A playoff scenario few at Georgia have discussed

georgia football-rising sophomore-d'andre swift-kentucky-game time-tv channel
Georgia's current playoff rank is the same as D'Andre Swift's jersey, but that could change soon. (The rank, not Swift's jersey. Well that could change too on special teams.)

Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, the special Thanksgiving edition, and by that we mean nothing except this is running on a holiday. There will be no corny “What Georgia has to be thankful for” nonsense, or corny “What the Bulldogs are having for dinner” gibberish .. nothing corny, including corn. That’s not a Thanksgiving food, in our opinion. And if you’d like to debate that, go somewhere else.

This column will be all about football.

Also, some basketball later on.

But mostly football. We’re all business here. In fact it shouldn’t have taken this long to get to the first question. We apologize. You see, it’s been a stressful week in the Emerson household as we prepare to host family on Thanksgiving. Not only a 15-pound turkey that needed to be brined, but a series of important side dishes, beginning with …

Sorry. Sorry. Here’s the Mailbag:

Ok…Dawgs beat Tech, Auburn beats Bama, Dawgs beat Auburn…. does that leave 1 loss, non conference champion Bama out, but 1 loss conference champ Dawgs in? – John Vaughn

Boring answer: That depends on what happens elsewhere. My sense is the playoff committee wouldn’t want two SEC teams in the playoff unless they hadn’t played already, and in that scenario they wouldn’t have. What about matching Alabama and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl semifinal?

The committee does want to value champions, but if there aren’t four conference champions with one loss or less, then I’d bet heavy on Alabama filling a slot.

Here’s a scenario no one’s talking about: Georgia loses to Georgia Tech but then beats Auburn or Alabama. Does Georgia get in as a two-loss SEC champion? Does it beat out potential two-loss champions Ohio State and/or Southern California, or Miami with its lone loss in the ACC title game?

That’s actually a nightmare scenario for the committee, I think, which would rather be able to pick four conference champions with one loss or less. The Pac-12 can’t have that, and the Big Ten’s only hope is Wisconsin. As soon as Wisconsin loses, things get very tricky.

Point being for Georgia fans: Root for chaos, because it could ultimately benefit the Bulldogs. Actually, that’s what every potential playoff team is rooting for: Chaos, except for their own team.

Everyone said they were impressed with the way UGA bounced back vs. Kentucky. The Run D was exposed again. UGA can’t run the amount we did versus Bama/Auburn and win. Am I missing something? The season has been great, but I don’t think we are championship level yet. Thoughts? – Nick Coia

Well, not literally everyone. In my Second Glance on Monday my final thought revolved around my feeling that Georgia didn’t really answer the questions that emerged from the Auburn game. I don’t think the performance moved the needle for me very much on whether UGA can beat Auburn in a rematch, or Alabama.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say the run defense was “exposed.” It wasn’t as bad as Auburn. And while I’ve also pointed to the run-pass ratio question, I do think Jake Fromm has mostly produced when called upon.

The overall point, however, is accurate: There are questions as to whether Georgia is at championship level, and it all goes back to the Auburn game. If that game doesn’t happen, if Georgia even loses a close game in Jordan-Hare, something like 24-20, then we look at the Kentucky game differently, as just another easy rout in a season that’s had many. But because of the Auburn game everything gets graded on a harder curve – and I think that’s fair.

That said, the other 10 games of the season don’t just get thrown out because Georgia was routed in the other one. We’ll find out soon whether that was really just a one-off face-plant – a la Georgia-South Carolina in 2012 – or the red-flag game.

I will preface this question by saying, I realize we are 10-1 in part because we run the ball so much. However, I’m wondering what is our run to pass ratio if we take out periods when we are milking clock. In quarters 1-3, what is the ratio? If we are still running 60-65% of the time during the first three quarters, then do you have a guess why we don’t run a more balanced attack? – Jay Dog

A very good question, especially considering the push-back from Kirby Smart on the blowouts skewing the numbers. So I dove into the research, and here are the pertinent numbers:

  • Overall season: Georgia has run 71.2 percent of the time.
  • First three quarters of all games: Georgia has run 68 percent of the time.
  • First three quarters of all games plus fourth quarter of Auburn and Notre Dame (only games Georgia trailed in the fourth quarter): Georgia has run 66.9 percent of the time.

And considering Georgia was leading in the third quarter of the majority of these games, I also looked at the play calls in just the first half of every game. The result: Georgia ran it 63.2 percent of the time.

Point of comparison: Last season, when Georgia only had one blowout win – and that was by just 14 points – the Bulldogs ran the ball 58 percent of the time.

