First of all, I'll say this...10 wins is a successful season, no matter what the expectations were. We can be disappointed that this team didn't accomplish what we all hoped, and we can vent our frustrations over a defense that brought to mind the Donnan era with their consistent inconsistency, and we can bemoan the injuries and constant barrage of yellow hankies...wait, where was I? This was supposed to be the POSITIVE part. Right, 10 wins...and for the 6th time in Richt's 8 years. Nothing to sneeze at, and we are certainly miles ahead of where we were pre-Richt if we have come to the point where we can be disappointed by a year like the one we just completed.
That being said, I was strangely frustrated by the Citrus Bowl performance by the Dawgs. First of all, that first half was U-G-L-Y on the offensive side of the ball, which means at best this was going to be one of those games where we didn't play our best football for the full 4 quarters. Remind me...did we actually have a game this year where both sides of the ball clicked for the entire game?
Anyway, the offense...in the first half, NOTHING worked. Couldn't open holes for the running game, and Stafford looked awful. Not sure if he was trying to throw the Lions off his scent or what, but he was under throwing, over throwing, wide right, wide left...just awful. Then, in the second half, the light came on, at least for the passing game. Still couldn't really get anything going in the run game, but Stafford looked like an entirely different player. Almost perfect, and looking every bit the part of the #1 overall pick. Once the passing game got going, we were never really in any danger of losing the game.
As for the defense...where was THAT all year? I think it was Blutarsky who said a couple of weeks ago that he wasn't sure what would be more frustrating...if the defense came out and made the same mistakes they had made all year, or if they all of a sudden came out and looked like we all expected them to before the season started, now that the game was COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS. So, I was glad to see them play well, but it is certainly frustrating to think about what could have been.
And...I told you Willie reads the blog. I asked for Ron-Dayne-circa-98 Outback Bowl type numbers for Ringer. Well, Ron Dayne rushed for 36 yards on 14 carries against the Dawgs in the 98 Outback Bowl, and Javon Ringer had 47 yards on 20 carries...pretty close. Also, six sacks, 4 from the D-line, and pretty consistent pressure on the QB all day. Best day the defense has had since the South Carolina game.
Special teams...ugh. Blair kicked ANOTHER one out of bounds, and I still feel like EVERY SINGLE opponent's kickoff return has the chance to go the distance. Kickoff coverage HAS to improve next year. Not sure how much the injury situation hurt our kickoff coverage team, but we did have a LOT of guys out there who never see the field in any other situation. But injuries have nothing to do with the fact that Blair can't keep the ball inbounds on a regular basis.
I'm sure my somewhat negative view of the game has something to do with the fact that when the season started I did not expect the Dawgs to be in anything less than a BCS bowl. If the team had put together this same game in, say, the Sugar Bowl, I'd probably be heaping praise on them. As it is, it's another 10 win season, another bowl victory, and I'd still rather be a Dawg than anything else.
Couple of other thoughts:
- Stafford/Moreno: I still think both are gone. The only one I can even make an argument for is Stafford. I can see him POSSIBLY saying that he'll put off the millions for one more year in order to improve his game and give him a better chance at long term success in the NFL. But that seems extremely unlikely to me...it's almost impossible to turn down the chance to be the number one overall pick, and if I was advising him I'd probably tell him to go on, take the money and run (Woo-hoo-hoo).
As for Moreno, the shelf life for a running back is so short, especially for somebody like Moreno who doesn't appear to have the physical build to take an NFL pounding for many years. He almost has to go and go ahead and start making his money.
So where does that leave the Dawgs? I actually think we'll miss Moreno more than Stafford. I'm intrigued by the idea of Joe Cox and Logan Gray perhaps sharing the QB position the way David Greene and DJ Shockley did. At running back, on the other hand, I was not impressed with what we saw out of Caleb King this year. However, maybe he is one of those guys who needs to be The Man and get 20 or so carries to really reach his potential...hopefully. We also have Richard Samuel (unless he switches to LB), and Dontavious Jackson and Carlton Thomas both redshirted. Plus Washaun Ealy comes in next year as well, so at least the cupboard is not bare.
- There has been some good news this offseason...first of all, Stacey Searles rebuffed Auburn's advances in favor of staying in Athens. This was, of course, great news for the Dawgs, as I don't know very many coaches who have done as amazing a job as Searles has in patching together these O-lines the last two years.
Then, Rodney Garner turned down the big orange Brinks truck in Knoxville in order to stay on Coach Richt's staff. I, for one, feel bad...I thought for sure that the Vols offer to nearly double his salary would make a move a no-brainer for a relative nomad like Garner, but he proved that money really isn't the only thing to him by telling to keep their stinking $400K...he don't want their orange money.
By the way...what UT is doing with their coaching staff is ridonkulous. $2M for a guy in Lane Kiffin who has had exactly ZERO success as a head coach is one thing...but $1.2M for Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator? As a comparison, we pay Coach Martinez around $350K. I understand that Kiffin the Elder has had a great deal of success as Tampa Bay's DC, but keep in mind two things:
#1 - The "Tampa 2" defense that his defenses have made famous is not his creation, not his alone anyway. Tony Dungy was extremely instrumental in devising this scheme, and Kiffin has simply continued what he and Dungy started, with the luxury of a GM who will get him whatever defensive talent he wants.
#2 - Tampa 2 is not comparable to, say, Urban Meyer's Spread, as far as innovation goes. Virtually any defense who runs a 4-3 has at least some Tampa 2 mixed in to their playbook, so it's not like he's bringing anything to the table that SEC offenses have never seen before.
UT is also paying the always entertaining Ed Orgeron in to be the recruiting coordinator (since I don't see Monte Kiffin burning up the recruiting trail) and D-line coach, and paying him $600K a year. We paid Coach Garner around $230K last year to do the same job.
The insanity didn't stop there...I think every position coach they have brought on so far makes more than we (along with most other schools) pay our coordinators (at least for now). It's their money, and they can do what they want, but what happens when they go 7-5? And what in this coaching staff's past leads you to believe that 7-5 is not a very real possibility?
Other thing it does is drive the market up for all the other major schools...thanks a lot, Vols. One more reason to hate these orange morons. Higher ticket prices.
So, the season is over...seems like we just got started. I'm no recrootin' guru, but I will probably post some recruiting stuff as we approach Signing Day. And there's only 242 days left till kickoff!