Welcome to the latest home for the Junkyard Blawg, marking its fifth iteration since I started offering a fan’s view of UGA athletics under that tag 10 years ago this month.
Along with the rest of the AJC’s UGA coverage, the Blawg has moved to Cox Media Group’s DawgNation. Much of what I do here will be familiar to longtime readers. However, because of an increase in my workload as a content editor at the AJC, there will be fewer Blawg posts going forward.
Mostly, I’ll be writing once a week, which during the football season primarily will be post-game analysis on Sundays.
I’ll also still answer Junkyard Mail. And, during the offseason, I’ll have a mix of content, though still mostly once a week. But, when something comes up between regular postings that I feel the need to comment on, there might be additional Blawgs, time permitting.
The most noticeable difference for longtime Junkyard Blawg readers, besides the new address, will be a change in the commenting, which now will be limited to those who have Facebook log-ins. If you want to have your say here, you’ll either have to join Facebook or put something in the Junkyard in-box by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, with that out of the way, let’s get back to the forthcoming football season and the Blawg’s series looking at four factors on which a championship season can hinge.
First on the list was the play of the quarterback. Even with the likes of Nick Chubb in the backfield, at some point this coming season the Georgia QB (whoever that ends up being) will have to step up and win a game if the Dawgs are going to be champions.
In keeping with that last point, we come to our third championship season key:
Georgia’s coaches and players must avoid the sort of bizarre no-show games that have happened all too frequently in the Richt era, spawning a common trope in the college football world that Georgia is good for at least one inexplicable loss per season — last year’s game in Jacksonville being the latest example.
These no-show games basically divide up into two categories: those games where Georgia just never appeared at all, showing up looking completely unready to play, and other games where the Dawgs put up some effort, but not enough, or only played one decent half of football.
Frequently, those games where Georgia never really showed up and got embarrassed appear have been the result of a letdown a week after a big game, such as in 2004. Having routed defending national champion LSU 45-16, the No. 3-ranked David Greene-led Dawgs came a cropper the next week against No. 17-ranked Tennessee Vols, who were a double-digit underdog but pulled out a 19-14 win.
A struggling Tennessee again came out on top over what appeared to be a surging Georgia team in 2007. Knowshon Moreno was held to just 30 yards, and the Dawgs managed only two first downs in the first half and didn’t cross midfield until after halftime in a 35-14 loss that stood out like a sore thumb in a season that saw Georgia wind up ranked No. 2 nationally.
In 2008, No. 5 Florida’s 49-10 win over No. 8 Georgia (who had started out the season ranked No. 1) didn’t become a true blowout until the third quarter, but it was a pretty weak display on the part of the Dawgs, as Matthew Stafford and Moreno had one of their poorer games.
The next year, Georgia had a fairly mediocre team, but nobody expected the Dawgs to lose 45-19 in Knoxville to a Lane Kiffin-coached Tennessee team that entered the game 0-2 in conference play. Georgia’s offense never reached the red zone and first-year Vols QB Jonathan Crompton had a career day in a game where Georgia’s defense acted like play-action was a foreign concept.
While the 2010 Dawgs were in the midst of a four-game losing streak when they played Mississippi State in Starkville, Georgia’s error-prone, listless 24-12 loss still was one of the worst efforts seen from a UGA team under Richt.
One of Georgia’s most embarrassing days in recent years came in the Liberty Bowl at the end of that same season as the punchless Dawgs lost 10-6 to Central Florida of Conference USA to finish with UGA’s first losing record since 1996. It was one of those days when Georgia’s players looked like they’d rather be anywhere else.
One of the classic examples of a baffling Georgia no-show came in 2012, as the fifth-ranked (and eventual SEC East champion) Bulldogs let a frenzied Gamecock crowd get to them. Georgia came in with a league-leading 48.2 points and 536 yards per game of offense, but were shut down by South Carolina, which took a 21-0 lead less than 9 minutes into the game. Georgia’s “Gurshall” running tandem was ineffective and Aaron Murray was sacked twice and threw an interception in the 35-7 debacle.
Likewise, Georgia was flat and uninspired throughout the 2013 game against Vandy in Nashville, despite the closeness of the 31-27 score. You can attribute part of it to a rash of injuries that had hit the team, but the fourth quarter was one of the worst the Dawgs have played in the Richt era, as the Dores rallied from a 13-point deficit by scoring 17 unanswered points. Had it been a stronger opponent, Georgia might have suffered a blowout.
And then there was last year’s shocking loss to the Gators. After rising to the occasion with big road wins over Arkansas and Missouri in the absence of Todd Gurley, and essentially looking to clinch the SEC East, the Dawgs entered the game apparently expecting a cakewalk.
Instead, they ran into a tough defense that stymied Georgia’s attack while the Dawgs’ defense appeared clueless about how to stop a relentless Florida outside running game.
As one Georgia fan put it recently, “Even nine months later I still can’t wrap my head around it.” And, in the words of a Gators booster I talked with recently: “Georgia had no business losing that game.”
Other games have seen Georgia playing poorly for too much (but not all) of a game, including the 2005 Sugar Bowl loss to West Virginia; the 2008 Blackout game in which Bama jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead before the Dawgs staged a not-quite-enough rally in the second half; the 2009 game in Athens against Kentucky, in which Georgia appeared to have the game well in hand at halftime and then collapsed; the 2010 loss at Colorado, probably the worst team Georgia has lost to in the Richt era; the 2013 defeat by a Missouri team that had lost its starting quarterback earlier in the game; and, in that same season, the game at Auburn, which, granted, was lost on a “miracle” fluke play at the end, but which had seen Georgia play extremely poorly in the first half and have to come storming back to make a game of it.
Seth Emerson recently dubbed this tendency the “ugly-loss syndrome,” but there’ve also been some no-show games where Georgia has still managed to win, like Kentucky in 2012 (thanks to a superlative effort by QB Murray).
The most disturbing aspect of many of the no-show losses is that they were key games that everyone knew were important, and yet the Dawgs still looked ill-prepared or even disinterested.
In some cases, it appears to have been a case of misplaced overconfidence. Georgia players indicated after last year’s Florida game that they had not taken the beleaguered Gators seriously.
The larger question is why this happens. Obviously, coaching has to be a part of it. Richt’s staffs have a history of apparently having trouble getting teams in the right frame of mind, particularly for a big conference game. Either they neglect this side of the game or just aren’t very good at it.
But I think a lack of student leadership on the team also contributes to instances like last year against UF, when they just didn’t take them seriously.(Of course, maybe some of that can be laid at the coaches’ door, too.)
Perhaps older players passing along what they’ve learned the hard way will allow this team to avoid such letdowns. Jordan Jenkins recently discussed how, in the 2013 loss to Mizzou, Georgia’s players flat-out underestimated the Tigers. “You can’t sleep on any team,” he said.
Ultimately, in these games Georgia’s players appear not have been able to maintain their focus — the old eye on the prize thing.
If the Dawgs are going to win the SEC again for the first time since 2005, they’re going to have to do something about that.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.