Lessons to take away from the Jacksonville debacle

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With Hutson Mason, the Dogs aren't the come-from-behind team they were with Aaron Murray. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
Time to move on, Georgia's Mark Richt says. (Associated Press)

Time to move on, Georgia’s Mark Richt says. (Associated Press)

It’s time to move on from this year’s disappointing game against the Gators, Mark Richt’s players have been telling us this week.

In the words of Damian Swann, sounding a bit like teenage singer Lorde, “I’m kind of over the Florida game.”

And, as the head coach himself put it: “We’re way beyond that game. We’ve moved on. I hope you all will.”

Sounds good to me, but I really hope that being “over” the Florida game means that both the players and coaching staff have taken away some hard-earned lessons that can be applied to finishing out the remainder of the season with some degree of success.

Or, as quarterback Hutson Mason put it: “We got beat, you know? Move on. There’s still a lot to play for this year. We can still win an SEC Championship if things go according to plan. It can still be a great season for us.”

I’m sure, having gone over the film, the Dogs’ coaches and players have an even better idea than us fans what needs fixing, but here are some of the lessons I hope they take to heart:

First of all, whatever the coaches are doing to prepare the team mentally, especially during bye weeks, isn’t working consistently. I touched on this in an earlier blog, but after reading the comments this week from Ramik Wilson and Sterling Bailey about how the Dogs entered the game “underestimating” the Gators, it’s obvious that Georgia’s coaches failed miserably in that regard before the trip to Jacksonville.

This was a big game, and yet Georgia not only came into it overconfident, but flat, as opposed to the Mizzou and Arkansas games, where the Dogs seemed to have a chip on their shoulder from so many prognosticators predicting they’d lose. Just about no one picked Florida over Georgia, and the Dogs came in too “comfortable,” as Wilson characterized it.

Do Richt teams always need someone publicly questioning their manhood, a la Pat Dye, to get riled up and ready for a game? And, if so, what does that say about the approach the UGA staff takes to preparing the team?

Let's hope Jeremy Pruitt fixes what's wrong with Georgia's run defense. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Let’s hope Jeremy Pruitt fixes what’s wrong with Georgia’s run defense. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Speaking of the staff, yes, part of the defense’s problem against Florida was execution, as the coaches have said. There were way too many missed tackles and players not getting off blocks soon enough.

But more than that contributed to the Gators’ success running against the Dogs. Star outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd are great in the pass rush but not so great against the run, and with the Gators electing to barely throw the ball at all, that weakness was exploited time after time last Saturday as Florida runners continually bounced the play outside for big gains. With future opponents including run-heavy Auburn and Tech, Jeremy Pruitt needs to come up with a better scheme there pronto.

Also, Pruitt needs to be quicker in rethinking his defensive game plan. Yeah, the same old complaint Georgia fans had about Todd Grantham not adjusting fast enough to what an opponent was doing. Pruitt’s defense never did adjust successfully to defend the outside run against Florida.

On the other side of the ball, it was painfully obvious Saturday that, without a playmaker like Aaron Murray and its downfield passing game operating at peak efficiency, this year’s Georgia team is not a come-from-behind bunch. So Mike Bobo needs to look at what he did against Arkansas and emulate it on a regular basis, mixing up the passing and running from the start. Mason ended up with season-high passing numbers against Florida, but not enough when it really was needed. And Bobo didn’t open up the passing attack until it was too late, putting too much pressure on a QB who isn’t that confident throwing the ball to start with.

With Hutson Mason, the Dogs aren't the come-from-behind team they were with Aaron Murray. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

With Hutson Mason, the Dogs aren’t the come-from-behind team they were with Aaron Murray. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Also, conservative playcalling almost never has worked out well for Georgia this season. The Dogs need to go all-out from the start. Georgia electing not to go for it on fourth-and-short in the first quarter against Florida sent the wrong message all the way around.

Then there’s the lesson that it seems Richt defiantly and stubbornly refuses to learn: Special teams are important. They win or lose games for you. And that includes coaches paying attention to little details like the other team sneaking in someone who doesn’t usually hold on a field goal attempt. Enough said about that.

Lastly, a lesson for Georgia fans, who need to dial it down several notches. Not even Alabama has a national championship caliber team every year, and with a new defensive coordinator trying to rebuild in the face of a massive loss of talent and a first-year starter at quarterback, the 2014 Dawgs were always a longshot for the college football championship. However, we fans let the early ESPN hype after the Clemson game get us a bit ahead of ourselves, and now we’ve come crashing down like a 5-year-old from a sugar high.

Speaking of which, UGA fandom needs to quick swinging, pendulum-like, from we’re-gonna-win-it-all proclamations to the we’re-never-gonna-win-it depths of despair. And fans need to keep things in perspective. Criticizing a fine student athlete like Chris Conley because he thanks God even after a loss or berating Richt for giving his son a smile on the field after a defeat is bat-guano crazy.

Lighten up, folks!

I’m not saying we should approach every season like ice-man Richt, but, as I’ve said before, viewing a program’s worth strictly in terms of when the last national championship was won is a recipe for unhappiness. There’s only one of those won per year, so that means most seasons are going to be considered disappointments by those folks who keep their eyes on just that one prize.

Of course, I’d like Georgia to get another national title in football sometime soon. And, as tantalizingly close as the Dogs came a couple of years ago, I think it certainly can happen.

But to declare Richt a failure as a coach and Georgia’s football program a failure simply because it hasn’t won the biggest prize of all is going too far.

Go Dogs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg


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