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January 28, 2011

The Dawg Blawgs Podcast

Wednesday night, I joined ecdawg's The Dawg Blawgs podcast to discuss some ongoing issues with the Bulldog football program.  It was my pleasure to chat with Bernie (Bernie's Dawg Blog), Corbindawg (The Grit Tree), Mike in Valdosta (Dawgs BUI), and ecdawg (Leather Helmet Blog).

If you want to give a listen:

January 21, 2011

There Goes Pulpwood!

The first time I ever heard the name Andre "Pulpwood" Smith was shortly after he broke off a 50-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter of Georgia's 1984 season opener - a 26-19 Bulldogs' win over Southern Mississippi.

Assuming the highly-recruited Lars Tate, who had recently scored the first of what would eventually be 37 touchdowns in a Bulldog career, had scored again, from our seats in Sanford Stadium, I looked up at my father and asked, "Was that Lars Tate?"

"No... but I have no idea who it was," my dad responded.  

The two of us, along with most likely tens of thousands of others, had to unknowingly wait until the PA announcer declared that it was "Pulpwood" Smith who had scored - the first of what would eventually be just four touchdowns as a Bulldog.

Eight months ago, I posted the first of Smith's two touchdowns against Alabama in 1984.  Of my two dozen videos on YouTube, the clip of Pulpwood has been the most popular.  I'm guessing this is so simply because of the man, the myth, the legend of Andre "Pulpwood" Smith (or because of football-crazed Alabama fans willing to extensively search for and watch any kind of footage of their Tide). 

Now, I present nearly 10 minutes of, at times, blurry (with buzzing audio) footage from an afternoon in Birmingham when every Bulldog fan finally became accustomed with the sophomore fullback's name:

Looking back, it's certainly not surprising it took most Georgia fans some time before becoming familiar with Pulpwood.  In 1984, backs Tron Jackson and David McCluskey returned from the previous season's 10-1-1 and fourth-ranked team, the Bulldogs had signed Parade All-Americans Tate and Cleveland Gary, while JUCO-transfer Tony Mangrum was perceived to perhaps be the best of them all.

Tate, from Indianapolis and regarded as maybe "the next Herschel Walker," was so celebrated that, at one point during the opening game against Southern Miss, the stadium crowd already began chanting his name, "Lars...Tate...Lars...Tate..."

Even though he was a one-time Georgia AAAA Back of the Year, there was hardly much room for Pulpwood in the Bulldogs' stable of backs.  Despite what the play-by-play announcer indicates on the clip,  Smith did play on UGA's varsity as a true freshman in 1983, albeit for a single game, carrying four times for 25 yards in a 47-21 blowout of Kentucky. 

With Georgia only leading 16-13 in the first game of the 1984 season, you can imagine the surprise when the little-known fullback was handed the ball and sprinted 50 yards to paydirt.

A month later and following the victory over the Crimson Tide, Pulpwood was leading the team in rushing, touchdowns scored, and averaging more than eight yards per carry - an absolutely implausible four-game performance unforeseen by the Bulldogs, their followers, and even the "head" Dawg.

From an article in The Red and Black after the Alabama win, a writer stated that Vince Dooley, when asked about Pulpwood's 118-yard, two-touchdown performance, began "grasping for words and looking off for a second before moving on to another question.  The improbability of Smith's emergence choked off even Dooley's descriptive prose."

By the end of the year, Smith had secured the starting fullback position, maintained his team lead in rushing and touchdowns, and was even recognized by Dooley as "the best player on the Georgia team."  Nevertheless, Pulpwood's prominence would promptly come to an end in Athens when he became an "academic casualty" of UGA during the Winter quarter of 1985.

Andre "Pulpwood" Smith - the most distinctive "one-hit wonder" in UGA football history - was a Bulldog for only a mere season (and some change).  Just as quickly as he had sprinted into the hearts and minds of the Bulldog Nation, he disappeared - a slip away reminiscent of the two he executed against the Tide.

January 14, 2011

Where My Hogs At?

Following Georgia's loss at Colorado up until the Liberty Bowl debacle, the Bulldogs' offense received much praise in averaging 41 points and more than 415 yards per the final seven games of the regular season. 

Even in doing so, however, Georgia was hardly able to establish much of a ground game; the Dogs' mid- to late-season success on offense can primarily be attributed to a tremendous freshman quarterback and fine receiving corps (particularly, one receiver that just declared for the NFL).  

The lack of a running game was certainly evident against Central Florida in Memphis as Georgia's ground attack sputtered to gain 82 yards on 32 carries.  Even if the Knights' sacks on Aaron Murray are omitted, the Bulldogs' rushers averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt...and this was against a defense that, in three consecutive games versus East Carolina, Houston, and Southern Miss during the regular season, yielded a combined 99 points. 

