On the beat: Thoughts on Georgia football, basketball and Bauerle

semerson@macon.comApril 7, 2014 

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt meets with the media on national signing day, Feb. 5 in Athens.

JOHN KELLEY — John Kelley

Another in a recurring segment, in which your humble beat writer imparts some thoughts on the goings-ons with Georgia athletics, and empties his notebook a bit.

Game week, so to speak

Welcome to G-Day week … but not the end of Georgia spring practice. Once again the Bulldogs will hold a couple more practices after their spring game, due mostly to the peculiarities of the academic schedule.

It’s important to remember that G-Day is essentially the final of the three spring scrimmages the Bulldogs are allowed to have by the NCAA. And arguably – maybe it’s not arguable – the spring game is the least important of those three scrimmages. It will get outsized attention because it’s the one everyone can watch. But because the first two scrimmages are closed – to the public and media - those are the ones where the Bulldogs may do more things you’ll see in the season.

In other words, if Mike Bobo is planning to use Faton Bauta in a change-of-pace wishbone attack, chances are you won’t see that Saturday at Sanford Stadium. He’ll save that for Clemson.

(For the record, I am not hinting that Bobo is planning that. I have no idea.)

That doesn’t mean G-Day won’t be worth watching. Most eyes will be on Jeremy Pruitt and the defense, trying to divine the noticeable changes he has wrought. I’ll have a story later in the week focusing more on this, but here’s my early guess on how Pruitt will handle G-Day:

- Plenty of players seeing the field, with playing time distributed fairly evenly. And if the first few weeks of spring practice are any indication, there will be some surprises on the initial first- and second-teams.

- Pruitt will focus less on pure stats and results and more on effort and fundamentals. That’s been his obvious focus the first few weeks, and he doesn’t appear to be in any rush to pick starters.

There could be something else at work here: The last few years of Todd Grantham’s tenure, there seemed an unstated but real competition between Grantham and Bobo. That’s not very unusual for a football team, and not necessarily unhealthy.

Still, it was obvious last year that Grantham and his staff were very happy to do well on G-Day and most of the other scrimmages. But now you have a much different dynamic on staff, which could lend to Pruitt and co. not caring if their defense gives up a few more first downs, as long as it means overall progress, at least in their eyes.

That said, don’t at all be surprised if the defense does well Saturday, given that the offense is so shortened by injuries. Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Jay Rome will definitely be out, Keith Marshall almost certainly will be too, and who knows how many times Todd Gurley will tote the rock. And the defensive line is more experienced than the offensive line.

More football thoughts

I’ve been asked often my impression of the new Georgia coaches. It’s a bit too early to make any major evaluations, but here are some early thoughts:

- Pruitt and his staff seem to be much more focused on fundamentals and technique. That’s not to say Grantham and his staff weren’t at all. (Too often people just want to say the new guy is great the old guy was terrible. A more nuanced view is always appropriate.)

But Pruitt comes from a high school background, as does Kevin Sherrer, and Mike Ekeler has only worked at the college level. That’s compared to Grantham and Kirk Olivadotti, who came from NFL backgrounds. So it’s no surprise the new staff would lean a bit more on teaching. And again, that’s not to say it’s automatically better. But for this defense, it may end up being just what’s needed.

The difference in the current and former coaching staff’s background should also lead to another change come the season: Subbing. Grantham was more used to working with a smaller roster at the NFL roster, something Mark Richt has pointed out before. This year I expect Pruitt to go deeper and employ more packages.

- On the other hand, there isn't a huge difference in the intensity between the old and new staff. Pruitt gets heated during practice, but Grantham did too. The difference could be in the secondary, where Pruitt seems to have injected a lot of energy. One notable surprise to me is Tracy Rocker, who spent the past three years in the “big time” of the NFL and is on his third SEC job. But he didn’t appear bored early in one practice last week.

“This (expletive) is real!” Rocker yelled.

This was during a non-contact, defense-only drill, during the second period of practice. But it was real for Rocker. So there you go.

There’s plenty more I could say about this subject and the football team in general, but I’ll save for later.

Yante for Donte’

Mark Fox is on a bit of roll. After being awarded a two-year contract extension last week, the Georgia men’s basketball coach finally got some good news on the recruiting trail. Yante Maten and Fred Ibuwe committed within hours of each other on Saturday, after the Bulldogs went forever with zero commitments for this year’s class.

Yes, Maten and Ibuwe are not five-star, program-changing recruits. But they’re big men, which is exactly what the program needed in the short term. And it’s not often that Georgia can say it beat out Michigan State and Indiana for a basketball recruit, as it did for Maten.

It might be jumping the gun to say Maten just slides into the starting spot vacated by senior Donte’ Williams. But Maten, listed at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, figures to get a lot of the 21.9 minutes per game that Williams played this past season.

Williams was only Georgia’s sixth-leading scorer, but he did some good things: He must have led the team in tip-backs this year, and he was the second-leading rebounder. There wasn’t anybody returning who looked ready to fill that void.

So Maten’s commitment is important. Early in the season the Bulldogs will just hope he can provide solid minutes and some rebounds. But later on he could develop into a key part of a team that can make a run for the NCAAs.

The Bauerle shock

Last Wednesday, in talking about the contract extension for Fox, athletics director Greg McGarity came off as a bit subdued. That could have been read as a message for Fox, but perhaps something else was at work:

We found out later that on Wednesday Georgia received the notice of allegations from the NCAA against longtime swimming coach Jack Bauerle.

There’s still a long way to go in this story. Bauerle disputes how the NCAA has “framed” the circumstances around the case. He also acknowledged making a “mistake.”

Either way, it’s a stunning situation for Bauerle, perhaps the most successful coach at Georgia right now – tennis coach Manny Diaz being his closest competition. If you were doing a Mount Rushmore of Georgia coaches in all sports, Bauerle would be up there. (Diaz, Suzanne Yoculan and perhaps Vince Dooley being the others.)

At this point, it’s important to let the facts get sorted out before issuing any public predictions on how the case should go. But it’s fair to say this is quite serious: Academic fraud allegations is not butt-dialing a recruit. And this is Georgia’s first letter of allegation from the NCAA since the Jim Harrick fiasco.

It does appear that the NCAA approves of the way Georgia handled the case thus far, which, if you’re looking for a silver lining, is one.

And three more things:

1. After a rough start, Scott Stricklin’s first season as Georgia head baseball coach is going better. The Bulldogs won two of three at Missouri (picked to finish seventh in the SEC East), and have now won two straight SEC series, after also taking two of three from Texas A&M.

The Bulldogs (18-13-1 overall) are already within three wins of equaling last year’s win total. Freshman pitcher Robert Tyler (3-2, 1.37 ERA in 46 innings) has been a pleasant surprise, and the team’s situational hitting has improved. …

2. The performance of Kentucky, Florida and (to a less spectacular extent) Tennessee has been a help to the SEC’s tattered basketball image. It’s been a good run for the conference.

But that doesn’t mean the SEC was that much of a better conference than people said during the season. The better way to put it is that the SEC was very top-heavy. Take Georgia as an example: It went 0-4 against those top three teams (including the SEC tournament), losing every game by double digits, but went 13-4 against the rest of the conference.

3. You may have noticed a new byline around here: Connor Smolensky, a UGA journalism student and Red and Black veteran. He’s been helping out, and doing a good job of it, and we’re excited to have him aboard. Feel free to give him a Twitter follow at @ConnorSmo.

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