Punt, Pass & Pork: Georgia's Mark Richt question
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—The rooms, built for various Jacksonville Jaguars to meet on NFL game days, stand about 50 feet apart. In each room, a man stood Saturday in front of a backdrop that matched his clothing. In each, cameras focused their unblinking eyes on the man in front of the backdrop. In one room, the man in front of the backdrop had a good answer to every question. In the other, the man in front of the backdrop seemed to have no answers at all.
"I don't expect to lose, and I think we should never come into an event thinking we are going to come in second," Florida coach Jim McElwain said after his team's 27–3 win over Georgia all but wrapped up the SEC East title. McElwain had been asked if, entering this season, he'd expected the Gators to have a shot at reaching the SEC title game. He swore he had, but more as a matter of principle than a concrete belief that Florida would achieve any particular record in league play. "One thing you learn real quick in this business," McElwain said, "is that there are no participation ribbons."
Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team would now qualify for such a ribbon if they existed in college football, offered his best response to a question with two more questions. "How are you going to prepare when the main goal is gone?" Richt asked rhetorically. "What do you do now? That's life."
There have been dozens of times when Richt was the coach with all the answers. There was that day in Knoxville in his debut season in 2001, when the Bulldogs ran a play-action pass from David Greene to Verron Haynes and the hobnail boot came crashing down on Tennessee's face. There was that day in Atlanta in '05, when his team jumped out to a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter and dominated LSU the rest of the way. There was that day in Jacksonville in '07, when Georgia's entire team stormed the field to celebrate its first touchdown and then proceeded to pour pain on Tim Tebow and the Gators.
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Look at those games again and think about who stood on the opposing sideline. Phillip Fulmer. Les Miles. Urban Meyer. Two of those guys are still offering good answers in press conferences regularly. Fulmer ran out of them after 2007, the year his team inexplicably manhandled Georgia and kept the Bulldogs from playing for an SEC title with what might have been Richt's best team. By '08, Fulmer had lost his touch and wound up getting fired. Has Richt reached that point?
That's the question Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity must ask. The Bulldogs should have been the best program in the SEC East every season since Tebow left Florida. They were the best in the division in 2011 and '12, and in the latter year they came five yards away from an SEC championship that would have won them a berth in a BCS national title game against Notre Dame. Georgia probably would have won that game, too. But since then, even with Florida and Tennessee down in '13 and '14, Georgia could not win the East. Now, the Bulldogs have rolled over against what likely will be the worst Florida team they will see for the next five years. They have lost to a Tennessee team that should be even better next year. Georgia has a highly ranked recruiting class coming in—headlined by quarterback Jacob Eason of Lake Stephens, Wash.—but Georgia always brings in highly ranked recruiting classes. Being the dominant program in the state that produces more Power Five talent than any other besides Florida and Texas (reference No. 3 in First-and-10 in that link) virtually guarantees that Georgia will always have access to the raw materials it needs.
Even though I've been quite vocal about my opinion that Georgia is now the nation's best coaching job, and that the correct coach could go on a Nick Saban-type run in Athens, the school's decision to keep or replace Richt isn't as simple as some of my colleagues and some Georgia fans are making it out to be.
I want Mark Richt as one of my pallbearers; this way he can preach a sweet sermon and then let me down one more time.— Tim Gentry (@tipdog1971) October 31, 2015
McGarity has to weigh some critically important factors. All he needs do is look to Nebraska to see what happens when you fire a successful-but-not-quite-successful-enough coach without having a solid plan for seeking his replacement. Georgia should not part ways with Richt unless McGarity is absolutely certain he can get the kind of coach who can go on that Saban-type run.