As much as Murray was a pleasant surprise in 2010, Georgia's offensive line play was a major and unforeseen disappointment.  This was a unit that returned seven players from 2009 - including all five starters - that had each made at least 10 starts in their careers, totaling an extraordinary 155 total starts.  No team in the FBS returned more career starts on the offensive line than the Bulldogs.

Couple Georgia's offensive line experience with the fact the Bulldogs' running game was rather impressive during the latter part of the 2009 campaign, and things looked good for 2010.  As I stated back in June:
Notice I said "should be"...

Curious to see exactly how Georgia's offensive line play stacked up against the rest of the conference in 2010, I figured - as I did in the above link for the 2009 season - the Offensive Hog Index for the SEC this past year.

Similarly to the Defensive Hog Index, the Offensive index takes into account three statistical rankings amongst conference members where final placement is determined by the average of the three rankings.

Like my calculation for the Defensive index, for the Offensive, I figured just games against BCS-conference opponents and included bowl games.  The three measurements used were average 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.

This past season, Georgia averaged 4.84 yards per rush (7th in SEC), 9.78% of its passing plays resulted in a sack or interception (6th), and had a 41.1% success rate (7th) on third and fourth down combined. The Bulldogs’ 6.7 average ranking placed 7th in the conference:

1. Auburn (2.0)
2t. Alabama (4.7)
2t. Kentucky (4.7)
4t. Arkansas (5.7)
4t. LSU (5.7)
4t. Ole Miss (5.7)
7. Georgia (6.7)
8t. Florida (7.0)
8t. South Carolina (7.0)
10. Miss. State (8.7)
11. Vanderbilt (9.3)
12. Tennessee (11.0)

I'm not surprised that Auburn easily had the best offensive line in the SEC, according to the index, while Tennessee clearly had the worst.  Excluding Georgia, Auburn had the most returning offensive line starts from 2009 (111 starts) while Tennessee had the fewest (13).

As far as Georgia goes...  I'll mention it again, 155 starts - the most of 120 FBS teams; college football expert Phil Steele ranked the Bulldogs' offensive line in the preseason as the very best in the entire nation.

So, what happened?  Did the offensive line suddenly forget how to block in 2010?  Were the linemen, although experienced, just not all that good to begin with?

Although the Bulldogs' dropped in the index rankings, Georgia's three measurements are actually somewhat similar to the ones from a year ago.  In other words, although the Dogs may have returned lots of experience along their offensive line, those linemen did not advance with the rest of the conference.  In fact, there was no improvement from 2009 to 2010, and maybe even some decline in performance.

The bottom line: What was suppose to be perhaps the best offensive line in college football didn't even rank in the top half of its own conference.  And, for such a shortcoming, you can primarily pin the blame on any coach that had anything to do with those "experienced" linemen. 

January 8, 2011

In Desperate Need of a SUPER Class

A losing year, a coach on the hot seat...  Perhaps the only thing that can somewhat calm what looks to be a turbulent and distressing off-season is for the Bulldogs' staff to put together a top-notch recruiting class. 

With that being said, Troup's Quan Bray and Griffin's Xzavier Dickson - two highly-recruited players from the state and ones the Bulldogs really wanted and needed to land - recently committed to Auburn and Alabama, respectively.

It is the opinion of many (especially a local sports-talk radio host ad nauseam) that in order for Georgia's football program to get back to where it should be, the Bulldogs must start doing a better job of in-state recruiting.

I don't spend much time examining college football recruiting and only have little interest in it.  However, I do know that there is a correlation for major college programs between where their recruiting classes rank and where their teams on the field eventually wind up in the final polls.  In addition, I'm fully aware that Georgia's recruiting has slipped the last couple years and there is undoubtedly no time like the present for a first-rate incoming class...and there are plenty of first-rate players in the state of Georgia.

The best of the best high school football talent in Georgia, or at least the top 11 in the opinion of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is the AJC's Super 11

Beginning in 1985 and chosen every summer prior to the Super players' senior seasons, the Super 11, according to the AJC "...is one of the most elite teams in the nation, considering Georgia’s status as one of the top states for high school football" and is selected "through nominations and feedback from high school and colleges coaches, along with [the AJC's] own selection committee." 

I went back and tallied what school every Super 11 player initially signed with, starting in 1985 through the 2009 class.  That's a total of 27 Super 11s (the AJC selected two Super 11 teams in 2000 and 2001 - one from Metro Atlanta and another 11 from the rest of the state) and nearly 300 players.

