ATHENS – The least surprising thing after Georgia's first scrimmage was that the head coach said he was disappointed. No coach is ever happy with the first scrimmage, when he still needs to motivate his team for another few weeks. Mark Richt was not going to come out and say: "That was awesome. I think we'll just coast the rest of the way, maybe take a few days off to hit the beach!"
Hutson Mason's comments, however, were a bit more interesting.
Georgia's junior backup quarterback called out his own offense and its leaders on Tuesday, in remarks reminiscent of Shawn Williams’ rant against his own defense midway through last season.
Mason’s speech, however, won't go down in Georgia football lore the way Williams’ did. It may not get remembered past Friday. Whereas Williams’ rant came before what turned out to be the biggest win of the season, Mason’s came after the first scrimmage.
That’s just the way it is with the Georgia offense this year: Another day, another push to avoid complacency.
Oh, there was some cause for concern: Georgia quarterbacks threw six interceptions in Wednesday’s scrimmage, three by starter Aaron Murray. But while defensive players merely called the scrimmage a draw, Mason and Richt said the defense won, and that the offense had no energy or fire.
"We kind of lacked the passion and enthusiasm," Mason said, blaming that partly on it being the sixth straight day of preseason camp. "But it's no excuse. We've gotta come out with better senior, upperclassmen leadership. We've gotta be able to push those guys, whether you're a senior or a backup. The defense really played better than us today."
Making matters a bit more worrisome, the defense was ravaged by injuries, with two projected starters and several other key reserves out. Austin Herod, a walk-on safety, ended up getting a lot of playing time.
“There was a lot of guys on there that will never play,” Mason said. “A couple third string, second string guys, because of injuries. That makes no excuse for not really dominating. That’s more of a reason we should be putting up big numbers and dominating.”
Mason did say it wasn't a terrible day, it was just disappointing. But for an offense with so many veterans, he said that wasn't up to par.
“With the experience we have, we are experiencing great things, and anything less than that the coaches aren’t going to settle for," Mason said. "And the senior leaders the guys on our team shouldn’t settle for it. So when we do have a bad day it should be disappointing. But it’s moreso disappointing today because the effort and the lackadaisical attitude, moreso than making mistakes. Because guys can deal with mistakes, that’s gonna happen. But when you don’t bring the effort, when you don’t bring the intensity, you know you’ve gotta have that in football.”
Richt pointed out that the offense still put up a lot of yards, and that situational drills were “relatively even.” (The scrimmage was closed to the media and public.) But overall he echoed Mason’s assessment, sensing guys were tired.
“But I think for the first time didn’t see much juice,” Richt said. “It was a little disappointing to me, quite frankly, being that it was a scrimmage.”Forgetting last year – when the Bulldogs set numerous offensive records – has been a theme of the preseason. On the first day of practice offensive coordinator Mike Bobo threw his hat at Mason after an interception, and yelled that “last year’s over!”
So are the players not responding to the coaches?
“Coach Bobo always talks about it can’t be coach-driven enthusiasm and leadership. It has to be player-driven,” Mason said. “We hear so much yelling and so much of the coach jumping us it does get kinda old, and it kinda gets tiring. That’s why we need seniors, that’s why we need upperclassmen, guys with experience and moxie and balls to them, to step out and say you know what, you’re not doing your job. You’re letting me down, you’re letting your whole team down. You’re letting the offense down and you look like crap. That’s what we need. You can only go as far as your leaders go. If you’re a coach-driven team, you’re gonna fail.”