Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Richt Previews Spring Football, New Defensive Coaching Staff

Photo by Danny Bishop
Coach Mark Richt previewed a number of key issues and elements regarding the 2014 season on Wednesday afternoon as the Dawgs  prepare for the start of spring football and an entirely new defensive coaching staff.

“I think the energy level is good in our building right now. Everybody is working hard,” said Richt. “The defensive staff obviously has a lot of work to do, just with Jeremy Pruitt explaining to everybody what he wants and introducing his system and what all the terms mean. The coaches – especially the defensive coaches – are learning the players’ names and trying to figure out who is going to wind up where.”

“Without question, spring is still going to be about teaching good fundamentals for safety purposes and for success,” added Richt. “The better we can block and tackle, the better we’ll have a chance to make our systems go. You could have a great scheme and poor tactics, and you’re going to have no success. I’d rather have less of a scheme and more tactics and more fundamentals because I think we’ll have a better chance of winning. That’s what is happening right now.”

With the start of spring practice just around the corner, Richt is thoroughly stressing the importance of fundamentals over schematic game plans and situations.

“What I always say is that I do want us to do a great job of teaching fundamentals,” said Richt. “It is a time of the year where schemes should take second place to fundamentals. Again, you don’t have to win any games. You do want to win the day, but I’ll talk about that next because number two is that I want these guys to be competing. I want them to compete for their position and competing against each other both offensively and defensively.”

In addition to the aforementioned comments, Richt also spoke on the following topics:

On the energy level of the defensive staff and any expected changes for this season…
“There’s just so much going on, and we’ve made some changes as to how we’ll practice, just with the structure of it. I asked Mike Bobo and Jeremy to get together and talk a little bit about our practice schedules over the last few years, how we went about it and if there’s anything they thought might be worthy of changing. We’re going to change how we practice just a little bit. The main ingredients that need to get accomplished during practice are going to be just fine. That’s the part where I’m looking it over and making sure we’re getting everything done within the practice that we need to get done. For example, our periods have always been five-minute periods as we go, and now we’re going to have maybe one period that’s a seven-minute or an eight-minute period. One period could be a three-minute period, and just things of that nature.”

“We’re going to change up how we do our walk-throughs just a little bit prior to practice. We normally have walk throughs, meaning walking and talking through our assignments on defense. We’ll walk and talk through assignments against each other, just for teaching. Normally when you do a walk through on offense, you’re getting some bodies to line up on defense, and it’s the same thing on defense where you’re getting somebody on the other side to line up to try to simulate an offensive set. We may as well just walk through against each other and not have to spend time setting up a scout team, so to speak. There are some really good ideas there that are going to be different, but when you have change, I think that adds excitement to what’s going on and a little energy maybe. Certainly our players – especially those on defense – know that every job is wide open and they’ve got to prove to their position coach and coordinator that they should be the guy to be a starter. They should be the guy to earn playing time and all of that kind of thing.”

On the changes taking place in practices…
“Change doesn’t necessarily mean that something needs to be fixed. It’s just a different way of doing things. Jeremy has been at a couple of places where the practices are structured just a little bit different, as far as just the time frame of certain drills. After him and Mike Bobo talked it over and brought it to me and I looked it over, I thought it was all good. If they buy in and are excited about it, I am too. Like I said, I had to make sure that all of the ingredients are in the practices. Is there enough fundamental time for getting certain group work together against each other? For example, we’re still going to have ‘X’ amount of pass skeletons and pass rush going on. We’re still going to have a certain amount of team run and 11-on-11 stuff. I don’t mind having a little bit of change if everybody thinks it’s a good thing and they’re excited about it. If your assistant coaches have some ownership in some of those decisions, I think they tend to sell it more and they’re more excited about starting out in the spring.”

