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January 23, 2015

Living Low On the Hogs

Anyone else find it mind-boggling
that Georgia continues to land a
 low number of OL signees?
With less than two weeks remaining until Signing Day, I was reminded yesterday that the Bulldogs had just two offensive line commitments for this year's class. Granted, Georgia is certainly well represented as far as non-offensive line commitments, including national top-10 prospects DT Trent Thompson and ATH Terry Godwin; however, the Bulldogs have seemingly once again failed to land an adequate number of offensive linemen, or the all-important "Hogs" upfronta curious trend that has persisted now for four consecutive years. 

The following are the number of annual offensive line signees during the Coach Richt era broken down by Rivals' star value (5 star-4 star-3 star-2 star):

Year: # of OL Signees- 5*-4*-3*-2*
2001: Four- 0-1-3-0
2002: Six- 0-3-3-0
2003: Seven- 0-2-4-1
2004: Three- 0-1-2-0
2005: One- 0-0-1-0
2006: Seven- 0-2-5-0
2007: Eight- 0-3-5-0
2008: Four- 0-2-2-0
2009: Four- 0-3-1-0
2010: Three- 0-1-2-0
2011: Six- 0-0-5-1
2012: Three- 1-0-2-0
2013: Four- 0-1-3-0
2014: Three- 0-2-1-0

Notably, for the first 11 years of the Richt era, Georgia signed an average of 4.8 offensive linemen per year, or 21% of its incoming classes; however, from 2012 to 2014, those figures dropped by roughly one-third to 3.3 and 14%, respectively.

In addition, beginning more than three decades ago in 1982or, the first season UGA linemen signees were consistently differentiated between offensive and defensiveand through 2011, there were only five occasions of back-to-back years where Georgia's annual signing class was made up of less than 16% offensive linemen (1986-1987, 1992-1993, 1993-1994, 1999-2000, and 2004-2005); it resulted just once for three consecutive years (1992-1994), and never four years in a row... that is, until likely this February 4th when it appears the Bulldogs will sign a low number of offensive linemen for the fourth consecutive Signing Day.

Recent UGA offensive lines haven't suffered 
consequences for the insufficient number of 
OL signees, but is it only a matter of time? 
Continuing to geek-out on data, I again present the "Hog Index"originally, an NFL comparative measurement for offensive line performance which I tweaked for the college game. A team's offensive line ranking is determined by its average of the following three rankings in comparison to other teams being measured: yards per rush (sacks omitted), percent of passing plays (pass attempts + times sacked) resulting in an interception or sack, and third- and fourth-down combined conversion rate.

For each of the aforementioned occasions of back-to-back years where offensive linemen made up less than 16% of Georgia's signees, the Bulldogs followed with an annual poor-to-below-average offensive line performance within two seasons, which certainly makes sense: if a team signs few offensive linemen in consecutive years, it should be expected that the team will have an inferior offensive line within a couple of seasons. And, as indicated at the link, according to the Hog Index over the last 20 years, there is a positive correlation between Georgia's annual Hog Index and its winning percentage that same season. Therefore, the worse the Bulldogs' offensive line performance, generally, the worse the overall team.

On the contrary, although Georgia signed a combined 10 offensive linemen from 2012 to 2014, it's evident that the Dogs' lowly number of Hog signees did not result in repercussions the last two seasons: in 2013 and 2014, Georgia's offensive line performance was the the 3rd-best and the very best, respectively, during the last 20 years.

Finally, perhaps the most glaring evidence concerning the Bulldogs' upcoming offensive line units: heading into the weekend and according to Rivals, although the top five non-offensive line recruits in the state of Georgia all are currently committed to become Bulldogs, nonenot a single oneof the state's top nine offensive linemen have committed to UGA. Baffling!

In summary, although Georgia's offensive line has been admirable the last few seasons on the field, off the field, those responsible at UGA for signing offensive linemen have done a dreadful joban unprecedented lackluster effort in landing the Hogs upfront. And, despite the line's recent annual performances, and the unit should be excellent in 2015, as well, history has shown if Georgia consistently doesn't land the Hogs, it could take a couple of seasons or so, but consequences eventually come back to bite the Dogs.

January 12, 2015

Able to Give Every Detail

In '66, Bruce Yawn was on the receiving
end of a rarity in UGA football lore,
and is able to give every detail of it.
"I assure you that any lineman in all of college football..." Bruce Yawn started telling me last week, "...would be able to give you every detail of it."

Yawn, a three-year lettering lineman at Georgia who started at left guard for the Bulldogs' 1968 SEC championship team, chimed in on an observation I made that there seemingly was a phenomena of sorts during the last one to two months of the college football season of linemen catching passes. 

In mid-November, a "fat guy" at Mercer was on the receiving end of a touchdown, bowled over some teammates, and then did a cartwheel. In bowl games on consecutive daysthe Cotton Bowl and Cactus Bowla 390-pounder from Baylor followed by an Oklahoma State defensive lineman caught passes on lineman-eligible pass plays. And, in helping them defeat LSU a couple of months ago, Alabama ran a pass play involving a lineman which I still don't quite fully understand

Notably, the lineman pass play, whether by design or accident (that is, off a deflection), has a small place in UGA football historyvery small, and having last occurred long ago. 

