Last night, secure in the knowledge that my memory is not what it once was, I jotted down a few notes in preparation for appearing on John Frary’s radio show. As I ran down David Hale’s rundown of recent happenings on the practice field in the Classic City, I started to see a pattern emerge.
Last year, defensive penalties (and personal fouls in particular) were a continual source of problems, so the Bulldogs have made the elimination of flags a major area of concentration. Last year, kickoffs were a persistent weak point, so Mark Richt is shaking up the special teams. Coach Richt has hinted that some underclassmen may be atop the depth chart at tight end and Logan Gray may play the D.J. Shockley to Joe Cox’s David Greene, as well.
Maybe those are just routine efforts to right the ship in areas of concern. Maybe those are indications that Coach Richt, after redshirting Knowshon Moreno, has seen the wisdom of Urban Meyer’s statement that, in Gainesville, there is no longer any such thing as a redshirt year.
Maybe, though, there is something more going on here.
There are a myriad of reasons why last year’s preseason No. 1 ranking did not hold up, but one of the problems was that everyone associated with the program got a bit uptight over all the hype. Last year’s collapse in Jacksonville was emblematic of this; down 14-3 at the half with an Eastern Division championship on the line---exactly the situation in which the ‘Dawgs found themselves at Auburn in 2002---the Red and Black failed not only to finish the drill, but even to show up in the final 30 minutes.
I remain as fearful as ever about the 2009 season, but I see in our head coach indications of innovation, of a willingness to shake up the program after three straight seasons marred by lengthy stretches of complacency, and of a renewed vigor for the challenges facing Georgia.
With no expectations and plenty of job security, Coach Richt enters 2009 able to relax . . . or, at least, not be weighed down with the burden of national championship chatter. Over the course of the last twelve months, we have forgotten---I have forgotten---that this is supposed to be a sport of exhilarating joy, not miserable drudgery.
Aside from a few statistical bright spots that serve only to mock the hard fact of unrealized potential, last season stunk from stem to stern, and, to be blunt, Mark Richt did the worst coaching job of his otherwise stellar career.
What Hip Richt appears to remember today is what we would do well to recall ourselves. This Mark Richt is the same guy who called P-44-Haynes. He’s the same guy who called 70-X-Takeoff. He’s the same guy who called for an onside kick against Virginia Tech while knowing full well that engaging in a special teams duel with Frank Beamer is like doing the Ali shuffle in the ring with Muhammad Ali. This is the same Mark Richt who ordered the end zone dance in Jacksonville and blacked out Auburn.
I don’t know how many games the Georgia Bulldogs will win in 2009. It likely will be the case that they will fail as often as they succeed in big games . . . but, if they fail, they will fail while daring greatly.
We may or may not like the won-lost record this season produces, but we will look back on Mark Richt and his ninth Red and Black squad with an admiration for their boldness. There most likely will be more losses than we are prepared at present to accept, but there will be no timidity and no quit in this team.
In the end, heart only goes so far as a substitute for talent, but I get the sense that Mark Richt is in the mood to let ‘er rip. Without regard to whether we like the results, we ought to love the attitude, and it certainly should be fun to watch.
Can we please please please play some dadgum football already?