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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

History Repeats Itself

There's no one on the Georgia roster you can count on for an honest assessment of the team better than Rennie Curran. He never calls out individual players -- unless he's calling out himself -- but he's always willing to say what he thinks is holding his unit back.

So when we were talking Tuesday, I put the basic question to him. What's keeping this defense from being successful?

His answer sounded familiar, and after spending about three minutes combing through some quotes from last season, it's clear why.

Rennie Curran following the loss to Florida last year:

"It’s preparation because the better prepared you are, the less likely you are to have things like that happen, miscommunications or not being in the right place at the right time, not being aligned and ready when the ball is snapped, and those are the things that we just have to work on in practice and be more efficient at. Everybody has to be on the same page, and when you’ve got nine guys all doing it, and two guys not doing it the right way, that will mess up your whole entire defense.”

Rennie Curran during the offseason:

“You just have to be persistent and hope everybody can get on the same page, but I have no worries about that this year. I feel like we’ve got a great group of guys that want to do things right and want to buy into the program, and that’s going to translate into good things.”
Rennie Curran following the loss to Tennessee last week:

"This season has been a huge emotional rollercoaster, having good week, bad week, guys not playing on the same page. But we’ve got to go into this week using those bad experiences to turn it into something positive for this team that can get us back on track and build some momentum for the rest of the season.”

Nearly a year apart, the song remains essentially the same, and the bottom line is that phrase: "Not Playing on the Same Page."

But why?

I thought about doing a detailed bit of writing about this, but after posing the question to a number of Georgia's key defensive players and coaches, I think they do a much better job of telling the story.

Despite what we heard during the offseason of all the effort and focus, some of that seems to have waned since this season began. Curran wants to remind people.

“We’ve got a lot going on as college students, but at the same time, we worked so hard during the offseason and we can’t just let that go for nothing," he said. "We’ve got to see some results. We’ve got to continue to fight hard."

So what will that take?

According to defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, it's a matter of persistence.

"It's a work in progress," Martinez said. "You keep talking about those things and being disciplined. You have some guys that have some inexperience and that's going to happen. You just have to work through it, continue to practice it and stress it to where you can be more consistent."

According to safety Bryan Evans, it's a matter of maturity.

“We’ve been trying to do that all season, but times like this, you can only get better by looking at film more," Evans said. "We try to get the younger players to watch film with us more, but a player is only going to do as much as they can do with the class schedule and stuff like that. But that comes with maturity. If you’re mature, you’re going to go in and watch film. If you’re not mature, you’re just going to do what you have to do and be done with it.”

According to defensive tackle Jeff Owens, it's a matter of emotion.

"You've got to give it your all," Owens said. "We know it's a grind. We know it's tough. If it wasn't tough, everybody in the world would be doing it. But you have to go out and give it your all, and you've got to have fun. That's what we have to get back is guys having fun, making plays and being excited."

According to cornerback Brandon Boykin, it's a matter of experience.

"Young people are going to make mistakes," Boykin said. "But I feel like that's where the film study comes in, like Rennie was saying. When you're inexperienced, you've got to get in there because you don't have a lot of reps under your belt. You've got to watch more film to know what to look for and be prepared for, and that in itself will lead to a lot more consistency."

So what's the bottom line?

From fans, the answer for the past few weeks -- heck, the past few years -- has been coaching. But Curran doesn't buy that. The NCAA restricts what coaches can force a player to do or how long they can make a player work. Curran doesn't think the motivation has lacked. It's the determination -- not on the field, but off it.

“We all want to win, we’re all fighting hard, we’re all fighting our hearts out every single game, but at the same time, we also need to focus on playing smarter," Curran said. "That starts with preparation. Coach Martinez can coach his heart out, but it’s up to us to stay in that film room for an extra 30 minutes or whatever it’s going to take to learn those formations, those tendencies that will help us on the field when he’s not there coaching us up.

"That’s when your film preparation comes in. When the offense comes out and does something different that you haven’t seen before, you’re already prepared, you have your rules down that you always stick to. But that’s only going to come with the time you put into it as a player, being a student of the game, and knowing the ins and outs. It’s not always about just the coaching. It’s a lot of times about the player and how bad he wants it and how much he studies himself. That’s something we have to improve on.”

To quote "Office Space," what do you think of a person who does the bare minimum?

"Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself."

Of late, going beyond seems to be something that hasn't been as high a priority as some of Georgia's defenders think it needs to be.