Another stat: 73 percent of people who consume beets at a Thanksgiving dinner report being unsatisfied with the experience. Beets are not good. This may sound like an unscientific stat, but they come from a source whose wife is hell-bent on serving beets today and who is 100 percent me.

But anyway …

Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. (Philip Williams/UGA)

Do you think Kirby will ever let the offense be more of a balanced attack or should we expect it to always be this run heavy? I don’t think we will win championships being this unbalanced. – Chris Pugh

My sense is that it won’t always be this run-oriented, but that philosophically Smart wants to be able to rely on the run as much as possible. And you can see why from his perspective:

– The more your offense is on the field, the less pressure it puts on the defense.

– It’s been proven to be more successful, especially at Alabama. Those air-raid Big 12 offenses haven’t won championships yet.

– The run-heavy approach also gives Georgia a recruiting niche, whether it be with tailbacks or offensive linemen.

But a point of comparison: Alabama, for instance, won the SEC and made the national championship last year running it 61 percent of the time. Clemson, on the other hand with Deshaun Watson, passed more 52 percent of the time.

Georgia’s sitting at 71 percent, and Smart is correct at saying that’s skewed a bit by how much the Bulldogs have run in blowouts. But that probably only accounts for about a 5-7 percentage point difference. Georgia is on pace to throw it less than any bowl-bound SEC team has in at least a decade.

We’re going to find out very soon whether Georgia can truly pass the ball when it has to. I suspect that in the Auburn game the Bulldogs were stunned at their inability to run it. This time, whether they play Auburn or Alabama, they’ll have a better backup plan in place.

As for the future, the quest for balance will largely depend on personnel: Do they improve the talent at receiver, can they pass block well, and how do Jakes Fromm and Justin Fields develop as passers?

It seems that the administration opened up to hire more staff that Kirby wanted. Not sure Richt ever asked for that. What are the difference in numbers in support staff under Richt vs. Smart? – Sam Callan

Back in February 2013, I counted up UGA as having $1.078 million towards the support staff, not including graduate assistants, assistant trainers, team chaplains, equipment managers, etc. There were four staffers (not counting assistant coaches) who were earning six figures. This year the overall support staff figure is a bit under $3 million. And there are 10 support staffers earning six figures.

Three things have happened on that front, in my opinion:

– The administration has signed off on more hires after Smart’s hiring. It’s not that Richt didn’t want some. I remember asking Richt about it around that time, and I actually expected him to scoff at all the quality-control hires by other schools, but instead Richt said he would “do what was best for Georgia,” and left it at that. It left me with the impression that he wanted to hire more, but was being a good soldier by not saying more publicly.

– Smart has come in with the Alabama mentality, which is a sense that you hire as many as possible to help out. This mentality really started when Jeremy Pruitt came here in 2014 and was ratcheted up when Smart became the head coach.

– The overall culture in college football has changed to where more programs are spending on support staff.

Side note: There are many people who believe mashed potatoes are not an appropriate side for Thanksgiving. These people are Communists. The truth is that mashed potatoes are appropriate with any meal. Mashed potatoes are really good. My wife bought me a potato masher for my birthday and it’s the best gift I’ve ever received. Other than a spaghetti measurer.

Will Roquan Smith come back for his senior year? I would love seeing him playing one more year for the Dawgs. – Stephen Wainwright

Smart and Mel Tucker would love that too. Smith is this team’s most important player, on either side of the ball. Right now my guess is 50-50: Smith isn’t the type of kid who would automatically leave, but if he’s projected safely to go in the first round it would be hard to pass up.

Keep in mind, one reason the current group of seniors returned is that nobody was expected to go very high in the draft. Lorenzo Carter probably had the best shot, but even he wasn’t projected in anybody’s first round. I’ve seen different projections on Smith, who some may see as too small to be drafted high as an inside linebacker, but if you can play as well as Smith some teams don’t care.

Side note: OK, I wouldn’t serve mashed potatoes with spaghetti.

Will Zamir White still enroll early with the ACL injury? I don’t see why not, since he’ll have a great support staff that helped Chubb come back. What’s your thoughts? – Teddy

The plan was always for White to enroll early, and that shouldn’t change with the injury, and in fact should only harden the decision: As you said, White will be better off rehabbing at UGA, where Ron Courson and his staff have plenty of experience with ACL injuries and their aftermath.

The timing and nature of White’s injury reminds me of Tramel Terry, who was also a highly-touted skill-position player from out-of-state (Terry was from South Carolina) who tore his ACL in December, in a high school all-star game. Terry also enrolled early. That’s where Georgia fans have to hope the comparisons stop.

