Let’s get straight to some Junkyard Mail. …
BravoDawg writes: Bill, I’m a little bit concerned about Georgia going with another mostly career NFL guy as a coordinator. Aside from the fact that, other than a couple of seasons with the Jets, Brian Schottenheimer’s numbers as a coordinator in the pros don’t look that impressive (I know he had injury problems in St. Louis), I’m worried about whether he can help fill the gaping hole in our recruiting prowess left by the departure of Mike Bobo. Am I worrying too much?
Reviews of Schottenheimer’s work in the NFL have been mixed, but then that’s the case with just about every offensive coordinator at every level. Fans, in particular, tend to blame the OC if their team isn’t getting enough wins. Others give Schottenheimer credit for doing a good job of grooming quarterbacks (which will be a major part of his job at UGA) and mixing the run and pass. I think he’ll be fine with the playcalling aspect of the game and I’m encouraged that he said at his Athens unveiling this week that he plans on learning Georgia’s playbook rather than making all the players learn his, though “ there will be some things that will have my fingerprint on them” in the Dawgs’ offense. That should smooth the transition considerably. Culturally, he may run a bit hotter than Mark Richt (as evidenced a few years ago when HBO’s “Hard Knocks” profiled the Jets), but so did Bobo. In terms of recruiting, I think in the short term Schotty’s NFL cred should provide a short-term bonus, as was evidenced by the super-enthusiastic response his hiring drew from Tony Eason, father of 2016 UGA commitment Jacob Eason, the nation’s top quarterback prospect. Eason senior said the hire had a “wow factor,” adding: “just look at who he’s coached in the league: Drew Brees, Mark Sanchez, Brett Favre, Phillip Rivers, Sam Bradford. That’s a pretty impressive list. I would challenge any coordinator in the country to match that.” In the long run, whether the new OC can connect with kids in South Georgia or Florida or wherever he recruits, and whether he connects with the right kind of kids, or brings in some who aren’t suited to Athens (like Todd Grantham did), remains to be seen. Overall, I’d give this hire at least a qualified thumbs up.
Wallydog writes: Bill, are you going to do another column giving your thoughts as to how you would grade the season? I would give it a C. Average. Yes, 10 wins any way you slice it playing in the SEC is a “good” season … but we state every year our goal is to at least win the SEC East and get to the SEC Championship. We didn’t do that this year, so can we call it a “successful” season?
And Jerry Denova writes: Bill, what’s your final grade for the Dawgs’ 2014 season? I was really encouraged by the way the team bounced back against a pretty good, ranked Louisville program in the bowl, so I’d give them an overall B-plus. How about you?
My final grade would be somewhere in between Wallydog’s and Jerry’s.
Jeremy Pruitt’s defense improved this season, moving from 45th to 20th nationally in total defense, from 78th to 16th in scoring defense and from 102nd to fourth in turnover margin, but it had problems adjusting and slowing the opposing offenses in the three losses. Some of the D’s deficiencies should be taken care of by a really promising recruiting class that’s shaping up, and I’m tremendously encouraged by the ball-hawk tendencies of Dominick Sanders and others.
Overall, Georgia beat four teams ranked in the Top 20 at season’s end, and Mike Bobo’s unit led the SEC in scoring offense, tallied 537 points, and averaged 41.3 points per game, both school records. Still, the Dawgs lost three games they were expected to win. So I rate this as a B-minus season. A little bit above average, in other words.
David Rosenberg writes: The most important hire on UGA’s staff hasn’t happened yet. Georgia has always had great skill players. However, Georgia has struggled year in and year out to build depth, experience, and CONSISTENCY on the O-line. The loss of Will Friend is a much bigger loss than many people realize or are willing to admit. So who will it be? I think I’ve been the first to recommend that Richt and Schott raid the NFL one more time and pull Mike Tice out of Atlanta and bring him to the Classic City. (I can dream, can’t I?) In any event, whoever takes over the offensive line will have tons of experience and talent in Theus, Kublanow, Pyke, and Houston. Wynn will most likely fill in the vacancy left by “Boss” Andrews! Whoever leads them needs to bring leadership and a nasty streak.
I agree completely that the offensive line coach hiring is extremely important. In terms of both recruiting and production, the OL has been the weak link more often than not in the Richt era. And while the 2014 line was a key in Georgia’s running success this past season, and did a pretty good job of protecting Hutson Mason, there was still some inconsistency in their performance, especially in the red zone. Too many times we saw Georgia stymied when it had a first-and-goal. I especially thought they underperformed against Tech. And while Nick Chubb gives the Dawgs a major weapon, a lot of his yards have come on long break-away runs that are mixed in with too many 1 or 2-yard runs where he didn’t get the kind of hole he needed. There’ll also be a very green QB back there in 2015, whoever it ends up being. Yeah, the OL coaching hire looms very large in UGA’s prospects for the coming season.
UPDATE: McNeese State University co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Rob Sale has been named UGA offensive line coach Mark Richt Saturday evening. Sale joined the McNeese staff in February, 2012, as offensive line coach and was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in the summer of 2014. Prior to serving on the McNeese staff, he held positions as strength and conditioning assistant coach and offensive analyst from 2007 to 2011 at the University of Alabama.
