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February 26, 2010

Recognizing the 1910 Red & Black

Image from the University's Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library—photo of the 1910 team secured on a piece of cardboard with the Georgia-GA Tech score from that season written at its top.

Over the next couple months, I'm going to post a few entries about the Georgia football team from exactly 100 years ago—the 1910 Red and Black squad—likely the best at UGA in the program's first three decades. 

I'm rather familiar with this Georgia squad.  For one of my books, I did extensive research on the team and found its players and head coach, details of games/practices, and the overall "goings on" of the school at the time, to be some of the most unusual and fascinating accounts in all of my research on UGA football (of course, it was a century ago).

To fully appreciate the 1910 Red and Black football team, you have to first understand its foundation, or lack thereof.

(The UGA football team did not have an official nickname until 1920 when "Bulldogs" was adopted. Until then, Georgia was labeled by several nicknames, most predominantly "the Red and Black.")

This was a program that, on the whole, had been quite sub-par since its beginning in 1892, registering a losing 50-53-10 overall record (and I include these four "unofficial" games, three of which are victories). 

Call the 1892-1909 Georgia squads the South Carolina Gamecocks of the last 20 years—mostly average teams, several stinkers, and only a couple campaigns that were noteworthy.

In 1909, Georgia had a record of just 2-4-2 and scored a total of only 19 points the entire season.  In fact, the Red and Black's offense had been far from potent for quite some time entering 1910, scoring just 46 points in its last 14 games dating back to late October of 1908.  That's an average of a whopping 3.3 points per game! 

As far as the 1910 season, Georgia was envisioned to be no better than the last several years; five of the previous seven seasons ended in losing campaigns.

The Red and Black returned only five players from the year before and, of the 1910 newcomers, the most promising recruits failed to meet the school's entrance requirements.  Also, the schedule was alleged to be very difficult despite starting the season against two prep schools—Locust Grove and the Gordon Institute—at UGA's Herty Field.

"The football prospects for Georgia are not brightening by any means," declared Joseph Brown of The Atlanta Constitution the day before the Locust Grove game.

To make matters worse, the team apparently wasn't even properly equipped for the rigors of its upcoming season.  "An attempt is being made to get a training table for the team," reported Brown, "but it is not definitely decided yet that it can be secured." 

You're familiar with the old saying/excuse, "We're just two players away..."  Looking back at Georgia from 1910, it was a legitimate motto for the team as it entered the season.  Except for two players, the Red and Black was just two people—a player and a coach—away from being successful. 

I seriously doubt anyone, not even those two individuals—halfback Bob McWhorter and head coach Alex Cunningham—remotely had a clue the impact they were about to make on UGA and southern football.

February 24, 2010

A Salute to Smiley

A few days ago marked the 65th anniversary of the start of World War II's Battle of Iwo Jima and the death of a heroic Bulldog.

Howard "Smiley" Johnson (Photo: UGA Sports Communications) was considered one of Georgia's most outstanding guards during the 1930s.  He is also one of only a handful of Bulldogs to letter under three different head coaches—Harry Mehre (1937), Joel Hunt (1938), and Wally Butts (1939). 

Freelance writer and military historian Jeffrey Williams is writing a biography of Smiley Johnson.  The author recently put together this story on the bravest of Bulldogs: 

Remembering Smiley: Bulldog, Packer and Maui Marine

By Jeffrey S. Williams

It has now been 65 years since former Green Bay Packers guard/linebacker, Howard W. “Smiley” Johnson was killed in action while serving as a first lieutenant with the 23rd Marines at Iwo Jima. Of the 32 Packers who served in the military during World War II, he was the team’s only casualty.

1st Lt. Johnson died late in the afternoon on Feb. 19, 1945, the day of the Iwo Jima invasion, from wounds sustained when a Japanese shell landed near him as he returned to his command post. Four enlisted Marines were wounded in the explosion, and it is said that Johnson refused medical attention until the enlisted Marines were treated first.

Smiley Johnson will not rank among more notable Packers from that era, guys like Cecil Isbell, Don Hutson, Arnie Herber or Tony Canadeo, since he only played in 22 games during the 1940 and 1941 seasons, but his athleticism, grit and determination could have extended his career greatly had the war not interfered.

Born and raised in Tennessee, he was known for outstanding play in basketball, baseball, boxing and football by the time he graduated from high school in Clarksville, Tenn. He was 5-foot-10 and weighed 160 pounds when he began his collegiate career as a guard for the University of Georgia in 1937, head coach Harry Mehre’s final season. He also played for the Bulldogs in 1938, Joel Hunt’s only season as head coach; and for Wallace Butts in 1939, the first year in a stellar coaching career that spanned nearly a quarter decade.

Johnson wasn’t your stereotypical football player. He had a deep southern drawl and didn’t drink, smoke, chew or swear. He was a very polite gentleman who read his Bible every night. In a sense, he could be considered the first “Minister of Defense,” the title that a half century later was bestowed upon another Packer, defensive end Reggie White.

In August 1940, Johnson arrived in Green Bay as a 200-pound undrafted free agent who played guard and linebacker, reuniting with his former Bulldog teammate, Pete Tinsley. The Packers, under head coach Earl “Curly” Lambeau, were the three-time defending NFL champions.

George Strickler, a friend of Johnson’s, recounted a story in a 1951 issue of the Chicago Sunday Tribune, about how excited Smiley was when finally played in an exhibition game against the College All-Stars.

“In the fourth quarter, Coach Curly Lambeau sent him in – and he stay in until the final minute of play,” Strickler wrote. “Rushing off the field, grimy, sweaty and liberally sprinkled with welts, he grabbed me along the side lines and cried: ‘Ah made it, Gawg, Ah made it!’ Smiley wouldn’t like me to tell it, but there were tears welling out of his eyes and down over the welts. Smiley Johnson was a happy guy. Once again he had not failed.”

Smiley’s first regular season game, a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay’s City Stadium on Sept. 15, 1940, was also the 250th regular season game in the team’s history dating back to 1919.