A select few of these players, like Quincy Carter (Georgia Tech) and Georgia's Nate Hybl and Daniel Cobb would never play a down for the team they initially signed with but found some success elsewhere.  Some Super 11 members signed with community or junior colleges, played basketball instead, or did not (or could not) sign with any school.

After scanning over more than two dozen sets of Super 11s, where each player signed, and recognizing the reputation of UGA's recruiting class for each year, it's my opinion that the more Super 11 players signed by Georgia for a certain year, the better the Bulldogs' recruiting class was, on the whole, that particular year.  That certainly makes sense...

Of the first AJC Super 11 in 1985, three players would sign with UGA: Winder-Barrow's Hiawatha Berry (who would become a fine player at Georgia - one of the few Bulldogs in history to record 100+ tackles and rush for 100+ yards in a career), Wilcox County's Alfred Rawls (who would rush for 128 yards and lead his team to victory against Georgia while playing for Kentucky in 1988), and R.E. Lee's Rob Wainwright (a Bulldog reserve on both the offensive and defensive line in 1987-1988).

Nearly a quarter-century later, the Super 11 of 2009 saw four players eventually sign with Georgia: Koulton Houston (Buford), Alec Ogletree (Newnan), Garrison Smith (Douglass-Atlanta), and T.J. Stripling (SW DeKalb). 

From 1985-2009, the fewest of the 11 the Bulldogs ever signed was only one from 1992's class (Mike Bobo - Thomasville) and 2004 (Darius Dewberry - Peach County).  The most was seven players on three occasions: 1986, 1997, and 2002.

During the 25-year period, UGA signed a total of 106 Super 11 players - that's an average of almost exactly four (3.93) per set of 11.  Nearly 90 percent (260) of all Super players would sign with a BCS-conference school and, of those, the Bulldogs signed 40.8 percent of them.  

Besides Georgia's 106, here are the other programs that signed at least 10 Super players from 1985-2009 - as expected, they're the usual suspects:

27- Georgia Tech
22- Auburn
16- Tennessee
15- Florida State
11- Clemson

So, that leads me to ask, is signing an average of four of the best 11 players in the state sufficient?  What about the fact the Bulldogs land more than 40 percent of those who sign with major programs or that the next closest signer - Georgia Tech - signed only about one-quarter of what UGA did?

I have no clue.  Like I said, I know little about this subject.

What I do know is that there is some perception that UGA's in-state football recruiting has been on the decline in recent years.  In looking at only the state's top 11 players - and, again, according to merely a newspaper - that hasn't necessarily been the case.  In fact, Georgia's average of four Super 11 signees per year has been a trend since the start.

Here's a breakdown of the average number of Super 11 signees for each head coach.  For Coach Dooley, only his final three seasons (1986-1988) could be measured while, for Coach Richt, I split his regime in half:

4.00 - Dooley
3.71 - Goff
4.20 - Donnan
3.71 - Richt's first five years
4.20 - Richt's last five years

I also thought it would be interesting to see which high school teams have had the most Super 11 players...

Including the recent 2010 class, there have been 308 Super 11 players from 148 different Georgia high schools.  With Dunwoody High leading the pack, these schools have had at least five:

8- Dunwoody
7- LaGrange, Parkview, Tucker
6- Griffin, McEachern, Peach County, SW DeKalb, Washington County 
5- Carrollton, Clarke Central, Thomas Co. Central, Thomasville

Regarding the recent 2010 Super 11 class, it appears Georgia has two commitments thus far, five have committed to others schools (two to Auburn, including Griffin's Dickson, two to Tennessee, and one to Stanford), and four are undecided (including the pictured Isaiah Crowell of Carver-Columbus).

Let's hope of the undecideds, UGA can sign the majority, if not all, of them...for the sake of this year's recruiting class and for a comforting and optimistic off-season.

January 4, 2011

"Finish the Drill" Forgotten

For Georgia's football team, Friday's Liberty Bowl was yet another loss in 2010, and moreover, one more close loss for this year's edition of Bulldogs.

While the defeat to Central Florida was Georgia's fourth this season by seven points or less, the Dogs end their year having not won a single touchdown-or-less game all season.

It had been 40 years the last time Georgia didn't win a game decided by seven points or fewer when the Bulldogs were 0-3 in such circumstances during the 1970 season.  Georgia's minus-4 net losses of a touchdown or less was its worst total over, at least, the last 47 seasons, beginning with the Vince Dooley era (1964).

Remember, this is a team and coach whose motto is to Finish the Drill.  Instead, it appears they're finishing, not drills, but on the short end of close games.

