Bulldogs Beat

Mailbag: The Georgia-Vanderbilt edition

ATHENS - Let me assuage anybody's concern right off the bat: No, you don't have to read another 2,000 words on Todd Grantham and James Franklin. Believe it or not, there are other things to talk about this week.

Like suspensions. No one is sick of that topic either.

But seriously, this mailbag is run by you, the reader, so it's possibly a reflection of the weariness of the Franklin-Grantham storyline that I only got one question about it. And it was a light-hearted question. I'll plead guilty to writing a lot about the storyline earlier in the week, but hey, the web stats were telling me that was the way to go. Later in the week, however, my spidey sense was saying it was time to move on.

So of course when I got on the phone this morning to a UGA official, seeking an answer to one of the queries below, the official quickly turned the subject:

"So what's gonna happen with Franklin and Grantham on Saturday?" he asked.

Mai tais. That's what'll happen. We're all going to drink Mai Tais in the press box, and celebrate a storyline beaten to death, and hopefully put away by a peaceful encounter by two coaches this Saturday. Just in time for next week's visit by Tennessee, which thankfully has no obvious storyline, other than the visiting head coach with a possibly make-or-break game coming in the city he grew up in and against the team his father coached for decades.

Deep breath.

First, I hope you are not getting too many questions about the defense and it "underperforming," but I assume you are. Oh well, I guess you can blame Bobo for that. Anyway, do you think we will see a legitimately full Sanford this Saturday night? We all have heard the complaints about the students not coming and leaving early, and I was guilty of this at times during undergrad, so I won't throw stones. With that said, this is the first SEC home game of the year, a night game (which might not seem like much based on this year's schedule, but for years these games were total treats), and a game against a team that almost beat us last year that comes in with the backdrop of the Grantham-Franklin issues. What does it say about the UGA fan base if the students are all leaving to head to the bars at halftime (or not even coming at all)? Is it more of an indicator of how perfect downtown Athens is than an indictment of our students? Thoughts in general on the "fan issue" are appreciated.

-NorthSTRATFORDdawg

Earlier this summer the athletic board tweaked the student ticket system, in an effort to spark more turnout, and the headliner was giving freshmen priority. The results? So far so good, according to John Bateman, head of marketing for the athletics department.

Bateman says the student attendance for the Buffalo game would have ranked second or third last year, and there were 700-800 more in attendance for the FAU game two weeks alter. This week, more students have requested tickets through the lottery than first two games, and fewer tickets have been returned than the first two games. As for the Tennessee game, Bateman said that right now, more students have put themselves in the lottery for tickets than any of the first three games.

(For the record, Bateman is not the unnamed official I alluded to above.)

But overall attendance in college football, and even the SEC, is enough of a concern that there are efforts being made to improve the fan experience. You saw that with the change in policy on what replays can be shown on the video scoreboard. I also thought it was interesting that they showed the end of the Kentucky-Western Kentucky game during the fourth quarter on Saturday night.

Fan turnout is becoming a problem everywhere, even the NFL, thanks to the ability of people to stay at home and get a pretty good experience in their living room. You’re going to see more and more self-examination by schools and teams on how to combat that. (And yes, whoever replaces Michael Adams may re-consider and all tailgating policies. Not reporting that, just a hunch.)

I am confused on the Alec Ogletree suspension. I thought last year he was suspended for the scooter helmet incident. If so was he suspended another time for violation of the drug policy? I am not clear on why he would have a 4 game suspension for a second violation of the drug policy. Did I miss something last year? Or was he busted twice in the off season?

- Sanford222view

Alec Ogletree’s situation is a much more murky one than Rambo. We know Rambo sat the opener against Boise State, and that the offseason “pot brownies” incident was his second violation. But in Ogletree’s case there has been no reported suspension, other than the scooter helmet situation – which came his freshman year, two years ago. And the people around him are either in the dark or not talking the way Rambo’s high school coach did.

It’s always possible, but unlikely, that there were two incidents in the offseason. It’s also possible that during his six-game sabbatical last year after breaking his foot against Boise State, that one of those games actually counted as a suspension. If that was the case, UGA would not have announced it.

