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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Future football schedules

In the same week that Georgia announced it had canceled a series with a Pac-10 team, it also became known that it had inked deals with two FCS (Division I-AA teams.)

But those two events are not related, the school said.

Georgia has finalized contracts to play Charleston Southern in 2014 and Georgia Southern in 2016. Georgia Southern is also set for the 2012 season, in an agreement that had been tentative for awhile and is now official.

While the temptation may be to say that Georgia is going to a cream-puff schedule, it seems the plan all along was for Georgia to schedule those games, regardless of the cancellation of the Oregon series.

“They’re not (related),” said associate athletics director Arthur Johnson, who handles scheduling. “Those are FCS schools we were going to schedule anyway. The goal was to have one a year.”

New athletics director Greg McGarity initiated the cancellation of the Oregon game, citing travel, and the desire to put the team in the best position possible to win an SEC championship.

That means Georgia Tech every year, and then possibly one more BCS-conference opponent. But only if it works within Georgia’s plan.

“We’re gonna try to play as many home games as possible,” Johnson said. “And then look at other situations on a case-by-case basis, in discussion with Greg and coach (Mark) Richt.”

Johnson granted that scheduling a second BCS-conference team will be difficult, since it would want a home-and-home.

“Or (we'd have to) pay a really big guarantee,” Johnson said.

Speaking of which, Georgia is paying Charleston Southern $475,000, and Georgia Southern $525,000 for each game. So getting an FBS team for a one-game deal will probably be twice that, and a BCS-conference team could be quite hefty.

As for who will replace Oregon, and other future games, Johnson said he’s in a “holding pattern” while they await word from the SEC on the conference schedules, starting with 2012.

Here’s what Georgia is locked into right now:

Coastal Carolina
New Mexico State
at Georgia Tech

at Louisville
Georgia Southern
Georgia Tech

North Texas
at Clemson
Appalachian State
at Georgia Tech

Charleston Southern
Georgia Tech

at Georgia Tech

Georgia Southern
Georgia Tech

The ol' mailbag

It's time for my favorite part of the week. But first, the mailbag.

(I kid, I kid.)

Robert Burnham checks in with four questions:

Does CMR know each play Bobo will call before they run it or do they just go over the overall game plan?

From my understanding, they go over the gameplan together during the week, then Bobo makes the calls during the game, and Richt occasionally steps in. Richt has said he does so in critical situations, (whether to go for it on fourth down, etc.) but not necessarily with a play-call.

Do you think he will start to do Bobo's job or put more influence in the offensive scheme?

If he does, he will almost certainly not announce it. He doesn’t want to publicly undermine Bobo. And there’s no indication yet that Richt has involved himself more.

Are the running backs taught to just fall down after they have their first contact with a defender?

Yes. The offensive tackles are also taught to allow blitzing linebackers to go through as long as they, prior to the play, ask very nicely.

Can the running backs coach make them watch film of Trent Richardson/ Mark Ingram to show them how it should be done ?

On a serious note, I’m not sure it’s fair to question the toughness of the tailbacks. Especially the 5-foot-7 Carlton Thomas. The run game issues have been a combination of all issues.

Since you weren't here last year, Seth, you might be surprised to know (Rantavious) Wooten is on the team, given how much PT he's gotten this year.
He proved he could make plays when given the opportunity last year. Maybe a play-maker could have helped in all the quarters where we couldn't find the end-zone the past 3 weeks.
- Carter (via The Blog)

Actually I am aware of his presence, having interviewed him a couple times in the preseason, when it seemed like he would be a factor. Then he got hurt, and you’re right, he hasn’t been heard much since. He’s in that group behind the new big three (Green, Kris Durham and Tavarres King, and perhaps Marlon Brown). Wooten and Israel Troupe seem to be competing for snaps at that backup speedy receiver spot.

Seth, while listening to ESPN radio the other day they made an interesting comment about how a coach going through a spat of multiple straight losses needs to change his attitude and talk toward the players - or the players will begin to think the coach is 'same old, same old' and lose their faith in and respect for the coach. Do you see CMR beginning to change his attitude and the way he is talking to the players? Demetre Baker aside (CMR HAD to kick him off of the team and most likely everyone else who gets an alcohol-related arrest), is CMR taking a more firm stance with the team and other coaches?
- Anonymous (via The Blog)

As I’ve said before, I think it would be out of character for Richt to change mid-stream and become a more stern, drill-sergeant type. Then again, the program has never lost three in a row. But for now, “stay the course” seems to be the mantra.

I was at the Miss St game, and despite a dozen announcements before the game asking State fans not to ring their bells during game play, the bells were being rung all around me and when our offense had the ball near their student section, the bells could clearly be heard. Is this a penalty that could be called against Miss St, and if so, why are refs choosing not to enforce it?
- Parkair

I’m honestly not sure if the refs are allowed to call a penalty for crowd noise. The SEC could fine them, but they haven’t yet. Mississippi State A.D. Scott Stricklin tweeted earlier this week that while fans overall did a good job of obeying the new cowbell rules, there was still some work to do. Not that this is a problem Georgia has to worry about for another few years.

When are you going to be in Boulder? are you going to the 'tailgate'?
- ChuckSnipes (via Twitter)

Flying out Friday, coming back early Monday. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll have time to tailgate, because of pregame work stuff that needs to be done. But I’m looking forward to being back in Boulder, where I visited a couple times in the early 1990s. It seems a town that has a lot in common with Athens – fairly liberal and artsy, a lot of bike-riding (including pros), and a smaller town dominated by the big state university. The weather’s a lot different, though.

- With the offense lacking playmakers why not let Boykin get a shot along with Smith? At least as a decoy.
- Jonah Murphy (via Twitter)

I don’t know about using Brandon Boykin, but I would expect to see a bit more of Branden Smith. The reason you didn’t see much Smith last week was he missed a few critical days of practice (waiting to get cleared after the concussion), and those days happened to be when they were installing some offensive plays. Smith has been cleared all of this week.

Will UGA allow Demetre Baker to finish out the semester on paid scholarship?
- Eric Jackson (via Twitter)

Yes. Associate A.D. Claude Felton said it was his understanding that Baker is enrolled through the end of the semester.

How does Colorado's offense/defense rate compared to teams we've faced so far? Any similarities?
- Sean Rester (via Twitter)

Todd Grantham said Colorado’s offense is multiple, with tendencies of all three SEC teams Georgia has faced already. Richt said the Bufffaloes are schematically pretty similar to 2006, when they visited Athens. Defensively, Colorado has been stacking the box lately, playing three tackles on the line. They rank seventh in the nation in run defense.

Have you heard anyone throw any support behind the S&C program in response to all the public criticism lately?
- Mgrove3 (via Twitter)

Well, I don’t think there’s been enough public criticism of it (yet) that anyone has felt the need to jump out and defend it. But there have been more whispers. Greg McGarity, in an answer he gave me about all the factors that go into a football program, mentioned strength and conditioning first. That may have just been him listing all the factors, not necessarily with a negative connotation. But I did find it interesting.

Did AJ Green really say he owes UGA fans another year?
- Sean Womble (via Twitter)

Not really. In our interview session we didn’t get to that question, but he later told that he would think harder about it. But again, I seriously doubt when push comes to shove that will be a major factor. I’m sure Green loves college, and feels a bit guilty, but he will have too many other people pulling at him to make the best decision for his future.

Why are we not seeing more of Caleb King in games? Nagging injury? Attitude problems? Etc?
- Phil V (via Twitter)

Nagging injury. King really felt he was capable of playing on the ankle, but he was overruled two straight weeks. He finally got in at Mississippi State after Washaun Ealey’s fumble. I haven’t heard anything about attitude problems with King, but let’s just say there’s a lot of frustration on the team right now – as there always is when you lose.

In your opinion, how bad does it get before an in-season firing of Bobo or is that altogether off the table?
- Christiana Smith (via Twitter)

That’s just not Richt’s style. The pressure on Willie Martinez was worse last year, and he waited until the end of the season. Plus, I think we need too see how Georgia does with Green in the lineup before we bury the Bobo playcalling era.

We’re still hanging out tonight, right? I’ve cleared my schedule, and have reserved my favorite taxi driver.
- Don Draper (Manhattan, N.Y.)

Yeah, I guess. But don’t stick me with babysitting your crazy daughter again.

Was that you listening to a Lady Gaga song on the treadmill next to me the other day?
- Anonymous

Uh … no. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday afternoon notes

The A.J. Green jersey-selling story has re-ignited the debate, at least in some quarters, over whether college athletes should be paid.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt was asked about that on the weekly SEC teleconference. Richt started out by pointing out that a lot of players do get extra money, through Pell Grants.

But Green, whose family Richt said was “middle-income”, would not qualify for Pell Grant money. So the coach wondered if there was a way to get a little more money to someone in Green’s position.

“Maybe there should be something across the board where everybody can get a little bit more than what they’re getting,” Richt said.

The problem, as Richt went on to point out, is the inequity that would create. The SEC clearly has the money to pay football players, as do most other Division I-A leagues. But then athletes in non-revenue sports, and athletes at all levels, would want some. And college presidents, and the people who run college athletics, don’t really want to delve into that morass.

“As long as we’re structured the way we are, it’s just not gonna fly,” Richt said.

- You may have heard that Colorado is using this weekend to honor its 1990 national championship team. Well, national champions according to some people.

The Buffaloes lost one game (to Tennessee), tied Illinois, and beat Missouri thanks to a (cough, ahem, cough) extra down. So there’s another team in the state of Georgia that claims to be champion that year.

