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December 29, 2012

GRANTHAM vs. WILLIE MO

A heated topic of conversation among some family members of mine on Christmas Day was Georgia's overall defensive effort this season, considering its perceived collective talent level.  After I noted the Bulldogs' current and unheard of streak of allowing three consecutive opponents to rush for 300+ yards, a relative quipped, "And just imagine how many yards Georgia would be allowing if 'Willie Mo' was still the defensive coordinator instead of Grantham."
 
Ah, Willie Mo, or Willie Martinez...  I hadn't associated the name with the UGA football program since I, along with most of the Bulldog Nation, breathed a sigh of relief upon his firing in early December of 2009.  Recalling Martinez's tenure as defensive coordinator a five-year stint of seemingly a steady decline in defensive performance with each passing season and the Bulldogs' disappointing defensive play in 2012 invoked a question of whether or not Georgia's defense had actually performed better under Grantham compared to the final few seasons coordinated by Martinez.
 
In the past, I've compared the Bulldogs' offensive production statistics of when Mark Richt was calling the plays to that of Mike Bobo.  I decided to make a similar comparison, examining Georgia's defense in the three seasons under Grantham (2010-2012) to that of Martinez's final three years as the Bulldog DC (2007 through 2009 regular season).

A quick look at the numbers reveals the 40-game Grantham regime having a slight edge in fewest total yards allowed per game (TG- 318.0; WM- 321.0) and yards yielded per play (TG- 4.92; WM- 4.96).  In the 38 games under Martinez, Georgia did total more sacks per game (WM- 2.45; TG- 2.15).  But above all, the Bulldogs under Grantham had the advantage in the two most important defensive categories of those considered: turnovers forced (TG- 2.13; WM- 1.37) and offensive touchdowns allowed (TG- 2.33; WM- 2.71) per game.

However, there is an existing perception that Grantham's defenses normally play quite well when pitted against average to lower-tier offenses; however, Grantham's troops have often had their struggles in stopping productive offenses.

Therefore, believing it would be a better comparison of the effectiveness of their defensive units, I compared the two coordinators when only faced with an offense that would finish its respective season ranked in the nation's top 50 in total offense, or slightly better than the top half of the approximately 120 FBS teams (current total offense rankings were considered for Grantham in 2012).  During the three-season periods, both coordinators faced a top-50 offense roughly one third of the time (Martinez- 12 games; Grantham- 13 games). 

For what the comparison is worth, which might be little, its results were rather one sided and a little surprising to me (PG= per game; Three-and-Outs %= the percentage of the opposition's offensive possessions which resulted in a punt or turnover in one to three plays):
  
                                             WM         TG
Total Yards PG:                        363.5     407.4
Yards Per Rush:                     3.8        4.4
Yards Per Pass:                     7.5         7.9
Yards Per Play:                      5.5        5.7
Off. Touchdowns PG:              3.3        3.5
Sacks PG:                                    3.1        1.5
Turnovers Forced PG:            1.8         2.2
3rd Down %:                         37.7       46.4
3rd + 4th Down %:              37.3       46.3
Pts Per Red Zone Visit:            4.5         5.2
Three-and-Outs %:             25.9       26.1

Against offenses I defined as productive, Grantham's defenses forced a few more turnovers and had the slightest edge in three-and-out percentage.  However, Georgia's defenses from 2007 to 2009 performed better in every other category, particularly in yards allowed (nearly 45 less per game), yards per rush (more than a half-yard difference), sacks (twice as many), and 3rd/4th-down conversions (nearly a 10% difference).

As was the case with my Richt vs. Bobo comparison, I realize simply comparing statistics doesn't reveal the entire story, so to speak, especially when considering merely 12 or 13 games.  Personally, I prefer Todd Grantham over Willie Martinez as Georgia's DC on any day and against any offense, whether productive or one not so much.  However, what is evident is that Grantham's defenses have overall performed at a sub-par level against efficient offenses.  Apparently, this is especially the case even when compared to the final three seasons of Willie Mo's tenure.

Perhaps most telling, Georgia's record is 7-6 when Grantham's defensive unit has faced a top-50 offense; the Bulldogs were 9-3 in the 12 games with Martinez under the same circumstances from 2007 to 2009. 

