Mailbag: The Georgia-Tennessee edition

semerson@macon.comSeptember 27, 2012 

ATHENS – True story: I was a couple minutes late to Mark Richt’s post-practice presser on Wednesday, and tried to sneak in the back door. But Richt saw me.

Smiling, the head coach looked from me over to a few fellow media members.

“Don’t tell him what I told you about Rambo and Ogletree,” Richt said.

And they didn’t, the scoundrels. Because my zipper got stuck in the bathroom, the real Rambo-Ogletree story is out there and the readers of this blog – literally dozens of you – are left in the dark. And that’s a shame.

In all seriousness, it’s good that even Richt can have a joke about this, and it’s even better it’s almost over.

But … not … quite … over ….

Mr. Emerson, my question this week is what is the status this week for Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree, and their availability for this week’s game?
- MSgt John Joiner, Barksdale AFB, La

First off, are members of the armed services now referring to me as Mr. Emerson? I think we have everything backwards. In any case, thank you for your service, and as always I move service members to the front of the mailbag line.

Until UGA confirms anything, I’m not going to say anything definitive either way. But let’s line up the evidence that Rambo and Ogletree are back this week:

- Back in the spring, Rambo’s high school coach said it was a four-game suspension. It’s been four games.

- Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett have been quoted in the past week saying the team gets a couple guys back.

- Mitchell, having played the first four games at cornerback, is working more on offense this week. Now why would you do that this week, of all weeks, when you’re about to play a team whose strength is the passing game, unless you were expecting your All-American safety back?

- The hug that Mark Richt gave Rambo as the Vanderbilt game ended.

And the evidence that Rambo, at least, is not playing:

- His tweet on Wednesday saying “one more week and I’m back,” followed by “Free Rambo.” A couple tweets that may have been in jest.

So there’s all the evidence. You tell me. I know which way I’m leaning.

It has been said of UGA fans that we are never completely sold on winning future games, no matter the opponent. We are pessimist when it comes to the UGA football team. This, in my opinion, is the Vince Dooley-Larry Munson effect. I am afflicted with this pessimism. My wife thinks Ga is 0-4 because she doesn’t watch the games, but listens to me as I watch and nitpick the mistakes. This game with TN does have me concerned. The return of Rambo and Ogletree is positive for the defense, but I just see some badly timed penalties coming our way. They have not played in a game in 9 months and there will be some rust, and I am concerned they will be ready to show their stuff. However, the positive side of this is that they should be ready for SC. Have you been able to talk to these two and determine their attitude?
- Tom, Lebanon, TN

The Tennessee game scares me. Tennessee has tremendous ability to score quick, and who knows, their defense may play lights out. I feel like our defense will be consistent, but all it will take are a couple of errors, and they score quickly. How is Richt going to prevent a mental let down and keep the offense playing as well after such a great game against Vanderbilt?
- Jim in Tennessee

Do we take it as some sort of sign that its two Georgia fans in the Volunteer state writing? Well, perhaps not, since others wrote stating the same concern. I’ll do my best to answer.

You never truly know a team’s attitude, mindset or focus until the game. Maybe warm-ups. Maybe the way they run on the field before kickoff. During the week, all I can tell you is the mentality seems pretty similar to every other week so far, with less players expressing specific reasons to be more up for this game than Missouri (old man football) or Vanderbilt (Franklin-Grantham). Lately, Tennessee just hasn’t given Georgia much reason to hate them.

That’s why Richt brought up the 2004 game with the team on Monday. I thought that was interesting, because usually Richt’s strategy isn’t to use any emotional tricks until late in the week, usually on Friday. This week, Richt wanted the idea planted in their heads early that they better not be looking ahead to South Carolina, and to be wary of history repeating itself.

