Free Preview - The Year in Review

What a season for the players, coaches, fans and everyone else associated with UGA football! To address everything that happened, this column would run several hundred pages. Relax, we are just going to revisit some of the highlights and a couple of low points. This season saw an end to so much in the way of how UGA is perceived by the media and even opposing fans.

It was almost as much a relief as it was a joy.  Personal and work-related commitments kept me from continuing writing through the season, so forgive me if I try to make up for lost time. 

Let's remember where we all were in August.

Defense: It was weak.  We lost all those talented guys.  We had no defensive ends at all.  David Pollack was "quick, but not fast" like Mallard (as if being like a guy in the NFL is a bad thing) so he wouldn't cut it at DE.  He failed to have 10 sacks in the G-Day Game, so it wasn't looking good.  Robert Geathers was too light and had not put on any more weight, though he was listed 25 lbs. heavier, and looked a lot bigger. Will Thompson was too small, a bust.  Shed Wynn, a bust.  We had no depth at DT.  Rodney Garner was a great recruiter, but suspect as a position coach.  Linebacker had promise, but Boss Baily had to live up to the hype.  The defensive backfield was a rebuilding job, and would be toasted often, especially early in the year.  Brian VanGorder wasn't up to the task.  All in all, the defense was going to struggle.

Offense: Thank goodness we were going to have an explosive offense to cover for our weak defense.  Six seniors anchored the OL, and they would pave the way for Musa Smith - at least until he got hurt- and provide an impenetrable wall of protection.  This veteran line was coached by one of the best in the business.  The receivers would be unstoppable.  David Greene had been solid as a redshirt freshman, and D.J. Shockley's presence meant that opposing defenses would have nightmares about having to prepare for both QBs.  If Musa missed any games, we were in big trouble.  Otherwise, this offense was going to be unstoppable.

We were wrong from the very beginning.  The defense played with great intensity, and produced big plays.  Pollack emerged as a star, and Boss Bailey seemed to turn his game up another notch.  Brian VanGorder seemed to be coming into his own as a coordinator.  Nobody ever really solved our defense the whole year.  A pattern developed in which we would give up some yards and points in the first half, then completely shut teams down in the second.  

Meanwhile, the offense was sputtering.  The team wasn't executing, David Greene looked completely out of sync, and the game planning and play calling just didn't seem to add up.  The offensive line was largely a sieve; Greene was getting hit a lot, and the run blocking was barely decent.  Musa was not breaking tackles, and was not seeing the holes.  The Shockley experiment looked good in its debut against Clemson, and not so good against South Carolina.  The two cupcake games seemed to give the offense a chance to emerge.  The performance against Alabama was very good, and against Tennessee it was good enough.  The Florida game was an exercise in futility, but the offense mostly got better as the year went on.  It was explosive at times, which made us wonder why it wasn't that way all the time.  The sub-mediocre performance of the offensive line is still a mystery.

The special teams were exceptional.  Blocked kicks used to come to UGA about as often as snow: once every few years, if we were lucky.  Now we expect one every game or so.  The coverage teams were outstanding, and Billy Bennett continued his excellent play.  I used to think Damien Gary was just an exceptional punt returner, but after the way Terrence Edwards and Sean Jones stepped in, I am thinking that the coaching has a lot to do with it as well.  

The coaching staff did an outstanding job.  Mark Richt went from presumed idiot (by idiots) to coach of the year candidate.  Brian VanGorder went from unheard of, to a guy we hope we can keep.  Meanwhile, Rodney Garner will likely have yet another player drafted in the first round.  

This year saw a huge number of big plays.  It's just fun to remember them:

Gibson's kickoff return against Clemson.

Shockley's touchdown against Clemson.

Pollack's interception/touchdown against South Carolina.  

Gilbert's hit on the New Mex. State quarterback.

Pollack's blocked field goal against Alabama.

Fred Gibson's circus catch against Alabama.

Bennett's game winner against Alabama.

