The Georgia Bulldogs will be one of the most intriguing teams this fall. In his first eight years as Head Coach of the Bulldogs Mark Richt built a record of 82-22. Over the last two years the Dawgs have gone 13-12 and Richt now finds himself on the hotseat.
The Bulldogs lose leading receiver A.J. Green, leading tackler Akeem Dent, leading sacker Justin Houston and leading rusher Washaun Ealey. They also had three other players drafted in Kris Durham, Clint Boling and Shaun Chapas. That's a lot to lose off of a team that went 6-7 this past season. Did I mention that they also lost one of their starting tackles, Trinton Sturdivant, to a knee injury this spring. To cap all of that off Georgia starts with the toughest first two games in the country as they play Boise State in Atlanta and then host the defending SEC East Champs in Athens.
Despite all of the loses there is still quite a bit of optimism around this Georgia program. Georgia returns the top QB in the SEC, one of the best TE groups in the country, a highly touted recruiting class and looks to have a much improved front seven on the defensive side of the ball. To get some perspective and opinions on this years Bulldogs I sought out some of my favorite bloggers/writers that cover Georgia football to join me in a panel discussion.
First let's get started with some introductions. Make sure you visit these guys sites and bookmark them, add them to your reader or do whatever you do to consume their website on a daily basis. Also, make sure you follow them on Twitter for some lively discussion during football season and to find out what kind of beer Bernie is drinking on a daily basis or find out when Kit posts one of his podcasts.
BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): No question it's Carolina. Boise State will come in a top ranked team with their entire season on the line right out of the gate. But a loss in the GA Dome does little to our season except perhaps get us even angrier about losing to Spurrier last season. Carolina is the conference game and they are the defending SEC East champs. The opener is sexy, a week later there will be blood.
Plus, raise your hand if you're tired of hearing the chicken fans squawk...yep. Definitely Carolina.
ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): Of course, the South Carolina game is more important because it is a conference game. That said, Boise is the game to focus on and IMHO it is the most critical game of the season for Georgia. Coming off two down years, this team is bound to have problems of confidence. A loss to Boise almost assures a loss to Carolina. The 'Cocks will be ready – a rebounding Georgia team may not be. It is of utmost importance for the offensive line and the young defense to get a win against Boise to begin to establish leadership, develop a belief that they can win big games and start to prepare mentally for South Carolina and the SEC grind. If this team comes onto the field fired-up and ready to play from the first whistle till the final horn, they can and will win. They may even win big - but if they allow themselves to fall into the defeatist mindset of the recent past – the game is over – the season is probably over and Mark Richt is through. Boise State knows how to win. UGA has to learn – fast!
Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): At first blush this is not an intimidating question, but when you stop and take a closer look this is a whopper. I’ve gone back and forth on this one for the obvious reasons. I started out with the baseline response that South Carolina is a conference game…the conference opener…and therefore was clearly the more critical win for Coach Richt and the DAWGS. Then last year came back into my mind. Georgia went 6 -7. Six and seven! What would be a better way to grab back some national spotlight and earn a little respect than to knock off Boise State, a top five team that has a history of playing very well on the big stage with the deck stacked against them, with a national audience tuning in? A win like that would be absolutely huge for the program.
That’s when it came to me. I had to strip away the glitz that goes with each of these games and get down to the gritty truth, so I went to the game tape.
When people think of Boise State, they often think of blue turf, trick plays and Kellen Moore arching another long touchdown pass to a wide receiver running wide open for the score. All those things are part of what makes the Broncos who they are, but that is not WHAT they are. In reality, the boys roamin’ the smurf turf are a hard-nosed, power running football team. They do it by disguising their base running game out of different formations, but they can also line up in the I-formation and get down hill. What’s more, the Broncos are a blue collar bunch that has the personality to go with that hard nosed style of play, something that I would say was found lacking in the Georgia squad last season.
Two words and one man was the reason for the Gamecocks success last season….Marcus Lattimore. There was a little good quarterback play and some solid defense, but Lattimore was the difference and the heart of the South Carolina team. A forceful back that ran with a purpose and could beat his opponents into submission, Lattimore is the definition of a power running back. After the dismal performance turned in by the DAWGS defense in Columbia last year, their second meeting with Lattimore and company should tell the tale of what we can expect from Georgia in 2011.
