Mailbag: Resisting the pitchforks, to a point

semerson@macon.comOctober 24, 2013 

It's a credit to my readers that questions this week veered away from demanding blood, and centered more on specific concerns and criticisms. In the rational section of the fan base, there is an understanding that the answer is not always heads rolling.

That said, I've always liked the word pitchfork, for some reason, so I'll lead with the submission that had it in the first sentence.

I'm trying to keep my pitchfork out in the shed and suppress my "day tuk r jobsss!!!" mentality because I want to be a rational guy; however, something deep inside me wants to retrieve that pitchfork and storm the gates of Butts-Mehre. Special team problem's mostly boil down to the execution by an individual player. I get that. The offense is a mash unit. Fine. The defense on the other hand , I'm not buying the excuses. Yes we lost a lot of people the last few years for various reasons but what program doesn't? Alabama seems to deal with it pretty well, as does LSU. This is Grantham's fourth year and the cupboard should be stocked because he gets paid well to do that. The pitchfork beckons and I need a little info before I respond. Could you give me a breakdown of DC salaries versus their unit's performance in the SEC over that last four years or at least an educated guess? I know there are a lot of other factors involved but those issues should be distributed equally over the conference and not specific to our program. I just want to know bang for buck.
- Keith, Athens, GA

Grantham is the third-highest paid defensive coordinator in the SEC, as far as can be determined. Here is a sampling of what the defensive coaches in the SEC are earning:

- Alabama's Kirby Smart leads the way, at $1.15 million. - LSU's John Chavis also makes more than $1 million. - Auburn's Ellis Johnson comes in at $800,000. - South Carolina's Lorenzo Ward is at $650,000. - Missouri's Dave Steckel is earning $550,000. - Texas A&M's Mark Snyder was getting $500,000 as of last year. - Tennessee's John Jancek, in his first year, is getting $475,000. - Florida's D.J. Durkin, who was promoted this season, is getting $490,000.

Brian VanGorder earned $850,000 last year in his only year at Auburn.

I am a definitely an Aaron Murray supporter, but I was curious if you could address the possibility of Mason getting some playing time this season to start preparing for 2014. Obviously, Murray would still be expected to play the vast majority, but it might be nice to get Mason a little in-game experience.
- Grant Zarzour

And this …

If the Bulldogs come up short against Florida, should they sit Murray on the bench (at least part of the game) and let Mason get some quality snaps in under center, in preparation for next year?
- Joshua Davidson

This thought has bounced around among some fans. No coach has been asked about it, but I feel pretty confident squelching it myself.

For one thing, Georgia still feels it has plenty to play for, even if it loses to Florida. This staff does not want to go into the recruiting cycle off a poor season, and will want to finish with as many wins as possible, and as convincingly as possible.

But it also wouldn’t be fair to Murray. He’s been a good citizen and teammate for four years, and he’s played well. So sitting him for next year’s presumed starter would be sending the wrong message on a lot of levels.

Does it appear to you that Mike Bobo has reverted back to conservative play calling in the last two games? Our offense was going to be our strength this year and even with the injuries at receiver, don't you think you still have to call nearly the same plays as if Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, and Bennett were in there? Bobo is calling nearly the same running plays as if Gurley and Marshall are in there but not the same passing plays. That hurt us more in the Vandy game than the Mizzou game. With Gurley back for the Gators, we still need to stretch the field in the passing game or he will not be able to run the ball effectively either.
Kelvin Phillips, Snellville

There’s no doubt it was a conservative gameplan at Vanderbilt. As I pointed out in my second glance story, I don’t think the playcalling got more conservative as the game went on, it just got less effective. Vanderbilt realized Georgia wasn’t throwing deep, so it moved the safeties up and adjusted overall. The diminished run game in the second half was the biggest problem.

I just don’t think you can ignore the injuries. The past two games they’ve been down their top two tailbacks and three of their top four receivers, and the overall offensive production has suffered as a result. Maybe they should have tried a few more shots downfield, but too many people live in a video game world, thinking you just call a play and execute it. It doesn’t work that way in the real world, not when you’ve had to overturn your skill position personnel midseason.