Honestly, who are you taking in the Franklin-Grantham cage match? I got TG. He's a bruiser.

- Scott Cogar

They’re actually very similar in size. Franklin might be an inch taller.

Seriously, I would expect there to be no fireworks on Saturday night. At some point they may shake hands, but not hug.

I wanted to say thanks for the videos you have been posting. It makes the season a little more fun to actually see part of the interviews with some of the players and coaches. My question is why Ray Drew does not play more? I don't remember him being in the last game at all.

- Ken Mullis

Glad the videos are working out so far. I’ll try to keep them coming.

Drew did play against FAU, registering one tackle. I’ll be honest: I’ve heard divergent opinions on Drew since his recruitment. He got four and five-star labels, but a few people in south Georgia thought he may be overrated. It’s still too early to say for sure, because Drew is playing behind a talented group of edge rushers, especially with Cornelius Washington now playing defensive end, and Garrison Smith coming off the bench.

1-I personally have never had a problem with Bobo as the OC. Do you think people will finally start to back off the negative comments now that we put up over 700 yards of offense and have scored more than 40 points the first 3 games of the season (a UGA record by the way)?

2-The preseason talk about UGA was how soft their schedule is. With the way the rankings are now, Bama looks to have a “soft” schedule. Sure they will have to play #2 LSU and beat #8 Michigan, but that’s about it (they don’t play UGA, USC or FL from the east). UGA is not any worse with having to play #7 South Carolina and #14 Florida. Will this change in schedule strength hurt Bama and help UGA this season? By the way, LSU has to play 3 teams in the top 15.

- Allen W. Jones

1-The Bobo detractors, and there are many, will say that Georgia should put up 40-plus on Buffalo and Florida Atlantic, and that the defense set up the final 14 points at Missouri. And as soon as the offense has a down game, or even one dubious play call, the critics will return. Not passing judgment either way, but that’s just how it is. I do think people should consider this: Much of the criticism has been that the Georgia offense is too vanilla, (I’ve felt there was some merit to that over the past few years), but over the past couple years Bobo has installed the no-huddle and now receiver spread formations – and in the past game they even used the pistol.

2-The cratering of the Arkansas program certainly does change the perception of everybody’s schedule. But I’d still give Alabama the nod for the more difficult road to Atlanta: Both Georgia and Alabama go to Missouri, (the Tide go there on Oct. 13), Alabama has to go to LSU, as well as Tennessee. You could certainly argue that with Georgia going to South Carolina and Florida (er, Jacksonville) that the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide have equal SEC schedules. But throw in Michigan, and unless Georgia Tech turns out to be really, really good, then the Tide have the more difficult overall schedule.

I keep hearing Coach Richt and all of the GA players keep saying, "Get back to Atlanta," as a team goal. Is it too unrealistic to have a team goal, “Win at Atlanta?” Are we selling ourselves short to JUST try to get back to the SEC Championship? And IF we do “Get back to Atlanta,” is there a chance we could actually beat Alabama or LSU?

- Ray Bailey, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Yeah, I’ve noticed this too. It may just be force of habit after last season. Not jumping into Richt’s mind, or the minds of those players who say it, but their thinking has to be that they respect their fellow SEC East teams too much to look past winning the division. Of course, it should be pointed out that the freshmen have referred to themselves as “the ring team.” And sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera had a pretty good quote before the season:

“I feel like we settled last year,” he said. “By just getting to the SEC (title game). I mean, when we got there, we wanted to win it. But we weren’t talking about that all year. We were only talking about getting there. Now we are talking about winning it all.”

How do you think the true freshmen have performed so far? Obviously Gurley has been great but looking at the defense in terms of turnover next season what are your impressions?

- Alex K.

The three main guys on offense have been as advertised: Gurley, Keith Marshall and John Theus are important parts of this offense. Throw in Mark Beard, who was a junior college transfer, and you have another guy who may start on Saturday.

Defensively, we have to see, because unlike on offense nobody is being depended on to be important this season. But it does seem that Jordan Jenkins, Josh Dawson and Sheldon Dawson are getting valuable playing experience early this season. Those guys could be key next year. Josh Harvey-Clemons hasn’t played very much quite yet, but that could change eventually, and down the road he should be a starter at either safety or linebacker. John Taylor and James Deloach should get some time next year too, but right now are blocked.