On the mentality of the defensive players…
“My guess is that their main thought right now is that they’re just trying to win a job. What do I have to do to prove to coach that I can win this job? Guys want to play, and guys want to start. Guys want to play football and win championships, so I think that’s their main thought. I think they’re excited about just seeing what’s in store because obviously Coach Pruitt has had a lot of success where he’s been. The coaches that we’ve brought in besides him on defense have all had a lot of success where they’ve been. There’s an expectation of things getting better, so I think that’s probably where the excitement comes in.”

On player changes from offense to defense…
“Well we had already moved Tramel Terry to safety, so he’s there. J.J. Green is going to start out at cornerback. He’s beginning to learn those types of things. J.J. obviously played a lot of defense in high school, and even when he came to Georgia when we signed him, we didn’t really say for sure where he was going to end up. We really needed him at the tailback position last year, and now after Coach Pruitt looked over the situation and remembered J.J. from the recruiting process, he wanted to see what he could do (on defense). I think because of that, J.J. has already trimmed down a little bit to help his quickness and his explosiveness. Considering that he’s not going to be carrying the ball, he’ll be playing at a lighter weight, so I think he’s already feeling a little quicker and all that type of thing.”

On the separations that will occur in the secondary…
“I think our coaches are just wide open to figuring out who belongs where and who is first team and who’s not. We do have all of our off-season conditioning and our Matt-Drill programs, and coaches are allowed to be there and coaching those things and observing quickness, agility and even coachability. Can a guy get in a good position and stay there? It’s those types of things where guys are getting a little bit of a feel for what they’re going to see. Matt-Drills simulate football, but it’s not football, and until we get out there and start to put a lot of moving parts out there, I don’t think anybody has any idea who is going to end up where.”

On the biggest challenges of a new defensive staff…
“Just the fact that everybody is learning. We always use the term playing fast. Guys can play fast when they really know what they’re doing. In the learning process, first you learn what to do, and that’s good but then you have to learn how to do it. Then you have to experience it over and over until it becomes second nature, and then you can play fast. I’m sure there is going to be some hesitancy through the learning process, and not because guys aren’t tough or aggressive, but they’re just not 100 percent sure of what to do. Until everybody gets comfortable with what to do, it’s going to be hard to play extremely fast. I don’t think Jeremy’s goal is to put in so much that everybody is confused, either. I think he wants to put in enough to where there is some carryover when the fall rolls around. We know that we don’t have to win a game this spring, so we’re going to expose them to as much as we possibly can within the system, knowing that they probably won’t be perfect right now. If they get through that learning process in the spring, then all summer long we can be thinking on it and studying it and learning it. Then in camp, we’ll have to start all over from scratch and get better at it to have more confidence. By the time we get to the game, we have to decide that of the things we worked on, what can we perfect? What do we feel we can go into the game and expect to execute?

On his opinions on the proposed ‘slow-down’ rule…
“I support the officials being in position to call the game. I think you can go so fast that an official is out of position. There ought to be something in there to help the officials be in position to call the game, for their safety and for the integrity of the game, so to speak. I think that’s important. I think that not many people snap the ball faster than the 10-second timing that we’re talking about. If everybody snapped the ball right at 10 seconds, they’re flying and they’re going fast. I don’t know how much it would even affect us, but do I think that the rule should change? I don’t think the rule should change. Should it be modified somewhat if it needs to be to help the officials get in the right spots? I’d say yes. I think we’re in an off-year for rules changing, and the only way a rule can change is if it has a player safety issue involved in it. I think it’s more of a style issue than a safety issue. That’s what I think.”

On the difference in speed between NFL and college games…
“The biggest thing that the NFL doesn’t do that we do is stop the clock on first downs. We’ve changed a little bit there, but I like the game the way it is, personally. I don’t hear anybody griping or moaning about it. I think fans think it’s a great game and they enjoy it. We do run more plays than NFL teams do, but they have a 53-man roster and we have a 125-man roster. We have more kids that we can get in the game, and the more playing time they get, the better the morale is and the better it is for the players.”