Would Brian Kelly leave Notre Dame? Maybe. The degree of difficulty in recruiting and keeping players is not as high in Athens as it is in South Bend, where there are no basket-weaving majors and where an administration will suspend a player for a year over something he might miss a game for at other schools with national title aspirations. Would Dabo Swinney leave Clemson? It doesn't seem like he would—except for maybe alma mater Alabama. Would Jimbo Fisher leave Florida State? Maybe. Maybe not. Would Gary Patterson leave TCU? It seems doubtful he'd enjoy the scrutiny a Georgia coach faces. He seems happy in Fort Worth. That by no means is a complete list of candidates, but those are the kind of slam-dunk names Georgia would need interest from before McGarity pulled the plug on the Richt era. Absent anyone who meets that standard—because those types of coaches aren't always available and/or ready to move—it's probably best for Georgia to stick with the guy who has won 141 games since 2001 and has a five-star quarterback prospect planning to come across the country to play for him.
There is another consideration with Richt. Unlike Bo Pelini, who was disliked by his administration and unceremoniously dumped at Nebraska last November despite never winning fewer than nine games in any of his seven seasons there, Richt is beloved on a personal level. He has sacrificed wins by holding players to a higher standard than many of his colleagues do. He has provided talent to other programs by booting players who didn't meet that standard. He has won and lost gracefully, and he has clung unapologetically to his beliefs. Those facts complicate any decision McGarity will make.
Still, McGarity must at least consider the possibilities, because the guy in that other room looms as a bigger threat to Georgia than anyone since Meyer. The Gators are going to win the East this year behind an elite defense and an offense stitched together with duct tape and wire hangers. They have essentially the same roster they did last year. Will Muschamp led it to a 6–5 regular season. McElwain should have double-digit wins by December. That's the difference good coaching makes. Like Richt, who elevated former third-string quarterback Faton Bauta to starter for the Florida game only to watch him throw four interceptions, McElwain has quarterback issues. It seemed he'd found a reliable starter in Will Grier, and then Grier was popped with a one-year NCAA suspension on Oct. 12 after he failed a drug test. Treon Harris probably isn't any better than the quarterbacks on Georgia's roster, but McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have found ways to make him work behind an offensive line that may be excellent next year but has had its share of growing pains this year.
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Here's what should scare McGarity (and Tennessee's Dave Hart and South Carolina's Ray Tanner) most. One of these quotes comes from McElwain. The other comes from someone else.
Quote No. 1: "It's not about thinking about going to the championship. It's about what we do right now to get better because a championship will never come if we don't take care of the now. Our guys are getting that it's not something we talk about because it will never happen if we don't take care of right now."
Quote No. 2: "You have to be a champion before you can win a championship. Everybody sort of thinks that it's the other way around—that you become a champion when you win a championship. But the horse has to come before the cart. So, everybody's got to buy into the same principles and values and same standard."
The first quote is from McElwain on Saturday night. The second is from Saban in August 2012. Of all the branches of the Saban coaching tree, only Florida State's Fisher has been able to thoroughly duplicate Saban's method of operations (known in Tuscaloosa as The Process) at the highest level. McElwain, who was Saban's offensive coordinator from 2008-11, looks capable of doing the same.
Right now, McElwain has all the answers. Richt doesn't seem to have any. What McGarity must decide is whether that's a temporary issue or a reason to make a more permanent move.
Projected College Football Playoff
1. LSU (8–0)
The Tigers were on bye this week, but we'll find out a lot more about them when they face Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Before that, we'll find out what the College Football Playoff selection committee thinks about the Tigers and everyone else. The first rankings come out Tuesday, and I haven't the slightest clue if the committee's top four will resemble this one.
2. Clemson (8–0)
NC State kept things close until the middle of the third quarter in what felt like a trap game for Clemson—decent opponent, tough road atmosphere, a week before Florida State comes to Death Valley—but Tigers sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson poured it on in the second half of a 56–41 win. Watson finished with 383 passing yards with five passing touchdowns and 54 rushing yards with one rushing score. Next up for the Tigers is the unofficial ACC Atlantic Division championship against the Seminoles.
3. Baylor (7–0)
The Bears didn't play this week, but we'll get a look at how the offense works with freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham at the helm when Baylor visits Kansas State on Thursday night.