I got a bit of a kick out of Colorado’s weekly release, which I’ll quote:

Now apparently, our use of the word ‘concensus’ upsets a few folks around the country. It’s not to slam others, but rather to strengthn CU’s case for that season since many point to the Fifth Down game or the clip on Raghib Ismail’s punt return in the Orange Bowl and say our title is tainted. But fact is fact; at the time nine basic postseason polls were recognized as determining a unanimous or consensus national champion: Colorado topped in six of those: Associated Press, FWAA (Football Writers Association of America), National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame (MacArthur Trophy), USA Today-CNN, Sporting News and Football News. Georgia Tech won the United Press International poll (by 1 point) and Miami, Fla., the Sagarin and New York Times computer rankings.

(Like how they stuck the “by 1 point” in parenthesis?)

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who was in high school at the time, was asked Tuesday who he thought was the legitimate champion that year.

Bobo gave the politically correct answer.

“It was Colorado,” he said with a smile. “Shawn Jones was the quarterback for Tech then and my Dad coached him, so I kind of pulled a little for Tech – back then.”

Among the notable alumni of that team who have RSVPed for Saturday: Then-head coach Bill McCartney, former Colorado coach Gary Barnett, who was the quarterbacks coach on that team, quarterback Darian Hagan, and former NFL players Chad Brown (an inside linebacker), Jay Leeuwenberg (a center), Mike Pritchard (receiver) and Tom Rouen (punter).

- Colorado reserve defensive tackle Conrad Obi, who grew up in Grayson, Ga., originally committed to Georgia. He said Wednesday his switch was nothing against Georgia.

“I was just looking for something new,” Obi said.

In fact, Obi said Colorado wasn’t recruiting him until the Buffaloes lost at Georgia in 2007. Obi was at the game, and decided he was interested in the Buffaloes, and sent his film to Boulder.

- Does anybody else think “Mad Men” has slowed down a bit as the season has gone on? I’m not sensing a big finish to it, but perhaps I’m wrong. Don Draper is now telling everybody he’s really Dick Whitman, so it doesn’t seem like that will be the big finish. I’m not complaining, but I guess the home run episode a few seasons ago – Don and Peggy’s star showing – just set the bar real high.

- Speaking of TV, any “Dexter” fans out there? I liked the first episode – one Dexter kill, and one weird Debra hook-up - check, check. But am a bit curious to see where they’re taking the rest of the season. The fellow detective on the trail of Dexter’s secret life – didn’t we do that with Dokes in Season 2?

- Ironic story that may only interest me, at least on this coast: Sacramento is in danger of losing its NBA franchise, unless the Kings can get a new arena deal. This would have to be the first time in history a mayor who presided over a team losing town actually PLAYED in that league: Sacramento’s mayor is Kevin Johnson, the former All-Star point guard.

Stock up, stock down


Carlton Thomas – Now the team’s second-leading rusher, he has made it a three-man committee, rather than a Washaun Ealey/Caleb King tandem. Well, Ealey and King have played their role in that too, but credit Thomas for taking advantage so far.

The power of TMZ – Did the Hollywood-based web site initiate the NCAA investigate into Green? That’s what we can infer from Green’s statement on Monday. TMZ originally reported that Georgia was looking into whether Green had been at the infamous Miami party. Eventually the NCAA investigation moved away from that into the jersey sale.

TMZ stands for “thirty-mile zone,” as in the area in Los Angeles crucial to the entertainment industry. It is essentially still a Hollywood web site. But in this case, it apparently played a large role in a sports story, four time zones – not 30 miles – away.

Ratings on Mark Richt’s radio show – The Monday night show on WSB has become must-listening. Richt has stayed composed, even when one caller said “how about getting rid of Bobo”? (Richt ignored the question.)

Another caller was cut off Monday when he started railing at the coach, saying the program was “out of control.” (Richt said on the air he wanted to hear more of what the guy said.) A man claiming to be that caller e-mailed me Monday night, and said he didn’t curse, and was calling from a land line so it couldn’t have been a connection issue. For what it’s worth.

Asking everybody about the state of the program – Is there anyone who hasn’t weighed in? It was one thing to rush to Greg McGarity and get his take. (Hey, I was among them.) And of course fans have their opinions. But even Steve Spurrier was asked about Georgia last weekend. So was Gov. Sonny Perdue, a former Bulldog player in the 1960s, who was quoted as being concerned about the team’s intensity.

At some point, I really want to hear what Russ has to say about all this.


Washaun Ealey – Well yeah, two critical fumbles inside the 5 will do that to you. Not surprisingly, Ealey will not start at Colorado as penance, but he will still play, according to Mike Bobo. Not that it was a particularly bold move to bench Ealey – when he hasn’t been fumbling, it’s not like he was setting the world on fire.

Marlon Brown
– After a preseason that made him seem poised for a breakout year, Brown has been pretty quiet. And that’s with Green out. Brown’s biggest moment so far may have been a bad one: His holding call at Mississippi State that negated Kris Durham’s touchdown. There’s still time for the sophomore to emerge, even this season, but he hasn’t done much so far.

The offensive numbers – The Bulldogs now rank next-to-last in the SEC in rushing offense, but are dead last in average yards-per-carry. Ouch. They’re 10th in scoring offense, ninth in total offense and ninth in first downs.

The defense (when it matters) – Todd Grantham said he mostly judges his unit on how it starts and finishes. Which is why he can’t be happy. Three straight games have gone this way: Give up an opening touchdown, then clamp up for most of the rest of the game, then break down again late.

The Bulldogs rank seventh in the SEC in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, which isn’t bad. But that doesn’t tell the best tale thus far.

Pass defense – It’s becoming an alarming trend for the Bulldogs: For long stretches, they just can’t get off the field. It happened at South Carolina, and again at Mississippi State. Opponents are converting on third down 41.8 percent of the time, which ties Georgia for worst in the SEC in that category.


Greg McGarity – I spent about 20 minutes with the new A.D. on Monday, and poked and prodded. He didn’t commit to anything, and held firm in several other interviews. McGarity is handling it smartly, not dodging the questions, and saying all the right things about being concerned, but not saying anything he would have go back on. The worst thing he could do right now is undermine Richt or the program, and he hasn’t done so.

The depth chart – In the immediate aftermath of the debacle in Starkville, Richt said he was contemplating changes. By Tuesday he said there would be no “major overhaul,” with the biggest change being Green back starting at receiver. Grantham also said there were no major personnel changes planned on defense.

Aaron Murray and Kris Durham – Two of the lone bright spots on the moribund offense. Assuming Durham is healthy – he looked fine in the media portion of Tuesday’s practice – he and Green will make a good tandem for the improving Murray.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ealey falls behind in RB pecking order, and other notes

Washaun Ealey is set to lose playing time because of his fumbling. He’ll still play this week, according to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, but the starter will either be Caleb King or Carlton Thomas.

Ealey has fumbled twice inside the 5 this season, including at the 1, after a long catch-and-run, at Mississippi State.

“Normally the way you address is it is with playing time,” Bobo said. “You give guys opportunity, put them in position to make plays, and see if they can hold onto the football.”

So that means Georgia will still be playing as many as three tailbacks, waiting for someone to emerge.

“We’re looking for somebody to give us a spark,” Bobo said. “All three had opportunities to make some runs in the open field, and we’re looking for that guy to give us that spark to give us explosive play in the running game.”

There hasn’t been much burst among the tailbacks. No one has a run of 20 or more yards.

“I believe the talent’s there," Bobo said. "All three are talented. They’ve done it before, in this league, against some quality opponents. We just need something good to happen, and get that confidence going for these guys. Because their confidence is down a little bit.”

One nugget about the dimunitive Thomas: He has never been hurt at Georgia, and never had to even wear a non-contact jersey at practice.

- The return of A.J. Green will help the Bulldogs’ issues in the red zone – and everywhere, according to Bobo.

“He’s a guy who when he touches the ball has a chance to go to the house every time,” Bobo said. “He’s gonna open up things not only in the passing game, but in the running game. If you’ve got a guy out there that defenses are concerned about, (there) tend to be less people in the box. But we’ve still gotta execute when there’s less people in the box.”

- Bobo was asked about the holding call against Marlon Brown, which negated a touchdown by Kris Durham.

“They called holding. That’s about all I can (say)," Bobo said. "He grabbed his jersey. That’s a holding call, they threw it, and we couldn’t overcome the penalty. We still had a chance to score and we couldn’t put it in the end zone.”

- Georgia’s defense has given up a touchdown on the opening drive in all three SEC games. All three losses in which Georgia never had a lead.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham thinks it’s a combination of two things: players being a bit too amped up, and not sticking to the defensive gameplan when they see plays they didn’t practice against.

“Everybody’s gonna have a gameplan. They’re gonna have plays they’re gonna run on you,” Grantham said. “Sometimes if it’s a new play, or something different, and it’s not exactly the way you practiced it, you’ve still gotta apply your concepts to get through the down. If you do that, you’re fine. But if you don’t, then you can give up an explosive play, which has been happening.”

- Grantham had an interesting response when asked what to expect of Colorado.

“They’re multiple. They’ve got a little bit of Arkansas in them, with some of the things they’re doing. They’ve got a little bit of South Carolina too. So I guess we get to work one everything, don’t we? … They’ve even got a little bit of Mississippi State. So we’ve got a whole melting pot there.

“We get to work on everything they’ve seen the last three games.”

Hmm. Is that a good or a bad thing?

- The altitude in Colorado has garnered some interest this week. But Grantham, who has coached several times in Denver while in the NFL, shrugged it off as a factor.

“I’ve been there. You just play,” he said.

A.J. Green speaks (updated ... again)

A.J. Green just spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension. He started off by talking about what the past month has been like.

“Painful. But everybody makes mistakes in life,” Green said. “This taught me a valuable lesson. It just gave me time to reflect and see who was really for me personally, and who was gonna stay in my corner through thick and thin. I really found out that. It made me a stronger person, and I’m moving on now.”

Green provided some answers on the investigation:

- He sold the jersey to Chris Hawkins spring break of his sophomore year.

