Monday, June 13, 2011
As you may have seen today, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with a few other bloggers about Georgia football over at College Football Zealots (Collegefootballzealots.com and @CFBZ). I am honored to have been included in such a discussion and I really enjoyed the process.
A lot of good stuff come across in the discussion and it was a lot of fun. You can check out the full article HERE.
Below you will find my answers to the questions posed for the piece. Please comment and let your voice be heard!
Thanks again to Kevin at College Football Zealots for including me in this process. I hope we can do it again soon.
1- Which game is more critical for Georgia to win: Boise State or South Carolina?
At first blush this is not an intimidating question, but when you stop and take a closer look this is a whopper. I’ve gone back and forth on this one for the obvious reasons. I started out with the baseline response that South Carolina is a conference game…the conference opener…and therefore was clearly the more critical win for Coach Richt and the DAWGS. Then last year came back into my mind. Georgia went 6 -7. Six and seven! What would be a better way to grab back some national spotlight and earn a little respect than to knock off Boise State, a top five team that has a history of playing very well on the big stage with the deck stacked against them, with a national audience tuning in? A win like that would be absolutely huge for the program.
That’s when it came to me. I had to strip away the glitz that goes with each of these games and get down to the gritty truth, so I went to the game tape.
When people think of Boise State, they often think of blue turf, trick plays and Kellen Moore arching another long touchdown pass to a wide receiver running wide open for the score. All those things are part of what makes the Broncos who they are, but that is not WHAT they are. In reality, the boys roamin’ the smurf turf are a hard-nosed, power running football team. They do it by disguising their base running game out of different formations, but they can also line up in the I-formation and get down hill. What’s more, the Broncos are a blue collar bunch that has the personality to go with that hard nosed style of play, something that I would say was found lacking in the Georgia squad last season.
Two words and one man was the reason for the Gamecocks success last season….Marcus Lattimore. There was a little good quarterback play and some solid defense, but Lattimore was the difference and the heart of the South Carolina team. A forceful back that ran with a purpose and could beat his opponents into submission, Lattimore is the definition of a power running back. After the dismal performance turned in by the DAWGS defense in Columbia last year, their second meeting with Lattimore and company should tell the tale of what we can expect from Georgia in 2011.
After digesting all of this, the answer to the question had to be Boise State. South Carolina and Lattimore will present Georgia with the basic football challenges that will probably indicate how the 2011 season will go for the DAWGS, but so will Boise State…only earlier on the schedule. Doug Martin may not be Marcus Lattimore, but he certainly is no slouch and Stephen Garcia is certainly no Kellen Moore. The Broncos program knows how to win and will not be intimidated when they face the DAWGS in the Georgia Dome, no matter how much red is there to greet them. If Richt’s boys can take out Boise State on September 3rd in Atlanta and display some mental toughness and a stronger defense against the run, the DAWG Nation as well as the millions watching at home will know that Georgia is back in the game.
2- Other than Isaiah Crowell, which incoming freshman do you think will have the biggest impact in 2011?
There has been a lot of buzz around the possibilities that exist on the Georgia depth chart for a wide receiver to step in and have an immediate impact. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both look to be solid candidates to step into the breach and give Aaron Murray another weapon on the outside. However, just looking at the history of the WR position, odds are long that any true freshman wide receiver is going to be able to make too much of an impact early on. Add that to the fact that if you have ever read my blog you know I look at the world from the defensive huddle, my pick should not surprise….Ray Drew.
This young man appears to be ready built for early success in Athens. All reports tell us that Drew has a good head on his shoulders and the proper outlook on the game. Physically, Drew’s measureables indicate that he is field ready right now. Add this to a group of defensive ends that have not yet distinguished themselves from the one another (not necessarily due to their own efforts or lack thereof) and the situation sets up nicely for Drew to earn substantial playing time for Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham early in the season.
3- Who are some under-the-radar guys that you think will step up for Georgia this year?