After digesting all of this, the answer to the question had to be Boise State. South Carolina and Lattimore will present Georgia with the basic football challenges that will probably indicate how the 2011 season will go for the DAWGS, but so will Boise State…only earlier on the schedule. Doug Martin may not be Marcus Lattimore, but he certainly is no slouch and Stephen Garcia is certainly no Kellen Moore. The Broncos program knows how to win and will not be intimidated when they face the DAWGS in the Georgia Dome, no matter how much red is there to greet them. If Richt’s boys can take out Boise State on September 3rd in Atlanta and display some mental toughness and a stronger defense against the run, the DAWG Nation as well as the millions watching at home will know that Georgia is back in the game.
Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): Although I should say winning the first SEC game, I'll go with Boise State. It's critical for this Bulldog team to beat a Top Ten opponent with what will essentially be a home field advantage. Plus the ramifications of losing to Boise State would more than likely carry over to the South Carolina game. And UGA gave up an almost certain W against Louisville to play this game.
Kit (Dawg Gone Blog): There’s no doubt on a national scale that Boise State is the bigger game, but South Carolina is more critical to Georgia’s success for 2011. In the SEC, winning your out of conference games pales in comparison to winning within the conference. Think of it like this, do you remember any of Auburn’s out of conference games? Weak scheduling or not, success in the SEC is measured by counting the trips to Atlanta.
So for UGA to have a successful year, and subsequently for Mark Richt to prove he’s still the man for UGA’s head coaching job, the Dawgs have to make a serious push for the SEC East crown this year. While one could argue that beating Florida is probably more important than beating the Gamecocks, it’s not going to help to start the year 0-1 in SEC play. Beating Boise is like getting a Bentley. Beating South Carolina is the gasoline that allows you to drive it around town and show it off.
MikeInValdosta (Dawgs BUI 2.0): Obviously the South Carolina is more important in terms of the conference championship however, I believe the Boise State game is crucial to the psyche of this football team. Early success could go a long way to a successful season. An early loss and this group may pack it in as they have done the past two seasons.
Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): I can't chose both? Virginia Tech lost to Boise AND James Madison, but the story of their season was the ACC Championship and Orange Bowl berth, unless you are a Virginia fan and all you have is throwing Boise and James Madison in Hokies fans' faces.
I have to say South Carolina. Lose to Boise and we have to listen to the national media crow about Boise State's OMG!1! awesomeness. Lose to the Gamecocks and we have to listen to the Carolina fans crow about two in a row. And likely watch them play in the Georgia Dome again in December. A one-loss SEC champion is preferable to a one-loss BCS at-large team.
Kevin (CFBZ): I can't think of another team that comes out of the gate and plays a top ten team and then a top twenty team. This is going to be an absolutely huge challenge for a team that underperformed severly in 2010. The Boise game is very important as tone setter for the season but I have to believe that the South Carolina game is more important because it's a conference game. If we lose the Boise game we can still bounce back and have a very good year but if we lose to South Carolina then we give them a two game lead in the SEC East. Georgia's goal every year should be getting to the SEC Championship game and competing for an SEC Championship. If we are doing that then by default we will also be competing for National Championships. Both games are huge, but you can't lose to the Ole Ball Coach two times in row.
QUESTION #2: Other than Isaiah Crowell, which incoming freshman do you think will have the biggest impact in 2011?
BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): A couple months ago I would've said John Jenkins, hands down. And although I still think he could have the largest impact of the newcomers, I think it could end up being Malcolm Mitchell. Crowell is a difference maker, but Mitchell though may be the the playmaker we desperately need out in space. AJ left a lot of yards to pick up when he went pro. From my vantage point the stable of receivers and
playmakers were mostly underwhelming in the Spring. Mitchell could step in and add some yards and hopefully TDs as well.
Also, a sidenote. We saw plenty of Branden Smith in a similar role I think we'd use Mitchell in. I fully support getting the ball into Smith's hands as much as possible. But if he's also going to play defense he's gonna need plenty of reps on that side in practice. Let's face it, he's electric but he's not a Champ Bailey.
ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): Ray Drew may contribute early at OLB/DE. Malcolm Mitchell is another true freshman that will see PT this year. My favorite to contribute early is Nick Marshall. Marshall is a great athlete who played QB and DB in high school. I think Marshall will be integrated into the offensive game plan as a serious dual threat in the “Wild Dawg” set. His ability to throw on the run and to keep defenses honest with his running skill will give UGA an option that has been missing from the “Wild Dawg.” Imagine putting some (3) of the tight ends that Richt/Bobo have available into the game in the “Wild Dawg” on 3rd and 1 with Marshall at the QB. Is the opposing DC going to put 8 in the box? Great, his LB's better be able to run with the Dawgs' TE's.
Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): There has been a lot of buzz around the possibilities that exist on the Georgia depth chart for a wide receiver to step in and have an immediate impact. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both look to be solid candidates to step into the breach and give Aaron Murray another weapon on the outside. However, just looking at the history of the WR position, odds are long that any true freshman wide receiver is going to be able to make too much of an impact early on. Add that to the fact that if you have ever read my blog you know I look at the world from the defensive huddle, my pick should not surprise….Ray Drew.
This young man appears to be ready built for early success in Athens. All reports tell us that Drew has a good head on his shoulders and the proper outlook on the game. Physically, Drew’s measureables indicate that he is field ready right now. Add this to a group of defensive ends that have not yet distinguished themselves from the one another (not necessarily due to their own efforts or lack thereof) and the situation sets up nicely for Drew to earn substantial playing time for Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham early in the season.
Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): Since Johnathan Jenkins isn't a freshman, I'll say Ray Drew. The Dawgs really need to shore up the front seven in the second year of Grantham's 3-4 defense. Georgia gave up 1,914 yards on the ground in 2010, which was almost 300 more than in 2009 under Willie Martinez. Plus it seemed like they couldn't stop anyone on third down.
Kit (Dawg Gone Blog): If we’re considering freshmen to be first-year players, then there’s no doubt it’s Johnathan Jenkins, the big Nose Tackle thought to be the key component to making Todd Grantham’s 3-4 Defense work in Year 2. Jenkins is technically a JUCO, but the Dawgs Defense didn’t have that run-stuffing Nose last year and it showed. Jenkins is large, quick and will command attention from opponents’ Offensive Lines. His presence on the field opens up a lot of opportunity for the Defense to be more aggressive schematically.
If we’re just considering true freshmen, there are two names to keep an eye on and they’re at positions where the Dawgs have terrible depth. Malcolm Mitchell is considered most likely to play at Wide Receiver, but he was also the #1 rated Cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, so he may start out on the Offensive side, but may move to Defense quickly if need be. Damian Swann is also a candidate to see early playing time, but strictly on Defense at Cornerback. However, with razor-thin depth at Wide Receiver and Cornerback, any freshman at either position has the opportunity to practice their way into early playing time.
MikeInValdosta (Dawgs BUI 2.0): I believe Malcolm Mitchell will have the greatest on field impact of this freshman class, including Isaiah Crowell. I expect Crowell and Ray Drew to both contribute significantly and their biggest impact may be pushing the upper class-men competing with them for playing time. I expect Malcolm Mitchell to be a play maker on offense from game one. Instant impact!
Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): Got to be Ray Drew. If he shows up in shape, he'll probably start at the Dome against Boise State. Even if he doesn't start, he'll have significant playing time. Malcolm Mitchell and Zach DeBell will prove to be big-time freshmen, as well.
Kevin (CFBZ): I think Malcolm Mitchell is going to be called up on early this year. Outside of Tavarres King, the WR group is very inexperienced and I think with a strong fall practice Mitchell can break into the top 3 or 4 guys and get onto the field for some significant playing time against Boise. Outside of Mitchell I think you also have to keep an eye on Nick Marshall. Marshall was a QB in High School and I think we might throw him out there on offense this year a little bit like we did with Branden Smith as a frosh. Those two guys have supreme athleticism and they can make a big impact this year if they are used correctly.
QUESTION #3: Who are some under-the-radar guys that you think will step up for Georgia this year?
BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): Chris Burnette. Let's face it, the offensive line is thin on experience already. We're gonna need some biguns to step up quick and I think Burnette is primed for a big season. He was a big signee we were able to redshirt. He's smart and should have all the tools to be able to compete at an SEC level.
We know guys like Jones and Glenn can hold their own. And we know Gates had a good season in '10. Anderson should be fine despite all the position changes. So I look for Burnette to really break out this
season. And boy do we need him to! Keeping Murray healthy and opening up holes for Crowell are key to our offensive success in 2011.
ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): The offensive line. O-linemen are always under the radar. However, for the Dawgs to break out of the doldrums of the past few years this group will have to step up in a big way. New offensive line coach Will Friend has his work cut out for him with the losses of Sturdivant and Harmon. However, the new S&C program should help Friend get his charges ready for the SEC schedule. Any rash of injuries will be a serious problem. There is very little depth. The incoming freshmen are talented but they are talented freshmen – never a good option for the O-line. All indications are that the line is making great strides and is responding to Coach Friend and the new S&C regime. If they come through with a big year and give the running backs a few creases at the line of scrimmage, they will be the heroes. Unfortunately, few fans will notice.
Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): I have two names for you: Cornelius Washington and T.J. Stripling
Cornelius Washington – After a solid effort in 2009, I thought 2010 might be the break out year for Washington. Washington is a physical specimen and with the move to outside linebacker, I could see the rangy and speedy Washington as a terror off the edge for the DAWGS. However, the move seemed to put Washington’s feet in the quick sand and he often looked to be thinking too much rather than just turning it loose and reacting to what he saw in his keys. I’m hoping that in Washington’s second season playing out in space, the game will slow down a bit and he can become the pass rushing terror off the edge that the DAWGS desperately need him to be.
T.J. Stripling – Stripling suffered a season-ending injury to his right leg in 2010 while playing on special teams. Much like Washington, Stripling possesses the physical attributes that could make him an impact player off the edge for Georgia in the passing game sooner rather than later. Of course, all of this is dependent on how Stripling’s rehab goes as we get closer to the 2011 season. The last I heard, Stripling was on course to make a full recovery and would be ready to go full speed in time for fall camp. Also of interest is whether Stripling will ultimately play defensive end or outside linebacker for Georgia, but I’m sure that will be further determined once fall camp begins. The bottom line is that the DAWGS have to find some heat on the edge that can wreak a little havoc in opponent’s backfields and I believe that Coach Grantham will be looking at every option he has to get that job done. If Stripling is healthy, he’s a natural at getting after the quarterback and he could have a major impact for the DAWGS right away.
Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): I think Kenarious Gates will step up this year on the OL. They also need some receivers to step up, and Rantavious Wooten fits the bill. On defense, Kwame Geathers. He will be pushed hard by Jenkins.
Kit (Dawg Gone Blog): On Offense, guys like Michael Bennett (WR), Bruce Figgins (FB) and Ken “Boo” Malcome (RB) could all have significant impact. Bennett has won his fair share of praise on the UGA message boards as a possible Kris Durham clone, which would be huge for the WR Corps. Figgins’ success solely depends on his ability to pick up the blocking schemes for a Fullback and Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo’s use of a converted TE in the backfield. If Figgins can learn to block and Bobo can learn to sneak him into the open field, he may very well be a nice weapon for Aaron Murray. Malcome’s position as the 4th string RB after spring practice concluded raised some eyebrows, but many still think he’ll see some significant playing time this year.
On Defense, the Linebackers are where the bread is buttered. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Christian Robinson are all expected to be playmakers for the front seven, and Ogletree may be the most dangerous out of the three of them. He showed last year that he was a natural ballplayer and the first move new Linebackers Coach Kirk Olivadotti did was pull Ogletree from Safety, which many thought was a more natural position for him anyway. It’s tough to say that Ogletree is ever “under the radar,” but the addition of Jarvis Jones and Johnathan Jenkins has overshadowed the importance of Ogletree’s move. However, I think when the season has concluded, he’ll be one of Georgia’s top playmakers.
MikeInValdosta (Dawgs BUI 2.0): I have to go with Cornelius Washington and Kwame Geathers.
Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): Bruce Figgins. He'll provide a very valuable, and needed, extra set of hands out of the backfield with the move from TE to FB. He isn't going to get more than 10 looks a game (handoffs and passes), but those will be money plays. His blocking allows some flexiblilty with TB personnel.
Kevin (CFBZ): My under the radar guys might not be that under the radar but they really haven't been mentioned yet in this roundtable. The first is Caleb King. Yeah, I know...how can a starting RB be under the radar? Well, everybody expects Isaiah Crowell to come in and take his job so I don't think the expectation level is that high for Caleb King this year. IF (and it's a big if) Caleb can stay healthy and stay out of trouble I think he can have a big impact for Georgia this year. Caleb is our most well rounded RB and even though he under-performed last year he still averaged 5.3 ypc. I see Caleb being our everyday back this year and performing well. He won't be Trent Richardson or Marcus Lattimore but this will be the best Caleb King we've seen. I think he understands this is his last chance at Georgia, and also his last chance to make an impression on NFL scouts.
Another guy is Branden Smith. Another "ify" under the radar selection for me but after being injured in 2010 I don't hear as much excitement around him as I did coming into last year. If you remember back to the South Carolina game in 2009, Smith is an electric play-maker. Unless Sanders Comings is moved full-time to Safety, I see Smith getting more touches on the offense side of the football and I think that's a good thing for Georgia and a bad thing for it's opponents.
A third guy to watch is DeAngelo Tyson. Tyson sucked it up last year and played out of position at nose and had a tough time of it (as did the rest of the Bulldog front). This year he gets to slide over to a more natural position at DE in the 3-4 because of Jenkins and Geathers. Look for Tyson to be much more active this year and to have much more of an impact this year.
QUESTION #4: What makes you most excited about seeing Georgia play this year?
BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): I get excited for all the same reasons everyone else does. I love seeing fellow Dawg fans in the tailgate areas and the stands. I get all excited about the opening kick offs and seeing new players. But I'm probably most excited about putting that 6-7 season (and more specifically that crappy showing in the Liberty Bowl) behind us. It's been a bad taste in Dawg fans' mouths for a few months. I think we're all more than ready to rinse that sumbitch out with some bourbon and some grilled meat.
For the team, it'll be about seeing the new players. Especially the ones that earn playing time immediately. I'm also really eager to see Bruce Figgins in the backfield at fullback. I think he opens up a nice arsenal for Bobo to use back there, a lot of versatility. So situations like that that you've been reading about and thinking about
for months, finally come to the forefront and to fruition. It's exciting. I just hope those things are even more exciting in November as they are in early September.
ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): The attitude of the team and staff. Of course, I may be under the influence of fire-engine red Kool-Aid but attitude is the greatest change that I see. Richt is cussing at fans and JoeT has the players cussing at him. What could be better? The most promising episode of the off-season was the demise of Washaun Ealey. I'm not saying that it was good to lose the leading rusher from last year. I am saying that it was fantastic that S&C coach Joe Tereshinski held Ealey to the same standard as the other players and when Ealey balked - CMR, basically, told Ealey to get with the program or hit the street. That would not have happened under the previous S&C regime – Ealey would have gotten his way and Richt would have another ill-conditioned losing team on his hands.
Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): This one is easy for me. Aaron Murray. Without a doubt, Georgia’s sophomore signal caller is poised to make a major move in 2011 both within the conference as well as on the national scene. Now he’ll have to get some help from his teammates, but Murray gives every indication that he is capable and willing to shoulder the load for the DAWGS. Much like David Greene, you could see right away that Georgia had something special in Murray. I’m not going to list all of the stats here to back up my claim. I don’t really have the space here and you can look them up easily enough. There is something more to Murray. He’s a winner, a student of the game and a natural leader. He has “it”, whatever “it” is, and that’s what makes me want to watch him. Georgia will win behind the leadership of Murray. He cannot do it alone, but with a little help from his friends I believe Murray will lead the DAWGS back to the top of the SEC East and the pinnacle of the nation’s toughest conference sooner rather than later.
Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): Watching Aaron Murray lead what appears to be, on the surface, a tougher and more focused team. I know, seems like a broken record that plays every offseason.
Kit (Dawg Gone Blog): It is hard to not get excited about seeing Aaron Murray play football. The Dawgs lost more than they won last year, but I never sat back and saw Murray not give it his all in every game. Yes, he made some first-year mistakes, but the good vastly outweighed the bad, leading him to have a better first-year statistically than Matthew Stafford’s ’06 season.
Murray has this crazy combination of David Greene’s respect in the huddle and Shockley’s playmaking ability. His arm strength won’t allow him to hit the 60-yard post pattern that Stafford could throw, but his accuracy is very good, especially throwing on the move. As long as Murray stays healthy, the UGA Offense will be in every game, and as he improves, so does the team around him. A healthy and wise Aaron Murray will be crucial to UGA’s success, and I’m very excited to see how much he improves over his 2010 season.
