The land of second chances

In case you’ve forgotten the somewhat checkered history of the newest member of Nick Saban’s coaching staff, here’s a helpful summary.

The coaching doesn’t matter that much either if you can recruit.

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Does Georgia football need a change of perspective?

We all heard about Georgia’s buzz phrase for this past season.

Junior cornerback Aaron Davis met with the media after Wednesday’s practice and talked about the new mantra.

“We have this new motto: ‘Attack the Day,’ ” he said. “So just take each day for what it has and try to have your best practice every day.”

The new slogan has been put in as a reminder that the team just needs to improve on that day of work. It is meant to lead to incremental improvement throughout the offseason, season and, hopefully, into the postseason.

Under Mark Richt, Georgia used “Finish The Drill” in the hopes of the program reaching its first goal, which always was to win the SEC East. Richt constantly said when that if his team won the division and got to Atlanta, it likely had a great chance to play for a national championship.

Davis says Smart has not even brought up the idea of the championship game since he took over in January.

“Every team in college football wants to win a championship. But winning a championship has never been stressed,” Davis said. “That’s nothing he’s ever expressed to us.”

Davis said the coaches constantly remind the players to “ATD.”

“During workouts, during practice, all the coaches remind us, especially Coach Sinclair (strength coach Scott Sinclair),” Davis said. ‘He reminds us ‘attack the day.’ Get better today and just do all you can.”

Whether that was a successful approach for 2016 is a question I will leave for the subject of another post in the near future.  What I’m somewhat curious about is whether that’s the way Georgia needs to go about its business next season.

It’ll be the second year for the coaching staff.  If recruiting the class of 2017 plays out the way it appears to be headed, that, plus the attrition hit that most of the other schools in the SEC East are taking, would leave the Dawgs in the position of being arguably the most talented team in the division.  Add to that another potentially weak schedule and Georgia is likely to be pushed as the 2017 East favorite, regardless of how Kirby Smart wants to frame things.

Much is likely to be expected.

Expect Georgia to get the full-fledged Tennessee Vols treatment next summer, as the club that could make the leap from “uninteresting bowl team” to “playoff contender.” For Kirby Smart’s sake, let’s hope things work out better for the ‘Dawgs than they did for the Vols (who finished 9-4 overall).

Still, the hype will be justifiable for Georgia, a club that benefitted more than any other from a handful of players turning down NFL opportunities to return to college. Nick Chubb will be back for a fourth season after rushing for 1,130 yards this season and Jacob Eason is back after tossing 16 touchdowns as a true freshman. On defense, a number of key players, including linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson return.

You can attack the day all you want, but if you coach your team to another year of missing the trip to Atlanta, the day isn’t all that’s likely to be attacked at season’s end.

I’m not mocking Smart’s day-to-day approach.  It’s a sensible tack to take for a team that’s settled into excellence mode and needs to stay on an even keel instead of racing ahead of itself.  But for a team that’s young and unproven on the one hand, that faces rising expectations on the other, is it wise to pretend to ignore those expectations?  (And let’s be honest, if the chatter gets loud enough, pretend is all they’ll be doing.)

Or is it better to adopt a mindset that embraces the expectations?  That’s the argument made here.  I don’t know the players as well as the coaching staff does, so I’m not sure it’s for me to say one way or the other.  But I don’t see how being labelled the 2017 version of Booch is a good look for Kirby.

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Does Booch need a scapegoat?

Your team, expected to contend for a conference title in 2016, didn’t even win its division.

You hired a hot-shot defensive coordinator who was expected to shore up that side of the ball for you; instead, it finished finished 95th in total defense.  But he’s got a big contract and it’s only one season, so it’s not like there’s much you can do about him right now.  (Especially since you’ve already lost your offensive coordinator to Indiana.)

Your secondary was ravaged by injuries, which caused you to deploy 11 different starting combinations during the regular season.  Bad luck.

So, given all that, what’s the next step?  Why, put Willie Martinez on the hot seat, of course.  At least it’s something he’s used to.

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Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange

On the clock again

Really, I’m surprised that members of the pundit class have begun beating the drums for shortening the length of college football games so quickly after we heard some initial grumblings from the grand poobahs running the sport.  You’d almost think it’s about making deadlines or something as banal as getting enough sleep.

Two plays before Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson rolled to his right, scanned the field long enough to notice outside receiver Artavis Scott run into Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, clearing the out route and his expertly thrown pass for slot man Hunter Renfrow and the game-winning touchdown, I did something I consider quite lucky.

I woke up. Just in time to see college football history live. Just in time to see mighty Alabama fall and the underdog Tigers finally reach the sport’s mountaintop. Just in time to say I saw the end of one of the best games in big-time college football this season, and maybe ever.

Good news for a guy like me. Bad news for college football, though.

If you’re making the argument that maybe college football shouldn’t be showcasing its premier event during prime time on a Monday night, you’ll get no argument from me.  But assholes wanna get paid, and ESPN knows where the money is.

So if you’ve got that late start and you want to tuck yourself in before midnight, what’s left?  Blame the clock, of course.

… When too many kids have no hope of staying up the entire game — my 10-year-old and 7-year-old lasted until halftime — college football has an issue to address.

The games are too long. They’re too long for the players, too long for the fans and too long for the long-term growth of the sport.

ESPN and the College Football Playoff want the championship game to reach the point where viewership isn’t impacted by yearly matchups. They want it to be a mini-Super Bowl where it’s appointment television no matter who plays. How can that possibly happen when the dramatic Clemson-Alabama finish occurs after midnight Eastern on a Tuesday morning?

