Dawgs beware: Kentucky more dangerous than in past seasons

"helmetSaturday, Sept. 27, 2014(Photo by Philip Williams)"Saturday brings another SEC road game for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs with oddsmakers pegging them as a double-digit favorite, but last week’s performance against Florida means no one in the Bulldog Nation is taking this one for granted.

Hopefully, the players won’t be doing that this week, either.

Kentucky started out the year 5-1, but since has dropped three consecutive games and looked particularly bad last week against Missouri. Still, second-year coach Mark Stoops definitely has the Cats playing at a higher level than in past seasons, having beaten South Carolina and given top-ranked Mississippi State all they could handle, and with all Georgia’s question marks this could prove a dangerous end to the lengthy road trip.

One thing’s for sure: Although more of a passing than running team up to this point, pretty much everyone expects Kentucky’s Wildcats to test Georgia’s run defense early and often after the miserable showing last week in Jacksonville. Cats freshman back Stanley “Boom” Williams is the biggest threat there.

Kentucky's offense revolvers around quartereback Patrick Towles. (Associated Press)

Kentucky’s offense revolvers around quartereback Patrick Towles. (Associated Press)

But mostly Kentucky’s offense revolves around quarterback Patrick Towles, a first-year starter who has thrown for 2,235 yards and 13 touchdowns with just five picks. Towles is big at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, and has big-play capability. He is better at the long passes than the short ones, where his accuracy is iffy, but he also is a threat to run, having scored four times with his feet and racked up 76 yards rushing against Mississippi State. In Georgia’s favor: The Wildcats’ offensive line has been in disarray recently, ranking 108th nationally in sacks allowed and 112th in tackles for loss allowed.

On defense, the Cats are pretty good against the pass, ranking 14th nationally and snagging 13 interceptions, and have done a good job of rushing the passer, ranking fourth in the conference in sacks. But they haven’t been very good against the run (next to last in the SEC and 94th nationally), which should be good news for Georgia with Sony Michel possibly joining Nick Chubb in the lineup.

Still, it all depends on which Georgia Bulldogs show up at Commonwealth Stadium for the noon game. If it’s the one we saw in Missouri and the first half of Arkansas, everything should be fine. If it’s the same team as last week, all bets are off.

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

Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill, I didn’t see you give out any midterm grades, so just wanted to start a discussion and get your thoughts.

Defense: C. They’ve looked great at certain times, they’ve looked awful at others. Just when we think we can stop the run, we can’t. We can rush the passer, but then we can’t. Occasionally we establish an identity but more often than not we haven’t. Thus the middling grade.

Nick Chubb has been a definite bright spot for the offense. (University of Georgia)

Nick Chubb has been a definite bright spot for the offense. (University of Georgia)

Offense: Tougher one to grade. B-minus. They’ve generally played well enough to win. The line has generally played well. And [Todd] Gurley was on pace with Heisman numbers, and [Nick] Chubb has played excellent in his place. But dropped passes, inadequate QB play, which partly goes to coaching, but how was [Hutson] Mason groomed these past 4 years only to come in and just be so average? And too many 3-and-out series have limited the potential.

Special teams: B. We’ve played better, much improved return of the kicks. But, we’ve missed too many easy field goals and again we fall for the old fake kick. Seems like not a year goes by that we don’t fall for that.

Coaching: D. Except for the two road wins in Gurley’s absence, I would have given a F as the grade. Losing to the absolute 2 worst Florida and South Carolina teams in modern history is simply inexcusable. Next, “first and dumb.” I mean, c’mon! Just, too many blown series or poor plays called. Two weeks to prepare for both and we lose them both. But as UGA fans, we’ve come to expect this at least once a year.

Conclusion: Solid C grade.

Thanks, Joe. I can’t argue with your grades for the most part, though I believe I’d be just a tad easier on the coaching, giving it a C-minus, and harder on the special teams, grading them D-plus (although earlier in the season they were a solid B). The grade was brought down by their all-round awfulness in the Florida game, plus the punting has been pretty weak all season. I’d also give the defense a C-minus, based on how bad they were in two completely different areas in the two losses. Before the Florida game, I probably would have given the defense a B-minus. As for the offense, the awesome rushing attack early on made up for a absent passing game. Then they balanced things out more in the Mizzou and Arkansas games, but lost a point or two in the second half of the latter for easing up too much. Against Florida, the offense was average at best. So, overall, I’d give the offense a B-plus. And the overall grade? I think that would work out to about a C, same as you gave them.

