Mailbag: The Georgia-Auburn edition

semerson@macon.comNovember 8, 2012 

ATHENS – Friends, Georgians and countrymen, I come not to praise this upcoming mailbag. I come to bury it. Or something like that.

There are days when I’m on fire, ripping off one-liners like Richard Pryor and insight like Beano Cook. But when you’re off your game, it’s only fair to your readers to say so, if you couldn’t tell by references to two dead people in the previous sentence. (Slightly outdated, I guess.)

Earlier in the week I referenced my back problem, and in an effort to be ready for this weekend (hoops opener on Friday night, football at Auburn on Saturday night) I have hopped myself up on more narcotics than Lindsay Lohan. (A more updated reference, I suppose.)

But in addition to some sleepiness, I have also been informed that my sister’s water broke, meaning a baby will shoot out today, so I’m also distracted. Sadly, I cannot rush up to Virginia for the birth, but in this technological age I must prepare for an onslaught of text updates and photos. Or, as we call it down here, just another Georgia football practice.

Despite all these outside distractions, I am ready to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I’m drinking Coke Zero. I’m popping jelly beans. I’m eating an apple.

OK. Deep breath. Energy returning. Let’s go:

Close loss to Bama, and Florida loses to Florida State, that leaves 3+ 2-loss teams in SEC. Better Sugar bowl chance then?
- Clem McDavid, via Twitter

If everything were decided on paper and by actual performance, then yes that’s what I would say. The at-large team from the SEC – and everyone assumes, rightly, there will be one from the SEC – needs to finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings. South Carolina might actually fall out if it loses one more game, most likely to Clemson. That would help Georgia’s case tremendously, because word is the Sugar Bowl would prefer to pick the Gamecocks because of their fan base’s propensity to travel. But you’ve still got LSU out there as a potential two-loss team, and you’ve gotta think the Sugar Bowl would love a shot at the home-state team.

Ultimately, I think Georgia still has an uphill climb if it doesn’t win out. Keep in mind, many of these bowl decisions are made in advance of the games, and I have a hard time believing the Sugar Bowl will be sitting there ready to gauge whether Georgia loses closely or not to Alabama. Much like Georgia needs some help to reach the national title game, I think the Bulldogs need some help to get that at-large BCS berth. It may be boom or bust.

As an AP voter, does UGA need style points or is simply winning enough to hold on their spot as the top one-loss team? If any of the undefeated teams ahead of them lose, do you think that they would replace UGA as the top one loss team?
- Cal, Macon

That’s an interesting question. Given the schedule, I’m pretty sure Georgia would move ahead of Kansas State or Notre Dame if either lost. Oregon could be a more dicey question. There doesn’t appear much danger of any current one-loss team vaulting Georgia, because the Bulldogs get their shot at Alabama. Some would say Florida State, because it will have beaten Florida and whoever it plays in the ACC championship. But I’d keep an eye out on Oregon State, which has a chance to knock off Oregon.

I feel that the loss of Michael Bennett was huge, but tempered by having Marlon Brown's solid season. This offense regardless of the package needs the guy willing to use size (or grit) to make the tough possession catches. What player(s) do feel can make the immediate jump from bench/limited playing time to clutch receptions?
- Scott Shepherd, Chattanooga, TN

Chris Conley seems most likely to see an uptick in snaps, because he’s more similar to Bennett and Brown. They’re all bigger and more physical, the guys who tend to make plays over the middle or in coverage. But simply because of numbers, a guy like Justin Scott-Wesley will also get more snaps. He won’t step into Brown’s role, but he’ll get some snaps now. Rhett McGowan also has the confidence of the coaches, so I think the increased playing time he got last week was a preview of things to come.

If anything, I think the guy who will get more passes is Malcolm Mitchell, because he’s also proven to be a guy that can catch tough passes, in addition to his downfield ability. You don’t just take Brown’s 27 catches and disperse them among second-teamers. You take stock of the unit you have left and decide how best to disperse the playing time. The difference between the Brown and Bennett injuries is timing: Bennett’s happened on Tuesday, while this time Georgia has had a full week of practice to take the injury into account while it prepares its gameplan.