4. Ohio State (7–0)
Just when it seemed the Buckeyes had their quarterback rotation figured out, the situation gets muddled again. Starter J.T. Barrett's OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) charge will keep him out of the game against a Minnesota team that pushed Michigan to the brink in Week 9. Once again, the Buckeyes are down to Cardale Jones. That worked out quite well the last time it happened, but the bigger question is what happens when Barrett comes off suspension.
A random ranking
I'm crowdsourcing topics once again, and this week's is a twist on the one suggested by @JoshuaJGrubbs.
He wants TV theme songs, but I've already done an overall list. So, let's narrow it to 1980s sitcom theme songs. These are judged on musical composition, scene selection, the actors' excellence in turning to the camera as their names are displayed on screen and my inability to forget the words no matter how hard I try to replace them with more useful knowledge. As always, all decisions are final. (We're not including The Wonder Years because I already included the Joe Cocker version of "With a Little Help From My Friends" in my ranking of greatest cover songs.)
1. Growing Pains
I'm partial to the B.J. Thomas and Jennifer Warnes version. Warnes—who also sang one half of "Up Where We Belong" and "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"—was to '80s duets what Nate Dogg was to '90s hooks. It wasn't a hit until Jennifer spit.
2. Perfect Strangers
After getting hooked on HBO's The Leftovers, I can't watch this the same way again.
All those criteria up there? Forget them. This is just a great song.
4. The Facts of Life
5. Who's the Boss?
An-geler! We made the list!
6. A Different World
The Aretha Franklin version, which was the second of three.
7. Night Court
Who needs lyrics when you have Richard Moll and Markie Post?
8. The Golden Girls
Step out on the lanai and listen …
9. Gimme A Break!
The original. The one where Nell sure deserves it, not the one where she knows what it takes. On another note, we need more shows today with exclamation points in the title.
10. Small Wonder
Try and get this out of your head.
Big Ugly of the Week
Florida guard Trip Thurman is this week's honoree not only for what he did on Saturday against Georgia—pulling to spring tailback Kelvin Taylor multiple times as the Gators salted away a win over the Bulldogs—but also for being a steadying force on a line in desperate need of one. Thurman entered the season as the only Florida offensive lineman who had started an SEC game, and the fifth-year senior has helped shepherd an inexperienced group to within one win of clinching the SEC East title. The Gators' line hasn't been perfect, but it could have been a disaster without Thurman's leadership. Now, that unit is likely going to get some more valuable experience playing a quality opponent in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
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1. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer announced on Sunday that he'll retire at the end of this season after 29 years at the helm in Blacksburg. Beamer's 277 career wins rank sixth all time in Division I history, but the Hokies had slid to the middle of the ACC in recent years.
"I was going to wait until the end of the season to make this announcement, but I've always believed in being open and honest with my players and coaches," Beamer said in a statement. "I know Hokie Nation will continue to give our players and our coaches their full support in these last three games, and hopefully through a bowl game. I will be forever grateful to everyone who made these past three decades the best years of my life. It's an emotional day for me and my family. I am so honored and humbled to have served as your head coach."
This opens a supremely attractive job. Virginia Tech has won the ACC four times since becoming a member of the conference in 2004, and joins Penn State as the most prestigious programs in the mid-Atlantic. The Hokies have access to a deep talent pool in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region, and a quality hire could vault them back to the top of the ACC quickly. Expect Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, who enjoyed great success at West Virginia from 2001-07, to be in play for this job. Another possible candidate is Temple's Matt Rhule, whose tough, disciplined teams play a lot like Beamer's teams. Of course, if Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock really wants continuity, he can elevate longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster to the top job. If that doesn't happen, some other program's defense is going to get a lot better in a hurry.
2. The ACC has suspended pretty much everyone who wore stripes on Saturday at Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium. In a scathing press release, the league acknowledged that officials blew pretty much every aspect of the crazy final kickoff in Miami's 30–27 win over the Blue Devils. The play featured eight laterals and ended when the Hurricanes' Corn Elder crossed the goal line with no time remaining on the clock. Here is the listing of mistakes from the ACC release.
