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Smith: Tough to tell what to expect from Bulldogs

This is the time of the year when everybody has high hopes for his favorite team. Everybody is anxious. Everybody is searching for omens or inside insights, something to bring about encouragement as the countdown to kickoff accelerates.

For sure, the Bulldog constituency expects improvement. There is hunger for a return to the Georgia Dome. They want it to happen for alma mater, but they also want it to happen for the head coach, whom they believe is a good man with a benevolent bent for life in this wayward world. They would like for him to succeed.

Young players can make a difference, even though we tend to remind ourselves that their inexperience can be costly. If one play can mean the difference in the outcome of a game, even the fan with the least astuteness can tell you that it is better for your objectives to have an experienced player designated to handle the assignment.

After a vexing season in 2010, how viable is this team? (According to Roget’s viable means “capable of occurring or being done, feasible, possible, practicable, workable … within reach.”)

To begin with, the attitude is different. Accentuating the positive, which Georgian Johnny Mercer suggested in song many years ago, could be the theme of this team. How often that will translate into victories is anybody’s guess.

There is talent on offense, but there are question marks in one fashion or another at every position on defense. Todd Grantham, the defensive coordinator, has a relaxed teaching style wrapped in a positive and energized approach. There is fire in his belly. He will suggest that Georgia’s defense was not as bad as it played a season ago, but he knows something was amiss.

Much has been whispered about the new strength and conditioning routine, which worries Joe Tereshinski and John Kasay. They get the feeling that the constituency believes that what they do will be the difference in winning and losing big games. “It is not that simple,” said a tight-lipped Tereshinski last week.

It doesn’t matter how it is corrected, but the defense simply has to play better in the second and fourth quarters. Last year, Georgia gave up 90 points in the second quarter. In the fourth, counting Florida’s overtime field goal, the Bulldogs yielded 95 points.

In golf, the term often used when one twosome dominates the match is “brother-in-lawing.” When you are off your game on a few holes, your partner is on his and vice versa. Seldom has a Georgia team been more the antithesis of that routine than it was last fall. The game that signaled that the 2010 team would likely struggle was Mississippi State in Starkville, when the offense couldn’t close and the defense gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter. The next week at Colorado (Why were the Dawgs playing in Boulder in the first place?), the Buffaloes rushed for 235 yards, gashing the Georgia defense consistently, until the Bulldog defense took control of the fourth quarter. Then, with victory in reach via a last-minute field goal, a fumble brought haunting misery to the situation. This was a team that would find ways to lose.

Florida tallied 21 points in the second quarter and 13 in the fourth and overtime to win a game that easily should have gone Georgia’s way. Auburn got two touchdowns each in the second and fourth quarters. Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl could not score a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. The defense held time and time again, while the offense sputtered.

The coaching staff knows where improvement has to come and they are focused on multiple “fixings,” but the unfortunate issue is that this team could play really well the first two weeks and begin the season 0-2. The good news is that, in the Butts-Mehre building, you won’t find anybody who believes that will happen.

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