From what I discovered, the first Georgia lineman to catch a pass during the modern era was center Phil Ashe for a 2-yard gain during the 1960 campaign. For nearly all of the next half-dozen seasons, at least one Bulldog "Big Ugly" annually made a receptionabout half of which were off deflections, the rest designedly on lineman-eligible pass plays.

The longest-gaining reception by a Georgia lineman came in 1964, when first-year Bulldog coach Vince Dooley pulled the trickery against his alma mater, Auburn. Trailing by two touchdowns, QB Lynn Hughes threw to tackle George Patton on a lineman-eligible pass. Patton raced for 40 yards until tackled near the Tigers' goal line, setting up what would be the Bulldogs' lone touchdown of an eventual 14-7 loss.

Although Patton's reception was close, the only lineman in Georgia history to actually score a touchdown receiving was left guard Don Hayes against Mississippi State in the 1966 season opener. Hayes, who lined up as a guard-eligible receiver with Georgia trailing in the first quarter, caught a wide-open 4-yard touchdown from QB Kirby Moore on 3rd and goal. The score would be the difference in a 20-17 victory for Georgia, and remains the last time a Bulldog lineman caught an intentional pass attempt.

Less than a month after Hayes' catch, an undefeated Georgia team was playing Miami on a Friday night in the Orange Bowl. The Bulldog offense, which would generate less than 100 total yards of offense for the entire game, was struggling, so Moore was benched for the much-heralded sophomore signal-caller Rick Arrington. Trailing 7-6, Georgia had reached inside the Hurricanes' 20-yard line, and then, as Yawn described, "it" happened: a lineman catching a passthis time, of the deflected variety.

Against Auburn in '64, George Patton rumbles
for the longest lineman-eligible pass play in
UGA football history. 
"Arrington dropped back to pass, the pass was deflected, I looked up and saw the ball in the air and the goal line in front of me," recalled Yawn, who owned the acclaimed Snooky's Restaurant in Statesboro before its closing a few years ago.  "As I grabbed the ball, I had the vision of scoring the winning touchdown. I took two steps and was dropped for a three-yard loss."

Alas, Georgia lost to Miami that night, 7-6, in what would be the Bulldogs' lone defeat of the season.

"Every time the stats were printed that year, I received a great deal of ribbing from my fellow offensive linemen," Yawn said.

It was in 1966—the only season where Georgia completed more than one pass to a lineman—when Alabama's "Bear" Bryant ran a successful tackle-eligible pass play to help defeat Ole Miss for the second consecutive year. Bryant, who reportedly "loved" the deceptive play and "used it with great effect, especially against the Rebels," was phoned two days following the game by Ole Miss head coach John Vaught, a long-time friend of Bryant's. 

"He was mad, about to throw a fit," Bryant said of Vaught at the time. "John started a campaign to get the tackle-eligible banned from football." Vaught joined the NCAA Football Rules Committee in 1966 and, two years later, when the committee was about to adjourn, Vaught reportedly lodged a chair under the doorknob of the meeting room and declared that no one was leaving until something was done about "that damn tackle-eligible pass."

Essentially, a college lineman can catch a pass under today's rules; however, five men on an offensive line must wear jersey numbers 50 to 79, while it is ruled players wearing numbers 50 to 79 are not eligible to catch a forward pass (unlike before the late 1960s). Therefore, in order for a lineman to be eligible he can a) change jersey numbers during the game as was the case of the Baylor lineman; b) be a defensive lineman wearing numbers other than 50 to 79 as was the case of the Oklahoma State lineman; or c) catch a backward lateral pass as was the case of Mercer's "fat boy."

Still, despite ways to get around the no-passing-to-linemen rule, it has been nearly a half-century since a Georgia lineman caught a pass intentionally thrown his way. Even receptions made off deflections have been rare, occurring just once since Yawn's memorable 3-yard loss in 1966. A deflection against Auburn was caught by guard Kim Stephens for an 11-yard gain in 1987, or more than 27 years ago, justifying that a receptionwhether intentionally thrown or not, and no matter the number of yards gainedmade by a Georgia lineman should be a dream come true, of sorts, for that Bulldog player. 

"Fifty years later, I am able to tell my nine grandchildren that I am in the record books for UGA football," Yawn added. And, I'm sure the former Bulldog lineman is able give them every detail of it.

January 3, 2015

A Bulldog Bowl Story

The 1976 Bulldogs embark on their trip to New
a journey resulting badly on the field,
but full of off-field experiences they'll never forget.
Sometime during the third quarter of Georgia's victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl, I concluded the Bulldogs would be extending their obscure, yet remarkable postseason streakone which (without looking it up) I guarantee has never been equaled before in college football history, and likely never will: spanning 38 years, Georgia has now played in 32 consecutive bowl games (13 of which did not result in a Bulldog victory) where they were not defeated by more than a touchdown.

