Mailbag: The Georgia-Ole Miss edition

semerson@macon.comNovember 1, 2012 

ATHENS – Before we get into football, first allow me to make a (non-partisan) political evaluation:

I participated in early voting today. Actually, I tried to do so on Wednesday before practice, but the line was too long. And yes, the line to vote early in Athens, in a non-swing state, was too long.

This isn’t a comment on voter enthusiasm, but rather one of voter ability. And it all goes back to 2000.

That election, and the Florida recount, may have been a mess. But it led to things like early voting, easier access to absentee ballots, and the simple awareness of voting. No matter who you want to win, hopefully you agree that more people voting is a great thing.

And thank goodness they handle it this way in Athens-Clarke County: Tuesdays just happen to be the busiest day of the week on the football beat. Mark Richt and Mark Fox already tweeted that they voted early within the past two weeks. Now I have too, which means I can spend Tuesday worrying about football, then find out that night who the great people of Ohio have elected President.

Now, on to the mailbag.

A little before your time here, but this season has a bit of a 2007 feel to it. That team plodded along (with one game where they got smoked) and they beat Florida a little unexpectedly. If that holds true to form, they will absolutely bury Ole Miss and cruise the rest of the way. However, it would also be the most UGA thing ever to beat Florida and lose to Ole Miss on a field goal as time expired. I’m leaning towards the former, but seriously worried about the latter. What’s your sense on where the team is mentally?
- Aubrey Neeley, Fort Payne, Ala.

There’s no way to collectively measure a team’s mindset. A few guys may be fired up, a few may be flat. Or a team could be fired up all week and then just wake up wrong on Saturday. My only sense is that the win over Florida was a pick-me-up, and that it helped to have Ole Miss win at Arkansas. That should help to get the attention of enough players to avoid a letdown.

The comparison to 2007 does seem pretty apt. The difference here is that Georgia, by finishing strong, will have a chance to win the SEC championship and not finish the season complaining about not being in the championship game. If the Bulldogs don’t at least end up in a BCS bowl now, they have only themselves to blame.

Is it safe to say that the pistol is now our base offensive formation (I'm all for it by the way)? Bobo utilized a lot against the lizards at the Cocktail Party.
- Patrick Lowe, Tybee Island, GA

No, the base is still the I-formation, but the fact that’s even a question speaks to how much Bobo has liberalized the offense this year. The good news for Georgia is that it has experimented with so much this year – the pistol, the spread, the regular pro-style – that by now it should be comfortable in whatever style it may have to lean on in a game. Or they can go from the pistol to the I to the spread in consecutive plays. It may be more fair to call it a multiple offense at this point.

In a general sense, though, I think you’ll still see the Bulldogs rely on plays that minimize the importance of the line and allow the skill players to make plays in space.

I feel like in watching some of the games this year, part of the reason our defense has struggled may be tied to Grantham trying to do too much with rotating players in and out and shuffling guys around. I know we had some suspensions at first, but I get the feeling that Grantham tries too hard to "outsmart" the opposition by creating mismatches with personnel, rather than leaving the best guys in the game and scheming around them. I feel like this is particularly true with our linebackers, aside from Jarvis Jones. Thoughts? Am I way off base here?
- Billy T., Atlanta

Not off base at all. There have been some games I thought that was one of the big problems. For all that Grantham has talked about getting the best 11 players on the field, sometimes he over-did it, such as when Alec Ogletree’s return shunted Mike Gilliard into a lesser role. Playing John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers together also has produced mixed results.

The formula against Florida worked: Gilliard played a lot more, Cornelius Washington played mostly at end, and Jarvis Jones and Jordan Jenkins played together for about 30 snaps.

To be fair, Grantham’s week-to-week movements last year didn’t get in the way, and arguably were part of the reason for the success. So it may not really be a matter of subbing too much in the game, but which players need to be out there. For instance, defensive line coach Rodney Garner said a few weeks ago that he needed to play Garrison Smith about 10-20 snaps more per game, and he did (partly out of necessity with Abry Jones’ injury). And Smith has played well.

Seth: Richt seems to dodge the Murray turnover issue which is especially prevalent in big games. I wonder if in big games they should instruct Murray to look at his primary receiver first and then check down to a back as 2nd option in early part of game. It would give him the opportunity to perhaps complete some passes and get his confidence, which was clearly shaken in the Florida game. We all know he hit Mitchell in the 4th quarter but against Bama or LSU it will likely be too little too late. Pro quarterbacks routinely dump the ball to running backs and BTW we have this guy named Gurshall, who is pretty good in the open field. I don’t get it.
- JAH, Mobile, Ala.

Murray said this week that he needed to check down to the tailback or fullback on every single one of those interceptions. And in the second half he did that, with Todd Gurley catching a couple passes and Ogletree catching one, and Gurley and Ogletree were the intended receivers on two other passes. Now, the question is whether Murray corrects this for four quarters in future games. But against Florida, he certainly learned his lesson and improved.

