Mailbag: On Grantham, on Mason, on Terry, and blitzes

semerson@macon.comDecember 4, 2013 

The end of the regular season and the onset of finals leaves us in a football lull around Georgia. But that doesn't mean we have to take the week off. So let's dive into the ol' mailbag, where we hit on some hot-button topics, as well as a few under-the-radar subjects that astute readers bring up:

Even though I said in a message to the mailbag earlier this year that people need to come to grips with the fact that Coach Richt will not fire Coach Grantham, I'm having a hard time facing what I knew was true all year. In 10 games against BCS competition, we have given up 30 points eight times. (Florida and Kentucky are both averaging less than 21 points per game, so that hardly seems like a feat). We are averaging giving up 29.4 points per game which is just astoundingly awful for a school with our talent.

The "positives" I see are that we return the whole defense (save for Garrison Smith), we had a comically low amount of takeways (that has to go back to the mean in 2014), and were amazingly bad on third down. It would seem if the takeaways are the third down conversations evened out that maybe we would have been more respectable. Or maybe at some point Coach Richt just has to admit that 2011 was the anomaly brought on by weak competition and not 2010, 2012, and 2013?
- Bryan Grantham

And it should be pointed out that you are no relation. Or perhaps that’s fairly obvious.

There was a reason Richt used the word “continuity” when asked about retaining Grantham. As rough as this year was on defense, with nearly everyone coming back is it best to blow it up and bring in a new coordinator and staff, or is it best to see what Grantham can do with a more seasoned group? You may be right that 2011 was the anomaly. But that season at least serves as evidence that Grantham is capable of guiding a top-flight SEC defense. So roll with him one more year, rather than bring in a new defensive coordinator who may or may not run the same scheme, but would have his own terminology, play calls, etc.

I’m not endorsing this viewpoint, just explaining it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think Grantham should or will make some small changes next season. That could be personnel, schematics or playcalling. The sense I get, and it’s just based on my own intuition, nothing I’ve been told, is that Grantham will tweak some small things next year.

With UGA’s continued commitment to mediocrity – “all coaches should return”, have you heard any rumors of coaches leaving on their own? It seemed like strange wording in Richt’s comment. If you can name names it would be nice but I understand if not since it would be a rumor.
- Jenna

Yeah, I’m not going to get into rumors. But obviously any year it’s a possibility an assistant coach will leave on his own. That was the point of Richt’s statement on Sunday night: No one’s getting fired. Maybe a coach will decide to leave and Georgia will decide not to push to keep him. But everyone’s welcome back.

It should also be pointed out that the reason Richt worded it the way he did (“everybody's gotta do what they've gotta do, as far as if they have opportunities and all that kind of thing”) is because that’s the way I framed the question. I asked him: If Grantham doesn’t leave for another job on his own, is he coming back? So Richt was kind of just repeating the premise of my question, and agreeing with it.

I understand Hutson may not have as strong of an arm as Aaron, but his release seems as quick as any I have ever seen. Sometimes he almost seems to "push" the ball. Is he that quick or am I wrong?
- Tommy Todd

That's a fair assessment, based on what we have seen so far, and what teammates and coaches have seen in practice. Murray has the stronger arm, and in fact his arm has always been pretty underrated, and could help him stick around the NFL. Mason doesn't so much have a quicker release as he is quick to make his read and decide when to throw it. That's why he's been compared to David Greene. And that's why Mason struggled early against Georgia Tech: He was timid and unsure, and doesn't have the arm strength to make up for slower reads. But once Georgia was forced to play catch-up, that changed the gameplan to a more up-tempo style, which gave Mason some confidence, and in the second half you saw the Mason that Georgia has seen in practice the past few years.

Certainly 2013 did not quite go the way we wanted. The absurdly high number of ACL injuries to key players, combined with the unfortunate timing of other significant injuries made a real run at the SEC East title impossible.

I recently read about a study in California about reducing ACL injuries in girls soccer and basketball programs (the only sport where those injuries are more prevalent than football). Any word on whether UGA is looking into modifying it's Strength and Conditioning program to try and help mitigate these injuries in the future? Certainly you cannot eliminate those injuries, but maybe they can reduce the ones where the player isn't even being hit and tears an ACL.
- Grant Jacobs

Hi Grant. Perhaps you read about that study right here! ! (I wrote about it two weeks ago.)

I haven't had a chance yet to ask anybody on the Georgia training staff whether they've heard about it or plan to look at it. Before writing the story I reached out to UGA but Ron Courson was too busy (because of all the injuries), but would be willing to talk when things died down after the season. So I can ask then.

There are two things I gleaned out of my research on that story: 1) It's a football-wide issue, not just at Georgia; 2) It doesn't really have anything to do with the strength and conditioning program, as some fans have stipulated. And again, that doesn't mean Courson and his staff are doing anything wrong. It's just the next step that may need to be taken across football.

Did Tramel Terry not progress as quickly as the coaches planned? Last I heard, he had an outside shot at only missing September. Will he be strictly at wideout next year because of the potentially crowded backfield?
- Trey Young

Terry just didn't heal as fast from ACL surgery as hoped. He was brutally honest about it early in the preseason, saying he was "not ready at all" to play. Believe me, the coaches would have loved to use him, and he might have made a difference. Terry's injury probably doesn't get the attention it deserves, as he could have given the team the downfield threat it lost when Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley went down.

Next season Terry projects to the same role that was originally envisioned: Mainly at receiver, but some plays out of the backfield. The plan was to use some of the packages and plays that were used for Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith, but for a full-time offensive player.

There wasn't actually a question about blitzes this week, but I'm sticking it in here to make the holiday-themed headline work.
- Seth Emerson

Got it. Although I'm not really sure how many people are going to get the holiday headline anyway. But, whatever.