“When I did it, I really didn’t think nothing of it," he said. "I just thought it was something minor. I really didn’t think it was gonna be anything serious when I did it. Like I said, I didn’t think it through. I just did it. It just came back. It was a big thing. I served my punishment and I’m ready to play now.”

Green said he’d been approached before about selling some of his apparel, but this was the first time he had done so.

“It was spring break. You know, so extra cash,” Green said. “So I didn’t really think about it, that it was a big deal. So I did it. ... It was a long time ago, so I really didn’t think nothing of it,” Green said. “When that came up, they asked me, so I told them, and just moved on.”

- The NCAA found out about it when it examined Green’s bank statements.

“They had every bank statement going back to February ’09," Green said. "So they looked and saw that, and said, ‘Hey where’d you get the money from.’ I told them. I’m not gonna lie to them or anything like that to even jeopardize my whole season. So I just told them.”

That conversation with the NCAA happened a week before the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Prior to that, Green thought the investigation was into the South beach agent party, which is why he wasn’t worried. He had not been on the trip, and said that the NCAA told him it had only heard his name connected to it through a report on TMZ.

“I didn’t go on that trip. I didn’t know anything about it,” Green said. “When the NCAA told me about it, they said they heard about it through TMZ. Nobody told them, it was a rumor. So they came down here and asked me.”

Added Green: “So I guess when they couldn’t find nothing on that trip, they went back and found this.”

UPDATE: I checked with the NCAA, asking if it could verify Green's account. Spokesman Stacey Osbourn replied: "The NCAA does not have any further comment or response to the student-athlete."

- He never met Hawkins, and only talked to him on Facebook.

“I didn’t know him at all,” Green said. “I never talked to him on the phone.”

- Green said he wasn't surprised someone was willing to pay $1,000 for an Independence Bowl jersey, because he heard another one of his jerseys was auctioned off - at a horse race, Green heard - for $10,000.

- Finally, Green said he's ready to get back on the field.

“I’m gonna go get loose out there," he said. "All this that I worked so hard, and I had to miss four games. This offseasons was probably one of my best offseasons, I felt like. And just getting better and stronger and faster. And now’s the time to show that."

The return of A.J.

Mark Richt summed things up pretty well on Tuesday, when asked what personnel changes he may be planning after Georgia’s 1-3 start.

“There’ll be nothing drastic,” Richt said. “I guess the most drastic personnel change would be A.J. getting in the game.”

Yes, the return of A.J. Green was the dominant topic at Richt’s weekly news conference. Green, the star junior, was listed as the starting flanker on Georgia’s depth chart, a sigh of relief to pretty much everyone.

Aaron Murray said he almost didn’t want to throw the ball to Green in practice the past three weeks because “it almost made me sad I wouldn’t be able to throw to him on Saturday.”

But now Green is back, and while no one came out and said it, the hope is clear that it could change everything.

Richt said he thinks they’ll see different coverages now that Green is on the field, and that could open things up for the tight ends. That position has been largely absent from involvement in Georgia’s offense.

“That is what happened in some of the games last year,” Richt said. “You saw Orson (Charles) or somebody run down the middle. A lot of times that’s because a safety is playing No. 8.”

Green will be available to the media later today, and I’ll post his comments. Here are a few other notes from Richt’s presser:

- Richt mentioned possible changes after the loss to Mississippi State. On Tuesday he said he didn’t expect a “major overhaul,” just a new starter or two.

- Asked about the cross-country scheduling, Richt said he agreed with the earlier strategy to try and go west. But with the cancellation of the Oregon series, Richt agrees with that too. The western trips in the middle of the season were too taxing, he said.

“As soon as we took that first trip to Arizona State, I said I don’t know if this was the best idea or not,” Richt said.

- A possible reason for the success of opposing team’s opening drives: Mississippi State showed some formations that Georgia hadn’t seen on film, according to Richt. MSU also played some guys that Georgia weren’t sure would play because of injury.

“There were a lot of common threads, but it wasn’t exactly the way we practiced it,” Richt said.

- Richt and his staff continue to try and keep the team’s morale up, with the mantra being to “stay unified.”

“The bottom line is things will get worse or things will get better,” Richt said. “We don’t want to take our frustrations out on someone else. We need to teach these young men how to handle adversity.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Marcus Dowtin expresses frustration

(This note comes courtesy of correspondent Fletcher Page.)

Junior linebacker Marcus Dowtin says he’s frustrated over a lack of playing time. Dowtin has been rotating at inside linebacker with Akeem Dent and Christian Robinson. Of those three, Dowtin has seen the least amount of snaps.

Dowtin doesn’t think the coaches are comfortable with him on the field at all times, he said.

“Yeah, I would say I feel like they don’t trust me,” he said. “What their reasons are, that’s between them. But you know, like I said, I’m just asking that they keep coaching me and eventually one of those days give me a shot to do what I can do.”

Having recorded six solo tackles with five assists on the season, Dowtin was visibly frustrated leaving the locker room following Saturday’s loss at Mississippi State.

He was quick to point out that his attitude was not for selfish motivations. He is unhappy with the team’s 0-3 start in the SEC.

“I mean, I would say everybody is frustrated because we’re not where we’re supposed to be at,” he said. “Even the coaching staff is frustrated trying to find the right way to go about things. I would say I’m right in saying I’m frustrated.”

Frustration is the word Dowtin kept repeating, and he refrained from saying he was angry or upset over the lack of playing time.

“I would just say my competitive nature just makes me a little frustrated,” he said. “My competitiveness and the skills that I have that I believe in probably have made me a little frustrated. I wouldn’t say I’m pissed off. I mean, that’s something I can’t control. There is no need in me getting pissed off because that will just make the situation worse. All I can do is listen and try to go about it the right way and hopefully they’ll call my name.”

McGarity: 'Everybody's concerned' about football team

Greg McGarity hasn’t been on the job a month at Georgia, and he’s already being asked the biggest question an SEC athletics director will probably face: Could there be a change in the football coach?

That may be premature, given that it’s only four games into the season. But with Georgia 1-3, and with yet another player arrest, head coach Mark Richt’s status is being pondered and debated.

Sitting in his office Monday afternoon, McGarity preferred to talk about he and his staff are remaining upbeat, and doing whatever it could to help Richt. But he knows from emails that fans are “frustrated” and that “everybody’s concerned.”

When it came to the hot-seat question, McGarity said that all staffs, all programs, are evaluated throughout the year. But he wanted to be careful with choosing his words.

“This will not play itself out in the media. It gets back to the question of do you have confidence,” McGarity said. “I’m not going down that road. We have confidence in everyone. I’ve just seen it twisted and turned to where the words of various A.D.s throughout the country gets turned around. So whatever you say can be twisted by whatever angle the writer chooses to take, or whatever to make it fit. So really all personnel decisions and everything that is done, are confidential and dealt with in a person-to-person manner.”

Richt's deal at Georgia runs through the 2013 season, and his contract includes a longevity bonus in excess of $3 million, which would be owed if he were fired without cause. Richt is 91-30 in his 10 seasons as the Bulldogs coach.

McGarity said he’s spoken to Richt almost every day, trying to be “uplifting,” and asking what he can do to help. He has also gone to about a practice a week, studying the program and how it works.

“There’s so many things that go into the games on Saturday. You’ve got so many moving pieces to this,” McGarity said. “I don’t know how many people touch the football program. But you’ve got strength and conditioning, you’ve got recruiting, you’ve got player development, you’ve got the philosophical approach. There’s so many moving parts to having a successful football program.”

One factor in Georgia’s poor start may have been the absence of star receiver A.J. Green. The junior was suspended by the NCAA for selling his jersey, and is eligible to return Saturday at Colorado.

McGarity was asked if it was fair to judge the Bulldogs given the absence of Green.

“Oh yeah, I think so. You know, as Mark has said, one person can make a difference, but at the end of the day one person can’t really dictate your season,” McGarity said. “You’ve seen other programs that have injuries or have unfortunate things that develop, and someone else steps up. So I think what this has done has maybe let some other receivers develop, I think Kris Durham certainly has been one of the highlighted receivers. I think it gives others a chance to pick up and play. …

“It’s all how you look at it. A.J. doesn’t play defense, he doesn’t block, he’s not an interior lineman. I’m sure it hurts the team. But I think there are so many other moving parts with it – it’s the what-if word, probably the two worst words you could use in coach-speak. You can’t play the what-if game.”

The recent spate of player arrests has not been helpful to the program. Demetre Baker, a freshman linebacker, was dismissed from the team Sunday after becoming the 10th Bulldog arrested this year, and the third since August.

McGarity said he was “stunned and disappointed” about the arrest, adding that Baker knew the consequences. Richt has said he would be harsher with alcohol-related issues.

“Mark basically did what he needed to do,” McGarity said.

A Georgia graduate himself, McGarity said it was important for fans to remain faithful, and agreed that apathy, not anger at the program, was the biggest danger.

He also knows that the current spate of bad publicity could hinder recruiting or fundraising, but they couldn’t pay attention to that right now.

“I’m sure where you’re speaking to some prospective student-athletes there are some institutions that are probably piling on right now,” he said. “But at the end of the day I think student-athletes have confidence in this institution and the leadership that we have in place. It’s a phenomenal school. These are sort of dips that we’re going through now, but it’s no indication of where we’ll always be.”

Georgia-Oregon series is canceled

When Greg McGarity got the athletics director job at Georgia in August, one of the first things he did was reach out to Rob Mullens, the new athletics director at Oregon.

Georgia and Oregon had a signed contract to play each other in football in 2015 and 2016. But McGarity, who was replacing Damon Evans, didn't think it was a great idea.

“I texted (Mullens) and asked him if they’d have any interest in canceling. And he said absolutely, he was gonna call us,” McGarity said.

So with great mutual interest, Georgia and Oregon have agreed not to play each other as scheduled, McGarity and Georgia announced on Monday.