“I don’t even know what angle everyone is taking, but I’ve been saying this and I believe it. If you can train offensive players to play seven plays or six plays in a row in a rapid-fire sequence, then I think you should be able to teach defensive players to do the same thing. In regard to that, I don’t think there’s an issue with safety. So more plays, more yards, more points, more injuries…I don’t know. I don’t think that can possibly be determined.”

On Todd Gurley…
“Well right now, Todd Gurley has still been bothered by the injury that he had, so I really don’t know what to expect from Todd in the spring. Let’s say that ankle was 100 percent on Jan. 30th and he’s been doing fine and doing all of the offseason things, we’d hook him up and play ball with everyone else, but right now he’s been less than full speed. My guess is that unless he’s completely healed by March 18, there will be some modification to what he’s doing.”

On what he’s looking forward to in spring practice​…
“I think you really have to compete every day to get in the habit of what it’s going to take throughout the season, so I think it’s good to get into the habit of trying to win every drill and that type of thing. Some drills will be structured to cooperate with one another (offense vs. defense), but then we’ll hook it up and ask them who’s going to win. This year probably more than most years –because we have a brand new defensive scheme – is just learning what to do. Other than Jacob Park, everybody on offense is back with a pretty good working knowledge of what we do.”

On injured players…
Jay Rome may be able to do some things before spring is over, but I don’t think he’ll be able to do much. Justin Scott-Wesley, no, and Keith Marshall, no. Reggie Wilkerson has made a lot of progress. He may be in some non-contact situations, but from what I’ve seen, Matt-Drills and the offseason have really helped Reggie. Malcolm Mitchell has made a lot of progress. He may be able to run some routes and maybe do some pass skeletons somewhere along the way, but I doubt he’ll get anywhere near to a contact drill.”

On simulating game situations…
“When we scrimmage, there are some times where a coach needs to be on the field or in the huddle to help a young player or something like that, but usually on a scrimmage day, we’ll try to get the coaches off the field. I may be on the field standing back at a distance with a headset on and listening to the plays that are being called and the defenses that are being called, but I’m not in there telling guys what to do. I’m just observing from behind as a neutral observer, so to speak. We’ll do that at least three times this spring. I haven’t even asked Jeremy if he’s calling a game from the ground or the booth. Some defensive coordinators go up, but some stay on the ground. I’ve got no problem. I know what it’s like to call plays from the ground and what it’s like to call plays from upstairs, and for me there is a difference. It’s whatever he feels most comfortable with.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diamond Dawgs Drop Home Opener

BASEBALL

Kennesaw State’s Andy Almonte scored the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning on a two-out fielder’s choice to edge Georgia 2-1 Wednesday at Foley Field in the Dawgs home opener.

Kyle Farmer went 1-4 with an RBI and a double, while Hunter Cole, Sean McLaughlin and J.T. Phillips each recorded a hit apiece for the Dawgs. Cole also added a double and a walk on the evening.

With the loss, Georgia drops to 1-3 on season while Kennesaw State improves to 4-0. Justin McCalvin earned the win for the Owls after allowing just one hit, no runs and three strikeouts through two innings of work. Sophomore Jared Walsh took the loss for the Dawgs, giving up one hit and one run over 1.1 innings.

“We need to get some confidence, and we’ll be in good shape because we’re still working the kinks out,” said coach David Perno. “That’s why you play 56 games, and I’m confident it will come together. I give credit to Kennesaw State, they threw strikes and played well. We just have to create some more scoring opportunities. I thought our pitchers did a good job, and I liked how David Gonzalez did in his debut.”

Gonzalez made the start for Georgia, the first of his career, and he opened the game by recording a strikeout against Jacob Bruce. Neither team scored through the first two innings, and it wasn’t until the third inning that the Dawgs finally placed a runner on base. Justin Bryan reached first in the bottom of the third with one out on an error by the third baseman, but the Dawgs were unable to push any runs across.

