I woke up on Saturday morning in typical fashion, around 10 with a slight headache (reasons undisclosed) and an overwhelming need for water. So far, so good. I plopped on my couch in preparation for the early start and College Gameday. The morning suddenly took a turn for the worse. Almost immediatley, the entire Gameday crew picked Georgia to win easily. Great. That’s worse than the Sports Illustrated curse. I then call my buddy Zach at kick off. A native Tennessean, he fired at me for waking him by singing “Rocky Top”. At that moment, I knew we were in trouble.
The game ended with me on the couch, now alone, fuming. After resisting the urge to punch holes in my wall, I went for a run to blow off some steam. There was an offer to play soccer, but I had to deny. Socialization was simply not possible. Plus, I needed to think. Was I really about to hammer out a post about firing Coach Richt? Sure, it was early: we’d just lost and I was furious. 45-19? Are you kidding? But something had to be done. Lets review.
Last week, Georgia took the field in Sanford Stadium against an undefeated and untested #4 LSU. Georgia had something to prove. They’d lost one game to a top-ten program, on the road, in which the starting quarterback, Joe Cox, had the flu and shoulder issues. But rather than come out and make a statement, the offense sputtered managing to gain only one first down in the first half. Hardly the intended sentiment. However, as the game went on, Georgia was able to rally back and take the lead with a minute and some change left. A couple of penalties later, including the infamous excessive celebration call which was later rescinded, and Georgia loses the game. So heading into this week’s clash in Knoxville, Georgia still had an opportunity to establish their worth as a top SEC contender. A win here could validify the claims that they should have beaten LSU if the celebration call had not been made.
But clearly, Coach Mark Richt wanted to send another message to the team: this celebrating would not be tolerated. He obviously didn’t think the team had learned its lesson and decided to prepare a terrible game plan, instill as little discipline as possible and get the team motivated like they were going to a funeral. The result? The team had absolutely nothing to celebrate after the ass-whooping handed to them by Lane Kiffin’s squad who was previously winless in the SEC. Point taken, Coach.
The seniors for the Dawgs also got in on the act. Jeff Owens set the tone early by jumping offside. Mike Moore fumbled in the fourth quarter just when it seemed the offense finally realized they were losing. Joe Cox went 19/34 with 2 interceptions. Prince Miller was burned so many times in the passing game that he was rushed to the hospital ala Tim Tebow.
The lone bright spot on the defense was the interception return for a touchdown by Bacarri Rambo. But if you look at that play, it’s not a wonder Jonathan Crompton threw the ball just behind the intended receiver and into Rambo’s fortunate hands. Rambo was actually covering nothing and there were two open guys around him: one in front and one to the side. Crompton was so excited about having two open guys within 10 yards of each other that he couldn’t decide which guy to throw it to. He must have felt disappointed because he should really have been used to making those decisions by the second half.
Speaking of Crompton, he threw for more yards in this game than any other game this season, which includes Ohio (not even State), Western Kentucky and Auburn’s defense. He almost tripled his passer rating from his game in the Swamp. He threw for as many touchdowns in this game than his last four combined. Crompton’s completion percentage (74) was up 20 from his season average (54). I could go on, but I think you get the picture: Georgia took a guy who looked like Ryan Leaf and turned him into Peyton Manning.
You can’t blame this on the youth of the team. AJ Green (So.) led the team in receptions and receiving yards. Richard Samuel (So.) led the team in rushing yards. Zach Renner (R. So.) blocked a punt for a safety. Rambo (Fr.) had the interception return and Brandon Boykin (Fr.) had another 100 yard kick return. The best player for Georgia was the punter, Drew Butler (So.). And the only player to score from a offensive drive was sophomore kicker Blair Walsh.
The best part of this Georgia team is the special teams. It’s not even close. Special teams have been consistently phenomenal (or just consistent). Butler leads the nation in punt average, Walsh has only missed one kick and has been drilling 50+ yarders all season, Green and Renner have blocked kicks and Boykin has had some fantastic returns. But this isn’t Beamer ball in Blacksburg where he gets bonus points from his special teams. This is all we’ve had this season. During the fourth quarter we really should have just punted on first down because we were more likely to recover a muffed catch from one of Butler’s bombs than to move the chains.
The offensive line was supposed to be the strong point coming into this season. Most experts thought the experience and depth of this line would be able to pick up the slack from losing Knowshon Moreno. Little did we realize how much Moreno actually did for this team. Today’s line couldn’t hold blocks long enough for Usain Bolt to run through. And it’s not like Tennessee were stacking up against the run. There were frequently 7 guys in the box. Tennessee’s linebackers swarmed to every futile attempt to get around the outside. 3rd and 1’s may as well have been 3rd and 10’s. My roommate and I started celebrating every gain over 1 yard on the game. Needless to say we were often quiet (Well, that’s technically not true, we swore so much Fred Durst would have been embarrassed.).
Passing was even more of an adventure. In one instance, Mike Moore completely dropped a ball once he turned his head and saw number 14 Eric Berry heading in his direction. Joe Cox had enough time in the pocket to snap the ball, take a breath and toss a prayer. One of those prayers was an attempt to throw the ball away that didn’t even make it out of bounds. Needless to say it was intercepted. The offense was then forced to throw screen passes which were immediately snuffed out by the Vols defense. Moving the ball upfield was out of the question.
Such disorganization and ineptitude does not fall on the players. According to rivals.com, Georgia has had a top 10 recruiting class in each of the last 8 seasons. Granted, some projections can be off. But in the big picture, they don’t miss that often. And when you consider Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were first-round NFL draft picks, blaming the talent in the program is a farce. The SEC powerhouses are generally right there with them, so there is no reason Georgia shouldn’t be competitive in every single game. There are no excuses for such a lopsided loss. Not this weekend, not last season against Alabama and not in Jacksonville. Sure, every team will have a bad game. But that’s 3 blowouts in two seasons.
Coach Richt’s mental approach to SEC football doesn’t line up with the other big name guys. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Les Miles are all cutthroat guys when it comes to their football team. Steve Spurrier was the same in his National Championship winning days in Florida. Richt is, by all accounts, a nice guy. A great man. But sometimes that can come as a hindrance to the program. Georgia rarely blows opponents out and has had major guffaws against poor teams in recent memory (Vanderbilt and Kentucky in 2006, South Carolina in 2007). Those all fall on the coaching staff for failing to get teams prepared.
These coaches also don’t have the discipline problems Georgia has. In 2008, 9 players from the UGA team were arrested. This season, as well as last, Georgia is the most penalized team in the conference.
This team also seems to lack any self-confidence or swagger. Georgia storming the field during the 2007 Florida game was one of the best things to happen under Coach Richt. He lit a fire under his team and got the whole fan base riled up. We returned many of the same guys from that team, so why were we so intimated last season? Great teams with strong leaders do those things. Urban Meyer’s Gators went out and stomped on the LSU Tiger midfield before their last game. Les Miles frequently goes for big 4th down conversions because he believes in his team and has that kind of confidence. The bravado those acts cultivate spreads throughout the team and to the fanbase. Right now, I don’t know what to believe about this team. Richt needs to get back to the glory days and spread that swagger around.
2005 was the last time Georgia won an SEC Championship. Back then, you knew exactly what was coming from the Red and Black. There would be a heavy dose of the running game in a smash-mouth run-it-down-their-f’ing throats manner, mixed in with a few deep balls and a nasty defense (see Boss Bailey, David Pollack, Greg Blue etc). But since then, the Dawgs have gotten away from that. Willie Martinez has taken over the defense which has progressively gotten worse each year. In 2007, Coach Richt gave up his offensive play calling to Mike Bobo. Now we have a team without any direction or purpose. Martinez absolutely has to be fired at the end of this season. His performance has been atrocious. Never have I seen a team so incapable of basic coverage. The run defense has been average and getting pressure on the quarterback has been a mystery throughout his tenure.
Is it possible that Coach Richt is simply not ruthless enough to win a national title? All the SEC coaches I mentioned in the previous paragraph have rings. By many accounts, some internal, some general, these coaches are intense, fierce and often dubbed a-holes. But they get the job done. I’m inclined to think that this is not the case. After all, my opinion is that winning the SEC Championship game is the same as winning a National title anyway. However, it does remind me of Jon Gruden’s 2002 Tampa Bay Bucaneer team. Before then, Tony Dungy took the Bucs to four successive years in the playoffs. He just couldn’t win the big game. Then angry Jon Gruden came in and won the title the very next season. Richt is very similar to Dungy in terms of his demeanor. Gruden is very similar to the style and manner of the ruthless championship winning coaches in the SEC. And he’s available.
Am I calling for Coach Richt’s head? Not quite. But he needs to show signs of change to this team as soon as possible. Georgia has just as much talent as any of these teams in the SEC. Blowouts are inexcusable. Coach Richt has 6 games left to prove he can get the program back to competing for titles. He has to establish an identity for this team to fight for. He must fire Willie Martinez after this season. In fact, not firing Martinez is a fireable offense. Richt can probably only afford one more loss this season. Any more than that, and he starts to reminisce of the Jim Donnan era. Remember that he was fired for his inability to compete with Georgia’s rivals. Richt is slowly but surely slipping into that pool. The key here, is showing that he will turn the program back around.
And don’t tell me that I’m being too reactionary after one bad loss. This has been coming for awhile. With the talent on last years team, a BCS game was a must. I’m also the guy who wanted to keep Dennis Felton around the basketball program (definitely wrong on that one). These thoughts have been creeping into my mind for some time now. The Red and Black used to stand for intimidation. Now it’s a team that can be walked all over. Ask Florida, Alabama or Neyland Stadium. Even the Techies are chomping at the bit to play Georgia this season.
Coach Richt has spoiled the Georgia faithful. He’s given us 10 win seasons, two SEC titles and won two BCS games in his tenure. But with the talent this program has brought in, there is no reason to slip back into mediocrity. None.