But in an overall view of the freshmen, let’s focus on the short term: The tailbacks, John Theus, Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber actually needed to be good right away, and except for a few hiccups they have been. That’s been important for the Bulldogs.

Hi Seth – I have a 2-part question relating back to the Missouri game. 1-Our no-huddle offense seemed slow compared to the hurry-up offense that Missouri used, especially in the third quarter. I was pleased with how our defense responded but I could very easily see the Missouri hurry-up offense catching defenses off guard (hopefully this weekend). Do you see any chance that Bobo will speed things up with our offense? 2-Related to that, boy, were the Mizzou fans pissed when Cornelius Washington went down with a groin pull. They were convinced he was faking and trying to slow down the Mizzou offense. I’ve seen it in the pros but I’ve not seen a college stadium boo a kid like that before. Can you put that in perspective and did Cornelius have anything to say about it after the game?

- Paul from St. Louis

1-Well, not to come off as an apologist for Bobo, as I sometimes do, but you have to remember that Missouri’s been running this offense for years, while Georgia just went to the no-huddle last year. So naturally there will be more precision to what Mizzou can do. From listening to Bobo, my sense is that while they’d love to get plays off quicker, they’re not going to do so just for the sake of being fast. They need to make sure they have the right play too.

2-I haven’t actually talked to Washington about it. To be completely honest, at first I suspected it was some gamesmanship too. But then Washington sat out for several series and worked with the trainers. And he’s remained on the injury report the past couple weeks, albeit not very slowed by it in practice. So if Washington was faking an injury, it was pretty elaborately done.

I'm curious about the sudden rash of of ankle sprains, specifically the offensive line. Anytime you see a specific group suffering the same injury, you have to question the strength and conditioning or possibly equipment problems. I remember before we revamped the strength and conditioning we had a rash of pulled hamstrings with the backs. I read an article on that back then and the just of the article was that when you target certain muscle groups that sometimes the increased strength in one area can cause injuries in others. I am convinced that our S@C has made huge gains over where we were before. The second half of the Missouri game is proof of that. Any thoughts on this?

- Larry W. Tucker

I’ve also noticed the increase in sprained ankles, having to write the term “sprained ankle” for often than my previous two years on the beat. But I really wouldn’t ascribe anything to it other than coincidence. UGA gave a seminar on concussions last week, and the doctors and trainers said the rate of concussions varies per season. I suspect it’s like that with any injury.

As far as overall conditioning, everything does seem on an uptick. The performance of the Bulldogs in the second half of all three games would seem to speak to that.

We have seen several new wrinkles added to the offense in the first three games. Over the next few weeks, I expect we will open up the playbook a little more. Do you believe we will see any two back sets with Gurley/Marshall both on the field? Also, who do you think will step up and take over as punt returner?

- David from Americus

The Gurley-Marshall backfield is a wrinkle that I’ll believe when I see. If Bobo tries that, then I’ll be fully convinced he’s reading this and other blogs for inspiration. Otherwise, within the context of the offense it doesn’t make much sense. Richt and Bobo prefer having a fullback in a two-back set. They didn’t really do it with Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, did they? (I’m asking this seriously, since I wasn’t here in 2009. By the time I got here, Ealey and King could hardly stay eligible for the same game.)

I’ve been surprised that Branden Smith hasn’t gotten more punt return chances. Smith sounds like he’s been surprised too. But for whatever reason Damian Swann and Malcolm Mitchell have gotten the majority of the looks. The more Mitchell plays offense, which everyone expects to happen, the more you’ll probably see Smith back at punt returner.

After listening to Coach Richt's weekly press conference and him talking about his Friday evening before the game routine. I started thinking about all the hours it takes to run a successful football program. All the little things that most fans never think about. He said he spends some time with the players at the hotel, then usually leaves and works on some recruiting. I was just curious if you had a little more insight on a day in the life of Mark Richt during football season. I know coaches work day and night. With Coach Richt being such a big family man, how does he balance work and family with such huge expectations as a coach in the SEC?

