My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

I try to check most of the other sites that cover Georgia football nearly every day. It's good, after all, to keep an eye on what everyone else is writing. Among my numerous daily reads is the AJC's Georgia blog, maintained nicely by Chip Towers and Tim Tucker. I have the site bookmarked on my laptop -- something I did way back on August 12. I know this because each time I click on the bookmark, it brings me back to that same August 12 blog post in which Chip discusses Georgia's options for replacing Trinton Sturdivant, who had just gone down with a season-ending knee injury.

It's astonishing how long ago that seems now. Back then, this was about as big as the news got -- a star player goes down with a serious injury. Sadly for Bulldogs fans, it was a story that was told, retold, then retold again a few dozen more times in some fashion.

Looking at that post today got me to thinking about those early days of the 2008 season, back when Georgia was the consensus No. 1 team in the land. Each day, an oversized contingent of reporters would shuffle out to the practice field with a pen and note pad in hand and begin jotting down uniform numbers for each player wearing a green non-contact jersey.

At first, it was a half dozen numbers. A week later, a dozen. A week after that, more than 20.

After practice, we'd find seats in the team meeting room, politely wait for Mark Richt to make an opening statement about how well practice went, then begin the inquisition. Is Knowshon Moreno hurt? How's Demarcus Dobbs recovering? Why is Mohamed Massaquoi in green?

Richt would joke -- and really, he was part kidding, part annoyed -- that all we cared about was injuries, that we simply went out to practice to count the number of green jerseys.

Yesterday, the media contingent waiting for Richt's meeting numbered all of four reporters -- roughly five percent of the group that was there for Georgia's first practice of the fall. None of the four of us inquired about injuries or green jerseys, but we didn't have to. Richt already knew the number. It was 38.

In the span of four months, Georgia's normally stoic head coach had gone from begrudgingly discussing bumps and bruises to counting the green jerseys himself. That alone should speak volumes.

In sports, coaches and players are trained not to use injuries as an excuse for losing, and rightly so. Excuses simply provide rationale to stop working hard.

As a reporter, it's not my job to make excuses either, and I'm far from willing to accept that injuries have been the lone source of Georgia's woes in 2008.

But facts remain facts, and 38 players in green jerseys is an awful lot.

In the AJC's blog yesterday, Tim Tucker published the list of all of Georgia's season-ending injuries. It totaled 24 players -- some stars, some guys even I couldn't tell you which position they play.

I think it's easy to overlook just how much the injuries have infected every aspect of the team this season.

It's easy to look at players like Corvey Irvin and Darryl Gamble and think that the replacements for the injured starters were nearly as good -- if not better -- than the players who were lost.

It's easy to scoff at the loss of guys like Quintin Banks and Darius Dewberry, who weren't expected to play huge roles anyway, and assume their absence wasn't felt.

It's easy to peruse the stat lines on offense and assume the tattered O line suffered few consequences from the revolving door of starters.

To do all that is to overlook the real impact Georgia's litany of injuries has had.


Let's look at the other (non-injury) complaints regarding Georgia's performance this season for a second:

1.) The coaching staff -- particularly Willie Martinez -- stunk.

Do Georgia's coaches deserve some blame for the team's lack of focus in some big games? Absolutely. But they should also earn a nice pat on the back for holding together a team that was functioning at far from maximum productivity.

Don't like Mike Bobo and Martinez's play calling? Well, when you're using players who have little to no experience in key roles, your best option is to dumb down the play book. The things you might be able to ask veterans like Dannell Ellerbe, Jeff Owens or Trinton Sturdivant to do simply aren't the same things you can ask of their less experienced replacements. To throw the whole playbook at players who haven't seen more than a handful of snaps in any one game in their careers would be a disaster.

Think Martinez should have benched some of his less-focused players? Well, it's hard to sit Reshad Jones when your only other options are an equally inconsistent freshman and a smart but far less talented sixth-year senior. Had Banks been healthy, maybe Jones does find his way to the bench. Heck, had Bryan Evans not gotten hurt against Georgia Tech, maybe he would have been on the field to wrap up on tackles in the second half instead of Jones. It's impossible to say.

2.) The offense fizzled against Alabama and Florida.

The numbers Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno put up this season were impressive, but when you consider they did it behind an offensive line that started three freshmen, their accomplishments are nearly incomprehensible. Yes, the line did a nice job of holding together despite significant adversity, but a lot of that success was made possible because of Stafford's ability to evade the rush and get rid of the football and Moreno's talent for breaking tackles and picking up an extra few yards on nearly every carry. Mohamed Massaquoi was the only senior to start every game. Meanwhile Tripp Chandler and Brannan Southerland spent half the season out with injuries. The offense was good this year, but it had plenty of weaknesses, and it's probably no surprise that the best of Georgia's opponents were able to exploit them.

