Wednesday, July 27, 2011

There's no Web-MD for Bad Football

One of the most difficult things in life is to self-diagnose and then self-medicate effectively. In today's hyper-paced society, Web MD has come along and has made very hypochondriac on the planet exceedingly brilliant and simultaneously paranoid. However, simple afflictions such as the Cold, the Flu and Strep Throat are not the cause of much self-diagnosis trouble. No, it's much more complex maladies such as bipolar disorder and cancer which cause the average human to turn to a specialist for help.

The University of Georgia Bulldogs did not have a cold for five seasons. They were not suffering from the flu. The team was cancer-ridden, malnourished and suffered from bipolar disorder. On the outside, many could see the symptoms of trouble, but could not properly ascertain the problem. Kids were getting into trouble. Wins were declining. Overall attitude was poor. At the same time, the teams surrounding UGA were flourishing. So, it was easy for the excuse-making sick mind to think, "Hey, we were simply bested by a better squad." At some point though, it became obvious that this was not the case, or at least that it wasn't that "simple." Indeed, Georgia was bested by many "better squads" over the 2006-2010 seasons. But, it wasn't because the other squads were blessed with immunities to the maladies suffered by Georgia, or that they were granted Superpowers. No, these teams were simply better at going about the business of winning football games.

There's no Web-MD for bad football. No, it takes some serious soul searching and time in the mirror to realize that you have proceeded down a path that can not be successful. I wonder when it happened. I wonder when the "fog lifted" for Head Coach Mark Richt, and he had his moment of clarity. I have said publicly that I love Mark Richt, for all that he does and the man that he is. Still, it is hard to ignore the direction in which the team and the program digressed over the second half of his first decade at the wheel. He will even admit to it. What was that "defining" moment that brought him to see where he needed to go?

Richt was forced to get rid of long-time friend Willie Martinez and brought in an NFL mind with a new scheme and a firey attitude. Was this the first dosage of a cure? Richt then removed long-time friend Dave Van Hallenger from his post at the top of the strength and conditioning program. He turned to "old school" veteran Joe Tereshinski to whip the boys' bodies back into shape. Call it physical therapy. Then, player after player left the program for one reason or another. For the most part, the defections came from "problem players" who didn't want to get with the new system and "Fly right." Character shows in times of trouble. A 6-7 season isn't one you want to go through, and if you're not a strong man, you could buckle. Some did. But, there are many who did not buckle. There are many who tightened the laces on their cleats and pushed harder toward their goal. These are the "survivors" who would fight for a better day. They're the people who are told they have 6 months, and live on for a decade. They are GEORGIA.

Right now, the Dawgnation is embracing greater positivity than it has at any time that I recall since 2008, when the Dawgs were preseason #1. Many people across the college football media world are starting to claim that Georgia can make a serious stab at the SEC. Fans are listening. It's like a family "reunion" for an addict who's returned from a long stay at rehab. They WANT to believe that everything will be right again, and that everything will be gone. Still, deep down, there's that tinge of fear that what they are seeing is only a facade...that the demons still lurk within.

It is hard to ignore the steps that have been taken. Best friends have been fired. Greater discipline has been instilled. Bad blood has been removed from the system. New blood has been infused. If the 2010 season was that of the Dawgs learning how to walk again, perhaps 2011 is when they show they can run - all the way to New Orleans, and the BCS National Title.

GO Dawgs!

Friday, July 22, 2011

I love Mark Richt.

There's really nothing else to say beyond that. I know people want statistical data to support that statement, given the recent 6-7 record, the loss of multiple tailbacks, the "talent mismanagement" of players like Brandon Miller, Kiante Tripp and Richard Samuel.

But, I'm not going to offer any stats today.

I'm simply going to say, that for a man who is coming off a 6-7 season, facing all kinds of fire and anger from a fanbase, and watching his players make team-altering decisions, his attitude is simply awesome.

“greater days are coming. The best is yet to come.”

For me, that's simply a fantastic quote. He didn't say, "Better days are coming" he didn't say "it's gonna be ok"...he said "Greater days are coming. The best is yet to come."

This is a guy who has coached players who will be known as all-time Georgia greats like David Pollack, David Green, AJ Green, etc....he's a guy who's won 2 SEC titles and 2 Sugar Bowls. Still, he feels Greater Days are coming. This speaks to only one thing, folks...The BCS. Despite all the hate and doubt swirling around him, he has basically just told you that he's going to bring the Crystal Football to UGA.