Two months later, he was a part of NFL history when Lambeau flew the team from Chicago to New York City on two airplanes for a Nov. 17 matchup against the Giants. It was the first time an NFL team flew to their destination instead of taking a bus or train. However, two losses to the Chicago Bears kept the 1940 Packers squad from repeating at NFL Champions.

Johnson returned to Georgia after the season and married his college girlfriend, Marie Jackson, in a small ceremony in Anderson, S.C., on Dec. 29, 1940. He served as Physical Director for the National Youth Administration at College Park, Ga., before heading back to Green Bay for his second season.

The 1941 season again showed promise of another NFL Championship for the Packers. They sported a 10-1 record including an eight-game winning streak to conclude the regular season. A come from behind victory at Washington kept them in the hunt for the NFL title. Their only loss came to the Chicago Bears in the season’s third week.

Lambeau took his team to Chicago the following week to watch the Bears take on the Chicago Cardinals. With the Bears 34-24 victory, they also finished with a 10-1 record, forcing the first divisional playoff in NFL history – a rematch against the Packers that was set for Dec. 14 at Wrigley Field. But the news of the day was not the impending NFL history but America’s entry into World War II. The public address announcer informed all servicemen in attendance to report to their units, and then announced that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Bears won the following week’s playoff, 33-17.

Defensive stats were not kept by the league in the early 1940s, so it is unknown how many tackles, sacks and fumble recoveries Johnson had, though he did record the only interception of his career in the 1941 season, which he returned for 10 yards.

Following his short-lived Packers career, Smiley enlisted into the United States Marine Corps and attended basic training in San Diego the next month before being assigned to Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Oahu, Hawaii. Though he never requested it, he was offered a commission while in Hawaii, and returned to Quantico, Virginia for his commissioning program. In the summer of 1943, 2nd Lt. Howard W. Johnson was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines of the newly formed 4th Marine Division. He departed for Camp Pendleton, Calif., by train on July 7.

In a 1983 Green Bay Press-Gazette story, Dick Waldo, a fellow Marine who traveled with him on the train, recalled an incident that occurred in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I first met him on a troop train and I was surprised, because he was a college man and all. I figured he’d be an officer’s candidate. He was always working out on this train,” Waldo recalled. “I remember we stopped in Albuquerque, and there were a couple of other pro-athletes on the train and he challenged them to a wind sprint, right there in the depot. It was the darndest thing you ever saw, to see these two guys running right through the train station. And he won.”

In December 1943, Marie gave birth to their daughter, Jenny Lynne. Late on the night of Jan. 12, 1944, he had a surprise reunion with his wife and young daughter before slipping back to San Diego to board the U.S.S. Calvert, where he along with the rest of the division departed just after daybreak. It would be their last reunion.

As part of “Operation Flintlock,” the 4th Marine Division secured the islands of Roi and Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll on Feb. 1-2, 1944, becoming the first division to go directly into combat from the United States. It was their first combat action.

The division returned to Maui, Hawaii, for training and resupply later in the month. While in Maui, Johnson was the star player on the division’s football team, the Maui Marines. Coached by Lt. Col. Leroy “Pat” Hanley, the former Boston University coach, the Maui Marines decimated their opponents – Aiea Barracks, Kaneohe Klippers, Transcient Center, Ford Island, Barber’s Point and the Seebees – going undefeated in all six games and scoring a combined total of 164 points to their opponent’s six. The Kaneohe Klippers were the only team to score.

The Saipan invasion began on June 15, 1944, and the Marines of Johnson’s battalion were chosen to take the lead in the assault. They landed on Blue Beach 1 just before 9 a.m., passed through the town of Charan-Kanoa and drove inland towards Mount Fina Susu. After they dug in for the night, the battalion was met with point-blank fire by the Japanese defenders. During the next 24 grueling days, the division made their way across the island then swept over the Kagman Peninsula, cleaned out the last resistance from a failed banzai attack, and help secure the airfield that a year later would launch the Enola Gay on its famous bombing mission over Hiroshima.

During the Saipan battle, 2nd Lt. Johnson earned the Silver Star. His citation reads, in part, “When the enemy counterattacked the flank position held by his platoon, First Lieutenant Johnson daringly directed the defense, exposing himself to heavy fire and helping annihilate in hand-to-hand conflict the Japanese who penetrated the position.” He was promoted to first lieutenant on July 3, prior to the division’s assault on the island of Tinian, scheduled for July 12. The award citation was written after his promotion. It was at Tinian where the division proved their mettle by withstanding repeated enemy counterattacks.

At last, it was time for the 4th Marine Division to return to Maui for more resupply and training in what would be their toughest mission yet, Iwo Jima.

Early on the morning of Feb. 19, 1945, the lieutenant, like a vast majority of the other Marines, ate a breakfast of steak and eggs aboard his troop transport. At daybreak, instead of seeing the white beaches and palm trees like at Roi-Namur, or the luscious sugar cane fields of Saipan and Tinian, he and his fellow Marines were confronted with a black and gray island with an ominously large volcano at its southern tip.

The first and second battalions of the 23rd Marines landed at 9 a.m. on Yellow Beaches 1 and 2, and pushed their way slowly towards the edge of Motoyama Airfield No. 1. First Lieutenant Johnson’s battalion was held in reserve until 4:55 p.m., when they went ashore as the command “dig in for the night,” was given. Lieutenant Johnson supervised his platoon’s defenses as they dug in and returned to the command post, where he was killed. Johnson was only 28 years old.

The 4th Marine Division suffered 9,098 casualties during the six-week Iwo Jima operation, 1,462 were killed in action and 344 died of wounds. Along with the others, 1st Lt. Howard W. “Smiley” Johnson was buried in the division’s cemetery, dedicated on March 15. He received a second award of the Silver Star, which consisted of a gold star “cluster.”