What do you think of Damian Swann? I think his development this year has lessened the blow of losing Brandon Boykin. Not from a leadership perspective but a skills on the field perspective and strictly on the defensive side of the ball, not return game. I wish the coaches would have given him more of an opportunity to return punts this year. I can't recall why he was yanked in the first place. Didn't he return one for a big gain against Missouri earlier this year? I don't remember him messing up after that, maybe I should. He looks really fluid, explosive and elusive when he gets the ball in his hands on turnovers. Anyway, it looks like UGA will have a very special DB next year in Swann. I'd assume he turns pro after that.
- John, Smyrna

Well, let’s not jump the gun on that last part. But Swann has been very solid, and he has said he’s benefitted from being a young guy on a veteran unit: Boykin taught him last year, and Sanders Commings, Branden Smith and others have been able to continue teaching this year. Swann’s emergence, as I wrote in today’s papers, is a big deal for 2013 and beyond, along with what Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera have done. That’s a pretty good core for next year’s defense, albeit not as talented overall.

As for Swann on punt return, I stopped long ago trying to figure out what the plan was at that punt return spot. It’s still a mystery why Branden Smith got yanked from that job.

Would Marlon Brown's and Abry Jones's injuries keep them from being able to participate in the Senior Bowl?
- Dan Hatcher, via Twitter

Definitely, in Brown’s case, since an ACL usually takes a minimum of six months to get back out there, and the Senior Bowl is on Jan. 26. But Jones could have a chance, since the original timetable had him possibly returning for Georgia’s bowl. (It’s still not clear what changed from that timetable, other than Richt just announcing that Jones wouldn’t be able to return this season.) So for Jones it would be a matter of whether he’d want to play in it or just focus on the NFL combine. Of course, the Senior Bowl may be reluctant to invite an injured player.

Why hasn't (Ole Miss) Trae Elston been suspended? I know Richt said he didn't think the hit was dirty, but he also said he hadn't watched the film. I may be wrong, but it clearly looks like he twists Marlon's knee well after the play is over. Elston's already been suspended once this season for a dirty hit, so doesn't that just add to the argument against him?
- Charles Sligh, Athens

I checked with the SEC, and they said they had not heard from UGA about the play. The SEC’s director of officiating, Steve Shaw, reviews every play. So the fact Elston hasn’t been disciplined would indicate they didn’t see anything nefarious in the play. And frankly from watching the replay it looks like Brown got hurt when Elston’s helmet collided with his knee – similar to how Marcus Lattimore was hurt when a Tennessee player’s helmet hit him. I can’t say for certain whether the leg twist at the end had any effect, but no one at Georgia has said anything about it.

1- I have tremendous respect and admiration for Jarvis Jones. But in terms of stats and results, he’s come up short in certain games (e.g. UT and USC). How much of that is attributable to health vs. the other team effectively scheming against him?

2- Aaron Murray has acknowledged that the play action play (i.e. the David Greene) was part of the plan against Ole Miss. Was that a mistake using that play against a team like Ole Miss? Said another way, should we have saved that for the SEC Championship?
- Rob, Atlanta

1-Tennessee and South Carolina probably have the two best offensive lines that Georgia has faced this season. That doesn’t mean Jarvis can be stopped, it means that a good line can do more stuff against him – such as double-team him or move guys to him – and single-block Georgia’s other pass rushers.

2-Well, one could argue that down 10-0 in the second quarter, it was time to pull out the stops. You gotta get to Atlanta first. That play happened late enough that Mike Bobo may have held it out if Georgia was winning comfortably.

1- I know I am going back two weeks but in the Florida game it was VERY easy to see (I’m in insurance and I could spot it) that Murray’s issues in the first 3 quarters were entirely with his footwork. He was not getting set and his feet were parallel with the line of scrimmage instead of pointing to his target. I think I saw a small note about that in an article but it does not seem like it was widely discussed. Are the coaches noticing that?

2- We have not done anything crazy with our jerseys this year. Do you think we have anything in the works for the rest of the year? For some reason, I thought we were doing something different for at least one game a year.

3- I see that Nick Marshall is doing well in junior college. Do you know if we have completely ruled out him coming back to UGA?
- Eric Wright, Brookline, Mass.

1-It was actually widely discussed … by Murray. I may have been a bit guilty of only noting it, because frankly you can’t go on and on about something like footwork and hope to keep the reader interested. But yes, Murray said his footwork was the big problem, and that he corrected it. He also said he didn’t check down correctly, but that footwork was directly to blame for the first interception, the one that was intended for Rantavious Wooten.