Think about it, a period of nearly four entire decades where each time Georgia has played in the postseason, it has, at the very least, been "in" the ballgame just one possession from victory, if not winning altogether.

As I've gotten to know more and more former Georgia players through my workmost of which played during this current, successful streak in the postseasonI've discovered that behind every bowl gameno matter the final scoreis an intriguing bowl story, or two, or more. Most Bulldog enthusiasts are aware of past bowl trips in terms of their recaps and boxscores, yet each postseason appearance seemingly involves compelling on- and off-field experiences hardly publicized.

Some Bulldog bowl stories are so unbelievable, they're almost Hollywood-like (1943 Rose Bowl); for others, you don't know what to believe (1969 Sugar Bowl); and then you have those that shouldn't be believed because they're actually not entirely true, but have been slightly exaggerated over the years (1969 Sun Bowl). Regardless, any Bulldog bowl story is a good story in my book, so I reached out to a number of former players just after Christmas, asking for any postseason anecdotes.  

Of all the stories I heardat least, the ones I can publish herethe two most appealing to me just happen to be from the same bowl game, which happens to be the last time Georgia was defeated by more than seven points in the postseasonthe 1977 Sugar Bowl against top-ranked Pittsburgh. Ironically, leading into Georgia's current bowl streak, the '77 Sugar Bowl was the third bowl game in a row the Bulldogs were defeated by more than a touchdown, and the second consecutive by three touchdowns or more. Nevertheless, for Georgia's Ken Helms and a teammate of his who wanted to remain anonymous (for obvious reasons you'll read), there are vivid memories which linger from the 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh. And, to some degree, such memories are somewhat associated with the 31-10 setback to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl from the year before.

Despite receiving bowl "swag" not nearly up to today's standardsa cowboy hat and a knockoff Rolex watch"the [1976] Cotton Bowl was cool," according to Helms, who was a standout offensive lineman for the Bulldogs from 1974 to 1976. "I do remember bathtubs full of Lone Star Beer in some [hotel] rooms, but we had to go get the beer, and it was about a mile walk!" 

"James Brown came in our locker room before the game, but a lot of guys didn't recognize him," Helms continued.  "I got him to sign my game program; I still have it."

Just as every Bulldog probably recognized Brown by the time "The Godfather of Soul" accompanied the team again a year later to New Orleans, seemingly everyone was aware of the renowned Dooley's Junkyard Dogs as the program was making a second consecutive major bowl appearance for the first time in 34 years.

Bear Bryant and Ken Helms in 1976. Notice
the cigarettes in the Bear's front pocket

box undoubtedly that was soon to be opened.
At a Sugar Bowl banquet during the week of the game, Helms and the late Jeff Sanders were sitting alone at a table when they were approached by another iconic figure. "It was Bear Bryant, asking if he could sit down," Helms said. "He sat at an empty place and ate the piece of cake that had been set there. He then fired up a cigarette, and said, 'y'all kicked our ass!'" referring to Georgia's 21-0 victory over the Bear's Crimson Tide earlier that season.

In preparation for Pittsburgh, "it was weird," Helms added. New Orleans was unusually cold during the week of the game, and the team practiced outside at old Tulane Stadium, but then played inside at the newly-opened Superdome.

"That was before there was "no smoking," so people could literally smoke inside the Superdome," Helms recalled. "It was dark inside the dome, and smoke gathered and was hanging over the top of the field like a cloud! It was nothing like us ole country boys from Georgia had ever seen before. Not to mention, that Pitt team with Tony Dorsett was something we hadn't seen, as well."

Indeed, Dorsett rushed for a then-Sugar-Bowl-record 202 yards, while the Bulldogs' high-powered veer offense was held to three points and less than 200 total yards as the Panthers defeated Georgia by 24 points, and it actually wasn't even that close. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs' disheartening loss wasn't about to totally ruin their trip to New Orleans.

"The morning after the game, some of us put on a coat and tie and played the 'big dog,'" said Helms, who would be the only Georgia player to appear later that month in the prestigious all-star games, the Japan and Hula Bowls. "We ran up a pretty good tab at breakfast, eating Eggs Benedict and drinking mimosas. Of course, we had to pay for it when we got home."

Also, having to "pay for it" laterin a sense—for his actions during the 1977 Sugar Bowl trip was the anonymous player I spoke with. "It's something I'm still embarrassed about today almost 40 years later," he said. And, this Bulldog isn't necessarily talking about the game itself, but what happened afterwards.

"But, it was during the game when things first started to come unraveled for several players," he remembered. "Down by three touchdowns, I think it was during the third quarter, we had two guys get into a shoving match literally in the huddle. They had to be separated. The '77 Sugar Bowl was that frustrating for some of us, like me, who was playing in my final game at Georgia."

Things quickly went from bad to worse for the anonymous player. He admits that it might sound a little selfish looking back on it, but no competitive collegiate athlete wants to be taken out of any game at no fault of his own.

