Junkyard Mail: Todd Gurley, holding calls, dangerous crowding, James Brown and more!

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Demand for entry to the main student sections is extremely high. (John Kelley / UGA)
You can't blame Mark Richt for Todd Gurley's injury. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

You can’t blame Mark Richt for Todd Gurley’s injury. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

It’s a week with a noon kickoff against an FCS opponent and most UGA fans’ minds on what happens that night in Knoxville, so you’ve got to figure the biggest challenge for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs Saturday is showing up mentally and staying focused.

At least Charleston Southern’s run-heavy spread option attack, which has been described by a Georgia coach as sort of a combination of Auburn and Georgia Tech, should make for a good transition from the Tigers to the Jackets for the Dogs’ defense.

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

Dawg the Dawg writes: Bill, why is everyone giving Mark Richt a pass on his terrible decision last week to still have Todd Gurley playing late in a game where we already had Awbarn beat? There’s no way Gurley or even [Nick] Chubb should have been in the game with Georgia up by three scores. I hold Richt directly responsible for the injury that cost us the country’s best player with some of our most important games still to come. Your thoughts?

I think you’re way off the mark, Dawg. Yes, Georgia was leading Auburn by 20 points, but there was 5:21 left on the clock and if you’ve watched Nick Marshall running Gus Malzahn’s offense much at all you know they certainly were capable of scoring three times in that amount of time if given the opportunity. As Richt noted, “Even a year ago we were down 21 in the fourth and came back. They have an explosive offense and we were trying to seal the deal.” Such misguided criticism of Richt is just an example of the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t nature of coaching. Earlier this season, Richt and Mike Bobo were slammed for not keeping the pedal to the metal throughout games. Now, folks like you are upset the starters were still in with a third of a quarter to go. The fact is that a noncontact injury like Gurley’s can happen at any time. Just ask Malcolm Mitchell, who got hurt last year celebrating!

Mark Turner writes: Bill, what was with all the dropped passes by Georgia receivers last week? Even the normally sure-handed Chris Conley was letting balls to through his hands. You certainly can’t blame Hutson Mason, who was putting the ball right where it needed to be. It’s a good thing we didn’t really need our passing game much to win that thing!

I think the extremely cold weather might have had something to do with it, Mark. I noticed some Auburn receivers dropping pretty sure catches, too.

It's looking like Sony Michel will be able to play Saturday. (Ted Mayer / UGA)

It’s looking like Sony Michel will be able to play Saturday. (Ted Mayer / UGA)

Austin writes: I enjoy your column very much. With Gurley out, the need for a healthy Sony Michel to complement/relieve Nick Chubb becomes, to me, very important to our team’s success offensively as we close the season. Do you have any update on his status?

Thanks, Austin. It’ll be another game-time decision, but looks good for Michel so far this week. At Tuesday’s press conference, Richt said, “Just like last week, even in pre-game warmup, if he had felt great he would probably have gotten some carries. … If he keeps practicing and feels good, then he’ll play.” And, indeed, Michel reportedly practiced well all week.

Eddie Grizzle writes: Do you not find it interesting that both the Florida loss and South Carolina loss had so many no-calls in the opposing teams’ offensive line? Yet on the negated Gurley touchdown (South Carolina) an apparent nonholding call was called holding. I quit watching both games after watching the holding by the opposing teams’ offensive line or should I call it mugging. I unfortunately believe Las Vegas determines many high profile games outcomes as least to the point of covering the spread. It is what is not called that determines the outcome more than what is called.

If you’re implying some sort of fix is in on the way SEC officials call games, I don’t believe that for a second. I think the inconsistent and, at times, inept way holding is called or not called is just symptomatic of the conference not having established a very good base line with its officials of what should be called and what shouldn’t. The same goes with other judgment calls on different infractions. Plus, some of the guys calling these games just aren’t very good officials to start with.

Chuck Kandzierski writes: Great win against Auburn. This is the first time in a long time that we have finished off teams consistently. In recent past even when we have had good records most of the wins were close until late in the game. And as Coach Richt said, nothing like a night game in November. Which brings me to my question. I understand that a large number of game times are dictated by TV. But for those that are not, why do we always have a 1:00 kickoff? Is this a conference rule or is it our choice? If we have a choice why not go with a 3:30 kickoff? While it would be great to play at night more, it does make getting home at a reasonable hour more difficult. But 3:30 kickoffs leave plenty of time to get home, give the fans more time to “prepare” for the game, spread out the inbound traffic, and give a little bit of a break on the heat in September and October.

Hey, I remember when 2 p.m. was the standard kickoff time in Athens! I also remember how few games used to be televised back then. However, now that the SEC Network is in business and all games are televised, Georgia and the other conference schools don’t have a choice in kickoff times any more. There are pre-determined TV slots and you just have to wait until they tell you which one you’re in.

Demand for entry to the main student sections is extremely high.  (John Kelley / UGA)

Demand for entry to the main student sections is extremely high. (John Kelley / UGA)

I heard from several UGA students this week about the “disorganized,” “chaotic” and “dangerous” situation at the main student gate of Sanford Stadium last week as students began lining up more than two and a half hours before the gate was due to open in order to try and get into one of the most desirable sections next to the band in the lower level. Here’s a disturbing letter from one of those students:

Dear Mr. King, My name is Cole Flanders and I am a senior studying Animal and Poultry Sciences here at UGA. I am the son of two UGA alums and the brother of an alumni and current UGA Veterinary School student. Growing up I watched the Dawgs every Saturday and used to have every name and number memorized; in short, I am a very, very avid Georgia football fan.