In the fourth inning, Gonzalez issued a lead-off walk to Bo Way, and the next batter grounded out to third, allowing Way to advance to second. Max Pentecost then singled to center to score Way, giving Kennesaw State a 1-0 lead. Senior Blake Dieterich entered the game to relieve Gonzalez and forced the next two batters to pop out and strike out, respectively.

Cole recorded Georgia’s first hit of the game in the bottom of the fourth, ripping a two-out double down the left field line, but a fly out to left ended the inning without any runs scored.

Neither team scored in the fifth inning, but Georgia third baseman Curt Powell had a strong defensive effort in the top half of the inning, diving across his body to stop a hard-hit ball down the line that prevented a base hit. Bryan Benzor entered the game to pitch for the Dawgs in the sixth inning, and he surrendered a leadoff single up the middle to Way before Georgia quickly turned a 6-4-3 double play on the ensuing batter to get out of the jam.

The Dawgs finally pushed a run across in the bottom of the sixth inning that began when Phillips recorded a lead-off single up the middle. A sacrifice bunt down the first-base line by Nelson Ward moved Phillips to second with just one out. Two batters later, Farmer dropped the ball in just fair down the left-field line for a two-out double that scored Phillips and tied the game at one run apiece.

The Dawgs retired the Owls in order to start the seventh before threatening to score in the bottom of the inning. Freshman Sean McLaughlin sent a two-out single to center and then advanced to second on a wild throw by the pitcher over to first, but a strikeout ended the inning for the Dawgs.

Georgia brought in reliever Jarrett Brown in the eighth inning, and Brown hit the first batter of the inning, Kal Simmons, to place a runner on first. A sac bunt by the next batter allowed Simmons to move into scoring position at second with just one out. The Dawgs committed an error two batters later that placed runners on the corners with two outs, but Walsh entered the game at this point and came up with a huge strikeout against Pentecost to end the inning

Georgia was unable to score in the bottom of the inning, and in the top of the ninth, Walsh issued a lead-off walk to Almonte to put the go-ahead run on base. A sacrifice bunt down the first base line by Chris McGowan allowed Almonte to move down to second, and an infield base hit by Kody Belcher put runners on the corners with just one out. Walsh then struck out Anthony Duran, but a fielder’s choice on the next play allowed Almonte to score the go-ahead run for the Owls.

Cole drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth as Georgia attempted to rally for the tying run, but two back-to-back fly outs to center field sealed the 2-1 victory for Kennesaw State.

The Dawgs return to action this Saturday in a doubleheader against Belmont. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. at Foley Field. This is a slight change to the schedule as the series with the Bruins was set to begin on Friday. Fans with tickets for Friday’s game can exchange them for a ticket to Saturday’s game at the Foley Field ticket window or to a future game. They can also exchange that ticket to a future home game this year at the UGA Ticket Office. Tickets for Saturday’s game will be good for both games that day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Belue, McCormick Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

FOOTBALL / GYMNASTICS

images (2)Former University of Georgia all-star quarterback Buck Belue and national champion gymnast Heather Stepp McCormick will be inducted into the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame Saturday evening during annual ceremonies held in the Macon City Auditorium.

Belue led the Dawgs to the 1980 SEC and national championships while Stepp led the Gym Dawgs to the 1993 national title.

Belue was a winner, leading Georgia to a record of 27-3 in games he started. He came from the high school football hotbed of Valdosta. Dawg fans got their first taste of Belue in 1978. As a true freshman, he came off the bench late in the game to lead Georgia to a dramatic 29-28 come-from-behind victory over arch-rival Georgia Tech on national television.

Over the next three seasons, he led Georgia to two SEC championships (1980 and '81), a national championship in 1980, and earned first team All-SEC honors twice (1980, ‘81).