I just finished your “By the numbers” article. Excellent article as always! Do you see the number of plays in a game becoming an important stat? It seems that some of the best offenses are approaching 70-100 plays a game. I would be interested to see how many plays our defense was on the field and compare it to other defenses.
- Mike Mitchell

It’s interesting, part of the reason Georgia went to the hurry-up in 2011 was to get more plays. This year the Bulldogs have 862 plays on offense, which ranked fifth in the SEC (behind Ole Miss, Missouri, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, in that order.) If you look at those offenses, it’s a mixed bag on their success. Auburn, for all its success, is seventh in the SEC in offensive plays. The Georgia defense, meanwhile, was on the field for 843 plays, which ranked ninth in the SEC. Alabama, Florida and South Carolina have been on the field for the least amount of plays. The thing about total plays is it can have something to do with how your offense or defense performs, but it could also have a lot to do with whether your offense or defense is forcing you to be on the field more or less.

Simple question for the mailbag (and it's my first time): Other than Jacob Park and possibly Josh Malone based upon his decision, are there any other potential early-enrollees for UGA this year?
- UGA parent

Malone, the receiver from Tennessee, is announcing Wednesday, and isn’t likely to pick Georgia, from what I understand. But if he does he’ll enroll early, along with Park. I’m not aware of anybody else so far.

What are your opinions on UGA's three weaknesses from this season actually improving next season: 1. Defensive secondary, 2. Offensive line, & 3. Special teams? Has the defense gained enough experience to make that much difference? Will change ups in the o-line impact any sense of cohesion? Will special teams execution mistakes get resolved? Is coaching to blame at all for these issues we've seen?
- Jonathan, Jacksonville

1. I’m not sure the secondary can get any worse, so yes, it should be better. How much? Well, there’s talent back there, and if Damian Swann plays the way he was expected to, and Tray Matthews can stay healthy, that can go a long way. Stability was also a huge issue, with seven different starting lineups in the secondary alone. So there’s a lot of reasons to expect it to be better, though not quite elite yet.

2. The offensive line loses three senior starters, but none of them were all-SEC types, so it still has a chance to be decent. The guys most likely to step into new starting roles gained experience this year: Kolton Houston (who did start some games), Mark Beard (who has played off the bench) for a couple years) and Brandon Kublanow. But to me the biggest factor is whether John Theus emerges as a truly elite player, as he was tabbed to be, or remains just a solid, but inconsistent starter.

3. Georgia should take a long look at special teams in the offseason. It’s not as simple as naming someone special teams coordinator, but one humble suggestion would be bringing in someone as a one of those quality control advisors. Richt hasn’t indicated a willingness to do that. But trust me, they do practice special teams a lot.

And to answer the final question, yes coaching is almost always a factor, though not often as important as some fans make it out to be.

What does the future look like for Quayvon Hicks? He seemed to show so much promise as a brutal fullback in the SC game, then faded all year until he now sits behind Merritt Hall.
- Jeff Giddens

That was one of the non-injury surprises on offense this season. Hicks was poised to emerge as a force, at least as much as a fullback can, but he simply was too inconsistent with his blocks. Hall may not be as big as Hicks, and may not have been recruited on scholarship, but on a play-to-play basis he was slightly more dependable.

Both are sophomores with two years left. Going forward, they’ll probably continue to share time, especially with no fullback recruits on the horizon. It will be up to Hicks to take his play up a notch and be more consistent. He seems (from what I can tell) a pretty heady kid, so there’s no reason to think he won’t do so.

Another year. The sound of the same broken record. In spite of the injuries, this team could have won every single game this year. The raw talent in this program keeps the team in games and continues to fill the NFL coffers. Perhaps it’s this talent or perhaps it’s the coaching style, but this program has underperformed for years because of one underlying theme; unpreparedness. The unpreparedness is demonstrated in several key areas of this team (inconsistent offensive line play, penalties, special teams’ mistakes, performance in the first halves of games). After 12 years in a program, how does Richt change the culture so that the team is prepared to play and execute each and every Saturday? If Richt can't change this culture, then it is time to change the record.
- Fielding in Atlanta

I understand the overall frustration at not winning a national title. But if I had to nitpick the term “unprepared” it needs to be pointed out that Georgia outscored its opponents in the first quarter and first half this season (117-85 in the first quarter, 113-102 in the second quarter). And Georgia was only trailing at halftime of three games this season. (It was tied against South Carolina and Clemson.)

The injuries just can’t be overlooked either, Fielding. Your point that “in spite of the injuries, this team could have won every single game this year,” kind of illustrates the opposite of the point you’re making. The fact it wasn’t blown out in any game despite losing so much skill-position talent is a compliment.

1-With a team that could return a lot on both sides of the ball, do you know of any underclassmen that are threatening to leave?

2-I see where Dontavius Russell has re opened recruiting and many seem to think Auburn is his new favorite. It seems logical with Rodney Garner being there and Auburn being on fire Do you know anything about this and do we have a chance at getting him back?
- Kevin Williams, Columbus

1-At this point, honestly I’d be surprised if anyone left early. Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann were serious candidates before the season, but Mitchell’s injury and Swann’s struggles have pretty much ended those chances. A few other draft-eligible players – Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson – have talked excitedly about next year.

2-I don’t have any special insight into Russell’s situation, other than what I’ve read on the recruiting sites. But as I always say, my experience is that when a player de-commits he usually ends up at another school. Tramel Terry, who de-committed from Georgia for a time, is a rare exception.

How do you pronounce Faton Bauta?
- Julia from Atlanta

Fa-TONE Bow-tah.

It’ll be useful to remember that the next few years.

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