I have two names for you: Cornelius Washington and T.J. Stripling
Cornelius Washington – After a solid effort in 2009, I thought 2010 might be the break out year for Washington. Washington is a physical specimen and with the move to outside linebacker, I could see the rangy and speedy Washington as a terror off the edge for the DAWGS. However, the move seemed to put Washington’s feet in the quick sand and he often looked to be thinking too much rather than just turning it loose and reacting to what he saw in his keys. I’m hoping that in Washington’s second season playing out in space, the game will slow down a bit and he can become the pass rushing terror off the edge that the DAWGS desperately need him to be.
T.J. Stripling – Stripling suffered a season-ending injury to his right leg in 2010 while playing on special teams. Much like Washington, Stripling possesses the physical attributes that could make him an impact player off the edge for Georgia in the passing game sooner rather than later. Of course, all of this is dependent on how Stripling’s rehab goes as we get closer to the 2011 season. The last I heard, Stripling was on course to make a full recovery and would be ready to go full speed in time for fall camp. Also of interest is whether Stripling will ultimately play defensive end or outside linebacker for Georgia, but I’m sure that will be further determined once fall camp begins. The bottom line is that the DAWGS have to find some heat on the edge that can wreak a little havoc in opponent’s backfields and I believe that Coach Grantham will be looking at every option he has to get that job done. If Stripling is healthy, he’s a natural at getting after the quarterback and he could have a major impact for the DAWGS right away.
4- What makes you most excited about seeing Georgia play this year?
This one is easy for me. Aaron Murray. Without a doubt, Georgia’s sophomore signal caller is poised to make a major move in 2011 both within the conference as well as on the national scene. Now he’ll have to get some help from his teammates, but Murray gives every indication that he is capable and willing to shoulder the load for the DAWGS. Much like David Greene, you could see right away that Georgia had something special in Murray. I’m not going to list all of the stats here to back up my claim. I don’t really have the space here and you can look them up easily enough. There is something more to Murray. He’s a winner, a student of the game and a natural leader. He has “it”, whatever “it” is, and that’s what makes me want to watch him. Georgia will win behind the leadership of Murray. He cannot do it alone, but with a little help from his friends I believe Murray will lead the DAWGS back to the top of the SEC East and the pinnacle of the nation’s toughest conference sooner rather than later.
5- What makes you the most nervous about seeing Georgia play this year?
I see this answer as a couple of things that are one-in-the-same. I have serious concerns about whether the DAWGS defense has shed the habitual and agonizingly poor tackling practices that have plagued them in recent years. Defense is attitude and tackling. Tackling is technique and hustle. Nothing will dishearten me quicker and sink my hopes for the 2011 season than to see Georgia’s defense duck their heads or throw a shoulder while attempting to make a tackle, or fail to run hats to the ball showing a lack of effort to play solid team defense. For me, there will be no clearer harbinger of things to come in 2011 than whether the DAWGS defense is getting after Boise State from the first whistle and playing for each other with a passion and a desire to get the job done, no matter the challenge. I have not consistently seen this from the DAWGS in recent years and until they show me something different on the field, I will continue to be nervous.
6- Athlon Sports has rated the Dawgs at #14 and Phil Steele has them at #9 in their pre-season polls. Both have Georgia winning the SEC East and playing in the Capital One Bowl. What needs to happen for Georgia to live up to these lofty expectations.
In case you can’t already tell, everything begins and ends with Coach Grantham’s defensive eleven for me. If we see a big jump in the level of play by the DAWGS defense from year one to year two, then I can see everything else fall into place for a run to the top of the SEC East for Georgia.
For a second straight year in the East there is a former DAWG in orange, this time in Gainesville with the Gators, and Florida will inevitably experience a few growing pains. Derek Dooley and Tennessee are coming, but still have some things to prove. Vanderbilt is settling back to the bottom of the group and Kentucky will have to find some new weapons on offense. Defending champion South Carolina still has Lattimore but has to travel to Athens with a re-tooled defense, and who knows where the odyssey of Stephen Garcia will lead the Gamecocks.
The opportunity certainly appears to be there for Georgia to reclaim the top spot in the East and the DAWGS should have every confidence that they can compete for the division title. If Georgia can find its soul on the defensive side of the ball, the DAWGS should be in every game and I can absolutely see the Georgia Dome splashed in Bulldogs red to both begin and end the 2011 campaign.