Jesus, is there any CFB-related crisis that can’t be reduced to think of the children?

What’s particularly irritating here is the effort to dress the problem up in fan-concern clothing.  The problem is that it doesn’t really sell.

Now, it’s debatable who really finds this to be a problem. Commissioners clearly do. So do reporters, who are more and more often pushing increased work on deadline than they did in the past. So do many fans at home, who don’t particularly want to block out four hours every week to make sure they are seeing their favorite college football team play. But when we’re talking about the fans who are paying more exorbitant fees to attend games, there naturally seems to be less angst over game times.

It’s a catch-22 in a way for college football, which doesn’t want to fundamentally change the game for the paying customer, but knows it ultimately has to do so to placate the television networks.

This is supposed to be troubling for fans who show up hours before a game to tailgate?  The only problem we’re feeling is the incessant breaks for commercials during games. And I do mean incessant.

The networks could cut down on their 30-second commercials (average of 68 per game). Who hasn’t attended a game when the fans and players are anxiously waiting for the restart but television isn’t ready? It’s particularly troubling with so many night kickoffs because fans have to drive home very late. Now, whether TV wants to reduce the number of commercials while rights fees continue to increase is another question.  [Emphasis added.]

When you’ve got 34 minutes of commercial time interrupting a 60-minute game, you’ve got an issue.  Unfortunately for us paying suckers… er, fans, the people who have a problem with game times are those who have a stake in making sure that kickoffs fall neatly into broadcasting schedules.  They’re also the exact same folks who have zero interest in reducing the number of commercial breaks.  So there’s that.

Now if you read both linked pieces, you’ll see a lot of the same solutions to the problem being pushed — shorter halftimes, no clock stoppage after first downs until late in each half, reduce reviews, etc. — most of which come from that bastion of giving the networks what they want, the NFL.  The problem with most of that is again, it’s a strategy of lopping off things that make the college game different, like halftime shows from school bands.  It’s also shortsighted in that college football has parity issues that the NFL doesn’t have; an inferior opponent that is challenging for an upset win may need that extra time from the stopped clock after a first down to mount a comeback.

But my real cynicism about the benefits from moves to reduce the amount of time the game gets played is that it’ll be perceived as creating a vacuum that ESPN and its ilk will be more than happy to fill with more commercial time as the opportunity presents itself.  And why not?  If this is all about making the game more attractive to a certain audience…

The alternative is games continue to creep longer and longer. That could result in casual fans (but likely not the die-hards) losing some interest.

… that is happier with a shorter overall broadcast time frame, it’s likely those are the same folks who won’t care much if the networks can jam seven or eight more of those 30-second pitches into the three-and-a-half hours allotted.

As for the rest of us, we’ll have to be satisfied with being sold on the concept that games with less content represent an enhancement of the sport.  Not that you’ll get a discount for that…

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Kiss the ring.

Man, you know the toughest part of interviewing for the AD job at ‘Bama is that first meeting with Nick Saban.

(I’m pretty sure I keed, I keed there.  Pretty sure.)

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“Everyone’s fighting for the Snickers…”

Okay, red zone defense may have left something to be desired, but there were bright spots on that side of the ball for Georgia during the 2016 season.

One is turnovers.

Georgia ranked 10th in the nation in turnovers gained with 27, including 15 interceptions and 12 fumbles recovered. That was the Bulldogs best national ranking in that category since 2011 and up from 43rd in 2015.

“I think our guys understand that you have to take the ball away,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said before a Liberty Bowl win over TCU, “so attacking the football, forcing takeaways and working to win the turnover margin is very important.”

Georgia had a plus-7 turnover margin in its eight wins and plus-one in its five losses in the first year under coach Kirby Smart.

“If you practice high-pointing the ball and ripping at the ball Monday through Friday then on Saturday it comes easy,” outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said.

Statistically speaking, there is some luck involved (primarily tied to where the ball comes loose), so we’ll have to wait and see if this was simply a random showing, or if the coaches’ emphasis on forcing takeaways is in fact paying off.

While there may be a factor with turnovers that can’t be controlled, I don’t think you can say the same thing about this area of performance.

Look who stopped the run last season.  Looks like at least one lesson from Tuscaloosa took.  And with the development of the defensive line, I only expect that to get better.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

Meanwhile, Knoxville waits.

Butch Jones is shopping for new staff while Tennessee is searching for a new boss for Booch… well, kinda, sorta searching.

Speaking of difficult situations, Tennessee has done Jones no favors by dragging out its search for a new athletic director to replace Dave Hart, whose retirement was announced last August.

There have been conflicting reports as to whether the university is hiring the same search firm it most recently used to land men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes or just using the one with which it has a long-term contract. Raja Jubran, vice chairman of Tennessee’s board of trustees, told Sports Radio WNML’s Jimmy Hyams it might be the spring before Hart’s replacement chosen.

“Hopefully we will get someone on board one or two months before Dave Hart retires (at the end of June),” Jubran told Hyams. “It could be April or May.”

New chancellor Beverly Davenport will assume her role officially on Feb. 15 and will have input on that hire.

UTC athletic director David Blackburn continues to receive much public support. The Knoxville-based Copper Cellar Family of Restaurants this week endorsed Blackburn to become the Vols’ new athletic director. One of the restaurants, Calhoun’s, is among the concessions available in Neyland Stadium.

The company’s social media post, which received more than 2,600 responses on Twitter, stated it was time to put the Vols “back in the hands of a Tennessean.”

Guys making pitches from the concessions stands?  Hell, why not?  By the way, if it’s a Tennessean you want, Phil Fulmer is tanned, rested and ready.

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