And I love that.

Go Dawgs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Georgia CAN make it through the slate undefeated.

So many people (mostly Georgia fans) are ready to Trash this year's version of the Dawgs. Naturally, the criticisms range from player ability to a coach asleep at the wheel, and people say the rest of the SEC has simply become too strong for the Dawgs.

I disagree.

Georgia lost 5 games in the SEC last season, and that's atrocious. However, these losses were not wholesale blowouts at the hands of teams which were vastly better than UGA. Let's consider the games a bit -

1) South Carolina - The loss in this game was a result of two things: 1)Our inability to stop the running of Marcus Lattimore, and 2) Our offense's inability to maintain possession of the football. With the score 14-6 in the 3rd quarter, Justin Houston forced a fumble on the SoCar 24, which we recovered. A few plays later, Washaun fumbled away the ball, and our chances to pull within striking distance. Georgia would force a punt, and then force two more before South Carolina finally kicked the field-goal that sealed the deal. Many felt during this game that the chains were held around Aaron Murray, and as a result, our offense was anemic. I am inclined to agree.

2011 Solution: We have to improve against the run. The BEEF we're adding this season along the line will go along way toward that. Now, South Carolina uses alot of 3 and 4 WR sets along with a single back in order to beat defenses by personnel. Simply put, they don't WANT us to be in a comfortable 3-4 where we can clog the line and let the linebackers roam free. They want to put us in Nickel Packages where we have more DBs on the field, and then take advantage with their big back. With the improvement along the line, this will not be as much of a factor. John Jenkins at nose is great....Jenkins and Geathers on the field covering up the Guards in Nickel is also pretty great.

2) Arkansas - you can blame the loss of this one on a couple things. First off, the wheel route. Seems like we didn't want to cover that all year. We were in a brand new defensive scheme with different assignments and somebody blew it. The missed block - the guy who committed that offense is no longer around, and I'm fairly certain that pass protection will be paramount for all backs, as it's generally been the route to quickest PT AND we'll be leaning on Murray's arm quite a bit. Poor effort - not many people mentioned this post-game...but we had a chance to tie the game at the end. Marlon Brown lagged toward the endzone and wasn't in position to make a play on the tipped-ball in the endzone. I was furious. The very next day, the Jacksonville Jaguars scored on a similar play when the receiver finished the play, and made the rebound catch.

2011 Solution - well, we don't play them again. We will, however, play Ole Miss who has a similar wide-open offense. I believe Ole Miss is lower on the talent totem pole, and I also believe the problems we faced against Arkansas have likely been repaired. A full year in the defense will mean coverages will be better. It wasn't ability, but rather understanding that hurt in that area last season. I've already said why I believe pass-pro will be better. And as for effort, well, the offseason record as well as last season's great decrease in penalties shows a more disciplined team.

3) Mississippi State - Our inability to stop the option was the main downfall here. You could also blame Georgia's inability to finish drives (Ealy fumbling in the redzone, Durham not hauling in a TD pass, etc). But, the primary culprit was the gaping holes on defense.

2011 Solution - again, the changes made on the defensive front will make a big difference. Linebackers were being blocked too easily last season as the OL could easily make it to the next level. This season, we'll have two guys who could legitimately draw double-teams. That causes trouble for blocking schemes, which causes real trouble for the option.

4) Florida - We lost this game due to Murray's worst game of the season. He threw three bad interceptions, the worst of which came in OT. On defense, we struggled against the multiple quarterback sets of Urban Meyer, and ultimately a couple of plays made by Brantley at clutch moments did us in.

2011 Solution - FL is in its own set of problems. I'm not saying this becomes an automatic win in ANY way, shape, or form. Muschamp made a smart hire in Charlie Weiss. The reason I say that is that Weiss is good at tailoring his offense for his talent. Sure, these guys were brought in as spread players, but Weiss will know who to play in what capacity in order to have some success. However, I do believe that a stronger, more experienced defense will be able to confuse Brantley, and I believe Murray will not repeat his foibles.

5) Auburn - We lost this game due to Cam Newton. That's the sum total of it. Cam's ability to get the tough yards, extend drives, etc - that's what beat Georgia. I also think the "myth" of Auburn played a hand in it as well. In the first quarter of that game, Georgia had their foot on the throat of the Auburn Tigers. 21-7 at the 1st quarter horn. Then, Cam began to turn it on, and the defense didn't answer. Was he in their collective head? It's possible. It's also possible that the Dawg's defense was just like every other collegiate defense faced by Auburn - simply outgunned by the NFL First-Rounder.