The impending expansion of the Pac-10, bringing Colorado and Utah aboard, is creating scheduling issues for teams in that conference. Oregon did not want to have to go to the other coast in 2016, any more than Georgia wanted to do the same the year before.

“It worked out great. Both schools just said this is something we don’t need to worry about anymore,” McGarity said.

“We’re getting back at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, and we’ve got a big game to prepare for the next day. It’d just be like you or me getting back. You’re not gonna sleep on the plane, I don’t care what you say. So you really lose a day. You’re gonna be worn out already.”

It also fits into McGarity’s main goal in football scheduling, which is getting seven home games a year. Three of the next six years, there can only be six home games, because contracts with Clemson and Louisville are locked in.

“Every now and then I think it’s important to play a rival, like Clemson. I think that’s a great series,” McGarity said. “But you don’t do that every year. I think you pick and choose. And every now and then you can get by with six home games. But that should really only be one time in a decade.”

McGarity said no replacement has been found yet for Oregon on the 2015 and 2016 schedules.

Tennessee game time set

The SEC announced Monday that Georgia's Oct. 9 home game against Tennessee will be at 12:21 p.m., and televised on the SEC Network.

It's hard to remember the last time a Georgia-Tennessee matchup was relegated to a non-national broadcast. But such is the state of both teams right now.

EDIT: Just saw that it was on the SEC Network last year too. Well, I guess it's hard to remember TWO STRAIGHT YEARS it wasn't nationally broadcast.

There's actually a good chance that both teams will still be looking for their first SEC win at that point. Georgia definitely will, since its next game is Saturday at Colorado. Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) is at No. 12 LSU on Saturday.

Dave Neal will do play-by-play, Andre Ware will be the color analyst and the sideline reporter will be Cara Capuano (a good person to follow on Twitter, by the way.)

In other SEC news, Georgia was at least spared this week being the defense against which the offensive player of the week did his damage. Auburn's Cameron Newton got the award this week.

Quarterback Aaron Murray was, for the second straight week, the only Georgia player to be listed under the SEC's "other outstanding performances."

Fleeting thoughs: After Mississippi State

Normally this feature would run the day after the game. But my Sunday was spent driving back to Athens through a driving rain that made the day even more pleasant.

The lingering memory I’ll have from this trip is Mark Richt’s postgame press conference: The unflappable coach looked, for the first time I can remember, a bit rattled. He was still polite, but for him, he was short on some questions, with some clipped responses. He looked like a man searching for answers.

He should, as Georgia has a lot of problems. One of them, or possibly more, will be fixed this week by the return of A.J. Green. But all the issues were once again on display in Starkville.

The rundown, grades and observations:

QUARTERBACK: Aaron Murray remains a bright spot, which makes the struggles of the offense even more confounding. No, he’s not going to be an All-SEC pick, but once again he was what Georgia was asking him to be before this season started: Turnover-free, and a good manager of the offense. The freshman had 274 passing yards and was the team’s second-leading rusher. On the other hand he was still a bit off on his throws, especially in the red zone. … B.

RUNNING BACKS: It may be time to admit that the Bulldogs’ tailbacks are just average. At least that’s the conclusion we have to take from the first four games. Caleb King’s return, making the first time he and Washaun Ealey have both played, didn’t spark the running game. Ealey had another costly fumble inside the 5. King, Ealey and Carlton Thomas averaged only about three yards per carry. And no one is exhibiting any breakaway ability. I’m sure the blocking isn’t much of a help, but the tailbacks aren’t creating much on their own. … C-.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Kris Durham (four catches for 64 yards) had almost exactly the same stat for the fourth straight game. The Bulldogs can only hope his neck stinger isn’t so serious he can’t team with Green this weekend. Tavarres King had a 40-yard touchdown in garbage time, and a 39-yard catch early in the game – but nothing in between. Marlon Brown was once again pretty quiet, while Logan Gray (three catches for 42 yards) was a factor, but not a major one. And once again, the tight ends were largely absent: They were targeted a bit more, but Orson Charles had the lone catch. One factor that hasn’t been talked about: The run-blocking of the receivers. Apparently the coaches don’t have a lot of confidence because they’re not calling a lot of sweeps, and not a lot of screens either. ... C+.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The pass protection was a bit better, allowing just one sack. But Murray was still pressured, and saved a sack or two with his feet. As for the run, there wasn’t much in the way of gaping holes for the tailbacks. Nothing changes here: The line remains one of the most disappointing facets of this year’s team. … C-.

DEFENSIVE LINE: The second half looked a lot like the South Carolina game, with the opposing offense staying on the field and converting a ton of third downs. It wasn’t all up the gut, and a lot came on short-range throws, unlike in Columbia. But MSU was still able to run more than it should, with Vick Ballard averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Chris Relf had 97 rushing yards, most of it on the edges. No sacks either, and through four games the front three still don’t have any to their credit. … C-.

LINEBACKERS: The main task for this unit was to stay on their keys and shut down the option. They did only an average job of that, largely failing on the first drive, and throughout the second half. So the contain was a miss, for the most part. There were also only two tackles behind the line – both by Justin Houston – and the lone interception, on the halfback option, was forced by pressure. So it wasn’t all bad. But Mississippi State had its best offensive showing in the SEC so far, and a lot of that falls at the feet of Georgia’s best defensive unit. … C-.

SECONDARY: There were only 135 passing yards allowed, but there were also only 14 pass attempts. A lot of them came on third down, and were completed. The passing game was supposed to be a huge problem for Mississippi State, but for one night Relf looked like a legitimate SEC quarterback. … C-.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Bacarri Rambo can’t catch a break. It was his leg that came in the way of a bouncing punt, even as Branden Smith was waving his teammates off. Luckily for Rambo, that didn’t directly lead to MSU points. But it did rob Georgia of what should have been good field position at a key time. On the plus side, Georgia finally got a big return, a kickoff by Brandon Boykin for 39 yards. Blair Walsh remains perfect (and also had two touchbacks on kickoffs). Punter Drew Butler looks to be rounding back into form. The punt and kick coverage were also pretty good. … B.

COACHING: A team that struggles in the red zone clearly is a reflection of a weak running game, but also not having the right plays called. Mike Bobo faced the media and took the blame for the team’s execution, so he deserves credit for that. Todd Grantham’s defense was once again inconsistent: For a third straight game the opponent scored a touchdown on its opening drive, which isn’t good. And clearly the second-half adjustments by Dan Mullen were better. … C.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Richt says it's 'obvious' this is worst he's seen at UGA

Mark Richt said it was important for his team and coaches to “stay the course” amid the current troubles – while acknowledging that this is the most difficult period of his decade-long tenure as Georgia football coach.

“Oh yeah there’s no doubt it is. It’s obvious it is,” Richt said. “The bottom line is we’re 0-3 in the league and we’ve never been there. And we have had enough issues off the field that it’s been a big distraction and sad for our young men and our university. … There’s no doubt that it’s the toughest bit of adversity that we’ve faced since I’ve been here.”

Georgia has lost three straight for the first time since 1990, and on Sunday had its 10th player arrested this year.

Richt said after Saturday’s game that he was contemplating some changes. But on his Sunday post-mortem teleconference, he indicated those would be more personnel-based (to be decided) than coaching or otherwise.

“If you sit there and try to make a wholesale change in midstream then you’re asking for more trouble,” Richt said.

Richt also said the team would “probably be soul-searching just a bit deeper.”

A few more notes:

- There are no plans for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to move into the press box during games.

“He feels real comfortable on the ground,” Richt said. “The information that we’re getting from upstairs is very accurate, so I don’t think it has any effect on how things are going.”

- Senior receiver Kris Durham apparently suffered a neck stinger near the end of Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State. Richt said the staff was “hopeful” the team’s leading receiver could play Saturday at Colorado.

“Sometimes you’re able to play the next week, sometimes you’re not,” Richt said. “I don’t know how severe it is or how he felt today as opposed to last night.”

- Star receiver A.J. Green is due back from NCAA suspension for the Colorado game.

“I’ll just say that we’re glad to have AJ back,” Richt said. “He certainly has paid a price for what he did. Now that he has a chance to play, I’m sure we’ll enjoy thinking of ways to use his talents.”

Baker dismissed after arrest

Freshman linebacker Demetre Baker was dismissed from the Georgia football team on Sunday, shortly after his arrest in Athens for DUI and two other charges.

Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt announced the suspension Sunday evening of Baker, a Florida native who had yet to play this season, and did not make the trip to Mississippi State.

“I’ll just say that Demetre was fully aware of the possible consequences that resulted from this kind of situation,” Richt said.

Baker was the 10th Bulldog football player arrested in 2010, and the third since August. Richt was asked if Baker's dismissal signaled a zero-tolerance policy.

“I think all of our guys understand that they need to behave. I’ll put it that way,” Richt said.

Richt said he had not personally spoken with university president Michael Adams, who said last week that every program had been "challenged" on the arrest issue.

"I think they’ll deal with it," Adams said on Sept. 18. "You’re dealing with 19-year-olds. We have more in the general student population than I would like. We’ve had too much in the football program. We expect coaches and the A.D.s to provide role models and leadership for their players. And I told the whole athletic association that.”

Freshman Baker arrested

Demetre Baker, a freshman member of the Georgia football team, was arrested early Sunday morning on three misdemeanors.

According to the Clarke County Sheriff's web site, Baker was charged with DUI, "improper driving" and underage possession of alcohol. Baker, who is 19, was booked at the Clarke County jail at 4:29 a.m.

Baker was released at 11:05 a.m., according to jail records, posting bond of $2,500.

Baker is redshirting and was not on the dress list for Saturday night's game at Mississippi State. The Orange Park, Fla. native has not played in a game yet this season.

This is the 10th Georgia player to be arrested in 2010, and the third since August.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Richt wants to "look within," Bobo accepts blame

After an unprecedented (for him) third straight loss, Mark Richt said it was time for he and the Georgia football team to “look within.”