“I feel like everybody individually has to look themselves in the mirror and see how they can get better, see what’s gone wrong," Curran said. "If that means sitting in the film room and watching and critiquing yourself, that’s something you need to do. You have to do those things to get better and learn from your mistakes. We’ve got so many other things going on with school, with our families, but at the same time, that’s what we came to this school for was to be great football players and to get a degree and make a great living for ourselves.”

Curran isn't getting any argument on that point from Boykin, who said there's likely a direct correlation between the amount of time spent watching film and the results on the field lately.

"Film study helps, and that might be the deciding factor in a lot of our games," Boykin said. "But I also feel like it's man on man, who's the best a lot of times, and it comes down to us not making the play. But film study would definitely help us as a group if everybody got in there and did what they're supposed to do."

And it will only become a bigger and bigger issue. Teams have beaten Georgia's defense routinely using play-action and misdirection. Boykin and Curran agree that the more Georgia struggles in specific areas, the more the opposition will continue to employ those techniques.

"We know that other teams are going to copycat each other and see what hurt us defensively," Boykin said. "We're going to work on it, and Coach Martinez, I'm sure he's going to do what he's supposed to do. We've got to search within ourselves now and really find out what we want to do with our season, because it's not going to get any easier."

“That’s another thing that comes from watching film," Curran said specifically of defending the play-action. "It’s eye progression and being disciplined. There are certain keys that give away that play-action, and those keys, you only know them if you study film, watch tendencies and know down and distance. Play-action is all about discipline in where your eyes go and knowing what you’re seeing.”

So what's the final solution? How do the Bulldogs improve a problem that has been plaguing the defense for at least a year?

That should be a simple sell, Curran said, although he admits some frustration that it hasn't been as easy as it should be.

But here's the bottom line, he said. Players are at Georgia for a reason, and if they want to be great, they need to remember what that reason was.

“At times like these you have to remind the guys of why we came here," he said. "It’s the same thing as last year. We’ve got so many things as college athletes and students going on in our lives, but we have to realize that the work that we put in during the offseason and how much work has gone into this whole entire season and just what we represent in the tradition and the guys who have done it before us – all those things come into play.

"It’s where we want to go. I’m sure if I ask all my teammates if they want to play in (the NFL), I’m sure they’re all going to say yes. But at the same time, you have to do what it takes. You have to sacrifice. You have to study. You have to have those late nights. You have to put in that extra time. Those are the things you try to drive home to your teammates that it’s not just going to come overnight. Success isn’t going to come just because you want it to or just because you work hard. You’ve got to work smart. You’ve got to do all those necessary things it takes to be a successful player. Just as if you wanted to get that degree or be a successful student, you’ve got to sacrifice. That’s the main thing.”


Anonymous said...

Arrogance or stubbornness

Talk among long time football fans of a decline in performance by the Bulldogs began in earnest in 2006. Other fans, the media, and the players and coaches blasted most of the fans that noted the problems. The alarm sounding fans were stupid, spoiled, unappreciative, disloyal, and worse.

The problems persisted into 2007. A few more “alarmists”, “disloyal whiners”, “idiots” took note and spoke out. The blindly loyal and the coaches and players once again ridiculed the concerns.

In 2008, the problems were obvious even to the sedated. Open alarm was evident all over message boards frequented by Dawg fans. The response from the coaches was harsh. National media accused the coaches of going to war with the fans. During the 2008 season, resourceful fans began presenting graphs and charts of defensive failures that were clearly instructive.

Early in the 2009 season problems were again evident. As has become the custom, coaches, particularly Mark Richt and players, particularly QB Joe Cox blasted the fans. According to Richt and Cox, fans did not understand football, most never played a down, and had not been “in the arena”.

As I watched this unfold, two thoughts occurred to me regularly:

1. No one can go to war with their customers and win;
2. If a restaurant owner reacted to criticism from long time customers about cold food, burned entrees, and bitter coffee and tea the way Richt, Cox and others did, they would soon be out of business.

I was certainly not shocked by the apparent arrogance of the Bulldog program’s leaders. I have seen in many times before in other schools and in businesses. I have never seen it work out well for the coaches/managers. I supposed the underlying problem was a form of denial. The insults cast by Cox and Richt were, to me, signs of deterioration in their self-confidence.

The impressive, creative effort in generating excuses became ludicrous. Coaches blamed injuries, the wind, youth, and officials. Players were tossed under the bus, and responsibility and accountability were shirked. When the excuses played poorly with the media and fans, the sympathy card was played. The coaches recounted ad nauseam how hard they work, how busy they are, the late, late hours they must keep. Coach Richt appeared drawn, disheveled, depressed, and exhausted when interviewed. It was clear the coaches did not like to be challenged, who does? Nevertheless, I have noted that coaches at every level often manifest the desire to be treated like high priests of some cult religion.

