Vandy will find out Gurley isn’t ‘just another running back’

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Vanderbilt defenders likely will find out Todd Gurley is not just another SEC running back. (Ted Mayer / UGA)
Vanderbilt defenders likely will find out Todd Gurley is not just another SEC running back. (Ted Mayer / UGA)

Vanderbilt defenders likely will find out Todd Gurley is not just another SEC running back. (Ted Mayer / UGA)

Another week, another defensive back gone and another ridiculous point spread out of Vegas for a game between Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs and an SEC opponent.

It’s Homecoming in Athens (even if a nasty weather forecast forced Friday’s parade to be canceled) and the Dawgs are better than a 33-point favorite according to oddsmakers who seem to be daring folks to bet on a game that otherwise might not draw much gambling action.

While Vandy came out on top last year in Nashville, largely due to a perfect storm of Bulldog special teams meltdowns, injuries to key offensive players and bad officiating, the James Franklin era of relevancy seems to be over for the Commodores, as new head coach Derek Mason brings them into Sanford Stadium sporting a 1-4 record (0-3 in the SEC).

The Dores are better on defense than they are on offense (where they rank 121st in the nation and have their most consistent quarterback sitting out another game following a concussion) and they gave South Carolina quite a scare before eventually falling, but the main threat Vanderbilt poses is in nonoffensive touchdowns, having scored on kick returns and turnover recoveries. So it would behoove the Dogs not to lose focus and give Vandy any cheap points. A frustrated Hutson Mason may be of a mind to “let it rip” this week, but he needs to make sure he’s doing so to a guy in a red jersey.

Still, as much as UGA fans have fretted about the lack of a downfield passing game so far this season, Georgia still has one of the conference’s more productive offenses, thanks to the running attack led by Todd Gurley, who brash Vandy linebacker Caleb Azubike will find out is not “just another running back in the SEC [that] given the strength and given the size of our defense we are going to be able to handle that quite properly.”

Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …

Lamar Westbrook writes: Hey Bill, hope you are doing well! You might be, but Georgia’s passing game IS NOT UP TO STANDARDS! All we heard was Mason was as good as [Aaron] Murray and that he should have played in games when Murray was playing! I was wrong in thinking it myself, I admit it! I know Mason has sat waiting his time, but in no way should he be handed the keys to the offense if they have better QB’s on the team.

Mike Bobo has to find a way to build Hutson Mason's confidence in the passing game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Mike Bobo has to find a way to build Hutson Mason’s confidence in the passing game. (John Kelley / UGA)

That’s just it, Lamar. At this point, in the Georgia coaching staff’s estimation, Mason at QB gives the team the best shot at winning. Brice Ramsey may have a stronger arm, but he’s inexperienced and has had some accuracy issues. Faton Batau may be more mobile and more of a running threat, but running isn’t the Dogs’ problem right now. I don’t see Mason getting benched. I do think that Mike Bobo needs to give the backups some more playing time. But, mainly, he needs to bolster Mason’s confidence in his ability to pass and also needs to scheme around the QB’s lack of arm strength relative to Murray’s. As the next letter writer notes, getting the passing game back on track would open up the running game even more.

Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill, Well, we won [over Tennessee]. And we kept Gurley in the Heisman conversation. But, our win also showed several glaring deficiencies that we still have. First, which defense is gonna show up on any specific series? As good as we are at times, we’re just as bad on others. … Second, and more concerning, when is Bobo gonna turn Mason loose and throw the ball? I realize that we have the best back in the country and that our 3 best receivers are out, but, better teams are going to continue to load the box and we’re gonna need to make some plays at the QB position. Right now, we have arguably the best running back corps in the country, how much better can they be once we open up and make other teams’ defenses honest about the run AND pass? And despite the greatness that is Gurley, there will come a game or games where we need a QB that can step up and an O coordinator that has the confidence in the QB. Whether it’s [Mike] Bobo’s play calling inconsistencies or Mason’s shortcomings at the position, we need to get the passing game sorted out. Again, always happy with a win, but, concerned about our deficiencies as our tough SEC stretch is about to get underway.

