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February 24, 2014

5-Star Alternative

This TD reception in Knoxville last season by
Rantavious Wooten placed the wide receiver
into "5-Season" UGA football lore.  
Upon Josh Harvey-Clemons' dismissal last week, I started working on a post profiling Georgia's all-time 5-star recruits, discovering just six of those 14 blue chippers through 2013 would become starters for two or more seasons at UGA, while only two would earn first-team All-SEC recognition during their careers.  Seemingly, most of the 5-star recruits more so fizzled, including Harvey-Clemons, than flourished for the Bulldogs. 
I decided to post otherwise when I first ran across an article from the Times Free Press, beating me to the punch by profiling Georgia's 5-star players.  I then promptly received an email from a reader, who asked why my posts were "always so negative about the Dogs?"
Always negative?  I thought my posts regarding the program in its current state were only "negative" when warranted, like more often than not. 
Finally, after updating my geeky, but handy, UGA football database I'll utilize for a series of magazine articles I'm writing over the next couple of months, I was reminded of an extraordinary feat which resulted during the 2013 season, and thus I decided to take a different historical viewone that, although normally involving an injury, is certainly more of a "positive" post.
Four years ago, I posted my opinion of Georgia's one-season wonders; for what it's worth, here's a group contrary to them, and the 5-star falloutsthe program's most notable 5-season contributors:
In 2011, Wooten took a medical redshirt after suffering a concussion in the third game of the season, but not before catching two passes, including a touchdown against South Carolina.  Two years later, in the season opener at Clemson, he became just the third Bulldog in history to catch a pass in five different seasons, joining Reggie Brown (2000-2004) and Tavarres King (2008-2012).  With a touchdown reception at Tennessee four games later, Wooten accomplished the remarkable feat of becoming the first Bulldog ever to tally a touchdown, or even score a single point, in each of five seasons.
RONNIE STEWART (1977-1981)
While there has never been a Bulldog to attempt at least one pass in five seasons, there has been just a single player to run the ball at least once in five separate campaignsStewart.  Primarily known as one of Herschel Walker's chief blockers, fullback Stewart did score seven touchdowns while rushing for 843 yards during his career, including gaining a mere eight yards in 1979 when he was lost for the year to an injury in the second game at Clemson.

DAMIEN GARY (1999-2003)
Gary, who still ranks first all time at Georgia and fifth in SEC history with 1,253 career punt return yards, is the only Bulldog to ever return any kickpunt or kickoffin five different seasons.  As a true freshman in 1999, Gary played in two games until a thumb injury sidelined him with a medical redshirt.  However, he toted a punt return prior to the injury, returning it 20 yards against Utah State in the season opener.  But, and get this, the return actually does not count, at least according to UGA, who erroneously omits Gary's first of 115 career returns in its records.  Instead, Gary's official yardage total should be 1,273, although the disregard of 20 yards doesn't quite affect his placement in school and conference records, at least not yet.

JIMMY PAYNE (1978-1982)
I think the five-season contribution by Paynea first-team All-American defensive tackle in 1982is a close second to Wooten's touchdown feat.  For five consecutive seasons, Payne remarkably recorded at least 29 tackles.  Five-season tacklers would follow for Georgia: David Hargett (1987-1991), Derrick Byrd (1993-1997), Adrian Hollingshed (1997-2001), Gerald Anderson (2001-2005), Andrew Williams (2004-2008), and Jeff Owens (2005-2009).  However, none of the tackle totals in their redshirt seasons were near Payne's 29 in 1979not even close. 

After a standout true freshman campaign in 1978 as a defensive lineman, Payne was moved to linebacker in 1979, where he recorded 29 tackles in just over two contests before suffering a season-ending knee injury against South Carolina in the third game.  After receiving his hardship redshirt, Payne was wisely moved back to the line, where he excelled for his final three seasons.  In addition, having made at least one tackle for loss from 1978 through 1982, Payne is also currently the only Bulldog in history to record a defensive "deed" beyond tackles (i.e., a tackle for loss, sack, interception, forced fumble, etc.) in each of five seasons.  

