It’s football. Anything can happen. Although this weekend was supposedly a “scheduling letdown” as far as football fans were concerned, players and coaches are never in a position to see things that way. It was a beautiful Saturday in the Classic City. The sun was shining. The Bulldogs were playing their first true home game of the 2016 season in Sanford Stadium. Kirby was really coming home for the first time.
Georgia was coming off a big first-step victory over North Carolina in the Georgia Dome. Jacob Eason, the highly touted freshman, was set to make his debut as Georgia’s starting QB. Georgia fans were ready to welcome back Nick Chubb between the hedges. And Georgia was entertaining FCS opponent Nicholls out of the Southland Conference. What could possibly go wrong? Well, after the dust settled and the teams vacated the field, the answer to that question was ”DAMN NEAR EVERYTHING!”
Aside from the final score versus a “supposedly” undermanned opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs looked completely disheveled; all the way back to the DAWG WALK where Coach Smart obviously couldn’t find the tie that was actually Georgia “RED”. Georgia fans were tickled by the fact that in Week #1, Tennessee had to go into overtime to get a victory over Appalachian State. What we know at the end of week one is that we really don’t know anything. It is theorized that the greatest strides for a football team are taken between week one and week two. The Bulldog coaches, players, and fans better hope that is not the case; for if it is, Kirby and Company are in for a long season. Georgia made what most thought would be a relaxing day at the ballpark, a nerve-racking, nail-biting, grind out the clock contest. I’m not looking for an apology. I’m looking for improvement.
Kirby Smart’s forte is defense. This is his bread and butter. Although he now must have his hands on every facet of the game, Smart and Tucker are hoping to bring an Alabama style of defense to Athens. But the fact is, Georgia’s defense is littered with (positively speaking) freshmen and sophomores; especially amongst the front seven who are seeing a great deal of playing time. Marshall, Thompson, Rochester, Ro. Smith, Patrick, just to name a few. So, this defense will spend a lot of time learning on the job this season. That said, the defense acquitted itself fairly well in this contest.
Yes, there were a few glitches allowing Nicholls to put points on the board giving up a running and passing touchdowns. However, the defense was not done any favors by Georgia’s offense who helped put the Dawgs’ “D” in some precarious positions. But that will not be an excuse that will be deemed acceptable by Smart & Co. Georgia gave up only 12 first downs, six of 16 3rd down conversions, 236 total yards, and had three (3) takeaways. The Colonels were held to less than 5.5 yards per pass and just about 3.1 yards per rush. Two of Georgia’s top tacklers for the day were underclassmen, so it is clear that this group has a ton of upside potential. On the surface, looking at the stats, one might not have thought the Dawgs would struggle as much as they did.
It was truly difficult to decide which area of Georgia’s game was “the bad” and which was “the ugly”. After some post game analysis and film review, it became a little less of a chore. Shane Beamer came from Virginia Tech where special teams were a staple and something the Hokies became well known for in their brand of football. Blakenship did kickoff into the end zone to force a touchback for the Dawgs. Marshall Long did average 47 yards per attempt on three punts. McKenzie had one long punt return. Reggie Davis had a few nice kick returns. However, when the game was in doubt, the special teams group made some crucial mistakes. In fairness, it’s difficult to be too hard on McKenzie’s performance because without the “Human Joystick”, the Dawgs had no chance of winning this game.
But players have to be aware of their surroundings, the down, distance, score, and quarter. McKenzie muffed a punt that was recovered deep in Georgia territory breathing new life into the Colonels before the Dawgs could run out the clock. Also, McKenzie attempted to field a kickoff that was clearly headed out of bounds, but after his touch, it went across the inbound line and Georgia was again stuck with very poor field position. Maybe Beamer and Smart were not aware of how poorly prepared the Dawgs have been on special teams in the recent past. To the dismay of many, Georgia’s special teams’ units continue to make boneheaded and elementary mistakes that will eventually cost them ballgames. And to be honest, enough is enough with that nonsense.
