Han Vance on Georgia football: The talented juggernaut in Athens has no big stars on offense. Running Back U saw the all-time leading duo in NCAA history run for 2,500 yards last year, and it becomes easier to pine for the recent glory days of 2017 every week with the limited production from any individual runners currently enrolled at the University of Georgia. The football reputation the school built in winning 12 SEC titles centers squarely around feature running backs. UGA has none.
D’Andre Swift seems pretty close to officially suffering a sophomore slump for (#2) Georgia. The lauded Philly kid has played through some soreness this year but never having had a 100-yard game in his career after five full games as the would-be feature running back does not bode well for the (5-0) Dawgs, who have played no strong teams and struggled some in double-digit wins with both Mizzou and Tennessee. The fact that Georgia put it on both late shows the overall strength of the program; the fact that both were within reach and trailing by less than two touchdowns and having seized momentum late in consecutive games should signal alarms. Swift did make some good cuts, Saturday and showed good vision finding creases, twice to the end zone. His two sweet scores were key plays of the game.
Had the SEC’s single-season touchdown pass record holder suddenly gotten hot at home at Mizzou, Georgia could have easily entered rivalry season 3-1 instead of 4-0. Undefeated, upon taking a 17-0 halftime lead and scoring quickly in the second half, Georgia let a resilient but not even close to super-talented Tennessee coached by former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (with three additional former Georgia coaches), back into the football game. Suddenly, Dawgs led by just 12 until three-and-a-half minutes to go in the contest. The sun beating down on us all. Attendee Peyton Manning could maybe have suited and pulled another one out for UT, but the current talent gap is too wide.
Why am I harping? The team is flawless in record over what used to be half a football season. Because the talent gap is no longer too wide, after Homecoming, Saturday night in the Classic City. Sorry but the story of this season has next to nothing to do with Vanderbilt. It better not, after they won in Athens on their last visit behind a 19-tackle performance by the SEC’s then-top LB. Without him, they couldn’t handle the UGA might in the Music City of Nashville last year.
I want to go to the Georgia opener there next year and write on the scene, “Hey Johnny.” Haven’t been to a UGA game there since Mark Johnson (RIP) and I went to the Music City Bowl in which Georgia lost to Boston College, Mark Richt’s first bowl as a head coach.
Kirby is 1-1 against the Commodores in his career and 1-1 on Homecomings, making a good selling point for the young team to be ultra-motivated and not look ahead. Finally going to be cooler for a game in Athens with the October night kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ~ Between the Hedges.
Nothing wrong with me looking ahead, I projected LSU to have a good season against the grain of virtually all of the national media. Bengals are #5 in the country and host Georgia on the bayou, where it gets stupid crazy, like actually scary crazy sometimes, on 10/13, an unlucky number, too. The game getting scooped by CBS for a 3:30 tilt certainly helps Georgia’s chances. First, they get the ranked Florida Gators in the Swamp this week (CBS 3:30), while UGA continues to flit around with softer teams from the state of Tennessee, this time lil Vandy. They will have been tested by talented teams: Florida, Miami, Auburn (who I find overrated like they are almost every year), while UGA will have faced exactly zero teams of true distinction, unless Missouri (9-2 over 11 games) stays hot and has a good year. Then the (4-1 now) Gators. The Cocktail Party – I’m so there! If they win this week, watch out. The momentum is building for an ambush. Didn’t look good for Florida when (now-legit SEC East contender) Kentucky beat them there. Suddenly, Dawg-Nation is circling the 11/3 trip to the Bluegrass, too, where ‘Cat Benny Snell Jr. would easily get the bulk of the carries if he played at Georgia. Auburn is still Top 10 after losing to LSU close and blew Georgia out last year in the regular season. That contest is 11/10, immediately after at Kentucky. Dawgs do get a needed bye between at LSU and the big annual game in Florida on 10/27, a few days before Halloween. It’s a tough stretch before two almost sure home wins at the end, UMASS and an already three-loss Tech, who has won twice consecutively at Georgia.
Back to the backs: I’m not 100% impressed with Holyfield yet, never have been. Show me the knockout, kid. He’s one of 11 of heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield’s kids, one of two named Elijah, actually. A junior at Georgia, he saw limited action both of Kirby’s years in Athens as a runner and should have been redshirted as a frosh, when he contributed almost nothing visible to an 8-5 team. Last season, he was a strong special teams contributor on a 13-2 champion, and this is finally his upperclassman time to shine at RB. There’s the challenge. He has a solid 368 yards and had the lone 100-yard game for Running Back U this year, exactly a hundred gained vs. MTSU.
I’d love for him to change my mind and start dominating instead of just “running hard” if he can. Traditionally, totals don’t go up for players per game as you start to play better defenses, though. Big individual years are generally bolstered by stats from the lesser teams on the docket.
