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January 3, 2014

Opinion: No more excuses

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What does Georgia's just completed 2013 football season and Brussels sprouts have in common?

Both are incredibly hard to swallow.

For those expecting a wittier metaphor, sorry, that's the best we can provide today under the circumstances following the team's 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. But if the sprout fits

Yes, it's been a strange, disheartening, often numbing kind of year. It's almost too tough to pick a spot to begin, but here goes.

Yes, injuries played a key role for this team - no doubt about it. I truly would have loved to seen this team at or near full strength the entire year.

Aaron Murray finally earned the respect I thought many didn't give him credit for his first three years, while Todd Gurley is a gladiator of the highest order.

People talk effort. I've never really had an issue with that. I've thought all year that the team played hard.

But here's the crux.

The lack of on-the-field discipline, consistency, focus and seemingly no attention to detail has been painfully obvious. Those failures kept Georgia from reaching its preseason goals.

Saying that isn't meant to bash the players or coaches who represent this fine program, it's just an observation from someone who although is "not inside the arena," at least has a ladder to look over the wall.

To be a champion, you've got to play like a champion and that's something Georgia did on only a few occasions like the Bulldogs did in victories over South Carolina, LSU and Georgia Tech. The valiant effort comeback effort against Auburn must be acknowledged as well.

But let's examine the entire picture.

It was late Wednesday night, upon stopping on the way back to Savannah, that I mentioned there seemed to be something missing from this program; that it seemed to lack a spark, that there seemed to be a certain staleness about it.

I still feel the same way.

This program needs to be energized, but it needs to be done in a way to address the on-field problems I mentioned just above.

That falls on head coach Mark Richt. That's where the buck stops and he needs to be held accountable.

Something's got to change.

It's past time for answers to be found, and that's what has the most ardent of Bulldog fans frustrated with the direction of the program as it stands.

Special teams this year - with the exception of kicker Marshall Morgan - were atrocious. No other way to describe it. The only bad thing that didn't happen on special teams was someone returning a punt for a touchdown.

Does a fulltime special teams coach fix the issues? It could, although there's no guarantee that would happen. Personally, it goes back to the lack of attention to detail I mentioned earlier, which there is no excuse. Again, this falls on Richt to correct.

Defensively, yes, Georgia gave up more points (377) than any Bulldog team in history, but when I look at what unfolded this season, the Bulldogs never seemed to get better on that side of the ball.

Granted, you knew it was a going to be a struggle early on with three of the team's first four games against the likes of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU. But as the weeks went on, the defense did not improve. I thought it would. I was wrong.

The fact that players were still not lining up correctly or were not where they were supposed to be was troubling.

That 99-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14 was inexplicable, almost as mind-boggling as Auburn's miracle on the tipped-pass last November.

Fixing those mistakes is Todd Grantham's cross to bear.

Yes, it appears that he will indeed be back, unless the NFL comes calling with an offer he can't refuse, something many fans no doubt hope occurs.

Next year is going to be a VERY important year for the Bulldogs and the Georgia Nation.

There are no more excuses.

The schedule actually becomes easier as Georgia will replace LSU with a road game at Arkansas and the Bulldogs will return 10 defensive starters. Stop snickering. You can hope those returning will find a way to learn from and build on last year's mistakes and poor play, and I believe to a certain extent they will

On the subject of Hutson Mason, put me in the camp of thinking he will be just fine.

No, his arm is not as strong as Murray's. But in less-than-ideal conditions Wednesday he still threw for 320 yards despite at least five drops. Considering that was his second career start, to me there was plenty to like.

Give him a spring where he has Mike Bobo's full attention (no, I don't think Bobo will be going to Georgia Southern), they'll be able to iron out whatever problems with his game that he still needs to correct.

If Gurley and the rest of Georgia's current wounded come back strong, then we'll see what happens.

But one thing appears to be clear, there are no more excuses for the Bulldogs and Richt.

It's time for this program to take the next step - it's overdue.

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