Georgia’s offense is in trouble. At least on the surface that is how it appears. Jacob Eason was tapped as the starter this week. And although I had my reservations about that decision, it made perfect sense. Georgia was playing in front of a home crowd, in their home stadium, against a supposed lesser opponent, so this seemed the appropriate time. Eason is a talent; there is no denying that fact. He is a big, strong, prototypical, pocket passer, who has a great future ahead of him at Georgia. But when you take the controls of the Bulldog offense, you become the leader. Georgia was a mere 5 for 13 on 3rd down conversions. They found themselves time and again in 3rd and mediums and 3rd and longs. Eason was only able to find his way to guiding the Dawgs to converting only 3 of 10. Some of Eason’s passes were underthrown and he was bailed out by his receivers and some of his target selections proved to be the wrong ones. The interception returned 94 yards, which led to a “noose-tightening” touchdown could have been disastrous. Lambert was brought in cold off the bench to take over with about 7:30 left to go in the game. And although he was able to help Georgia run out the clock with two of three big 3rd down conversions, Lambert missed some open receivers himself. The quarterback position is fluid at Georgia right now and should be. Eason isn’t ready to go on the road in the SEC and make changes to protections and audible into the right plays as evidenced by what happened on Saturday. He will grow and mature, but right now the quarterback position is where it was last season; good but not great.
The receiving corps needs to step up. McKenzie and Godwin are the only two receivers that have really shown up consistently in the first two games. Georgia was either unable or unwilling to stretch the field on the outside and therefore allowed the Colonels to clog the middle of the field. No receiver on the outside has really made their presence felt. Not Wims, not Davis, not Stanley, no one. And according to Kirby Smart, there is a great deal of disappointment in the fact that many of the receivers either do not or will not block in the run game, which is a necessary act if they want to find the field.
While I seem to be slapping around the “skill positions”, let me be clear about where the problem really exists. Sam Pittman was not hired for his looks and personality. He was hired because the Georgia football program has been desperately looking for someone to develop an SEC-caliber offensive line. Even before Kirby arrived in Athens, he was well aware that Georgia lacked the kind of depth, size, and strength needed to compete at the highest level. Kirby even admitted as much in his post-game presser. “Well, we can go get better. We can’t go change the guys out. We got no free agency. We got no cuts. We’ve got to take what we got and we’ve got to get better. They’ve got to play better.” The offensive line play has been relatively atrocious overall. There is no way the Colonels defensive front is better than North Carolina’s. And it is damn sure not better than the one licking its chops in Columbia, Missouri. The offensive line is blessed to have Chubb, Michel, and Herrien “toting the rock”. However, they were given little or no room to run vs. Nichols. The line whiffed on block after block and they got very little push up front. Someone needs to step up and take control of this group and show some leadership and pride in being more physical and protect the guys behind them. If the play doesn’t improve, Pittman would be better served to start playing freshmen and giving them experience, because right now the starting five have been, in many instances, like a net trying to catch water.
THROW ‘EM A BONE:
Trent Thompson is continuing to develop his game and becoming a force on the defensive front. Thompson had five (5) unassisted tackles, six (6) assisted tackles, and three (3) tackles for loss and led the Georgia defense in totals.
Sony Michel returned to the field and that in and of itself was great to see.
Juwuan Briscoe and Dom Sanders each recorded an interception in this game. Sanders landed his 10th career pick, while Briscoe made a great one handed grab on a back shoulder throw from Colonel’s QB Fourcade.
Javon Wims hasn’t made his presence felt catching the ball yet, but absolutely sent shockwaves through the stadium with a devastating block which sprung McKenzie on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Eason.
Although Nick Chubb only rushed for 80 yards, he may have thrown the block of the game. With 2:55 left and the Dawgs clinging to a 2pt. lead, on 3rd and 7, Nick crossed Lambert’s face to pick up a blitzing corner and allowed Lambert a chance to corral a low snap and complete a 1st down pass to Chigbu.
NO BONES ‘BOUT IT:
This is a game tape Dawg fans, coaches, and players would like to throw in the trash and set fire to in all honesty. Well, that may be the initial reaction. I don’t think there can be a better learning tool than this one. Coach Smart is a rookie head coach. How he and his staff deal with this adversity will say just as much about this program as the players in it. K-Smart was very direct in his comments after the game. “We gotta play a Georgia brand of football and we didn’t do it. We wanted to create an identity. We didn’t create an identity. We didn’t break anybody’s will. We didn’t do anything to affect the other team.” Well, the Dawgs have seven days to get their heads right and figure out a way to be tougher, be more physical, and impose their will on their opponent. For all intents and purposes, after two “home” games, Georgia has to go out on the road and take on their first inter-Division foe in the Missouri Tigers. Although Mizzou has struggled offensively at times, their defense may be one of the better ones the Dawgs face all season. Georgia better get it together fast, especially on the O-line, or they will find themselves on the wrong end of their first SEC battle and believe you me, there are NO BONES ‘BOUT THAT!