The Georgia Bulldogs make their annual trip to Jacksonville Saturday to face the Florida Gators. I'm an old-timer and not among those that think the game should be moved to a home-and-home arrangement. To me, 40,000 tickets in Jacksonville every year sounds better than 10,000 tickets for the visitors every other year. Many Bulldog fans are even suggesting that this year's game be cancelled because the Gators are gonna' win big anyway.
Large portions of Bulldog fans have jumped on the bandwagon since 2002 when they won the SEC championship for the first time in 20 years. Many of these folks pull for the "hot" team, and right now, Georgia ain't hot.
Georgia has a record of 6-2, thanks mostly to the ineptitude of the teams they have played. So far these eight teams have a cumulative record of 26-35 with only Western Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee having winning marks. Florida leads off a slate of three straight road games before the finale in Athens against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs will be heavy underdogs to Florida and Auburn, so if they can finish 8-4 that might be the best we can hope for, but looking ahead is useless.
I've seen every game personally, and there are many things that I think can be blamed for Georgia's poor performances. Number one is coaching on the defensive side of the ball. I could see this coming since the Arkansas game last year, but defensive coordinator Willie Martinez plays way too soft, in my opinion. He has a "don't give up the big play" mentality, and it's just not working. It is especially ineffective when defending a short field.
Martinez also seems wed to playing certain players come hell or high water. Except for Danny Verdun Wheeler, and more about him later, Martinez is stuck on seniority. Georgia's safety play on defense has been atrocious all season, but Senior Tra Battle and Junior Kelin Johnson get practically every snap. Martinez has been unwilling to give younger players a shot, even though I can't see what it would hurt. I hear Battle is a nice guy, but his performance particularly has been terrible. His interceptions have come when he was standing in the end zone guarding the goal post and the opposing quarterback has thrown the ball right to him.
I hate to hope for the firing of any coach, but I believe that Willie Martinez is in way over his head as an SEC defensive coordinator. I'm no expert, but I've seen a lot of football games, and his approach seldom works against well-coached offenses. Tennessee scored 44 points on offense against Georgia, but they had to fight like heck to get 16 on Alabama. Mississippi State has been inept on offense for two years, but scored 24 against the Bulldogs. Martinez's status may well become the first major test of Mark Richt's tenure as head coach.
There are other problems with this team too numerous to mention in this space, but in summary, the Georgia Bulldogs have looked paralyzed in 2006. When on offense, the opponent's defense appears to have 12 players while Georgia's defense seems to be playing with only 10. Some of it can be blamed on youthful mistakes, but not all of it.
I've been asked repeatedly about Danny, but like most of you, I don't know what is going on. Danny moved to Middle Linebacker against Ole Miss due to an injury to Jarvis Jackson. He did miss some tackles in that game, but so has every other defender during the course of the season. Except for special teams, he did not set foot on the field against Tennessee. As it turned out, I am glad he was not a part of that disgraceful tragedy.
He played sparingly against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, and I think the best we can do as Danny's friends is to keep him in our thoughts and prayers until he gets another chance. I expect him to get another chance because from what I have seen, Tony Taylor is the only linebacker that plays as consistently well as Danny. In fact, Danny's replacement, Junior Brandon Miller, is downright struggling when he is on the field.
I know this sounds like I am down on the Georgia Bulldogs, but I am more disappointed than angry. I am loyal, but not a Pollyanna. I don't expect them to win every game, but I do like to see an aggressive, cohesive effort in every game regardless of the score. When I get to Jacksonville, maybe I will see such an effort, regardless of the score.