Kinda surprised to see Georgia's turnover ratio is 0. Guess that's not good, not bad. Any concern coming out of Athens, given we should have feasted on the teams we've played so far?
- Dawg's Dawg

Perhaps, but I see it as kind of an “eh” stat at this point. Keep in mind that Rambo – the guy with eight interceptions last year – hasn’t been out there. Neither has Ogletree, who had three forced fumbles last year, despite missing six games. The Georgia offense hasn’t exactly been turnover-prone: One of the three interceptions was the pick-six by Christian LeMay in garbage time. One of the three fumbles was by Malcolm Mitchell on punt return, an issue Richt has said is a concern.

Delving deeper into it, Georgia’s opponents have actually fumbled it 11 times, but the Bulldogs have only recovered it four times. So the bigger problem may just be not hopping on those loose balls.

It looked like Vandy was picking on Malcolm Mitchell a little bit last week. Think Bray and his WRs will try to take advantage?
- Scott Cogar

Yes, if for no other reason than Tennessee doesn’t have much choice. The Volunteers have to at least try to run the ball to keep Georgia honest, but the strength is the passing game and they have to ride that. Mitchell isn’t exactly the weak link at cornerback – given the size of Justin Hunter (6-4) and Cordarelle Patterson (6-3), it’s possible that the Vols may go after Damian Swann and Branden Smith (each 5-11) just as much.

I always wonder why, when we draw the defense off sides, that we coach our QB to take the snap and take a knee. We have seen that backfire occasionally, but more than that, it seems like a wasted snap to just hope for the flag. Have any of our coaches every addressed our philosophy on this? Just seems like it is an opportunity for a free play. (The only reason I can see doing what we do is that the timing may be off, thereby a chance of injury???)
- Chris Pope

I used to think it was pretty ridiculous to just take a knee, but I’ve lately come to understand the thinking: Not necessarily avoid injury, but end the play and take the guaranteed five yards, rather than run a play that could result in an offensive penalty that would negate the offsides. Still, my sense is that Murray has the freedom to decide – if it was going to be a pass play anyway, especially a deep one, he’s going to let the play go and heave it. If it’s going to be a run play, take a knee. But that’s my sense, not based on any actual reporting.

Up to now, it seems that if Mark Richt did not have a comment about whether a player was suspended for a game, then the player was indeed suspended for a game. The fact that he is not commenting about players for Saturday's game is either very shrewd or just another indicator that the players are not returning yet. What do you think the chances are of Richt beginning his next press conference with the statement, "I have no comment as to whether or not Aaron Murray is suspended for the next game for a violation of team rules."?
- Ohio Bulldog

Ha! True, he has not in fact said that Murray is not suspended. So I guess we better check on that too.

Richt’s cageyness this week, I suspect, is just because he doesn’t want to set a precedent by declaring them eligible the moment they’re eligible. If he did that, then in the future any no-comment on a suspension would be taken as confirmation that they are in fact suspended.

It’s the same reason coaches usually don’t comment on reports about a job, even if they’re not interested. Don’t set a precedent that no-comment means there’s something there.

What has Tennessee done to change people's perception of their team over the last month? This is the same team that just four weeks ago people were predicting a 5-7 record and Dooley's demise. I know their offense has put up big numbers, but that has been against below average competition. The one time they have played a legitimate team they hung around for a bit before getting obliterated. I still think this is the same team people and the experts expected, and the line (-13) reflects that. Is there any legitimate reason/evidence that you can point to that should make me think otherwise about this particular Tennessee team?
-NorthSTRATFORDdawg

Honestly, I think the perception of Tennessee is right back where it was at the start of the season: People were very high on the Volunteers after their convincing win over N.C. State, but the second-half collapse to Florida, and being tied with Akron at the half, erased any confidence that was built up. That’s why I think the betting line is about right. I’m probably going to pick Georgia to cover the spread, but that’s because I expect a 14-18 point game, not a blowout, as I expected against Vanderbilt.

Tennessee’s explosive potential on offense will always have some people thinking it has a chance to pull an upset. The question is when: Its next four games are all against ranked teams (Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina) and three of those are on the road.

1-I have never noticed coaches treating injuries as a secret until the season. Other than the RamboTree Saga, I saw Kiffin walk away from reporters when one asked about an injury and I just saw this interview with Dantonio (http://www.banksoftheredcedar.com/mark-dantonios-post-game-interview/) where he brusquely informed reporters that he doesn't talk about injuries. Is this just a new fad or is it just something I am noticing now because of Georgia's own drama?

