it's worth it to have him here. Because, simply put, until Richt can beat Florida, we're playing for 2nd in the East. I don't know how long the people will continue to accept that. Richt has brought a great deal of money to the school, and that's great and everything...but if there's a coach out there who'll bring a championship, then he'll bring money, too.

I think Richt does so much more for the program and the kids than just winning games. I'm a huge MR fan. But the one thing that may cloud his judgment is his loyalty and friendships. Will Richt be willing to fire someone who's been with him for 8 years? I just don't know. I think he should.

Mark Richt as a Head Coach has to be willing to make the tough decisions. If not, then his win-loss record doesn't stand on its own. A good friend pointed out to me, yeah we've won 79 games under Richt (his record is 79-21 btw...just below 80%).....but how many of those have been against HIGH-QUALITY opponents? In the bowl games, FSU wasn't in the same class as UGA. Neither was Hawaii. Va Tech was pretty good. Wisconsin wasn't. Purdue was nothing special in 04, either. We lost the other two bowls we've played in since Richt came....Boston College wasn't as good as UGA, but they beat us. And West Virgina, well, they snuck up on UGA...but again, they were a quality team, and UGA didn't get it done. 2004 and 2007, the only years under Richt that we've beaten Florida, were both "down years" for the Gators. In fact, looking back over the years since the title in 2002, I don't recall ever really thinking we were gonna put a hurtin' on any highly ranked squad. Before both the AL and FL games this year, I was very worried...and proven rightfully so.

We have all the talent that is necessary to win titles. But we're not doing it. That does, ultimately, have to be put on the coach.

Now, I'm not one who believes that a National Title is a necessity. I've said 1,000 times, that until it's played out on the field, it's not that important to me. But, the SEC is. And until we're able to really compete with the Nation's Best, we're not gonna win that, either. UGA has suffered losses to Vandy, Kentucky and South Carolina in recent years. We've been blown out by Tennessee, and this year we didn't really "Destroy" a TN team that is AWFUL. These are bad markers. Few people have been willing to stand up and say that something is wrong, because of the win-loss record and all. But, it's obvious looking at the way this season has gone, that something needs to change. Being 2nd best isn't good enough. Like I said earlier, other teams don't fear our defense. That needs to change. They may fear the weapons we have at offense, but they believe they can get us to misfire - and they do. UGA is not a feared team. And it should be.

Look, two years ago we suffered through a mediocre season because we were "preparing for the future." Well, that future has not arrived. We went 11-2 last year but had inexcusable losses to South Carolina and Tennessee. We squeeked by against Vandy. You can't say that was good. This year, we squeeked by against South Carolina, Escaped in Baton Rouge, survived against Vandy and beat Tennessee very ugly. Oh yeah, and we did enough to lose two games decisively. This team hasn't progressed as it should have. How do we have a hole at Defensive End? With the pedigree of DEs going to the NFL like we have at this school....Charles Grant, David Pollack, Quentin Moses, Charles Johnson, etc....we should be on every DE's wishlist. This year, though, the guy who I see making the biggest mark at Defensive end is a converted Linebacker. might be Fabris. Is he not a good recruiter? What's up?

I don't like feeling like my team is a joke...and right now, everyone in the country is saying that UGA has been exposed as a joke. Unacceptable. The future looks bright, but we have to be the ones to light it up.

Go Dawgs.

No comments: