IF LOVING UGA IS RICHT, DO YOU WANNA BE WRONG?
The firing of Nebraska’s former head coach Bo Pelini has had me thinking lately about another head coach with Nebraska connections.
Nebraska hired the wrong coach to replace the cantankerous Pelini. If they wanted an amicable personality with offensive credentials and head coaching experience whose program has slipped in recent years, Richt was a better fit than Mike Riley.
Richt wasn’t interested, which isn’t surprising given the platform he has in Athens, Georgia.
Omaha native Mark Richt has won 135 games in his UGA tenure. Unfortunately, a closer examination reveals a coach who is either the Alex Smith of the FBS coaching ranks or a more charismatic Bo Pelini. Fittingly Pelini’s last Nebraska bowl win was a 24-19 victory over UGA in the TAXSLAYER.com Gator Bowl.
He’s extremely likeable, recruits well thanks in part to a state pipeline brimming with talent and possesses a high enough winning percentage to keep the base happy, but in the biggest of games his schemes or playcalling can be unimaginative at best, fatuous at its worst. It’s not until the stage shines brightest that Richt’s shortcomings glare most acutely. Mark Richt may be on the opposite end of the personality spectrum than Bo Pelini, but he shares a penchant for 9-win-itis.
Over the summer, ESPN.com Insider Travis Haney polled a few agents and coaches to determine whether Richt was underachieving at UGA. The responses were telling.
“I would think so.”
“You can accidentally win nine games [a year] there.”
Here are the Bulldogs' records since Matt Stafford went pro after the 2008 season:
UGA has won nine games once again, but the base feels crestfallen. One of Richt’s most frustrating characteristics, which was witnessed for all to see last Saturday was his propensity for playing it safe.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, after Malcolm Mitchell got his hooks onto a touchdown pass from Hutson Mason gave UGA a 24-21 lead, Georgia Tech's win probability reached 0.19 percent, the lowest percentage this season for a team that would go on to win.
That’s when Richt failed a real life logic equation.
On the ensuing kickoff, he opted for a squib kick, but after a 16-yard return, it gave Georgia Tech field position from their own 43-yard-line instead of average starting position near the 20.
All the Yellow Jackets needed was a 21-yard run from Justin Thomas to get into Harrison Butker's range. In the first overtime, Georgia Tech would run the gambit of emotions from the euphoria of scoring a touchdown in overtime to the nadir of having their extra point blocked to dopamine rush of securing the game-winning interception.
The Good Old Fashioned Hate had it all. It meant nothing in the macro for Tech which has already won the ACC Coastal or for UGA, which lost the SEC East a day earlier. But for one week, the Ramblin’ Wreck left Sanford Stadium with a win for the road.
After the loss, Richt was disgusted with himself.
“Probably as sick as I’ve ever been after a loss, as sick about any call I’ve made when it came to deciding to squib kick at the end,” Richt said. “Basically gave them enough field position, enough opportunity to get enough position to get the kick. Not a good decision there.”
A tumultuous season that had national title pipe dreams went sour after a turncoat memorabilia dealer snitched on Todd Gurley, then curdled after the nation’s best linebacking corps was run over by Florida. Gurley tore his ACL in his return from suspension the following week and Missouri won out, leaving Richt with a bad taste in his mouth.
After a decade and a half, Richt’s accumulating losses are beginning to leave a bad taste in Georgia’s mouth at a time when the SEC East is in ruins.
Since Richt’s last SEC title in 2005, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn (I give him credit for the 2010 Chizik-Newton anomaly) have all eclipsed his humble star by winning national titles.
Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen and Jim McElwain may be well on their way while Steve Spurrier is doing yeoman’s work with fewer resources and less availability to the talent-rich Georgia pipeline.
With a smorgasbord of NFL talent at his feet, Richt’s highs and lows are getting folks in Athens queasy. A Citrus Bowl won’t help the taste either.
Cause of death: Mark Richt syndrome. Relentless disappointment leads to a slow descent into the abyss
— Jordan Borders (@jbnumber11) November 29, 2014
Next season, the carousel will begin anew without Hutson Mason in the pocket.
The pressure is building for Richt to get off the hot seat and get the Bulldogs back on the marquee or he may wish he’d returned Nebraska’s calls.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND HEISMAN STATISTICS
Throw that box score out the door. This ain’t your father’s Heisman list. Our equal opportunity Heisman list is headed for Ellis Island. Women, children and quarterbacks are usually first, but defensive players and offensive linemen are also welcome.
Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) – This is the easy choice. The signal caller with the nation;'s highest QBR leading a touchdown producing machine that has climbed to No. 2 in the nation. Mariota finally beat Stanford. However, his new arch enemy has been concealed on the defense of Arizona. Scooby Wright III is the perfect foil for Mariota to face in his Oregon regular season finale. It's like getting to the last level of Super Mario 64 and facing Bowser in his lair.
Melvin Gordon – Another 200 yard performance and a few touchdowns in a win over Ohio State could be enough to make him a serious contender to snag this quarterback’s award from underneath Mariota’s feet.
Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama) – Mariota plays quarterback in Oregon’s quarterback-friendly system. Gordon runs behind the most famous offensive line manufacturer in all of college football. Cooper has overcome playing in the SEC, and Nick Saban’s conservative playcalling to put together a slew of virtuouso performances as Blake Sims’ primary target.
These are the top five receptions leaders in the nation. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy, Washington State’s Vince Mayle, Colorado’s Nelson Spruce, Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White. Cooper leads them all in yardage and touchdowns, but plays in an offense that is 61st in pass attempts nationally. West Virginia’s Air Raid is 11th.
Washington State, Colorado and East Carolina are three of the four most prolific passing offenses by the same metric. Compared to his contemporaries, Cooper is head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
UNORTHODOX HEISMAN CANDIDATE – Because colllege football needs Affirmative Action to get defensive players their due during awards season.
Scooby Wright III – Arizona’s middle linebacker transforms into an edge rusher on passing downs. It’s incredibly rare. Wright snuck up on the nation, but he has a track record of frustrating the nation’s Heisman frontrunner and he’s not too shabby on his own account. He’s forced six fumbles in 2014, including the strip sack of Mariota to defeat Oregon in October.
THE ACCIDENTAL QUARTERBACKS
If there’s any proof that college isn’t like the NFL, look at the quarterback depth charts. At the lower levels, depth is hard to come by, but the powerhouse Power 5 programs have them in droves.
Trevor Boykins was originally a wide receiver while safety Sam Carter was recruited as the Horned Frogs future quarterback. Over the summer, Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel was expected to be the natural fit for Sonny Cumbie's Air Raid hybrid passing attack, but Boykins threw a wrench and 34 total touchdowns into those plans.
Take Ohio State for example. They have high-caliber quarterbacks on backs on backs. Midway through August, Braxton Miller was the three-year starter with his sight set on a Heisman Trophy and a national championship trophy.
Fourteen months ago, fans were questioning whether Miller should be benched for Kenny Guiton after throwing 13 touchdowns and one interception in the first four games of the season.
Forget Steve Clarkson. Along with Kevin Sumlin, Rich Rodriguez, Art Briles and Jimbo Fisher, Urban Meyer is among the best developers of quarterback talent in all of the nation. Rodriguez is the only one who’s never produced a Heisman winning quarterback, which may change by the time redshirt freshman Anu Solomon exhausts his eligibility.
His credentials will be put to the test for a third time in two seasons when Cardale Jones steps into the hole vacated by JT Barrett after he fractured his ankle against Michigan last Saturday.
Art Briles may have his own quarterback crucible to deal with at the worst possible time. Bryce Petty still has not been cleared to play against Kansas State on Sunday, which would put Seth Russell into a familiar position.
Russell was Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in Week 2 of the regular season after throwing for 438 yards and five touchdowns in one half against Northwestern State. Kansas State is quite a step up from a middling .500 FCS program.
Alabama’s Jake Coker was preordained as Bama’s next great quarterback until multi-positional athlete Blake Sims committed the preseason quarterback sneak to the top of the depth chart.
Down the line, Ohio State and Alabama are set up nicely for the future.
2015 signee and reigning Mr. Ohio Football Joe Burrow’s preps career came to an end in a blaze of glory as he threw for six touchdowns in Athen High Schools’ 55-52 loss in the state championship game. Burrow is giving Meyer quite the canvas to work with. Over the course of his senior season, Burrow threw for an absurd 63 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Alabama’s depth chart is already stocked with David Cornwell and was considered the No. 4 pro-style prospect in the Class of 2014.
In June, Rivals’ Class of 2015’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Blake Barnett gave his verbal to Alabama.
Barnett chose Alabama over Oregon, but the Ducks aren’t sweatin’ it. Travis Waller, the fifth-ranked senior quarterback will join the Ducks next summer.
In the NFL, everyone loves the backup quarterback, but at powerhouse programs, the backup isn’t just loved, he can step right in, acclimate and perform at a high level.