The Warrior and the Worrier
A Georgia Bulldog Fan Blog
The Warrior is not happy.
The debacle in the Dome against Boise State has led to the 5 stages of grief this week:
The stages have come and gone in no particular order. In fact, they were all experienced at one time or another during the game itself.
We need more than effort. The team must block better, tackle better, coach better, adjust better, and execute better. Coach Dooley always said a team’s greatest improvement over the course of a season is between the first and second game. This Saturday against South Carolina will be the true test of that old coaching axiom. It had better be right!!
As fans, we are frustrated because we know everything is in place to be successful. Let’s face it, there are only 15-20 schools that have a realistic shot year in and year out to win the national championship and theoretically, Georgia is one of them. Sure, occasionally you will get a fluke like with Georgia Tech and Colorado in the pre-BCS 1990 season, but that is the exception to the rule. The schools that have a realistic shot each year have great:
2) fan support
3) financial support
4) conference monies and TV exposure
5) recruiting base of talented high school athletes
The Warrior desperately wants to believe we have all of these. As a realist and student of the game, the sum is now less than the total of its parts. It must be fixed!!!
There are a couple of schools who keep knocking on the door from outside these 7 usual criteria of championship teams, and we just helped Boise State kick the door in for their chances in 2011. It wasn’t just the loss that bothers the warrior. It was the way we lost. Instead of a cohesive game plan, we looked confused. Our points came on 3 big plays instead of consistent line play and execution.
It will be difficult to do, but we must reset this week as a team and as a fan base. We must put last week out of our minds. Sure, it happened, but it has done nothing to change our fate in the Southeastern Conference race. We have a brand new opportunity to redeem ourselves and we must take advantage of it. If we do not, there will be ramifications for this staff down the road. The body of work over the last 2-3 years is unacceptable, but the body of work for 2011 is still a work in progress. Give it a chance to unfold before you feed into the cycle of tweeting, blogging, and call-in show negativity that can tear a program apart. I would rather have recruits hear us support the team in times of struggle. The players and coaches know what needs to be fixed. They may be running out of time to fix it, but that will be Greg McGarity’s call to make at the appropriate time. This week is not that time.
Therefore, as fans, we need to show up loud and ready to rock the Cocks Saturday! We might all be surprised what a difference a week can make.
First of all, I desperately want our beloved Bulldogs to win…at everything. So don’t think that by worrying I am hoping to be right. Understand that for someone like me, who is most comfortable worrying about something, Georgia Football since Herschel has been perfectly suited for my talents.
Just as Jim Donnan said back in 2000 “I’ve been waiting my whole life to coach a team like this….” I have been worrying my whole life about a season like this. OK, maybe not my entire life, but at my age there’s only so much of my life I can remember. I’ll leave emotion out of my concerns, so here are the ones I can point to as evidence that the sky is falling and we had all buckle the chin straps on our hideous multi-colored, video game-like helmets (thanks, Nike, we have been acting like circus clowns enough without your help).
1. Manufactured Hope - This dynamic of the Bulldog program gets us EVERY time. For good programs like Alabama, optimism is based on promise of underclassmen, who showed at times the previous season, that they were capable of filling the vacancies left by early first-round entries in the NFL draft. Others can point to promise showed late in the previous year by new schemes and coordinators and surmise that comfort in the new system would surely bring success in the upcoming season. Georgia fans, can you honestly say that last year we saw someone at wideout who was even close to A.J.’s talent or Chris Durham’s desire? Did we have a secret defensive weapon on the sidelines who was really a better defensive end than Justin Houston or a better middle linebacker than Akeem? Did our offensive scheme show any progress at all last year? About the only thing we can hang our hats on for this first game is that we are guaranteed not to see Carlton Thomas running a sprint draw up the middle on third and eight. Our offense will be no different than what we have seen for the past ten years. Questionable calls or potentially good calls to the wrong personnel. Since we last played (well, not actually played but ran out on the field in Memphis pretending to be a major college team), the reports of a new direction are based on our players not getting arrested, a “Dream Team” of players who have never played a down, and a rededication of our coaches to instill discipline. While I hope we have seen the last sideline dancing and last suspended license headline in the papers and that a certain incoming Freshman and emulate another certain Freshman from three decades ago, I can’t help but worry that this is at best a desire on our part to look at this program through rose-colored glasses. I fear, fellow Dawgs, that this year will be no different than four of the past five.
