Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stafford has career day, UGA escapes.

I didn't get to watch the game, but I followed it as best I could on the net.

This is what I know....

Stafford completed 63% of his passes, for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Moreno rushed for 123 yards and 3 touchdowns.

And we barely escaped against unranked Kentucky, 42-38.


I'm not really going to get into much....but I'll say this, Fabris and Martinez are just about done. The Defense has been absolutely falling apart for the past 3 games. LSU and Kentucky should have both been left for dead, but they weren't. Both games were woefully underproductive from the defensive run game. For the rest of the year, the defensive backfield has been bad. Just like against Florida, special teams and turnovers were big problems for UGA today. We had a kick blocked and a kickoff returned 96 yards. We also had a 18 yard punt, the details of which I don't know....but still, awful. So, Kentucky got 14 points off 14 yards of offense. That's not on the defense, but it IS on the special teams. What IS on the defense, is the number of drives where Kentucky just rammed it down the throat of the defense...running...running...running the ball for good gains, firstdowns, and points.

Hire Pollack as the Defensive Ends coach.

Hire Me as the Special Teams coach.

Get some new blood in this coaching staff, or we're going to see more of the same in the future.

We've got Auburn next small task. Yeah, they've been awful...but we certainly have been on defense lately. This team needs a great showing against a struggling Auburn offense.

Seriously. At this point, I don't think there's anything that saves the jobs of Fabris and Martinez. The fanbase has been unhappy with Martinez for a while...and Fabris, he's the guy who left Georgia for another job, then came back....well, it's time UGA leaves him for a better coach, and doesn't bring him back.

Two games away from another 10-win season, and I feel very bad about the direction of this team. For me, it shows something in the mettle of this team that they went out today, played a terrible game on defense, but still got it done. The offense answered the bell. Kentucky's defense was pretty much middle-of-the-pack in the SEC, so it's no surprise that the SEC's offensive leader could best them, but an away game, a week after a huge emotional loss, suffering bad defense play, I'm glad the offense got it done.

Now, if UGA will just play ONE COMPLETE GAME ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL...maybe I'll be optimistic.

Go Dawgs.

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.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bad calls, worse gameplay result in Florida thumping Georgia, 49-10.

I usually try to find the good things, even in the most brutal of losses. But in this one, there really isn't much. The gameplan was pretty good. The production was absolutely terrible. After Walsh missed yet another short-ish fieldgoal, I began to wonder whether or not he's the answer for the Dawgs at kicker. I hate myself for that, because the kid is clearly talented...but I'm just a bit spoiled, I guess. In my senior year at UGA, Billy Bennet arrived. He went on to grab the all-time SEC record for points scored in a career. After him, Brandon Coutu was absolutely wonderful. Walsh has big shoes to fill....and he's having trouble.

But, what bothered me more was our inability to score. We had moved the ball from our 19 to their 17 in two plays. Then, Moreno busted a nice little 7-yard run to the FL 10. We were looking at drawing first blood...with a 2nd and nearly 3 to go on their 10. Then we called a play-action and the blocking fell apart. Stafford was sacked. Then we called a qb sprintout (a run) and Stafford was stopped behind the line when Boling missed a block on Florida's tough-nosed LB Brandon Spikes. I didn't argue with the play-action playcall. They would most likely be expecting a run, and if the pass were incomplete, it'd be 3rd and a short 3 for the first. Instead, Stafford took a sack. Bad decision.

Walsh missed a field goal.

On the Gator's drive, there were two very "lucky" moments for FL. First, when Tebow was stopped short of a first down, the ref spotted the ball forward of the line to gain. A challenge by Mark Richt wasn't upheld, and FL was given the firstdown. I don't know what drugs the replay official was on, but they must have been great. That play enabled the Gators to keep the ball moving. Then on a 3rd and 6th from our 27, came a HUGE stroke Gator luck. Tebow threw a bad pass out to a WR in the flat, and Prince Miller stole it away. It looked like UGA had snatched the ball and the momentum. But, DE Wynn was flagged for a "personal foul" when his hand slipped beneath the facemask of an offensive lineman, knocking his helmet off. Convenient. FL kept the ball, got a "half the distance" walkoff and then after Demps was stuffed at the line, Harvin took advantage of a misalignment by CJ Byrd, and walked into the endzone untouched for the Gators first score.

Georgia again drove the ball straight down the field, mostly through the air...but the drive stalled on a false start penalty and bad screen pass. Walsh made a fieldgoal but 7-3 wasn't exactly what we were looking for at that point.

Then came a call that I really don't hate...but it's extremely risky. I mean, if we pulled it off, Richt would have been a genius. As it stands, people question the call...but nobody really called it dumb. He went for the onside kick. Walsh didn't kick a good one, and it was covered quickly by Florida. Giving that offense a short field is never a good thing. Another penalty pushed Florida to first and goal at the ten. The defense kept Tebow out of the endzone on 3rd and goal from the 1..but he was able to put it in on 4th.

So, 14 - 3....

