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December 9, 2013

My Reasons for Optimism in 2014

By Paul Westerdawg

I'm not in the dark place that so many message board visitors seem to be.  I actually have quite a bit of optimism heading into next season, and I could easily see an 11-1 type season.  Here's why:

1. Special Teams Improvement -- We need the kicking game to return to its normal level of mediocrity.  They don't have to become great. They just can't be a dumpster fire which gives up ~8 TDs like this year.  We gave up 3 kick returns plus several blocked punts and botched snaps.  If we were merely medicore in special teams, we would have beaten Vanderbilt and potentially Clemson.  Don't forget we had a kick returned for TD and a botched snap FG miss in a three point game on the road against Clemson.  People say "Hire a special teams coach!"  I say, "Just tell John Lilly that he can NEVER touch another punter, snapper or punt coverage unit for as long as he lives."  This is fixable without a heart transplant.

2. Injury Improvement -- Blutarsky references Regression to the Mean pretty regularly when it comes to turnovers and injuries.  He's right. We live in a world where knee injuries are going to be more common; however, we were well outside of the norm for injuries this year.  We should rotate into a more healthy year just because the percentages dictate it.

3. Defensive Stabilization -- I've already said that I philosophically don't agree with what Grantham wants to do or how he goes about his business. However, if you take the 8 TDs from special teams out, and you get modest improvements from the younger UGA defenders, you will easily see a drop in points allowed per game of about 7 ppg next year.  Floyd, the DBs and NGs will mature.  They will be better next year. Even dumbass coaches look better when they don't have rookies.  Not saying ours are dumbasses, but getting our scoring average back down to 22-23 points per game is a reasonable goal.  This year Auburn was at 24 pts/game and Ohio State was at 21 pts / game.  If we get to 23 per game with this offense and a healthy Gurley, that's probably win 11-1 season and a trip to the Georgia Dome.

4. The Schedule -- Auburn and South Carolina return a ton of players.  However, most of the other teams on our schedule lose a ton of talent.  Clemson, Missouri and Tennessee all lose a lot while Florida will be attempting to rebuild with a lame duck.  At the same time, we swap LSU for Arkansas.  I like that mix.  I also like getting Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech at home.

5. Todd Gurley -- Todd Gurley will most likely be the best player in the country next year.  If he's healthy, we have a puncher's chance against anyone and everyone.  Especially in a 1 game elimination format, and that's what we're facing next year from the SECC title game through to the playoff.

6. Hutson Mason -- Honestly, I was worried that he was Joe Cox Part 2, but I've been very impressed with what I've seen so far.  I may feel differently after the bowl game, but I think he's more than enough to manage the assets surrounding him next year.

The only big question I have next year for which there is no clear/obvious answer or low hanging fruit of improvement is Left Tackle. We have to get better there. I personally don't think that Theus is nearly as awful as the message boards paint him to be, but he needs to improve and take over the spot.  He will have started around 25 games by the time Clemson rolls into Athens.  That's enough to start showing a veteran presence.

Am I crazy?  What are your thoughts?



Bernie said...

Agree top to bottom, but would've made Theus his own bullet. And then added #8 - self-disclosed weed arrests/non-self-disclosed weed arrests/middle name recollections/scooter transgressions/boating after a Mich Ultra/other general dumbassery and normal college behavior.

Jay said...

Agreed! Very good perspective. The younger players have a very competitive and "winning" mindset. I am confident we will see this in off season workouts and matt drills....pulled tthroughed in the spring and fall of 2014. One addition, next years offensive line will be the SECs best...including John being a "high performing" left tackle....just watch..

AC in Coloarado said...

Also, 2 bye weeks. One before USCjr and one before UF.

LCDAWG said...

I'd like to see Richt personally handle ST. He has the time to do that at this point. With him in charge it immediately gets the respect it deserves. It's 1/3 of the game and we lost 2 games outright this year because of poor ST execution!

Tommy Perkins said...

I generally agree with you, but I'm going to play devil's advocate here on a few points:

1. Special Teams: Being bad at special teams isn't a freak thing like injuries or turnover margin. You are what you repeatedly do. Under Richt, special teams goes through this cycle of neglect and repair. Things got a little better at the end of the season here, but, then again, they always do (and they should). i'm firmly in "show me" mode on this one.

2. Injury improvement: Tough not to concede this one. I don't know how you could single out any injury as the result of conditioning, unless you think we should be drilling proper form on touchdown celebrations. Some regression to the mean is to be expected here.

3. Defensive stabilization: A lot of what we're counting on here is for the offense and special teams not putting these our defense in untenable positions. I've said my piece about ST and I'd say that counting on the offense to be less turnover-prone a year after saying goodbye to the SEC's most prolific passer could be a stretch. We're going to need the defense to participate in its own rescue if we want to get scoring down by a touchdown/game. Other than Garrison Smith, we're getting everyone back, so we should get a dead-cat bounce here at the very least. But, given that improvement in the secondary was nearly non-existent over the course of the season, I don't know how much to expect in the offseason. Still, we did sign 8 4-star DBs in 2012, so something's gotta emerge from that patch. Given how abysmal the season was on this side of the ball, you'd think there's nowhere to go but up, but I'm just not sure there's enough here to shave a full 7 points off the scoring average.

4. A loaded South Carolina in Columbia is pretty scary. That's a potential net loss going from 2013 to 2014 that we'd have to make up with a net win elsewhere on the schedule. Trading LSU for Ark doesn't do that, because you're going from a win to a win. Getting Vandy in Athens should make up for a loss in Columbia. Clemson in Athens sans Boyd and Watkins might get us that extra win to improve the overall W/L record year-over-year. Sheesh, I just looked at Mizzou's roster and noticed that a third of their roster were RS Jrs, Seniors or RS Seniors, including 14 players on their defense's front seven. Some attrition there would be helpful when we face them in Columbia. Assuming Auburn rolls into Athens as the defending national champs, I'm not projecting a W here. So I can see the schedule converting 2-3 of 2013's Ls into Ws and one of 2013's Ws into an L.

5. Todd Gurley: There's no question that a healthy Gurley turns most defenses into a plaything for our offense. But Gurley hasn't been healthy for an entire season yet, so it's unrealistic to think he'll go all of 2014 unscathed. I dunno, if 2014 is his interview for the NFL, then maybe he'll add a little something to his conditioning to make him more durable. But I would plan on there being a few games where he's either out or not at full strength.

6. Mason: He threw for 299 yards against a Georgia Tech defense that ranks 87th nationally in pass D and did so against a schedule that included Elon, Alabama A&M, Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia, etc. I'm not diminishing Mason's game, I'm just noting that the baseline of data on him is too small for this point to be anything other than a question mark. We felt real good about Joe Cox because of that 2006 Colorado game.

Joe Moore said...

Only game we lost that Gurley played the entire game was Auburn and that was a fluke. Kid is that good.

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