In the Dawg House
By Matthew Osborne
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The Georgia Bulldogs are talented, but they will have to overcome a plethora of off-the-field issues early in the season.
After rattling off a 10-game win streak and representing the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game last season, the Georgia Bulldogs find themselves as the preseason favorite in the division once again this year.
The lofty expectations are certainly warranted. The Bulldogs return 16 starters from last year’s team, including nine starters from a defense which finished fifth in the nation in total defense in 2011.
Although the Bulldogs once again have the makings of a top five defense nationally, Georgia’s biggest problem this offseason has been getting out of its own way.
With a little more than a month remaining before the start of the regular season, the Bulldogs already have the knowledge that they will be without at least four defensive starters – CB Branden Smith, CB Sanders Commings, S Bacarri Rambo and LB Alec Ogletree - to begin the year due to suspensions.
More recently, star RB Isaiah Crowell was dismissed from the program for detrimental conduct, leaving the Bulldogs without yet another of their initial projected starters.
Although the bevy of suspensions and dismissals have certainly been frustrating for head coach Mark Richt, his policy on the punishments for his student-athletes is not something that is up for negotiation.
“I think every university has the right to decide what’s in the best interest of their student-athletes,” Richt told members of the media Thursday. “We at Georgia have got our policies there for a reason. We don’t want guys to get into that type of thing.”
Although Richt is not forced to suspend his players by the SEC, he has been notoriously aggressive in combatting deplorable behavior in his program. Much like a parent, however, Richt says it is love that motivates him to take action.
“So the bottom line is, you know, I love every guy on our team. Part of love is being able to help teach them right from wrong. When they make mistakes, you need to discipline them in such a way that hopefully they’ll become better men down the road.”
While Richt is attempting to help in the maturation of his players, the fact of the matter is that his job still ultimately hinges on whether or not he wins football games.
The season opener against Buffalo is not expected to provide much of a challenge for the Bulldogs. Week two, however, could prove to be quite difficult, as Georgia will have to travel to Columbia, Missouri to take on a Mizzou program which will be playing its first ever SEC contest.
Many players have deflected questions about the Missouri game at the beginning of the season, but WR Tavarres King indicated that the players and coaches fully understand the importance of that contest.
“It’s a game that’s marked on our calendars as a ‘must get’ game. I know their fans and players are really excited to play against this Georgia team, and we’re excited to play against them.”
All-American LB Jarvis Jones says that all of Georgia’s games are equally important, but that he realizes that the Missouri game will provide a unique challenge.
“We need to win all of our games to be successful. We know that Missouri game is going to be crazy. The fans are going to be excited. We’ve never played up there before, so it’s going to be new for everybody and I think it’s going to be fun.”
Jones also says that he doesn’t necessarily think that Georgia’s suspensions will do much to lessen the success of the defense. In fact, he still believes that this team is capable of being the premiere defensive unit in the country.
“I think we can be number one in the nation,” said Jones. “I think a situation [like the one we are facing with our suspension] creates opportunities for other people. I think the younger players just have to mature early.”
It seems like not too long ago when many people expected Richt to be fired at the end of the 2011 season.
A double-digit when streak ensured that his job would be safe for at least one more year, but in order for this team to achieve their lofty goals, they will have to overcome an inordinate amount of off-the-field issues.
Despite the monumental task ahead, Jones says this team is prepared for the challenge.
“We experienced a lot last year, so I think if we can capitalize on those experiences that we had, we’ll have a great year this year.”