Han Vance on Georgia football: Founding writer of Big Hairy Blawg, author/journalist Han Vance has covered Georgia football as a voice of the fans for 11 years. Here in his ‘BHB Tidbits’ for Bulldawg Illustrated, he takes a glance at scheduling, injury and rankings.
On scheduling: Georgia went and scheduled far and wide in a relatively recent period of program history when the athletic department looked to expand the national brand that is Georgia football, with very mixed results. Keep in mind, folks, unlike in college basketball, the coaches do not do the scheduling in football, the athletic directors do. An unnecessary spin-move-fumble by running back Caleb King cost the Dawgs in the away “We Blackout” game in the Rockies after AJ Green came back from his trouble and made the greatest one-handed catch of his college career, as the moribund Colorado Buffs showed the first and only-for-quite-some-time glimmering glimpse of a program reawakening. Later, Joe Cox who I know a little, personally, and my friend Richard Hilley called in-person “The Buffalo Killer”, came off the bench in relief of a happy-footed Matthew Stafford to beat them in Athens on a late Martrez Milner touchdown grab. (Please, remember the tight end position this season, Georgia!) We took out Arizona State in the desert, in a lovely area of the country, when Knowshon Moreno soared. And your big hairy Dawgs eclipsed Sparky at home, too, going a way, way too rare 2-0 in a series. Boise State and mastermind QB Kellen Moore outplayed a younger Aaron Murray in Atlanta, some years after DJ Shockley flipped over Boise in an Athens opener on the way to an SEC Championship and All-SEC season. The orange-clad Okie State faithful pounded paddles on foam padding nearly on top of our team, who couldn’t guard Dez Bryant and lost on the road. Two years prior, I was there in Athens with my Marietta friends from Aspen’s Signature Steaks restaurant, as Georgia outclassed the Pokes, who traveled well and had an amazingly beautiful female following, we noted. So, let’s count them up, playing these distant locale opponents regularly netted us a shabby grand total of +1. One game over .500, when one of the aforementioned opponents actually visited the state twice, is clearly nothing to commemorate. AD Greg McGarity said, as quoted in print later, something to the effect of what in the heck are we doing way out here at night on this…mountain getting beat.
More on scheduling: Clemson surely doesn’t count since they are the nearest proximate football school to Athens, in terms of geographic location they are a few miles closer to UGA than Tech is, not to dwell on their much more similar football culture. We split with them, too, on last meet-ups. The UNC win in ATL game, Kirby Smart’s first as a head coach, was against another border state public school. While Clemson is a historic Georgia rival, the old Tarheels never visit Athens (1785!) for a nice whipping, battle of the two oldest public universities should happen more. The clear emphasis has been on keeping it closer to home lately, until the 2017 season happened and the fabled Redout in the Heartland. It was 20-19 Dawgs led by Jake Fromm in his first career start, Rodrigo Blankenship of Marietta closing them out when he got the chance to kick. In 2019, the Irish invade Athens. Numerology favors Ol’ Georgia in the CANINES vs CATHOLICS (trademark and copyright HV – I designed the T-shirts, too) series, but if old Lady Luck or even almighty God falls on the ND side somehow in the Classic City and they play the way they did in their bowl game this year, Georgia could realistically fall to 1-1 in that series, too. We may never play a far-flung opponent in a home-and-home again, if that happens and the department really runs the numbers like I do. Although, the talks are ongoing with Texas and Georgia. I was born in the Live Music Capital of the World, the American city with the single best economy since the Great Recession started; fully hoping it comes together and we take 6th Street for some brisket, beer and tequila, similar to the way we took over Chicago before Notre Dame. Austin, here we come!
