With few exceptions, fans these days like to pile on their teams' coordinators whether it's warranted or not. Some Texas fans groused about offensive coordinator Greg Davis in 2005. Some Florida fans complained about Dan Mullen in 2007 and 2008. Such is life.
Sometimes the criticism is completely earned, and that was the case with former Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Sure the Bulldogs' 28 lost turnovers in 2009 didn't help, but things on that side of the ball had been going south for more than one season. Georgia has given up more points than the prior year ever season since 2006's 17.6 PPG allowed was more than 2005's 16.4 PPG, and that trend continued regardless of the various clock changes. Something had to be done.
Mark Richt manned up in December and cleared out a chunk of his staff. He made about the most drastic change possible, as not only did the coordinator change but the whole scheme changed too. Todd Grantham arrived in Athens from the Dallas Cowboys with a 3-4 defensive playbook in hand, ready to overhaul the defense of the team that had allowed more points in SEC play than anyone else.
What has followed has been a lot of talk about square pegs and round holes, and that's completely fair when switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4. The transition won't be smooth as a river rock, that's for sure. Some non-schematic things will presumably be different though, such the policy on how long to stick with torch-prone vets in the secondary for one. Grantham talks a good game too about intensity and so forth, and while I doubt any defensive coach has ever failed to talk about that (Martinez included), it may sink in better coming from a different voice.
All this defensive talk is not to say that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo hasn't received his share of complaints either. There's a bit less to complain about on that side of the ball though as Georgia tied everyone's preseason darling Arkansas for most points scored per game in the SEC play in '09. That's not to say that the Bulldog offense was a thing of beauty at all times last season, but it was more than enough to have won greater than eight games.
The big concern in 2010 is redshirt freshman QB Aaron Murray. Any time you are starting a redshirt freshman, you worry. Will he be enough to help Georgia win more games?
What if I offered you this line: 53% completions on 260 attempts, 1750 yards, seven TDs, and 13 INTs? How does that sound? It's not great, but that was basically what Matthew Stafford did as a true freshman in 2006. That is the only season in the last 10 where a Richt-coached quarterback finished outside the top half of the nation in passing efficiency. And you know what? Georgia won nine games that season and dropped three other winnable contests.
Murray, being a redshirt and not a true freshman, should do better than that this season. He will be getting a lot of help too, thanks to an experienced line, two dynamic backs in Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, and an enticing array of targets headlined by A.J. Green. I'm not saying he's a sure thing because he hasn't played a snap of college ball yet. What I am saying is that he's in about as good a situation as you can be for success.
I don't think the offense will again vie for the scoring crown in conference play, but as long as Murray doesn't get banged up, that side of the ball will be fine. The win total in 2010 largely comes down to how much the defense can improve.
Georgia brought up the rear in scoring defense in SEC play last year, so it can't rank any worse. Several important Bulldog defenders, most notably Rennie Curran, also graduated. The depth chart is now all wonky thanks to the switch to the 3-4, so suddenly there's too many guys in some places and not enough in others. Defensive line in particular is a concern, where Georgia is slated to start a sub-300 pound nose tackle in DeAngelo Tyson.
I don't know how well that's going to go. What I do know though is that Georgia's defenses of the past two years severely underperformed relative to the talent on them. I also know that the architects of the scheme where that happened are gone. UGA's defense likely won't play up to it's talent level this year either thanks to the 3-4 transition, but it won't take much from the new coaches to get it closer.
If the defense improves to any degree while the offense remains at more or less where it was, then Georgia will have a shot at 10 wins. If Murray goes down and Logan Gray or Hutson Mason has to start, or if the 3-4 transplant simply doesn't take, then some of the dire predictions about Georgia's 2010 might come true.
Look at the past though. RIcht has seldom had a problem with quarterbacks going down for extended periods of time. Coaches with multiple conference titles don't often whiff on coordinators twice in a row. In theory, Georgia should be making a nice comeback in 2010.
In practice, we're about to find out.