Junkyard Mail: Bulldog Nation is not a happy place right now

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Hutson Mason is completing 70 percent of his passes but hasn't challenged anyone downfield. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
Marshall Morgan missed two field goal attempts against South Carolina.  Was that just bad luck? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Marshall Morgan missed two field goal attempts against South Carolina. Was that just bad luck? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Not a great week for Georgia Bulldogs fans, with the super media hype after the opening win over Clemson turning negative. Even Rolling Stone, which normally doesn’t cover sports, jumped on the pile, declaring Mark Richt the Charlie Brown of college football! So, let’s open this week’s fan talk on a couple of positive notes: Georgia plays football again Saturday in Athens (noon kickoff against the Trojans from, where else, Troy) and someone thinks UGA has the best home uniforms.

Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. A lot of folks wrote in the past week expressing frustration over the unsuccessful first-and-goal play in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. But I think that’s been thoroughly discussed, so we move on with some other points made by fans. …

Aaron in Alpharetta writes: Hi Bill, Love the Blawg. Longtime reader, first time e-mailer. I thought UGA gave a pretty good effort against an obviously desperate Carolina team. It seems like a huge reason we didn’t win was just plain luck. A bad holding call on Gurley’s long TD, two missed field goals from a usually reliable kicker, and that last spot on 4th down all could have gone the other direction. If UGA just gets one of those to go our way, it’s a different game (that unsportsmanlike on USC in the 2nd quarter obviously went our way, but it doesn’t come close to offsetting the other unlucky plays). However, it seems like this is the story every year: a team needs the breaks to have a special season and Georgia just doesn’t seem to get those breaks. A few key examples would be the missed FGs by Vandy and UK against Tennessee in 2007, the injuries and bad officiating (Vandy, Mizzou) last year, Shockley getting hurt against Arkansas in 2005, and, of course, the Alabama play from 2012. Do you agree, does Georgia just feel cursed?

Sometimes it seems that way, Aaron, but there’s an old trope that you make your own luck, and most of the unlucky breaks against the Gamecocks had a paw print on them. Yes, the holding call was bad, but Brandon Kublanow had already been called for it once before in the game, and that tends to make the officials assume you’re holding if it remotely looks that way. Inconsistency by a kicker in a program that doesn’t actually coach the kickers is to be expected. And if the Georgia defensive front had gotten any push-back at all on that South Carolina sneak, I’m betting the spot would have been more favorable.

Brunswick Bulldog writes: Bill, before the season started you predicted a 10-2 record for this year’s Dawgs. After having seen our pathetic defense in Columbia, how are you feeling about that prediction now?

A little shaky, Brunswick, but for now sticking to it. That noon kickoff for Tennessee concerns me. Much of the crowd may not even be there yet, much less be into the game. And Tennessee, who played Georgia tough last year, has the week off to prepare. Some folks think even though it’s in Athens that could be a trap game for the Dogs. Despite losing a ton of talent from last year’s team, Missouri looks pretty good so far, and I’ve always thought that road trip could prove troublesome for Georgia. And even Arkansas looks much improved, notching a win over Texas Tech. Florida in Jacksonville is always a challenge, and the Dogs’ only chance against Auburn is probably to try and win a scoring shootout with them, and with a passing game that looks less imposing than a year ago, that may not be possible. If the defense doesn’t improve drastically as the season progresses, it means the offense has to be nearly perfect, and that’s asking a lot.

On Facebook, John McRee writes: Following the Clemson win Coach Richt said he didn’t know how good the Dawgs really were. Well now we know a little more. We are better than Clemson, about the same as East Carolina, not as good as South Carolina, and nowhere close to Texas A&M.

Oh, I’d say Georgia is considerably better than East Carolina, John, even with its defensive struggles. There are quite a few reasons for that, but the main one can be summed up in two words: Todd Gurley.

Steve Pope writes: Bill, Having been a Dawg fan for most of the past 50 years there have been many proud moments as well as many disappointments. The latest was this recent loss to South Carolina. While many point to the mishap at the 4-yard line and the play call, the truth is the Dawgs had been handled for most of the game. The Dawgs always seem to be missing one key ingredient each and every season, even during the glory days of #34, we had a weak QB, not unlike this year. My hope is we get another QB on the field for this year and next year as well. Mason is not the QB in my opinion to help the Dawgs reach the level they strive to achieve.

Hutson Mason is completing 70 percent of his passes but hasn't challenged anyone downfield. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Hutson Mason is completing 70 percent of his passes but hasn’t challenged anyone downfield. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The verdict is still out on Mason, I’ll agree, though it’s worth noting that so far he’s completing 70 percent of his passes (even if he hasn’t been able to go long) and he hasn’t thrown any interceptions. Still, there’ve been a few key plays where the Georgia quarterback and his receivers didn’t seem quite in sync, and he definitely panicked on that first-and-dumb play. I think he’s not as talented as some of Richt’s past QBs (right now he really only could be ranked above Joe Cox and Joe T.) but he has the makings of a good game manager. The question is, if the need arises for him to put the team on his back and really lead them to victory, as Aaron Murray had to do a couple of times, is Mason up to it? Yes, he led a big comeback against Tech last year, but that was mainly accomplished by feeding the ball to Gurley. Here’s hoping when the time comes, Mason can rise to the occasion.

Sally Ford writes: Bill, love the Blawg! But what I don’t love is that Georgia defense I saw Saturday night against the hated Gamecocks. Can you boil it down for me: What’s the problem? And do you think Jeremy Pruitt is going to be able to make a difference?