Now we find Athletic Director Damon Evans expressing concern and Coach Richt admitting to problems. The only benefit I have ever found from bad experiences is to learn from them to avoid the same mistakes repeatedly. Perhaps our coaches and their young followers will listen to their customers/ supporters/ fans in the future. If this goal is too difficult, at least they can learn to keep the insults and sharp responses to themselves.

The disrespect for the hands that feed them all is worrisome.

Greg said...

Every different "reason" is actually just a new excuse for the poor play.

"We Didn't Execute", "we have to be on the same page", "we are young", "we have to have more heart", are the same songs that ANY player will sing who doesn't want to admit "we just plain stink".

These are all cliches and dont do anything for me or for, im sure, the rest of bulldog nation.

We've been fighting all of these issues since last year (after the FLA game) and nothing changed then, in the offseason or during this season.

Something needs to finally change and if its not something we are doing then it should be those who decide what it is that we actually do. (and I dont think CMR is the problem here)

Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines it appears some of the players know that the system at UGA allows them to remain on scholarship even if they never develop. That attitude starts at the top.

So I guess the questions is - does UGA continue with the once on board always on board approach or change? From what I have seen more than a few coaches around the SEC flush the non-performers quickly.

Brian said...


CMR IS the problem. That doesn't mean he can't be the solution, though.

Like most others out there, I don't want to see him go. What I DO want is to stop re-living the same mistakes game after game, season after season.

While I appreciate David's work, I'm not sure what expected to get out of the players. Had he interviewed UK players before Hal Mumme was fired , or USC players before Brad Scott was fired, he would have gotten the same quotes.

What are players supposed to say?

It's clearly not their fault. While they're not executing to a level their talent projects they should, there's is a problem of coaching and adult leadership.

While Willie's scheme has it's flaws, especially with regard to how he manages down and distance and game flow/momentum, we could win big with his cover 2.

We could also win big with a directional kick.

And with a play-action passing, I-formation offense.

Yes, our coaches leave some things to be desired with regard to Xs and Os. But, the problem is much simpler and, paradoxically, much deeper than that.

I differ from my fan friends who suggest we need a guy like Saban or Corch Meyers to win in the SEC; that UGA needs to go hire a heartless mercenary whose singular goal is to win.

We can win the right way with Coach Richt. Win can win BIG the right way with coach Richt.

But, we can't to that if he's constantly willing to accept "good enough" from himself, his staff and his players.

"Good enough" gives you a progressively lower bar each time you settle for it.

And now, our bar is so low that we're shooting for the Music City or Peach Bowl, not getting blown-out by UF and keeping teams under 30 points. This is despite having arguably one of the 3 or 4 most-talented teams in our league.

What we need is a relentless commitment to excellence in everything we do as a football program. That includes Damon on the facilities side. In fact, Damon can demonstrate some leadership in that capacity by setting the tone that , with this upcoming renovation of Butts-Mehre, the athletic association is demonstrating its commitment to excellence. We expect the same of you, Coach Richt.

As it relates to Coach Richt, he will need to purge his staff of several long-time members that preclude UGA from achieving true excellence. Those staff members may have been "good enough" at one time. They no longer are.

Once he's got his staff set, he needs to impress upon the staff and , by extension, his team, that "good enough" won't cut it.

Rep your top X plays until you've achieved - as a unit - perfection. Don't include "Wildsmith" or "Greyhound" packages until you have demonstrated absolute perfection in your base offense. And then continue.

Same with kick coverage and defense. Demand perfection.

I'm sure we'll hear about a 20 hour rule and all that stuff. If we do , it's a good indication we DON'T have the right guy running the program. If that happens, I'll be saddened, because there's nobody pulling harder for Coach Richt to succeed but me.

Let's hope not.

Let's hope CMR embraces this opportunity to realize his full potential as a head ball coach.

It starts with not letting "good enough" be "good enough" any longer.

Anonymous said...

Call me old school, but if you didn't put forth the required effort in preparation, you didn't play.

You also did after practice windsprints, steps, up-downs, or whatever else the coach had in mind for you.

This continued until you changed your work ethic or left the team.

We see the same players on defense (and offense) each game.

Do you think this punishment happens here?

Over the passt two years, it is easy to figure out why this team leads the nation in penalties and negative turnover margin.