Along with other Iwo Jima Marines, his remains were removed from the division’s cemetery in 1949, and re-interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (better known as the “Punchbowl”) near Honolulu. He was buried on Feb. 2, 1949 in plot C-359.

Johnson has not been forgotten. When the division returned to Maui, they named the new baseball and football field, “Smiley Johnson Field,” in his honor. In 1968, George Crumbley, executive director of the Peach Bowl, announced that the “Smiley Johnson Award” would go to the game’s most valuable defensive player. In 2005, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame erected a display case at its exhibit entrance in Johnson’s honor.

Throughout his life, whether it was football, family, work or the Marine Corps, Smiley Johnson lived out his faith. When Reggie White, the great Hall of Fame defensive end and ordained minister entered the gates of heaven on Dec. 26, 2004, he was probably greeted by a fellow Tennessee-born Packer with a thick southern drawl saying, “Yuh made it, Gawg, yuh made it!”

Note: A life-long Packers fan, award winning photojournalist and military historian, Williams is a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force Reserve’s 934th Airlift Wing public affairs office in Minneapolis. He is currently writing Smiley Johnson’s biography. He may be reached at skydancer506@gmail.com.

February 22, 2010

While we await the arrival of Uga VIII...

I was recently asked by the Bleacher Report to write an article on the top 10 moments in the lives of the Ugas. 

It's rather fitting since the revealing of Uga VIII should occur by or during the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4. 

If you're interested, here's the article

Six or seven of the 10 moments came pretty easily to mind.  Admittedly, I had to really think hard for a couple of them and I'm sure I omitted a great moment or two.

February 19, 2010

Even the Great Hoage Wasn't a "Starter"...

...in 1983 when he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

I received an email yesterday in response to my most recent post on Georgia's defense returning only four starters.  The reader expands on my comments of how examining solely the number of returning starters can be quite misleading:
Look at UGA going into 1988.  Their starter at tailback from the year before was gone but Rodney Hampton was returning after rushing for almost 900 yards in '87 as a freshman backup.  But if you just looked at returning starters on offense instead of returning "experience" (as you put it), you'd never know of Hampton's return and what an asset that was.
Well put.  In 1987, tailback Lars Tate rushed for a tad over 1,000 yards while starting 10 of 11 regular-season games for the Dogs.  Hampton, who started the one other game at tailback, rushed for 890 and provided a valuable relief of the senior Tate.

Georgia's defense for the upcoming season doesn't necessarily return its version of Rodney Hampton—a non-starter from the year before who undeniably had starter-like experience and statistics—but the reader's email did cause me to think of the top Bulldog non-starters of all time, besides Hampton in '87, for a given season. 

Very random, I know... and I'm sure I'm forgetting at least a player or two.

RICHARD TARDITS (backup defensive end in 1987), Starter: Vince Guthrie
Tardits, a rugby player from Biarritz, France, came to UGA in 1985 not knowing the rules of American football.  Nevertheless, he walked-on to the football team and made the squad as a pass-rushing specialist. 

As a junior in 1987, Tardits, nicknamed "the Biarritz Blitz" and "Le Sack," recorded 10 sacks without starting a single game.  Vince Guthrie, who had three sacks in '87, started all 11 games ahead of Tardits.  In Georgia's fourth game of the season, Tardits earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week against South Carolina.  His 17 career sacks his first three seasons was third all time at Georgia and all came without a career start.  Tardits finally became a Bulldog starter in 1988 at outside linebacker, making 12 more sacks for a career total of 29 while earning All-SEC recognition.

JIMMY PAYNE (backup defensive tackle in 1982), Starter: Stan Dooley/Freddie Gilbert
Payne entered his senior season of '82 a two-time All-SEC selection, already the school's career leader in sacks, and one of the most-feared defenders in Bulldog history.  After a spectacular performance in a season-opening victory over Clemson, Payne injured his knee against BYU the following game and was never really the same the rest of the season.  At one point in October, he reinjured his knee while rehabbing it in a swimming pool.  

After recording 28 sacks his first three years, Payne had none in '82 but was second on the team in tackles for loss.  In his absence, teammate Stan Dooley would play defensive end and Freddie Gilbert, who would normally play end, was moved to Payne's tackle position.  Despite playing in just seven games, starting only five, Payne was named first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and first-team All-SEC for a third time.

TIM WORLEY (backup tailback in 1988), Starter: Rodney Hampton
Worley is the only Bulldog in history to have Heisman Trophy flyers distributed on his behalf during a season without having started a single game.  After being redshirted in 1987, Worley began his junior season of '88 as Georgia's backup tailback to Rodney Hampton.  Hampton started the first seven games of the season but it was Worley gaining most of the yardage.  

After he rushed for 860 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in seven games, UGA promptly began Worley's Heisman campaign.  He soon took over as the primary tailback, starting the final four regular-season games, when Hampton went down with a shoulder injury.  A legitimate Heisman candidate until mid-November, Worley finished the year with 1,216 rushing yards and was responsible for 20 touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return and two on halfback passes, despite not starting for the Bulldogs until late October.

FRAN TARKENTON (backup quarterback in 1959), Starter: Charley Britt
Has a college quarterback ever been named consensus first-team all-conference having not started a single game?  Georgia's Fran Tarkenton in 1959 might be the only player ever to accomplish such a distinction. 

In his SEC championship season of '59, Coach Butts used his quarterbacks—1957 and '58 starter and senior Charley Britt and junior Tarkenton—as situations dictated after Britt started each game.  Tarkenton passed for nearly 900 yards (including Orange Bowl victory), completed 60 percent of his passes, and scored 12 touchdowns passing/rushing (Britt: just 331 yards, 44 percent, six TDs), despite Britt starting every game.  In addition, Tarkenton, along with tackle Jimmy Vickers, were the only Bulldogs named both AP and UPI first-team All-SEC.