"For the most part, Coach Dooley allowed his assistant coaches to have most of the authority as far as when a starter was replaced during a game, who came in to relieve the starter, etc.," the player said. "My position coach [player gives assistant's name] took me out with almost an entire quarter left to play against Pittsburgh, and I thought I had actually played well. I was not happy. Of course, [the assistant coach] and I never saw eye to eyesomething I think he'd even admit to todaymostly because he went out of his way to [here, the player explains their indifferencereasoning which seems quite logical to mehowever, unveiling as much could possibly reveal the identity of the player and/or the assistant coach]. So, it shouldn't have surprised me that [the assistant] benched me early." 

A couple hours after the embarrassing loss in the Sugar Bowl, a saddened and disappointed anonymous player was riding up an escalator at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans. Coincidentally, coming down the opposite end was his position coach, looking away from the player.  

"It was immature of me, and I totally overreacted; I instantly snapped," the player admitted. "I thought, I'm done with this SOB, and I'm going to tell him what I think of him." Suddenly, as the two were crossing on the escalators, the player verbally blasted the startled assistant coach with a myriad of profanity-laced insults.  

The Godfather of Soul loved the Bulldogs,
following the team to the 1976 Cotton Bowl (left)
and the Sugar Bowl a year later (right).
"I don't remember this part, but my dad has always said that I also reared back with my fist high in the air aimed to hit [the assistant]. My dad would know; he was riding the escalator with me, and had to physically restrain me," the former player said. "I acted impulsively and obviously was not thinking clearly."

The player continued, "But, the look on [the assistant's] face after I went after him, I'll never forget it—it was like, 'what the hell just happened?!'"

Curious, I asked the former player how he could have possibly been driven to the point to verbally, and apparently physically, attack his position coach simply because they hadn't got along, and for his removal from a bowl game a little early. And, for the anonymous player, here's where the '77 Sugar Bowl is somewhat associated with the '76 Cotton Bowl:  

"There was no 'simply' to it," the player responded. "That was the second bowl game in a row [the assistant coach] pulled me out early with no good reason in my mind. Believe me, I'm certainly not saying we would've beaten Arkansas or Pittsburgh if I had remained in any of those bowl gamesthat's ridiculous. But, you can check it out for yourself. If I remember correctly, I was pulled from the Cotton Bowl sometime in the second quarter when we actually had a lead but, for whatever reason, I was not put back in."

For what it's worth, I did indeed "check it out" for myself, getting my hands on the 1976 Cotton Bowl's old play-by-play/statistics media packet. And, sure enough, the anonymous player was removed against Arkansas with no explanation midway through the second quarter after seemingly playing well with Georgia leading, 10-0. He would not return to the game as the Bulldogs were outscored 31-0 the rest of the way.

The player explained that getting removed from your final game a "little early" after getting pulled from the bowl game the year before "way too early" by someone you didn't get along with, and who happened to have the most say in your playing time, "I guess, I had just had enough," but added, "it was a learning experience that although regrettable, I value to this day."

As the college football bowl season, or what's been called the most wonderful time of the year, begins to wrap up, I'm grateful for a wonderful Bulldog bowl history during my lifetimeone where Georgia has remarkably been "in" 32 consecutive postseason games. But, almost more so than the game resultsthe wins and lossesI'm grateful to learn of intriguing off-field bowl "learning experiences" for young men in their late teens, early 20s that will always be valuedespecially by the players involved, but also valued by anyone fortunate enough to learn of those experiences.

January 1, 2015

When Children Laughed and Grown Men Cried

On 1/1/81, We were Number One...
(photo courtesy of Rob Saye)
Happy New Year! As I have a few times before, I'm posting an edited piece of mine on a special day for the Georgia Bulldog Nationa day when victories have been celebrated, including a particular national championship.

Today, the first day of a new year, is a special day in Georgia football history, particularly, the date of January 1, 1981. In their history, the Bulldogs have played on the first day of the year more than any other (24 times); however, none of the other firsts of January that came before or since can quite compare to that of 1981.

The Georgia fans who remember the 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the 1981 Sugar Bowl are fortunate and understand how celebrated and distinctive that victory was for all Bulldog faithful. I was only five years old at the time and barely remember the game, but I’ve done enough research, writing, and heard and read plenty of accounts regarding the game to give, what I believe, an accurate narrative.

Although undefeated and number one-ranked Georgia was only a one-point underdog entering the game against the Fighting Irish, who had lost one, tied another, and was ranked seventh in the nation, few gave the Bulldogs a chance at victory.

Famed football forecaster Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder said the Fighting Irish were "far superior" to Georgia. Notre Dame All-American linebacker Scott Zettek commented they should have been favored by not one, but 10 points, and said Georgia's freshman phenom tailback, Herschel Walker, only ran the football well "because his offensive line blocks well. Anyone could run through those holes. They could pick somebody off the street."

So, you can imagine how shocking it was to many when the Bulldogs emerged from New Orleans’ Superdome on the winning end, especially if you take a look at the stat sheet.