It is the lack of discipline demanded by the coaching staff, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

didn't we establish in a previous post this week that the guys on the defense that aren't performing up to UGA standards are the older guys not the younger guys in the program, with the exception of Curran.

Evans, Miller, Owens and Atkins not making an impact as we thought they would, etc.

Seems to me Boykin, Rambo, Houston, Dowtin, etc are all making the impact.

Randall said...

Very thoughtful posts. I said before the season that this team would be as good as the coaches made them. If the players are not putting in the extra time in the film room or voluntary workouts it sounds like a leadership problem. It starts at the top and trancends down to the upperclassmen. CMR was a great leader once (SEC titles) and can be again. He just seems to have lost his way. I hope he finds it, because I would love to see him stay in Athens for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Anon 8:59 and Brian! I don't believe for one second that film study is the source of our problems. In fact, I feel bad for Rennie for having to say that rather than throwing his coaches under the bus. This problem isn't limited to one opponent or one particular scheme, it's a total systemic failure and it's been happening fir a while. I don't necessarily want to lose Richt over this but if he keeps up the same rhetoric of excuses he might out the door with the rest of them.

HiAltDawg said...


I never thought of using "Office Space" as a motivational tool. Thanks! They already referenced the man in the walker/traffic jam when I beat them to work on my bike. Now if my employees don't rob me, I'll be set. Now if "Defender" will stop with all the TPS Reports and make somebody make a play, Georgia might be all right.


UGA69Dawg said...

It's really pretty simple, if you don't go over and above the minimum effort you don't play. If you still don't strive to get better and get your job back at the end of the year you don't have a scholarship. Coaches know which players go over and above. The 20 hour rule is an illusion, no team in Div I can get by on 20 hours and if we are holding our guys to it we are never going to win again. Love is a powerful tool but unconditional love can be enabling. We're going to love you win or lose but only if you try your best.

Jess said...

You guys are crazy. These kids are 18-22. Give them a break! There are problems, i'm not denying that, but I'm confident CMR knows how to win and he is going to do what it takes to get back to that point. However, CMR nor the players are going to throw people under the bus mid-season. What would that do to kids and coaches attitude? BE PATIENT! There's more to life than football.
Good post David!
If nothing else, sit back and enjoy watching one of the best players in UGA history run around and catch the ball.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:36, how pathetic. Ok, all UGA fans should not believe the coaches, or the players, who are the ONLY people closest enough to know. Instead we should believe Anonymous, hysterical internet posters like you and those who have been undermining this staff for three years....DAILY.

I actually do hope we lose CMR, he deserves better than what he gets from a fanbase that has surpassed South Carolina for being the most delusional. Watch out!! The sky is falling! Apocolypse is upon us! UGA is 3-3, only finished #10last year, #2 the year before, damn. Maybe we should get out of the SEC, or drop football. D,JD. (Anyone who disagrees is illogical, has low standards, or just doesn't understand football, blah, blah, blah.) If we don't win by 3+ TDs every week, we tear into the players and coaches. You need to put the program ahead of your agenda against certain staff members. If CMR deserves the HC coaching job, he seserves to pick his advisors/assistants (without help from unqualified observers.)

Anonymous said...

Jess what is your point in referencing 18-22 year old kids? All of college football is comprised of 18-22 year old kids.

It is the coaching staff's job to coach them up and motivate them. At present neither of which are happening.

And no I don't want MR run out of town. I would like to see him run some of his staff and possibly a few of the 18-22 year kids out of town.

Anonymous said...

Some fans defended Donnan and Goff to the end.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that the coaches don't demand excellence since we've watched Miller, Evans, and Jones make the same mistakes for two years and they continue to play. Maybe if the coach sat them on the bench and let the younger players get reps, they might concentrate more on becoming a better player. There's no reason to watch upper classmen get burned time after time.
It seems like all they want to do is look for the big hit....notice I didn't say big tackle.
The coaches must demand excellence or the player doesn't play. I guarantee you Saban demands the most from his players and gets results.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:12, you're absolutely right, our program is in perfect shape. Anyone who questions whether the coaches will pull us out of this is clearly unqualified and/or hysterical. We should all just fall in line and stop expressing our opinions, especially on internet message boards designed for comments. It's defintely my "agenda" against CMR that's clouding my mind along with the rest of the country. Thanks for clearing that up for me...

Anonymous said...

UGA football has become a three ring circus! Thought I never say this, but I can't wait until basketball season....on second thought I can't wait until the Equestrian team rides again.

Anonymous said...

I'm calling a moratorium on "throw them under the bus" phrases.