2-Hmm. I have not heard an inkling of anything, and there are only two more opportunities. I wouldn’t see doing it for Georgia Southern, but perhaps for Georgia Tech. But in general Richt seems very loathe to repeat any blackouts, because of what happened the last time. The Boise State jerseys were a Nike thing.

3-I wouldn’t say the bridge is completely burned on Marshall, but I’ve heard nothing about Georgia being involved with him. When all that happened Chris Sanders was the only one Georgia placed at GMC, which is usually what it does with guys they potentially would take back. But Sanders didn’t last long at GMC, and that bridge is DEFINITELY burned.

Joker Phillips is already out. Chizick and Dooley may soon be gone too. Do you think this will be the case and, if so, is that a good or bad thing for Georgia? Presumably, your answer to the latter part of that question depends on who will be their replacements so any additional insights into that would be appreciated. Finally, how does this potential coaching turnover affect recruiting? Of particular interest is Jaquay Williams, who almost committed to Georgia, signed with Auburn, but is now a "free agent" after spending time in prep school.
- Lucas Puente, East Palo Alto, CA

It doesn’t look great for Dooley, although I think he’s on firmer ground than Chizik. When your president releases a statement about the football program and leaves your name off it, it’s never a good sign. Whether any of this benefits Georgia will surely depend on whether the next coach is an upgrade. And every situation bears watching, because Georgia plays each of them every year. If Bobby Petrino gets hired – and I’m skeptical – then it won’t be a great thing. Petrino may be a horrible person, but he can coach.

Georgia would seem to have a very good shot at Williams. That’s a situation to keep your eye on. As I say with all coaching changes, whether it opens the floodgates on a team’s recruits will always depend on how quickly a new coach is hired, who that coach is, and many other factors. If and when Chizik gets the boot there will be fans of many SEC teams, particularly Georgia, scanning their roster of commits and waiting to pounce. But that doesn’t automatically mean it will happen.

1-I was able to get a pair of tickets from an Auburn season ticket holder for free. Not someone I know either. And they had the info. that my wife and I are Dawg fans. This is a huge rivalry game. Living in Montgomery for 30+ years, this has always been a biggie around here. That, plus the fact that all the Barn preaches is “All In” and “Family”, are you surprised that the fan base has turned not only this quickly, but thisemphatically on Chizik?

2-Do you think we will see more of Keith Marshall after the AU game? We need to keep tread on Gurley’s tires, IMO.

3-Is Andy Landers a cool guy? All we see is his scowl and YELLING during games, but the announcers always refer to him as being quite a character.
- Scott C. Davis, Montgomery, Ala.

1-It’s not completely on Chizik, but just on the entire situation. People don’t like losing, and they particularly don’t like it when your arch-rival is the defending national champ and looking to be on the way to another one. Chizik probably doesn’t help himself either by being bland and uninspirational. He’s not the kind of guy that makes a fan base want to rally around him.

2-That’s a distinct possibility. Ken Malcome could get an uptick in carries too.

3-All my dealings with Landers have been great. He’s a very gregarious guy off the court.

1-Georgia has been lucky on the injury front this year for the most part. How will this recent rash of injuries affect the Dawgs moving forward? I'm talking more specifically about the SEC Championship game against Alabama because I'm fairly certain we'll take care of business the next 3 weeks. Garrison Smith has become a stud in Abry Jones’ absence and that's fantastic news. However, Alabama is big and physical upfront and they want to run the football. I'm not concerned about our physicality anymore but what about our depth along the interior defensive line? We need some fresh bodies to rotate in against the Tide.

2-Same goes for receiver. Thankfully we came into this season with some depth at receiver but a lot of these guys are unproven. Losing Bennett was the worst but I think losing Marlon is a pretty big hit too. The guy's really come a long way. He may not have the numbers but I thought he was a big play threat with speed and hands. Plus he was a hell of a downfield blocker. LSU proved Alabama is vulnerable through the air and Aaron Murray is light years better than Mettenberger. Who do you think can step in and have the biggest impact in our three- and four-receiver sets? I ask both of these questions knowing full well we still have three games for players to emerge and take advantage of more playing time. Just wanted to get your thoughts.
- Richt Flair from Roswell

1-All good questions. But we can tackle them when that Alabama game arrives. Presuming it does.