2011 Solution - Well, Cam is gone. More than that, Auburn's defense also takes a step backward this season with the loss of all-world Nick Fairley. I have no doubt that Auburn will still have a potent offense, but they will step down a bit from the juggernaut they were with Cam at the helm. Also, Auburn's defense wasn't a world-beater at all in 2010, and I don't know that they've made the necessary upgrades to be considerably better in 2011.

So, what about the other games? I don't think TN, KY, or Vandy have improved to the point where they will give the Dawgs a heap of trouble.

Coastal Carolina and New Mexico States are snoozers. Georgia Tech retreated back the L column where they've been for the past decade, and I don't think they're going to threaten again this season. Besides, despite the AJC's attempt to sweep the news of their troubles under the rug, it's clear that all is not well in Atlanta.

And then, there was BOISE. I'll get to them later.

Go Dawgs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Sky Is Falling! (I.E.Samuel moved to RB)

Oh man, I bet you thought by reading the title that I'm one of the run-of-the-mill bloggers ready to attack this move as another sign that our coaches have absolutely no clue what they're doing and that they mishandle talent to an incredible degree.

Sorry to disappoint you, but that ain't me.

Truth is, I have a bit of a different point of view about the entire Samuel debate. First off, from a running back perspective -

1) Samuel adds experience. Ever since King's departure, the blogs have exploded with the fearful thought that our tailbacks have 86 collegiate carries and under 300 yards between them (because Carlton Thomas is the only scholarship back who's had any serious role in our offense to date). Well, putting Richard Samuel back at RB increases that number sharply. He adds 114 carries, and 528 yards. More importantly, though, he adds the experience of a BLOCKER in the passing game...something we all know to be quite important (remember that Arkansas game, Ealy?)

2) Samuel adds proven explosiveness. Ok, so it was only one play - one 80 yard touchdown - but no one could catch him. No one could come close. If, by any chance, he still has that breakaway's an ENORMOUS asset to a backfield that has been in dire need of some excitement.

3) Samuel adds BEEF. If he stays at his linebacker playing weight, holy crap. Could you imagine being a 180lb corner and seeing a 240lb bohemoth coming your way toting the ball? Samuel has always loved contact...much to the dismay of many Georgia fans. But, this is the kind of bull we're going to be looking for in a backfield that will be needed to get tough yards. Let's face it...Carlton Thomas and, Isaiah Crowell aren't likely going to pound out two yards on 3rd with a blitzing linebacker hitting the hole. But, it's very possible that Samuel will be able to use his size, power, and all-world shoulder-slamming ability to drive that linebacker backwards. Daddy Like!

As for the move FROM Linebacker, well, I have to say that I am only a little disappointed in that. I did love Samuel's speed and athleticism on defense. However, he wasn't set to be a starter, and we're not razor-thin at the position. In fact, we added a number of new LBs in the recruiting class, some of whom are likely to see PT. Also, the move of 'Tree down inside will provide the same athleticism, and a greater amount of experience on defense than having Samuel in the game there would provide.

To those who point to the problems Samuel had in his first two seasons at runningback, I offer this:

In his first season, he was behind Moreno, and was 17 years old. He was what I'd like to now coin as a Sub-Frosh. The fact that he lacked a true fundamental understanding of football at the collegiate level is no surprise (in fact, most of the 30-60 year olds who read this blog don't have THAT, and they've had quite a bit more time to soak it up). He was, however, a 5* recruit, and so everyone thought he should be a world beater. Somehow, people still haven't come to grips with the fact that a star rating measures POTENTIAL only. It has no real bearing on aptitude, nor TIME FRAME. In his sophomore season, Samuel showed flashes, but with a crowded backfield, making a few mistakes proved too costly, and BOOM - he disappeared from use in the 2nd half of the season.

His third year at UGA, he redshirted at Linebacker....and I think that may very well help him as he returns to runningback. He's bigger now, which is awesome. He's just as aggressive as ever (and Lord Knows we love aggressive power backs!). And, he likely has a better understanding of what he's going to be facing when he's in pass protection, or when he's running routes out of the backfield. It's very good to have that other perspective. The best pass-rushers in the game have a fundamental understanding of what the offensive line will try to do in order to stop them. The best runningbacks have the same.

Again, I am no prognosticator. I can not look into the future and say that he's going to be "the solution" at runningback. However, I have more than enough evidence to make me feel good about the move.

