There are many reasons why this year's Georgia team is better than the last few. Obviously a big reason is the defense being more comfortable in year 2 under Grantham but there is more to it than that. Some of it is the influx of talent from the freshman class but is Mitchell an upgrade over Green? Ealey had his problems but actually averaged more yards per carry than Crowell is to this point. The linebackers are playing great right now but Dent and Houston were not exactly bad. I really love the new talent but I think it is something else that the "dream" team brought to this team, attitude.
While only a few of the 2011 class are starting they have brought in a new bravado and confidence the team has been lacking. Some freshmen come in and expect to play but this group was different, many of them expected to play, start and win in doing so. Their gaul in coming in and not just being happy to learn the plays and get better this season but to push the veterans for playing time has made every player on the team better. No longer could starters rest on their experience, they now had to push themselves harder to stay ahead of the freshmen nipping at their heels. To their credit the veterans didn't whine about having to compete with a freshman for their job but instead embraced it. They took the newbies under their wings and helped them. All the while working harder themselves to get better so they could keep their own jobs and more importantly, get back to winning. Coaches can talk all day about putting in the backup and competing for jobs but if a guy knows the guy behind him doesn't have what it takes to beat him out then it is just talk. When the veterans saw this class working out they knew the coaches now had the leverage.
There are still lots of mistakes on the field but this team gets noticeably better every game. Injuries and suspensions have kept players out but instead of that derailing the team it has been a next man up mentality. The team has yet to put together their best game yet but their attitude has led them to win fairly comfortably despite the mistakes.
Much was made about Richt's decision to not go for it on 4th and goal in the bowl game against UCF. I thought it was the right call but that is not the point. There was a reason he didn't go for it and it wasn't because as he put it "they should have got it on third down". A good coach knows the pulse of his team. I think in his gut Richt knew that last year’s team A)would not have handled it well had they not gotten the TD and B)didn't have that "man up" gene needed for 4th and short situations. Contrast that to this season. Richt felt and learned this team was different. First of all I think he believed that the defense would bail him out if the 4th downs weren't successful and second he felt the pulse of the team. They wanted and were up to the challenge. Like in the cheesy movie "The Replacements" when they talk about with the game on the line that winners always wanted the ball, Richt knew who wanted the ball, one of his bold freshmen. Crowell said this,
"I felt like, you know, we needed to drop our necks a little bit and just go for it," said Crowell, who finished with 104 yards rushing on 22 carries. "Everybody was talking about how we were going to drop our necks and play football. I felt like we should have went for it." (emphasis added)
after the Mississippi State game when the team had not gone for it on a 4th and short. I did not get the feeling from hearing Crowell that he was questioning the coach. It seemed to me he was questioning the team. He asked Richt to trust him, he asked the team to trust itself, and it was almost a challenge to the entire team. He was saying are we all talk or are we going to bow up and be men.
Richt decided to go for those 4th downs against Tennessee not because he felt he had to in order to win the game. Instead it was because he felt the team was ready to be trusted again. Time and again Richt said to the team, you want it, go get it. This team is starting to not just talk the talk but walk the walk. Each time they do they edge a little more from "I believe we can win games" to "we are going to win". The team has not been devoid of talent at any time since Richt has been in Athens. The last couple of years what it appears to me that they have been missing is confidence or swag as people like to say these days. A little bit of swagger without going into delving into cockiness is a very dangerous thing.
Whenever a new coach comes in they always talk about changing the culture. Well Richt is not new in Athens so he needed some outside help in re-creating the culture he established early on at Georgia. He saw that potential in the recruits he brought in this spring. He didn't just nickname this team "The Dream Team" because of their talent, but because he knew they could hold up under the scrutiny of such a name. The freshman class started it this summer, it started to become reality when they went toe to toe with Carolina and were beaten only by their own mistakes and now it grows with each win. It is possible I am way off on this but I believe that in the few months that they have been on campus that this class is on its way to bringing Georgia back to the top. There is still a long ways to go before they are truly back but they are headed in the right direction. It appears closer than it has in a few years. It will happen not because the talent is that much different. It will happen because they have the attitude of champions.