TERRY HOAGE (backup roverback in 1983), Starter: John Little
As impressive as Tarkenton's non-starter distinction was in 1959, Terry Hoage's in 1983 might even be more remarkable.  Hoage, a consensus first-team All-American as a junior in 1982, was plagued by injuries for most of his senior season.  Suffering through tendonitis, ankle and knee injuries, roverback Hoage played in eight games in 1983, starting just five, including two out of position at safety.  Freshman John Little was Georgia's primary starter at rover that year, starting six games. 

Hoage also went through a two-month stretch, from late October until two days before the Bulldogs' January 2nd meeting with Texas in the Cotton Bowl, where he did not practice at all because of his injuries.  Regardless, Hoage, who has been called by Coach Dooley the best defensive player he ever coached, was considered one of college football's most outstanding players in 1983. 

"Hoage should win the Heisman Trophy," said Billy Harper of the Athens Banner-Herald in 1983.  "He's more valuable to his team than any other player in America.  He's as valuable as Herschel Walker last year."  Hoage didn't win the Heisman in '83 but he did finish fifth; seven voters selected him the winner.  Since Hoage's fifth-place finish, only three other defensive players have finished in the top five for the Heisman, and none of those have been defensive backs.

There you have it... three All-Americans (two who made a run at the Heisman Trophy), an All-SEC quarterback, and a "Biarritz Blitz"—five Bulldogs who had exceptional and memorable campaigns in seasons where they were considered merely backups.

February 17, 2010

And Then There Were Four

Justin Houston is one of just four Bulldog starters returning on defense in 2010.  Should this few number of returning starters be a concern? (Photo: GeorgiaDogs.com) 

I've noticed mentioned in some early, preseason previews for 2010 a repeated and seemingly alarming observation regarding Georgia's defense: it only returns four starters from last season.

If you're a Dawg fan, should that fact alone be of concern?

A college football team's number of returning starters is a fundamental component of most preseason predictions and rankings.  Maybe it's a reason why Georgia is ranked rather low, if at all, in the preseason national rankings for the upcoming year.

Vegas will also put heavy stock into the number of returning starters in setting their season-opening lines.  This is one reason why many professional gamblers, taking much more into consideration when analyzing teams, are more successful earlier in the season than later.

First off, the fact the Bulldogs return only four starters on defense is somewhat misleading.

Besides the four starters, Georgia returns six reserve defenders from a year ago, who combined for 11 starts in 2009 and 30 in their careers at Georgia.  Forecasting how the Bulldogs will perform defensively in 2010 is further complicated with the arrival of a new defensive coordinator, who is installing a new defensive scheme while hopefully instilling a new attitude.

For Georgia in 2010, what starters are returning, the returning "experience," and the overall potential of its defense should be what is considered.

Although you would think the number of returning starters for most college football teams would be of at least some significance.  For Georgia, historically, I wanted to find out just how significant, if at all.

I found the number of returning defensive starters for the Bulldogs the past 38 seasons (1973-2010).  I decided to begin with 1973 since this was the season after which freshmen were eligible to play varsity football.

Georgia's four returnees on defense is historically low, considering the returning average over the past 38 years is approximately six (5.89), including nearly the same exact average (5.90) during the Coach Richt regime.

Including the upcoming 2010 campaign, the Bulldogs returned four defensive starters or less from the year before entering six of the 38 seasons: 1975 (2), 1978 (3), 1981 (4), 1989 (4), 2007 (3), 2010 (4).

Notably, two of Georgia's most-acclaimed defenses of all time, the 1975 "Junkyard Dogs" and the unit of 1981, returned four or fewer starters.  Both defenses yielded less points and yards per game than the previous seasons.  The Junkyard Dogs also forced more turnovers and had a better record than the 1974 squad.

I would think if a defense returned four or less starters from the year before, for the most part, it would allow more yards and points the next season, force less turnovers, and its team's record would decline.  However, this is certainly not the case overall with Bulldog defenses since 1973.

In the five seasons prior to 2010 when Georgia's defense returned four or less starters, the Bulldogs actually allowed less points than the year before four times and less yardage in three of the five seasons.  Additionally, Georgia twice forced more turnovers and twice improved upon its record from the previous season.

Conversely, the Bulldogs have returned eight defensive starters or more from the year before also entering six seasons: 1976 (8), 1980 (8), 1982 (8), 1991 (10), 2008 (8), 2009 (8).  Notice Georgia had eight returning starters in both 2008 and 2009 and we surely remember how those two defensive units performed in many of its games.

In these six seasons, the Bulldogs actually allowed more points and forced less turnovers than the year before in half of them. Additionally, Georgia had a worse record in two seasons and twice allowed more yardage than the previous year.

So, in conclusion, should Bulldogs fans be concerned that Georgia returns only four starters on defense for this upcoming season?  If the best predictor of the future is the past, not at all.

February 15, 2010

Five Dawgs Who'll Need to Step Up in 2010

The 2010 season opener for the Georgia Bulldogs is nearly seven months away but it is not too early to begin considering what it will take for the Dawgs to be successful next fall.

Personally, I believe Georgia can vastly improve upon its five-loss campaign from a year ago and strongly contend for the SEC East title. However, to reach the SEC Championship Game, the team will need several inexperienced and/or young players and even a brand new Bulldog to promptly step up their game.

If the majority of these Bulldogs raise their performance levels this season, Georgia should improve upon its 8-5 mark from 2009. If all five of these Dawgs do so, we’ll likely see them in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 4.

The 43-year-old Grantham, the third-highest paid assistant in college football, arrives in Athens from the Dallas Cowboys with a fat wallet and a plan to switch Georgia from the 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme.

Many of the Bulldog Nation remember the last time Georgia ran a 3-4 defense. Prior to Grantham, it was also the last time the Bulldogs welcomed a new defensive coordinator whose previous job had been in the NFL.

Marion “Swamp Fox” Campbell, a coach in the NFL for 28 seasons, came to Georgia in 1994 and installed a 3-4 base defense. The result for the Bulldogs was arguably their worst defensive performance in modern history.