MikeInValdosta (Dawgs BUI 2.0): Football seasons are like peanuts, the only way to get the taste of a bad one out of your mouth is to pop a good one in. I am ready to get the taste of 2009 and 2010 out of my mouth.
Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): The potential. All of the pieces are in place to win the East. The East isn't what it was in the early 2000s. We have a returning QB that will probably be all conference...or more. The defense has a lot of upside, especially with the addition of John Jenkins in the middle. The schedule, outside of Boise State, is manageable. The new S&C program is passing the eyeball test.
Georgia lost too many games by getting dominated in the 4th Q and inside their own 20 on defense. Stop both or either of those, which I think they can, and Georgia has a solid season.
Kevin (CFBZ): For me it's the new front seven of the defense. Our LB corps look dangerous. Sure we lost NFL draft picks Justin Houston and Akeem Dent but I think this years LBs are more well-rounded. Christian Robinson should slide in and replace most of the production that Dent left. Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew will slide over and take over for Justin Houston. We will lose some pass rush ability there but I think we make up for it with the addition of Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones. Those two guys might make or break the season for the Dawgs. Ogletree is a tackling machine and I think putting him closer to the line of scrimmage will pay big dividends this year. A wild-card here is Richard Samuel. I'm not sure how much he will play but with his speed he could be a factor in blitz packages. In additon to the LB corps, the DL is much improved this year on paper. The nose position has size in Jenkins and Geathers and that will open up DeAngelo Tyson, Abry Jones and Derrick Lott to face man on man blocking and make some plays at the line and in the backfield. If the addition of Jenkins, Jones and Ogletree to the front seven doesn't get you excited about seeing the Dawgs defense on the field this year then I'm not sure what will.
The other thing is Orson Charles. I think he's ready for a truely break out season this year. He's ready to go beast mode on the SEC. Whatcha you gonna do when Orson Charles runs wild on you?
QUESTION #5: What makes you the most nervous about seeing Georgia play this year?
BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): Just about everything given the last couple of seasons. But for the most part I would say the fourth quarter. This is the 15 minutes where we lost our identity last season especially. The new S&C program had a tall task this off season. If Coach Richt is going to turn the program back around it's going to come from the last 15 minutes of the games. I would reckon we'll know whether we're still concerned about this area by the end of the South Carolina game September 10th.
I've posted on it before, but I think this team grew into feeling entitled to certain things. A lot of that may be attributed to the coaches, but every person in the locker room is responsible in some way. The team started summer workouts this weekend. I hope they go about their summer business with the 4th quarter in mind. If you can't play the 59th and 60th minutes in this league just as hard as you did the 1st and 2nd...it stands to be a long season. So that's what I'll be looking for in the Dome September 3rd, and then especially the next weekend. I want the team hungry as if their next meal depends on their effort each snap.
If I see a bunch of guys waiting around for something to happen, something they think they're owed...I'll be truly disappointed.
ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): If Georgia does not respond to Coach Richt and the changes he has made to the program there will be a staff change. For CMR to remain at his post he has to have ended the recent tendency of his teams to open games flat, play reasonably well at times then fail to close with a win. The staff has to have the team prepared and the players must execute for the entire game. Conditioning is a big part of that and has been handled.
The only thing standing between UGA and the SEC championship game is attitude and killer instinct. In recent years the former has been bad and the latter has not existed. It makes me very nervous to think that the Dawgs may open against Boise State with that same old attitude that we have seen so often in the recent past.
Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): I see this answer as a couple of things that are one-in-the-same. I have serious concerns about whether the DAWGS defense has shed the habitual and agonizingly poor tackling practices that have plagued them in recent years. Defense is attitude and tackling. Tackling is technique and hustle. Nothing will dishearten me quicker and sink my hopes for the 2011 season than to see Georgia’s defense duck their heads or throw a shoulder while attempting to make a tackle, or fail to run hats to the ball showing a lack of effort to play solid team defense. For me, there will be no clearer harbinger of things to come in 2011 than whether the DAWGS defense is getting after Boise State from the first whistle and playing for each other with a passion and a desire to get the job done, no matter the challenge. I have not consistently seen this from the DAWGS in recent years and until they show me something different on the field, I will continue to be nervous.
Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): The two back-to-back tough games to open the season. Plus our annual wet-the-bed episodes in Jacksonville.