Richt said that being 0-3 in the league (and 1-3 overall) was something he’d never experienced as a coach or a player.

“We’ve just gotta make sure that everything we’re doing is the right thing to do, and that we’re doing it well,” Richt said. “I just gotta make sure that … That’s just part of my job as a head coach, and I’m responsible for everything that happens. I’ve gotta make sure that every part of our football program starts to do the things that we need to do to win.”

What immediate changes might that mean?

“I’m not gonna say anything right now, because I’m not sure,” Richt said. “I need time to watch and reflect.”

Richt’s much-maligned offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, looked inward.

“Didn’t do a good job of getting us ready to play. Didn’t do a good job of executing and that falls on me as a coach,” Bobo said. “Moved the fall well but didn’t finish. And you can’t finish, you can’t win in this league. And that’s about how we’ve been in three games in this league, basically.”

Georgia’s offense had the ball inside the Mississippi State 20 on three occasions in the first half, but only got six points out of it.

“I didn’t think they slowed us down in the first half at all,” Bobo said. “And to only get six points was disappointing. You can’t have turnovers and you can’t have penalties, and that’s coaching. That’s our fault.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was a bit more upbeat, to a point.

“We’ve gotta go out there and stop them, that’s our job,” Grantham said. “I was proud of the effort the guys had. I thought they did a good job on the sideline with some adjustments we made after the first series. I thought we kept playing. And then we had a chance to stop them in the fourth quarter and get the ball back, and we didn’t do a good job.”

Fourth quarter blog

3:15 left in game, Georgia now trails 24-6

It's all over but the timeouts and tack-on score by Mississippi State. (Actually that just happened while I was typing this post.) I'm headed down for the post-mortem.

This will be Georgia's first three-game losing streak since 1990, and thus the first of the Mark Richt era. (And suddenly next week's game at Colorado doesn't seem like the sure win it was expected to be.)

It's Georgia's loss to Mississippi State since 1974, and its first in Starkville since 1951.

4:22 left in game, Georgia now trails 17-6

Is Georgia about to lose on the road by a 17-6 score for the second time in three weeks? It sure looks that way.

Mississippi State, after using the run to march downfield, just passed its way into the end zone. Another mental breakdown by the young Georgia secondary.

That 11-point deficit, with the limited Georgia offense, almost seems insurmountable at this point.

Georgia fans, you're forgiven for turning off the TV in disgust. This was a game UGA had to have, and for awhile was there for the taking. But barring an unforeseen turnaround, it's about to fall to 1-3.

Incredible. No one saw this coming.

5:00 left in fourth quarter, Georgia still trails 10-6

Georgia needs a big play somewhere in the next five minutes, or the next week in Bulldog nation is not going to be pretty.

Mississippi State just converted on fourth-and-1 from its own 40. A gutsy call by Dan Mullen, but one he made feeling his offensive line had gained the advantage and would get the push it needed. He was right.

The second half has become a ball-control game, and not to Georgia's benefit.

That's too many third downs - and now a fourth - given up by Georgia's defense. The offense has only had the ball twice this half, and there's only five minutes left. Incredible.

10:07 left in fourth quarter

Killer, killer penalty against Georgia just now. It can only hope it has another chance to make amends.

UGA had seemed to have converted a third down, with Kris Durham catching a pass down to the 15. But a holding penalty negated the play - and pushed the Bulldogs back to their 40.

So instead of being in position to (finally) push it in and take the lead, Georgia was out of field goal range. The next play appeared an attempt to at least get back in Blair Walsh's range, but it was tipped, and UGA had to punt.

Making matters worse, Durham got hurt on the play. If he can't return, what then becomes of the passing game?

The drive nearly stalled earlier after Boykin's long return. But Marlon Brown had a good catch-and-run to convert a third-and-8.

Then it was Carlton Thomas' turn, uncorking a run down to the 27. (Yes, Thomas is getting key carries in the fourth quarter, rather than Ealey or King.)

13:59 left in fourth quarter, MSU leads 10-6

Mississippi State has added a field goal, after a drive that seemed a lot longer than it really was, but could've been longer.

Georgia's defense finally got off the field after MSU had driven to the 25. A third-down pass to an open receiver was dropped - continuing a trend for the home team - but UGA will take it.

By the way, Mississippi State didn't even reach the red zone there yet got a field goal, while Georgia has had three trips further than that, resulting in its current total of six points.

But the offense has plenty of time to do something. Not to be a broken record, but it NEEDS to sustain something on the ground. A.J. Green is not walking through that door until next week, so the downfield passing game can only carry the offense - and I use the term mildly - for so long.

EDIT: Or Brandon Boykin could return the ball to near midfield. That helps. Best return of the season for Georgia.

Third quarter blog

End of third quarter, Georgia still trails 7-6

The story of the third quarter is Mississippi State's third-down conversions. There were four on the current drive - which is only the second of the half for MSU, and it's still ongoing as the fourth quarter begins.

Georgia, meanwhile, had the ball just once that quarter.

Georgia's defense just can't get off the field, and seems to be getting some second-half blues. Mississippi State is converting on a lot of third downs, and very slowly moving down the field.

Georgia's also been a bit lucky in Mississippi State's passing game. Between the drops and some missed throws, this could be a lot worse for Georgia.

You can't blame it on Georgia's defense being on the field too much: They were only out there for 10:10 in the first half. But from a mental standpoint, you do wonder if the offensive struggles are affecting them.

Oh, and leading tackler Akeem Dent got hurt on that drive too. They'll need him back, clearly.

5:18 left in third quarter

This third quarter has been kind of fast-moving, but not too much better in quality of play. Each team has had the ball once, and each team has punted.

Aaron Murray had two first-down runs, as he continues to be Georgia's best runner. The tailback production has to be a major concern for this team now.

Meanwhile, tight end Orson Charles caught a pass, his first one in two games. It was also the first catch by a tight end in this game. Charles was also the target downfield at the end of that drive.

9:45 left in third quarter

The phrase "deserves to win" shall not be bestowed on either team at this juncture of the ballgame.

Continuing the trend of silly mistakes, an offsides call against Georgia negated an interception, which was returned by Vance Cuff down to near the Mississippi State 30. (Poor Cuff, who still doesn't have an interception in his career.)

A few plays later, MSU quarterback Chris Relf got free for a run into Georgia territory - then had the ball forced out. Alas for Georgia, it bounced out of bounds.

Luckily for Georgia, the next two mess-ups were committed by the opposition: A timeout used before the first down play - a first down that, in a 7-6 game, could be important later; and a long muffed snap on second down that essentially ended the drive.

Georgia's offense now prepares to take the field for the first time this half. We'll see if the running game has any life to it, or whether the Bulldogs just have to ride Aaron Murray's arm.

Halftime observations

- Georgia has 100 more offensive yards than Mississippi State, has held the ball for 9:40 longer and has twice as many first downs.

And yet UGA trails by a point. Red zone, anyone?

- This game is there for Georgia. If it doesn't clamp down on its mistakes and take control in the second half, it has only itself to blame.

- One less crucial mistake by either team, and we have a different ballgame right now: If Washaun Ealey doesn't fumble, or Marlon Brown doesn't hold at the end of Kris Durham's run. Or Mississippi State doesn't throw a silly halfback option or jump offsides on a punt return.

- Aaron Murray is playing fantastic, except for the red zone. He has 155 yards passing and 24 rushing, and no turnovers. I don't know if the red zone problems are really his fault, though. If Georgia had a more effective run attack, that would certainly help.

- Kris Durham, wow. I guess he's long since answered whether his play is any fluke.

- Bacarri Rambo can't seem to catch a break, can he.

- The defense, or special teams, could still use a big turnover. The Darryl Gamble interception was a gift, but hey it counts.

- That said, I still don't quite trust the Georgia defense to have a huge second half. It's played well since the opening drive, but still seems prone to the kind of one-play breakdowns that could decide a game.

- Where's the breakaway ability for the Georgia tailbacks?

Second quarter blog

1:21 left in second quarter, Georgia now down 7-6

Well, Georgia can at least move the ball on offense. But it still can't finish.

A third trip to the red zone results, for the third time, without a trip into the end zone. At least on a play that ended up counting. Kris Durham had a beautiful 40-yard catch and run, finishing it with a dive past the pylon - but it was negated by a holding call against Marlon Brown near the end of the play.

(It looked like a fairly obvious hold by Brown, but not an overly necessary one. Chalk that up as yet another mental mistake for the team.)

The penalty pushed Georgia back to the 19, and three plays later it had to settle for Blair Walsh's second field goal. (Where would it be without him?)

Durham and Aaron Murray are playing great tonight for the Bulldogs. But once again the run game has been inconsistent, and the offense can't finish drives. That's why they're losing at the moment.

2:27 left in second quarter, still MSU 7-3

What a run by Aaron Murray. The Georgia quarterback escaped a sack, and then another tackle, on third down to continue the drive down to the MSU 40.

This followed yet another mental mistake by one of these two teams: MSU jumped offsides on a punt - a punt! And there didn't seem any question about the call, since the linesmen on both sides threw their flags.

Both teams look in danger of unraveling. The good news for both of them is they're both playing that way, so it's evening out.

Georgia's defense, by the way, has tightened up quite a bit after looking helpless for most of the first quarter. But now that's something Todd Grantham has to ask himself: Why does his unit get dominated early?

6:56 left in second quarter

Just when you thought Georgia was about to go down multiple scores, and be in dire position already, it gets a gift from the home team. A couple, actually.

First, with his team driving, MSU's LaDarius Perkins on a trick play threw an absolute duck that Darryl Gamble easily picked off.

Then Relf committed a personal foul, allowing Georgia to start at the 26, rather than the 11. Relf pushed a Georgia player in frustration.

