Georgia mailbag: There's no crying in this mailbag

semerson@macon.comSeptember 4, 2013 

This week confirms the well-worn theory that people have more to ask - or angst to get off their chest - after a loss than after a win. That's very understandable.

I don't think I've ever received as many mailbag submissions as I have over the past two days. Maybe after the loss to South Carolina last year. So just a heads up to my IT people: If Georgia loses again to the Gamecocks this week, our server will break down.

My apologies for not being able to get to every question. Or in some cases, very concerned screed. But hopefully what follows is a blend of entertainment, information and catharsis:

How hard is the team taking the loss Saturday, and how big of a loss was it to the team? I'm sure they all wanted to go undefeated. How do you think the loss affects their psyche? Will they be able to get over it in time to prepare mentally for the game this week?
- Ken, Atlanta

You can never tell for sure, but to be honest they didn’t seem that deflated, even on Saturday night. They were disappointed, obviously, but I saw much more frustration in the locker room after both SEC championship games, as well as last year’s South Carolina loss and the Boise State loss in 2011.

There are so many veteran players on offense, I think they’ll be able to get off the mat pretty quickly. On defense, the guys actually seemed encouraged by how they played, so they’re far from demoralized.

Now, a lot of fans may not like to hear that. They may prefer to hear about fights in the locker room or Shawn Williams-type screeds. But that's just not how this team usually operates, which is what made Williams' rant last year so noteworthy. Otherwise, the prevailing steadiness of this program is what allowed this team last year to recover from the loss to South Carolina and recover from the 0-2 start in 2011.

Now, does that steadiness also contribute to the team being in those holes to begin with? There's an argument to be made for that.

From a personnel standpoint, what is Georgia's plan to stop Clowney next week? Do you see any OL changes this week? As someone who has covered the Dawgs for a few seasons, do you think there is a deficiency in overall talent at the offensive line position relative to other positions?
- Joey from Argentina

From talking to Will Friend on Tuesday night, and watching a bit of practice, I get a feeling we'll see more of John Theus this week, and he may even start. But Kenariuos Gates remains the left tackle, as the coaches continue to believe he's the best option.

The coaches weren't going to give away their exact plan on Clowney, but Mike Bobo and Friend were pretty blunt about Clowney being a guy they have to know is out there. I know a lot of fans would love to see Georgia double- and triple-block Clowney, and that will happen a lot of the time, but you don't want to pull too many people away and a) take away options for Aaron Murray, and b) open up lanes for other Gamecock defenders.

As for your second question, to be quite blunt yes I believe there's less talent on that line than other areas of the team. I pointed this out in my column the other day but it bears repeating: Georgia has recruited just six top-100 rated offensive linemen during the Richt era, less than at receiver or tailback and as many at quarterback. And that's six top-100 guys over 13 years for five positions.

One of those elite five-stars was John Theus. We'll see how his career turns out. Brent Benedict was another, and he would be on this year's line if he hadn't transferred to Virginia Tech.

Since Aaron Murray has been the quarterback, three of his offensive linemen have gone on to be drafted: Ben Jones, Clint Boling and Cordy Glenn. None of them were first-rounders. Alabama had two in the top 10 last year alone.

I was at the game in Clemson this past weekend, and I was really appalled at the level of booing that I heard every time a Georgia player went down with an injury. I have been to almost every SEC stadium (and other UGA non-conference away games such as GT and Oklahoma State) and at least 6 NFL stadiums, and I have never heard an entire fan base break out into boos every time an opposing player was injured. I understand the supposed controversy over "fake injuries," but I don't think that it is the right of fans anywhere to judge whether or not a player is faking an injury. There is no way for us as fans to know what players are feeling inside their own bodies. I think it should be pretty evident from Malcolm Mitchell's injury that serious injuries can occur on seemingly harmless plays. This issue is really personal for me because I was close with several members of this team while I was attending UGA. I understand how hard these guys work and I know how tough they are. It really gets me riled up to see someone disrespecting them in such a manner. At the game, I actually turned around and asked the Clemson fans around me, "How would you feel if that was your brother or your son out there on the ground and everyone in the stadium was booing?". Have you ever seen an opposing fan base react to injuries like this before? And where do you stand on this issue of whether or not fans have the right to judge whether or not a player's injury is fake or real? Thanks,
- Jordan Floyd, Nashville, TN

