Mailbag: The Georgia-Florida edition

semerson@macon.comOctober 25, 2012 

ATHENS - I would be remiss if I didn't start this out by saying thank you to Shawn Williams for providing a much-needed spark this week ... to the media.

I don't know if Williams' rant will pay off for Georgia, but it sure made the week a lot more interesting, didn't it?

But if you'll allow me a bit of editorializing, it was also refreshing to hear a player speak his mind. There's too much pretense and coach-speak in today's sports world. (Except for Twitter, where the tweets of players offer an opportunity to be parsed and blown out of proportion.)

That's partly why Williams' comments got so much traction: The surprising honesty. That doesn't mean every player has to go out there and rip people; I don't doubt that Aaron Murray and Jarvis Jones mean 100 percent of what they say, even if it's almost always positive. And I also understand the need to keep some things within the team. If I have a disagreement with my boss or a co-worker, it's usually better handled behind the scenes.

But when someone feels strongly about something, especially when that player and that subject is within the public view, it's refreshing to see people take a stand. And it seems many Georgia fans felt the same way.

Not every question this week was about Williams and his comments. But let's start with that subject:

Is it just me, or does the lack of anger aside from the 2 LBs essentially called out speak volumes about Williams’ comments?
- Parrish Walton, via Twitter

Not necessarily. It’s understandable that Gilliard and Robinson would be offended, but for everyone else to agree with Williams … isn’t that better than disagreeing? If you’re Georgia, don’t you hope that playing too soft and without hunger is the problem, and not something schematic, or that can’t be fixed.

Look, the real verdict on this will be whether the defense plays any better on Saturday, and beyond. Williams’ comments could serve as a wake-up call, as Jarvis Jones said, and a spark. Or they could just be the symptom of the disease, rather than the cause. The one thing I don’t think they’ll do is hurt. Given the talent on defense, it’s not like they could’ve played much worse.

I'm hearing rumors of 30-40 MPH winds this weekend. Let's assume that it is very windy. My thought is that this would do nothing but hurt the Dawgs considering how little Florida depends on their passing game and how critical it might be for UGA (especially if the running game is shutdown). Is this one more reason to feel less than optimistic, or would wind have less of an impact than I am thinking it could?
- Charlie Stern, Atlanta

This is going to be pretty interesting to watch. The weather system came on so late in the week that it wasn’t like each team had a chance to gameplan for it. (The last full-pad practice is Wednesday, Thursday is mostly a walk-through and Friday is a travel day.)

I would tend to agree that high winds hurt Georgia’s offense, which is more dependent on the pass, and helps Florida, which ranks 104th nationally in pass offense. So if you’re the Bulldogs you’re hoping the wind forecast – now down to about 18 mph-projected winds on Saturday – keeps getting downgraded.

I suspect we’re going to spend the next 48 hours hitting “refresh” on weather.com.

I'm sure you'll get some questions about Shawn Williams' comments, and I just read your commentary on it this morning. My question is what this tells us about the dynamics and chemistry (or lack thereof) on the team. The fact that he intentionally used the media to communicate to his teammates (after trying to speak to them directly first) tells me he didn't believe they were listening. It seems to me that in a healthy team dynamic this is the kind of thing that usually gets discussed behind closed doors in "player only" meetings. So even if Williams' bold step positively motivates the defense's performance on Saturday, this just seems like a bad sign of the internal dynamics, chemistry, and leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Am I reading too much into it?
- Dog44, Johnson City, TN

It’s certainly a fair assessment from afar, and could end up being right. But speaking as someone inside the castle, let me provide the push-back on that.

Shawn Williams is outspoken in general. He has a history of speaking candidly with the media, and when I’ve asked him about that he cites his father urging him to always be open and honest. Now, maybe he did feel in this situation he needed to go public, and he did say at the end of the interview that “hopefully this will get back to them and piss them off.” But if there was one person on this team who you could count on to speak his mind to the media, and not have any particular agenda, it’s Williams.