Notably, although one might think Payne would have also attained as much, no Georgia player through last season had ever started at least one game in five different seasons, but that could change relatively soon.  Although a torn ACL celebrating a teammate's touchdown is probably small consolation, if Malcolm Mitchell stays to his senior season, the wide receiver would likely make 5-season history in 2015.

February 14, 2014

Where Is The Love?

For some, today isn't the most
meaningful of holidays.

Snowed in and slightly suffering from a dose of cabin fever, I was "enlightened" over the phone yesterday by a friend, who jokingly said I could ease any anxiety by finding out and then blogging about "the greatest Valentine's Day moment in UGA football history," he said with a laugh. 

Thanks for the concern.

Post-Signing Day, pre-spring practicethe lull in the year in regards to college football when the only news heard about your team is normally bad news, like player arrests and such.  You'd be hard pressed to find a memorable moment in Bulldog football history occurring during this period, even more so on the annual day of love.

Considering their seemingly nonstop hustle and bustle, it's a wonder if the coaching staff even observes Valentine's Day.  Apparently, the head Bulldog coach from exactly 20 years ago had totally neglected it altogether.

"When is it?" asked Ray Goff on February 14, 1994, when a reporter inquired if he had big plans for the holiday.  "I'm sure my wife and daughters will come up with something."

Besides perhaps Goff's question, the most notable Valentine's Day moment in Georgia football lore alas has nothing to do with love and affection, but quite the opposite.

Remember the Kevin Ramsey era as Georgia's defensive coordinatorall 13 months of it?  I touched upon it a while back when remembering the 2000 Outback Bowl victory, but here it is in a nutshell:

Ramsey, Tennessee's secondary coach at the time, was lured away from Knoxville in January 1999 by head coach Jim Donnan to coordinate the Bulldogs' defense, but mostly to recruitsomething he was supposedly very good at while at Tennessee.  Turns out, during his brief stay in Athens, Ramsey could do neither particularly well.

Despite all the talent, Georgia's defense was rather awful in 1999, especially against the pass (Ramsey personally coached the secondary).  Against rivals Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs allowed a combined 156 points, while the unit's yards yielded per pass attempt still ranks as one of the highest/worst in school history:

What Donnan giveth Ramsey in January 1999,
he taketh away on Valentine's Day 2000.
7.84- 1974
7.74- 2013
7.55- 1995
7.52- 1990
7.48- 1999
7.44- 2010

Speaking of overrated defensive coordinators, you'll notice Georgia's recently departed was at the helm for two of the worst six averages in UGA history.  And, speaking of 156 points given up, that's the same total Grantham's defenders allowed to Clemson, LSU, Auburn, and Georgia Tech in 2013.  Nevertheless, back to Ramsey...   
Spearheaded by Ramsey, Georgia's 2000 recruiting class finished ranked a lowly 29th in the nation according to Rivals, or just a single spot ahead of number 30 and recruiting power, Mississippi State. 

Ramsey was officially one and done as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator, and was notified as such by Donnan on February 14, 2000.  Gary Gibbs, who had coached with Donnan at Oklahoma for five seasons but had been absent from the coaching profession for five years, was named Georgia's new DC.  Ramsey could stay on with the staff, but be demoted to secondary coach.  He was madfighting mad.

Probably only a handful of people really know what exactly occurred in Donnan's office when Ramsey was notified of his demotion, but legend has it, he showed no love for the head coach by ending a confrontation with a punch thrown at him.

Continuing to stay unclassy into the following day, Ramsey took verbal jabs at Donnan on his way out of UGA, calling the head coach "deceitful" for demoting him after recruiting was over and going as far as referring to Donnan as "Pontius Pilate."  Regardless, as far as the players, on the whole, they stood by their head coach.

"Coach [Donnan] did what he had to do for the best of the team," said Charles Grant on the day after Valentine's Day.  "He's trying to do things to help us in the long run.  I know he's gotten some criticism, but that's life.  I'm sure he'll overcome this."

The team, at least defensively, was indeed helped in the long run as the Bulldog defense of 2000 was one of the program's best in years.  Under Gibbs, Georgia surrendered just 313.5 yards per gamethe defense's best average in 15 seasonsand only 5.78 yards per pass attemptthe best in eight seasons.

Since then and over the next 14 years, Ramsey has worked six different jobs in coaching, and none of them as a defensive coordinator at a major college.  But, as Charles Grant said, that's life.

On this Valentine's Day, I'm glad for my friend's suggestion; some of my restlessness has been relieved.  I've been reminded that change has been established, and change is often quite good, whether resulting with a jolt to the head, or from a bolt for Louisville. 

February 5, 2014

STARS Don't Mean a Thing If The Result is a Down-Swing

Five-star Sony Michel highlights what appears
to be another solid incoming class.  But, will
success in recruiting finally translate to
on-field excellence for the Dogs?
On the eve of National Signing Day, many of us wait with bated breath to see if the Bulldogs can add another highly-rated recruit or two to what already appears to be a solid incoming class.  As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, Georgia's recruiting class is ranked 8th in the nation according to Rivals, 10th by ESPN, and 14th by Scout.com.

Regardless, such positioning leads me to ask if recruiting rankings actually have any merit?  Does a lofty number of "stars" signed by a school eventually translate to success on the field?
Four years ago, I posted a piece on whether team recruiting rankings were meaningful or not.  In short, I discovered that if a team consistently ranked in the top 10 or 15 in recruiting, for the most part, it would likely rank in the top 10 or 15 in the final national polls over a specific period.
With that being said, I'm somewhat puzzled regarding the combined results of the last five years of UGA footballa period the Bulldogs had the program's lowest five-season winning percentage in 16 years.  If memory serves me right, Georgia's annual recruiting has consistently ranked in the top 15 for quite some time, yet an end result was the Bulldogs finishing in the final AP Poll just twice the last five seasons.
Craving a comparative analysis, I first figured the composite AP Poll for the last five seasons (2009-2013), where just like the top 25 polls, I gave points to teams depending where they finished in each season's final AP Poll (i.e., 25 points to No. 1, 24 to No. 2, etc.):
AP Poll (2009-2013)
1. Alabama, 110
2. Oregon, 86
3. Ohio State, 79
4. LSU, 75
    Stanford, 75
6. Boise State, 65
7. Oklahoma, 61
    South Carolina, 61
9. TCU, 56
10. Florida State, 53
23. GEORGIA, 28

Georgia's No. 19 finish in 2011 (7 points) and 5th in 2012 (21 points) gave the Bulldogs 28 points for their five-season total, ranking just 23rd nationally.
Regarding recruiting, as I've mentioned here before, I prefer using Phil Steele's recruiting rankings because he combines the ratings of roughly a dozen reputable recruiting services into one.  Therefore, acknowledging that it takes some timeperhaps a couple of seasonsbefore a particular recruiting class on the whole can truly make an on-field impact, I combined Steele's top-25 recruiting rankings for five seasons from 2007 through 2011, believing this duration would correspond with the 2009 through 2013 pollsa two-year stagger.  Points were given to schools in the same manner as the composite AP Poll above.
Recruiting (2007-2011)
1. USC, 114
2. Alabama, 106
3. Florida, 104
    Texas, 104
5. Ohio State, 99
6. Notre Dame, 96
7. LSU, 94
8. GEORGIA, 89
9. Oklahoma, 73
10. Florida State, 65 

In comparing on-field performance with recruiting for the past five seasons, here are the top "Overachievers," or the teams with the largest positive difference between their AP Poll points and points from recruiting rankings, and the top "Underachievers," or the teams with the largest negative difference:
1. Boise State, +65
2. Stanford, +58
3. Oregon, +57
4. TCU, +56
5. Wisconsin, +49
1. USC, -83
2. Texas, -73
3. Notre Dame, -68
4. Florida, -64
5. GEORGIA, -61     