A win is inconceivable when there is a 328-127 disadvantage in yardage, 17-10 in first downs, and 34:41-25:19 in time of possession, but somehow, some way, Georgia pulled it off that day against the Fighting Irish.

The 17-10 decision is also likely the only college football game ever in modern history where an individual player out-gained his entire team. Walker, named the bowl’s MVP while playing most of the game with a separated shoulder, rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. The rest of the Bulldogs netted minus-23 total offensive yards on 29 plays.

It was said the Dawgs achieved victory by having "the luck of the [Georgia] Irish." Georgia intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble while committing no turnovers. Notre Dame missed two field goals, had another blocked, and also misplayed two kickoffs, the second of which led directly to the Bulldogs’ first touchdown.

Besides having some luck, the Bulldogs also encountered "the ill-advised of the Irish." I’m no football coach or expert analyst but, I truly feel, if the Fighting Irish’s game plan had been what got them to the Sugar Bowl in the first placerun the ballthey likely would have finished on the winning side.

In 1980, Notre Dame had a spectacular running game, showcasing two halfbacksPhil Carter and Jim Stoneeach rushing for nearly 1,000 yards during the regular season. Although stout, Georgia’s defense against the run had allowed several opponents during its regular season, even a bad Vanderbilt team, some success running the football.

...and you weren't!
Notre Dame’s passing game had been dismal in ’80; starting quarterback and freshman Blair Kiel only attempted approximately 11 passes per game, completed less than 40 percent of his attempts, and did not throw a single touchdown the entire year. However, for whatever reason, Kiel and the Irish came out throwing against the Bulldogs.

For the most part, ignoring the run until the second half, Notre Dame threw on four of its first seven plays and finished with 28 pass attempts, completing only half, and, as mentioned, was intercepted three times.  On the contrary, the Bulldogs’ offensive attack was to simply hand it to Herschel and hope they never had to pass.

Buck Belue, an All-SEC quarterback in 1980, lost 34 yards on 13 rushes, primarily due to being sacked multiple times, and missed on his first 11 pass attempts. Nonetheless, Belue’s twelfth and final attempt made up for a horrendous passing day by clinching victory on the greatest day in Georgia football history.

With just over two minutes remaining in the game, leading by seven points, and possessing the ball at the 50-yard line, Georgia faced third down and seven to go. Belue rolled to his right and completed a short pass to Amp Arnold, barely picking up the first down.  If Belue’s pass had resulted like his previous 11, Georgia would have been forced to punt to Notre Dame, who had a timeout remaining with more than two minutes left. Instead, the Bulldogs kept their drive going, ran the ball five times, ran the clock out in the process, and then nearly got ran over by the throng of celebratory Dawg fans that stormed the field.

During the bedlam, referring to Jimmy Carter and approximately 200 of his presidential party in attendance, a Superdome security guard screamed, "I’ve got the damn President of the United States in here, and I can’t get him out!" At the same time, a police officer was overheard saying, "Thank God [the fans] ain’t armed." And, the late great Lewis Grizzard would later perhaps put it best, giving his own epic account:

"We've had it tough in this state. First of all, that Yankee scoundrel Sherman came through here and tried to burn it down. Then we finally got a man elected President—nobody liked him. But on January 1st, 1981, I looked up at the scoreboard in the Superdome and it said 'Georgia,' where I went to school, '17,' 'Notre Dame 10.' We had won the national football championship. Children laughed and grown men cried. How ‘Bout Them Dogs!"

All season long, Georgia had been criticized for facing a relatively easy schedule; just one of its 12 opponents, ninth-ranked Notre Dame, finished the year in the AP’s top 20. When the final rankings were released, although the Bulldogs were number one in both the AP and UPI polls, seven of the 101 combined voters actually placed a one-loss Pittsburgh squad atop the rankings despite the Bulldogs' perfect record.  Regardless, starting right guard Tim Morrison might have said it best when asked after the Sugar Bowl if there was any doubt Georgia, despite its schedule, was not the best team in college football:

"Hell, no!" replied Morrison. "We’re the only 12-0 team in the country, and by God, we’re No. 1!"

No other season in Georgia football history before or since can quite compare to 1980—the Bulldogs' lone undefeated, untied, and, as Coach Vince Dooley likes to say, only "undisputed" national championship season.

If you didn’t understand before, perhaps now you realize why January 1st, specifically the one from 34 years ago today, is cherished by the Bulldog Nation.

December 22, 2014

Relevant? Really?!

While at Georgia, more so than change any
kind of culture...
During a radio interview over the weekend, I was asked about Todd Grantham's newsworthy comments a week ago regarding his time as Georgia's defensive coordinator.

I didn't mind giving my two cents...

I've interviewed Grantham only a couple of times, but from what I gathered, at least, during his four-season stay in Athens, he often offered up typical coach speak: comments similar to what he said last week, like "I think we did a tremendous job [at Georgia]," "we had a really young team last year," "I think [the team] got better from it," and "that's par for [the coaching] business"all of which is understandable coming from a coach's mouth.

