Lots of conclusions could be drawn about this past Saturday's beat down in Athens, and I think the frustration, anger, and trolling have brought that all out. While its obvious that this Saturday in Charlotte has the ability to save a wayward season...I'm in a different kind of mood. I'm in one of those "is our program in good shape?" type of moods. Losing to your arch-rival sucks, and as I watched the 2nd half unfold I started asking myself "are we ever going to beat those guys?". This might be the best Georgia team, at least on defense, in recent memory. They are at a high point right now in their program, there's no doubt about that. I think the reason they are at their current level of success is because they stuck with a head coach who encountered early success, but then a few obstacles. Begrudgingly to many DWAG fans, they allowed Richt to right the ship. I think we should offer the same patience to CPJ, but he certainly needs to get us over the hump against the DWAGS.
Surprisingly...I think we will and very soon. Crazy? I don't think we're far away at all. I think we're currently experiencing the effects of sub-par recruiting efforts from 2008 and 2009, where it's been a combination of not getting a lot of highly-rated kids and outright missing on several on highly-rated players we did get (Jordan Luallen, Ryan Ayers, Denzel McCoy, JC Lanier, etc.). From 2010 on, our recruiting improved significantly. Here's my take on what needs to happen in each phase of the ball...
I think any improvement to the overall quality of the Tech program MUST happen here first. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen overnight. Defensive schemes get ingrained into our defenders minds through Spring practice, through Fall training camp, and then game-to-game in season. The last thing you expect is for the blueprint itself to be the problem, and firing a coordinator midway ino the season rarely, if ever, produces good results. Asking a unit, that looked totally lost into midseason, to start playing at a high level with little confidence, out-of-position coaches, and simpler schemes was just not going to happen.
I'm a fan of CCK, but I think the program might have to bring in someone with a proven track record, and an established credibility as a DC. Plus, I think we need a jolt of personality and attitude. In short, I think we're going to need to spend some money. I think there's too much talent out there to be sitting in the bottom third of such statistics as 3rd down conversion allowed, passing defense, and scoring defense. If we do make a new hire, likely what comes with it is wholesale changes on the defensive side of the ball. Maybe not. We'll have to wait and see. Whoever the new DC is, they'll have to put a stop to what I consider very soft pass coverage, no pass rush, and not enough attacking gaps on run defense. In the Georgia game, as well as countless times this season, our secondary has been schemed to keep everything in front of them, often with 8 yards or more cushion. That's fine if you're committing pass rushers, but it's absolutely deadly in the absence of a pass rush.
Do we have the personnel to be a top-half defense? I certainly think so. But having the best schemes in the world isn't going to help if, as a defender, I allow myself to be blocked out of the play...and don't shed blocks and make tackles. Our current DLine is sub-standard, I don't think anyone will disagree. But will we see an improvement with Green, Gotsis, Kallon, Gamble, and Chungong? Will a healthy Fred Holton make a significant impact in the secondary?
Other than punt coverage, 2012 has also been abysmal. They were halfway decent until we had to move our ST Coordinator to defense, though. Our scholarship kickers have struggled in all facets of the kicking game, including kickoff distance, plus have dealt with injuries. With Harrison Butker signing, we may be carrying up to 5 scholarship kickers in 2013 (Poole, Rodwell, Moore, Butker, possibly Scully). Butker, however, may be the answer to the kickoff problem, as his reputation as a touchback machine in HS. The glimmer of hope this year has been the emergence of Jamal Golden as a game-changing return man.
Tech is about to have the best 2 athletes to ever run the Spread Option in CPJ's tenure at QB for the next 4 years, and they each bring something different to the table. We've seen what Vad Lee can do, and he has great elusiveness and burst for a man his size to go along with his terrific arm. Justin Thomas, currently redshirting, is a threat to run to the House on every snap. He has a first-step that might be the quickest I've seen for any athlete at Tech in recent memory, and just separates from defender in the open field. Plus his arm is underrated, he can make zip throws and touch passes alike. The future is bright at this position.
The future is also bright at OLine. Even with the departure of Omoregie Uzzi, Tech will likely return 4 starters and see a bevy of redshirted players (Trey Braun, Bryan Chamberlain, Errin Joe, etc.) vie for playing time (including Auburn transfer Thomas O'Reilly). 2013 might be the best incoming OLine class in CPJ's tenure (we will discuss this more at a later date).
Where I am slightly concerned is our skilled positions. We'll be deep at A-Backs, but no one with the athleticism of Orwin Smith. This Spring will be huge for Synjyn Days, and we will look for that optimal rotation of playmakers and blockers (with Robbie Godhigh presumably the other starter). B-Backs were surprisingly effective this year, and I am looking forward to seeing a beefed-up Zach Laskey next year. WR, on the other hand, is a worry. We leaned on a true freshman (Anthony Autry) who could actually make plays, and his injury was significant. Jeff Greene and Darren Waller proved incapable of stretching the field and making those 1-on-1 jump ball catches. Will the slack be picked up by current redshirt freshmen Travin Henry or Micheal Summers?
I know the first instinct is to panic after a bad loss, but I encourage everyone to remember that this is a process. Georgia is reaping benefits, IMHO, for sticking with a process. I hope we can see things from a larger perspective, and trust that CPJ hates losing as much (in fact, X1000 more - it's his damn livelihood) as we do.