Missouri fans booed last year, but certainly not to the extent Clemson fans did. Is it classless? Not in their minds, because they naturally assumed (or at least enough fans did for the boos to be audible) that any time a Georgia player was hurt it was a fake in order to slow down their offense. If that’s indeed what the Georgia player was doing, then I’d have no problem with booing.

The problem, of course, is there’s no way to know for sure. Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera each went down, and the fans booed, but an educated Clemson fan would know that there’s no way Georgia would assign Jenkins or Herrera to fake an injury. On such a young and unproven defense, there’s no way they’d voluntarily take either of those guys off the field even for one play.

Leonard Floyd, on the other hand, would seem to be a more likely candidate, and the video replay did make it look very suspect. But Floyd and Richt’s explanation seemed pretty convincing.

Not sure what brought this epiphany Saturday, but it hit me that I keep expecting Richt's teams to be disciplined, and time and again they simply aren't. How often have his teams been on the bottom half of the SEC in penalties, and how many times did penalties kill Georgia on Saturday? How many times have we seen Georgia players just have to make a comment, get in an opponents face after a play, usually for no reason. And then the taunting when Clemson ran down the hill? I can't stand Clemson, I was a student at Georgia when we played them every year. But what Georgia did on Saturday was no class. So my question - other than when Richt's forced to suspend someone due to school policy, isn't it time for all of us Georgia fans to accept that his teams aren't going to be disciplined? Not saying he needs to be fired - not saying he's not a good coach. But what I'm saying is that since Richt hasn't shown an inclination to reign them in, maybe an assistant coach needs to get on these players a little more.
- Bob Ho

The penalties were a killer for Georgia the other night, and players and coaches have said that. But I think it’s a mistake to extrapolate it out to the entire Richt era or to assume there’s not anything he can do about it. The penalties you saw (holding, chop block, etc.) don’t’ result from a lack of discipline: I’m at practices, and I hear a lot of cursing. The penalties come from not knowing what to do, and often from a lack of confidence. So it’s not surprising they mostly came from the offensive line.

By the way, correlating to penalty yardage to winning is a mixed bag. Alabama was the seventh-least penalized team yardage-wise last year. But Kansas was the third-least and went 1-11. Georgia was 70th. Among the 10 most penalized teams last year were Florida (11-2), Oregon (12-1) and Utah State (11-2), while the most penalized team in the country, by far, was UCLA, which went 9-5.

Is anybody really talking about Connor Norman's poor performance in the Clemson game? So much for him "knowing" the defense and being a "smart" player. He was clearly over-matched and in the 2nd half Clemson abused him in the short passing game. Looked like Boyd made his decision on who was getting the ball pre-snap, meaning whoever Norman was covering.
- Sherdan Crawley, Warner Robins, GA

Fans were talking about it, but it wasn't discussed much in the press box or around the team, from what I could tell. There were a lot of mishaps on defense to go around. Norman got beat on one touchdown, but that was a well-thrown pass by Boyd on a wheel route, and at least Norman was on his man, picking him up out of the backfield. Norman was actually more at fault for a first-half touchdown when he bit on a play-fake, allowing Boyd to hit Watkins for what turned into at touchdown. Blame Norman for mistakes of mind, but not mistakes of talent. Other players got beat on plays too. Tray Matthews’ inexperience showed, especially against the pass, as did Leonard Floyd’s. Brendan Langley was a bit better, but wasn’t too great in the short passing game either.

