ATHENS – There is a fine line between competitiveness and paranoia, and as a general rule football coaches cross it on a daily basis.
They hide lineup changes. The hide injury information. They grow irritated when media members ask questions perceived as anything more probing than cloud formations, and even then sometimes they return a glare and respond, “I see no benefit to sharing my thoughts on cirrocumulus stratiformis with you or Nick Saban.”
Bill Walsh used to worry about spies in trees. Birds can be turned by the communists.
“We try to not have any (media) out there during kicking time, in case we have a fake punt,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said this week. “My mom could watch practice and say, ‘Hey, they have a fake punt.’ And she’ll tell her friend, because they like football, too. That friend has a nephew and the nephew tells somebody, “Hey, they got a fake punt this week!” Then you get stoned and you look like an idiot.”
And just like that, a friendly game of canasta between 80-year-old women leads to the apocalypse.
Richt has been having fun with the daily stonewalling of the media when it comes to Georgia’s quarterback competition and the team’s depth chart. He admits it: “I love it.”
Asked for his thoughts on senior transfer Greyson Lambert, he said, “He’s tall.”
Asked last week for statistics on a scrimmage, he declined, saying, “You don’t all have to get carpal tunnel and all that stuff trying to click all the keys.”
I’m pretty sure the decision to have his head shaved in the summer tripped the funny switch in his cranium.
But there’s something worth noting about this quarterback situation in Athens: Richt isn’t saying what quarterback is clearly No. 1 largely because he doesn’t know.
That’s not to suggest he won’t continue to avoid publicly naming a starter right up until kickoff for the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe next week. He admits as much. Gamesmanship — even against Sun Belt teams that went 4-8 last season. But it’s also evident there’s not a lot for the coach to hide right now.
“What’s happening is they’re all having their moments,” Richt said, referencing Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta. “You’re thinking you’re onto something and then the other guy does something. Then the guys go backwards. It’s like, ‘Who wants this?’ And it’s not like there’s three inept guys fumbling around. But there’s never been that guy who’s consistently done it.”
So you really have no idea who …
“No. I don’t. I really don’t. Just when you think you’ve started to narrow it down, it’s like, ‘Oh no. Look at that.’ It’s like the scrimmage thing. I didn’t want to give out statistics because I didn’t want anybody thinking, ‘Well, based on this, it ought to be him.’”
Georgia fans: This isn’t good news. Running back Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ defense will win at least half of the games by themselves. But this isn’t about beating Vanderbilt and Kentucky and finishing 8-4 and going to the Music City Bowl.
There are a number of opponents on the schedule where Georgia may need the quarterback to make a play – or plays – to win. Alabama. Tennessee. Missouri. Florida. Auburn. Georgia Tech.
Those are the games that will tilt the season. Those are the games that will decide which team wins the SEC East and potentially the conference and potentially beyond. Those are the games Richt will need his quarterback to make the right decision and the right throw, whether it’s on play-action from the Dogs’ 25-yard line or a tight throw from red zone to end zone.
Even when the clouds part on the depth chart, Richt likely will remain tight with information. He has been increasingly guarded in recent years when it comes to disseminating information on player suspensions and injuries.
“Any information usually is useful (to opponents),” he said. “I don’t want to be rude to y’all …”
(I thought that was nice.)
“… but I don’t want to help the other team. I want to have the least amount of information out there that would help another team prepare and maybe be ready for something or someone or whatever it may be. I hate to be evasive and a pain in the rear …”
“… but the bottom line is the less people know about what we’re doing the better off we’ll be, especially on personnel and even on scheme considering we’ve got a new offensive coordinator now. There’s some concern I would think for whoever’s defending us. They’re looking at Georgia’s film from last year. They don’t know.”
They’re going wishbone.