Georgia's 28 poll points compared to 89 from recruiting equals negative-61 points, or the fifth-lowest total of the approximately 70 teams which were ranked in at least one final AP Poll and/or one or more set of annual top-25 recruiting rankings.  In other words, like USC, Texas, Notre Dame, and Florida, the Bulldogs' high-ranking recruiting classes from 2007 through 2011 didn't quite translate (on the whole) to high positioning in the final AP Polls when staggered two years.
I know what some of you might be thinkingit's rather convenient I analyzed only the latest, disappointing five-season period, and didn't include the previous seasons, like 2008 when the Bulldogs finished 13th in the final AP Poll, and 2007 when Georgia ranked No. 2 in the nation.  Therefore, I did the exact same analysis and comparison including those two banner seasons for the Bulldogs.
For the last seven seasons2007 to 2013Georgia totaled 65 AP Poll points, or the 12th-most in the nation (now, that's more like it).  Staggering two seasons, from 2005 to 2011, the Bulldogs' recruiting points were 123, ranking 6th nationally.  However, Georgia's negative-58 total (65 minus 123), which included lofty No. 2 and No. 13 final rankings in 2007 and 2008, respectively, still ranked as the 8th-lowest total in college football:
Underachievers (2007-2013)
1. Notre Dame, -92
2. USC, -87
3. Michigan, -83
4. Texas, -77
5. Tennessee, -72
6. Miami (Fla), -67
7. Florida, -60
8. GEORGIA, -58

Revisiting what I originally pondered four years agoif top 10 recruiting classes eventually delivered top 10 performances on the fieldsure they doThat is, if it's Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU, and Florida State doing the recruiting and playing.  In Georgia's case for the last several years, there have been plenty of recruiting "stars" to sign with the Bulldogs, but in comparison, there hasn't been enough of what matters moston-field success for the Bulldogs.

February 1, 2014

"We'll Come Back"

The McKnight trio (L to R): father John
and sons David and Larry.
Recently, I was contacted by a "Russ Grimm" (no, not that Russ Grimm), who lives in Virginia but from Nebraska and a Cornhuskers fan, played "lightweight" football and rugby at Army and graduated from West Point, and actually a distant cousin to the football hall-of-fame "Hog" with the same name.  After coming across my blog, Russ proudly offered up a plethora of information regarding a family of Bulldogs from his resident state.
The state of Virginia has never been a recruiting pipeline for the UGA football program; for example, one can literally count on one hand how many Virginians Vince Dooley signed during his quarter-century tenure as head coach.  It was two of those handful of Dooley recruits from the statethe first twooriginally stationed more than 500 miles away from Athens, but had Bulldog blood already running through their veins.
Hailing from Toccoa, GA, John McKnightthe eventual father of the Bulldog recruitswas a standout center for Georgia during the 1930s.  Against Tulane in 1933just McKnight's second game on UGA's varsitythe sophomore lineman was recognized as a "star" of the contest because of a punt he blocked and for his part in opening holes for the Bulldog backfield in an upset victory over the Green Wave.  McKnight earned All-SEC honors the following season and was named co-captain for his senior campaign of 1935.
Soon after graduating from UGA, McKnight enlisted in the Army, where he would eventually serve as a Captain in World War II and a Company Commander of I Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on D-Day.  A true leader, McKnight exhibited heroism and resiliency in "his escape attempts from the Nazis" after being captured by the enemy.  Upon his freedom, he was discovered to weigh a scant 60 pounds, but seemingly had possessed enough will to escape complete demise.
Prior to retiring at Fort Benning, GA, in the late 1960s, Colonel McKnight was stationed in Fort Monroe in Virginia.  His oldest son, John Jr., graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was a Cadet Brigade boxing champion.  However, sons David and Lawrence (Larry)the aforementioned recruitsand daughter Mimi believed that father had known best, and the three children would become Bulldogs at UGA.