Gurley being back, and Bennett probably too, should help open things up against Florida. Murray and Arthur Lynch made it pretty clear they think Gurley is a game-changing presence.

Reading over your second glance observations is always interesting, and I tend to agree with most of it. Everybody's immediate response is to fire one of the coaches after a loss, but a lot of it comes down to execution. One thing that really struck me on initially watching the game that you didn't discuss is the play of Murray. I personally thought he had his worst game of the year. He seemed to revert back to the way he played a lot in his first two years, where he was indecisive and starring down receivers a lot of times. He also doesn't seem to have the faith in the TEs that most of the fans do. I know not having the receivers he trusts the most was a big part of that, but what did you think about Murray in this game? And what are your thoughts on Lynch? I still think he's one of the best TEs in college football. If UGA wants to run a pro-style offense, why are they not utilizing the TE as a weapon in the way the pro teams are, when they're too big for a S and too fast for a LB? Especially with the other injuries they've had.
- James Echterhoff

Lynch addressed the that issue in a story I posted on Thursday morning – after you sent in your question, to be fair to you.

I do agree that Murray had his worst game of the year, but that’s all relative. When Murray says that he and his receivers just need to develop trust, implying that the issue is not practicing together enough, he may just be trying to be a good teammate. The truth is that those receivers have to run the correct routes, and Murray has to have enough time to throw.

For an offense to succeed as well as Georgia did the first four games, all the main points – runners, passers, quarterback, line – need to be working in concert. The formula for Georgia last year and the first four games of this year was an excellent group of skill position players, who sometimes disguised the shakiness of the line. When you suddenly lose almost all of those skill position players, then … well, you see now.

You said half the teams in FBS have a special teams coach, I believe. How many SEC teams have a special teams coach ? Is there any way to statistically evaluate effectiveness of Special teams “play “ and then correlate to who does and does not have a special teams coach ? I kind of feel like what Mark Richt said, just having a special teams coach does not automatically solve all of your problems. How much time in a normal practice day or week is devoted to “special teams” Punting, kickoff and field goal coverage. Punting and kickoff returns I assume is the definition of special teams.
- Robert Burnham

Richt was actually the person who estimated that about half of teams handle it his way, and have use a coordinator. I haven’t done the research (there are 123 FBS teams) but I would estimate it’s well under half that don’t have a coordinator. And Missouri is the only other SEC team, though it seems to work for the Tigers.

Where Richt is probably right is that very few teams actually have a special teams coordinator who only handles special teams. The staff limitations being what they are, almost everybody has their tight ends coach, inside linebackers coach, or someone like that serve as special teams coordinator. Florida’s Jeff Choate is the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Alabama’s Bobby William and Scott Fountain are both the tight ends coaches and special teams coordinator.

Georgia Tech is one team that does have a special teams coordinator with no other duties. (David Walkosky has served in that role since last year.)

Virginia Tech, known for its special teams play (“Beamer Ball”) does not officially have a special teams coordinator. Much of that is because head coach Frank Beamer oversees them.

Do you think Grantham made a conscious effort to simplify the gameplan last week, or was it just because of the opposing offense? For that matter, do you think the gameplan really was simplified, or are the schemes just starting to click for our players?
- Dallas Smith, College Park, MD

It’s probably a little of both. We haven’t had a chance to talk to Grantham this week because of the bye week. Garrison Smith actually said the gameplan was NOT simplified, to his knowledge, but he’s a defensive linemen, so it’s possible Grantham just simplified it for the back seven. That makes sense, since they needed it.

But otherwise I’ll refrain from saying anything until I get more info.

What had to happen for Sheldon Dawson not to be playing secondary until Vanderbilt game? I thought he was scheduled for more playing time?
- James Pierce, Macon

First Brendan Langley happened, and then Shaq Wiggins. Langley struggled, as you’d expect a freshman too, but Wiggins is making it impossible to take him out of the lineup.

But the other thing is Georgia has played no dime coverage this year, and most of the nickel defense has included Josh Harvey-Clemons. So it’s very, very rare that three cornerbacks have been on the field at the same time. That could change now that Harvey-Clemons is hurt, depending on how long he’s out. And the nickel defense was effective enough without him that even when he returns Grantham might opt to keep him at strong safety and play three corners. We shall see.