The 394 yards it allowed per game in ’94 still ranks as the second highest yielded by Georgia since yardage totals started being recorded at the school in 1946. Campbell resigned after just one season.

Granted, a fair comparison cannot be made between the new and former defensive coordinators. Campbell was 65 years old when he came to Georgia and five years removed from his last coaching position.

On the other hand, while Grantham was in Dallas, there were those in the NFL who often wondered why he was simply a position coach, indicating it was only a matter of time until he landed a distinguished job in football. That time has come.

Grantham exhibits a fiery and hard-nosed personality on the sidelines similarly to Georgia’s two most celebrated defensive coordinators in recent memory—Erk Russell (1964-80) and Brian VanGorder (2001-04).

Grantham, the Bulldogs’ tenth defensive coordinator in 31 years, will hopefully attempt to instill discipline and intensity—characteristics the Georgia defense, which allowed an average of more than 25 points per game during the 2008-2009 seasons, has rarely demonstrated of late.

Georgia fans expect Grantham to turnaround a defense that was known for committing penalties, not forcing turnovers, and giving up lots of points the past two years.

Also expected are defensive performances not resembling those once coached by the newly-departed Willie Martinez or, even worse, the Swamp Fox. Instead, desired is a defense reminiscent of the units under Erk and VanGorder.

When contemplating which Georgia receiver needs to step up the most this upcoming season, I, like other Dawg fans, immediately think of sophomore Marlon Brown.

However, on second thought, how much room is there for Brown to show significant improvement?

Brown, the top prospect out of the state of Tennessee a year ago, played sparingly for the Bulldogs in ’09 as a true freshman. Entering the spring, the 6’5”, 200 lb sophomore will likely be listed on only Georgia’s third team.

At wide receiver, the Bulldogs also return Kris Durham, who was redshirted last season after finishing fifth on the team in receiving in 2008, Rantavious Wooten, Israel Troupe, and, of course, A.J. Green, who will get some preseason Heisman Trophy hype entering the upcoming season.

Last year, Green easily was the team leader with 53 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns. His receptions and yardage were more than twice that of Georgia’s second-leading receiver. Notably, Green’s impressive numbers were achieved while missing nearly four entire games in November.

Yet, the wideout of the entire bunch who’ll need to step up the most is sophomore Tavarres King.

In 2010, the Dawgs need a wide receiver to fully compliment the dynamic Green—one who can play a much bigger role for Georgia than the Bulldogs’ so-called secondary receivers from a year ago, especially considering Green has shown to be prone to injury.

For Brown, the Bulldogs’ sixth-best receiver, maybe fifth, what is there to “step up” to? Second team on Georgia’s depth chart?

Instead, the focus should be on another sophomore receiver in King.

As only a freshman last season, King finished second on the team in receiving yardage and first in starts at wide receiver with nine. Similar production, if not more, should be expected in 2010.

In Georgia’s move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, the Bulldogs will need just one tackle, instead of the previous two, in their starting lineup. The switch cannot come at a better time as Georgia loses three defensive tackles—Gino Atkins, Jeff Owens, and Kade Weston—who combined for 83 career starts and all could possibly be selected in this year’s NFL Draft.

Junior DeAngelo Tyson is the early favorite to fill Georgia’s lone starting tackle spot on the defensive line, just ahead of sophomore Abry Jones, who has actually indicated he would rather play at end.

Tyson recorded only 12 tackles a year ago but four of them came in Georgia’s upset of seventh-ranked Georgia Tech. He also blocked a critical PAT attempt by South Carolina kicker Spencer Lanning, preserving a 38-37 fourth-quarter lead in the Bulldogs’ 41-37 win over the Gamecocks last September. With the block, Tyson became only the seventh Dawg since 1982 to block a PAT.

The most important position in a 3-4 defense could be the man in the middle of the line. Coach Grantham has indicated he wants that man to quickly come off the ball, get through blocking, and swiftly penetrate. Although somewhat inexperienced, the 6’2” 294 lb Tyson fits that role better than any other Bulldog.

Prior to arriving to Georgia, Grantham was responsible for coaching Dallas’ defensive line during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He was perhaps the main reason why Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys’ starting nose tackle, was transformed from a sixth-round selection in 2005 that recorded just 52 tackles and eight sacks his first three seasons in Dallas to an NFL All-Pro, registering 91 tackles and 13½ sacks in the two years under Grantham.

Tyson and Ratliff are approximately the same size and, although Ratliff attended Auburn, both hail from south Georgia. For now, the similarities may stop there.

When Grantham shows Tyson tape of Ratliff leading up to the 2010 season, the Bulldog nose tackle should be able to pick up a few pointers from the Dallas All-Pro. It will be just one of the many steps Tyson will need to take to fill a pivotal position in Georgia’s new defensive scheme.

Georgia returns only four starters on defense in 2010, including just one in its secondary (cornerback Brandon Boykin). However, that may not be a bad thing as the Bulldogs ranked 73rd in the nation and next-to-last in the SEC last season in pass efficiency defense.

The defensive backfield does return several players with plenty of talent, who’ll need to improve the Bulldogs’ prowess against the pass, including Vance Cuff, Bacarri Rambo, Quintin Banks, Makiri Pugh, Sanders Commings, and above all, Branden Smith.

Smith, who’ll start at the weak-side corner position, made 14 tackles last year and broke up two passes in a reserve role. The lone start he made was actually on the other side of the ball, starting at running back against Florida. It was on offense where the multi-talented, true freshman made an immediate impact for the Bulldogs.

Smith finished the 2009 campaign with 208 rushing yards (fourth-highest on the team), a whopping 12.2 yards per carry (a Georgia single-season record for players rushing for at least 150 yards), and two touchdowns. In addition, he caught two passes, was second on the team in kick returns (279 yards), and had three plays (two rushes, one kickoff return) of 48 yards or more.

Unfortunately, along with Caleb King, Smith also led the Bulldogs in fumbles lost with two. The difference between the teammates was King had 124 touches, Smith only 35.