Kit (Dawg Gone Blog): For every amount as excited I am about seeing Aaron Murray play, I’m just that much more nervous about watching the Offensive Line play. The Dawgs were dreadful across the front last year, even after boasting one of the most veteran lines in the SEC. A year later, former Coach Stacy Searels is gone and replaced with the underwhelming hire of Will Friend. Couple that with razor-thin depth at Tackle due to the heartbreaking injury of Trinton Sturdivant, and the academic dismissal of A.J. Harmon, and this unit is cardiac arrest worthy.
None of what I said above is a knock on Friend or the guys we currently have across the O-line, it’s just that no one sat back when Friend was hired and said “now THAT’S a guy we know will turn it around.” For the most part, he’s not good or bad – just unproven. On the flip side, Searels was considered a homerun hire, and we all see how well that worked out for us.
Georgia just seems snakebit in regards to the Offensive Line and the questions are far more numerous than answers here. A good Offensive Line will help an adequate QB, WR and RB look great. A bad Offensive Line will drag a great QB, WR and RB into mediocrity at best.
MikeInValdosta (Dawgs BUI 2.0): The overall trajectory of the program is the biggest point of anxiety for me.
Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): The potential for disaster. The offensive line is thin, the schedule is front-loaded, the running game is unproven, the recieving corps is less proven and the S&C program change could prove to not work. If Georgia isn't competitive and loses the first two games in blowouts, it will like a Georgia Tech fraternity party: ugly early. It won't be a fun year to be a Dawg fan with the kind of disention that will occur.
Kevin (CFBZ): It's the offensive line. We have some really good offensive linemen in Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones and Kenarious Gates showed a lot of promise last year but the lack of experienced depth worries me. If Glenn or Jones were to go down then it would make like very tough for Aaron Murray and the Dawgs backs. The OL is what keeps me up at night.
QUESTION #6: Athlon Sports has rated the Dawgs at #14 and Phil Steele has them at #9 in their pre-season polls. Both have Georgia winning the SEC East and playing in the Capital One Bowl. What needs to happen for Georgia to live up to these lofty expectations.
BernieDawg (Bernie's Dawg Blog): Again, just about everything given the last couple seasons. But breaking it down I would say first and foremost the offensive and defensive lines have to stay healthy and get nasty. They have to win the game up front so Ogletree, Jones, Crowell, Murray, Robinson...etc...etc...can make the plays that will win the game. Another point to make is that we had 4 close losses last season, a TD or less. If the team wants to live up those expectations (and more importantly the ones they set for themselves) then they have to want it badly enough to dig deeper, to play every play and leave it all on the field.
They need to leave that sense of entitlement back in Memphis with the rest of those 6-7 bad memories and they need to GATA. They need to compete with each other as hard as they ever have so that they are prepared to want each yard, each possession, each victory even more than the other 12 teams on the schedule.
ECDawg (Leather Helmet Blog): Those are lofty expectations but several polls have the Dawgs finishing third in the East. Polls are fun but are mostly filler for bloggers with little to say. I will be real happy with the season if after every game – win or lose – the other team leaves dripping blood and sweat and saying, “I'm glad we don't have to play them again.”
Genxdawg (A Damn Beast!!!): In case you can’t already tell, everything begins and ends with Coach Grantham’s defensive eleven for me. If we see a big jump in the level of play by the DAWGS defense from year one to year two, then I can see everything else fall into place for a run to the top of the SEC East for Georgia.
For a second straight year in the East there is a former DAWG in orange, this time in Gainesville with the Gators, and Florida will inevitably experience a few growing pains. Derek Dooley and Tennessee are coming, but still have some things to prove. Vanderbilt is settling back to the bottom of the group and Kentucky will have to find some new weapons on offense. Defending champion South Carolina still has Lattimore but has to travel to Athens with a re-tooled defense, and who knows where the odyssey of Stephen Garcia will lead the Gamecocks.
The opportunity certainly appears to be there for Georgia to reclaim the top spot in the East and the DAWGS should have every confidence that they can compete for the division title. If Georgia can find its soul on the defensive side of the ball, the DAWGS should be in every game and I can absolutely see the Georgia Dome splashed in Bulldogs red to both begin and end the 2011 campaign.
Kevin (Sicemdawgs.com): These are lofty expectations indeed, especially for a team that went 8-5 in 2009 and 7-6 in 2010, capped off by a measly two field goals against UCF.