I'm curious as to how the coaches decide which injured or otherwise inactive players attend road games. I know there's a limit to the number of players who can be dressed, but is their a limit on how many guys can be on the sideline? I know Gurley's been on the sideline, but why, for example, did Mathews and Marshall not make the trip? Or (uninjured) Turman? It seems almost like a punishment not to include those guys. Can you enlighten me on that?
- Dan Judy

That’s a good question. Teams can dress 70 players per game. If you’re the visiting team, there’s nothing that can stop you from bringing more people than that, but most of the time it’s not really worth it if you know a guy can’t play. That’s especially the case for injured players: If you’ve ever flown, you know you’re better off staying at home rather than the hassle of traveling. Sometimes a team will travel a player who it won’t play, just for the experience, but Georgia’s injury situation has been such that it hasn’t needed to do that. So that’s just generally speaking on the travel roster.

Gurley has been traveling because a) they wanted him around for that 1 percent chance he woke up and the ankle was suddenly better, and b) he’s a good teammate and the coaches think he’s a positive influence on the sidelines. Indeed, if you look around at team huddles, Gurley always seems to be there, waving a towel. Marshall and Matthews seem to be good teammates too, but I think their injuries were such that it wasn’t worth the risk of flying. Marshall especially: It’s a bad idea to travel on an ACL. I’ve known people get blood clots while flying.

Finally, Turman actually is injured a bit. His right ankle was heavily taped in practice last week. He did practice, but apparently the coaches deemed it not good enough to play.

Could you please explain why they have to wait to the end of the season to fix the targeting rule? It seems that everybody's (announcers, writers, coaches, fans) opinion is that it was badly written. Would it not make sense to fix it now. If it is that they have to get together, they could use this new technology called conference call.
- Bob Ingram

In a perfect world, they’d do just that. But this is not a perfect world. This is the NCAA.

But I think the easiest thing to predict about this offseason is they’re going to give the replay booth the right to overturn the 15-yard penalty, in addition to the ejection. I’d be shocked if that doesn’t happen.

Seth: in addition to a poorly coached defense, injuries and special teams, I can’t help but to point to the # of legitimate scholarships we have out there. Said another way, our inability to recruit and retain talent. We have to be one of the few top tier programs with two kickers on scholarship (we actually got up to 3 for a couple of yrs) and <80 true scholarship players. We are effectively putting our program on probation every year. Thoughts?
- Patrick K. Rutherford

Oh, I don’t know if it’s all quite like that. For one thing, the program signed 33 players this year. The attrition that happened after the 2011 season is the issue, which has proven long lasting. It’s the reason so many freshmen are playing in the secondary. Yes, Georgia only signed 19 players last year, but Richt has said that if he knew so many players would be dismissed in the ensuing months he would have signed more.

A lot of programs do have two kickers/punters on scholarship. Just imagine all the criticism Mark Richt would get, considering the grief over not having a special teams coordinator, if he didn’t have a punter on scholarship.

But then you have long snapper, where Nate Theus did merit a scholarship, but has been fighting off Trent Frix for that job. Obviously the big reason, perhaps the only one, that Theus is on scholarship is because the coaches really wanted his younger brother. Still, if you’re going to have a long snapper on scholarship, he should probably have that job locked down.

Who is looking at being red-shirted this year?? What impact will they see down the road?? What are the rules with redshirts (ie. Kubanlow)?
- Daniel Holbrook

I’ll keep my answer to your first and third questions, because the middle one deserves its own blog post, perhaps at the end of the season.

Those redshirting this year, barring a huge change of plans, with injured players noted: QB Brice Ramsey, WR Tramel Terry, DL John Atkins, RB A.J. Turman, S Shaquille Fluker, CB Reggie Wilkerson, OLB Shaun McGee, DE Davin Bellamy, TE Jordan Davis, DT Moose Johnson, G Josh Cardiello, OL Aulden Bynum, S-ILB Paris Bostick, WR Uriah LeMay, CB Kennar Johnson.