I write to tell you of the awful conditions at the student ticket gate that I experienced last night. I showed up to Gate 4A around 4:15, a full hour and a half before they opened, and was greeted to a line extending into the Reed quad. Security and police had blocked off the path so that everyone funneled into an even line running alongside the Reed parking lot. In theory this sounded great, but what happened was the worst experience at UGA football I have ever been a part of.

Thousands of students continued to show up and squeeze in so that with an hour until the gates opened I was unable to move my arms. At one point the line moved and all we could do was move with it; the force exerted on us was so great that we could not get out. A girl behind me was so squished that she was having trouble breathing and wanted out. People were yelling for help and the CSC security guards stood there and did nothing.

As the gates opened and crowds pushed ahead someone fell and was stepped on. When we stopped moving and everyone packed back in my fiancé had trouble breathing and I managed to shove her out of the line. We then found a girl that was shaking and crying because of her experience. We gave her water and waited while we found others to help and console. During all of this chaos the security guards did nothing. I went to find one and asked who was in charge. The response was a shoulder shrug and an explanation of “we can’t do anything because the students won’t walk.” The next security guard told me they could not help and walked off nonchalantly, even after I pleaded with him to help the people that were in pain.

Mr. King, my issue is that they could have done something. The left side of the barrier they constructed was made of pieces of wood and could have been removed in a matter of seconds. These guards were hired by the university and stuck to the book: first come first serve for the line. At some point, in my opinion, it does not matter who gets in the game, it matters who is safe. Nothing about this was safe. It was scary and could have ended a lot worse than a few shaken up girls.

Due to the inefficiencies and poor response on the part of security officials and police, I enjoyed my last UGA-Auburn game at home. It was not worth it for me to subject myself or my fiancé to the line one more time. I would not be surprised to see a lower turnout in upcoming games due to the line; many people openly were saying how they would not be attending high profile games in the future if the atmosphere were similar.

UGA needs to fix the ticket situation and fix it now. They compromised thousands of student’s safety at the expense of an 8-dollar ticket and did nothing to help those in need. I watched police survey the crowd and walk off while students yelled for help. As one person in line yelled out, “pigs led to slaughter have more dignity than this!”

I spoke with Matt Brachowski, who heads up the athletic association’s event management department (and who also responded to Cole’s letter directly). He noted that UGA went to general admission seating for students a few years ago at the request of student representatives, and it does seem like that approach is popular with students since it allows them to sit with friends more easily. He also noted that after problems with the distribution of wristbands that allow students into those most-desired sections in the concourse before the Clemson game they reworked the system to eliminate that problem by handing out the wristbands immediately upon entry through the gate.

But how to handle the overcrowding in the area of the Reed Hall parking lot and quad at big games, as some 4,000 students attempt to gain entry that gate, remains a problem, Brachowski conceded. I asked him why UGA police weren’t on hand to do a better job of controlling the crowd than the event management workers, and he said he didn’t know where the police stationed their personnel at games. But, he said, “We’re certainly looking at what we can do to mitigate the crowding at the gate. Anything is on the table.” After the season, he said, the athletic office will sit down with public safety officials about what can be done and also will talk with student government and the athletic board’s student representatives about whether they still favor the general-admission plan. If they do, he said, “that presents challenges. But we will deal with them.”

Sally Bingham writes: Bill, I attended my first Georgia football game of the season last week and I was shocked at how badly my ears were assaulted by the new sound system, particularly before the game. I understand what they’re trying to do with the prerecorded music and I don’t mind that, but do they have to crank up the decibel level to the point where it’s painful?

That’s a common complaint, Sally. And at the Auburn game, not only was it ridiculously loud, particularly before the game, but, at least in the lower level North stands there appeared to be a short in the speakers or something that had the public address announcers going in and out and breaking up for a while. (At first, I feared they’d simply blasted out my ear drum until my son confirmed the sound was indeed going in and out!) The athletic association paid some $750,000 for that new system, but based on its performance so far this season I’d say they definitely did not get their money’s worth. All I can suggest is fans let them know it’s not acceptable. And, while I’m on the subject, what happened to amplifying the Redcoat Band when they’re playing in the stands? It was done at earlier games, but at the Auburn game we could barely hear them, at least in Section 104.

The Redcoat Band takes the field for last week's game against Auburn. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

The Redcoat Band takes the field for last week’s game against Auburn. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Speaking of the Redcoats, Ron Lynch writes: Bill, I really love the Redcoats and want to see them continue to be a big part of game day in Athens, despite the recorded music blaring out of the speakers. But that James Brown show the Recoats did Saturday was, um, kind of strange. I thought the idea of having a James Brown impersonator was kind of cool, but all he did was dance, no singing. And how can the Redcoat Band do a tribute to the hardest working man in show business without playing the song he wrote for them, “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs”? That was even more bizarre.

I’m also a big supporter of the Redcoats, Ron, and I had the same thought. I put the question about not doing “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs” to Associate Director of Athletic Bands Brett Bawcum, who noted that the Redcoats actually used a bit of the song in the Vince Dooley tribute show they did for the Tennessee game. Because of that, he said, “We were a little hesitant to bring it back in the same year. We ultimately decided to add it to the show if we were able to get to it. It didn’t make it into the show for Auburn, mostly due to time (serving both basketball teams and volleyball during rehearsal time, learning this week’s Military Appreciation show at the same time, etc.). But it looks like it will make the return of the James Brown show for Tech as the exit music.”

Great news. All together now: Good God, y’all!

Finally, a couple of media links from the past week of interest to Bulldog fans, just in case you missed them. CBS News’ “Sunday Morning” did a great feature on mascot Uga IX (aka Russ) that’s definitely worth watching.

And USA Today devoted a lengthy feature to just how Richt earns his keep at UGA. You can check it out here.

Go Dogs! (And, just this week, go Vols!)

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

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.


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