I know every fan-base wants to win every game but have you ever seen another ban base that is more critical than the Georgia fan base. I don’t read other schools blog coverage but it seems that the Georgia fan base has unrealistic expectations that this university will win every game every year. Do they not understand that there is only one national champion every year?
- Cleveland Williams, Stone Mountain

I’d love to see a scientific poll of Georgia fans on the following questions:

-Do you really think Mark Richt should go? - Do you really believe Mike Bobo should go? - What’s your minimum expectation for the program every season?

Right now, the feelings of the fan base are reflected only through message boards, Twitter and other outlets. I’m not casting aspersions on those fans – hell, you make this mailbag possible! But it’s also not an accurate reading of the fan base, because those who write in and call in to talk radio tend to be more negative. That goes for sports in general.

To answer your question, Cleveland, I have said often that Georgia fans are much more self-critical than South Carolina, which I covered for four years. And I consider that a check-mark in Georgia’s favor. Does it go overboard sometimes? Yeah. But better to be overly critical than only tolerating sunshine pumping.

First off, do you think Jarvis will be 100% against Florida? We definitely need him with Abry Jones out. Also, do you think the problem with the defense could be the system? I like Grantham as D-coordinator, but I can't ever remember getting gashed by the run like this. I feel like a 4-3 is just better for the SEC, which is a run first conference. The 3-4 relies on the linebackers to stuff the run up the middle, and right now our guys just aren't getting off their blocks to do that. What are your thoughts on 3-4 vs. 4-3 in the SEC?
- Charles Sligh, Athens

My guess is Jarvis will be close to full strength on Saturday, but not quite 100 percent. The good news for Georgia is that Jones hasn’t been 100 percent after the opener this season: He admitted this week he strained his groin early against Missouri but stayed out there, and look how that turned out.

As for the defense, Alabama runs the 3-4, so I don’t think you can say that’s the problem. Plus, Georgia was great against the run last year. It’s not the system, it’s the execution (as players and Grantham have said) but also, in my mind, getting outschemed to start the game. Grantham hasn’t admitted to that.

How come Alex Olgetree isn't used as an outside linebacker more often. He is on of the faster players on defense and would make a great pass rusher opposite of Jarvis Jones?
- Patrick Lowe, Tybee Island

This is a very good question, and very relevant in light of Williams’ comments about Ogletree and Amarlo Herrera needing to play more.

As I wrote last week, one downside of Ogletree’s return, and Herrera’s sterling play, is that it shifted Gilliard into a lesser role. Herrera found himself playing the Mike linebacker spot, which was new to him, and led to some issues.

The easy fix would be shifting Ogletree to one of the outside spots, thus keeping Gilliard on the field. Cornelius Washington, who is having a down year, could still move down to defensive end, which was the plan this season. The Abry Jones injury probably necessitates it now anyway. And I’ll believe Ray Drew seeing extensive playing time when it happens. All indications are we’ll still see John Jenkins a lot at defensive end and Kwame Geathers at nose tackle, a set-up that has had mixed results, at best, this year.

There seems to be a lot of grumbling (not just from Bill Shanks) about Coach Richt again, based on our performance against South Carolina and Kentucky after the bye week. Do you sense that this Florida game might be as big as I get the feeling it is for Mark Richt’s career? That is, if we don’t win this, he really can’t win the big one, never will be able to, and we need to start looking for someone else? The Head Coach deflects that we are still 6-1 and all is well.
- Robert K. Burnham, Macon

If Georgia doesn’t win, it will only reinforce the perception about not being able to win the big games. (At least recently. You don’t just throw out the first half of Richt’s tenure, especially since he’s only 52.)

I said this last week, and I’ll have to repeat it now: Greg McGarity and the Georgia powers-that-be gave Richt a contract extension in the offseason and stated they wanted Richt to be their coach for the foreseeable future. One loss to South Carolina, as bad as it was, didn’t immediately cancel that out. And I don’t think another loss to Florida would either. Or at least I’ve seen no evidence that would be the case.

