Monday, September 27, 2010

Victories of the Moral Variety

Most of us Dawg fans are beginning to grasp at something, anything to restore meaning to the rest of the 2010 football season. I'm a little down after these first couple of games, but remember, all of us have been looking forward to football for 9 months. Let's try to embrace it and our Bulldogs as much as we can.

Or is it?

It's hard to say that we're playing for pride when we came out flat and lost to an inferior (talent-wise) Mississippi State football club, especially when our Dawgs appear to have all but forgotten how to "Finish The Drill".

In an attempt to somehow overlook our 0-3 SEC start and our 1-3 record, here are 4 moral victories so far to takeaway for the season; while they obviously don't show up in the polls, maybe you can take a little bit of solace in them for our near future.

1) Aaron Murray - The preseason buzz was whether this newcomer to the returning 10 offensive starters would somehow slow down our attack; so far, Aaron is more than carrying his fair share of the offense. Aaron currently ranks 4th in the SEC in passing yards/game as well as in total offense; his passing efficiency is a solid 6th in the SEC, especially accounting for him being the only underclassmen on the list.

The excess play-action calls notwithstanding, Aaron could develop into an even deadlier quarterback over the rest of the season if the playbook is thrown open and more shotgun snaps are taken, giving Aaron a longer time to assess the coverage and routes. Then there's also that All-American wide receiver coming back from suspension...

2) Kris Durham/Blair Walsh - I think we could all agree that there have been several small positive surprises from our roster this year, among them Durham and Walsh.

Kris Durham is one of several remaining 2006 signees left on our roster; after battling through a shoulder injury and a resulting redshirt season last year, Kris currently ranks 3rd in the SEC in reception yards/game and 8th in receptions/game. All this while Durham is known as the go-to receiver for Georgia during AJ's suspension, with opponents focusing on him more; Durham has 17 out of the team's to-date 66 receptions for the season, having almost twice as the 2nd leading receiver on the team (Tavarres, with 9). With AJ returning, Durham and our passing attack could flourish further, with Kris fighting less double teams from our opponents' secondary.

Blair, a 2009 Lou Groza award finalist, has proven to be the only true consistency so far this year. Blair currently ranks 8th in overall scoring in the SEC with 31 points, and is a perfect 7-7 on FGs this year, with a long of 52 yards. While we have given up some bad kickoff returns so far this season, the statistics prove otherwise, with UGA ranking 12th in the nation in fewest yards per return given up (@17.47 yards/return), helped in part by 25% of our kickoffs (5/20) being downed for touchbacks. I hope that we can convert more of these FGs into touchdowns in the near-future, but it's always good to have almost guaranteed points at the end of a scoring drive.

3) Potential NFL lockout?- Beyond the above two, it becomes tough without listing obvious future moral victories (AJ returning!) or minuscule ones from this season. This is part 1 of my forward look to possible impacts on next year.

Out of the 29 listed juniors and 17 redshirt sophomores on our roster, the big names to circle for the spring's draft would be AJ, Justin Houston, and Ben Jones, with possibly Cornelius Washington and Brandon Boykin also in the mix. There always might be another surprise name popping up at some point due to the swirling uncertainty with the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

As long as there's no CBA, any players who are taken in the 2011 Draft cannot sign with their drafting teams (especially since one of the major points in any CBA agreement will be instituting a rookie wage scale).

So, if you are a stud draft pick with remaining eligibility, do you:

1) Leave college for the draft in the hopes that the CBA might get signed, leaving your career at risk should some sort of fluke accident happen? Also, if there's no NFL season in 2011 (which is a real possibility, since the owners are reportedly collecting partial TV revenue for the season, whether it gets played or not; this of course is a lawsuit in the making), you would have to shake off some rust to fight 2011 and 2012 picks for a roster spot.

2) Stay in school, play football, get the regular NCAA injury insurance and maintain their draft stock for 2012. Or,

3) Avoid the 2011 draft, keep an eye on the CBA negotiations, and if an agreement is reached, screw up your eligibility to make yourself available for the summer NFL supplemental draft.

This option, which Paul Oliver took in 2007 after he was declared academically ineligible, is only realistic for the more elite, AJ/Justin Houston type prospects, especially since teams would be surrendering future draft picks. And this of course assumes that the players wanting to go in the supplemental draft could figure out a way to kill their fall eligibility (really tough not throwing in a joke here...).

While it would be a small miracle if AJ did return for a senior year, the possibility is definitely out there with the NFL CBA uncertainty.

4) New scheduling approach - While Damon Evans did wonders for the men's basketball program with the hiring of Mark Fox, his football scheduling approach was somewhat questioned, especially last year when we opened on the road against Oklahoma State during the inauguration/setup game of the newly refurbished Boone Pickens Stadium.

While I agree with BulldawgJosh that McGarity's proposed approach is a bit of a buzzkill and will hurt UGA's coast-to-coast public exposure, there is something to be said for Florida's results (3 MNCs) in the 18 years that they have not held an OOC game outside the state of Florida.

The alumni buzz for next weekend's Colorado has been more than palpable (I can only imagine a sold-out, 3,000 ticket UGA tailgate in Boulder with a waiting list), and I'm sure the buzz will be even more overwhelming for the 2013 Clemson game and especially the 2015 Oregon game in Eugene.

Although there is definitely merit in Nick Saban's approach to scheduling marquee games in recruiting hotbeds, I think that approach is more appropriate for outsiders-looking-in (ala Boise State, and the early years of Bowden/Florida State) and for state schools with recruiting areas less rich than Georgia.

For the OOC games UGA does pursue in the future, hopefully it will target recruiting-rich areas for games, approaching schools in California and Texas, as well as large media markets that will further expose UGA nationally (ie Rutgers).

It's tough trying to put lipstick on a pig. But I do think there are some things to continue to look forward to this year, especially the treat of seeing Murray blossom as a QB and the continued evolution of Todd Grantham's defense, which actually ranks 5th in the SEC in total defense.

For the rest of the season, I want to see the Dawgs playing with more fire and passion, living up to those words on the back of their off-season workout shirts. I want to see Grantham's energy on the sideline, which I suspect has been bottled up by some of the higher-ups. And as a suggestion to Mike Bobo, I think he needs to move back up to the box for play-calling, since he's definitely not seeing what everyone else is.

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