Let me add, the Bulldogs will face the FBS' 24th-ranked offense (8th in rushing offense!) in a few days down in the Capital One Bowl.  Let's hope the performance by Grantham's defenders against Nebraska coincides with the viewed collective talent level of the defense, and any perception of Georgia having struggles in stopping productive offenses is at least put on hold.

December 24, 2012

Final Game Footage

'Tis the season, so my posts have been somewhat limited of late.  However, I did find time to discover some historic Bulldog-related videos, none of which I had ever seen, including rare color footage from the Orange Bowl of more than 60 years ago. 

With Georgia's final game of the 2012 season looming, I cut the footage a bit to display some Bulldogs at their best in the final games of their respective years:

1949 ORANGE BOWL vs. TEXAS

video
 
Georgia entered the 1949 Orange Bowl losers of just one game during its regular season en route to capturing an SEC championship.  On the contrary, Texas had finished its '48 campaign with only six wins in 10 games, were called a "third-rate team" by some Miami sports writers, and entered the bowl as heavy underdogs to the Bulldogs.

The silent coaches film displays the game's opening kickoff, which was fumbled by Georgia's first-string fullback, John Tillitski, and recovered by Texas' Randall Clay.  After the Longhorns ran a play and then committed a penalty, quarterback Paul Campbell was intercepted in the flat by the Bulldogs' second-string fullback, Al Bodine.  Bodine, a senior playing in his final game, lumbered for a 73-yard touchdown, causing the 1949 Orange Bowl to begin with quite a bang for the Bulldogs.

Alas, led by the rushing of eventual NFL coaching legend Tom Landry, Texas would soon take command of the game and upset the Bulldogs in the end, 41-28.  For what it's worth and for Bodine, whose only other interception at Georgia was returned for a 39-yard touchdown against Furman in 1947, the lumbering fullback remains the only Bulldog in history to tally touchdowns for each one of his interceptions with a minimum of two career picks.

1957: "THE DROUGHT BREAKER" vs. TECH

video

What is often lost in recalling fullback Theron Sapp's drought-breaking touchdown against Georgia Tech in 1957 is that it was Sapp, who not only capped the historic scoring drive, but playing linebacker on defense, started it, as well.

Following Sapp's third-quarter fumble recovery at the 50-yard line in a scoreless tie, Georgia ran the ball five consecutive times for just 11 yards.  Facing 3rd and 12 and the fact that the Bulldogs had completed just 40 passes all year, including NONE thus far in the game, Charley Britt connected with Jimmy Orr for an improbable and critical first down to the Jackets' 26-yard line.  From there, Sapp carried six straight times for 25 yards.  After Britt was stopped for no gain, Sapp crashed off his right side into the end zone for the celebrated touchdown and immortality.

Sapp's game-changing fumble recovery, nine carries for 34 hard-earned yards on the game-winning drive, and 1-yard drought-breaking touchdown snapped Tech's eight-game winning streak over Georgia with a 7-0 Bulldogs' victory.  In addition, it represents likely the only time in the history of college football that an individual jersey number was retired (Sapp's No. 40) primarily based on merely a six- or seven-minute performance in a single game.

1982: "BOCA" vs. FSU

video

Who knew Coach Richt could escape a sack a la Randall Cunningham?  As evident by his minus-42 career rushing yards on 72 rushes while at Miami, the Hurricane quarterback was far from mobile; however, at least against 14th-ranked Florida State in late-October of 1982, the Boca Raton native had all the right moves.

Richt has said that one of his goals upon signing with Miami out of high school was to be "the Heisman Trophy winner my third year."  Instead, by his third year at Miami, the once highly-recruited Richt, who had been nicknamed "Boca" by this time, had yet to start even a single collegiate game.  Nevertheless, once future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly went down with an injury in the third game of the '82 season, the Hurricane starting job was Richt's to lose. 

With Richt under center, Miami won three of four games and entered its game against the Seminoles ranked 16th in the nation.  Unfortunately, despite 273 passing yards from Richt, the 'Canes fell to the 'Noles, 24-7.  A couple days later, Richt lost the starting job when he was issued a one-game suspension for a dorm violation. When he returned to the team with two games remaining, the senior had been placed behind freshmen quarterbacks Kyle Vanderwende and Vinny Testaverde. 