Reggie Brown's blocked punt against Tennessee.

Bailey's blocked field goal against Tennessee.

Wynn's sack against Tennessee.

Richt's fourth down call, and Milton's run against Tennessee.

Greene to J.T. Wall against the Gators.  Brought back some good hobnailed memories, if only for a few moments.

Pollack's interception and return/hand-off to Jones against Florida.  Still not sure he handed it forward.
Greene to Johnson to win the SEC East against Auburn.

David Jacobs running onto the field for Senior Day.

The entire game against Tech, but Edwards' catch deserves special mention.

The entire championship game.

What a year!  But for a stumble against Florida, we would possibly have been in the national championship game.  But for a Pitt DE making a stupid late hit on Ken Dorsey, we would possibly have been in the national championship game.  But for Bobby Bowden botching Clock Management 101, and FSU's kicker missing a very makeable field goal, we would possibly have been in the national championship game.  But for Michigan not being able to hold a second half lead, we would possibly have been in the national championship game.  But for Purdue giving up a big play at the end of their game with Ohio State, we would possibly have been in the national championship game.  We had our share of luck this year, but look at all the other things that could also have gone our way.

Maybe the SEC was down this year.  Maybe we were lucky.  Maybe we won some close games.  Maybe we were sound on defense and in the kicking game.  Maybe our team has a lot of talent, and good coaching.  Maybe in a couple of those close games the opponent was lucky it was close.  Clemson and Alabama had defensive touchdowns handed to them, that kept them in those games at crucial times.  South Carolina made some amazing plays to stay with us, plays they didn't really make on offense for the rest of the year.  We finally started showing the resolve to win those close games that used to get away.  South Carolina and Auburn both won a bunch of close games in 2001.  Maybe their luck ran out as much as ours increased.

Time for some end of the year awards:

Best Play of the Year- I hate to have a tie, but Pollack's touchdown against SC and Greene to Johnson against Auburn are just too close.

Worst Play of the Year- There are few contenders, but I'll go with Shockley's interception against Florida. 

Foster's attempt to "finish the drill" against Florida is a close second.  Did anyone else hear the music from The Crying Game in the background?  Maybe from OZ?

Best Moment on an Opposing Sideline- Phil Fulmer and John Chavis looking at each other in stunned disbelief that we actually ran a play on fourth and two.  They were convinced that we were just trying to draw them offsides.

Best Moment on our Sideline- The multiple Gatorade baths for the coaches at the end of the Tech game.  Kicking Tech around is just plain fun, and should be enjoyed by all.

Best Moment to Open a Game- David Jacobs at Senior Day.

Worst Moment of the Year- The Edwards' drop against Florida.  The aftermath wasn't pretty either.

Most Valuable Player Offense- David Greene.  It was pretty obvious that he wasn't thriving in the two QB system early on.  He overcame it, and had a great year.  How many times did he check to plays that resulted in touchdowns?  I can think of at least four, and there are probably more.  The clutch pass to Gibson against Auburn to get us close was an improv.  Musa comes in a very close second.  He got better every week.  

Needing a kick in the pants on offense- The backup offensive line.  It's not that they didn't do a good job (in fact, the young guys looked pretty good), they just need to be very ready for 2003.

Most Valuable Player Defense- David Pollack.  Led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss, and managed two interceptions, one for a touchdown.  The second interception could easily have resulted in a touchdown as well.  He also caused a fumble, and cleverly knocked another away from an opponent so one of our guys could recover it.  He blocked a punt and a field goal.  Prior to the season I was claiming that he would be the next Will Overstreet.  Overstreet was never this good.

Needing a kick in the pants on defense- nobody, but they will all get one anyway, just because VanGorder and the rest of the staff won't have it any other way.