3.) The special teams were terrible.

Blair Walsh's kickoffs were bad, no doubt. But the rest of the special teams' struggles were almost a direct result of the injury bug. The vast majority of those players who got hurt were key special teams contributors. In fact, every time a player gets injured, that means a change somewhere on special teams -- whether a key guy is lost to injury or whether he's bumped from special teams to replace another guy who's hurt on offense or defense. At no point this season did Georgia's special teams units have any sort of consistency, and with so many players unable to participate in practice, Jon Fabris and company were limited to a bunch of walk-ons as their only regular options.

4.) Georgia was unprepared for Florida and Georgia Tech's offense.

I'm not sure how accurate this really was, but it's easy to understand why the scout team may have had some trouble mimicking such nuanced offensive schemes. Go back and look at Tim Tucker's list of season-ending injuries. Those names you don't recognize would have been playing key roles on the scout team during practice. While their injuries won't show up directly in any box score on Saturday, the impact of their loss in terms of the level of practice is noticeable during the week.

5.) Georgia's players lacked focus and failed to overcome adversity.

Ideally, you'd like to have a team that always shows up, gives 100 percent and, to add another cliche, leaves it all out on the field. But let's be realistic. Imagine you work in an office, and your department is given a huge assignment on Monday that needs to be finished by the end of the week. Only on Tuesday, 30 percent of the employees you work with call out sick for the rest of the week. You might be without a boss -- the go-to guy when important decisions need to be made. You might be without the janitor who empties your trash and cleans all the gunk out of the microwave in the break room. Oh, and that guy who always fixes the copier when there's a paper jam? He's out, too. None of those people did your job specifically, but their absence adds a degree of difficulty to each chore you need to accomplish.

Now, in your office, maybe the 70 percent of people still working are a motivated bunch. Maybe they really want to make sure this project gets done, and they all decide to work overtime -- put in 16-hour days -- just to make sure you meet your deadline. It's a nice thought, but by Friday, everyone is dragging. Oh, and the nice lady from accounting who always makes sure there's fresh coffee brewed? She's been out sick since Wednesday.

Your employer might have hired a few temp workers to come in and help out, but heck, they don't know what they're doing. It's actually more effort for you to explain a task to them than to just do it yourself. Meanwhile, a few of your sick coworkers have managed to make it back to the office, but they're doped up on Robitussin and they've got 600 unread emails from the time they missed. They're playing catch-up at half speed.

So energy is at an all-time low because you've all been working your butts off, and a few hours before the project needs to be done, you're still nowhere close. Now be honest: Do you summon every last bit of strength you have to make one last futile run, or do you give up, go home and get an early start on your weekend?


OK, so that was an awfully long analogy, but the point is that the football team doesn't function a whole lot differently than any other business. When one person is gone, everyone else feels the effect -- no matter how small. It's easy to fight through that for a while, but it adds up, and it takes its toll.

Again, I'm not saying injuries are the lone excuse for what has happened to Georgia this season, but I am saying that they are one very big excuse. Way back on August 12 when the fans were lighting up the message boards with gloom and doom following Sturdivant's injury, I wonder how many of them would have happy with a 9-3 season. I wonder how many might have guessed he was among the first of what would be 24 season-enders, and Georgia would still be 9-3. I wonder how many would have thought that three more Bulldogs would play left tackle, and Knowshon Moreno would still be a Doak Walker finalist playing behind them.

No, injuries aren't the only excuse, but you would be hard pressed to find a team that had a better reason to use them as one.


Brian Schleter said...

If the coffee lady is out sick, I'm phoning it in the rest of the week. Rashad Jones-style.

Anonymous said...

I would really hate to lose the best coach on this team.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I've been trying to tell all the haters this all year. People think that just because they only know 5 players on the injured list and don't know the others that they didn't really matter. They don't understand that losing back-ups and scout team members really has an affect on how we practice and play games. it affects every aspect of the way the team plays. You wanna know why we never gelled this year? They had new people playing all the time. People will see next year when we're healthy how much of an effect that injuries had on this team.

Anonymous said...

That's all true, really. It explains most of the problems, and it is remarkable how this team was able to hold it together, so the coaching staff gets some kudos. The issue I believe most fans have, though, is not that we lost to Alabama, Florida, and's the first half of the Alabama game, the second half of the Florida game, and the third quarter of the Tech game. It's hard for many to get over how bad we played in those five quarters, even compared to our most inconsistent play in our other games--especially since we had demonstrated in other parts in each of those three games that we were, indeed, capable of playing better.

Anonymous said...

Very good analogy. I was a little disappointed when Ching left, but you've done a tremendous job all season.