• The replay official erred in not overturning the ruling on the field that the Miami player had released the ball prior to his knee being down. If called, this would have ended the game.
• The on-field officials erred by failing to penalize Miami for an illegal block in the back at the Miami 16-yard line. If called, the ball would have been placed at the Miami 8-yard line and the game would have been extended for an untimed down.
• A block in the back foul was called at the Duke 26-yard line. After the officials conferred, which is appropriate, they correctly determined that the block was from the side, which resulted in the flag being picked up. The replay official was not involved in the decision to pick up the flag; however, the referee did not effectively manage communication and properly explain why the flag was picked up.
• In addition, the on-field crew failed to penalize a Miami player for leaving the bench area and entering the field prior to the end of the play. This foul would not have negated the touchdown because it would have been enforced as a dead ball foul.
The league does not have the authority to overturn the result of the game. Also, doing so might require even more examination of the officiating. For example, the question of whether Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk broke the plane on the Blue Devils' final touchdown was as controversial as the question of whether a knee touched the ground during the wild kickoff return.
3. No matter how you feel about the officiating on the final play, if you love homer radio calls, you'll adore the Miami call of the kickoff return.
4. Minnesota's players and band offered touching tributes Saturday to coach Jerry Kill, who resigned last week because of complications from a seizure disorder.
The Golden Gophers almost paid tribute to Kill with an upset of Michigan, but redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner was stuffed just in front of the goal line as time expired and the Wolverines escaped with a 29–26 win. Afterward, Minnesota interim coach Tracy Claeys explained why he went for the touchdown instead of kicking a field goal and sending the game to overtime. "I just think in those situations you've got to be able to get half a yard," Claeys told reporters. "If it's outside the one-yard line, hey, we'll kick it and move on. But in that situation I felt like we could get it. I'd do it all over again and do the same thing."
5. Speaking of interim coaches, USC's Clay Helton ran his record to 2–1 with a 27–21 win at Cal. All four of USC's remaining games (Arizona, at Colorado, at Oregon, UCLA) are winnable, and four Trojans' wins plus a Utah loss would give USC the Pac-12 South title. If that happens, USC's brass should seriously consider Helton as a candidate for the permanent head coaching job.
6. Oklahoma State may have had a charmed start to its Big 12 season, but its victory at Texas Tech had nothing to do with luck. The Cowboys fell behind by 17 points early but roared back for a 70–53 win.
The quarterback combo of sophomore Mason Rudolph and redshirt senior J.W. Walsh continues to work for Oklahoma State. On Saturday against the Red Raiders, the pair combined for 452 passing yards with four passing touchdowns and 79 rushing yards with one rushing score. Next Saturday TCU will come to Stillwater. By game's end, we may be looking at Oklahoma State as a potential playoff team.
7. Florida State coach Fisher may have a decision to make after backup quarterback Sean Maguire looked stellar filling in for the injured Everett Golson (concussion) in a 45–21 win over Syracuse. Maguire went 23 of 35 passing for 348 yards with three touchdowns, and he and sophomore wideout Travis Rudolph (five catches, 191 yards, three touchdowns) comprised an excellent vertical combination.
"I'm always reevaluating things," Fisher told reporters when asked if Maguire's play changes the quarterback situation going into this week's Clemson game. "We have two guys that can play and win … Everett's health, we've still got to get that and see where things are."
Meanwhile, the Seminoles may have also found a back to help relieve star Dalvin Cook on occasion. With Cook resting an injured ankle, freshman Jacques Patrick carried 24 times for 162 yards with three scores. While Cook's starting job isn't in any danger, the Seminoles should be thrilled to find another reliable back to help Cook carry the load.
