Mailbag: Bust talk, Auburn, chippiness, defense

semerson@macon.comNovember 7, 2013 

UGA_v_FL

Officials intervene in scuffle on field between the Georgia offense and the Florida defense. As the game wore on, tempers repeatedly flared on field after play.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com

Every season it seems Georgia fans are asking themselves the same question over and over; “Is this the year? Is this the year?” We have been asking ourselves that question since 1980, and it seemed yet again that we might finally be able to answer that looming question in the affirmative. But now, that we all know this year ISN’T the year, in your opinion is this season a bust? What positive take a ways can the Bulldawg Nation get from this football season so far? Is it unfair to put too much emphasis on winning it all every year?
- Ray Bailey

A school with Georgia’s reservoir of in-state talent should absolutely expect to be in contention for championships every year, but that doesn’t mean you can do that every year. During the Mark Richt era, the Bulldogs have finished in the top 5 nationally three different years: 2002 (No. 3), 2007 (No. 2) and 2012 (No. 5.) There just hasn’t been that breakthrough yet.

This year, as I’ve said before, is a lost year. The injuries are the No. 1 factor, as any of the rational observers out there, who don’t have an agenda, clearly realize. So it’s not a bust. But it’s also not a success. It’s just a lost year.

(Or at least it is at the moment. Four games remain, which means a chance for Georgia to get some help and get back to the SEC championship game. Or it could bottom out too. As Damian Swann pointed out last night, Georgia still isn’t bowl eligible yet.)

I live in Columbus, where there are many, many Auburn fans due to the fact that we are so close in proximity. I can't stand them and their War Eagles. So my question: What is our realistic shot of pulling off the upset? They always seem to get lucky with turnovers and their defense seems suspect. Are you expecting a shootout?
- John Franco, Columbus

What, people are already looking past Appalachian State? That’s nuts!

It is funny how starkly the outlook for the Auburn game has turned for Georgia. Even with Todd Gurley presumably healthy, Auburn will be the favorite, and the Tigers have earned that by the way they’ve played. The win at Texas A&M convinced me. At this point I’d pick Auburn to win, but there’s easily a path to Georgia victory too.

I’d be shocked if it’s not a shootout. Georgia’s defense may be improving, but not at THAT fast a rate, and Gus Malzahn’s offense is rolling. The key is whether a healthy and conditioned Gurley can allow Georgia to dominate possession time, equal Auburn point for point, and then Georgia’s defense can make just enough stops. The Bulldogs did it that way in wins over South Carolina and LSU, and can do so again.

The problem for the Bulldogs is that this game is in Auburn, in front of a crowd and against a team that will badly want to avenge a two-game losing streak. That’s going to be a lot to overcome.

My question comes due to an eagerness for the Auburn game to get here (beating them while ranked so highly could really redeem a lot of things), and is twofold. First could you handicap Chris Conley's chances of being ready for that game? Having him and Bennett in the lineup along with Gurley would be great for the offense. Second, what is the conditioning regimen during recovery from bad ankle sprains? Seemingly the ankle keeps you from running, riding a stationary bike, etc. Are they training in a pool or something similar? Does Georgia even have a facility like that? Is there anything they really can do to try and keep in playing shape?
- Carey, Athens

The fact Conley hasn’t been practicing this week isn’t encouraging. But neither has Arthur Lynch, and I would think he’s pretty likely to play against Auburn. Conley is going to be closer than 50-50. I do agree it would make a big difference, as you saw the passing game was still somewhat limited with Bennett essentially replacing Conley in the lineup. But put both of them out there, and that forces the defense to worry about those underneath routes, which finally may spring a deep ball chance for Rantavious Wooten or Reggie Davis.

Georgia does have heating pools where players treat injuries. But the best rehab for ankles is rest and treatment.

I read your blog daily and really enjoy your take on the Dawgs. When I was watching the game against FL, the commentators mentioned that Gurley had gotten a 2nd unsportsmanlike flag and that he would be suspended. I know that you usually rewatch the television broadcast, but I can't remember you posting it this week. So I'm not sure if you saw it, but I haven't seen you mention it. I take it he will not be out against the Mountaineers.
- Jacob, Chickamauga

That was in error. No player on either team got a second personal foul, and thus all should be good to go this Saturday, unless the SEC wanted to step in and issue any discipline. And there has been no indication of that.