Smith also lost a sure touchdown in the Independence Bowl against Texas A&M when it appeared he had intercepted a fourth-quarter pass and had a clear running path for the endzone. Instead, the ball bounced off his chest and fell to the ground incomplete.

Clearly, the youngster mistakenly was thinking touchdown first, making the interception second.

The last two years, the Bulldogs have landed just one five-star recruit according to Rivals—Booker T. Washington High’s Branden Smith of Atlanta. After a brilliant high school career and a promising freshman season at Georgia, it seems Smith undoubtedly has the potential to help lead an inexperienced secondary.

If the triple threat can step up his game defensively and hold onto the football as well, Smith could be a viable weapon for the Bulldogs in all three phases of the game.

It is the only position of the 11 on Georgia’s offense not returning the starter from last season and the biggest concern the Bulldogs have entering 2010—their quarterback.

Three signal callers are vying for the starting position—junior Logan Gray and redshirt freshmen Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray. Murray is the overwhelming favorite to lead the Dawgs’ offense this fall.

Georgia’s quarterbacks have combined for just 23 total offensive plays (all by Gray, two in 2008 and 21 in 2009) in their entire collegiate careers heading into this year. This total is the fewest by returning Bulldog quarterbacks going into a season since 1977. Talk about inexperience!

Nevertheless, there are many confident in Murray’s potential. The highly-touted Florida native passed for over 4,000 yards and 51 touchdowns in 2007 at Plant High in Tampa. Murray can also run the ball a little, rushing for over 900 yards that same season while averaging more than 10 yards per carry.

Besides D.J. Shockley, Murray would be the biggest running threat for a Georgia starting quarterback since Quincy Carter 10 years ago.

For the Bulldogs’ offense to be productive, Murray will need to play mostly mistake-free football—a definite challenge for a quarterback never having taken a snap in college and something Joe Cox and Gray had a difficult time achieving in 2009. Last season, the 17 interceptions thrown by Georgia was its most since 1984 and one reason for the Dawgs’ worst campaign since 1996.

In the final five games of 2009, the Bulldogs’ offensive line finally gelled and the running game, led by freshman Washaun Ealey and sophomore Caleb King, flourished. During that span, Georgia’s offense averaged 243 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry, only 21 pass attempts, and just 1.4 turnovers per game, compared to only 110 yards and 3.6 per carry, 30 passes, and 2.6 turnovers their first eight games.

Georgia was only 4-4 in their first eight games of the season but 4-1 in its final five.

With the return of Ealey and King and seven offensive linemen totaling 155 career starts, Georgia’s rushing attack is expected to be considerably strong. Thus, Murray should be only asked to manage the offense and not win games without much of a supporting cast, like Cox often attempted to do in 2009.

As was the case a year ago, if Georgia’s quarterback is able to merely manage while making few mistakes, the Bulldogs’ offense will be hard to stop and their team extremely difficult to defeat in 2010.

February 14, 2010

Call It A Comeback

Following the discouraging, 19-point loss to Auburn Wednesday night, the Bulldogs bounced back to defeat a very good South Carolina squad yesterday.  The 'Cocks, who were arguably the fifth-best team in the SEC, held a 10-point lead with just over nine minutes remaining until the Dawgs finally decided to make a late-game comeback.

In a season marred by having double-digit leads only to lose them and eventually the games by a few points, Georgia overcame its own double-digit deficit and prevailed, 66-61.  Trey Thompkins (Photo: GeorgiaDogs.com) led all players with 21 points and 10 rebounds.  He also had four assists.

The Bulldogs, the conference's best free-throw shooting team, were 20 of 23 from the charity stripe, including 9 of 9 the last 2:09.  

Georgia must face Tennessee on the road this Wednesday in an attempt to win three of four regular-season conference games for the first time since February 2007.  The Bulldogs are 0-8 in away games this season.

These Dawgs will hunt at home, however, as they improved to 10-3 on the year at the Stegosaurus (and 9-1 against the spread in their last 10 at home, might I add).

Following the victory, Georgia's honorable efforts for the season evoked Whit Watson, a co-host on the SEC TV post-game show, to declare Georgia was "maybe the best 3-7 team in any conference in America!"

Um, Whit, I think you're attempting to be complimentary; however, of the major college basketball conferences in America, as you say, Georgia is one of just four 3-7 teams and, against one of those few teams (Auburn), the Bulldogs were actually defeated the other night.  Thanks for trying, though. 

Whit's not the only one singing Georgia's praises as Coach Fox and his basketball Bulldogs are slowly but surely appealing to the masses with seemingly each passing game, especially when that game is fortunately a home contest. 

Who would've thunk it back in October? 

Fox is beginning to make chicken salad after it appeared the previous regime handed him chicken you-know-what

February 9, 2010

History in the Making?

Since I started this blog last April, it has primarily been concerned with UGA football and not much else.  In fact, now that I think about it, this is my first non-football related post. Thus, the subject matter must be "newsworthy."

As I watched the roundball Dawgs defeat 18th-ranked Vanderbilt Saturday night (Photo of Chris Barnes by David Manning) and improve to 3-2 this season against AP-ranked opponents (second-best in SEC), I speculated Georgia might be on a historical run of sorts.  So, I grabbed this year's edition of the basketball media guide and... couldn't find anything in its pages to prove me right or wrong. 

Whereas UGA's football guide proudly displays the program's results versus ranked opposition, spanning three pages, something similar is nowhere to be found in the basketball guide.  

I believe I know the reason for the omission. 

I conducted a little research and found, since the AP Poll began in college basketball in 1949, Georgia's record against ranked foes is a dismal 60-218 (21.6 percent), including 0-27 versus No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams, to date.

Georgia's "on-court" record against the ranked is 68-218.  Because of NCAA sanctions, the Dogs had to vacate 30 wins, including eight versus ranked teams, from the 2002 and 2003 seasons. 