I enjoy the blog. Thanks for work you do!

- Jonathan Hansard, Buford

Thanks Jonathan. Well, this is a subject I can’t appropriately keep short. I’ve actually talked to Richt about the work-family balance, but it was off the record so I’ll respect that. But generally he and the coaches get in around dawn and don’t leave until a few hours after practice ends. Sometimes it takes longer. It’s not an ideal life, but the coaches and their families tend to make it work. The spouses know what they’re signing up for, and the coaches accept that the long hours and time away from family – at least during the season and recruiting periods – is the sacrifice they make to earn a good salary and provide for their families.

Given the suspensions at linebacker and the use of freshman linebackers (understanding Jenkins and Dawson are very talented), where has Ramik Wilson been? Is he hurt or was he suspended and we just didn’t know?

- Dan Mayer

Wilson did play, so he wasn’t suspended, although he didn’t register in the stats. I was also surprised to see both freshmen start at outside linebacker, but this may just have been a case of Grantham giving the younger guys a shot in a game the team was expected to win handily. Grantham hasn’t been asked about Wilson this week. The better gauge will be how much Wilson plays this week, with Jarvis Jones back, and in a game that Grantham would love to toss a shutout.

I'm still concerned for our defense, I understand we have missed several key players, however we are suppose to be "deep" on defense and I just don't see that killer instinct. The excuses are, "well we missed the gap", "we had blown assignments", we are playing "young" freshman...etc. Don't you think we should beyond all that by now? I guess the bottom line is to get the "W" and we have done that, but I think we would have a hard time going up against Bama or LSU. Maybe I need a Kool-Aid refill or something, can you tell me something to lift me up a little? I'm just a Dawg living in Texas and need it! Thanks.

- Rick Nelson, Texas

No Kool-Aid, but I can refer you to my story in today’s papers, where Todd Grantham and Malcolm Mitchell may lift your spirits a bit. Grantham points to the halftime adjustments and how they’ve paid off. Mitchell says the return of Rambo and Ogletree will be a “game changer” for the defense.

Of course, it’s not all quite THAT simple, and Grantham and the players know that too. If you’re a top flight, lights out defense, you shouldn’t be letting Buffalo and Florida Atlantic get up and down the field. But it’s so hard to get an accurate read on a defense that in every game has been missing at least three key starters. Personally, I still think the Georgia defense will be pretty good this season. But whether it will be GREAT remains to be seen.

Is there any doubt that Zander is suspended? Thought it might be the case in August when the coaches never mentioned him on the fullback depth chart. Figure whatever Alec did, he did. Have the coaches been asked? Thought 30 Rock had a great rebound last season after a mediocre prior season. Looking forward to it's return.

- MatDawg

Until UGA actually confirms Zander Ogletree is suspended, I suppose there is still doubt. Richt did confirm Alec Ogletree and Rambo were suspended, but when I asked about Zander he just talked about fullback depth. Well, if Zander has slipped past walk-on Corey Campbell on the depth chart, then the future doesn’t look too great for him.

Agreed on “30 Rock.” We here in the Emerson household are also very excited about “Modern Family,” the final season of “The Office,”and of course “How I Met Your Mother” and “Big Bang Theory.”

We are currently working on getting La Profesora excited about “Parks and Rec,” and “The Simpsons,” and “Dexter” and “Homeland.” It is an often difficult task, but if I can bring culture and humor refinement to at least one person, I will consider my life well-lived.

I absolutely love reading your blog!!! Could you post a few more stories each day? I need something to read at work. Also, the past two years I have attended picture day and gotten the cutest pictures of my daughter and Hairy Dawg. This year, we could not make it. Do you know if he makes any other appearances other than at football games? I would love to keep this tradition going and put them all in a scrapbook for her and be able to give it to her as she leaves for college at UGA. Thanks.

- Crystal

Thanks for the kind words Crystal.

Ben O'Brien, who is UGA's spirit coordinator, passes this along:

"We are in the Georgia Center for Continuing Ed every home game 3 ½ hours before kick-off. Hairy Dawg is in suit then for about 15-20 minutes."

So there you go. Good luck!

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