I’m afraid that only time and experience can fix what’s wrong with Georgia’s defense: a secondary that’s lost a lot of talent and is still pretty green. Basically, the onus is on the defensive front to get pressure on opposing QBs. I think (hope) we’ll see Jeremy Pruitt calling a lot more blitzes as the season progresses, since that seems to have been where Georgia’s pass rush is most successful. And I agree that, at some point, Mason is going to have to step up and be the difference in a game, or Georgia is going to lose its spot in the jostling for the SEC East title.

Jay Unger writes: The back-to-back road games vs. Mizzou and Arkansas will tell a lot. If we’re 6-1 heading into the cocktail party, we’ll be back in the [College Football Playoff] discussion. Expecting a lot of teams in the SEC and nationally who are undefeated now to have a loss by then.

I agree that Georgia’s season likely will hinge on how it handles those two challenging road games, Jay.

Stephen Segrest writes: Hi Bill. It sure seems like I’m seeing [Amarlo] Herrera and [Ramik] Wilson get beat a lot in “deep coverage” in the middle of the field. Personally, I think both LBs are doing a pretty good job even being “that” close in trying to cover guys with like 4.5 speed. Where are the safeties? Why is Coach Pruitt asking our LBs to have major cover responsibilities so deep? In all my years watching football, I’ve just never seen this before.

That’s the major flaw in Georgia’s defense, Stephen. Safety play has been, at best, adequate. I’m not sure how Pruitt can scheme around that, either.

Annie Brown writes: Bill, a player like Todd Gurley only comes along about once every generation, so I can’t for the life of me understand why Coach Richt and the UGA sports administration don’t think it’s worth launching a Heisman campaign on his behalf. Having a Heisman winner can only pay dividends for the school and program! What’s their thinking?

Annie, as the AJC’s Tim Tucker ably explained in an article on that subject this week, their thinking is that the days when coordinated publicity campaigns could help determine the winner of the Heisman race are pretty much gone, thanks to today’s ubiquitous television and internet coverage of college football. As Tim put it: “Unlike in decades past, UGA figures there’s nothing it could tell Heisman voters — 870 media members, 57 former Heisman winners and one symbolic fan — that they haven’t already seen on TV and the Internet. … Heisman marketing campaigns are now largely seen as superfluous, a quaint throwback to another era.” As Richt put it this week: “If a guy plays well enough, everybody is going to know it. If you’re playing on a team that’s winning, I think you have a really good chance.” And Gurley himself summed it up well: “I just worry about winning. If you win, that’s going to come.”

In response to the piece I did about UGA walk-on player Tommy Long, Mary Castronis Jeffcoat writes: Bill, thanks to you and my friend Tom Hodgson for this inspiring story. Walk-ons are the unsung heroes. Jack Loonam, #84, is also a walk-on who is a fine young man from here in Lexington, SC. There was a wonderful story about Jack and his father, Tim Loonam, in our Columbia, SC, State newspaper the day before the Georgia-South Carolina game. … And I appreciate you mentioning Kosta Vavlas receiving the Coach Mike Castronis football scholarship. Coach Mike would have been so proud of #30, as my entire family is.

Thanks, Mary. I’m glad Coach Mike’s legacy lives on through that scholarship.

TOP DAWG!

Uga IX, better known among fans as Russ, has been picked as the nation's top mascot. (Getty Images)

Uga IX, better known among fans as Russ, has been picked as the nation’s top mascot. (Getty Images)

Georgia’s Uga has once again been named the nation’s best mascot, this time in a vote by the panel that determines the Associated Press’ college football rankings. AP says live animal mascots dominated the top of the list, with top-ranked Uga followed by Ralphie, Colorado’s stampeding buffalo, and LSU’s Mike the Bengal tiger. Then came the Stanford tree, Oregon’s costumed duck, FSU’s Chief Osceola, Texas’ Bevo the longhorn, West Virginia’s mountaineer, Michigan State’s Sparty and Texas Tech’s Masked Rider.

ICE DOGS!

UGA’s club hockey team is now 3-1 for the season and will play three consecutive games over Homecoming weekend at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. The Ice Dogs take on LSU at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Mississippi State at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and The Citadel at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Single tickets for all home games start at $7. Several different ticket packages for groups and others are available. Fans can go to ClassicCenter.com to buy tickets, call 706-357-4444 or visit the Classic Center box office at 300 N. Thomas St. in Athens. Also, fans can ice skate on the rink after each of this weekend’s hockey games at the following times: Friday, from 10:30 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; and Sunday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

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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