For a comparison, the Bulldogs' all-time record against AP-ranked opponents in football is an admirable 85-115-8 (42.8 percent), including 28-19 under Coach Richt, through the '09 season.

The following is Georgia basketball's record versus ranked teams by head coach (After each coach's record versus ranked teams, in parenthesis, is the average scoring margin in those games and the coach's highest-ranking victory):

        1949: Ralph Jordan       0-2 (-42.5, n/a)
1950-1951: Jim Whatley        1-3 (-28.0, #5 Kentucky in 1950)
1952-1965: Harbin Lawson  1-26 (-25.1, #13 North Carolina in 1964)
1966-1973: Ken Rosemond  4-26 (-9.3, #5 Tennessee in 1968)
1974-1978: John Guthrie     2-22 (-14.4, #7 Tennessee in 1977 and #7 Louisville in 1977)
1979-1995: Hugh Durham    27-72 (-5.8, #3 LSU in 1981 and #3 St. John's in 1983)
1996-1997: Tubby Smith       6-7 (-2.6, #4 South Carolina in 1997)
1998-1999: Ron Jirsa           3-13 (-5.1, #12 Ole Miss and #12 Arkansas in 1998)
2000-2003: Jim Harrick*      7-20 (-7.4, #6 Tennessee in 2001)
2004-2009: Dennis Felton    6-25 (-9.0, #3 Georgia Tech in 2004) 
        2009: Pete Herrmann   0-0
        2010: Mark Fox              3-2 (+4.8, #8 Tennessee in 2010)

*Harrick's "on-court" record versus the ranked was 15-20 with a scoring margin of -3.8 and included victories over #2 Florida in 2002 and #2 Pittsburgh a season later. 

No one has ever said the University of Georgia is a basketball school, nor will anyone likely indicate as much after taking a look at those lowly records above.  The basketball program, besides Ole Miss, is probably the worst historically of the 12 current teams in the SEC.  

Success has been unachievable even more so in recent years as the Bulldogs haven't been ranked in the weekly AP Poll since March 2003.  In the conference, only Auburn (2000) hasn't been ranked more recently.

Nevertheless, despite Georgia's current losing record (10-11 overall, 2-6 SEC), this year's squad is entertaining to watch and its future certainly appears bright.  Some in the media even believe Coach Fox should be considered for SEC Coach of the Year honors for his and the team's efforts. 

Those efforts include losing by eight points or less in five of the Bulldogs' six conference losses and seated 89th in the current RPI rankings—the highest ranking of all Division I teams with a losing record and good enough for eighth best in the SEC, ahead of Alabama and Arkansas (both have winning records).  Most impressively, Georgia's three victories over ranked teams, as Ching points out, are as many as it won the previous five seasons combined. 

Since 1949, the Bulldogs have won three or more games against ranked teams, including this year, in only 10 seasons, have finished a season with a winning record against the ranked only four times (1965, 1979, 1983, 2001), and have never finished a year with a higher winning percentage than their current 60 percent (the 1979 team also went 3-2) against ranked foes.

Fox and his Bulldogs have done a commendable job this season; however, they still must face three opponents in their final eight regular-season games who are ranked in the most recent AP Poll.  It appears Georgia should have at least a couple more opportunities to better or, God forbid, worsen their current 3-2 mark.

As they enter the final month of the regular season, let's hope the Dawgs can continue to exceed expectations and upset a few more elite teams as they continue a possible, historical run for Georgia basketball.

February 5, 2010

Super Bowl Bulldogs

Great Scott!  Jake "the Snake" in Super Bowl VII—a 14-7 victory for the Dolphins over the Redskins. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

According to UGA's Sports Communications department, there have been 46 different Bulldogs appearing a total of 70 times in the Super Bowl, including Charles Grant and Jon Stinchcomb of New Orleans and Tim Jennings of Indianapolis in this Sunday's big game.

Jennings, making his second appearance, is one of 16 Dogs to play in the Super Bowl multiple times.  Five Georgia players (Clarence Kay, Guy McIntyre, Patrick Pass, Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill, and Fran Tarkenton) have been in the game three times while Richard Seymour has done so on four occasions.

Of the 67 appearances prior to Sunday's game, 37 (55+ percent) have come in a winning effort.  Of the 44 Super Bowls, Georgia has been represented by at least one player in all but nine of them and, since Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 (San Francisco vs. San Diego), there has been a Bulldog in 15 of the 16 games.

In the first 18 Super Bowls, there were 19 Georgia players.  Since then, in 26 Super Bowls, 51 Bulldogs have participated.  Even more impressive, 28 Bulldogs have appeared in just the last nine Super Bowls (3.1 players per game) compared to only 42 in the first 35 (1.2 per game).

Tight end Jermaine Wiggins is the lone Dog to have played in Super Bowls with different teams (2002 with New England and 2004 with Carolina, ironically, against New England).

With his appearance this Sunday, Jon Stinchcomb will give Georgia its first set of brothers to appear in Super Bowls.  His brother Matt was with Oakland when it faced Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII of 2003.

No offense to one of the nation's best sports information departments, but UGA's idea of "Bulldogs in the Super Bowl" is a tad misleading.  Instead, it should be referred to as "Bulldogs who were on a NFL team's roster at some point during a season when that particular team eventually made it to the Super Bowl."

From what I gather, nearly one-third of the 67 Super Bowl "appearances" before Sunday by former Bulldogs were by players who may have been on one of the two participating teams' Super Bowl rosters; however, they either did not play in the game, were injured, or inactive.

The best example of this flexible interpretation of "Bulldogs in the Super Bowl" is Daryll Jones—a reserve, true freshman quarterback on the Bulldogs' 1980 national championship team and a starter at cornerback in 1983.  Jones is listed as a member of the Denver Broncos' 1988 Super Bowl squad.

Jones did play in one game on Denver's 1987 team but it came as a "scab" during the NFL strike of that season.  The strike lasted long enough for the striking NFL players to be replaced by scabs, who played a three-game schedule in October.