2-If you don't want to answer another injury question, which is understandable, here is an alternative: Although the SEC is cyclical, teams still spend the majority of the time at the top, middle, or bottom of the league. If the SEC has the same 14 teams in 10 years, where do you see A&M and Mizzou? I wouldn't be surprised if A&M were a UGA/UT type program, while I think Mizzou is in danger of becoming a UK type program. Yes, I know, they are only two SEC games in. But, without a history of success, a few bad years can ruin the support for a program and Mizzou is going to have a bad first few years in the SEC.
- Sam Irvin

1-My story in today’s papers on the brewing debate over injury reporting may answer some of your questions. The suspension policy, like UGA’s new injury policy, was decided over the summer. Richt and McGarity have each expressed a preference for keeping that stuff under wraps, even injuries. The problem with that is that it will open a Pandora’s box of gamblers, media and regular fans seeking out info: Who sprained his ankle? Will so-and-so play on Saturday? All the speculation and (often poor) reporting you’ve seen on the suspensions would happen every week of every season. Frankly, there’s a reason the NFL does it the way it does with injury reports. Coaches may not love it, but the alternative could be a disaster.

2-I think those comparisons for Texas A&M and Missouri are pretty fair. Texas A&M is a school with a lot of built-in advantages, especially in fan support, and as the only SEC school in Texas its recruiting should be bolstered the next few years. Missouri is a good school but it doesn’t carry football as a huge priority. In a lot of ways South Carolina would be a better comparison than Kentucky, but USC-East cares a lot more for football than Mizzou or Kentucky.
I distinctly remember the Volunteer victory over the Dawgs back in 2004. Beating LSU that year was amazing, and then only one week later to lose to a struggling Tennessee was just jaw dropping. And this year will be no different with Tennessee coming in hot and heavy. If the Georgia players get too focused on South Carolina the following week and not take the Vols seriously, we could easily lose everything this year. I know Coach Richt is using the ‘04 game to try to keep the players focused on this upcoming game, but what other ways are the Georgia coaching staff doing to ensure that the Georgia players take this game seriously and not allow another upset to occur?
- Ray Bailey, Fort Sill, OK

I was at that game in 2004, too, and remember not thinking Georgia would lose until that last-ditch David Greene pass hit the ground in the end zone. It’s so interesting, and yet understandable, that a game against Tennessee, sandwiched in between games with Vanderbilt and South Carolina, is considered a trap game. Imagine saying that five years ago!

Going back to the preseason, I’ve sensed a business-like approach from this team, not using emotion as a huge motivator this season. There was a bit for Missouri and Vanderbilt, but I don’t think that was the difference in either game. They were just very interesting sub-plots. In the case of Tennessee, this is a test for the Bulldogs on whether they really do have that week-to-week, business-like approach this year.

Two things. First, I'm going to ask about a former UGA player. What are your thoughts on ol Zach Mettenberger?? Preseason, lots of folks seemed to think he was the missing piece to add to a dominating run game for LSU. Your thoughts? Secondly, if the SEC had replacement officials and they were screwing up games as bad as the NFL refs, do you think SEC fans would riot??
- Zachda

1-It’s too early to bury Mettenberger, but when he was talked about as being this savior for the LSU offense, I kept wondering if this was the same guy that got beat out by Aaron Murray three years ago. There’s been a misconception out there that Mettenberger got kicked out then Murray won the job. Nope, the other way around. That’s not to say Mettenberger isn’t any good. I just thought expectations should be tempered, and the Auburn game may have done that.

2-NFL fans were about to riot. I shudder to think what SEC fans would have done. I have visions of some of those Brazilian soccer clips where scared referees are being chased off the field, and no one is helping.

1-What the heck happened with Kelsey Griffin?