8. After his defense faced 114 plays in a 35–31 win over Colorado, UCLA's Jim Mora pointed out a home field disadvantage at the Rose Bowl. The sun beats down on the Bruins' sideline and not on the visiting sideline. "We played a gazillion plays and it was 1,000 degrees and we're standing there facing the sun for some reason," Mora said, per ESPN's Kyle Bonagura. "Of course we were hot. I turned around one time and put my back to the sun and said, 'This is a 10-degree difference with the sun at my back opposed to my face.' Hell yeah, they were fatigued. … We'll figure that one out sometime, why we're facing the sun. I don't know why. I'm sure someone could tell me. I haven't been here long enough. I'm a newbie."
Later, thousands of Washington State fans who sat in cold rain on Saturday night only to watch their team lose 30–28 to Stanford issued the following response: "We still haven't stopped shivering, but please, coach, tell us all about how the perfect weather where you live negatively affects your team." O.K., they didn't say that. But they were probably thinking it.
9. Penn State senior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel was appropriately attired for interviews Saturday as he explained how the Nittany Lions took Illinois to Camp Crystal Lake.
10. Bob Stoops that is.
What's eating Andy?
It's time to accept that there probably won't be another Sunday without a head coaching job opening up until the day after the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
What's Andy eating?
When I placed my order at Jambo's BBQ Shack in Rendon, Texas, the lady behind the counter made an observation that I took as a challenge. "I've only seen three people finish one," she said. Before I even laid eyes on the majesty of this sandwich, I looked her in the eye and said, "You just met No. 4."
A few minutes later, I worried my bravado had gotten the best of me. I also cursed myself for ordering fresh-cut fries and brisket-under-the-bacon jalapeño poppers. Why had I voluntarily surrendered room in my stomach when the monster called the Jambo Texan was waiting for me to take the first bite?
The Texan packs brisket, pulled pork, sausage, bologna and spare ribs between two comically overmatched slices of Texas toast. It stands a little less than a foot tall, and while I didn't have a scale, I felt at least three pounds heavier after becoming No. 4. The Texan is the barbecue version of the sandwiches the Carnegie or Stage delis offer in New York. It's a pile of meat nominally referred to as a sandwich only because of the presence of largely unnecessary slabs of carbohydrates.
The Midtown Manhattan delis make their sandwiches this way because tourists wouldn't stand in line—or "on line," as they say in that part of the country—for a regular corned beef and pastrami sandwich. But if that sandwich costs $29.99, is called the Woody Allen and outweighs a small adult, well, then it's worth the wait. Imagine the story when that diner gets back to Sheboygan. The shock value of the Texan is enough to get people in the door, but Jambo's isn't exactly situated in the ideal spot to become a tourist attraction. Fortunately, size isn't the Texan's best quality.
Plenty of average barbecue joints concoct unusual sandwiches to cover up flaws in the meat they serve. Jambo's doesn't do that with the Texan. While it isn't quite on par with Texas stars like Pecan Lodge or Franklin Barbecue, Jambo's does all the meats well. The brisket was moist with an excellent smoke ring and plenty of tasty bark. The pulled pork would have passed muster in South Carolina. The bologna made me enjoy a meat I stopped eating in elementary school after one too many cold cut sandwiches. The rib meat pulled from the bone with a gentle tug, and the sausage was spicy and savory.
As I plowed my way through the Texan, two questions popped through my head.
1. Why was I trying to finish this?
It's far too much food to eat in one sitting, but I'm prone to stupidity when I feel my gustatory manhood has been challenged. So I kept chewing. It didn't help that the fries and jalapeño poppers were also delicious.
2. How does Jambo's make money off this thing?
Profit margins are razor thin in the barbecue business, and at $15 the Texan is an absolute bargain. It's basically a sampler platter for two shoved between two pieces of bread. It is, quite simply, the cheapest great date meal ever concocted.
Gentlemen, if any of you happens to find a young lady who gets excited about sharing this sandwich with you, procure a diamond posthaste. But do not try to impress her by finishing the entire thing yourself. I did it because I'm dumb and because I love each and every one of you.
I regret nothing.