Han Vance on Georgia football: On a perfect weather Saturday in the Classic City, the Georgia Bulldogs scrimmaged in front of a full Sanford Stadium, the headcount of the gate diminished only by an end zone closure for construction improvements. There was some good, some bad and some ugly, and I’m sold on some elements of the current football program and not sold on others.
1. Rodrigo is special: After a little bit of a slow start last season, following an unnecessarily delayed earning of an athletic scholarship in his cult hero previous year, Rodrigo Blankenship finished the year 20-of-23 on field goals and made kicks late under intense game-situation pressure. He played lights out Saturday, again, and a great field goal kicker coupled with a tough defense can win games. The Dawgs were offensively blessed last year, Chubb/Sony going for 2,500 yards, mostly to the gaps created by Isaiah Wynn. Javon Wims and Terry Godwin (mostly Wims) catching the tough 50-50 balls Jake Fromm got away with throwing all year. Godwin and Fromm are back but the rest of that talent – and the greatest single season defender in school history – are gone to the NFL. I honestly don’t see much proven offensive talent that has started and made key plays to win games yet on this Georgia roster. Kicking field goals may be much more necessary in 2018.
2. Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker can really coach defenses: Coming off a five-loss campaign, the program heartily gelled around the most experienced defense in school history, which returned an unfathomable 14-of-15 top tacklers. The first- and second-string defenses gave up no touchdowns in the first half Saturday, outscoring the offenses 7-6. Rodrigo and the defense did the scoring, then true freshman Justin Fields got hot early in the second half. He was playing against backups, many of whom may not get into the game rotation that regularly. Eleven “sacks” (quarterbacks were down on hand contact) and three picks in roughly a half-length game, shows the progress the defenders have made. The offensive lines couldn’t manhandle our front sevens and the defensive backs were in excellent position the whole game, ripping at the ball intensely.
3. The fans: Georgia football has the best sporting fans in the world!
1. That boy is bad!: Monty Rice, a sophomore out of the state of Alabama, played sideline to sideline and made 14 tackles. Again, with the clock running the G-Day game is closer to a half than a full game. The full-length replay of any spring game can be televised in a two-hour television slot, so he was actually on pace to have a double, double-digit tackle game. That was an eyeopening Roquan Smith-like performance from a second-team defender. Clearly my game MVP, he may have claimed a starting spot for September with that one performance. He far outplayed the often troubled veteran Natrez Patrick.
2. Fromminator: Fromm, who I was most excited to see in full command of his offense, underwhelmed with 200 yards, 50% completions and two interceptions on high, hard overthrows, to one touchdown. Several nice deep passes went uncaught, and he forced the ball into traffic. The starting offense failed to score a touchdown at all until under two minutes were left in the contest. They lost.
3. Blocking: When you give up eleven sacks and fail to run effectively, “The Great Wall of Georgia” T-shirts do not have their biggest sales day.
1. Drops: Jake Fromm made his mark throwing 50-50 balls to guys that came up with highlight-reel catches in 2017, when only occasionally, by comparison to national averages, being forced to pass to move the ball. These guys don’t look mentally ready to finish the drill, Kirby correctly calling them out. Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley are projected to start for UGA; they drop balls. Godwin is undersized and struggles to get open when defenses roll coverage.
2. Elijah Holyfield: The career-best 50-yard game junior talked way too much about himself in the buildup to the G-Day game and didn’t show anything. While his father was a famous fighter and the fans keep hoping for and predicting greatness, Elijah was far outplayed by the unsung, versatile Brian Herrien.
3. Looking for offensive answers: One great season dominated by two runners should not sell anybody on UGA’s ability to have good offensive plays called.
SUMMATIONAL – UNPROVEN:
That team looked like a ten-win team, at best, based mostly on a soft schedule and the weakness of the SEC East as a division. Toughest road trip, on paper, is probably a journey to the bayou to face LSU – projected to have a down year by national prognosticators. Head coach Smart has been badly blown out and yielded 40 or more points in both SEC West road trips in his short career.
Could Swift come in and save the day for the offense? He has shown signs but has never had a 100-yard game. Could Jim Chaney, now coaching the tight ends positionally as well as calling (fairly predictable) plays, remember that Isaac Nauta has the potential to be an all-world tight end? Maybe, but he caught just nine passes last season. He looked pretty good on G-Day.
The defense is way, way ahead of the offense at this point. Considering the turnover of players on defense, that is an impressive validation of Mel Tucker and Kirby himself. I wouldn’t be expecting to blow many teams out like UGA did last year in winning the SEC for the first time in a full dozen years.
Sure it was just one practice game, but my eye test said unproven Georgia will have to improve vastly on offense to have any shot at real lasting glory. Here’s to hoping they find a way to get it together and defy my realistic expectations.