2. The Opening Game - The national attention, the much publicized commitment to a new direction in the off-season, and an opponent eager with a good recent history of coming up big in big games, coupled with much of the same mediocre talent stuffed in some weird-looking uniforms, makes this the ultimate opportunity to wet the bed like never before. Folks, Boise State has really only one game on its schedule where it will be challenged physically and that’s us. Don’t give me the argument that ”they lost to Nevada last year so anything is possible.” Good programs and more importantly good coaches don’t let that mistake happen twice in less than a year. Team leaders like Kellen Moore use that as a rallying cry to motivate players during the summer. The Broncos will have had nearly eight full months to prepare a scheme that will confuse Todd Grantham’s defense. Let that settle in for a moment. Think of what Boise State has come up over the years on offense and then think of what we have come up with lately to counter any good strategy. Did you ever hear anyone say “that’s some good coaching right there” during an entire defensive series last year? When someone worries, there is a tendency to base it on the unknown. When I worry about the opening game, I’m not sure what to call it when my concerns center around Mike Bobo having to call a perfect game in order for us to win a scoring battle. Where is the uncertainty? Oh sure, some will say we have a tight end with talent that will overwhelm the Broncos’ linebackers and safeties. I will point out that whenever Orson Charles was in a position to take over, we went to fullback screens, while he watched from the sidelines. Some fans will point out our size advantage on the line of scrimmage. I will counter with I have seen for years now: When we need three yards, we send our wide-outs long. On third and one, we jump off-sides. What about that team speed we are hearing about? Yep, we may call for a flanker screen but our fastest players are usually on the sidelines dancing and chest-bumping.
3. The Myths About Boise State - In 2005, we all remember what happened in Athens. Please everyone, that was an SEC Championship team that beat up a team that was not ready for the big-time. Since then, our program has been in a state of decline, with the exception of our 2007 team, and Boise State has been firmly entrenched as a top ten team. What really has me worried is that the Broncos are being investigated for possible recruiting violations. That means there may not be the talent gap we are hoping for! In all seriousness, this is not a program like Hawaii with unexposed flaws and it’s not the same program we saw six years ago. Their offensive line is good. Its best player is a pre-season First-team All-American. Their QB is only eight wins from being the NCAA’s all-time leader in wins. He is known for accuracy and not making mistakes. Their defensive line is solid. Their coach knows that he can put all his eggs in this Georgia Dome basket. Win it, and they can coast to at least being argued for a shot at the title. Teams usually do better with an off-week to prepare. With 32 off-weeks, I worry that Boise State is poised to play the perfect game.
4. The Importance of “Have-To Moments.” - In the Mark Richt era, we have seen some success with scoring a lot of points in games where we don’t need a lot of points to win. We have seen great defensive plays against opponents who could not stop our offense. Rarely, though, do we see touchdowns come when we have to have them. Against South Carolina in 2001, Terrance Edwards can’t hold on to the ball in the end zone. Against Florida in 2002, he dropped a ball that could have sent us to the title game. In 2003, we had the Gators pushed to the brink of collapse and then couldn’t score from inside the ten. In 2004, we let Tennessee off the hook numerous times when a touchdown would have broken their backs. Instead they broke our hearts. Remember the 2007 SC game where we could not get the TD that could have been a Glory Glory moment? On defense, we have been equally devoid of those moments. Yes, there occasional ones (SC in 2002, and Tech in 2009), but we usually come up small. The 4th and a mile against Auburn in 2005, the inability to stop Vandy in 2006, and Reshard Jones is still whiffing against Tech that dreary day in 2008. I worry that Richt cannot call for those moments the way great coaches can. Vince Dooley had at least one it seemed every year. Mark seems to have at least two or three misses every single year. In a game like we will have against Boise State, ol’ Lady Luck needs to be dressed in red. I worry that when the offense HAS to score, we are relying on Bobo but will end up watching too much Blair Walsh. If we see Drew Butler punt more than twice, it’s game over. I am also worried that this great pro-style defensive scheme that we have will not be a strategically sound match for the reverses and trick plays we’ll see. Those plays are usually stopped by teams that are well-coached with smart players.