I could write an entire blog post just on this subject, so I’ll keep it short, but I will add that anybody who demands Richt’s firing needs to follow that up with a reasonable short list of candidates. (And by reasonable, I don’t mean Jon Gruden, Nick Saban or the reanimated corpse of Vince Lombardi.) There are so many risks with removing a coach whose main drawback is an inability to win a championship.

I haven't seen anyone address why Ken Malcome was in the game for the final drive against Kentucky. I haven't seen him much, if at all, in the last two games, and it seemed like an odd time to put him in. Is it just because he was fresh, or could it be that coaches were trying something else because of the lack of production? He had a couple of good runs and helped Georgia run out the clock. So it worked no matter the reason. And perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe Malcome has been playing all along and I just haven't noticed.
- Vann, Charlotte, N.C.

No, you are correct: Malcome only played in mop-up duty against Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and got the dreaded “DNP” against Tennessee. Quite honestly, I haven’t asked Richt or Bobo about why Malcolme got those carries late at Kentucky, but I can predict the answer: Partly it was because he was fresh, partly it was because “Gurshall” hadn’t broken anything, and Malcome was in there to be the reliable runner they know he is. The freshmen tailbacks are the breakaway threats, as we saw the first five games, but the coaches have always maintained that Malcome is part of the rotation. Richard Samuel, on the other hand, is no longer part of that rotation.

I do not feel disrespected by what Shawn Williams said. Although he never mentioned me by name as soft, I believe he is correct that Tree and Amarlo are more physical than me…

1. When I watch the defense play, I don’t think it is a matter of scheme at all. And Shawn Williams “toughness” comments look to me to be more about our guys not getting off blocks. It looks like we have the correct “fits”, but even if you fit your spot, you have to take on the blocker and get off of it to make a play. And I DO NOT want Amarlo in every play. He has been TORCHED all year in the passing game. So…my question to you is this: What would you call not getting off blocks? Softness? Laziness? Complacency?

2. I am still very down on the OL as I have said on here repeatedly. And I know it is late in the season…but do you think both our “soft” front seven and our inexperienced OL would benefit from going 1s-vs-1s in practice for a while? It is the only way to get a true look and to improve when you have no depth on the OL. I don’t think it does Theus any good going against 2nd and 3rd-teamers (just using him for an example). Same for the front seven. If they have a scout team offense they face and whip every week, how does that prepare them for the likes of SC, Fla, etc? If we had a deep OL it wouldn’t be an issue. But it is.
- MontgomeryDawg, Montgomery, Ala.

1. Interesting take on the defense, and Herrera against the pass. To be fair, Herrera usually comes off the field in obvious passing downs, so he hasn’t been to blame for most of the third-down issues. As for why players aren’t getting off blocks, if I knew for sure I’d be paid a lot more, because I’d be a coach. My inclination is to say a little of the above (softness, laziness, complacency), or basically to agree with what Williams said. This is the same basic group as last year, and for whatever reason it’s not playing as physical as it did in 2011.

2. They actually match the first-teams in practice on occasion. They mix it up during the season. It’s during the preseason scrimmages that they go ones vs. twos.

It seems that Florida loves running the football. Are you expecting a "load the box" plan to force Driskel to throw?
- Stan Lanier, via Twitter

Well, if the winds are swirling, then yes, for sure. Otherwise, stacking the box, spying on Driskel’s running ability and daring the Gators to win through the air seems the best strategy. Then again, it’s not Driskel is a bad passer. I’ll put it this way: The best thing the defense can hope for is Georgia’s offense takes an early lead, and the Gators are forced to throw more than they want to. That might have worked against South Carolina, but obviously the first quarter wrecked that strategy.

