ATHENS -- It was Todd Gurley, of all people, who best summed up the angst of the Georgia fan base, speaking on Sept. 7 after the loss at South Carolina.
“Same thing over again,” he said. “You just get tired of losing. You get tired of being let down.”
And that was just two games into another tumultuous and nerve-wracking season.
For this team, it has been a year of great highs: Clemson, Auburn, Missouri two days after Gurley’s sudden suspension, and Arkansas the next week.
But the lows have been just as great: South Carolina and the first-and-goal fiasco; Georgia Tech and the squib kick decision; and worst of all, the egg-laying against a Florida team so bad it fired its head coach two weeks later.
It’s also a season that isn’t over. A good way for this Georgia program to feel better about itself would be to win a bowl game and have a 10-win season, the ninth in Mark Richt’s 14-year tenure.
But if Georgia is going to take the next step, and be in the 2015 national playoff, here are a few other things that would help immensely:
1. Hold on to players.
No more losing good them for silly reasons that other major programs laugh at. No one’s saying to look the other way with egregious acts that require discipline and dismissal. It’s admirable to seek a strong locker-room culture and to have the moral high ground.
But this is football, and you’re not going to win the national championship with choir boys.
There’s also the matter of players who might leave early for the NFL draft.
Gurley is expected to go, despite his knee injury. Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins and receiver Malcolm Mitchell will explore it. Offensive tackle John Theus is likely to stay, and if Kolton Houston is granted an extra year by the NCAA, then the offensive line -- an unexpected strength of the team this year -- returns four starters. The biggest key might be Mitchell, because Georgia already loses its top two receivers and its quarterback.
2. Hold on to committed recruits, too.
Georgia’s recruiting class already has 25 commitments, and is ranks third in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Richt, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and the rest of the staff hit the recruiting trail pretty much as soon as the Georgia Tech game was over. Much of that is just keeping the current commitments from being poached, but the Bulldogs are also chasing a few more five-stars, most notably defensive end Josh Sweat of Norfolk, Va.
3. Improve the defensive line.
The common thread in all three losses this season is the defensive front got pushed around, via the run (Florida and Georgia Tech) and lack of pass rush (South Carolina).
Help should be already be on the way. Trent Thompson, one of the nation’s top recruits, is committed to Georgia and could start right away. Jonathan Ledbetter, Natrez Pattrick, Chauncey Rivers and Michael Barnett are also committed and candidates to contribute in 2015.
When Pruitt took over this year, he asked many of his linemen to drop weight. He might need to revisit that in light of what happened this season. It might help to have some big guys in there clogging the trenches.
4. Critical in-game coaching decisions have to improve.
It’s hard to put a finger on how to do this. You can’t just snap your fingers. But it has to happen. Too many times, Richt or offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have had to face questions about end-of-game decision. They’re both in jobs that naturally result in easy second-guessing. They’ve also provided a couple reasons for it.
5. Give Bobo a raise.
Georgia is eighth nationally in scoring offense and leads the SEC, and it still would if the defensive and special teams touchdowns were subtracted. All this after losing the star tailback in the middle of the season. Bobo’s offense has been prolific for awhile now, and he also happens to be one of the staff’s better recruiters. (He ran lead on Thompson.)
Bobo and his family are eating well at $575,000 a year, but he shouldn’t be earning almost $300,000 less than the defensive coordinator. He’s also had chances to leave or pursue the head jobs at Southern Mississippi and Georgia Southern, and he has passed because he likes Georgia and working for Richt. But at some point, money talks, too.
It probably wouldn’t hurt either to bump up running backs coach Bryan McClendon, whose stock continues to grow.
6. Get the next quarterback (probably Brice Ramsey) ready.
Hutson Mason ended up having a good season (20 touchdown passes, four interceptions, second in the SEC in pass efficiency rating.) Ramsey, who will be a third-year sophomore, was second in line this year and has a stronger arm, but accuracy will be the issue. Faton Bauta and Jacob Park could also push him in spring practice.
There are plenty of other starters to replace -- including center David Andrews, cornerback Damian Swann and both inside linebackers. But the quarterback position is the game’s most important, so that takes center stage.
As the offseason arrives and evolves, other issues will undoubtedly come up. But for now, consider this list a good starting point.
Contact Seth Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.