Belue was probably the most productive quarterback to play under Vince Dooley who coached the Dawgs for 25 years. Following his senior season, Belue was prominent in the Georgia record books. He was second in career pass completions (264), second in career passing yards (3,864), second in career completion percentage (54.6%), and second in career TD passes (32).

buck-belue-uf-1980-ugaWhile his career was exemplary, he is still most remembered for a single game in his junior season. Dawg fans will certainly never forget November 8, 1980, against Florida in Jacksonville. Georgia, ranked second nationally in the polls and undefeated, had been carried all day by Herschel Walker and a stingy defense, but the Dawgs found themselves down 21-20 with less than two minutes to play. Even worse, the Dawgs were backed up inside their own ten, and Belue was suffering through one of the worst games of his career.

But late in the game on a third and seven from Georgia's own seven-yard line, Belue scrambled out of the pocket, found wide receiver Lindsay Scott going across the middle, and completed what has become a legendary 93-yard TD pass. The improbable touchdown with 1:04 left in the game kept Georgia's undefeated season intact and elevated the Dawgs to the nation's number one ranking over Notre Dame which had been tied earlier the same day. Georgia then defeated Auburn and Georgia Tech to close out the regular season 11-0 and defeated Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim the undisputed national title.

He was also an all-star college baseball player being named All-SEC first team as a freshman. That year, he hit .373 and set a Georgia record with 13 home runs. He continued his college baseball career and, as a senior, hit .328 with six home runs and 31 runs-batted-in.

LHYVDKCULDMGSAZ.20091112140440Stepp’s gymnastics career couldn’t have ended any sweeter. In 1993 the native of Mt. Clements, Michigan, led the Gym Dawgs to their third NCAA national team title and the next day she added two more individual NCAA championships to her already impressive resume.

In all, Stepp was one of Georgia’s most decorated gymnasts, winning three individual national titles and two individual SEC titles. At the time of her graduation, she held the school record on every event including the all-around. She was named an All-American a total of nine times.

But it wasn’t the titles that defined Stepp’s career at Georgia. In 1991 she suffered a season-ending elbow injury while warming up on the vault at a meet in Utah. Suzanne Yoculan called it the most serious injury in her first eight years as head coach.

Doctors said Stepp had just a 10 percent chance of regaining normal use in her arm – much less attempting any more gymnastics. It seemed as though her Georgia career was over.

But Stepp proved the doubters wrong. She immediately began the rehabilitation process that lasted all day, every day, for the entire summer of 1991. What started as mobilization and range-of-motion exercises eventually turned into strength and flexibility drills. Somehow it looked as though she would compete again.

As a junior she had arguably her best season. Stepp won the all-around competition in Georgia’s first meet of the year, but that was just the beginning. She was the national vault champion and the national runner-up in the all-around. She was a first-team All-American on three events, won two SEC titles and two NCAA regional titles and was the team MVP. The Honda Sports Awards Program honored Stepp with a unanimous selection for the Inspiration Award, which is presented to a female athlete who shows courage, perseverance and determination in overcoming obstacles to compete athletically.

Toby Johnson Signs With Dawgs

FOOTBALL

Defensive lineman Toby Johnson of Hutchinson Community Community College has signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Georgia according to an announcement Tuesday by coach Mark Richt.

Johnson is a native of College Park and a graduate of Banneker High School. At 6-4, 310 pounds, Johnson was rated as the number two junior college defensive end prospect in the country.

“We are thrilled that Toby has decided to become a Dawg,” said Richt. “We’re looking forward to watching him compete for playing time this upcoming season.”

Johnson is the 33rd signee for the Dawgs, he is currently rehabbing from a torn MCL/ACL injury suffered last November and has the option of a redshirt year if necessary. He has two years of eligibility remaining.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dribble Dawgs Fall In Overtime

BASKETBALL

Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson scored 25 points, 19 of which came in the second half and overtime, to hand Georgia an 84-74 overtime loss Saturday night at C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.