I mentioned David a while back in my posting on Georgia's "neutral-sited" season opener against Mississippi State in 1966.  In his first game as a member of UGA's varsity, McKnight's late-game interception clinched a victory in Jackson, MS.  For that entire season, he was the lone sophomore to start a game in the Bulldogs' secondary.  In the spring of 1967, McKnight was the recipient of the team's prestigious Coffee County "Hustle Award," but would be lost for the year to an injury.  Switching from the defensive backfield to the defensive line, he started at right end for the Bulldogs in 1968 and was part of the only Georgia team to date to lead the nation in scoring defense.  Weighing a mere 175 to 180 pounds at that time, McKnight remains the lightest front seven starter in UGA football history since the team fully adopted two-platoon football in the early 1960s.

Capping McKnight's junior season, undefeated Georgia was upset by Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.  The Bulldogs' defense wasn't the problem in the 16-2 loss as McKnight and his mates held the Razorbacks to only 225 total yards, yielded half the number of points the Hogs had averaged per game during the regular season, and scored the team's only points thanks to the end from Virginia:
For that spring's G-Day game in 1969, the Black team featured McKnight brothers as its starting defensive endssenior David and sophomore Larry.  The versatile, younger brother had played quarterback, tailback, wingback, fullback, and end for Kecoughtan High in Hampton.  At Georgia, he would eventually be moved to yet another position, defensive tackle, where he lettered in 1970 and 1971.

The 1969 campaignthe brothers' one varsity season together at Georgiawas a rough one for the Bulldogs.  Although David excelled, intercepting four passes (as a defensive lineman!), returning one thrown by Ole Miss' Archie Manning for a 34-yard touchdown, Georgia slumped to a 5-5-1 mark following its banner season the year before. 
It was immediately after one of the Bulldogs' setbacks in '69 that David declared to the media something that caught my attention in my researcha Joe Namath-like promise that if proclaimed today, or more like tweeted, by your average football player, you wonder if the statement would even be taken seriously.  Regardless, showing the leadership and recovery skills that his father displayed, David was not your average football player and was taken very seriously, while validating the notion that the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree:

"That game's over and we're not going to grieve about it," McKnight announced, speaking for the entire team after the defeat.  "Georgia doesn't stay down after a loss.  We'll come back."
Fittingly, McKnight would become a football coach; perhaps, the only other suitable career would have been one in the military.  From 1979 through 1985, he was the head coach at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, where he guided the Red Terrors to the state region final in two of his final three seasons.  From the high school ranks, McKnight was a long-time assistant under a teammate of his at Georgia, Mike Cavan, coaching at Valdosta State College, East Tennessee State, and finally SMU.
David McKnight instructs fellow defender
Lee Daniel during the '69 season.
If the UGA football teama program exhibiting a lack of leadership the last several years, coming off a rather disappointing season, and needing to "come back" if ever a team needed todesires a pep talk prior to the 2014 season opener against Clemson, I know where it can find a speaker.  According to the Lettermen's Club, David McKnight currently lives in St. Simons with his wife Beth.
Notably, in my latest book on UGA football, I list the most prominent father-son pairs to ever play at Georgia: Porter and Billy Payne, Tom Nash Sr. and Tom Jr., Knox Culpepper Sr. and son Knox, John Kasay Sr. and John Jr., Nate and Tony Taylor, and Kevin and Drew Butler.  Obviously, I mistakenly omitted a more than worthy father-son trio from the list.  If there is ever a second printing of the book, I won't make the same mistake twice.
Finally, I appreciate Russ enlightening me even more on a subject I tend to think I know rather well.  In our final correspondence, Russ asked aloud, "am I getting to be a Dawgs fan?"  With that, I have to inquire if the Cornhusker fan, who informed this Dawg fan of John McKnight's legacy and the "come back" attitude he passed down, is perhaps now starting  to "come around."