However, it appears Grantham continues to give exaggerated coach spin, as well, or a favorable spinning of the facts to make his efforts or circumstances seem much better than the actual results or his situation during his tenure at Georgia.

For example, entering the 2013 season, Georgia's defense was undoubtedly green, and I asked Grantham about his unit's inexperience. He responded with a quick "we actually have eight guys on this year’s team who have started on defense before." After I replied that those eight included Devin Bowman and Connor Norman, who had started merely one and two games, respectively, in their careers and Malcolm Mitchell—who had started three games at cornerback, but was slated to play exclusively at wide receiver—Grantham really didn't offer up much of a response. I should have added that even including Mitchell’s trio of starts, the Bulldogs' defense returned players with a total of only 59 career starts—the lowest for a Bulldog defense entering a season since 1978—however, I didn't want our interview to come to an abrupt end.

As we're all aware, the 2013 defense's inexperience was evident as the Bulldogs allowed 375.5 yards and 29.0 points per game, while forcing only 1.2 turnovers per contest—the fifth-, first- and second-worst per-game averages, respectively, for a Bulldog defense over the previous 72 seasons.

Grantham, whose four Georgia defenses from 2010-2013 allowed per-game averages of 22.7 points and 334.1 total yards, 5.1 yards per play, while forcing 1.87 turnovers—all inferior to what the Bulldogs' defense has yielded/forced thus far this season—said his tenure at Georgia is "something I'm very proud of."  He added, "when you look at Florida, Tennessee and Auburn the last three years, we were 8-1." He then mentioned the success against Tech during his time at UGA.

What Grantham failed to mention was that although Georgia was a combined 12-1 against Florida, Tennessee and Auburn from 2011-2013 and Tech from 2010-2013, the Bulldogs' defense allowed an average of 363.8 total yards and 21.6 points in those gamesstaggeringly high figures considering the team lost just one of the 13 contests.

Last week, Grantham also said, "We changed the culture. We developed a mental and physical toughness there."
...Grantham's defenses choked.

What changed from defensive coordinator Willie Martinez (2005-2009) to Grantham was no culture, but Georgia's inability to defend against what I defined as a "proficient offense," or teams which finished their seasons averaging at least 27 points and 400 total yards per game. You can see for yourself—the statistical difference between the two coordinators is absolutely in Martinez's favor—including the most important statistic of them all, wins and losses: Georgia's record was 10-9 when Grantham's defensive unit faced a proficient offense; the Bulldogs were 12-5 with Martinez under the same circumstances.

Grantham said, "if you go back and look at the changes we were able to establish and make at the University of Georgia during the time I was there, we were able to win some games..."

As far as winning games, the Bulldogs were a disappointing 36-18 while Grantham was their defensive coordinator, or Georgia's second-worst winning percentage of the 15 different four-season continuous totals beginning with the Coach Donnan era in 1996 (i.e., 1996-1999, 1997-2000, 1998-2001, etc.)

And, if I may add, Grantham had plenty of talent to work with. Five Bulldog defenders under Grantham were selected in the four subsequent NFL Drafts (2011-2014), who went on to be a starter for at least one season in the league. In comparison, in the 25 subsequent NFL Drafts of the entire Vince Dooley era (17 years under defensive coordinator Erk Russell; eight under Bill Lewis), only four Bulldog defenders were drafted and then started for at least a season.

Finally, Grantham declared "we really put Georgia back on the map as far as being relevant." Really?! 

What's evident to me is that any relevance the Bulldogs gained from 2010 to 2013 was primarily due to an Aaron Murray-quarterbacked offense, and had little to do with we.

December 15, 2014

When It Was More So Should've... Than Would've

Watching the Heisman Trophy ceremony the other night, realizing all three finalists were juniors heading to the NFL, I thought back to Georgia's Heisman winner from 32 years agoa then-junior who turned pro early, as well. However, more so than Herschel Walker's 1982 campaign, I recalled his first season as a Bulldog, and the debate involving the coveted trophy which still lingers after more than three decades.

I hear the argument every so often; in fact, it was declared just a few days ago on local sports-talk radio: Herschel should've won the Heisman Trophy in 1980, but didn't because he was a freshman.

Call it a slight pet peeve of minea claim I've argued against here on a couple of occasionswhere the Heisman voters from back then actually deserve some credit, but the voting structure of the time does not. Regardless of what the claim is called, the assertion that Herschel didn't win the Heisman in '80 because he was a freshman is more so a fallacy than an accuracy.

That season, Walker finished third in the Heisman balloting, not even coming close to winning (683 total points, 107 first-place votes), finishing behind winner George Rogers of South Carolina (1,128, 216) and Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green (861, 179). And, common belief is Walker did not win the award solely because he was a freshman, whereas Rogers was a senior. This assumption, although maybe slightly accurate, does not fully reveal why Herschel was not honored.

