I told you I was worried about Vanderbilt!
I rarely miss a home game; between October 2, 1993, and October 2, 1999, I went six years without being absent from a contest between the hedges. Since becoming a father, though, I sometimes have had to skip a trip to Athens in order to fulfill my more important responsibilities at home.
Today was one of those days. As many of you know, my wife, Susan, is a teacher. (In fact, many of you will recall that, during the 2005-'06 school term, she was a finalist for Fayette County Teacher of the Year.) Today, Susan had a continuing education course to attend, so I spent the day at home with our son, Thomas.
Thomas and I went to the bank, to the store, and to Chick-fil-A for supper. In between, we played outside on the swingset, enjoyed a riveting game of Ants in the Pants, watched a little T.V., played with various toys out in the yard, and generally had a fine time together as father and son. As a result of this, I did not attend the homecoming game and I was able to follow the action only intermittently.
In other words, I had the best day of any devoted denizen of Bulldog Nation.
First of all, I would like to put this setback into context. Although losing to Vanderbilt is bad, this loss is not comparable to the Bulldogs' 1994 loss to the Commodores between the hedges. In that atrocious outing, Georgia was slapped around by an inferior team for 60 minutes. There was no excuse for what happened at the homecoming game 12 years ago.
(Photograph from The Greenville News.)
Today's defeat, while embarrassing, was to a team that is nowhere near as bad as the 1994 Commodores were. Bobby Johnson has Vandy headed in the right direction; as I noted earlier, the 'Dores have made a habit of playing quality conference opponents tough.
Last year, Vanderbilt went on the road and likely would have beaten Florida in Gainesville, but for a terrible officiating call. Last year, Vanderbilt went on the road and beat Tennessee in Knoxville. This year, after three straight close calls in conference play, Vanderbilt went on the road and beat Georgia in Athens.
We have known for some time now that this was the Bulldogs' year of living dangerously. Close shaves against Colorado and Ole Miss---neither of which is markedly better than Vanderbilt, despite their more storied histories---put us on notice that this Georgia squad was barely scraping by, so it should have come as no surprise that a Commodore squad that has been falling just short for a couple or three years now would play the Red and Black tight and have a chance to come away with the win.
I credit Coach Johnson and his team for finding a way to gut out a victory and I congratulate Vanderbilt on a hard-earned upset. Having given credit where credit is due, however, I must say that losing to the Commodores in the Classic City is inexcusable and the fact that it has happened means that some serious changes need to be made.
Several Dawg Sports readers already have expressed their opinions upon these subjects and I believe a consensus is forming, but it is necessary to articulate what needs to happen, and why, for the good of the program. Mark Richt is the right man to lead Georgia in the 21st century, but he is not infallible and it is time to correct some defects.
During the English Civil War, Lord Falkland said that, "when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." The need has arisen and the requisite changes are these:
1. Start Matthew Stafford in every remaining game and allow him to take every meaningful snap for the rest of the season. My cousin, quoting my uncle, said it best: "Don't lose with seniors."
At this point, I think we all know we're going 8-5. The 'Dawgs are going to beat Mississippi State and Kentucky, lose to Florida and Auburn, and go into the Georgia Tech game at 7-4. Either the Red and Black will lose to the Ramblin' Wreck and drop down to a bowl game against a lesser opponent the Bulldogs can beat or the Classic City Canines will beat the Yellow Jackets and move up to a bowl game against an equal opponent to which Georgia will lose. Either way, the handwriting is on the wall.
That being the case, what is to be gained by leaving Joe Tereshinski III under center? What games will he win that Stafford would lose? Aren't we better off with Stafford taking snaps at quarterback and Tereshinski spending quality time with the punt team? If this season is lost, anyway, why not get next year's starter the playing time he needs to make next year a success?
2. Turn the play-calling duties over to Mike Bobo. This one is fairly self-explanatory. The consistent success enjoyed by such C.E.O.-style head coaches as Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer attests to the utility of a head coach being a head coach . . . and only a head coach.
Coach Bobo is going to be an offensive coordinator somewhere sometime soon and, as a former Georgia quarterback, he is particularly well-suited to be calling the plays at his alma mater. Coach Bobo has earned the promotion and Coach Richt needs to relinquish that responsibility.
3. Fire Willie Martinez and promote Rodney Garner to defensive coordinator right now. I don't mean reshuffle some of the coaching responsibilities on the defensive side of the ball. I don't mean make some staff changes at the end of the season. I mean have Coach Martinez's belongings packed in cardboard boxes and placed out in the hallway by the time he arrives at the office Monday morning.
While my preference would be to hire Will Muschamp away from Auburn, Hamp is right that such a move would cost the 'Dawgs their recruiting coordinator and there's no way to make a staff change at mid-season without promoting from within.
Last week, I said I was not yet ready to get rid of Coach Martinez, but now I have had enough. In the last two games, the Bulldogs have given up a combined 75 points . . . the most conceded by the Red and Black in back-to-back outings since the 1999 Georgia Tech game and the 2000 Outback Bowl. Following the latter of those defensive disasters, Georgia's defensive coordinator, Kevin Ramsey, was fired unceremoniously and replaced with Gary Gibbs. A similar upgrade is warranted now.
Coach Martinez simply lacks the ability to make halftime adjustments. The 'Dawgs carried leads into the locker room on each of the last two Saturdays before going on to lose both games at home. In the 52 games in which Brian VanGorder was Georgia's defensive coordinator, the Red and Black held their opponents scoreless in the second half seven times, allowed three points in the final two periods four times, surrendered six points after intermission on five occasions, permitted seven points in the last two quarters in 18 instances, and conceded eight points following the break once.
35 times in 52 games, Coach VanGorder's halftime adjustments kept the opposing team's second-half scoring in the single digits, with one-fifth of those stellar defensive efforts involving shutouts after intermission. Of the remaining 17 games during which Coach VanGorder had an Athens mailing address, the 'Dawgs gave up more than 14 points in the final two stanzas just seven times.
In the 20 games since Coach VanGorder was succeeded---though by no means replaced---by Coach Martinez, the Bulldogs have given up double-digit point totals in the last two quarters eight times while pitching four second-half shutouts. In other words, a Willie Martinez-coached defense is twice as likely to give up 10 or more points after halftime as it is to hold an opponent scoreless after halftime.
Moreover, the trend is getting worse rather than better. In the Red and Black's last 12 outings, the Bulldogs have given up 17 or more points in the second half three times. In the last two weeks, Georgia has surrendered 54 second-half points . . . more than half the total number of second-half points given up by Brian VanGorder's defense in three of his four complete seasons.
The bottom line is that Georgia used to win games because Coach VanGorder outcoached the opposition in the second half and the Bulldogs now lose games because Coach Martinez gets outcoached by the opposition in the second half.
For every "W" in "Willie," there are two "L"s. Coach Martinez is a nice guy, but, like Ray Goff, he was promoted beyond his level of ability. It is time for Coach Martinez to go.
On a more positive note, Kristin Davis's alma mater improved to 6-0 in dramatic fashion today, so at least there's that.
(Photograph from Star Pulse.)