Several things need to happen for the Dawgs to live up to these expectations. Georgia needs to start the season 2-0 or the wheels could fall off. But I could see a scenario where they lose to Boise State, beat the Gamecocks and then go on to finish the regular season 9-3 or 10-2.
The Dawgs also need to make more stops on defense, especially on third down. On offense, they really need some good production from Caleb King while Isaiah Crowell acclimates himself to the college game.
Injuries are always a concern, and staying healthy will also go a long way towards living up to the preseason expectations. The Dawgs have a lot of talent, but the backups have little experience at several key positions, such as quarterback, running back and along both lines.
Thanks for having us and Go Dawgs!
Kit (Dawg Gone Blog): It’s about winning. Not just winning the games you should (which UGA hasn’t always done the past few years), but closing out the close games (which they haven’t done at all lately). This schedule is way too easy for there to be any excuses when the clock strikes midnight on the 2011 season. We’re the only SEC East team to dodge LSU, Arkansas and Alabama this year. South Carolina has to play at Arkansas (but misses Alabama and LSU – getting the second easiest schedule in the East), but both Florida and Tennessee face two of those three SEC West teams, with the tougher matchups against them on the road (Florida at LSU, UT at Alabama).
So, the competition has a rough go of it and UGA has a cakewalk of an SEC schedule. Florida will be good but not great. Tennessee will be good but not great. South Carolina will be South Carolina, meaning they could be great but will give UGA every opportunity to take the SEC East late in the year.
If UGA wants to prove some pundits right and a lot of pundits wrong, they need to do what they haven’t done before: win against Florida, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech all in the same year. If you want to be great, you have to do great things and that’s a GREAT thing.
The nuts and bolts of that being a possibility are simple, though. Improve in the running game, improve in pass defense, and close out games in the fourth quarter. It’s not rocket science; it’s just fundamental football in the SEC. UGA needs to get fundamentally sound, and earn their wins instead of expecting them. It’ll begin (hopefully) with attitudes changing during this summer’s conditioning workouts and that’ll set the tone for when Fall Practice begins.
MikeInValdosta (Dawgs BUI 2.0): I would say Georgia must play up to its full potential and the rest of the SEC must play down to their lowered expectations.
Tyler Dawgden (Georgia Sports Blog): Win ballgames. Crowell has to learn to pass block. Murray needs to get hooked up with the TEs and find another WR go-to guy. Gathers, Jenkins, Drew, Jones, Ogletree and the rest of the defensive front seven have to be dominant. We also have to be sound in in the defensive backfield.
Most importantly, the coaches need to trust themselves and their players. We were too tentative at times in play-calling and too unprepared inside the 20 on both ends of the field and both sides of the ball. Coach to win, instead of coaching to not lose. Georgia has the talent to stay with any team in the SEC, possibly with any team in the nation. Putting it all together and figuring out what has been missing from the intangibles side of the equation for the past few seasons is paramount to a resurgence in Athens.
Kevin (CFBZ): In order to reach those lofty goals Georgia has to start out well. We have to beat South Carolina and we have to beat Mississippi State. If we do that then we are looking at 4-1 or 5-0 out of the gate and that's a night and day change over last year. That would also give the guys confidence going into the rest of the season. I think the OL needs to stay healthy (or have some unexpected guys step up) and both lines of scrimmage need to win battles. Too many times last year we were beat up front. It has been addressed with the change in the S&C program but will it translate onto the field? I also think Georgia needs to continue to win the turnover battle. One thing that flew under the radar a bit last year was that Grantham's defense had 26 takeaways (which was 14 more than the previous year). After posting a -1.23 turnover margin in 2009, Georgia improved to +0.77 in 2010. The problem was that the turnovers were more costly in 2010 because of when and where they happened. Georgia only lost the turnover battle in 4 games last year but we lost every single one of those games. In games where we took the ball away two or more times than our opponents we were 6-0. In order to be successful this year and reach these lofty expectations many things have to fall in place for the Dawgs and I think those are the things that can help us reach the SEC Championship Game once again.
I hope everybody out there enjoyed this roundtable discussion of the Georgia Bulldogs. I just wanted to take a minute and thank all of the panelists for agreeing to contribute and for their time. If you guys like it then maybe we will do it again during the season.