The Broncos would eventually make it to Super Bowl XXII against Washington but the scabs, including Jones, had been replaced long before by the Denver regulars.

Nevertheless, there have been many legitimate appearances by Bulldogs in the history of the Super Bowl, including three players who received MVP honors.

Along with those three achievements, in no particular order, here are my top 10 Super Bowl performances/moments by former Georgia players:

Best rushing performance:  TERRELL DAVIS (Super Bowl XXXII)
Likely the greatest outing in a Super Bowl by a Georgia Bulldog, Davis' performance against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII is one of the best in the game's history.  Davis rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns, including the final one from a yard out, breaking a 24-24 tie with 1:45 remaining in the 1998 game.  The former Georgia running back also caught two passes and picked up MVP honors in Denver's 31-24 upset victory over the Packers.

Best passing performance:  FRAN TARKENTON (Super Bowl VIII)
There's not much to choose from in this category: Green Bay's Zeke Bratkowski was only a combined 0-for-1 passing in the first two Super Bowls, David Greene never took a professional snap, much less one in Super Bowl XL for Seattle, and Fran Tarkenton quarterbacked three losing Super Bowl teams.  In his first, a 24-7 loss to Miami in 1974, Tarkenton was 18-of-28 passing for 182 yards, no touchdowns and was intercepted once.  Trailing 24-0, he did rush for Minnesota's only touchdown on a four-yard run in the final quarter.    

One for the record books:  ANDRE HASTINGS (Super Bowl XXX)
In his third year in the league, Pittsburgh's Andre Hastings, a reserve wide receiver, had averaged just three catches in the Steelers' 18 previous games while not making a single start.  Nevertheless, against Dallas in the 1996 game, the Macon native caught 10 passes for 98 yards in a 27-17 loss.  At the time of the game, the 10 receptions by Hastings were the third most in Super Bowl history.

Best receiving performance:  HINES WARD (Super Bowl XL)
The very best receiving performance by a Bulldog in a Super Bowl, however, is from another Steeler—Hines Ward in the 2006 game—a 21-10 Pittsburgh win over Seattle.  In earning MVP, Ward rushed once for 18 yards and caught five passes for 123 yards, including a fourth-quarter, 43-yard touchdown on a pass from receiver Antwaan Randle El on a fake reverse.

Best defensive performance:  JAKE SCOTT (Super Bowl VII)
Miami safety Jake Scott, who remains Georgia's all-time career leader in interceptions after 41 years, picked off two errant passes thrown by Washington quarterback Billy Kilmer in the 1973 game.  The second, which occurred in the fourth quarter, was intercepted in Scott's own end zone and returned 55 yards.  In the 14-7 Dolphins win, Scott also returned two punts for four yards and was recognized as the game's MVP.

Best performance by a returner:  JAKE SCOTT (Super Bowl VIII)
A year later in the Super Bowl of '74 (See Tarkenton above), Scott returned three punts for 20 yards and two kickoffs for 47 yards.  Scott's 67 combined return yards is 46 more than the second most by a Georgia player in a Super Bowl.  The former Bulldog also recovered a Vikings fumble in the Miami win.

A great career winds down:  MACK STRONG (Super Bowl XL) 
Fullback Mack Strong had been a 12-year veteran, all with Seattle, before finally being recognized as a Pro Bowler for the 2005 season.  Soon afterwards, his Seahawks were making their first trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history (See Ward above).  Mostly a blocking back, Strong had averaged only a little more than two touches (rushes + receptions) per regular-season game.  However, against the Steelers, he carried twice for seven yards and caught two passes for 15 yards.  The following season of 2006, Strong made the Pro Bowl for a second time before retiring after the '07 campaign.

Best place-kicking performance:  KEVIN BUTLER (Super Bowl XX)
Butler, who still remains the only placekicker in the College Football Hall of Fame, was a rookie on the great 1985 Chicago Bears team that thumped New England in the Super Bowl, 46-10.  Butler was perfect against the Patriots, making all five of his PATs and three field goals, all in the first half.  A quarter-century later, his three successful field goals are still tied for second most in Super Bowl history.

Best punting performance:  BOBBY WALDEN (Super Bowl IX)
Walden played halfback at Georgia and was a gifted pass catcher, but was at his best when punting the football.  So good, in fact, he would punt 14 years in the NFL, primarily playing for the great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s.  Against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 game, Walden averaged 40.5 yards on six punts—the only 40+ punting average in the three Super Bowls where an ex-Bulldog punted.  Walden did have one of his punts blocked for a touchdown but he and the rest of the Steelers still prevailed, 16-6.

A couple of old timers:  JIMMY ORR (Super Bowl III)
In 1968, a 33-year-old Jimmy Orr, only two years from retirement, led Baltimore in receiving yards from his split end position.  Played in Miami, Super Bowl III was supposed to be an easy victory for he and the Colts (18-point favorites) over a cocky Joe Namath and the New York Jets.  Late in the first half and as the Jets led 7-0, Orr was involved in what is recognized as one of the most well-known plays in Super Bowl history.  From its 41-yard line, Baltimore ran a flea-flicker, leaving Orr wide open running towards the end zone.  Quarterback Earl Morrall decided to throw to running back Jerry Hill instead and his pass was intercepted as the first half expired.

Trailing 13-0 late in the third quarter, the Colts benched Morrall in favor of 35-year-old Johnny Unitas, who had thrown only 32 passes all season.  Orr was held without a reception until catching three fourth-quarter passes from Unitas for 42 yards.  Unitas and Orr provided Baltimore a spark but it wasn't enough as the Jets won in a shocking upset, 16-7.

Later, when asked about the infamous pass that was never thrown his way on the flea-flicker, Orr said, "Earl said he just didn't see me.  I was open from here to Tampa."  There has been some speculation that Morrall couldn't see Orr because the Florida A&M marching band (in blue uniforms similar to the Colts) had gathered behind the end zone for the halftime show.