This after Georgia handed MSU its own gift: Bacarri Rambo wasn't paying attention and had a punt carom off his leg, recovered by MSU at the Georgia 45. Thus was ruined what should have been a short field for the Georgia offense.

Both these teams are looking like they're on two-game losing streaks.

12:52 left in second quarter, Georgia now trails 7-3

Georgia is on the scoreboard, but it's only a field goal.

Two trips into the red zone, netting three points. And both drives ended inside the 10.

Georgia's playcalling changed up once the second quarter started. After Aaron Murray passed the team down to the 15, Mike Bobo called two straight runs - and Caleb King and Washaun Ealey were stuffed on consecutive carries.

The third down play, a screen to Ealey, came close to netting the first down, but was lucky Murray wasn't sacked, as he looped the ball out of a closing pocket. Ealey might've felt like calling for a fair catch.

Blair Walsh, meanwhile, is now 6-for-6 on field goal attempts this season.

First quarter blog (updated)

End of first quarter, MSU leads 7-0

While Georgia is still trailing, 7-0, here's the good news as the quarter ends:

- Georgia is at the MSU 15, after a long completion to Tavarres King.
- It should be tied, if Washaun Ealey doesn't fumble at the 1.
- The offense looks like it can definitely move the ball against Mississippi State, with success through the air and the ground.
- The defense had a good stop on the previous drive, after MSU quickly marched to midfield.

By the way, great pass and composure by Murray on the pass to King. The freshman hung in the pocket as it closed up. A week or so ago, he might've rushed the throw.

Caleb King did indeed get called off the bench after the Ealey fumble, and his first carry produced a 12-yard run for a first down. Funny how that happens.

4:30 left in first quarter, Georgia still trails 7-0

That Washaun Ealey fumble inside the 5 isn't as big as the one at South Carolina. So far.

Ealey finished off a nice 20-yard pass play by coughing the ball up at the 1, with the ball trickling into the end zone, recovered by Mississippi State. It was initially ruled down by contact, but overruled on replay, and clearly the ball was coming out before Ealey hit the ground.

That's now two key Ealey fumbles inside the 5 in the past three games. Will that force Caleb King onto the field?

On the good side, it was a nicely-drawn up play. But one does have to ask why a tight end wasn't sent up the middle for that kind of play.

7:00 left in first quarter, Georgia trails 7-0

Factoid to add to the previous update: Georgia's defense has now given up an opening-drive touchdown three straight weeks.

But Georgia's offense is off to a much better start on its second drive, marching into opposing territory. The running game has at least moved the ball, with Washaun Ealey getting one 11-yard run. And Aaron Murray hit Kris Durham on a key third-down pass to continue the drive into MSU territory.

Notice that Carlton Thomas got a carry before Caleb King? Maybe it was just a change-of-pace thing, but with the past two weeks as a guide, you still wonder about King's health. He does have his helmet on.

I think it's a good sign for Georgia that Fred Munzenmaier got an early catch. People have justifiably made a big deal about the tight ends not being involved, but the fullbacks, especially with Shaun Chapas out, have also been absent. Georgia needs to get both those positions involved to spread the defense out a bit more.

12:17 left in first quarter, Mississippi State takes 7-0 lead

Georgia's offense starts with a three-and-out, losing yards in the process. The defense follows up by allowing a quick, touchdown-scoring drive.

Suffice to say, not a great start for the visitors.

Georgia's defense looked utterly overmatched on the drive. MSU QB Chris Relf had a long gain on a keeper, and the option pitch for the touchdown came against a wide-open left side of the field.

Relf also had a completion over the middle early in the drive. Wasn't quarterback supposed to be a problem spot for the Mississippi State offense?

The Georgia offense didn't look too great either.

Aaron Murray was sacked on the second play. That doesn't bode well, a week after the line gave up six sacks. (Arkansas got a lot of pressure on Alabama QB Greg McElroy today too, for what it's worth.)

Georgia almost got bailed out on third down with a pass interference penalty. But officials consulted and ruled the ball wasn't catchable.

Here's my confusion on that call: While the ball was in the air, I didn't see any contact on Kris Durham at all. So I figured the call was illegal contact, which wouldn't have been affected by whether it was catchable.

Oh well, I'm not a ref.

Pregame blog (updated with more cowbell)

More pregame updates

Branden Smith and Marcus Dowtin went through pregame warmups without any apparent limitations. Smith has apparently been cleared to play, after sitting out last week with a concussion.

It's a bit harder to get a read on fullback Shaun Chapas, who is in uniform and testing out his ankle. He wasn't working with the first-team offense, so he's probably not starting, but he was drilling with the second-teamers, so he at least looks to be available.

And just because you never know: Caleb King looks to be a full-go at tailback, and was working with the first-teamers.

6:19 p.m.: Chapas tests ankle while cowbells ring in my ears

Cowbell rule? What cowbell rule?

They're ringing the cowbells incessantly here in the stadium - and it's just pregame warmups. For awhile they were showing the Arkansas-Alabama game - and fans reacted to positive Razorback plays by ringing them. Now they're showing great moments in Mississippi State history (shut up) and fans ring them after every highlight.

I'm not particularly bothered by it right now, but ask me again in three hours.

Anyway, Georgia is on the field warming up, and I'll be keeping an eye for the injured players. One, Shaun Chapas, is dressed out and running the sideline, testing his ankle.

Back to the cowbells: The SEC passed a rule against artificial noisemakers, but Mississippi State is still allowed to ring its traditional noise instruments during lulls in the game, and after MSU touchdowns.

They can still ring them all they want during pregame, and right now, they're ringing them all they want.

5:50 p.m.: Dress list update

No major surprises. We already reported Friday that Branden Smith, Marcus Dowtin and Shaun Chapas had boarded the plane for Starkville, but we probably won't know until warmups are over if they're playing. I'll let you know.

Otherwise, freshman WR Michael Bennett is also here, but still mainly for insurance purposes. they're aiming for a redshirt. Walk-on WR Taylor Bradberry is also on the trip, probably for depth reasons, as A.J. Green has one more game left in his suspension.

Tackle Kenarious Gates, also a true freshman planning to redshirt, is also on the trip, just in case.

Another walk-on here for depth reasons is Jeremy Sulek. He plays inside linebacker, a position quite lacking in available reserves, with Richard Samuel out and Dowtin questionable.

The team is also listing Charles White, normally a fullback, at inside linebacker. He very quietly moved there from fullback at the end of preseason camp. White, who played little offense, was a linebacker in high school and started his Bulldog career there.

The emergency quarterback is probably still Logan Gray, but walk-on Parker Welch is also here. Greg Bingham, the other freshman walk-on QB, is not on the dress list.

5:44 p.m.: Welcome to Stark-Vegas

I'm staring out at the beautiful vista of Davis Wade Stadium, with a rainbow and panoramic green trees on the left ... and Arkansas beating Alabama on the right.

Yup, they're showing the Bama-Arky game on the stadium scoreboard here, offering up some interesting pregame viewing. As I write this at press time (press time being the second I push the "publish post" button) Arkansas is leading the nation's top-ranked team, 17-7.

Does this make Georgia look a bit better? It just might, no matter what happens the rest of the way. If Arkansas had been run off the field, it definitely would've made Georgia look pretty bad. But the fact they're outplaying them for more than a half says something.

Of course the biggest statement the Bulldogs can make tonight is by defeating the other Bulldogs.

(That's gonna be a difficult thing to navigate all night, by the way. You're gonna see a lot more "Georgia" in my copy than usual.)

How big a game? And what then?

Some links, and thoughts, as we arrive on the day of a rather big game for Georgia. But how big is the question.

My advance from today's papers delves into whether this game can be a turning point for Georgia's season - or sink the team deeper into the morass.

A loss, and the team would officially be reeling, with more state-of-the-program questions awaiting Richt upon his return to Athens.

But a win could be the start of a turnaround, especially with an easier stretch of games ahead.

“It definitely has to be a turning point,” cornerback Vance Cuff said. “We definitely have to take this and build off it. We’re in a position where we’ve gotta win.”

Macon Telegraph sports editor Daniel Shirley, in his column, believes things could get worse for Richt, which would be unfair, but is the reality.

It’s amazing how quickly fans can forget what a head coach has been able to accomplish with a program, and it’s interesting how they can overreact to situations. But it happens, and it happens with every team, so it really should not be a surprise. After all, most fans are a little unreasonable about their favorite teams and don’t understand when they’re not winning games in bunches.

That makes Saturday’s game at Mississippi State even more important than usual for Georgia. Reasonable fans will remember what Richt has done with the program and see a team this year that may be going through a growing season.

And my breakdown of the Georgia-Mississippi State matchup.

So what do you think? Is this game really "huge" for the program and Richt? Or is that overstating it?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Behind enemy lines: Mississippi State edition

Yes, faithful readers, it’s time for a return to one of the blog’s favorite segments: An interview with a beat writer for the opposing team. It only took us until the fourth game to get to it.

My apologies for that, but there was a good reason each week:

- First it was just Louisiana-Lafayette, and I mean, really.
- Then came South Carolina, which I just left, so I just interviewed myself. (Very awkward, if I may say. I didn’t ask good questions, and wasn’t satisfied with my answers. I’m never interviewing that guy again.)
- Then last week, for Arkansas, well I just forgot.

Well this week we speak to longtime Mississippi State beat writer Brandon Marcello, who joined the beat for The Clarion Ledger this month. Brandon was kind enough to answer my questions, and I was kind enough to answer his.

You can find my answers about Georgia and the game on Brandon’s blog here.

And here's what Brandon had to say about the Bulldogs. The other ones, I mean.

First off, you just moved to Starkville. Is it everything you thought it would be and more? Have you had a hard time avoiding all the distractions, the glitz, glamor and cow-tipping?

No cow-tipping for me yet. In fact, I think if I did that I would be considered an enemy of the State. (insert rim shot here).