Although Jeremy Pruitt took much of the blame for the South Carolina loss, saying his calls on 10 to 15 plays put his players at a disadvantage, there’s no denying the first-year defensive coordinator doesn’t have a unit that’s exactly stacked with top talent, aside from the linebacking corps. Much of the talent Georgia signed in the defensive backfield was run off or chose to leave, and the line doesn’t have any dominating players. I’d say the best we can expect with the personnel Pruitt has is modest improvement as the season progresses. To have a top-notch defense, he’ll need to recruit some more top-notch players.

And, on the same subject, Jay Unger writes: I think Pruitt will deliver. The Clemson game might have fooled us into thinking it would be a quick fix, but I think he is the man for the job long term. In time for this year? We’ll see.

Sounds like a fair assessment, Jay.

Russ Martino writes: Bill, I am a die-hard Dawg fan. I have been a Mark Richt supporter and I reckon I still am, but since the loss I have been reading national articles about Richt and how everybody likes him but nobody fears him or how he always seems to lose and Spurrier seems to win games like the one in South Carolina. Some losses really hurt. I know it is just a game. I know Richt is a good man who does so much more for his players than just coach football. Thing is, I hate losing to to Spurrier. I just can’t stand the man. I hate losing to Florida. Yet before [Will] Muschamp took over we routinely lost to the Gators. I have always believed that someday Richt would get his national championship and prove us supporters right. Now I am wondering if I am drinking the Kool-Aid. Hoping you can say something to make us broken hearted Dawg fans feel better.

Is promise turning into disappointment the hallmark of the Mark Richt era at UGA? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Is promise turning into disappointment the hallmark of the Mark Richt era at UGA? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Well, Russ, as they like to say in Athens, it’s still early in the season. Georgia could run the table and South Carolina has a couple of tough games, so the Dawgs still could make it to the Georgia Dome. And, even if the Gamecocks don’t falter and win the SEC East, an 11-1 UGA team likely would make one of the playoff-rotation bowls, if not the playoff itself. But, as I indicated above, I have doubts the Dogs can win out, and if they wind up with two to four losses, as is distinctly possible, they could wind up in the Outback Bowl again.

Which brings up an email discussion I had earlier this week with a lifelong Dawgs fan about the general direction of the program. Said the fan: “So far, preseason predictions are right on: Gurley is amazing, Mason is not particularly good but not terrible, the defense still sucks, the offensive line is not very good and we lost in Columbia yet again. I have a hard time not seeing this team in another New Year’s Day bowl against a middling Big 10 team and I have to say this pattern of being not good enough to win anything and not bad enough to fire anyone is incredibly old.”

What really bothered him, he said, was “to me it was never acceptable for the defense to get this bad that it needs this level of ‘turning around.’ We’ve had the same head coach the whole time, so it’s not like we had an entirely new staff and it was on Richt to get the right guys in as coach and for them to maintain standards of performance which Todd Grantham didn’t do. We’ll see about this guy, but this situation is just not acceptable. … Good, consistent programs don’t fall to this level on defense.”

He added: “I’m just so tired of these kinds of losses … and I am just dreading another year of the Outback Bowl. When does this end?”

I agreed that it’s on Richt letting the defensive situation get this bad. In hindsight, Grantham was a bad hire, but you remember he was like fourth or fifth choice, the pressure was on, and Richt blinked. But, considering what we knew about the defense going into this season, I wouldn’t consider the Outback to be that terrible an outcome.

However, the fan pointed out that “spending all three of Gurley’s years at Georgia never playing above the Capital One or Outback Bowl is a terrible outcome. I’m pretty firmly convinced he’s the best player we’ve had since Herschel Walker. I’d take him over Garrison Hearst, Rodney Hampton and Knowshon Moreno any day at RB and I think he’s better than any QB or WR we’ve had, and yet we may not ever get past the Outback Bowl with him. A.J. Green played in the Capital One, Independence and Liberty Bowls while at Georgia. Aaron Murray never played in a BCS bowl. Matt Stafford and Moreno made it to one. And all those guys certainly tried hard to get us there, but it’s these persistent issues: bad offensive lines, bad defenses, bizarre playcalling/decision making/clock management in crucial moments. It’s just frustrating because there is no end in sight for this stuff. Much of this email could have been written in 2008.”

Sorry to bring you down, Russ, but I can’t really argue with this fan’s assessment.

Along the same lines, Joe Burger writes: All that national attention, well, it was nice for a couple weeks. But anyway, now we can get back to being a Coach Richt UGA football team. Once again, we had a chance to go out on a national stage and prove we belonged in “the talk.” Once again, we faltered. Can we bounce back? Sure, and we will. Can we win the SEC? Only if Carolina loses again. And we don’t. For all our talent, for all the games we’ve won, we just haven’t won the truly BIG games. To be truly great, you have to be able to put it all on the line and take chances. Whether it be with Coach Richt or not, till UGA football realizes that, I just don’t think we’re gonna be able to take that next step towards UGA football greatness. Anyways, here’s to another could’ve been, should’ve been, what might have been and what still can be season. As always, Go Dawgs!

How about putting Larry Munson back on the PA at home games? (Associated Press)

How about putting Larry Munson back on the PA at home games? (Associated Press)

OK, enough of the downcast talk. It’s only two games into the season, so let’s shake it off!

Finally, to end on a positive note, Jason in Milton writes: For the most part we thought the piped in music for the Clemson game worked well. I think the band could be played a little more though. One thing I was wondering was why don’t they play any Larry Munson sound clips in game? “Hunker down one more time Dawgs!” blaring in to the stadium would be great to keep the fans pumped up while on D.

Sounds like a great idea to me, Jason!

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning the football season or UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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