After less than two seasons as Georgia’s mascot, Uga VII died of heart-related causes Thursday.
The English bulldog took the reins as one of the nation’s most well known mascots just last year. The death came as a surprise to Uga VII’s owner, Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler.
“We are all in a state of shock,” Seiler said in a statement released by the university. “We had no warning whatsoever.”
There will be no mascot present on the sidelines at Saturday’s final regular-season home game for Georgia, a rarity since the first Uga was officially introduced in 1956.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt was informed of the news Thursday afternoon and spoke with Seiler soon after.
“I was sad to hear about Uga VII,” Richt said. “You never think something like that can happen that quickly, and I’m sad we won’t have him on the sideline anymore.”
Uga VII presided over 23 games, with Georgia posting a record of 16-7 during that span – the fourth best winning percentage the Bulldogs have had with any of the Uga mascots.
The dog was a popular figure among Georgia fans following his introduction in August of 2008 prior to the Bulldogs’ home opener against Georgia Southern. Richt said the line of fans waiting for their photos with the dog dwarfed the amount hoping for a snapshot with the Georgia coaches or players.
Uga VII was known for his more laid-back personality, rarely showing as much playfulness as his father, who gained a reputation for a mischievous personality.
Seiler said there are several options for Uga VIII, but noted that no replacement would be made official until next year.
Georgia’s players were not made available for comment Thursday, but after news of Uga VII’s death, several players including Jeff Owens and Michael Moore expressed sadness and sympathy and posted photos of their time with the dog on their Facebook and Twitter pages.
“This is a very sad day for the Seiler family, but also for all Georgia people,” athletics director Damon Evans said. “Just as his ancestors, (Uga VII) had captured the hearts of college football fans everywhere as the country’s No. 1 mascot. He had been truly embraced by all those who follow the Georgia Bulldogs across the country.”
ON THE MOVE?
There will be five senior defensive tackles who take the field before Georgia’s final game of the season Saturday to be honored as part of the team’s senior day festivities, which means there will be a serious blow to the Bulldogs’ depth at that position next season.
Meanwhile, Georgia figures to return all five starters on its offensive line, which makes for a crowded depth chart ahead of A.J. Harmon, the burly redshirt freshman who switched from the defensive to offensive line prior to the season.
But while a switch back might make perfect sense for Harmon and the Bulldogs in terms of numbers, head coach Mark Richt said it isn’t likely to happen.
“I have talked to him about that throughout the year, and you never say never, only because you never know what kind of injuries may hit your team,” Richt said. “But right now, we have no thoughts at all about moving him. We feel like he’s making good progress.”
Georgia will return just four scholarship defensive tackles next year, including three true freshmen -- Derrick Lott, Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones. Deangelo Tyson and Jones are the only two to receive playing time this season.
Harmon has seen minimal playing time this season, but he has shown significant progress in shedding weight and getting into better shape after entering school at nearly 330 pounds.
“A.J.’s come a long way at O line,” Richt said. “He’s reshaped his body. He needs more strength, but we like how he’s been progressing so we think we’ll keep him there.”
While Harmon appears unlikely to swap positions, the door is still open for tailback Richard Samuel to make the move to linebacker, but Richt said no official decisions on that will be made until after the season, when coaches can do a thorough review of the scenario.
“I don’t want to get into that because I don’t want to disrupt his life right now, but we’re going to look at everything in totality once this season’s over,” Richt said. “We’ll look at some things when there’s a little breathing room and some time to think about it.”
RECRUITING HYPE HEATS UP
What looked like an already crowded signing class for next season could get bigger for two reasons.
First, Georgia may have more scholarships to offer than previously assumed. With Tony Wilson, Bryce Ros and Neland Ball all earning medical disqualifications in the past seven months, a few more scholarships have opened up. Add to that the departure of juniors Kevin Perez and Ricardo Crawford, who both will graduate and leave the program despite having an additional season of eligibility remaining, and the Bulldogs have a bit more room to maneuver.
Still, Richt said the increased scholarships available won’t change the approach he has taken toward recruiting this season.
“I wouldn’t say that, oh now we can go get two more,” Richt said. “We’re recruiting the same guys we’ve been recruiting all along, so that hasn’t changed.”
While the extra scholarships may help boost Georgia’s signing class, which already has 18 commitments according to Rivals.com, it was the atmosphere from last week’s game against Auburn that may have an even bigger impact.
Georgia hosted one of its biggest crowds of recruits at the game, and Richt said the emotion of the win and the enthusiasm of the crowd, including an emotional moment when they chanted the name of injured safety Bacarri Rambo, did plenty to wow the potential future Bulldogs.
“It was fantastic … just how the crowd reacted to our team, to the Dawg Walk, to the play of our team and of course how they chanted Rambo’s name and just how loud they got at the end,” Richt said. “And for the official visits, they were in the locker room after the game and got to see how we celebrate in there. It was just a perfect night for football, and we played well against a very good team. It was a great representation of what Georgia football is about, so I couldn’t have asked for more on that one.”