2-As an eternal pessimist, how do you see us stopping the passing game of Tennessee? If we put Branden Smith or Devin Bowman on an island, they will get destroyed. I assume the plan will be to play Commings and Mitchell on obvious passing downs? If we don’t get pressure on Bray, I can see this going down to the wire.
- Montgomery Dawg

1-Griffin, for those unaware, is the defensive tackle who was a Georgia commitment for a memorable three hours last Friday. His commitment was announced a little after noon, and then a few hours later it was announced that he actually wasn’t committed. There were a couple reports that UGA didn’t accept the commitment, but obviously UGA can’t comment on recruits, and Griffin’s camp clammed up. I haven’t done any reporting on this, so I can’t pass along any hard information. Griffin’s situation may have to wait till after the season, when Georgia’s coaches have more time. Or maybe the bye week.

2-I’m not sure you’ll see Bowman in much single coverage, unless someone gets hurt. Or if Rambo somehow is still suspended. You are correct that the matchup of Georgia’s cornerbacks to Tennessee’s receivers is the Bulldogs’ top concern; but there are other players on defense, and Florida rattled Bray with pressure. Plus, Commings and Smith aren’t exactly chopped liver. They’ll probably both be in the NFL next year.

1-Perhaps its just my untrained eye but we seemed to get away from the "hurry up" in the Vandy game on offence. We still didn't huddle but we didn't seem to be running plays as quickly as we seemed to be running at points in the Missouri game. I assumed at the time that it was because we were moving the ball so effectively down tempo there wasn't a reason to pick it up. What do you think Bobo/Richt's "default speed" for the offence is? This is not a criticism of the offence.

2-We seemed to be playing fairly conservative defense. I don't think I have really seen us rush more than 4 players but a handful of times through the first four games. It doesn't seem to have been really something we needed to do because Jarvis Jones is so good but it seems that given how good JJ is forcing an offensive line to block Jenkin/A. Jones/Washington/JJ + one more would be substantially harder. It makes us more vulnerable to short passes I suppose but we appear to be a "bend but don't break" defense at the moment. Any idea if we will bring more pressure in the UT Game given their passing game is more vertical than we have seen in recent weeks?
- John Wilkerson

I am now in the awkward position of disagreeing with both your premises. I didn’t see much difference in the offensive speed, nor have I seen a too-conservative defense so far. But I will attempt a comment on each subject:

1-The no-huddle doesn’t quite have a default speed, per se', and it’s never seemed the strategy was aimed only at keeping the defense off-balance. What Richt, Bobo and Murray talk about the most is being able to run more plays per game. In 2010, the year before the hurry-up was instituted, Georgia averaged 62.6 plays per game: Last year it was 72 per game, and so far this year’s 68. (I’d attribute the slight decrease this year to the fact three of the games were out of hand in the fourth quarter, leading to a slowed-down offense and more run plays.)

2-Gentry Estes, my colleague over at Dawgs247.com, who breaks down each game for his film study segment, says they actually have done a lot of blitzing. I’ve noticed that too, especially with Jarvis Jones and his 4.5 sacks. What’s lacked so far is sacks from the linemen, but those guys for whatever reason got off to slow starts the past two years as well. If they’ve held back any it’s been to help out the secondary, missing the key players, but I can also remember some defensive black blitzes from Swann. As for this upcoming game, obviously Grantham isn’t going to give away his strategy, but he likes to mix coverages and blitzes as the game goes on, and I’m sure that won’t change. What will be interesting is whether they play a more straight 3-4, or go to a 4-2-5 more often to combat the passing attack.

Who do you think will have the bigger impact of the (presumable) returning starters - Rambo or Ogletree? Having Rambo back should allow UGA to move Commings back to corner creating a better matchup with Tennessee's larger receivers (Branden Smith had some trouble with Vandy's big receivers last week) while also having a ball hawking safety over the top, but will that even matter if Jarvis, Tree, and the rest of that front seven are in the backfield harassing Bray all day?
- Dylan

My tendency is to say that for this game Rambo’s impact will be bigger. Georgia’s defense has given up too many big plays (20 yards or more) and I mentioned turnovers earlier. Rambo helps more with that. Ogletree may be more important on a game-by-game basis, and especially next week against Marcus Lattimore and South Carolina.

