Monday, November 23, 2009
How quickly can it turn? Ask Georgia
By Chris Low
How quickly does it (can it) turn in the SEC?
Consider this: Not quite two years ago, Georgia lambasted Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, soaring to second in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for 2007 and whetting the appetite for what would come next in Bulldog Land.
Sure enough, the Bulldogs started that next season No. 1 in the polls with a roster full of NFL talent.
While Mark Richt has won 10 or more games in six of his eight seasons in Athens, this season is one fans will want to forget.
This was an already elite program in the SEC on the move.
Nobody could have ever guessed in which direction.
Since that Sugar Bowl win, Georgia is just 16-8 and is coming off its first home loss to Kentucky in 32 years.
The Bulldogs (6-5, 4-4 SEC) are in danger of having their first non-winning regular season since 1996, Jim Donnan’s first season in Athens.
In games against their biggest rivals and historically elite teams in this league (Alabama, Florida, Georgia Tech, LSU and Tennessee), they’re just 2-6 the past two seasons.
That record will slip to 2-7 unless they knock off No. 7 Georgia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta.
And in 10 of their last 20 games dating to last season, the Bulldogs have allowed 30 or more points.
“I think all programs go through some cycles, and we’ve been on a pretty good upswing for quite some time,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who’s won 10 or more games in six of his eight seasons in Athens. “This year has certainly been a downturn when it comes to record. It is what it is.
“Will we get it back on track and get back to the winning ways we’re used to? I think so. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”
Richt has been too good of a coach to think that he can’t get the Bulldogs out of this funk.
But clearly there will have to be changes. Georgia is continuing to recruit at a high level, which is all the more maddening for Bulldogs fans.
The only thing more maddening is how penalty-prone Georgia has been the past two years and how many crippling mistakes the Bulldogs have made to cost them games. They turned the ball over four times in the second half against Kentucky.
The first thing Richt has to do is take a long look at himself to make sure his approach is working. The penalties and turnovers would suggest that something’s just not getting through.
The next move is looking at his staff, and there will almost certainly be some staff changes. Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has been a target of the fans for the past few years. He and Richt are extremely close, too.
But given Georgia’s struggles on defense, Richt’s going to be hard-pressed to keep Martinez as his defensive coordinator.
The best move Richt could make is figuring out a way to knock off the Yellow Jackets, who rushed for 409 yards in a 45-42 win over the Bulldogs last season.
One win wouldn’t make a season, and it probably wouldn’t be enough to keep Richt’s staff intact.
But it sure would go a long way toward easing some of the pain and helping to fight off some of the negativity heading into the bowl season and the rest of the recruiting period.
As we've seen, it can turn quickly in this league.