DAWGS WON'T GO GREEN
It won’t be the first time this season that Georgia has gone to battle without A.J. Green, and the Bulldogs managed to post 31 points a week ago without their star receiver. Still, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said there’s no replacing a player of Green’s caliber without changing the battle plan.
“It was good to see and get those guys in there to have opportunities, and they made plays,” Bobo said. “It’s a little bit difficult in the sense that you have a guy that was pretty dependable when the ball came his way in his ability to make plays and cause defenses to account for him.”
Bobo said he still was unsure who would get the start opposite Tavarres King this week, with Michael Moore, Rantavious Wooten and Israel Troupe all in the mix.
Regardless of who plays in Green’s place, Bobo said the key will be for Georgia to continue running the ball effectively, even with Kentucky’s defense likely to put extra defenders in the box to stop the run.
“We’ll still probably get a little bit more one-on-one that we did when he was out there, but we’re still going to have to be able to run the ball efficiently,” Bobo said.
MIXED BAG FOR COX
Bobo has made no secret that he believes Joe Cox is Georgia’s best quarterback, but he’s not going so far as to call Cox’s senior season a complete success.
Through 10 games, Cox has completed 58 percent of his passes, throwing 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Cox’s season has been marked by inconsistency, from his five-touchdown performance against Arkansas to his dismal three-interception game in a loss to Florida.
“He’s been up and down,” Bobo said. “There’s been flashes of playing very well and leading this football team, but there’s been some inconsistency in throwing the ball accurately.”
Bobo said the lack of accuracy has been a surprise, given Cox’s history throughout his first four seasons in the program, but said the problems have usually been a result of hesitancy rather than judgment.
“Going into this season, he was a very accurate passer, knows his progressions,” Bobo said. “But a lot has to do with not trusting it, worrying about making the mistake, and then we’re making mistakes. You’ve got to play ball. If it’s not there, you’ve got to protect it, and there’s a fine line there. There’s going to be tight windows … and you’ve got to be willing to throw the ball in tight spaces, and then there’s going to be times when you’ve got to take a sack.”
FUTURE UNCLEAR FOR PUGH
Before the season began, redshirt freshman Makiri Pugh hoped he might be in line for significant playing time at both safety and nickel corner, but 10 games into the season, those opportunities have not developed.
Pugh has seen limited action on special teams but has made only the rare appearance on defense this season, and the lack of playing time has been frustrating.
“It’s been kind of rough really,” Pugh said. “I’ve only seen time on punt return and block, so I’ve just been trying to keep a positive attitude. I have guys ahead of me, so I’ve just got to keep on working. I’m just focused on getting better at the things I’m weak at to get that opportunity. Obviously the season is winding down, but you never know what can happen, so I’ve just got to stay prepared.”
With freshman Bacarri Rambo set to miss this week’s game, Pugh is hopeful he could see action as a potential replacement, but after a season of waiting, he has learned not to predict playing time.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “I’ve been second team at safety and nickel the entire season, so I’m just going to prepare like I usually do, know the game plan and be ready. Playing is more of a reality. If one guy or two guys get nicked up, and I’m in there.”
With Georgia struggling to a 6-4 record, Pugh said it has been difficult to remain on the sideline, despite the losses. Richt has said he plans to continue playing starters for the remainder of the season rather than giving playing time to younger players in order to prepare them for the future – a plan Pugh at least tentatively endorses.
“We want to win, that’s the bottom line,” Pugh said. “But I think being on the bench on an undefeated team is a little different than being on the bench on a team that’s 6-4. But we care about winning and if they feel they have the guys out there that are giving us the best chance to win, then you have to go along with it. You’ve just got to work.”
What that means for Pugh’s future is still to be determined. The safety said he has not given serious consideration to a transfer, but will evaluate his situation once the season is over.
“I’m trying not to look ahead,” Pugh said. “We know we’re going to lose some seniors this year, but we don’t really know exactly how it’s going to work out. I haven’t really looked ahead too much because we’re in the middle of the season and I still have responsibilities this season.”
CLEARING UP THE CONTROVERSY
I had a couple people inquire about a moment on the sideline during Georgia's win over Auburn last week when defensive coordinator Willie Martinez was discussing a play with safety Reshad Jones and linebacker Rennie Curran appeared to shove Martinez away from Jones.
Some folks thought it was a sign of issues brewing between Georgia's defensive coordinator and its top defensive player, but Curran said it was nothing more than playful roughhousing that occurs all the time.
“I always try to get Coach Martinez pumped up, so I’ll come up and chest bump him sometimes," Curran said. "Before the game, we’ll be jumping up and getting rowdy and I’ll come up and push Coach Martinez just to get fired up. It’s perception, man. You see one thing and think another and take it out of proportion.”
(One other note... My latest Twitter updates are available along the right hand side of this page. For breaking info such as Uga's death, I may not have time immediately to post a story, but I'll typically post updates via Twitter that you can access.)
Thursday, November 19, 2009
After less than two seasons as Georgia’s mascot, Uga VII died of heart-related causes Thursday.