Beginning with 1964, I figured Georgia's touchdown-or-less record for every season.  Here are the totals broken down by head coach (the percentage in parenthesis is the coach's overall winning percentage, regardless of scoring margin):

DOOLEY: 64-37, .634 (.715)
GOFF: 13-15, .464 (.574)
DONNAN: 14-6, .700 (.678)
RICHT: 30-20, .600 (.738)

For Richt, I initially expected a respectable touchdown-or-less record for his first four seasons (2001-2004) followed by a significant dropoff the last six years of his decade at the helm.  I was correct regarding the 2001-2004 seasons, when the Bulldogs were 13-6 in close games, including 5-1 in both 2002 and 2004.

After a 3-3 mark in 2005, however, Georgia was 5-3 in 2006 and 2-1 in 2007.  Even during the disappointing 2008 and 2009 seasons, the Bulldogs could win the close ones, combining to go 7-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Richt's .600 "close-game" winning percentage is certainly nothing special, especially when compared to his overall percentage, as it's more proportionate to that of Coach Goff's (...and we all know how things ended for Ray at UGA approximately 15 years ago).

How does Richt stack up against the competition?  Below I ranked the coach amongst two chief rivals during the same 10-season period and two other foes with acclaimed coaches, each serving for the past six seasons (the percentage in parenthesis is the team's and/or coach's overall winning percentage, regardless of scoring margin):

LSU under Les Miles: 23-9, .719 (.782)
AUBURN from 2001-2010: 33-16, .673 (.724)
FLORIDA under Urban Meyer: 11-7, .611 (.813)
GEORGIA under Mark Richt: 30-20, .600 (.738)
TENNESSEE from 2001-2010: 26-18, .591 (.633)

Above is further proof the Bulldogs have faltered, comparatively speaking, in close contests, particularly when compared to their games that weren't so close...

Notwithstanding, the primary contributor to these undesirable results was the big, fat ZERO and FOUR this season; take out this season's 0-4 from the overall touchdown-or-less record or do this very same analysis a year ago, and Richt's results appear a little more favorable.

It's evident, like perhaps never before in the history of UGA football, the 2010 Bulldogs could not close out and capture tight ballgames.  Simply put, they couldn't finish a drill and the end result is many in the Bulldog Nation yearning for the current coaching regime to be finished.

On a good note...  According to college football guru Phil Steele, nearly 80 percent of teams (33 of 42) over the last nine years that had minus-4 net losses or more of seven points or less, like Georgia, finished with a better record the following season.

Nevertheless, there has been little proof recently that this football program is going to get better anytime soon, but rather part of a non-improving 20 percent. 

January 1, 2011

Back in a Better Time

It's going to take me a few days to wrap my mind around and for me to post something regarding yesterday's embarrassing Liberty Bowl debacle.  In the meantime, I wanted to re-post an edited piece I wrote a year ago.

Back in a better time, January 1st was once a special date for Bulldogs - a day for celebrating a championship and/or a victory instead of grieving over a losing 6-7 season.

Today, the first day of a new year, is a special date in Georgia football history, particularly, the January 1st of 1981. In their history, the Bulldogs have played on the first day of the year more than any other date (22 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 the 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 (and watched it countless times on ESPN Classic) 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 Notre Dame, 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” than Georgia. Notre Dame All-American linebacker Scott Zettek commented Notre Dame 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 high-profiled college football game in modern history where an individual player outgained his entire team. Walker, named the bowl’s MVP while playing most the game with a separated shoulder, rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. The rest of the Bulldogs had minus-23 total offensive yards on 29 plays.

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 also misplayed two kickoffs, the second directly leading to the Bulldogs’ first touchdown, missed two field goals, and had another blocked.

Besides having no luck, Notre Dame was also “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 place, they likely would have won.

In 1980, Notre Dame had a spectacular running game, showcasing two halfbacks - Phil Carter and Jim Stone - each 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.

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 the game’s 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 were never forced 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. Notwithstanding, Belue’s twelfth and final attempt made up for a horrendous passing day by clinching victory in 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 the previous 11, Georgia would have been forced to punt to Notre Dame, who had a timeout remaining with 2:05 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, a Superdome security guard screamed, “I’ve got the damn president of the United States in here (Jimmy Carter and approximately 200 of his presidential party were in attendance), and I can’t get him out!” At the same time, a police officer was overheard saying, “Thank God [the fans] ain’t armed.” The late great Lewis Grizzard would later give his own account, which is posted in the top-right corner of this blog.

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 placed a one-loss Pittsburgh squad atop the rankings despite Georgia’s perfect record.

Starting right guard Tim Morrison might have put 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.

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