Richt would never take another snap from center, establishing that Boca's performance against FSU in '82 was the final game for the Bulldog-to-be.

December 18, 2012

Christmas Came Early

Hugh at Georgia's Picture Day in 1974
A few months ago, I posted a piece on my moving and unforgettable visit with the parents of Georgia football player Hugh Hendrix.
 
As I've indicated a few times here before, Hugh was an intelligent, straight-laced individual and the "most likable player on the team," who was projected to start at offensive guard in 1976 as a senior after starting the latter half of the 1975 season.  Two months prior to the season opener, Hugh passed away from a rare blood infection within a week of merely exhibiting flu-like symptoms.  To this day, the actual cause of his fatal infection is a medical mystery.
 
In memory of Hugh, the team dedicated its '76 season to their fallen teammate.  A decal Hugh's jersey No. 64 was placed on the Bulldogs' helmets; the first time Georgia ever featured a helmet sticker in honor of someone or something.  Inspired by Hugh, the Bulldogs would go on to capture an SEC championship.
 
In short, I visited the home of Harvey and Carolyn Hendrix back in September along with a teammate of Hugh's at Georgia and a couple of his childhood friends.  During the visit, Carolyn asked me if I knew whether or not the UGA football program still gave out her son's award the Hugh Hendrix Memorial Award, which was annually awarded to the Bulldog player who "most strained his potential."

Come to find out, Hugh's award was given from 1976 through 1989, resumed for one year in 1992, and then was discontinued for reasons unknown.  I suddenly felt compelled to begin a pursuit to reestablish what had been discontinued, and said then:
 
Hugh Hendrix touched many people in life, just after his passing, and continues to do so to this day, including yours truly when I visited his parents and later stood over his grave last week. If there ever was a Bulldog player who deserved a team award in his honor for being the ultimate teammate and one who strained his potential, it is undoubtedly Hugh. The football program honored him before; it should do so again!
 
Within 15 minutes of my posting three months ago, I received an email from an Athletic Board member with a suggestion on how I could go about getting the award reestablished.  Within 48 hours of the post, I had received over 30 emails of kind words, advice, and even a few from individuals wanting to donate money to the cause.

I was truly taken aback by the amount of support from the readers of this blog.

I decided that the best route to take was to first send a letter to Greg McGarity, and then go from there.  Only two days after mailing my letter, I received a response from the AD, indicating that the athletic department was going to look into why the award was discontinued and they'd be in touch with me.

Late last week, I received an email from another prominent member of the athletic department.  After just 10 weeks since my email from McGarity, I was thrilled to read: "We are going to reestablish Hugh’s award. We are in the process of getting this done."

I soon contacted Harvey and Carolyn with the good news.  I had not previously communicated with them the efforts to reestablish the award, and didn't want them to be totally taken off guard if ever contacted by the athletic department.

Hugh with teammates Dave Christianson (No. 81),
Bubba Wilson (No. 30), and Steve Davis (No. 14) --
Photos courtesy of Hugh's friends Janice Henck & Kathy Wicks Kelley
Hugh's parents were extremely happy and appreciative that the UGA football program would continue to remember their son 36 years after his death.  "Tell everyone involved 'thank you so much' from the two of us," Carolyn said to me.  "We have been given an early Christmas gift!"
 
I concur.  With the news from the athletic department, my household received an early Christmas gift, as well.

But, why was the award discontinued to begin with?  Besides "what can I do to help?" it was the question most asked in the emails I received.
 
I don't know why the award was interrupted 20 years ago, and really don't care.  Perhaps the current regime in the athletic department doesn't even know the reason.  I can only speculate that unfortunately Hugh's award was grouped with others not associated with financial backing or a scholarship back in the early-90s, and was dropped.
 
Nevertheless, it appears what was once mysteriously interrupted will be rightfully continued.  Therefore, the question that should be asked regarding the Hugh Hendrix Memorial Award is not why, but who...
 
Who amongst the current edition of Bulldogs is worthy enough to receive such an honor?

