I was recently asked by a family member, who doesn't necessarily follow Georgia Football, what went wrong in 2013. It's a simple enough question but the answer cannot be summarized by a single thing. My attempt at a simple explanation became laborious and I was stopped before I could get too wordy and tangential because I was becoming wordy and tangential. Again, I was asked - this time a bit more pointedly as if being interrogated: "Dave, tell me the main thing that derailed the season."
Fair enough. My answer, and I suspect yours too if asked: "Injuries. Not enough depth to overcome this." This was the wrong answer.
In the days and hours since the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska, I've tried to wrap my head around the issues on this team and can honestly say it's only served to exacerbate my migraine. Despite everything, Georgia was in every single game it played in 2013. Pinning the disappointment on injuries is way too easy, although the cumulative effects of so much talent riding the pine or sitting in a whirlpool was unsustainable. The Red Cross list, a good portion of which was tallied upon the broken, shifting sod in the pit of hell that was Neyland Stadium, never quit growing throughout the season. The good news is these guys are young and will heal. As bad as this was, our issues are much more complex.
Was it Depth?
Paul Westerdawg has a nice little breakdown about the consequences of a class that lost a high percentage of it's signees due to attrition by all causes and our propensity to undersign. More than half of this class either left school, never enrolled or was injured and was never able to contribute significantly.
"The senior class of 2013 was gutted in his ability to help lead this team because it essentially didn't exist." - Paul Westerdawg, Georgia Sports Blog.
A dearth of personnel ultimately led to a distinct lack of depth, particularly in the defensive backfield, and leadership issues on the whole. We didn't have enough players. I don't know where you stand on over-signing, but this revelation is as good an argument as any to support it - at least in some form. The Nick Saban model has rapidly been adopted by many. Just look towards Tennessee. Thirty-three LOI and/or commits and growing for 2014. Butch Jones needs players and is not about to cease this practice unless someone tells him to. Neither will Hugh Freeze, Bret Bielema and the rest of the Conference until someone issues a cease and desist order. Point is: Over signing would have helped us in 2013 because of the disaster that befell the 2010 class, and as Paul Westerdawg notes, we continued undersigning (by 10! players) the very next recruiting cycle. Face it. This is a business and our model is obsolete. This playing field is not level. Is over-signing wrong? Not anymore.
Was it Coaching?
The aforementioned depth issues on defense alone doesn't begin to explain why talented players were constantly out of position. Again, injuries in the secondary (Trey Matthews), early suspensions (Josh Harvey-Clemons) and youth will pop anyone's balloon. The question has been asked numerous times: Is the defense too complex for a bunch of college kids? The fact that we consistently gave up first downs on 3rd-and-long (and quite a few 4th and forever's) is symptomatic of a bigger problem. If the talent is there, is it coaching?
Gentry Estes of Dawgs247.com wrote a piece the other day ($) about his mistaken pre-season outlook and how he ignored some of his peers warnings about how the youth on defense would ultimately disprove any reason to be optimistic.
I'll never again think a team that had that much to replace in the secondary and so much inexperience will be able to overcome it with talent.- Gentry Estes, Dawgs247.com
It's a good read, and essentially his thoughts are my thoughts, heading into the season, were probably similar in our general optimistic nature. It was folly. Any team simply cannot start the amount of youth on defense as this team did and expect similar (or better) results from the previous year when we were within 5 yards of winning a National Championship. The fact is, our secondary was a mix-and-match unit for most of the season. Perhaps Grantham and Lakatos were trying to identify the guys who would play next year since the '13 campaign was lost. Maybe these guys were auditioning, or guinea pigs? I'm more inclined to give Lakatos a pass because of the youth - but only just. Youth still should figure out where to be on 4th and 13 during the 3rd quarter of the 13th game of the season - to wit:
Was it Special Teams? I think so...
Special teams failures (Marshall Morgan the exception with a bullet) led directly to points in games where the slim margin of defeat in three of our five losses were a direct result of a failure to execute.
- Missed Field Goal (bad snap/hold combination) @ Clemson (L) - Margin of loss 3 points
- Vanderbilt: High snap to kicker and muffed punt (also, a fake field goal for a Vandy touchdown) - (L) - Margin of loss 4 points
- Nebraska: Muffed punt led directly to short field/TD (L) - Margin of loss 5 points
Other Special Teams low-lights:
- Fumbled snap led directly to South Carolina touchdown in 2nd quarter after we had built a lead...
- Kickoff return (99 yards) by North Texas
- Blocked punt returned 15 yards for touchdown @ Tennessee (W - 3 points margin in overtime)
Special teams, outside of the excellent season by Marshall Morgan, in my humble opinion needs the most attention in the off-season. I realize we cannot hire a dedicated positional coach, unless we drop an existing position coach because of NCAA rules. Our punting game, whether we punted or received, is the area in dire need of attention. Fair catching the ball is an adventure; the long snap literally became a leap of faith. Why can't we identify the one guy who can catch the ball and provide some return abilities? This seemingly "open tryout" has been disastrous all season long, and we haven't had any consistent return game, particularly at punt returner, since Brandon Boykin left us for the NFL. Surely there's a kid right now drinking a beer in a frat house on Milledge Ave who can consistently kick the ball through the back of the end zone. Special teams, in my opinion, has killed us in 2013. Muffed punts have set up short field touchdowns, snapper-to-punter gaffes have also flipped scoreboards and momentum all over the place. I don't believe I am wrong in this assertion, but would like to hear your thoughts and what, dear reader, you would do to rectify this.
Who needs to coach which special teams unit(s)? What other schools out there have someone we should lure to Athens to assist if we were to make a change?
This part of the game cannot be neglected one second more. There is much work to be done across the board.
Have at it and...