And as for those who see the situation with Samuel being akin to those of Brandon Miller and Kiante Tripp, I have to say - coaches must always do what is best for the team. If Kiante Tripp had been an incredible Defensive Lineman or Offensive Lineman, he wouldn't have been moved around so much. Had Brandon Miller boasted an amazing skill set at either DE or OLB, he would have lived at one position for 4 or 5 years instead of bouncing around. As a RB two years ago, Samuel was not the best on the roster. He was younger, more immature than those around him. He was moved to LB to shore up numbers there...but other roster moves (additions of transfers, moving players, signing new LBs) have increased the depth at that position greatly. So, the coaches have to do what is best for the team. At LB, Samuel could easily get lost in the shuffle. At RB, he may once again have a chance to be a real difference maker.

Go Richard.

Go Dawgs.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Who says we have to have a feature back?

With the news that Caleb King is no longer a part of the UGA program came many bandwagon naysayers who believe this is the death knell of Mark Richt's tenure in Athens. They appear to believe that without King, our offense will sputter due to a lack of ability from Ken Malcome, and a lack of experience from Isaiah Crowell. Apparently, it will be nigh on impossible to run Mike Bobo's offense without a stud feature tailback and an experienced fullback.

I disagree.

My mind drifts back a few years to the last time we won the SEC, 2005. I thought to myself..."I don't remember DJ Shockley running an I-Form Heavy play-action based season. I just don't recall that." So, I started watching highlight vids on youtube (talk about brilliant research). Know what I saw? I saw a hell of a lot of 3 and 4 WR sets. I saw a great deal of split-backs. I saw DJ Shockley running PA QB Keepers. What I didn't see was our offense lining up and running a feature back into the line 35 times a game, and hoping for the best. In fact, over the past decade, we've only had 2 true "Feature" backs...and only one who people remember as a true standout. Though Musa Smith was a load, and very important to Richt's success in the early part of his career at UGA, he did not have the "wow" factor of great current-era SEC backs such as Mark Ingram, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, etc. Knowshon is arguably the only Prime-Time Feature back of the past 10 years at UGA. Generally, we get it done by committee.

I don't believe we can safely assume Crowell to be another Moreno. But, I could certainly see Malcome and Crowell being a tandem akin to Ware and Thomas. The question is...will they be used in this way?

Avid readers of this blog (is that even possible anymore with the scarcity of my posts?) will remember that I had similar hopes for King and Ealy last season. But, it was rare that the two were active at the same time. Moving into 2011, the team has had none of the disciplinary problems that have plagued us in recent years. What this tells me is that this team is going to fly right. In doing so, we will (barring injury) keep our boys on the field. You can't tell me that having two of Georgia's best running backs from the past two years in the backfield doesn't give us a shot.

I've seen posts recently questioning the ability of Ken Malcome only because twitter wasn't ablaze with talk of him during his redshirt season. This is leading people to think the kid sucks. It's funny...people are not only willing to crown Crowell as "The Next..." before he's taken his first fat steamer in a dorm toilet, but are equally willing to call Boo a "lame duck" before they've seen the results of a redshirt year. Malcome is known as a downhill power runner. I'm willing to bet he's learned a thing or two about blocking schemes and will be getting a majority of the snaps early. He'll get a chance to prove himself.

I think we have an interesting dichotomy in our backfield this season. On the one hand, you have the big, solid power back who came in and redshirted. He waited his turn, and now the crowd has cleared from in front of him. On the other, you have the flashy all-world super-hyped super freshman who just wants to play for three years, set the ground on fire, and then bolt to the NFL. Both are driven to succeed - and both can. Success need not be mutually exclusive.

For me, the greatest question is - will Mike Bobo find the plays in the playbook which will best utilize the tools in the shed? You see, Bobo wasn't at the reigns in 2005. I simply hope he paid attention to the notion of a split-back offense. Murray is a proven running threat. So, with him in shotgun and two tailbacks with him, along with three receivers (any combination of WR and TE), the defense has to account for a multitude of options. I think the battle-cry of many Richt-Bobo-Haters over the years has been the apparent lack of creativity in the offense. I still remember the J.O. who screamed out that HE knew which plays were coming at the Colorado game...right up until AJ housed that big one in the second (and the guy nearly passed out from surprise). I believe in Bobo. I believe in Richt. I believe in the Dawgs.

And I don't give a damn if you don't.

Go Dawgs.