Brad Denney from Birmingham writes: Bill, Love the Blawg. I am surprised by the idea … that Georgia’s chance of the playoffs are all but done. I disagree. I think this is in immediate reaction to the shock of the Florida loss. If the Dawgs [win out], beat Auburn and win the SEC Championship game convincingly — and I emphasize convincingly — Dawgs get voted in. Obviously, that’s a helluva scenario and a lot to ask for, but not out of the realm of possibility. You heard it here first.

I’d love to think you’re right, Brad, but I think that even if Georgia wins out and is the SEC champion, those two losses probably would lead the selection committee to pass them over (unless they’re having to choose from several two-loss teams). Two losses to ranked teams might not have hurt as badly, but South Carolina and Florida both are having off years this season, despite beating the Dogs.

Brice Ramsey isn't getting much playing time so far this season. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Brice Ramsey isn’t getting much playing time so far this season. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Rob Crane writes: Hey Bill, Love the Blawg. Quick question for you. Mark Richt had said earlier in the year that he liked having a few series with the backup QB in, but I haven’t seen Brice Ramsey or Faton Batau lately. Is there any reason for this, it being Hutson Mason’s only year?

Wish I knew, Rob. I can’t understand why Richt and Mike Bobo elected to go with a one-year-only starter almost exclusively this season instead of getting one of the backups some meaningful experience. There’s still hope this season, I suppose, but I’ll be surprised to see Ramsey in more than mop-up duty. As it is, Georgia will enter next season with a pretty green quarterback.

Marc writes: Bill, Enjoyed reading your “Good/Great” column on Richt this week. I often find myself having similar debates with fellow UGA fans (or, after days like this past Saturday, with myself). One thing I point out to the critics is something which most people don’t realize: As much as we talk about UGA’s advantages in “facilities” and “resources,” UGA’s football budget ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Did you know we spend less money on football each year than TCU? It’s true! Depending on the year measured and source of the data, UGA ranks somewhere between 5th and 7th in the SEC in terms of total football expenditures. Granted, program expenditures are no guarantee of success. But when you look at the top teams in the SEC — Auburn and Alabama leading the way — there is a definite correlation in spending and success. Given that Richt is working within a budget smaller than either Arkansas or Tennessee, is it realistic for Georgia fans to expect him to produce like the Saban of the East?

That tight-fisted approach is why UGA has a $67.1 million reserve fund and why projects like an indoor practice facility seem to progress at a snail’s pace. The athletic board maintains that it’s more a matter of prudent management, not wanting to increase the athletic association’s debt load, which reportedly is in the $120 million range. In the past, they’ve noted that ticket prices and revenue have been static for a long time, necessitating a careful approach. But with the board recently having approved price increases for football ticket prices, set to take effect next year and in 2017, perhaps the increased revenue will see UGA spending a bit more on the program.

Lee Burrows writes: Hey Bill. Do you know if the athletic association ever plans to let season ticket holders transfer their tickets to their kids? My dad missed a one-time chance in 1990 and has said repeatedly he’d like to. It’s been 24 years since then. Seems once every quarter century they could offer their loyal season ticket holders that opportunity! Love the Blawg!

Thanks, Lee, I put your question to Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton, who replies: “Bill, the Georgia Bulldog Club has an annual review of our ticket policies and that topic was recently discussed. For the near future, it does not appear there will be a plan to offer a onetime ticket transfer to our Hartman Fund donors.”