Love your work - just keep doing as you are.

My Statement: Mark Richt teams have a history of under-achieving after big wins and big losses. My question: Do you think they have rectified that preparation issue?
- David Beal

“Just keep doing as you are.” Sounds like a great motto for life. Thanks David!

I think I’ve addressed the whole preparation and avoiding-a-letdown issue, but I’ll just reiterate: We don’t know until they play. I’m not sure Richt knows. He’s been cautious in saying this team has a more mature mindset than previous years. Secretly, I think he thinks it does. Or at least hopes.

I do know they were blasting “Rocky Top” at practice on Wednesday. If that counts for something.

Are we as Georgia fans getting a little over confident in this offensive line this early in the season? We haven’t played anyone with a good to decent defensive line (South Carolina and Florida come to mind) as of yet. I saw the Seth and Gentry show but I’m still not sold until we play someone better on the D line.
- Cleveland Williams III

Will Friend agrees with you. He told us this week that the offensive line “ain’t done anything yet,” and credited the skill position players for what the offense has done so far. I think Friend is just acting as bad cop a little bit, and the line has been better, particularly in run blocking. They’ve been decent, let’s put it that way, and with the skill players they have on offense, decent is good enough. Or it has been so far.

Question for you - coming into the season I wasn't too concerned with a big drop off at TE, however Lynch has had a few rough games...dropped passes, Murray screaming at him for running the wrong play, etc. The TEs are non-existent in the passing game. What is the coaches view of his play and do you think we'll start seeing Rome more?
- Ray

The main thing at tight end has been the opening up of the offense, often in the form of four-wide receiver sets, has mitigated the need for tight ends. Lynch had a rough start to the season but he’s been better.

“I think those guys are doing a nice job right now of blocking the edge, and doing some things in our running game … obviously the backs are finding the creases. I think for the most part when called on they’ve answered the bell in the passing game.”

Gut feeling: Would Mason have started 13/13 against Vandy?
- Parrish Walton

Vanderbilt wouldn’t have even shown up. Or, at the coin toss James Franklin would have had his captains tell the refs they defer … till Hutson Mason leaves college. It’s just pointless to try.

Tell me the rule about spiking the ball. If a QB is in the tackle box and throws the ball away, it is intentional grounding. If the QB walks up behind the center and spikes the ball, it's not intentional. There could not be a more intentional grounding call than that. A play is drawn up to be able to spike the ball. Please explain the rule for this old disabled vet. I have been watching your videos and have decided that if someone cuts your hands off, you would not be able to say a word. HA.
- Johnny Bowen

Johnny, you’ve made the same observation as my wife: I am a man who talks with my hands. I do this around the house too, apparently. I’ve made note of it and am trying to make it less distracting. From now on I may hold a football. Or a clip-board. Or a Margarita.

The spike is written into the rules as an allowable “kill” to a play. It’s as simple as that. But it has to come right at the snap, and by definition it does, because if you’re trying to stop the clock obviously you wouldn’t want to dither.

Where is Ray Drew? I thought he'd have more playing time by now.
- Drew Stewart

Problem is, who would he play over? Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington? Well, if Jones can’t play Saturday, then Drew may get his chance, but he would also have to beat out Garrison Smith.

1- Last year as part of the CBS-ESPN deal to allow LSU-Alabama to be shown at night by CBS, CBS agreed to give ESPN future scheduling considerations. Do you think that the UGA-USC game was the payoff for that deal? If not, what is the rational for showing LSU-UF instead of UGA-USC? 2- It seems like Mitchell could be the odd man out on both offense and defense. With all of the suspended players back, what is Mitchell’s role on defense for the remainder of the season? Looks to me like he is the fourth CB in the game behind Smith, Commings, and Swann. Likewise, the offense has been clicking with King, Brown, and Bennett. What is the risk of Mitchell disrupting the current flow on offense? Mitchell seems like too good of a player to make play full time on at least one side of the ball.
- Jimmy

1-No, ESPN gets its trade later. CBS just opted for LSU-Florida. Two main reasons: First, CBS has Georgia this week and it had South Carolina last week. Second, the combined fan bases of LSU and Florida are more than Georgia and South Carolina. (LSU and Florida are just a tick above Georgia, in my estimation, but there’s a steep fall to South Carolina, which has some cache’ with Steve Spurrier, but it’s still a relatively small-market program.)