More so than Walker or Rogers' class status, by Friday, November 28ththe day Heisman ballots were dueRogers held the ultimate edge because the senior's regular season was all wrapped up. Herschel, on the other hand, and his Bulldog teammates still had one game remaining on their regular-season schedule against Georgia Tech the very next day.

Herschel Walker might have won  the Heisman in 1980 (but I seriously doubt it) if all voters felt freely to vote for a freshman, but he most likely would've captured the award if his entire regular season was considered by voters, whether he was a freshman or otherwise.

Against the Yellow Jackets, the freshman phenom rushed for 205 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns in a 38-20 Georgia victory. With 9:30 remaining in the game, Walker broke off a 65-yard touchdown run—his seventh run of 48 yards or more that season—and, in the process, became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher for freshmen, breaking Tony Dorsett’s record of 1,586 yards set seven years before. The outstanding effort was Walker’s third 200-yard rushing performance in Georgia’s last four games—a Heisman-like performance that, fortunately for George Rogers, voters could not take into account because of the absurd deadline to submit ballots.

"If [the Georgia Tech] game had counted in the Heisman Trophy balloting [Walker] would have won it as a freshman," Coach Vince Dooley said at the time. "It’s a shame the Heisman voting is done so early. Here’s a back who has gained over 1,600 yards, set all kinds of records, and has played on an undefeated, No. 1-ranked team. If that’s not deserving of a Heisman Trophy, I don’t know what is."

This is what Heisman voters had to consider in 1980: South Carolina and Rogers’ regular season was completed on November 22nd. In 11 games, Rogers rushed for 1,781 yards and was instrumental in the Gamecocks achieving an 8-3 record. For Walker, his last impression for Heisman voters was an un-Herschel-like performance against Auburn on November 15th, gaining just 77 yards on 27 carries (2.9 average) against the Tigers while not even leading his own team in rushing.
Much more so than his class status, this
disallowed performance against Tech kept
freshman Herschel from the Heisman in '80.  

Personally, if I had a Heisman vote then and had to submit it prior to all of college football's regular season ending, I too probably would’ve voted for Rogers.

Following the Heisman’s presentation to Rogers, John Farrell, the chairman of the Downtown Athletic Club, said that if Walker’s performance against Tech had been considered, it probably would have made a difference in the voting, but added "we have to stick to our [ballot] deadlines." In addition, there were several newspaper articles within a few days of the trophy’s ceremony proclaiming Herschel should have won considering his final performance. A number of voters even indicated later if the voting was held after the regular season had ended for all teams, they would have voted differently.

Notably, on December 18, 1980, Walker was honored as the UPI’s NCAA Back of the Year. The freshman had 47 votes to the second-place Rogers’ 39 votes—voting that had been administered after Georgia's regular season had ended.

And, don't even get me started on the two backs' bowl performances...  Oh, well, in a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, clinching the national championship for the Bulldogs, Herschel rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish. And, here's the kicker: not only did the rest of the Georgia team have minus-23 yards of total offense, but Herschel played nearly the entire game with a separate shoulder! As for Rogers, he was held to 113 yards in a 37-9 blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl.

The two bowl performances helped prove who really was deserving of the 1980 Heisman Trophy and, prior to "Johnny Football" two years ago, who should've been the very first freshman to take home the award.

History has repeatedly shown that one game can make or break an individual’s season. Evidently, one disallowed game kept Herschel from winning the most recognizable and prestigious individual award in sports on two occasions; he should've won the Heisman in 1980 before actually capturing the same award two years later.

But, as they say, should've, would've...

December 5, 2014

So It Hurts

Winning three out of four games is good
and all, except when you're supposed to
be winning more.
It has taken me several days to fully digest the disheartening loss from this past Saturday. Following the overtime setback to Tech, I heard two post-game comments which have remained in mind since the discouraging defeat. The first stated by senior cornerback Damian Swann during the post-game player interviews: 

"We aren't supposed to lose to [Tech], so it hurts."

No, Georgiaa 10.5-point favoritewasn't supposed to lose to Tech. Of course, the Bulldogs weren't supposed to lose to any of their opponents this season, entering all 12 contests thus far as the favorite. Nonetheless, Georgia has lost three gamesall three as a moderate to considerable favorite of more than 6 points.

Suspecting that it surely must be a rarity for a previous Bulldog team to have pulled the same dubious feat of losing 3+ games as a favorite of more than 6 points, I took a look back beginning when reliable point spreads first became readily available about a half-century ago. Starting in 1964, I discovered that only twice over 49 yearsmore than four decades ago in 1970, and Coach Donnan's first season of 1996did Georgia lose a trio of games in a single season as a moderate favorite or greater. However, since then, Coach Richt's last two teams have joined the underachieving couple:

-14.5 over Tulane, lost 17-14
-9.5 over Miss. State, lost 7-6
-7 over Georgia Tech, lost 17-7  

-10.5 over Southern Miss, lost 11-7
-16 over Kentucky, lost 24-17
-13.5 over Ole Miss, lost 31-27

-6.5 over Missouri, lost 41-26
-7 over Vanderbilt, lost 31-27
-9.5 over Nebraska, lost 24-19

-6.5 over South Carolina, lost 38-35
-12.5 over Florida, lost 38-20
-10.5 over Georgia Tech, lost 30-24  

The second post-game remark which resonated with me was from a Coach Richt apologist, who declared, "[Richt] wins three out of four games," and then asked, "What do people expect?"

