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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Practice Notes: Dawgs Look to Jump Start Running Game

There have been plenty of problems on offense in the past three games for Georgia, but the biggest stumbling block has been the team’s inability to run the football.

Against Tennessee last week, the Bulldogs mustered just 89 yards rushing – more than half of which came in the fourth quarter after the Volunteers had the game well in hand – and for the season, their ground game ranks 104th in the country.

With those kinds of numbers, quarterback Joe Cox said, getting the rest of the offense to click can be a difficult task.

“It is tough just because a lot of people feel that they can just come at us when we’re in passing situations, especially once you get down,” Cox said. “It’s tough when you feel like you’ve become one-dimensional and we definitely need to pick up our running game.”

Turning around the moribund rushing attack has been a mystery to Georgia’s coaches so far. In six games, five different players have tallied the day’s longest run, and while Richard Samuel has started each game, Georgia has relied heavily on four different runners already.

“No one has really stood out. No one has really asserted himself to the point where he’s our guy,” head coach Mark Richt said. “No one really has made the offensive line look better than maybe they are blocking at times. We have pretty much been getting what we’ve been blocking for, which statistically hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot.”

Samuel will get another shot this week to prove he can handle the load, but Richt said he doesn’t expect anyone to get a bulk of the work. Still, of all the backs, Samuel has met with the most consistent success – even if that hasn’t been much.

“His deal is confidence,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “Coming into this year, he had a lot of expectations on him, and he kind of takes everything to heart sometimes when he doesn’t have success. But we think he’s a talented back, and we think he’s got to help us in the run game for us to be successful.”

For any of Georgia’s backs to be successful, however, the blocking up front needs to improve. While the Bulldogs’ offensive line has been reshuffled due to injuries since the start of the year, Bobo said the bottom line remains attitude.

“We need to play with more passion up front, we need to finish blocks and we need to have a sense of urgency when we’re running the football,” Bobo said. “That’s offensive linemen, that’s tight ends and that’s running backs. You’ve got to take pride in it, and you’ve got to play hard and physical.”

While there haven’t been many highlights, there have been glimpses of what the tailbacks and the line can do when everything clicks into place this season, highlighted by an 80-yard run for Samuel against Arkansas.

That’s what has been so maddening, Cox said, but it also offers some hope for improvement down the line.

“That’s probably been the most frustrating thing is that we know it’s there but it hasn’t been working,” Cox said. “It’s something that we got to just keep chipping away at. We know we have good backs, we know we have a good line and we just got to get it going so we know we can do it.”

FIGGINS TAKES REDSHIRT

Junior tight end Bruce Figgins missed the first six games of the season following a suspension for a violation of team rules, but he decided this week that he’ll instead sit out the entire season.

Figgins underwent offseason shoulder surgery, but he said the redshirt decision was based on more than health. Having already missed half the season, Figgins decided it was best to finish his rehabilitation and start with a clean slate in 2010.

“There’s pros and cons to either, but Coach Richt came to the conclusion that I should take a red shirt and we’re rolling with that, and I’m looking forward to next year,” Figgins said.

While the decision was ultimately Figgins’, he said he got input from family, friends and his coaches before signing off on the plan. He said the success of freshman Orson Charles and sophomore Aron White at tight end this season didn’t factor into his final decision.

“The coaches put in their input, but I was the last to decide,” Figgins said. “I was the last say so.”

KIDS TO SEE MORE ACTION

With Georgia’s hopes of a conference title nearly vanished, Richt said he isn’t giving up on the season, but he may give some of the younger players a chance to see a bit more action.

Richt said redshirt freshman Baccari Rambo will see an increase in his playing time at safety, establishing a three-man rotation with Bryan Evans and Reshad Jones.

Freshman Branden Smith should see more work at corner, too, spelling senior Prince Miller.

Richt said his two freshman receivers, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten had earned more playing time, too, following Brown’s first significant action of the season last week.

“Marlon is smoothing out his game, I guess is the best way to put it,” Richt said. “He is a talent, he just needed to get more reps to become a smooth competitor, a smooth receiver. He has proved to be a pretty tenacious blocker. You can tell he wants it, you can tell he’s getting better. He has earned a right to play more snaps for us and hopefully he’ll get more opportunities to catch the ball because he has good hands.”

INJURY UPDATES

Tavarres King and Caleb King each returned to limited practice Tuesday after both missed last week’s game with concussions.

Caleb King figures to be in the mix at tailback, where Bobo said there will be an open competition for carries this week.

Tavarres King expects to step back into his role as the team’s starting receiver opposite A.J. Green. King’s absence last week left Georgia with just five healthy receivers, and watching his offense struggle without him was difficult, he said.