2- You raise an interesting point with Mitchell, and one to watch going forward. I’ve said all along that until Mitchell shows he can be a lock-down corner, at this point he’s just cornerback depth, while on offense he could be the go-to receiver. Through four games the evidence is he’s needed more on defense than offense. Still, Bobo never misses an opportunity to say he wants Mitchell over there. Grantahm wants him full-time on defense with some offensive packages. So, it’s still a fluid situation, as they might say.

I have been following the Soap Opera going on in Columbia between Steve Spurrier and Ron Morris, the reporter from the newspaper The State. In case you haven't heard about it, Ron Morris gets paid to critique The Game Cocks football program. Well that just don't set well with Mr Spurrier's LARGER THAN LIFE EGO. Last year, just hours before it was announced that Garcia had been dismissed from the team, Spurrier refused to take questions as long as Ron Morris was in the room. It stemmed from an article that Ron Morris wrote accusing Spurrier of stealing an athlete from the Basketball program. Well now it seems that Morris wrote an article before the Missouri game questioning Spurrier's decision to start Conner Shaw over concerns that his shoulder might not be healed enough. Basically saying that Spurrier was placing a higher priority on winning over Conner Shaw's health. Now Spurrier is not taking any questions from the press again. I am no fan of Spurrier and his LARGER THAN LIFE EGO, but that being said, the man is a great coach and I am surprised that he let's a reporter or anybody get next to him like that. I like the way Coach Richt handles it when asked about what reporters are saying about him. His standard answer is "I don't read it and I tell my players and Coaches not too." That just seems like that's the smart thing to do, but Spurrier's LARGER THAN EGO will not let him do that. All I got to say is, You Go Ron Morris, pour it on baby. What are your thoughts on this?
- Larry W. Tucker

Full disclosure: I worked with Ron Morris for five years at The State, so I know him well and I know full well about his relationship with Spurrier. They were once very close, and have known each other for 25 years. That makes the events of the past year surprising.

I don’t want to get too much into my thoughts on this because I’m too close to the situation. I can say that Spurrier is surprisingly sensitive to criticism for a guy, as you allude, who has had a lot of success. But I don’t think that’s wholly unusual. At heart these well-paid coaches are still human beings who have egos and don’t like having those egos dinged.

Also, while in general I agree that Richt handles criticism a bit better, don’t be misled: He reads the papers, and knows what’s being written about him. And I’ve actually never heard him, in my years covering this beat, tell his players not to read the media. And trust me, from my interactions with Richt and the players, they read. To his credit, Richt has never denied it. Of course there’s a difference between reading it and caring much about it.

As a former reporter, it seems to me that coaches have joined players in having a lack of respect for the media. Do you agree? If so, is social media and "fan bloggers" to blame, or is it merely coaches now make so much money, they just don't care?
- Sundawg

It depends on the player or coach. Generally our dealings with UGA players and coaches are very good. Richt is as even-keep with the media as he tends to be in other situations. Mark Fox is pretty good too. I have to admit, and I don’t just say this because I’m here, but UGA is a good spot in that regard, in that there is an air of professionalism and mutual respect between players and media members. We clash, but each understand where the other is coming from.

Now, at some other spots it’s different. Personally, it would take a lot to put up with a Lane Kiffin. There have been a few instances across the SEC that have made me glad I don’t cover a certain coach.

There is a sense among some coaches that they can bypass the media and take their message straight to the public, whether it be via social media or other new media. You see this with politicians too. But the media maintains relevant through our reporting, and the fact of the media that as long as we remain objective in our coverage, we will have a certain credibility in our journalism that at least some of the public will always crave.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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