Yes, the Richt era has achieved nearly three wins out of every four gamesa .738 career winning percentage, which ranks as the highest in UGA history of all head coaches at the helm for more than three seasons. And, that's good and all. However, when many of those losses, although resulting just once every four games, are near-inexplicable, that's not so good, nor acceptable.

What do people expect? I can tell you what I, along with I'm guessing many others in the Bulldog Nation, would not expect. And, for what it's worth, this is in no way an attempt to "pile on" the head coach as I've been accused of in the past, but, as they say, I'm just telling it like it is.

I would not expect Richt's Bulldogs to be one of the most underachieving teams in recent years compared to its success in recruiting, or a program which cannot reach the "next level" when an inferior rival has routinely done so.  Also, when compared to his three predecessors at Georgia, even the Ray Goff regime, I would not expect Richt's teams to have inferior results when it comes to 4th-quarter comebacks, coming off bye weeks, playing at their opponents' stadiums, kickoff and punt coverage, when indicators have pointed to positive results for others, or producing the worst five-season run at Georgia in yearsand all of the above is what has been identified just in the last year.

You can now add to the list dropping three games you were supposed to win somewhat comfortably in each of the last two seasons after the program had rarely done so during the half-century before.

So, as Swann suggested, it indeed hurts, when what is supposed to be happening is not, but rather what wouldn't be expected is unfortunately occurring.

November 28, 2014

"Strong Legs" for "Weak Legs"

The '63 Bullpups-Baby Jackets affair was played
in front of 40,000 despite a driving rain, but what
mattered most was the day prior to the game.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with family, I was asked about the one-time UGA football tradition occurring annually on the holidaythe Scottish Rite Charity Game.

Held on most Thanksgivings beginning in 1933 and for the next 60 years, the game at Grant Field pitted UGA's Bullpups against Tech's Baby Jackets. The event, whose motto was "strong legs will run so that weak legs may walk," raised funds for handicap children at Atlanta's Scottish Rite Hospital.

In 1972, the NCAA allowed freshmen to be eligible for varsity play, changing the landscape of college football. Quality newcomers were suddenly playing, for example, for the "Bulldogs" and "Yellow Jackets" instead of for the "Bullpups" and "Baby Jackets," while the schools then featured "junior varsity" instead of "freshmen" teams.

I've been fortunate to interview many Georgia football players over the years. And, I've noticed that Bulldogs who were freshmen prior to 1972 often mention the Scottish Rite gamecertainly, more so than the "junior varsity" players from 1972 until the secondary program disbanded in the early-90s.

My favorite account of the Scottish Rite charity event is from Kirby Moorea Bullpup in 1963, redshirted the following season, and would become a legendary quarterback on the Georgia varsity from 1965-1967. Moore was a Bullpup during a 15-year lowly era of Bulldogs' varsity football when the freshmen gave hope for the futureoptimistic for a quality varsity programwhile the Bullpups-Baby Jackets was recognized as "one of the oldest" and "the most publicized" freshman rivalry.  

"Before they got rid of freshman and junior varsity teams about 20 years ago, the Georgia-Georgia Tech freshman football game...was a really good thing,” Moore informed me in an interview.  

From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, there were a couple of occasions when the Bullpups-Baby Jackets game actually attracted more spectators than the varsity game a couple of days later. "All I remember about the one I played in was that it was in front of more than 40,000 spectators and it rained the entire time," Moore said, then curiously added, "That’s it. I don’t even recall who won the game; however, I distinctly remember the day before the game."

It was an annual tradition the day before the game for both the Georgia and Georgia Tech teams to tour the hospital, visiting with its sick and handicapped children. Some of the children welcomed the players, for example, by wearing their jersey numbers, displaying a player’s initials on a cap, or already knowing the players’ names. Seemingly, all of the children simply wanted to meet and talk with real live Georgia and Georgia Tech football players.

"I walked out of that hospital with tears in my eyes while some big linemen were actually bawling," Moore said. "I decided then and there that if those sick kids can endure what they had to suffer through, then it would never get too tough for me."

Moore said visiting the hospital was the best thing ever to happen to him while at UGA"the moment of my life."

"That visit taught me that some of us think that life is so toughbelieve me, I’ve gotten to some points in my life when I was really, really lowhowever, all you have to do is to put things in perspective by just looking around at those who really have it tough."

During a time when I'm especially thankful for many, many things, I responded to my family's inquiry regarding the one-time Thanksgiving event, when strong legs ran so weak legs could walk, with the account of Kirby Moore: look around at those who really have it tough, and realize it should never get too tough for most of us.