Georgia was led by sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell Pope, who picked up his 4th double-double of the season with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

“That’s a tough loss,” said coach Mark Fox. “I am really proud of our team, proud of how they competed, how hard they played and how they laid it all out there. It’s a game that we should have won in regulation.

“I thought we played really, really hard. I thought we competed hard, I thought we were unselfish and I thought that we defended pretty well throughout the whole game. We just couldn’t keep them off the foul line and that’s so hard to overcome, but I was really pleased with a lot of things…We had a lot of guys play well and I thought our team played well we just didn’t finish the job.”

After leading nearly the entire second half, Ole Miss took a 66-64 lead with under three minutes remaining, eventually forcing the game into overtime after junior forward Donte’ Williams nearly ended the game with a tip-in as the buzzer sounded.

Georgia trailed early in the first half, down by as many as five but closed the half on a 15-4 run, holding the Rebels scoreless in the half’s final four minutes to take a 41-35 halftime lead.

The Rebels fought back in the second half, taking the lead 51-49 off of a Nick Williams jumper, but Georgia went on a 10-0 run to grab back the lead 59-51.

With just 3:36 remaining and the Dawgs up 64-56, the Rebels’ Henderson, who was limited to just 25 minutes in the game due to foul trouble, went on a 10-0 run to put Ole Miss 66-64, and eventually force the game to overtime.

Ole Miss outscored Georgia 14-4 in overtime, including six from the free throw stripe. In the game, Ole Miss went 30-for-36 from the free throw line, while Georgia shot 13-for-19. The game was physical from the start, with four players fouling out and 48 total fouls being called.

Georgia outrebounded the Rebels 45-30, and shot nearly 50 percent from the field. Ole Miss capitalized on points off turnovers, scoring 24 to Georgia’s 10.

Worth Noting...

• The starting line-up was V. Williams, Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Florveus and D. Williams. They’re now 5-2.

• With the loss, Georgia is now 0-3 in overtime games.

• Georgia scored its 39th point with three minutes remaining in the first half off of a Kenny Gaines 3-pointer. In Tuesday’s loss, the Dawgs didn’t score its 39th point until the 3:20 mark in the second half.

• Georgia outrebounded Ole Miss, 45-30, and drops to 9-4 when outrebounding its opponent.

• Georgia had a 2-1 (10 assists, 5 turnovers) assist-to-turnover ratio in the first half, but finished the game with an even ration (18 assists, 18 turnovers).

• With his 19 points tonight, Caldwell-Pope has still scored in double figures in every game this season. He also picked up his fourth double-double of the season with 12 rebounds.

• Caldwell-Pope remains one of just 11 players in all of NCAA Division I that have scored in double figures in each of their team's games. He's the only SEC player to accomplish this feat and one of just five from the "BCS" leagues to do so.

• In Georgia basketball alumni news, former Georgia forward Travis Leslie was named MVP in the NBA D-League All-Star game. Leslie had 19 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes of play, leading the “Prospects” to a 139-125 over the “Futures.” Leslie was drafted with the 47th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. He is currently a member of the Santa Cruz Warriors (affiliate of the Golden State Warriors). Leslie is averaging 16.2 PPG and 7.1 RPG in 21 games this season.

Career Highs:

Vincent Williams set a career high with seven assists (Previously… 6 vs. Jacksonville (11/9/12).

Kenny Gaines set a career high with 13 points (Previously… 12 vs. Tennessee (2/6/13). Gaines has set a new career high in points three different times in February.

Tim Dixon set a career high with three assists (Previously… 1 vs. Multiple)

The Series: Georgia still leads the all-time series 66-40, but Ole Miss now leads in Oxford, 25-24. Ole Miss’ victory marks the first time since 2009 in the series that the home team has won a game.

Next Up: Georgia travels to Fayetteville to play Arkansas on Thursday. The Razorbacks lead the all-time series 16-13, including 6-3 in Fayetteville. The Dawgs have won the previous three match-ups.