Kidding aside, I'm loving my time in Starkville. It's a small college town, which I love, and the people are very nice. When you hear about southern hospitality, one only has to come to Starkville to find out exactly what they mean by when they hear the often-repeated phrase. Downtown is great and the Cotton District has quickly become a favorite hot spot of mine. And the food! Good stuff.

People around here are familiar with Dan Mullen from his Florida days. Just in how he carries himself, how similar to Urban Meyer does he seem, and how different?

Well, I've never covered Urban Meyer so I may not be the best person to break down their idiosyncrasies and tendencies on the football field or inside the coaches' offices. What I will say is that those two are very similar in their coaching styles and, more importantly, what they expect from each player. Every person is held accountable and every player expects to be a key cog in a championship-level team. I don't know if that was the case at MSU in recent years and I think, just with that belief system in place and Mullen's pedigree (no pun intended), that's why the Bulldogs have been in so many close games over the last 15 games.

Really, it's all about just breaking through and getting over the hump. They do that, then winning may just start becoming a common occurrence in Starkville.

What about Mullen's offense? How similar is it to Florida?

You just have to look at the two-quarterback system to see the Florida flavor at Scott Field. He's going to spread you out, mix in a little option and attempt the long ball when you're least expecting it. What MSU needs now, though, is a quarterback to step up and be consistent. The offensive line has struggled but so have Chris Relf and Tyler Russell. If one of those guys can pull off a big throw or two, and the running game keeps improving the way it has in recent weeks, then this could be a potent attack.

The Mississippi State defense, under new coordinator Manny Diaz, is 27th nationally so far. Just a product of who they've played, or does it seem genuinely improved?

Genuinely improved. Diaz is one of the best young coaches out there, in my opinion. When I was elsewhere covering another team in the SEC, and I heard Diaz was headed to MSU, I immediately thought the Bulldogs could contend for another win or two just based off this guy's defensive coaching prowess.

Diaz loves to attack teams and he's really been helped by an improved secondary and the emergence of freshman free safety Nickoe Whitley. Now, if the defensive line could just perform amazingly off the edge, this could be a top 3 defense in the SEC.

And that takes me to your next question...

Mississippi State has four sacks through three games. Is that an indication that Aaron Murray can expect some time to throw, or at least more than he had against Arkansas?

Nope. MSU has faced back-to-back teams with running quarterbacks who loved to roll out and throw, and create positive yardage on broken plays. Murray, while he is mobile, is definitely not a Cameron Newton or Jordan Jefferson with his feet. I'd expect MSU to take its shots at Murray off the edge, just as Arkansas did this past weekend with its amazing six sacks.

This may just be the game defensive end Pernell McPhee needs to show off, because he's been relatively quiet this season.

How do you see the game developing, and if you're comfortable making a prediction, fire away.

This game will be won in the trenches. Sure, you hear that all the time but the difference here will be which team's offensive line can hold up against two improved defensive fronts. State, while it has only allowed five sacks, has had communication issues during drives and breakdowns with protections. If I'm a defensive lineman for Georgia or Mississippi State, I'm champing at the bit because they will have a huge say in who wins this game.

As for a prediction, how 'bout this: Bulldogs 28, Bulldogs 17.

How's that for sparking discussion?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday's random thoughts

It’s kind of a light day, as we approach 48 hours until Georgia’s latest big game. So here are a few random thoughts, notes and facts as I go through my Thursday and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Stark-Vegas.

- Three weeks ago, if you were told that at this point Aaron Murray would have just two turnovers, be completing 62 percent of his passes, and be ranked fourth in the SEC in passing yards, you would’ve assumed Georgia would be 3-0, right?

- Remember how Cornelius Washington had lost his starting OLB spot to Darryl Gamble in preseason? Well guess who has actually started the first three games: Washington, not Gamble.

The two have actually played about the same amount of time, and been pretty productive too.

“All it is, is he starts in one package and I start in another,” Washington said Wednesday. “And it just so happens that the package that I start in is the package that’s been called at the beginning of games.”

- I find it amazing that Georgia hasn’t had a three-game losing streak in two decades. At the program I just got done covering, South Carolina, they had a word for a losing streak of three or more: November.

- Not that anyone asked me, but I expect Alabama to beat Arkansas, and convincingly. Maybe not a rout, but in the 7-17 point range. The Razorbacks don’t have enough of a running game to hang with the Tide.

- As for the league’s other big game, South Carolina-Auburn strikes me as a toss-up. I almost hate to bring it up, but the sudden death of Kenny McKinley, whom many of the Gamecocks played with, could have an effect, one way or another. But ultimately I’m picking South Carolina, because I’m not convinced that Auburn is legit yet.

- Georgia fans should keep an eye on that Kentucky-Florida game – mainly to see if the Wildcats are any good. If Georgia can get out of Starkville with a win, it has a real chance to be 6-2 heading to Jacksonville: Wins against Colorado, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have to happen, or the season’s in trouble, with the swing game being the trip to Kentucky.

- Six SEC teams (half the league, for the math-challenged) are in the top 15 of this week’s coach’s poll. That’s amazing, but does anybody really think the SEC is THAT deep this year? Do you really expect to see Auburn, LSU, Arkansas and even South Carolina in the top 15 at the end of the year?

- A stat from the SEC: Georgia had 33 former players on an NFL opening-week roster, tied with Florida and Tennessee for the sixth-most overall, and second-most in the SEC. LSU led the way with 35. Texas led all schools with 40.

And Georgia has more defensive ends (six) in the NFL than any other school.

- Having now seen Ryan Mallett in person twice, I firmly believe anyone not picking him No. 1 in next year’s draft either doesn’t need a quarterback, or hasn’t scouted him right. If Sam Bradford can be a No. 1 overall pick – much less JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith or David Carr – then Mallett can be. Put him in the right system, and he should be a top five NFL quarterback.

- BYU and West Virginia have agreed to meet in 2016. If anybody can think of two more divergent fan bases, let me know. One group can’t drink alcohol, the other considers moonshine and chewing tobacco to be staples of a healthy diet.

- I can’t believe that, earlier in the week when I mentioned the start of the new TV season, I forgot about two of the best shows on television: “30 Rock” and “The Office.” They kick off tonight. I’m also going to try to start watching “Modern Family,” and hope I won’t be too far behind having not watched the first season.

And of course, for all the “Breaking Bad” fans out there, I’ve now started the second season. So I’m getting there.

- For everyone up in arms about a declaration that the recession ended last year: Anyone following SEC coaching salaries would be under the impression there never was one.

- Finally, in honor of what you’re going to hear a lot of on Saturday, enjoy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bean's done for year, Smith cleared, Richt looks to start new

Nose tackle Justin Anderson will have season-ending toe surgery, head coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday’s practice.

Anderson, a junior, missed the past two games with turf toe, and Richt said the decision was made to get the surgery now so he could be ready for his final year. Anderson has already taken a redshirt year, so he would not be eligible for a sixth season.

The decision also hurts the team depth-wise at the position. DeAngelo Tyson has been starting there, and Kwame Geathers got some snaps against Arkansas. Brandon Wood and Abry Jones have also shifted inside in certain packages.

“The nose position, we still feel like we’re still good with DeAngelo and Kwame,” Richt said. “And other people can jump in there.”

In other news:

- Branden Smith (concussion) was cleared to practice and should be able to play against Mississippi State. Smith would return punts and do anything else (including offense) if he’s cleared to play in the game.

“He was symptom-free,” Richt said. “He didn’t get a headache or anything like that, any kind of symptom. So Ron (Courson, the trainer) let him practice today in a non-contact jersey. He feels pretty confident he’ll play if there’s no setback.”

- Guard Chris Davis (hip and knee) practiced Wednesday. Davis and Tanner Strickland are “basically competing” to start at right guard, Richt said.

- Fullback Shaun Chapas (ankle) practiced but “definitely didn’t look 100 percent,” according to Richt. But Chapas still isn’t being ruled out for Starkville.

- Richt thinks tailback Caleb King (ankle) will be 100 percent by game time.

- Inside linebacker Richard Samuel (knee) still isn’t being counted out for a return. The Bulldogs are wary of the depth at the position, but all indications are he would still probably redshirt.

- Tackle Josh Davis will serve as a captain on Saturday in place of center Ben Jones, who suggested to Richt that Davis – the team’s lone Mississippi native – be able to serve in the role in his home state.

- Richt’s message to the team on Wednesday was to act like it was “Day one.”

“I think it’d be good. Just have a day-one attitude," Richt said. "Let’s get the same feeling that we had for the first game of the year. Because what I don’t want to happen is for the last couple ballgames to affect this ballgame. So we need to put it behind us and move forward, and get that same feeling we had when we played the very first ballgame. It’s just more for everybody’s psychological attitude, I guess.”

Nick Williams 'frustrated' with position status

A lot of people are curious whether Nick Williams will end up settling down at one position. Including Williams himself.

The Georgia junior admitted Wednesday that he was "frustrated" over shifting constantly between safety and linebacker. The Bainbridge native has been bouncing between the positions essentially since his career began, and is doing that even now.

“I don’t know where I’m gonna be from week to week," Williams said. "Everybody else is getting comfortable at their position. I’m back and forth. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’ll do it. If coach came to me tomorrow and said 'I need you to play linebacker,' I’d be ‘OK coach, no problem.’ But it’s frustrating moving back and forth, not knowing where you’re going to be."

Williams estimated he played about 15 snaps on defense against Arkansas, plus some special teams. He said he played in dime packages, where his position could basically be called either safety or linebacker.

At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Williams has the size for either position. He began his career in the secondary, then moved to linebacker, then shifted back to safety before this season.

"You can’t get comfortable," Williams said. "I mean this is D-1, dog, this is Georgia. I don’t know that many players that can go from big-time safety and the next week can be a big-time linebacker. You’ve got some hybrid players out there but I don’t know too many guys that can do that. I just wanna get comfortable at one point.”