Mike Ruffin writes: Hey Bill. So what’s the story with Keith Marshall? Will he be back next year? Will he ever be healthy enough to contribute?
Marshall will be back and I’m certainly hoping he’ll be complete healthy. Based on a recent report in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, there’s encouraging news in that regard. Marshall drew raves during bowl practices, the paper said, and Chubb put it this way: “A healthy Keith Marshall is very dangerous. I tell you, he looked good the last week of practice.” If Marshall can get back to anything approaching the level he was at before getting hurt his sophomore year, the combination of him with Chubb and Sony Michel will give Georgia a pretty awesome rushing threat.
Reacting to my comment this week that I wasn’t sure Georgia’s 2015 schedule could be called “favorable,” as ESPN’s Edward Aschoff termed it, considering Alabama comes calling, Steve Upshaw writes: Why is having Alabama on the schedule viewed as not favorable in your opinion? UGA fans have always feared Alabama. I’m telling you this as fact Bill. I hear so many people state “I’m so happy we don’t have Alabama this year.” We are afraid to be champions. Frankly, I would rather play Alabama every single season than play Vanderbilt. I would rather play Bama annually and drop one of the yearly bought victories.
OK, I merely meant that, in comparison with playing the likes of Arkansas, having Alabama as Georgia’s second SEC West opponent automatically makes the schedule a bit more challenging. I don’t think Georgia’s players will be at all afraid of playing Bama, especially those who were around when the two last met in the SEC Championship Game.
Warren Goodstone writes: Bill, I am a transplant from New Zealand, where rugby is our dominant sport. We are a small country that has managed to dominate world rugby for over 100 years, which I put down to having a deeply ingrained culture of winning and playing the game for the love of the game. As an All Black rugby supporter, I expect them to win every game and have the absolute best coaches in the business. … When I look at the Georgia Bulldogs, I see a group of mercenary players looking for their NFL ticket and I see supporters living in the past blindly supporting a team that has steadily underperformed and in recent years suffered from coaching errors year after year. How can Georgia have the 4th highest number of NFL active players and play so poorly as a team season after season consistently coming in below expectations? The answer is glaringly obvious. We have the players, we have the resources, we have the fans. What we don’t have is a hard-edged culture of meeting expectations, always giving it everything you have got as a team and winning SEC championships and national championships. It’s now 35 years since No. 34 carried us to a national championship and time to stop rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and get an athletic department and then coaching staff that stops nurturing this culture of underperformance and living in the past.
If what you say were truly the case, UGA wouldn’t have players returning for another season in Athens when they could have moved on to the pros. You didn’t say which college program comes closest to approximating the nothing-but-the-best culture you tout, but I’m betting that in recent years (basically, since Nick Saban arrived) Alabama would be just about the only one that consistently would fit the bill. Emulating Alabama in some respects would benefit most college programs, but there are other aspects of that “hard-edged” culture that I don’t find at all appealing. Yes, I’d like to see Georgia win more championships, but I think an obsession with that goal tends to produce an awful lot of frustration and an unhealthy obsession. Let’s not lose track of the fact that it’s a game played by college students that we watch for fun!
Switching sports, Double Dawg writes: This year’s basketball Dawgs are a better team than they were probably even last year, but still not where they need to be. They could not handle Arkansas’ full-court press. And they really need to learn to challenge more shots. Arkansas shot out of their minds in the second half, but even still, Georgia was not in their face enough. The team is also weak at the free throw line, but that isn’t actually easy to correct. There is a degree to which you can handle the mental pressure of it, quiet and distractions and the depth perception, etc. or you can’t and I guess we just don’t have the guys who can. Still, Georgia also ran a cleaner offense than I have seen in years and looked like a legit, decent team. But they need to steal a win like this to make the tourney.
Yeah, this week’s game against the Razorbacks was a tough loss in what Mark Fox correctly called “a high-level game.” And there is much for the Dawgs to improve. But in the two games I’ve attended this year they looked much much better than what I saw last year. The Seton Hall win was actually extremely impressive. The defense at times has looked really good, but is inconsistent. Free throws are indeed a problem. And, offensively, Fox’s team sometimes go cold shooting from the paint, too, or muffs relatively easy layups. They’re not real dominant under the basket, either. Plus, in the past two games there were periods of 6 to 7 minutes in the second half where the Dawgs didn’t score at all. Against Arkansas, that led to giving up a double-digit lead. I still think this looks like a legitimate NCAA tournament team, especially considering they had a Top 20 RPI after a more challenging nonconference schedule, but you’re right, they probably need to steal a win or two they aren’t supposed to get in order to seal the deal.
Finally, sometimes you just gotta love Steve Spurrier, no matter how much you dislike him. The always-quotable Ball Coach came up with a great summation of the current arms race in college football this week.
“Some day we’re all going to have big, fancy beautiful facilities,” Spurrier said, “and guess what? Somebody is still going to lose.”
Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill 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.