Each of the two primary backs have toted the rock 52 times, with Swift only getting 240 yards (4.6 per), a good total for two games but obviously not for five. If Holyfield dominated more when he was in there, Swift may not come back in so quickly in rotation. And the converse is true. Neither is gashing teams, like Georgia should, both getting about 10 tries a game.
Speedy frosh James Cook Jr. has 23 tries for 114 (a 4.96 average) and had his redshirt “burned” when he saw action Saturday. I would have preferred to see him redshirted, under the new rule, and let put on size and strength, after limited early-season play. The fact Kirby opted otherwise, immediately, when he was not needed to win any of those games, shows me the staff feels he may be needed soon.
Trusty but not super-dynamic junior Brian Herrien has 26 for 156 (solid 6 a pop). Herrien has the faith of Kirby and company and played ahead of Holyfield as a freshman. Sony was hurt and out, versus North Carolina in the (old) Georgia Dome in ATL in game one, the start of the Kirby era. Chubb, in his first game back from the catastrophic injury at Tennessee, went off for 222 on the 2nd-oldest public college. Herrien got in the game, after barely getting in school at UGA, and scored a touchdown on his first run for the winning Bulldogs. Noticed late in the win over Tennessee he was in, getting the rock at the most crucial junction of the contest. Nice spin move, he moved the sticks for Jim Chaney when needed.
If UGA were to play a full 15 games, like the run to the near-national championship last season, and each of the averages were to hold, there would be a 1,100-yard year for Holyfield. None of the others would come close to 1,000. Again, the SEC champs had 2,500 between just two guys, while Swift chipped in over 600 yards, too. Take out his 100-yard game when Holyfield had a long run, against inferior comp – not exactly the LSU or Auburn D at MTSU – Elijah has 268 yards over the other four after a slow start, averaging well below 100 a game. Nothing to worry any world champs.
Homecoming. Herschel. Chubb. Sony. Gurley. Hearst. Hampton. Worley. Tate. Musa.
Moreno. Sinkwich and Trippi. You feel me…
Fromm 17-2 as a starter, Kirby has the Dogs on a 19-2 run and will get it to 20-2 this Saturday. Having only dropped two total contests since Tech last won in Athens is a really good go of it. Swift scored his touchdowns, freshman running quarterback Justin Fields scored two more, in relief of and rotation with Fromm, who overcame two fumbles (not turnovers), of three such lucky breaks. Mecole had scored a touchdown in each of the first four games and may get back to it.
The defense has a true star in corner Deandre Baker and is playing well overall, yielding: 0, 17, 7, 29, 12. The combo of Natrez Patrick, large and nasty, and Monty Rice – who is fast and vicious – is offsetting the huge loss of easily the best UGA player from 2017, linebacker Roquan Smith.
Mel Tucker’s defensive schemes are so strong, under Kirby.
Rodrigo has missed two kicks, the same total number he missed last year. He is money, though. The position I worry about least on this team is kicker.
But, the O-line seems to me to miss Isaiah Wynn knocking big holes for Sony and Chubb. I’m reading through the Georgia game notes when I see on the ticker: Sony Michel has a huge 100-yard game, Nick Chubb has a 100-yard game (on 3 carries). Their old teammate Todd Gurley is the best offensive player on what appears to be the best team in the NFL and is versatile. Nobody talked enough about Wynn until late in the year, and he was the first Georgia lineman drafted in the first round in 15 years.
There has been a drop-off. The attrition is starting to show, mostly in the vaunted backfield stable at Running Back U. The total team rushing is just fine, so far, but show me a star. There has never been a truly great Georgia team without a dominant back or dominating backs, that I know of, and I like to study Ol’ Georgia’s football history for fun. WE run.
Sure, this is a new era, the epoch of sharing the rock more in college, suddenly even at quarterback. I asked my (Georgia alum) friend Calvin, who frequents my day job, to name a superstar at Georgia. Justin Fields was his answer. Could the future be now, the true frosh beginning and continuing a bum-rushing of the opposition…right now? Fromm is just a sophomore and Fields has played in more than four games and won’t be getting a redshirt year, probably never unless he suddenly leaves some year after four games like Kelly Bryant did at Clemson, after going 16-2 as a starter on the piedmont.
Georgia has not had success comparable to Clemson’s since the two last met in a late blowout win for the home team in Athens. The Mark Richt-led, Aaron Murray-quarterbacked Bulldogs never got back to the edge of the promised land. They were a few yards away a prior year and never got back. While our nearest geographic rival, Clemson, won it all once and competes annually with another neighbor for the ultimate, or last year penultimate, glory.
Glory, glory is for GEORGIA.
Would the injured “ZEU$” lead to such glory if he were healthy? Nobody knows. I’m sure he thinks so, as the top high school runner was being compared to Todd Gurley in the preseason, in terms of game-ready body and physicality. Having two major injuries over a few years, his durability and possible injury-proneness come into question, before he does anything in college.
While Georgia was razor close to winning it all in 2017, if Georgia is truly in contention for the SEC (and the CFP) this year, a running star will emerge.