So, the worrier in me is deeply concerned. I see this as the first of four losses we will have this year. Stay tuned to find out the others. Worrier’s prediction: Boise State 48 – Dawgs 27. Let the dancing begin….
Here we go!! It’s the favorite time of year for many of us as college football is about to get started. Every heart in the Bulldog Nation beats with optimism that a new season brings with it the chance for perfection (every heart that is except for my counterpart, the Worrier). The Worrier wants perfection like all of us. His heart simply doesn’t beat with optimism that it will happen.
Let me get a couple of things out of the way first. For the politically-correct people who may be reading this blog, we realize there are real warriors out there who wear the uniform of the United States of America and put themselves in harm’s way everyday so that we can enjoy our lives and our freedoms. We have incredible respect for these Warriors and thank them all past, present, and future for their service. However, through the years, many military metaphors have become commonplace when describing football (the bomb, the blitz, going into battle, take no prisoners, etc.). Please enjoy this blog (and the poetic license taken with the term Warrior) for what it is…a fun way for two fans to share different perspectives on Georgia Bulldog football games.
The second matter of housekeeping concerns my optimism. I am not blind to last season’s record or recent downward trends over the past few years. I am not a naïve optimist, and will point out weaknesses as I see them. I do not bury my head in the sand. It is my fervent hope and belief that the team’s strengths will prevail in any match-up against our opposition, and our weaknesses will be minimized. This is the mindset I choose to have going into every game.
Last year’s 6-7 record was unacceptable. However, many of the easily recognizable weaknesses were addressed during the off-season. Therefore, here are the reasons we should be optimistic going into 2012:
1) As a group, the players have learned that jail is not an acceptable destination during a night out on the town.
2) Some “cancers” are gone from the team. These “cancers” weren’t specifically identified by the players or coaches, but we can all go down a short list. To counteract negative attitudes destroying a team from within, there is now accountability to maintain a positive frame of mind. Richt’s newly implemented “energy vampire” concept of calling guys out when they are being too negative may seem insignificant, but the players have bought into the concept. The fans should too. Time to get on the bus.
3) This is the second year of the 3-4 defense so players will be able to react instinctively and not be thinking about every assignment. While the Warrior knew Willie Martinez was getting outcoached in game planning from Sunday through Friday, and then getting outcoached in adjustments and play-calling on Saturdays, the defense showed remarkable statistical improvement under Grantham his first season. His NFL experience means he will be prepared for anything Boise can throw at him. Getting off the field on 3rd and long needs to improve, and should since it has been a point of defensive focus this off-season.
4) Nose guard is key in a 3-4 defense, and a resurgent Kwame Geathers and the JUCO stand-out John Jenkins have given the Dogs depth and competitiveness at this important position.
5) Aaron Murray is the quarterback. Despite last season’s debacle in record, Murray had one of the greatest seasons in Georgia history!! 3049 yards, 24 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions!!! The only way he’ll regress is if he decides to wear that damn glove again.
6) Richt seems to be rejuvenated, perhaps because there is no other option. His job is on the line. He knows it. The Bulldog Nation knows it. The best thing to happen to Richt may have been the arrest of Damon Evans. The Evans firing meant a new Athletic Director, and in his new position, Greg McGarity wanted every opportunity to evaluate the program and the coach in his own time. This probably bought Richt another season. If Evans were still the AD at the end of 2010, the downward trend over 3 years would have probably gotten Richt fired. With that extra season, Richt took a step back and looked at many facets of the program. A year earlier, he replaced some coaches. In 2011, he seems to have replaced some of his own procedures and approaches. This is the same man who coached us to three SEC Championship games winning two titles. He hasn’t forgotten how to coach. He may have been too loyal to assistant coaches, but he has the fire in his belly.