December 13, 2012

Bulldog Legend Dispelled (kind of)

Jake Scott flies to the defender during the '69
Sugar Bowl (the day after flying out a window?)
By the end of their regular season, the 1968 Bulldogs were considered perhaps the greatest football team in the program's history; even better than the 1920 undefeated S.I.A.A. championship team, the 1942 consensus national title squad, the perfect 11-0 Bulldogs of 1946, you name it.

Georgia was expected to easily handle Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st.  The Hogs weren't even the best team in their conference that year, and they'd be facing maybe the greatest Bulldog team of all time?

The matchup seemed hardly fair.

Nevertheless, Georgia committed eight turnovers on a chilly day in New Orleans and were upset by the Razorbacks, 16-2.
 
I recently sat down with a prominent member of that '68 Bulldog team, and I just had to ask him: What happened in that Sugar Bowl game, and are the rumors true about the Bulldogs excessively partying the night before the game?
 
The stories of Georgia in New Orleans on New Year's Eve of 1968 have become near legendary, while helping explain why the team played so poorly the following day.  Among many others, Bill King of the Junkyard Blawg recently recognized the partying in a piece he did on Jake Scott a couple of years ago. 
 
One of the original books on UGA football Jesse Outlar's Between the Hedges from 1974 even acknowledged the carousing with a joke: New Orleans taxi driver attempted to cheer up a group of saddened Bulldog followers following the loss to Arkansas.  He said with a straight face, "I don’t understand what happened to that Georgia team.   When I brought several of them to the hotel at 2 a.m. this morning, they told me there was no way they could lose to Arkansas."
 
When the Bulldogs were preparing to face Pittsburgh in the 1977 Sugar Bowl, Coach Vince Dooley issued a strict curfew on his team for the entire week leading up to the game.  Seemingly, he had learned his lesson from eight years before: "It's been my experience any team that has ever gone to New Orleans and lost spent too much time on Bourbon Street," said Dooley the week of the game.
 
In Tony Barnhart's What It Means to Be a Bulldog from 2004, the '68 Georgia starting quarterback, Mike Cavan, brings up the rumor of he, Scott, and fullback Brad Johnson being on Bourbon Street the night before the game until 4:00 AM: "Let's get the record straight...I can't speak for Brad or Jake, but I was in my room..." says Cavan.
 
Concerning the rumors of excessive partying prior to the Sugar Bowl, the '68 player, who was very forthright during our interview, summed it up as "all nonsense."
 
The player said that Coach Dooley would say prior to every game that there would be only a few game-winning or game-changing plays that would transpire and be the difference between which team was about to win and which would soon lose, whether the final result was close or a rout.
 
"Dooley would say that we had to expect every play to be one of these possible 'game-winning' plays; therefore, we needed to give it our all on every play," said the player.
 
Apparently in the '69 Sugar Bowl, the Razorbacks had a number of game-changing plays, whereas the Bulldogs had just one.  Trailing 10-2, Georgia recovered an Arkansas fumble on the kickoff to start the second half.  Looking to tie the game, the Bulldogs moved 18 yards in five plays.  Facing 3rd and goal from the Hogs' 2-yard line, Georgia's game-changing play ensued:

 
video
 
According to the player, Dooley always said that if a team physically dominates a football game, odds are it'll likely win.  If it successfully executes more game-winning plays than its opponent, it'll definitely win.  In the '69 Sugar Bowl, Georgia physically dominated Arkansas but didn't execute its lone game-changing play.  Evidently, that's why the Bulldogs lost, not because of staying out late in the Big Easy.
 
"After the game, I overheard an Arkansas player say that he couldn't believe they got their ass kicked by us, but they still won the game," said the player.
 
But what about the rumored partying from the night before?  Were there players out and enjoying New Orleans into the early morning?
 
"From what I know, the entire team was shut up in the hotel and couldn't get out," said the player.  
 
In fact, this particular Bulldog tried to get ice on his floor; the machine was broken.  He tried to get ice on a different floor of the hotel, but couldn't because security wouldn't allow players to leave their respective floors.  "There were police at every exit," he added.
 
"If players got out on Bourbon Street that night, they must have flown out the window to get there," said the player.  He continued with a laugh, "Now, I will say that Jake Scott was smart enough that he might have brought a police uniform on the trip to escape."
 