Even more on scheduling: Kirby Smart is 4-2 lifetime in neutral site games (six is a bunch of them for just two years head coaching, by the way), a telling stat that needed improvement from the Richt era, in an occupation where 2-out-of-3 is bad. To be the best, Georgia also has to win in Atlanta…always. Great to see our oft-bowl opponent UVa (the only other school to abbreviate-in-nickname with an “a” so similarly to “UGA”) on the Atlanta big stadium docket for September 7, 2020. When I peer into space, my perfect vision is of Georgia winning that game versus the ACC after a short walk and train ride from my townhouse in Historic Druid Hills. Quack, quack, the Dawgs finally play the Oregon Ducks on September 3, 2022, in a battle of strong football programs. Big shoutout to my advisor-benefactor-investor Richard Silverstone, a Ducks fan who recently moved full-time to Oregon from Asheville, where he was back-and-forth. He was such a key figure in my California travel narrative nonfiction novel “Golden State Misadventures” getting finished and published, and it goes to third edition this week and is being adapted to a screenplay by a top Atlanta-based script writer. My 2005 summer travels, it first came out in 2015: www.silverstonepress.com to buy a signed copy by mail. I will be at Posman Books in Ponce City Market of ATL on Sunday 8/26 from noon to 2 p.m., pouring some margaritas at an in-store event. I’m right on schedule and would love to see some Dawgs there.
On the ZEU$ injury: I was hearing Zamir White compared to fellow North Carolinian Todd Gurley in preseason here-say rumblings, but the runner he unfortunately most resembles to-date at UGA has to be another North Carolinian, Keith Marshall. i tailgated with the whole Marshall clan before Georgia at Georgia Tech, a couple years back when they had kids playing at both schools and wore spilt shirts, houses divided for the Peach State title tilt, won by UGA in Mark Richt’s last game. They were nice folks and Marshall was on-paper one of the most talented recruits in UGA football history. Injuries derailed his college career, though he still made the pros. Our new two-headed frosh monster a la “GURSHALL” looked for a few weeks to be James Cook, the speedy, athletic kid brother of Dalvin Cook (the recent FSU star), and White, who recovered ahead of schedule from a major high school leg injury. Here goes the other leg, and we are all surely wishing him a full recovery, where the two rebuilt legs will be even stronger than the originals were. He could be injury-prone, obviously, already with two catastrophes at such a young age.
On ranking: Does Georgia deserve to be ranked #3? When Georgia was ranked #1 back in 2008, the Dawgs fell flat on their talented faces, losing three games and getting blown out badly in Jacksonville. The 1980 national champions were a preseason #16, last year’s SEC champs #15. Trend-wise it has been a bad omen for UGA when the Dawgs have been highly-ranked, generally coming from back a few slots in the pack when Georgia has a huge year. I saw last year coming and even thought the team would make one more play, and I see a strong football school now. But…history is an ugly albatross to overcome. The current schedule – that stuff again – shows cupcake city three times in Athens, with three rivals coming to town. The road: at East upstarts South Carolina and Mizzou, at LSU on the bayou, down in Florida, looks nearly impossible to navigate unscathed. Then the SEC Championship game, maybe. The CFP, where UGA never won or lost a game in regulation, maybe. Guru Phil Steele thinks Georgia can win out the regular season and he is a sage, robotic football mind I admire. Then again, he picked our beloved Dawgs around 15th last season. He missed that; I nailed it, and while I want to be optimistic, I certainly won’t be so blindly. This is a major reload.
More on ranking: The AP Poll – all polls for that matter – are nice and cute and all for the fans (only!) at this point, still, but they do not in any real way matter. They are basically thrown out, as far as actual relevance, once the CFP rankings start, on October 30th. If you read me last year, you know that nobody came close to covering the Georgia to the CFP story earlier or more thoroughly than I did. At #3 in the AP, Georgia actually enters the 2018 season (1-1 on the calendar year to-date) projected to again reach the CFP. I’m not yet sold these Dawgs can get back there. Only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma have made the playoff multiple times, so far, and there is nothing close to widespread parity across the college football national landscape. Kirby had one great year and looks now to create a program that lives up to lofty expectations. That has been a tough one for many coaches who had a breakthrough in year two of their regimes. A repeat performance, or better, would buck many trends.
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