7) Opening against a strong opponent as a premiere game the first weekend of the season has increased the focus and preparation throughout the program. They’ve had 8 months to prepare for us, but we’ve also had 8 months to prepare for them. No player wanted to do something stupid in the off-season and risk suspension for this game (although Carlton Thomas apparently forgot about the season opener).
8) Favorable schedule – The Dogs first 2 games are tough, no doubt about it, but the overall schedule favors a great season. Our western opponents are not LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas. We play Mississippi State at home and travel to Ole Miss. There are so-called “trap” games, but the schedule lines up in a good way provided the Dogs take care of business the first 2 weeks.
9) Strength and Conditioning – This new approach under Joe Tereshinski is the fuel behind the fire. All of the players say they are in better shape than ever before and in maximum condition for the 4th quarter. This year, at the beginning of the fourth quarter when we stand and raise our hands in the air with our fingers extended, it will mean something. This is our quarter. We own it!! We have trained for it, conditioned for it, and worked for it. It is our quarter and we are taking it!!
10) Excellent special teams – Special teams often get overlooked, but these are as vital as any other aspect of the game. We have the best tandem of punter and place-kicker in the country with Drew Butler and Blair Walsh, Brandon Boykin is a feared kick-returner, and (in what was a huge improvement from the previous couple of seasons) the Dogs kickoff coverage team led the SEC in 2010.
11) Dream Team recruiting class really improved the competition all over the depth chart. Some of these freshmen are too gifted to redshirt and will have immediate impact.
12) The combat uniform drama is out of the way – In a brilliant move, these were unveiled at picture day so fans can get all the talk out of their system. Love them or hate them, the players will be wearing them. In another brilliant move, Richt took the team to the Georgia Dome this past week for a walk-through practice. They wore the new uniforms and got a feel for the Georgia Dome. They’ve already had their fashion show and seen themselves in the mirror. Now, when they get ready to play Boise, they will be focused on the game and not their attire (as has been the case in some other forgettable uniform changes).
Are there questions marks? Absolutely, there are many, but a question mark does not mean failure. Here are a few of the bigger questions marks:
1) The offensive line lacks depth and under-achieved last year. There is a new coach, Will Friend. This group must be cohesive immediately.
2) We’ve lost AJ Greene to the NFL. Our team was in disarray at the beginning of last season when he served his 4-game suspension. The offense improved upon his return. While there is not another receiver with his ability on the roster, off-season reports indicate the wide receiver corps as a unit is vastly improved. Murray may not have a first round draft pick to go to like he did with AJ, but the committee of receivers should be stronger as a group (which also means the defense can’t key on any one particular player). Also, Georgia’s depth at tight end is encouraging. Murray can more than compensate for the losses of AJ and Kris Durham by spreading the ball around even more than he did last year.
3) Running back - This is a critical position, but it is the belief here that the losses of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King will be addition by subtraction. Richard Samuel switched from offense to defense to help his team out, and now has switched back from defense to offense. This dedication to team above self is an amazing example for others to emulate. He has a few starts under his belt at this position, and can be counted on. The highly-touted freshman Isaiah Crowell has all the tools to succeed, and will have a positive impact immediately. He must protect Murray during passing plays, but I cannot wait to see Crowell in the open field. His ability to cut sharply on the Georgia Dome turf will fool many Broncos defenders.
Kellen Moore may be a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he has lost his top 2 wide receivers and has a new offensive coordinator this season. Sure, they’ve had many months to prepare for this game from a strategic standpoint, but execution in front of a hostile crowd is a different matter entirely. He is a veteran quarterback that has compiled lots of great numbers in recent years. It will be tough to rattle him, but our secondary is veteran and will be up to the challenge.
It is the belief here that the speed of our defense (especially on the Georgia Dome turf) will be the difference in the game. How is Kellen Moore going to throw the ball while he’s lying on his back thanks to a strong edge rush or a blitzing linebacker or safety? We’ll be so fast, no one will look open. He’ll drop back and be convinced there are 15 red jerseys on defense.
I don’t believe the best quarterback on the field will be Kellen Moore. The best quarterback on the field Saturday night will be Aaron Murray.
It’s time to spread the red!! Warrior’s Prediction Georgia 31 Boise 24…Go Dawgs!!