Norman gets picked on (by some fans) because he’s an easy target, a former walk-on who they feel is being used over deserving scholarship players. But a) Harvey-Clemons was suspended, b) Moore was hurt, and c) Shaquille Fluker wasn’t ready. Plus, Norman was noticeable on Saturday night because he was around the ball on a lot of big plays for Clemson. Well, that’s not necessarily because Norman was playing badly; it was also because he was getting to the right spot, unlike some other defenders. Norman didn’t have a great night, but he didn’t have a bad one either, and fans blaming him are scapegoating the wrong guy.

Could you talk a little "technical" football with us as to our run defense? What are the problems? Two-hundred yards, yikes! More and more, I'm coming to a conclusion its schemes and techniques (especially tackling). Just too many large gaps after the ball is snapped; inability of LBs to get off blocks on very slow developing plays. Since the first half of the LSU game 2 years ago -- we have been plain bad.
- Steve

I was surprised Clemson was able to run the ball as consistently as it did, and it was probably the undoing of the game for Georgia’s defense. If the line is giving up that many yards up the gut, then it causes the back seven to concentrate a bit more on the middle of the field rather than trying to blitz. It’s one reason the team blitzed so much less in the second half.

So are the run defense schemes the issue? It’s hard to say, because they were largely the same schemes used in 2011 when Georgia had one of the best run defenses in the country. But you’re right that there was a big drop-off in run defense last year, basically with the same players. A lot of that may have had to do with not subbing enough, and with playing guys out of position. This year they’re subbing, but it remains to be seen if they’re playing the right people in the right spots.

What is inarguable is that tackling was a big problem, and the Bulldogs are addressing that in practice this week. The question is whether it’s something that can be firmed up with some extra attention and healthy players, or whether it’s just players who aren’t good tacklers.

Any way to ask Coach Bobo to keep a fullback in for pass protection? Having a tailback bump a pass rusher and then continue out into pass route will not work against a guy like Clowney.
- Greg

That could be in the cards, but Bobo isn’t going to come out and say that. But if they do use Hicks as a pass blocker it won’t be all the time, as you’re still talking about a 20-pound difference (advantage to Clowney), and you’re also taking away a receiver. The Bulldogs may actually be better off spreading it out – four wides with Gurley or Marshall back there – and having Murray make as quick a read as possible.

I've seen a lot of criticism on the Georgia message boards directed at Mike Bobo for the Clemson loss, but relatively little criticism of Grantham and the defense. What gives? Shouldn't Grantham be taking some heat for the defense giving up almost 200 yards rushing and 38 points? Were the expectations for the defense really that low? Which Georgia coordinator do you think had a better night last Saturday?
- Dallas Smith

Ah, the message boards. I’ve heard the same thing on my Twitter feed and the comment section of my blog. Someone even wrote that “Bobo has to go.” Yup, that’s not hyperbolic at all!

All things considered, I don’t think the defense had a terrible night, and neither do people around the program. It was the first time out for so many new players, and without one of the key defensive stars, and against one of the best offenses in the country.

Still, one can’t help but step back and wonder if expectations are overtaking common sense: The offense scored 38 points (without good field position) and had 545 total yards, and Bobo is taking heat. The defense gave up 35 points and 467 yards. I don’t think Grantham should be criticized for that, given everything, but he shouldn’t be canonized either.

Do you think our O-line will be able to make the changes this week to be able to protect Murray against South Carolina?
- Jonathan Grimes, via Twitter

Jonathan, I reserve the right to be surprised, but I’ve been covering this program for four years now, and when it comes to this offensive line, it’s appropriate to be quite jaded.

1) Well, now that we realize our version of the pistol offense apparently takes too long to shoot and the results are usually UGA with 3rd and long, and with one of our main weapons gone on offense what changes can we expect on offense? More one-back sets? Since Hicks proved to be a decent weapon too, maybe more I-formation? Maybe we see Reggie Davis shed the redshirt?