1-We'll start off with a positive: you covered it today but I am extremely impressed with the emotion that Zander Ogletree plays with and the excitement he always has. He is always the first one to celebrate and seems like he loves Georgia. Seemed like that carried over to the offensive line Saturday as I saw them sprinting off the field numerous times excited. As a former hog myself that does the heart good. What is going to be the spark this week or is being back in front in the race enough?

2- Now for a negative: How many bad big games is it going to take before they figure out Murray can't cut it... Even Bobo realized he couldn't trust him in the second half and seemed perfectly alright running it twice throwing an incompletion and punting it in the third quarter. What are the chances he goes pro or decides that he needs to go at the end of the year? I know you'll argue that he threw for 400+ against Kentucky but unless you can at least show up against a big time team it doesn't boost my confidence as a fan.
- Cleve in Cave Spring

1- Agreed on Ogletree, I’ve also observed his positive attitude, and Bobo pointed to that this week. That doesn’t mean he’ll keep the job when Merritt Hall is healthy, but Zander certainly helped himself with his performance against Florida. As for this week’s spark, that’s been a big subject this week, and the consensus among players is that the motivation to win the division will be enough. Of course, I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if an ESPN analyst trashed the Bulldogs at some point.

2- I’m sorry, I just can’t agree with your feelings on Murray. I understand the frustration about his performance in big games, but if you go through those big games you can find some when he played well and the team lost because of other factors. For instance, most of the losses in 2010. And it’s actually incorrect that Bobo “realized he couldn’t trust him in the second half.” As Bobo pointed out this week, at one point they called passes on 12 of 13 plays. I’m not sure where you really want to take this: Bench Murray for … who, Hutson Mason, who is totally unproven? Christian LeMay isn’t an option right now, trust me on that. As Richt said this week, Murray is the guy. Period.

Who gives the best interview? I know Shawn is popular now but Jordan Jenkins seems very non-coach-talk and how about his play?
- Drew Stewart, via Twitter

Jordan Jenkins is proving to be the freshman of the year in terms of interviews. Last year the Georgia beat mafia inaugurated our GATA award (Gracious Attitude Towards Answering), and Christian Robinson won going away. I still expect Robinson to win this year, but Jenkins will get some votes.

Shawn Williams is pretty candid when he speaks, alas, his trips up to the media room have been quite sporadic this year.

1. I think you can make a strong argument that Georgia-Florida is the best rivalry in the country right now. These two teams absolutely hate each other and it was very apparent from the game. My friends with no affiliation to UGA complained that the game was poorly played with too many penalties - I expected such an outcome. No other game in the country is fueled by so much hate and means so much in terms of advancing to a BCS or big time bowl game.

2. I think the shaky start on defense this year was due to rotating door of players on defensive due to the suspensions. It was difficult to play as a cohesive unit when so many guys kept being rotated through the system. My point here is that we have to learn that a successful off-season makes for a successful season. Ironically the loss of Crowell with the subsequent rise of Gurshall was a blessing in disguise.

3. Do we have a motivation problem? Why do we need a "soft" - Shawn Williams, "not man enough" - Pat Dye, "old man football" - Sheldon Richardson, or "back in black" jerseys - Richt for the Auburn game in the late 2000's, to provide motivation during troubled times in UGA football. We shouldn't have to have someone call us names to feel the need to play 100%. I love Richt but I think this is a huge blemish on his program. Alabama is the best in the business right now - they never require any gimmicks. They just go out every week and take care of business.
- BDD from Birmingham

1-Alabama-LSU doesn’t have the same history as a rivalry, but the Nick Saban part of it adds some vitriol, and obviously it has had more national importance lately than Georgia-Florida.

2-You have at least one person who agrees with you on the defensive problems: Grantham, who called the game against Florida part of the “evolution” that resulted from the suspensions and injuries. Grantham didn’t want to credit Williams’ comments. My own opinion is it’s probably a little of both.

3-I was asked essentially the same question by Parrish Alford, the Ole Miss beat writer with whom who I swapped Q&A blogs. (It will run on Friday). So I’ll cut-and-paste my answer to him: The biggest concern I'd have right now if I were a Georgia fan would be why does it take some sort of extra motivation for my team to play at its best? The three best games the Bulldogs have had this year were at Missouri (when the "old man football" comments were made), vs. Vanderbilt (when last year's postgame incident loomed) and vs. Florida (after the "playing soft" comments by not only Shawn Williams, but TV analysts.) The only explanation, and it's the simplest one, is that not only is Mark Richt not a rah-rah, emotional type, but the team's top two players - Aaron Murray and Jarvis Jones - also aren't fiery guys. And a team tends to feed off its head coach and best players. That doesn't make the even-keel approach wrong. After all, this team is still 7-1 and in the hunt for an SEC and perhaps BCS title.

You don't see Alabama players doing the woofing or strutting during games.I'm convinced we would have less penalties and stupid mistakes if Coach Richt would stop our players from doing that..Not only is it offensive to many of the fans but common sense would tell us that your mind is not on the game if you're busy thinking up smart-azz comments or responding to them.
- “Beartrap”, Albany

Actually, Richt didn’t seem too upset about the amount of penalties against Florida: It wasn’t a litany of false starts and holding penalties, rather emotion-driven penalties. And I think Richt realized what others did too, that this team needed a jolt of energy, and as I wrote earlier this week, while Richt gets criticism for being too laid-back, he deserves credit for getting out of the way when his players started showing emotion. Clearly he decided that even if it went too far, it was a small price to pay for the larger goal of being a more energized team.