The next drive was Moreno's....he rattled off gains of 12, 9 and 6 before being spelled by Caleb King. On 3rd down, Stafford hit Massaqoui on a pass thrown on an icy rope to the six yard line. The Dawgs were in business with first and goal from the 6. The first play should have been a touchdown. Stafford rolled right and then threw behind a wide-open Chandler in the endzone. Now, whether that was Stafford's fault or Chandler's is up to debate. After the play, you could see Stafford tell Chandler that he should have been offering a target....generally when I see that play, the TE runs to the center of the endzone and just sits down. You've all seen it....when it's against your team you say "WHY WAS HE SO WIDE OPEN!?!" Chandler kept moving though, and Stafford's pass fell behind him.

Again, poor execution by someone.

A man went unblocked on the next play, a run that was stopped for a 4 yard loss. And then, on 3rd and goal from the ten, Stafford's pass bounced off Moreno's facemask. It was right there. A TD...dropped by Knowshon Moreno.

Poor execution.

Walsh's fieldgoal attempt bounced off the left upright.

Poor execution.

Going into the break, UGA was behind 14-3. But, most were optimistic.

Georgia stopped FL on their first possession, and were poised to really get something going. Stafford hit Massaqoui, Chandler and Green on the drive, and picked up an 18 yard scamper by Moreno as well. Then, came the first of two awful misses by the refs. Stafford threw toward AJ Green, who was held and undercut by defensive back Chas Henry who interecepted the pass and returned it 88 yards to the UGA 1 yardline. Now, the pass wasn't perfect. If it'd had a bit more heat on it, it may have sailed right past Henry to a waiting AJ Green, who had noone between him and the endzone. I dunno. Still, the official missed the hold...and Stafford could have thrown a better pass. Poor execution.

Tebow would score from a yard out. FL 21, UGA 3.

After a 3-and-out by UGA and a quick first down from FL, came the second "miss" by the official. Against man-coverage, Louis Murphy ran at Asher Allen and pulled on his jersey, slowing Allen and propelling himself forward. Tebow hit him for a 44 yard touchdown. I can't blame that one on Asher Allen. He had his man covered. His man did something illegal, and no one saw it. The Ref standing right in front of them didn't see it. The sideline judge 15 yards down the field didn't see it. The backjudge didn't see it. I guess only the UGA team, the cameras, and every viewer at home saw it. Oh well.

FL 28, UGA 3. The wheels had officially come off. If you needed more proof, you needed only watch 3 more plays. After Stafford completed two passes and picked up a first down, we went with the toss-sweep to the left. Moreno couldn't secure the ball...but FL Defensive Tackle Terron Sanders did, and galloped to the GA 10. Two plays later, Tebow would score his 3rd rushing TD of the game.

35 - 3. Now, I'm never one to give up on my team...but Jesus. Desperation set in. Stafford started moving the team through the air, but didn't spot linebacker Dustin Doe, who tipped and then intercepted a crucial (If UGA had any designs on making the game respectful) 3rd down pass. Poor execution by Stafford. Rolling into the fourth quarter, UGA was all but on the bus.

UGA stopped FL, and then flew down the field, picking up "garbage yards" against FL's softer defense. Then Stafford was picked for the 3rd and final time....this one was returned to the UGA 25. A tired and fed-up UGA defense allowed a quick TD to Percy Harvin. The fight was out of them.

In the time since the end of the game, I've talked to various friends with various ideas about the game. Some have said that Richt isn't a good enough coach to win a championship at Georgia. They point to UGA only having success when the other heavyweights in the division fail. They say that Georgia lacked either the talent or the coaching to win today. I defy that.

The production of the offense moving up and down the field on drive after drive shows that the gameplan was good. UGA had 3 three-and-outs all day. Three. Sadly, UGA also had 4 turnovers and 2 missed fieldgoals. Those aren't a result of bad coaching. They're a result of poor execution. Noone is going to say that Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, AJ Green, Mohamed Massaquoi and the rest aren't talented. That would be folly. But today, they certainly didn't produce what we would expect.

Was it the offensive line? Well, Stafford was under pressure...but was only sacked twice. Also, they opened good holes for Moreno. But, on a few key downs, they did let us down.

If Wynn could have kept his hands away from the offensive lineman's head, UGA would have had a pick in the first quarter, and FL's first touchdown wouldn't have existed. Poor execution.

If not for two missed calls by the officials, FL would not have raced out to a 28-3 lead nine minutes after halftime. I've said it many times before, one bad call doesn't win or lose a game. But, when it seems like ALL the calls are going the other way...well, that has two effects. First, the direct effect - 14 points for Florida. Second, the effect on the psyche of the players. It gets into your head. It's very hard to overcome the tought that no matter what you do, things aren't going to go your way. I don't know if that happened to the Dawgs today or not...because they kept fighting. But, when the fumble bounced away from Moreno, I think that might have cemented it.

Coming into the game, I didn't agree with the people who said Florida had a "mental edge" because of last year's celebration. I still don't. But, I will agree that as the game played out, they certainly gained one. Misfortune after misfortune befell the Dawgs and was coupled by poor execution.

But, I stand by what I said earlier - the coaching and the talent were there. They just didn't get it done.

So, what's left for the Dawgs now? Well, the SEC title is all but lost. It would take consecutive losses to Vandy and USC for FL to not meet AL in the title game. So, UGA has to refocus. They have to get ready to take on a tough Kentucky team. A 10-2 record, while inexcusable, will at least be respectable. Anything less, and this season is a tale of sorrow and woe.

But I believe in the Dawgs. I think when the dust settles, they'll have a few more performances they can be proud of.

Go Dawgs.