OK, let me cover a few items first before any opinions are jumped to about me. I've been one of the most staunch "Disney" defenders of the Dawgs over Mark Richt's tenure. Mark Richt is going to be the coach of the team next year, so finding the only resolution to our woes being "fire Richt" over the offseason seems a little futile in my opinion. We've endured a pretty tough season, and in no way would I question the heart, energy, or effort shown by the players. Those guys strap on the pads each week while we sit behind our keyboards conjuring up all sorts of opinions. I'm also not one of those guys who says "I'm not going to renew my season tickets because of the return I'm getting on the field". I purchase season tickets because I love the University of Georgia, love Saturdays in Athens during the fall, and those six or seven home games as well as away games are my favorite days of the year. My time in Athens as a fan before I got there and time as a student will always serve to foster that opinion.
This comes on the heels of the Nebraska loss which of course is going to lead to a negative atmosphere around the program. I realize we had a ton of momentum after the SC & LSU wins, and things took a big downhill turn after all those injuries against Tennessee. It certainly was one of the strangest years in recent memory as far as all the ups (SC, LSU, UT comeback, Florida win, GT comeback, etc.) and all the downs which we don't need to rehash.
My question for everyone at this point is what does the program really have going for it in comparison with our counterparts. What quantifiable unique or distinguishing characteristics does our program have that lead to believing we have positive momentum going forward?
We have been struggling with recruiting. Sure we are landing big classes with some key offensive stars, yet at the same time we seem to have lost the grip on getting the big talent out of Georgia to Athens. A simple review of the in state Rivals rankings over the past few years will show a ton of other schools listed next to the names of the top 10 recruits in lieu of Georgia. You can look along Auburn's defensive line and see tons of young guys who are having an impact that very likely could / should have been Georgia Bulldogs. It appears in a sense, that something has disappeared that made kids want to go to Georgia as their first option.
We have been good, we haven't been great. Some of that we have been so close to. We were five yards short of beating the greatest dynasty of the past 10 years and moving on to a sure fire win against Notre Dame for that ever so elusive National Championship. In 2007, we were one Tennessee loss away over their last 3 games from reaching the SEC title game, beating a 2-loss LSU team, and moving on to the national title game. At the same time, it's been nearly 10 years since we've won an SEC title. We've had some big wins, but we've also had some pretty poor losses. Games like SC 2012, the UCF bowl loss, the Boise State debacle, the Vandy loss this year, the Nebraska loss, etc. have created some negative notions and rightly so within the Georgia fanbase.
We've really struggled on defense and in special teams. We have the bodies out there to get the job done, but the execution schematically has been pretty atrocious. Todd Grantham is an easy place to cast blame, but it appears that he'll be the coach next year. We're consistently giving up 30+ points and in my opinion have lost that junkyard edge we grew accustomed to during the mid 2000s. On special teams we've become a total non-factor in the return game. Punt returns have become a home and prayer that we merely catch the ball, and we certainly know there's little change for a big change. While we can kick the ball pretty consistently even in comparison to programs like Alabama who have struggled in that arena, they still have that sliver of excitement of big special teams return plays that serve to change / threaten the field position battle. We averaged 2.7 yards in punt returns this year. 2.7. This was also hampered by numerous drops, muffed snaps, big returns allowed, etc.
I would also argue that there's very little when the UGA program is looked upon in comparison with other schools that makes us stand out. A staunch defense (Michigan State), a dynamic offense (Auburn), a dynamic stadium environment (LSU), nationally renowned players (Texas A&M), huge recruiting momentum (UCLA, Auburn, etc.), dynamic coach (Bama to Texas Tech on that spectrum) big time bowl wins (Oklahoma, Clemson, etc.), and so on and so forth. While I'd argue we've done great job of protecting the program from embarrassment and downfall on a national stage (Florida, Tennessee) or sanctions (Miami, USC, Penn State, etc.), it seems we're struggling a little bit to push things forward.
Mark Richt is going to be the head coach next year, and Todd Grantham is going to be the defensive coordinator from all assumptions, so I would ask... what can Georgia do to recapture momentum with the resources we have on hand right now?
Some possible resolutions, that could erase these questions quickly.
Win the big game on a national stage. The perfect chance for this would be Clemson in the opener next year. One would assume it will be a nationally televised night game and we'll have tons of eyes on us. We'll also be facing a Clemson team that loses a ton of talent and we should have a better "talent" team on the field and at home nonetheless. It would be a perfect momentum spring board to get things going.
Avoid losing games we shouldn't. We have to get back to a point where when we line up versus Vandy, Nebraksa, etc. there's no question who the better team is after watching the game.
Correct disciplinary / schematic issues. The pitfalls that have hampered us on special teams, relating to penalties, assignment defense, etc. must be corrected. Attention to detail in doing the little things right must be addressed. The mistakes made in these arenas level the playing field when we are playing what we assume to be inferior opponents.
Find a way to recapture recruiting momentum. We've been doing well with skill position players, particularly RBs and QBs, but we have to find a way to get those wardaddies in there on O-Line and on the defensive front that are native to our state and get them believing in where the program is going so they want to be a part of it. Guys like Lorenzo Carter from Norcross would be perfect fits this year, and we need to do everything in our power to get those guys to Athens.
Stadium Atmosphere. Bring Sanford Stadium back to a place that is feared to play in. I've harped on this many times before. We sometimes are tentative to adopt some things that other schools are doing like pumping music into the stadium, but after visiting numerous other college stadiums I think there is a nice balance between a bland atmosphere creation and pumping Sandstorm in constantly. Ticketing procedures have tried to be addressed (Young Alumni program, student tickets, etc.) but there are still strides to be made in the arena. The onus was put on the Sanford crowd during the SC & LSU games this year and the crowd delivered. We have to find a way to make this the norm on a week to week basis.
The lack of a nationally touted dynamic player. Guys like Todd Gurley need to be touted and supported like the big time talents of other schools. Winning games will help to thrust you into the national spotlight, but the program itself needs to make every effort to support these guys as they go through their journeys.
Texas is an interesting case study who is going through a very similar process. They've just let go of their long tenured coach and now struggle a little bit to find the guy they "thought" they could get. It will be interesting to see what steps they can take organically to combat recent momentum gained by their conference counterparts like Baylor or Oklahoma State (who notably lost their bowl games).
Part of me wishes we'd never played that Nebraska game. It would have been nice to exit 2013's hard fought season and move into 2014 with a comeback win where Huston and the defense rose to the occasion for a big win. Nevertheless we went down to a lackluster bowl game and didn't pull out a victory, and therefore are faced with an offseason where organic changes have to be made. In all of this I think there are bright spots for 2014... a powerful offense coming back, defensive talent that needs the right dials turned, an easy schedule where we should be favored versus everyone except Auburn and get some key games at home, etc. It's a good opportunity, and it may be the last for this regime to show what they're made of. Needless to say changes need to be addressed and made during the offseason to show we're taking the right steps to get their. It seems strange that the bar is so high, but in the end I think anything less than an Eastern crown will be an utter disappointment and continuation of things we have seen.
My question is one, do you think the program is stale, and two what changes could be made to stop this trend of negative momentum?
I'll be renewing my season tickets without question, and hoping to see progress and momentum recaptured in 2014. It's a tall task, but it's one we can only hope for.