Is Sanford Stadium as intimidating a place to play as it could be? (John Kelley / UGA)

Is Sanford Stadium as intimidating a place to play as it could be? (John Kelley / UGA)

Steve Upshaw writes: Bill, From one who has been a season ticket holder for over 30 years, and rarely even miss a road game in support of OUR beloved Dogs, the fan experience at Sanford Stadium is unbelievably vanilla. … Our youngest son graduated from the University of Alabama a few years ago, and while he was there we attended every game we could. The passion, energy and constant fan involvement is wonderful. From something as simple as yelling “Roll Tide” at each first down to the music over the PA keeps the crowd engaged and rocking. (I’m 60, but I love the loud and enthusiastic atmosphere at a college game.)
We attended the [Georgia] game at Little Rock, and even the Arkansas fans at a small stadium like War Memorial loudly cheered “First Down Razorback,” at each first down, and they yelled it when down 38-6! Vanderbilt, Auburn, TAM all do it. In Columbia, MO, it’s M I Z Z O U at each first down. We sit on our hands at Sanford Stadium. The band does nothing new; it’s the same repertoire for decades. We LOVE the Redcoats, but for goodness sakes, do something new, please. We have been blessed to support the Dogs at every stadium in the conference, except at College Station of course, and I have to say that our “road fans” are more fun than at a full house at SS most times. It is widely known by seasoned SEC fans that the fan experience at our beautiful stadium is OK at best and poor at worst. We do get loud at certain games and at certain situations, but being loud and proud should be on display for 60 minutes every Saturday.

Steve, I’d put the atmosphere at last season’s South Carolina and LSU games and this year’s Clemson game up against what you’ll experience at any other stadium. And in a recent ranking, Saturday Down South rated Sanford Stadium as the SEC’s third toughest place to play, behind the Swamp and Jordan-Hare. Said the reviewer: “I don’t think I can remember any other stadium being as loud and obnoxious during the pregame than Georgia.” However, I think in general you’re correct that Sanford Stadium isn’t as loud, intimidating and supportive as it could be. Frankly, I don’t think playing loud rock or hip-hop music over the PA continuously is the answer. It’s something I wish the folks in charge of the band and cheerleaders would take a hard look at.

Barry White writes: Mr. King, I am writing in order to hear what your opinion would be on Georgia playing a football game overseas. We just saw the Falcons play in London and there seems to be a new annual kickoff college game in Dublin. My friends and I have discussed what a really great experience this could be. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a money-maker for the athletic association, but an investment in a once in a lifetime experience for fans, the players, cheerleaders and band members would be well worth it in my opinion. Not to mention we get to spread the gospel about the greatest sport in the world (college football). I understand not everyone would be able to make the trip for financial reasons, but to happen just once would be amazing. Living out of state, I (and many others) can get to major cities in Europe in about the same time as getting to Athens given the lack of air service to Athens and the horrible traffic between Atlanta and Athens. Not to mention the paucity of hotel rooms in Athens, forcing a long, arduous journey back after the game.

The NCAA allows member institutions to compete in regular season games in foreign countries once every four years, but so far the demand overseas for American college football doesn’t appear to have been anywhere near as large as for the NFL. Penn State and Central Florida did kick off their seasons this year in front of a crowd of 55,000 at at Dublin’s Croke Park, a stadium that normally hosts Gaelic football matches. That was the eighth American college football game held in Ireland; Notre Dame has played in a couple of them. There also have been occasional games in other countries, including Japan. As for UGA playing outside the U.S., I’m not sure there’d be much fan support for such a move, and the Georgia athletic officials (and folks in Athens) wouldn’t be wild about giving up a home game. They’re not even crazy about the Dogs doing one of those early-season neutral-site games in Atlanta! So, no, I don’t see the Dogs going international any time soon.

Finally, in honor of Veterans Day, the UGA Hockey Ice Dogs will play a special game against a U.S. Armed Forces team this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. The Ice Dogs will be wearing special camouflage jerseys, which will be auctioned off afterward to raise money for Hockey Saves, a nonprofit based in Columbus that provides members of the military an outlet to play hockey between deployments. For Sunday’s game, all active, reserve and veteran military personnel will receive 50 percent off. Tickets for college students with a valid student ID are only $2. Regular tickets start at $7. You can go to ClassicCenter.com to buy tickets, call 706-357-4444 or visit the Classic Center box office at 300 N. Thomas St.

Go Dogs!

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

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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