“It hurt really bad watching my teammates and wanting to be out there,” he said.
While neither player participated in contact drills Tuesday, Tavarres King said he’s on track to play against Vanderbilt.

“I did everything that I could, just limited contact,” he said. “I expect to play.”

Cornerback Vance Cuff saw limited action last week following a knee injury, but Richt said he should get in a full week of practice this week and is in line for an increased role on defense against the Commodores.

Linebackers Akeem Dent and Marcus Dowtin are both unlikely to play this week, Richt said. Both are expected back after the team’s off week.

DAWGS DON’T DO DOME

After some speculation earlier this month that Georgia could move its annual matchup against in-state rival Georgia Tech to the Georgia Dome for the 2011 season opener, athletics director Damon Evans said Tuesday that the school had decided against the plan.

“After careful consideration, we did not think in the final analysis it was in the best interest of our football program to play the game as a season opener in 2011,” Evans said. “I think the most significant factor was that we did not want to give up the home game that year and make a change in the current home game rotation with Georgia Tech.”

SHADES OF GRAY?

With Cox struggling in his past three games, Richt said there was a chance backup quarterback Logan Gray could see more work in the coming weeks.

Richt was quick to endorse Cox as his starter, but he wouldn’t rule out handing a series or two to Gray as a change of pace.

“He’s been practicing well the past two weeks, I know that,” Richt said. “I wouldn’t say that’s out of the question.”

Gray ran Georgia’s offense on its final two drives against Tennessee, completing just 1-of-4 passes for six yards. The Bulldogs did have their most success running the football when Gray was in the game, however.

“Logan’s done a nice job,” Bobo said. “He’s done an extremely good job getting better as a quarterback. I think he’s ready if he gets into the game. Obviously if we continue to struggle, he could be something that could spark our offense.”

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Georgia doesn't have to look too far into the past to find a template for how the rest of its season could unfold.

The Bulldogs were 5-4 following four losses in five games 2006, but rebounded to beat three straight ranked teams, including a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

While a turnaround of that magnitude may still be a long way off, Cox said the team may actually be in better shape to accomplish the feat this season.

“I think our unity is better than 2006, and I think we could end up having a better season than 2006, but as far as hitting a tough stretch and how everything is around you, it’s about the same," Cox said. "People around here are used to winning. We’ve had some really successful teams the past nine years, and people expect us to win every game. We do, too. And when it doesn’t happen, everybody’s mad, including us. It’s something that does remind me of 2006, but it’s something we can definitely get turned around and have a successful season.”

The key to the improvement down the stretch in 2006 was tenacity, Richt said. While demands for immediate changes to the coaching staff and player personnel by fans followed the Bulldogs' most recent defeat at Tennssee, Richt said the dedication of his coaches and players will be the turning point in whether the Bulldogs can rebound this season.

“It’s hard to measure a team’s ability to withstand pressure," he said. "I think a lot of teams fold under that kind of pressure. A lot of coaching staffs fold under that kind of pressure and we never did. We were very resilient. We were very persistent. We stayed the course. We didn’t make a bunch of wholesale changes, whether it was players, coaches or anything like that. We just kept grinding, we kept banging away. You just never know how close you are to success until you live it out."

EXTRA POINTS

-- I know I said I'd have some commentary from Rennie Curran on the defensive effort, but it turned out to be a little more than a note. I'll have the full text tomorrow.

A few notes on the basketball teams from today's preseason news conference:

-- Travis Leslie is cleared to play this season, according to coach Mark Fox. Leslie missed the tail end of last season for academic reasons.

-- Albert Jackson is wearing a cast to protect an injured finger, but Fox said he'll be ready to practice when camp opens Friday.

-- Ricky McPhee was given a scholarship for his senior season, as was Tyler Whatley.

-- Dustin Ware on Trey Thompkins: "Trey is looking like he’s just ready to be a monster this year. He came back and I almost didn’t recognize him his body looked so good."

-- On the women's side, Angel Robinson had to have her knee scoped, but Andy Landers said she should be ready to practice fully before the season begins.

-- Landers also said he expects all seven of his freshmen to play significantly this season.

3 comments:

Cameron said...

Not trying to nitpick your blog, but Georgia didn't lose 4 straight games in 2006..they lost 4 out of 5 with a super-sketchy win over Mississippi State in there somewhere....

By the way, I love your blog. Best UGA blog there is and its from a non-Dawg...keep up the great work!

Brad said...

Cameron beat me to it. We beat Miss. State after losing to Tennessee and Vandy and before falling to Florida and Kentucky.

ingerson said...

Yep, I remember that MSU win. I was "watching" it via yahoo gametracker in a hotel room.

Talk about nerve wracking.