Simple question: where is the nasty? I don’t think it matters if there are 15 guys in the box, our 330-pound linemen should be able to make a hole. On the other side, when our defense acts like the ball is the only steak within a 50-mile radius, we’re junkyard – period. Where is the desire to brutalize the man in front of you? I’m not speaking of intentionally hurting someone but the end result from the sheer desire and ability to physically dominate the man in front of you on every play. Great teams have that innate instinct and our Dawgs are just not doing it. Seriously, where is it?
- James Colvin, Tulsa, OK

That’s part of what Shawn Williams was getting at, or at least it was on the defense. The defensive line, for whatever reason, is most guilty of playing more soft than last year. The offensive line is more a matter of experience and, well, skill. This year’s O-line also isn’t as massive as last year, starting with center David Andrews, but also left tackle Kenarious Gates is a bit smaller than Cordy Glenn. That’s partly why they move Gates in and put Mark Beard in at left tackle; Beard isn’t that big either, but Gates at guard over Dallas Lee at least makes them a bit bigger at guard.

1-I was pretty irked at Richt's comment after the KY game about 6-1 being pretty good. Could you imagine Nick Saban saying something like that? I just hate what appears is a complacency with this team and coaching staff. Undefeated and beating people by 100 points should be the goal. I realize this won’t ever happen, but i think this should be the mindset. I feel that is the way Alabama players think.

2-What are your thoughts on the 'communication issues' on this team? I read something this past week about the O-line blaming lack of communication for the USC debacle and it seems every week the defense is blaming communication problems for giving up big plays and getting run over by inferior teams. This could be the most ridiculous assertion I've ever heard. Is this just what the players are told to say or is the chemistry so bad on this team that they can't communicate with one another?
- Brad, Atlanta

1-I know you’re not alone in feeling that way about Richt’s postgame comments. I wouldn’t look for him to become fire-and-brimstone anytime soon. Generally that’s how he is, and how he’s been his 12 years at Georgia. But he also has a more veteran team this year, so I suspect he doesn’t think he has to send any messages through the media. (But he didn’t seem to mind Shawn Williams doing it.)

2-Honestly, I didn’t see those comments. I could see it being an issue because of different lineups since the preseason: John Theus joined the mix in the preseason, Mark Beard only recently began working at left tackle. But until I personally see or hear more evidence, I can’t comment much on that.

What weaknesses do you see from Florida, if any, that you think Georgia will try to exploit offensively? Defensively? For example, Georgia seems to have trouble slowing the run up the middle. I’m sure Florida will test the waters there. And Georgia has had somewhat of a hard time running the ball consistently. So I would think Florida will play a lot of nickel packages until we prove we can run the ball.
- Andrew Powell in Roswell

Florida actually isn’t a great pass-rushing team: The Gators only rank eighth in the SEC in sacks. Not that it will be a reprieve for the Georgia O-line, but this should (on paper) be much less of a challenge than at South Carolina. But the Gators have been great everywhere else on defense, and good at forcing turnovers. Aaron Murray vs. Florida’s pass defense will be a fascinating battle. Defensively, as mentioned earlier the Bulldogs need to stop the run and dare the Gators to win through the air, because that’s their best chance. Of course, that means Bacarri Rambo and company need to avoid getting beat for the explosive play.

Boy, when it comes to the defense I really do feel like I’m typing the same sentences I did in 2010.

I have read different accounts of Georgia’s record against ranked teams and ranked SEC teams since 2008, or a similar timeframe. Can you provide an accurate record?
- Sundawg, Orlando, Fla.

Thanks for the question, because I keep hearing this stat cited inaccurately: Since 2008, Georgia is 7-14 vs. ranked teams. Since 2010, the Bulldogs are 2-8, with the two wins coming last year against No. 24 Auburn and No. 25 Georgia Tech. So yes, not very impressive.

Then again, over that span Georgia hasn’t been ranked that high in many of those games. In fact, Georgia was the higher-ranked team in only three of those 14 losses since 2008. And one of those was three weeks ago at South Carolina, which was only one spot behind Georgia in the rankings.

As football fans, we are constantly bombarded with the Gospel of "balanced offense"; that the running game must be established to set up the play action passing game or the heresy that you can throw the running game open. Now here comes Florida with just about as unbalanced an offense as a D coordinator could hope for. By all appearances they can't throw the ball a lick. Yet they sit at number 2 in the land.