That, or knowing what is rumored regarding the legendary Scott, he literally flew out the window...

December 7, 2012

Should've, Would've, Could've

When the 78th Heisman Trophy is handed out tomorrow night, history likely will be made in college football  for the first time, a freshman will take home the coveted award.  However, 32 years before there was "Johnny Football," another freshman and a true freshman, at that should've received the trophy, and would've if the same voting mindset, but mostly the voting deadline of today prevailed in 1980.
 
A little over a week ago, I simply shook my head when I heard Kirk Herbstreit's televised plea to Heisman voters: "I keep encouraging everybody, if you’re going to not vote for Johnny [Manziel], if it’s on his ability or his game or his season, that’s fine," said the ESPN college football analyst. "But let’s avoid not voting for him because he’s a freshman. That’s crazy."
 
My, how times have changed.  What is now crazy was once the mindset of many Heisman Trophy voters.  Herschel Walker could've won the Heisman Trophy in 1980 if he had not been a freshman.  However, as declared in the media back then only days leading up to the award's presentation, "because [South Carolina's George] Rogers is a senior he is considered the frontrunner" and "Rogers' status as a senior gives him the edge over Herschel Walker."
 
Notably, what should have given Herschel the edge over Rogers was the fact that when the two faced head-to-head on November 1st, Georgia defeated South Carolina 13-10, while the eventual 3rd-place Heisman finisher outgained the eventual winner 219 rushing yards to 168.  In addition, Rogers lost a critical fumble in Bulldog territory late in the game, costing the Gamecocks a victory.
 
But more so than Walker or Rogers' class status, by Friday, November 28th the day Heisman ballots were due Rogers 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 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, Herschel 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 prior.  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," said Coach Vince Dooley after Rogers won the Heisman. "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," Dooley added.

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, the last impression of the freshman phenom for Heisman voters was an un-Herschel-like performance against Auburn on November 15th. Walker gained just 77 yards on 27 carries (2.9 average) against the Tigers and did not even lead his own team in rushing.

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.

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 the regular season had ended.

And, don't even get me started on the two backs' bowl performances...  Too late.  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.  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 loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl. 
 
The two bowl performances helped prove who really was deserving of the 1980 Heisman Trophy, and who should have been the initial freshman to take home the award.

History has shown repeatedly 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, could've...

December 4, 2012

Look a Heah, Hot

It has taken me a few days to fully process the Bulldogs' loss in the SEC Championship, while I remain a man of few words following the heartbreaking defeat.  In fact, I have just three words to describe my feelings concerning its end result: As Florida Evans once so infamously proclaimed...
 
But, it's time to move on and look forward to Georgia's bowl game, capping hopefully a 12-win campaign and adding the 2012 season as a rather memorable one to the annals of Bulldog football.
 
Less from a month from now, the Bulldogs will face the Nebraska Cornhuskers for only the second time in history.  And, although the outcome of the teams' initial game was one quite forgettable for Georgia enthusiasts, the 1969 Sun Bowl is known for a tale which might be the best Bulldog bowl story of all time (extracted from Loran Smith's Dooley's Dawgs):
 
Entering the Sun Bowl without a win in four games, the 5-4-1 Bulldogs had no business facing a Nebraska program that was amidst a 32-game non-losing streak.  This mismatch was never more evident as the Cornhuskers led 38-0 midway through the final quarter.  Georgia experienced one of its few highlights of the game when quarterback Paul Gilbert scored a touchdown on a 6-yard keeper.  
 
Obtained from a reputable Nebraska football historian, the following video (with audio from the Cornhusker radio broadcast) is of the Bulldogs' lone score from the game.  Unfortunately, any exchange between Georgia's Poss and an opposing Cornhusker on the PAT is not in view:
 
video

 
Also obtained from this same historian was a bit of information:  Apparently, Nebraska's Rich Glover in fact did not play in the '69 Sun Bowl; he was a true freshman that year in a time when freshmen were ineligible to play varsity college football.
 
Regardless, the piece on the Sun Bowl from Loran's book remains an excellent and humorous narrative, supporting that sometimes the best told story is one that's a little embellished (especially if it's an old football story).  It's just too bad the lopsided 45-6 final score wasn't a bit exaggerated as well...