Kublanow is not being redshirted, as he has played in two games. The staff is giving him some playing time this year in preparation for a chance to make a run at one of the guard spots next spring.

The rule on redshirts is that once you step on the field for a play, no matter if it’s the first game or the last, the redshirt is burned. However, if you play in one-third or less of the season and then get hurt, you can apply for a medical redshirt. Therefore Malcolm Mitchell is eligible for one. But Keith Marshall, who was hurt in Game 5, is not.

The same goes for Justin Scott-Wesley, but he redshirted already. You can only get a sixth year of eligibility if you miss TWO seasons because of injury. But that also means someone like Reggie Wilkerson or Paris Bostick could apply for a sixth year if they were to suffer another season-ending injury down the road.

Fluker, by the way, is listed as having played in the North Texas game. The team lists him as now being out with an unspecified illness and will seek a medical redshirt.

Four things stand out in neon lights (1) Hutson Mason has to get some playing time - start him and finish with him in the App State game - it will probably translate into an additional win for next season (2) It's time for the two year experiment of Kenarious Gates at left tackle to come to an end - it ain't gonna work (3) Stop screwing with the punter's heads - if you're still holding open tryouts this late in the season it's a wonder that either one of them can still function or even hold a football (4) The offensive line coach is either totally dysfunctional, a paranoid schizophrenic, or way in over his head - Theus and Houston are both dazed and confused rotating starts with no apparent rhyme or reason - Gates is overwhelmed with no fault of his own for not being able to play out of position, Dallas Lee, I pity the poor guy and he's a senior! Thanks and hopefully logic and common sense will kick in soon.
- Tom Johnson

1. Disagree, as noted earlier. 2. Generally agree. Gates always struck me as a guard, not a tackle. 3. Generally agree, but it does appear Barber has the job, as long as he can learn to catch snaps. 4. Disagree totally, but can understand the frustration with the line. The book is still out on Will Friend, but talent to me has always been the main issue. There are no first-round picks on that line. Theus was supposed to be one, but hasn’t shown it yet.

Given that the Cocktail party is likely to be played by the school's mascots, do we have a health report on Hairy Dog, and who is his backup? Has he been cautioned not to make any movements that could be viewed as a tackle football play? I'm really worried that Albert E. Gator will sucker Hairy into getting ejected. Somewhat more seriously, has there ever been a year for the Dawgs like this one; where by season's end they could have beaten USCe, LSU, the Vols, the Gators, WDE and Tech and yet the season would still likely be viewed as disappointing at best?
- Jason in Asheville

It’s a pretty unusual year, for sure. Of course, first Georgia has to beat Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech for your premise to be correct. And those are very dicey games for Georgia now. Particularly the trip to Auburn.

Do you think the philosophy on recruiting will change in the coming years, as far as maximizing the number of players taken every year. You mention in your column in the past that UGA was at a very low number of scholarship players prior to this last class and the depth aspect is really starting to show now. I know this is an unusual number of injuries this year, add in the number of dismissals over the past two years and this team is playing with both hands tied behind its back.

Do you think the idea of not taking players, transfers, from other programs will change. I see other teams in the league with transfers from other schools.
- Cleveland Williams, III, Stone Mountain, GA

Well, Jarvis Jones transferred in, and he worked out pretty well, so I certainly don’t think Georgia is reluctant to take transfers. It reached out to Penn State players a couple years ago, without any ultimate success. You hit on the main point: The attrition from two years ago, which has turned out to have a profound effect on the secondary. As I pointed out in my Grantham column last week, three of those who left (Nick Marshall, Chris Sanders, Jordan Love), would be experienced members of the secondary right now, and don’t forget about Derek Owens. The injuries have hit the receiver and tailback spots a bit differently. The receiver spot is very deep, but it took three key losses at the top of the depth chart, and I don’t think any program – not even Alabama – can withstand that. The tailback depth is more similar to the secondary: Attrition from two years ago, with Ken Malcome and Isaiah Crowell being two guys who would still be on this year’s team. But Georgia is doing its best not to repeat this situation, planning to sign Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, and keeping the redshirt on A.J. Turman.

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