Surely we are going to at least show an eight-or-nine man front and force them to do what they can't? This seems to me to be a game that should be right in Coach Grantham's wheelhouse. An inexperienced QB, a pee'd off (we hope) defense and a coach who loves to scheme up ways to pressure the passer. What's not to love about that part of the match up? Now if we could only have a miracle with our special teams.
- Frank Arnold, McDonough

Well, let’s see how the defense responds. I thought it was interesting that Grantham let Williams speak to the defense on Tuesday, after his public comments. Grantham wasn’t tipping his hand, so who knows if it was a “here’s what I really meant” from Williams, or Grantham wanted Williams to repeat what he’d said to the media. Other than taking back the desire to dictate the depth chart, I’m not sure why Grantham would want Williams to say anything different.

This game is a test for the entire defense, and their coaches. You may like the matchup, but Florida is eerily similar to LSU last year: Grind it out, hit the occasional pass, force turnovers and win on special teams. Georgia looked good against LSU in the first half of last year’s SEC championship game, because the Bulldogs were playing physical. Then came the Honey Badger punt return, and the floodgates opened. The Georgia defense broke down in that game because of momentum and not getting much help from the offense. I suspect they’ll get more help from the offense in this game, so it’ll be up to the defense to be that physical unit we saw in 2011, but haven’t seen much in 2012.

1-Do we have any intensity from any coaches? I'm talking about something that makes guys work harder. Because our guys look soft, and it's sad that Shawn Williams has to say what the coaches can't.

2-Who is the leader on offense? It's clear that Shawn is on d.

3-Does Mike Bobo have any motivation to do anything other than coach UGA's offense? Does he ever want to be a head coach or coordinator in the league. I don't think he's hungry to be the best at the highest level - and that's disconcerting to me.
- Geoff Sandels, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

1-I’ve said before that Grantham and Will Friend are the two most intense players, judging by practice, what we see on the sideline and anecdotal evidence from players. Mike Bobo can be fiery at times as well. And look, every single coach, from Richt to every assistant, knows how to raise their voice. It’s what you’re taught in coach school. The trick is knowing when to use that intensity. Use it all the time and players start to tune you out, or certain players completely lose their confidence.

2-Good question on the offense. I’m working on a story with this angle for Friday’s papers; Murray, from what I can glean, has taken on this role a bit more this year. Last year Ben Jones was the unquestioned leader of the offense. This year it’s more split up.

3-I haven’t spoken to Bobo about his career ambitions, but like pretty much every assistant coach I’m sure he wants to be a head coach somewhere. And if Georgia’s offense finishes this season the way it has started (with the exception of South Carolina), and carries that into next year (when presumably most starters are back) then Bobo could attract the eye of an A.D. or two or three.

My question is regarding the low number of scholarship players and the potential to affect the defense vis-a-vis the scout team offensive line. We are, by all accounts, rather thin and inexperienced on the o-line in particular. This lends itself to the fact that the d-line and linebackers are theoretically going up against a less "quality" scout team line than one that has a number of highly rated recruits and players with more game experience. Therefore, part of the defense's struggles with getting consistent pressure and defending the run can be attributed to going up against lesser quality competition in practice. Looking at Florida (to stick with this week's opponent), their O-line is very highly regarded at this point in the season. Accordingly UF's D-line, which was viewed as a weakness in the spring/summer while losing several key player, has turned into very productive unit through the midpoint of the season. Do you think this could be a contributing factor to the front seven's struggles, or am I over-blowing the significance of scout teams in player development/game performance?
- Austin, Chattanooga, TN

You’re not over-blowing it, at least from Richt’s perspective. Several times this year he has made a point of praising the scout team, and asked the media to pass it along. (I haven’t complied, until just now.)

It’s possible that having someone good to practice against helps here and there. But the bottom line is talent, coaching and scheme. And, on occasion, the emotional factor. We’ll see on Saturday how much Shawn Williams helped his team in that category.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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