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December 22, 2014

Relevant? Really?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2014

So It Hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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