Most Valuable Player on Special Teams- this is really tough.  Ryan Davis, Burt Jones, and Gabriel Gault are all good ones.  Derrick Holloway was also hustling in coverage.  Billy Bennett was solid as always.  I'll still go with Boss Bailey.  He blocked three kicks, and altered at least two more just by being there.  That is one element of our team that will not be replaced.  One can't coach a 46 inch vertical leap.  Our opponents went 4 of 10 on field goal attempts in the red zone (not counting the championship game).  That is unheard of.

Needing a kick in the pants on special teams- nobody, but we need to find a punter.

Assistant Coach of the Year- VanGorder is the man.  The whole defensive staff was outstanding, but the coordinator gets the credit.  We just shut people completely down in the second half of games.  For the first time in forever, our defense dictates some of the action to the opponent.  There is actual scheming and game planning.  We disguise coverages.  We move some before the snap.  We don't put up a big neon sign that tells the opponent when we are blitzing.  We actually blitz, and still respect ourselves in the morning.  In short, we have a defense that is not from the Stone Age, and is coached with intelligence.  What a change!  This was our best defense in 20 years, and maybe ever. 

Grading Mark Richt- he gets an A.  The only thing keeping him from an A+ was the quarterback situation.  It seemed to hurt Greene early in the year, and that was an unnecessary risk.  It might have made the first two games a little closer than they should have been.  The offense was not consistent, and it is Richt's baby.   Richt is an interesting blend of conservative and gambler.  He made three fourth down gambles at the ends of games.  He played around with the QB situation, which was risky.  He also sat on leads against Tennessee and FSU, and tends to get very conservative when in field goal range.  There is still the lack of "getting the full picture" at the end of a half or game in terms of clock.  There is obviously nothing terribly wrong with all of this; the record speaks for itself.  Richt has going for him the things that make a good coach.  He is organized, undoubtedly in charge, has good systems in place on both sides of the ball, and is far more a competitor than his calm demeanor suggests.  He also seems to let his coaches do their jobs.  Some head coaches don't know their limitations, Richt seems to know his strengths and weaknesses, and coaches accordingly.  Recruiting is a "so far, so good" kind of thing.

Media Donkey of the Year- I like Danny Sheridan for this one.  Did he pick us to cover in any games at all?  Did he pick us to even win any straight up?  Mark May gets honorable mention.  I think he didn't like us because Trev Alberts did.

Media Cheerleader of the Year- Trev Alberts must have adopted the Dawgs after his own Cornhuskers fell apart.  The CBS crew seemed to take to the Dawgs also.

A Quick Look Ahead:

Where do we go from here?  Are we one-hit wonders?  Is Richt another Terry Bowden?  Can we survive without Jim Donnan's recruits?  Get ready to hear variations on all of these from media and opposing fans.  The fact is that the future is very bright, and another title in a year or two is more than possible.  We could have started 11 underclassmen on defense against FSU, and still felt pretty good about that side of the ball (Pollack, Darius Swain, Gerald Anderson, Will Thompson, Derrick White, Arnold Harrison, Taylor, Tim Jennings, Demario Minter, Thomas Davis, Greg Blue).  Not our best lineup, but that is a strong group to be that young.  Nobody in the SEC has as much young talent on defense.  The offense returns most of the skill players, and Billy Bennett will be back.  The untold story of this Dawg team was just how much the younger players contributed.  We played 12 true freshmen, and there were only two seniors on the defensive 2-deep. There is some rebuilding to be done on offense, but there is some talent there as well that got a lot of playing time in the 2002 season

While it is usually the refrain of losers, I still say "Wait until next year," and the year after that.  The staff is probably going to stay pretty well intact for the short-term, and there is talent in the program.  That talent is being coached and conditioned under a demanding and organized system.  We aren't going anywhere for a while.

Charles Stephenson is a general columnist for Dawgpost.com and Dawgpost the Magazine, and he is a big reason why Dawgpost is the number one source for Georgia Bulldog information anywhere. We hope you enjoyed this free preview of Stephenson's work, and we hope you'll consider becoming a member of the best Georgia publications around.

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