Who pays the medical bills for the surgeries of Mitchell, Bennett, Scott-Wesley et al? That stuff isn't cheap.
- Melissa Raab

That’s a good question. I asked UGA’s communication office, and they said the medical bills are paid by a combination of personal and athletics department insurance coverages.

What bowl is most likely for UGA if they finish 9-3 or 8-4?
- Travis Jordan

I’d think one of the Florida bowls or the Chik-fil-A would be the destination. If Georgia runs the table the rest of the way, or just has a close loss at Auburn, then bowls will be attracted to a team whose narrative is that it lost a few games because of injury, and has one of next year’s Heisman candidates.

Of course, a lot of it is dictated simply by record – the SEC office makes sure of that – so there’s still a lot of moving parts. But if Georgia is 9-3 or 8-4, you’d think it wouldn’t get picked by the Cotton or Capital One (the SEC’s top non-BCS bowls) but it wouldn’t fall further than the Gator.

Are you surprised that the SEC office has been silent on the pettiness of Saturday's game? I was sure we would see some kind of punishment handed down, as I thought several players were penalized twice. And as a neutral observer, did Florida seem to be the instigator (sorry, no pun intended) or was it pretty even? My opinion - they were thugs, but then again I'm all Dawg.
- Bob Ho, Tucker

There seemed to be a lot of blame going around, but for what it’s worth there didn’t seem to be a spillover into the postgame, and every player I’ve talked to has chalked it up to the intensity of a rivalry game.

I do know that some folks at Georgia have been passing around the still photo of Gurley’s helmet either being pulled at under a pile, or his eyes being gouged. Gurley hasn’t spoken to the media so we haven’t had a chance to ask him about it. As I said earlier, there wasn’t any indication of any SEC action, but if the conference were going to take action against Gurley, I suspect UGA would respond vociferously by showing that photo.

Do you have a sense of the coaching staff's expectations for the team, particularly on defense, for next year? My guess is that this is a terrible question since coaches are at least outwardly relentlessly focused on the now, but I thought maybe there are little comments or suggestions here or there which can provide some insight into where Richt and Grantham see things going given all the experience we'll have and the apparent and relative ease of the schedule. ... That's wordy. Sorry.

Or what of you? With your access and constant vigilance, would you find it wrong-headed to feel like UGA is better positioned to overcome Murray's graduation in '14 than the defensive losses for this year especially considering scheduling? ...That's actually a better question, I think.
- Paul Welch

Richt and Grantham haven’t talked too much about next year’s defense, mainly for the reasons you stated. People can also be free to read into whether there are other reasons.

But defensive players are starting to bring up next year A LOT. Swann did this week, unprompted, when we were talking about this year’s defensive performance, saying: “It’s been kind of late. But we’re still making those strides, to finish the year off strong, and prepare for next year.”

In separate conversations guys like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins have also mentioned next year. There are so many guys who aren’t draft-eligible who know they’ll be back, and then guys like Swann, who aren’t having the kind of years that will make them big draft prospects. The recent improvement of the defense is at least giving players something to hang on, that they do have some potential for next year.

Now do I believe it? Yeah, I could see this group having the same type of jump it made from 2010-to-2011. But it’s not a given, and it could also use another impact player or two. Remember, that 2011 defense added Jarvis Jones and John Jenkins. There are a couple potential recruits out there (Lorenzo Carter) who could make an impact. And among the returning players, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Jenkins, Floyd and Tray Matthews have room to grow and become stars.

Any chance Douglas could move to fullback next year?
- Bryan Hall

I doubt it. Yes, they’re bringing in two more highly-touted tailbacks (Sony Michel and Nick Chubb), but they’re also not losing either of this year’s top two fullbacks. Plus, Douglas has been such a pleasant surprise at tailback, why mess with that?

1. Seth - why does Chase Vasser never play? He clearly has fallen out of favor to go from starting several games to never getting on the field as a senior. What happened?

2. In my opinion the criticism of Grantham is undeserved as the secondary has no experience (even the non-freshman DB's have barely played before this year). Do you agree?

3. Why is our punt return game so poor? We seem to present no threat to ever block the punt or set up a return and seem to have settled to play punt safe ever punt and HOPE our punt returner manages to not fumble the punt catch. Why so passive? With UGA's athletes this seems to conservative.
- Brett Townsend

1. Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins happened to Chase Vasser, who started some games early last year, before Jenkins’ emergence. Then Floyd’s play early this year pretty much buried Vasser.

2. This is a larger question that deserves its own blog post, or column. But the short answer is that youth clearly is a big issue in the secondary.

3. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but my sense is the punt block/return unit, much like the special teams in general, has been so concerned with plugging the leaks that it’s come at the cost of being on the offensive. It also probably hasn’t helped to have Malcolm Mitchell out for the year, as he was set to be one of the top punt returners.

How are things going w the new baseball coach? Basketball predictions?
- Beau Martin

I’ll check in with Scott Stricklin’s bunch this spring. I know fall practice has been underway for awhile, and there’s always the new hope that comes with a coaching change. But as for whether the baseball team is demonstrably better, I don’t know, I’d be curious whether this team has an ace starter or a middle-of-the-order hitter. It’s lacked both the last couple years.

My feeling after watching the basketball team the other night is that it can be decent, and maybe make a run at the NIT. But there’s not a ton of 3-point shooting, and the inside play remains an issue. (I’ll have a lot more college basketball coverage starting this week, with the season starting Friday.)

Is Gurley’s mouth going to get him in trouble? Is his “chippiness” more pronounced this year? And how is Keith Marshall doing?
-Claire in Milledgeville

Gurley’s always had a bit of an edge to him, as those of us in the media can attest. So it’s no surprise some of it would translate to the field. But teammates and coaches love him, and by all accounts he’s a pretty smart kid, so you’d think if it’s looking to become a problem, someone will get to him to nip it in the bud.

Marshall is continuing to rehab, along with Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. They’ll all skip spring practice, I would imagine, and aim for being ready for summer workouts.

Do I recollect correctly that at half time you thought that the Dogs looked ready to take over in the second half vs. Clemson, Missouri, and Florida? Missouri and Vandy are a little blurry in my mind but it seems at least one if not both had that feel. Not passing judgment on you, perhaps more so on the Dogs.
- Bruce, no longer in Portland

Well, yeah. Georgia has been outscored 134-108 in the second half of games this year – and 79-54 in the fourth quarter. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote at halftime of those games, but I know I thought the Florida game was over, and felt the Vanderbilt game was close to over. Good calls by me, right? Missouri, however, had a 28-10 halftime lead, so I felt Georgia could make a run, but the offensive injuries meant the deficit may be too much to overtime. Then Georgia did rally, and was a two-point conversion away from tying it, before Missouri’s offense took over again.

For the most part the defense looked pretty good Saturday, however I am a bit hesitant to what reason I can attribute that to. I want to believe that they just got better but another part of me thinks that Florida was pretty one-dimensional, predictable and horrible at executing on offense. What do you think?
- Kevin Williams, Columbus

Georgia’s defense, in my mind, is making incremental progress, to the point where it is now an average SEC defense. But it’s only now playing at the level it could have/should have been at the first half of the season, if not for a porous secondary.

It is interesting to hear the "hot seat" talk pick up on Will Muschamp. In my opinion, Muschamp is going to be a great coach someday. I also think folks in the know (coaches, ADs) feel that way. But it got me thinking about all the factors that impact performance in a given year that cloud the actual ability of the coach - individual players, roster turnover, schedule, injuries, luck, etc.

My question is, if you were an AD and could choose any SEC head coach to lead your program for the next 20 years, who would you pick? Let's exclude Saban from the discussion.
- Eric Logue

I’m also going to exclude Richt, because I cover his team.

In that case, I’ll take Kevin Sumlin. He has a track record of success at a smaller school as a head coach, and at a big school as a coordinator (Oklahoma). He’s off to a very good start at Texas A&M, recruiting well, and seems to handle the public parts of the job well. And he’s 49, so if the criteria is who you want around the next 20 years, rather than a couple more years of Steve Spurrier, then Sumlin seems like the man.

But I wouldn’t jump ship on Will Muschamp quite yet. Hugh Freeze is also off to a very good start at Ole Miss, as is Malzahn at Auburn. But there’s a reason NFL teams, and possibly Southern California, have Sumlin on their short lists.

Ray Drew has referred to himself as a "crock pot" because of his deliberate, steady progress.

Leonard Floyd, on the other hand, has come on extremely quickly. Might I suggest we start calling Floyd "The Microwave"? Then we would have a Crock Pot and a Microwave, and "Microwave" Floyd has a nice, gangster-like sound to it.
- Dallas Dawg

I like it. Although here’s an interesting tidbit: Floyd is actually older than Drew.

Not by much: Floyd was born on Sept. 8, 1992, and Drew was born 16 days later. But it’s still an interesting side note. Floyd is officially a freshman, but he spent one year in prep school.

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