2) Rumor was we were going to play more guys on defense, but I saw lots of the secondary guys playing nearly the whole game. What gives?
- Grant J. Tallahassee, FL

1) Reggie Davis wasn’t going to redshirt to begin with, and definitely won’t now. As for the rest, Bobo hasn’t filled me in on the gameplan yet.

2) Yeah, this surprised me too. The defensive line did sub, and there was some of it among the linebackers too, with Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough playing early. But the secondary didn’t sub much at all. Shaq Wiggins and Sheldon Dawson hardly played. Tray Matthews and Connor Norman hardly left the field. I’d imagine you’ll see more subbing this time around.

Two somewhat related questions:

Did you notice the three video screens in Memorial Stadium being flashed like a strobe light right before UGA snapped the ball on Saturday? I'm not sure if it was before every snap but I noticed it quite a bit from my seat in the upper deck. Do you know if that is legal? And what is your opinion on how it could affect an offense's pre snap adjustments?
-Daniel, Atlanta, GA

During the game you heard Death Valley playing music to get the crowd fired up and IT WORKED!! Why has UGA stopped doing this?
- Rob McRae, via Twitter

Here’s the deal with the music: Per ACC rules, Clemson was allowed to play music before snaps – actually, the rule is until the center gets over the ball. But that’s not legal in the SEC yet. Greg McGarity told me that it will be starting in 2014, but a rule legalizing it won’t take effect this year. So you will not hear “canned music” between plays. The band can play, however.

As for the strobe lights, I didn’t notice it, and neither did anyone I spoke to, but it was probably related to the canned music being played.

I'm tired of it. Sick of it really. I'm not talking about our team, players or coaches. I'm talking about our fans. If you want to complain about the way we're playing fine. Murray throwing interceptions? Fine. D can't tackle? Fine. But if you're going to cry and complain about things then you have an obligation to show up to the next game, against a top 10 team and cheer until your lungs hurt. Clemson had an electric atmosphere. Quite possibly one of the best I've ever been to. South Carolina last year same thing. The only time in the past 10 ten years Sanford Stadium has been like either of those games was the first Blackout Game and that wasn't until we came out in black jerseys or they started to play Soulja Boy over the loud speakers. We shouldn't have to have our Coach or players asking/pleading for the fans to show up in a big way. Our fans can make fun of South Carolina's mascot/introduction whatever or Clemson's run down the hill but frankly when it comes to creating the best possible atmosphere for a college game, one that would give our team an advantage, our fans fall short …. Luckily there is always the next game to change that.
- R. Braver, Cumming Ga.

Thank you for your thoughts. I’ve heard this sentiment from a few fans lately and over the past few years. I guess we’ll see on Saturday how the atmosphere at Sanford holds up.

We pretty much got what I expected Saturday night defense-wise. Young guys who will get better. Everyone's pointed out the poor and all too oft penalized play of the O line. Spot on and gotta fix that fast. My concern moving forward is the O play calling. I kept waiting for Murray to go shotgun exclusive and I'm still perplexed that we saw nothing from Artie Lynch. That pre-botched field goal goaline stand was ridiculous. I know you can't say that Bobo (is a bad name) you need him talking to you the rest of the season, so please instead humor us with your view of the play-calling and what needs to change this weekend against the Spurrierites.
- Paul Sparrow, "Low Country Dawg In Exile"

I’d have no problem criticizing Bobo if I felt he deserved it. I did point out on Sunday that the goal-line play-calling you alluded to was a “rare predictable moment for Bobo,” who the last few years has really opened things up. It’s funny how fans (not necessarily you Paul) forget that and immediately revert to the old, tired criticisms of Bobo’s playcalling. The coaches (Richt and Bobo) have said they'd like to have that sequence back. They put too much confidencec in the running game, and it didn't work out. Yes, a blown opportunity.

