It’s Time to Make the Tough Choices in Athens

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It’s Time to Make the Tough Choices in Athens

Kirby Smart – Georgia vs. South Carolina – 2017 Season Rewind
Kirby Smart

This was the poorest coaching job by Kirby Smart & Staff during their tenure at Georgia.  The decision to go with a fake field goal on 4th& 9 (on the road) was disastrous, the quarterback rotation was baffling, the decision to abandon the run so early was ill-advised and the defense looked ill-prepared for LSU’s tempo on short yardage downs.   After last season’s success many were quick to anoint Coach Smart as the “next” Nick Saban but he still has a long way to go.  The Dawgs lost their identity on Saturday and got too “cute” with their play-calling.  The good news is Kirby appears to be a conscientious coach who take a long look in the mirror and be better for it after Saturday’s debacle.

Who is going to step up in a leadership role and take control of this team. Last season we had Roquan, Chubb, Sony, Carter, Wynn and Bellamy as vocal leaders who willed the Dawgs to victory on multiple occasions.  We are such a young team and that type of leadership cannot be taught, it must be earned. I don’t know that we have a core group that has universally earned the respect of their teammates.  I don’t know that there is a core group of players that is going to step up in practice on Monday afternoon and take this team over.

The narrative that LSU dominated the Dawgs at the line of scrimmage is simply untrue.  Take away the 59-yard scamper by Joe Burrow and the 47-yard run by Edwards-Helaire after the botched fake field goal and the Dawgs defense allowed only 3.44 yards per carry on 49 attempts.  Coming into this game the concern was that LSU would manhandle the Dawgs at the point of attack and consistently gash the defense for 8-10 yards carry after carry. Simply put, this was not like the game at Auburn last year where the Tigers manhandled the Dawgs from the opening snap.  I thought Jonathan Ledbetter and Julian Rochester played their best games of the season and we have a future Dexter Lawrence/Da’Ron Payne level stud in Jordan Davis.  He’s not there yet but all of the arrows are pointing up.

The weak point for the Dawgs defense this season is the inside linebackers. They have all shown flashes of ability but the consistency, discipline and ability to shed blocks has not been good enough.  This group has two weeks to lock in on their assignments before the Cocktail Party but unfortunately the ability to shed blocks is not something that is going to improve overnight.  There is not a Roquan Smith on this roster today and the Bulldog Nation is witnessing just how important excellent middle linebacker play is to this defense.  The Dawgs may have a future stud in Tindall or Walker but the knowledge required to play the position appears too much for two true freshmen who did not come in as early enrollees.

On the Dawgs second possession of the game the Dawgs offensive line and tailbacks physically dominated LSU.  The offensive line was playing like the great wall of Georgia, Holyfield was throwing knockout punches and Swift was floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. The next offensive possession, after an LSU punt pinned the Dawgs inside their 10-yard line, the Dawgs came out and threw on three consecutive downs producing a quick 3 and out.  This team is built to punish opponents at the point of attack, get the ball to their athletes in space on the perimeter and stretch the field off play-action.  The fact that Swift averaged 6 yards per carry and Holyfield averaged 8 yards per carry and they combined for only 19 carries is dreadful.  Those two need a minimum of 15 carries every week.

It is time for Kirby Smart to make a final decision at quarterback.  In the most important series of the game in the third quarter, after Mecole Hardman’s explosive punt return, Jake Fromm played QB on 1stDown, Justin Fields on 2ndDown and back to Fromm on 3rdDown.  The indecision on the part of the coaching staff was exasperating.  A set plan must be put in place for the remainder of the season, this “winging it” approach is clearly not working. Obviously, none of us are at practice and clearly leading into the LSU game the staff believed Jake Fromm gave Georgia the best chance to win.  The Dawgs are now in the perfect position to take a step back and evaluate with the upcoming bye week.  Not that my opinion has any influence but I will give it anyway – it is time for Justin Fields to take the reins.  It is not because Jake Fromm has done anything wrong or is a bad quarterback. It is because you don’t go get a Ferrari to let it sit in the garage – you take it out for a drive and open it up and have some fun.  Sure, Fields may make a couple mistakes but he is such an explosive athlete and dynamic playmaker that it will more than cover up any of his faults.  See what Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton were able to accomplish in college.  Justin Fields has that same kind of ability.

Deandre Baker is the best cornerback in college football.  On the fade routes to the corner and back shoulder throws he is toying with opposing receivers and they never have a chance to catch the ball on him.  We are all witness to the best man-to-man cover corner to put on a Bulldog uniform since Champ Bailey.  It will be interesting to see if the Dawgs adjust their scheme moving forward and essentially put Baker completely on an island and roll coverage over the top of Tyson Campbell allowing Campbell to be more aggressive and not worry about getting beat over the top.  Until some adjustment is made opponents will continue to target fields and avoid throwing towards Baker as much as possible.

I’ll wrap this up with a final thought – it may not feel like it now, but the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs are still capable of returning to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.  However, if the Dawgs reach that goal, it will be on the back of the offense with Justin Fields at the helm.  With the upcoming bye week, the timing could not be more perfect to make the transition. It’s a difficult decision and won’t be an easy conversation with Jake Fromm but making the tough choice can lead to greatness – just ask the greatest college football coach of all time over in Tuscaloosa.  He almost waited until it was too late…hopefully Kirby won’t.

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