But I also agree that there is merit in the criticism that emotion shouldn’t have to be such a factor for Georgia. To be totally fair, though, Alabama appears to be in its own league right now, with perhaps only Oregon the only other program that seems to be able to show up and not need anything extra.

1-No doubt Shawn Williams’ speech had an effect on the game. The defense played much better. Due to that, and the enormity of winning a taxing, hard-fought, emotional game last week, is there any place to go but down? Hugh Freeze has the Rebs playing pretty good ball, and this looks like a huge trap game.

2-I have often referred to Aaron Murray as the Anti-David Greene. You always had a feeling DG would be steady and a rock during big games, in big moments. I feel EXACTLY the opposite about AM. Would you consider Murray the Bizarro-Greene?

3-Chips and aalsa, or chips and queso?
- MontgomeryDawg, Montgomery, Ala.

1-There certainly is danger in a game like Ole Miss having some trap elements. But my sense is still that of the next two games, the more dangerous one for Georgia will be Auburn – simply because the game will be in Auburn, and not Athens.

2-That’s an interesting way to look at it. But – and not to keep looking like Murray’s publicity agent – I do think people can be unfair in their assessment of Murray in big games. First of all, if he gets knocked for lost games against ranked teams in which he actually played well, shouldn’t he get credit for the win in a game he struggled? Also, there are PLENTY of games that in hindsight aren’t given the big-game tag, but at the time they were: Missouri this year, Florida last year, even Auburn last year.

3-Chips and salsa, without a doubt. Healthier.

I am a Dawg living in the (not so great for football) Northwest, all the local commentators claim no SEC one loss team will be in the NC game if there are two other undeafeated teams. What do you think?
- Keith Elledge

I think it depends on which one-loss team it is, and how it arrived at that point. In a general sense, there could be some backlash against the SEC which leads some voters to downgrade the one-loss SEC team. But there could be others who say the SEC is so good that it deserves a team in the title game. That’s impossible to predict at this point.

The best bet for a one-loss SEC team to get in over two unbeatens is if that team is Alabama, and it loses a close one at LSU on Saturday. As for Georgia, since that’s surely what many of you are most curious about, my guess is the Bulldogs wouldn’t get in over an unbeaten Oregon, but it would be close vs. an unbeaten Kansas State or Notre Dame, neither of which has to play in a conference championship game.

I heard rumors that Robert Nkemdiche may decommit from Clemson, and that he is taking an unofficial to the Ole Miss game this weekend. If he ends up switching to Georgia, do you think he could have the same type of impact as Clowney at South Carolina? It's been a while since we had a big name like that at end, and imagining him coming off one edge and a more experienced Jordan Jenkins coming off the other has to be a defensive coordinator's nightmare.
- Charles Sligh

No, there’s only about a 1 percent chance Nkemdiche wakes up one morning and decides he wants to go to Georgia. Right now the Bulldogs aren’t really involved.

But he is attending Saturday’s game so he can watch his brother Dexter play – and Georgia coaches are perfectly fine with that. Not because they think they have a realistic shot at him. But if Nkemdiche changed his commitment from Clemson (which opens next season against Georgia) to Ole Miss (which isn’t on Georgia’s schedule) then I doubt the Bulldogs would have many objections.

I know Coach Richt is usually conservative when it comes to game management, but what are your thoughts as to the idea of going for a two-point conversion after Malcolm Mitchell's touchdown? I think this question would have come up more had Jordan Reed not fumbled that ball on the goal line and Florida had actually scored a touchdown there at the end. Personally, I think the difference between an 8 and 9 point lead is so much more significant than the difference between a 7 and 8 point lead, so I think a 2-point attempt would have been well worth the gamble. What are your thoughts on the idea of going for two and Coach Richt's thinking process there?
- Jordan Floyd, Nashville, Tenn.

This is a great question, and I’ve always wondered why more consideration isn’t given to going for two in this situation.

It’s understandable that a coach would prefer to play it safe and take the eight-point lead, forcing the other team to make the two-point conversion to tie it. But the upside, in a fourth-quarter game, for making it a two-possession game is huge. I would take a shot at it every now and then, especially after you’ve just gotten a quick score on a long play: You’ve got the defense a bit stunned, so try to hit them again. If you just scored on a goal-line series, you may have emptied your playbook so it’s a different story.

The percentages of two-point conversions are a little under 40 percent, so that’s why coaches don’t try to extend the lead to nine. But I’m sure the percentages of two-possession comebacks in the fourth quarter are much lower.

Does the team have a sports psychologist that players can consult with /get advice from ? I think this may be all Aaron Murray needs. Serious question. - Robert K. Burnham, Macon

Honestly, they don't ever mention one, so I don't know. But Murray is a grad student in psychology, so maybe he could just advise himself!

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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