2-Right now Georgia knows it has two playmakers at receiver: King and Mitchell. And it can count on Rantavious Wooten for a play here or there. What the Bulldogs really need to do the rest of the way is make Chris Conley and someone else – whether it be Rhett McGowan or Justin Scott-Wesley) involved as a real threat. Then you can spread out in four or even five-wides and have everyone be a legit threat. And it would also help if the tight ends continue to become a part of the passing game. Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome make plays every now and then, but they’re not threats on every day the way Orson Charles and Aron White were.

Have you ever met a more irrational, "Kool-aid drinking" fan base than that of UGA? Don't get me wrong, I am a die-hard Bulldog, but the senselessness of many of our fans never ceases to amaze me. While I always pull for the Dawgs, I try to be realistic as well. I know, despite what many fans believe, that we will not be playing for the national championship this year. There isn't much of a chance of us beating Alabama in the Dome, and even if we do, there will more than likely be undefeated teams ahead of us. And Georgia fans think we're going to the title game??? Unlike many fans, if we finish the regular season 11-1, win our division, stay competitive in the SECCG, and make a good showing in the bowl game, I would consider that a successful season. However, many in our fan base will be calling for Coach Richt's head because we didn't win it all. Since when did winning a MNC become the only way to have a great season? I don't get it.
- Al Dawkins, Lincolnton

You would definitely be voicing the opinion that I tend to hear when I speak to fans in person, whether it be friends around town or people I have met at Bulldog Club events. Some would call that the rational part of the fan base, but I won’t go that far, because I understand where the critics are coming from. That doesn’t mean I agree.

What people should understand is that attendance and interest matter as much as wins and losses – and yes, the second usually leads to the first. But even after the South Carolina game, there was no chance in anything happening. Anger is one thing. But apathy is what an A.D. can not tolerate. That’s what happened at Kentucky, and it may be what we’re starting to see at Auburn and Tennessee. That’s when change happens.

Last week against Ole Miss, brothers Alec and Zander Ogletree both scored (Alec with a safety and Zander a touchdown) on defense and offense respectively. I can’t help but think that having two members of the same family who play on opposite sides of the ball scoring in the same game is a very rare occurrence. In fact I can’t think of that ever having been done before (only Tiki and Ronde Barber at UVA come to mind as a possibility). My question is more akin to a little bit of Georgia and college football trivia, but has this ever been done before? And if so, by what family members and with what school? Just think this is such a rarity and want to give props to Alec and Zander for that accomplishment. Thanks and would love to hear the answer.
- Bennett Evers, Columbia, S.C.

This is a good question, and I wasn’t able to dig up a firm answer. It’s made harder because Alec’s score was a safety, which is more rare. I’d venture to say that the only way of digging that up is if someone remembers it off-hand.

Seth: What has happened with DeBell, Ward, Dantzler and Long? There is no mention of them although early on several of them were mentioned quite frequently. Are they still recovering from injuries or are they just not game ready? Gates likes to play tackle but I think opposing defensive coordinators look at Gates and see a guard trying to play tackle. What’s the word around Butts-Mehre on these guys? Inquiring minds want to know.
- Jeffry A. Head, Mobile, Ala.

All four of those – presuming you mean Austin Long – were mentioned this week by Richt, in terms of being involved in the competition. But they were all around in the preseason too, and I’m sure if any of them were considered more viable options they would have gone that route. Dantzler was on the verge of getting a lot of time but his ankle injury derailed that. I do agree that Gates seems to play better at guard, and it’s notable that Richt, when asked directly, did not commit to Gates as the left tackle for next year. They’re eyeing Laremy Tuncil, the stud recruit in Florida, for that spot if they can get him. Or John Theus could move over. They need an infusion of talent on that unit, that’s for sure.

Seems to me that college football has suffered because of the focus on ripping the ball away from the ball carrier....it's forcing the smaller running back out of the game because he is simply not big or strong enough to keep the 220-300 lb players from physically taking the ball away from him even with the ball locked and both arms around it...I may be in the minority but I'd like to see intentionally stripping the ball taken out of the game.

Also I noticed in the Bama-LSU game,there was little or no "mouthing off" going on between the players.
- Beartrap, Albany

Eh, a lot of time that mouthing off escapes the view of television cameras. Larry Bird, for instance, was known as one of the biggest trash-talkers in NBA history, but he didn’t do it very outwardly.

That’s an interesting point on stripping the ball. But I doubt there’s any way to legislate that, or much desire to take it out. Turnovers are fun.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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