Otherwise, you’re talking about an offer that put up 545 total yards and averaged 7.8 yards per play – above last year’s 7.1 yards per play, which was the nation’s best. The offense put up 35 points without the benefit of good field position, and with the team’s best receiver getting injured on the second series of the game, thus taking out a decent chunk of the playbook. I mean, people, come on. Blame the O-line and some of Murray’s passes, yes. But suddenly Bobo got stupid again?

As for the tight ends, upon re-watching the game Clemson’s defense was bunching the middle a bit more, perhaps with an eye on stopping Gurley and Marshall up the gut. So more of Murray’s 29 pass attempts were headed outside. Also, Murray’s one interception was on a pass intended downfield for Lynch.

1) Do you think we will see Gurley and Marshall in the same backfield without a fullback like Auburn did with Cadillac and Ronnie Brown?

2) Saw where Orson Charles "survived" the Bengals final cuts. I know he is still young, but do you think that Charles will at some point excel in the NFL? I've always liked him as a player and he seems to have all the physical tools, but he has never really broken out as a game changer.
- Jarrett Moore, Macon

1) Richt has said that while they have a package with Gurley and Marshall together, he’s pretty reluctant to use it. “There’s only football,” Richt pointed out on his radio show the other day, and whoever isn’t getting it has to block. So they’d rather have a better blocker in there, as Hicks has shown himself to be, than just have one of the tailbacks as a decoy.

2) I like Orson a lot and enjoyed covering him, and enjoyed catching up with him in Cincinnati. But it wasn’t a great sign that they essentially gave up on him as a tight end so quickly. Unless the fullback experiment works, his best hope may be catching on somewhere else where someone has confidence in him.

Many of us read Mark Bradley's AJC recent article about CMR shaving his nest. Bradley went to interview BH and the first two minutes consisted of BH explaining his new nest cut. Obviously, there is some sort of obsession with nest cuts. At UGA day last year at Cobb Galleria, the first words out of BH's mouth were about his latest summer nest cut. In this latest addition, BH had the feathers removed from the nest. This is a drastic change for BH. What impact (positive or negative) will the removal of the feathers from the nest have on the season? More time in the tanning bed? More time coaching? Less time putting hand through hair during the game? More time spent discussing strategy at half-time? I'll hang up and allow the debate to begin.
- Papa K.. Atlanta, GA

I just … uh … well … I’m really not sure where to go with this.

1) Who do you think will step in and fill the role as both the long ball threat and big playmaker, with the injury of Malcolm Mitchell?
2) What are your thoughts on our inability/unwillingness to throw a screen play the last few years. It used to be such a cornerstone of our offense, and the last few seasons I've hardly seen us run it at all.
- Brian Hooks

1) They’re not going to be able to singularly replace Mitchell’s playmaking abilities. But there are still plenty of guys that can make plays and perhaps stretch the defense. Justin Scott-Wesley is the first candidate, given his speed. So could Reggie Davis, who obviously will not redshirt now. But people also forget about Rantavious Wooten, who nearly had a 34-yard touchdown catch, but it was ruled on replay that he didn’t quite make it in the end zone. Finally, don’t forget that Bennett and Conley can go downfield too.

2) They actually threw a screen pass on the first play of the game. Gurley was stopped for a 1-yard gain. They tried another screen pass to Gurley near the goal-line, and it was tipped and nearly intercepted. Keith Marshall caught two passes for 28 yards, and Quayvon Hicks caught a pass and went 38 yards.

What happened to the strength and conditioning program, the Dawgs got smacked in the mouth on both sides of the line, I thought debt would help but no, very few graded out 75%, or better, the WRs and RBs held up their part, Jenkins and Hicks looked powerful but overall a poor effort.
- Steve Hester

Well, you pointed out that Jenkins and Hicks looked good, and they’re part of the strength program, both with one year in it. The linemen on both sides, however, did not look great. But not to sound like a broken record here, but let’s see more than one game before we jump to massive conclusions.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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