Football season came to an end with a resounding thud for both the Thomson Bulldogs and the Georgia Bulldogs. Not only did the teams lose their last games, they managed to do it in a bad way. For anybody associated with the two programs, players, coaches, fans, mascots, cheerleaders, whatever, frankly there is no way to describe the LaGrange and Georgia Tech games without using the word "embarrassing."
It is not an embarrassment to lose to well-coached teams with good athletes like LaGrange and Georgia Tech, but to do it the way the two Bulldogs did it can't be described any other way. I'm not gonna' sugarcoat it. There is no doubt that both Coach Luther Welsh and Coach Mark Richt have some soul-searching to do concerning their programs before 2009. Forget Georgia's meaningless upcoming bowl game. Georgia's problems can't be fixed in a month.
Last year I felt that the Thomson coaching staff did a superb job with the material on-hand. They went through the regular season undefeated before Westover came to town to open the playoffs. A well-prepared Westover team upset Thomson by loading the line and totally stifling the Thomson offense. It seems to me that Westover wrote the book on defending Thomson and now everybody has read it.
The readers of that book are no longer inept teams from Augusta but schools in the new region 3-AAA plus the brutal non-region opponents that Thomson will face again next year. This is where Coach Welsh comes in. He will have to acknowledge that some serious tinkering is in order for his offense.
I don't mean abandoning his beloved Wing T offense. Many teams still run it with great success. I simply mean adding a few things to it that will get defenses to back off the line of scrimmage and respect a passing threat. As it stands now, Thomson is often caught on the wrong end of a numbers game. Asking six kids to block eight, nine or even 10 guys, especially of the Statesboro, WACO, Buford and Baldwin variety, sitting on the fullback just won't work.
What Coach Welsh comes up with is up to him. I'm not pretending to know more football than Luther Welsh. I am just stating the obvious. The offensive scheme this year clearly did not give Thomson a chance to win against the folks they played. Sometimes it is the Xs and Os, sometimes it is the Jimmys and Joes, as many famous coaches have said. In high school football you can't handpick your Jimmys and Joes. That being the case, you have to be willing to sometimes rearrange your Xs and Os. I believe Coach Welsh will see fit to do so.
Mark Richt's problem lies on the other side of the ball. Georgia found itself this season with an explosive offense but a defense that could not consistently stop folks. After watching every game live and in person and most of them on replay with a remote in my hand I could get very specific but space will not permit that. The bottom line is that on the field, Georgia's defense has often looked downright inept. There is no other way to put it without telling a lie.
The record will show that Georgia's defense has regressed since coordinator Brian Van Gorder left after the 2004 season. Most Georgia fans blame it on current defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Martinez seems to believe that a passive, bend but don't break approach is the way to go. OK, fine, but you better make tackles, some behind the line, force a few turnovers and avoid stupid penalties along the way. It also helps to defend passes without committing interference. Georgia does little of this on defense. They have managed to let teams with poor offenses stay in games. They make average backs, like Auburn's Mario Fannin, look like Reggie Bush.
Coach Richt has stuck to the "it is a team game" mantra. He cites the Bulldogs own turnovers and special teams blunders as often putting the defense in a bind. This assertation is correct, but sometimes a defense has to overcome these errors. That's why it is called defense. In the old days, Georgia would fumble in the shadows of its own goal post and Erk Russell would get excited and send his boys on the field exhorting, "We've got'em right where we want them."
I don't know what Coach Richt will do to correct the woes that caused Georgia to underachieve this season, but I hope he starts with the defense. The guessperts picked them number one preseason but I knew that would be a tall order. I didn't know that the Bulldogs, among other issues, would turn out to be so poor on defense. They helped make a 9-3 season feel like 3-9 and fans like me fearful about their future.
Coach Welsh and Coach Richt are good coaches with tremendous records. They strive to keep their programs on solid ground. Football coaching however, is a results oriented profession. Doing things the right way, building men of character, and teaching life skills are all wonderful goals but when your team underperforms on the field, all of that can quickly drown in a sea of negativity. Forget the fans, the players themselves expect to be put in a position to win games.
Making adjustments is a huge part of coaching. Some are quick, short-term adjustments while some have to last a while. While we take a long winter's nap from football, Coach Welsh and Coach Richt will have to consider adjustments to their way of doing things. Their legacies may well depend upon it.