Williams' preference is clear: He wants to play safety. But he'll play either spot, as long as he can focus on one.

“It is frustrating," he said. "I am frustrated. They know that. But I’m not a selfish guy.”

Williams was adamant, however, that he would not transfer.

Head coach Mark Richt said Tuesday he hoped the team would be able to have Williams "settle into one position."

“He’s just gotta keep banging away," Richt said. "He’s just gotta keep going to those meetings and knowing what he’s gotta do. He’s gotta practice in such a way that it’ll give coach Lakatos and coach Grantham more confidence.”

Mailbag time

Before I delve into the ol' mailbag, allow me to make yet another plea:

Look, I know everyone’s upset about how things are going on the field, but I still need you to keep it clean on the comments section, and refrain from personal attacks. I’ve had to delete too many comments lately.

Your point can be made without all the bad words; and as I’ve said before, putting dollar signs instead of an ‘s’ or something like that, doesn’t count.

Hopefully there can be a civil, if spirited, discussion on this board. It doesn’t have to be the Algonquin Roundtable, but it doesn’t have to be the South Korean parliament.

Now I’ll climb off the soapbox and reach into the satchel:

So (Mark) Richt is officially on the hot seat?
- Johncpacker (via Twitter)

Perhaps, given what I just said, this wasn’t the best way to open. But hey, let’s get it out of the way.

My sense is that no, Richt’s job is not in any immediate jeopardy. This season has plenty left in it, and while the arrests are a stain, Richt still has plenty of goodwill around the Butts-Mehre building. That includes Greg McGarity, even though he only met Richt last month. McGarity also strikes me as a very pragmatic athletics director who does not feel like he has to make a statement.

That said, I always say this about hypothetical future scenarios: It’s one thing to sit here and say nothing will happen as long as the team finishes with such-and-such record. It’s another thing when such-and-such actually happens. If this season does go off the rails, things could get pretty interesting around here. But for the moment, the outside perception of Richt’s hot seat, and the perception around Athens, are two different things.

Don't know if it's just me but I think A.J. owes the Dawgs another year having missed '2 of the 3 most important games of the dawgs season. Thoughts?
- Chase Moroy

I received several questions along these lines. The short answer is no, I think everyone still expects A.J. to go pro. Who knows, he might feel like he owes Georgia for his mistake. But even if he did, I suspect a lot of people around him – family, friends, maybe even teammates and coaches – will tell him that he also owes it to himself to make the best decision for his own pro future.

How bad do you think our image was tarnished in the eyes of the visiting recruits on Saturday? (Crowell, etc.)
- Dawgfan80 (via Twitter)

Eh, that kind of thing is always in the eye of the beholder, but I doubt it was tarnished much. A few fans left early, and it was a loss, but there were still 70-80,000 loud fans in there in the final few minutes.

Has Coach Richt been asked about playing young guys, next season, schedule is most favorable maybe ever.
- CRS19 (via Twitter)

Aren’t they playing enough young players right now? You’ve got a freshman quarterback, a relatively young secondary, and non-seniors at receiver, tight end, and most of the defense. Besides, way, way too early to pack it in this season.

Kris Durham has been playing extremely well and has great "intangible qualities": solid leader, good person, hard worker. That said, do you see him being drafted this year (barring a lockout)?
- boilingforheisman

I could see Kris as a second-day pick. Well third day, the way they do it now. He is tall, and has shown he can produce so far this season. But NFL teams won’t be thrilled with his injury history.

As a journalist, is it more enjoyable to cover a team that is winning rather than losing? Coming from South Carolina, I recognize that you have little experience from a winning perspective but the complete wretchedness of the team must be taking a toll upon a professional paid to cover the Bulldogs. Right now, you couldn't pay me enough to watch a whole game, much less, enter that locker room. As a native Athenian, the state of the Bulldog nation has a direct correlation with my quality of life but does the awfulness of this team affect your professional and/or personal perceptions?
- David Ellison

This is a very astute question, and I hope I’m not boring anyone by answering it.

We get asked all the time whether we prefer to cover a winning or losing team. Objectively, it’s not supposed to matter. But realistically, yeah it is easier to interview guys about how great they’re doing than keep asking why things are going wrong. And when you’re writing about a losing team, you tend to get more angry reactions from players, coaches and others, which doesn’t make your day better. And believe me, I’ve covered some bad teams (South Carolina basketball, Maryland football, to name a few.)

But there are still good stories, and good opportunities for journalism, on losing teams. Not that this Georgia team is in that category yet. I wouldn’t call it “wretched” quite yet. We’re only three games in, people.

Part of the reason I elected to come here was I was excited to cover a winning program, but more importantly a very visible one. Win or loss, Georgia fans will care, and will read about their team. That’s what a journalist worries about the most: Apathy from his readership. From what I’ve seen so far, apathy will not be a concern on this beat.

Does the '11 class have the right type of defensive players for Grantham's system?
- Eric A. Davidson

I’m not a recruiting guru, but Rodney Garner has said they have adjusted their recruiting philosophy. Here’s what he said in August:

“I think you have to evaluate your current personnel, how it fits your system. We had a personnel meeting yesterday, just seeing do we have the ingredients to be what coach Grantham envisions in defensive ends. So we’ve had to tweak some numbers at particular positions. We say Hey we may need more of this and less of that. It definitely changes some of your philosophy, because there may have been some guys that fit into the other system that may not quite fit right now.”

Think a good question is are people as upset with CMB as they were with CWM before he got fired?
- HunkerDownDawgs (via Twitter)

It definitely seems like Mike Bobo is the new pinata for Georgia fans.

The only thing about Murray that drives me crazy is he holds the ball forever sometimes, no internal clock on the rush
- CRS19 (via Twitter)

The coaches have said this too, but it’s a common freshman error. They don’t want to make a mistake by throwing to the wrong receiver or into coverage, so they wait too long. What Murray needs to do is get a better sense of the pocket and when he needs to check down, throw it away, etc.

Stock up, stock down


A.J. Green: Apparently he is that important to the offense¸ at least this year. We’ll find out for sure in a little more than a week.

Caleb King: He’s set to return this week, and not a moment too soon. The team missed his pass protection, and he figures to get a chance to see if he can get a few more yards than Washaun Ealey. Georgia ranks next-to-last in the SEC in rush offense, so it needs any sort of spark.

Kris Durham: Maybe he’s getting a lot of the routes and targets that Green would have. But Durham is showing that he belongs in the gameplan even when Green returns.

Must-win games: Keep in mind, no matter what happens Saturday, the subsequent few games will also be regarded as critical to the program. Colorado, Tennessee and Vanderbilt because Georgia will be favored. Kentucky because it will dictate the tone for the rest of the season. Florida for obvious reasons.

Akeem Dent: Very quietly, the senior linebacker is off to a good start. He’s second on the team with 20 tackles, and has a couple sacks. Pretty good, considering he had toe surgery two months ago.

Cornelius Washington: Remember when he lost his job to Darryl Gamble? In fact Washington has started all three games, though still sharing time with Gamble at the outside spot. Washington is second on the team with 11 solo tackles, and is getting a lot of pressure on the pocket.

Kwame Geathers: The freshman nose tackle played against Arkansas, after not doing so at South Carolina, and with Justin Anderson potentially out awhile with turf toe, Geathers’ time figures to only increase.


Offensive line stability: After three down games, the tinkering is under way. Tanner Strickland and Chris Davis are in a competition at right guard. They could also get a push from Clint Boling, who shifts over when Trinton Sturdivant plays.

Pass protection in general:
The absence of King and fullback Shaun Chapas hurt against Arkansas. But when Mark Richt spread the blame everywhere, it didn’t sound like he was trying to cover up for anybody.

The secondary: Georgia ranks 10th in the SEC in pass defense, and last in third-down conversion defense. That tends to happen when you keep having coverage breakdowns. The youth is showing: Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are sophomores, Jakar Hamilton is a junior college transfer, and while the cornerbacks are a bit more experienced, the nickel backs are sophomores and freshmen.

National analysis of Georgia: Never mind the Richt-on-the-hot-seat columns. I’ll get to that later. But now I’m seeing talk that Richt is “standing by his quarterback” despite some “growing pains.” (This was on USA Today site, but there have been similar mentions elsewhere.) Wait, what am I missing here? Murray, while not setting the world on fire, has not been one of the disappointments, given the expectations. He’s fourth in the SEC in passing, and sixth in total offense. And even if he was struggling, what are they supposed to do, turn to true freshman Hutson Mason? Murray’s been fine. So far, he ain’t the problem.

Bulldogs in primo time slots: The past two ESPN noon starts might be Georgia’s last nationwide exposure for awhile. The next two are on FOX cable stations. The following games, against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, are yet to be decided, but ESPN and CBS can’t be salivating about any of those matchups. Tennessee-Georgia could get picked up by ESPN just because of the history. But the bottom line is the Florida game is likely to be the first time this season Georgia has either of the top two slots (CBS or ESPN’s night game).


Blair Walsh: The one thing the Bulldogs thought they could take for granted this season, and so far still can.

Murray: See above rant.

The tight ends: Yes, they’re not making any catches. So why aren’t they stock down? Because the consensus remains that Orson Charles, Aron White and even Bruce Figgins still have the skill, they’re just not getting passes thrown their way. At some point that has to change, right?

Justin Houston: He went from a three-sack game to zero against Arkansas, but he did have some pressures. He remains a developing force – but the Bulldogs could use him to just be a force.

Mark Richt: The coach is either blissfully unaware of all those columns being written, or he’s blissfully ignoring them. As I wrote in today’s papers, it’s full-speed ahead, stay the course for Richt and his coaches. If they’re panicking or worrying, they’re doing so in private.

Mike Bobo’s playcalling duties: Richt said there would be no change the day after the Arkansas game. So despite the clamor of many fans, Bobo is still the guy.