Terry just never seemed the same after the injury, was moved to defense after a year, and ended up transferring to Jacksonville State. A good kid who had a bright future at Georgia, by all accounts, just bad luck with a bad injury. Now we’ll see with White, who I would guess now may redshirt in 2017, but you never know. It will also depend on the severity of the injury.

Side note: Who came up with the idea to mix green beans with mushrooms and fried onions? Who is sitting around and says, Hey, I know what I’ll mix together! Was it the Swedish Chef?

With the current head coach openings (as well as potential openings) and resulting domino effect, does the current staff have any head coach candidates or possible staff losses to assistant or coordinator at another school? The question can reach to the consultants too. – John Shevlin

Dell McGee has been mentioned for the Georgia Southern job but so far there’s not been any word on that front. Given McGee’s head coaching experience – albeit as an interim for one game and at the high school level – his name will be in the hopper. Tucker’s will be too. It may take another year like this for a current assistant to be up for a major-conference job, but as things shake out I wouldn’t be surprised if Georgia has to fend off other schools for assistants and consultants (Jay Johnson and Scott Fountain) for coordinator roles at other places.

Side note: No, I think the Swedish Chef is too busy to throw together wild things, plus everything he cooks tends to have eggs in it. He also sometimes uses a bazooka.

Basketball segment, where everything is gravy

Who is in the starting five when we get to SEC play?  Last week I mentioned my surprise at the lack of playing time for Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump.  Maybe I jumped the gun as both Harris and Crump were on the floor the last few minutes of Sunday’s game when it was crunch time and the game was in serious doubt. – David Knowlton

This team is better if Crump is starting, in my opinion, or at least playing a lot of minutes as a result of earning that playing time. So what I’m wondering now is whether Mark Fox is forcing Crump to get better at defense and decision-making, or whether he just doesn’t agree that they need his offense in the game in order to be better.

Mark Fox with Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump. (DawgNation file photo)

Harris evidently wasn’t playing because of some sort of discipline. Fox said Sunday after the game that Harris didn’t complain “when I didn’t play him,” which Fox added may be a sign “that he’s growing up.”

Right now there appear to be four near-locks to start: Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide are obvious, Rayshaun Hammonds looks too good not to start, and Turtle Jackson is the team’s best option at point guard. The other spot could end up rotating among Crump, Harris, Juwan Parker and E’Torrion Wilridge. They’re trying to figure that out.

But I wouldn’t so much worry about the starting lineup as I would the rotation. In past years I wonder if Fox has either played too many guys or taken too long to pare down the bench, which has resulted in losing a game or two or three early in the season that ultimately cost them a bid. Those four certain starters and the other four I named, plus Nicolas Claxton, give you nine guys, and Teshaun Hightower looks like a solid backup point guard. Is that too many? Do Pape Diatta and Mike Edwards need minutes too? Sometimes a team can have too many options.

Basketball over-under

Also suggested by David Knowlton, one of the UGA Mailbag’s proud basketball-question-asking fans. I believe there are three of you. 

  • UGA wins at the start of SEC play – 6.5 …. Over. As uneven as the Bulldogs have been so far they still banked the three wins they needed, and will have two if not three winnable games this week at the Wooden Legacy tournament, and have manageable games in December: at Marquette and UMass (underdogs in both), home vs. Winthrop, Georgia Tech and Temple (favorites in the first two, the third is a toss-up.) I see either a 9-2 or 8-3 record coming out of that. Only six wins would be disastrous, frankly.
  • UGA win percentage in SEC play – .500 … Push.
  • Maten’s PPG average at season’s end – 20.5 … Under, but only because of extra attention from opponents and Hammonds and Ogbeide picking up some of the slack.
  • Better 3 point shooting percentage at season’s end – Crump or Jackson? … Jackson because he takes less, though he hasn’t been holding back so far.
  • Team 3 point shooting percentage at season’s end – 0.300 … Under.

One more football question

Hey there just wondering if Cameron Nizialek earned the right to wear the spikes after that roughing call. I’d opine that he earned a turnover. Thank you,  – Ben Bridwell

Good point. Maybe they couldn’t fit the spikes into the medical tent.

And finally …

Favorite thanksgiving side dish? Pecan or Pumpkin Pie? – Kasey

Pumpkin. Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin. … PUMP-KIN!

Not that I don’t like pecan pie, but I see it as more spring and summer fare. Pumpkin pie on the other hand is purely holiday season.

I’m a stickler for these things, by the way: I only eat candy corn near Halloween, only eat pumpkin pie in November and December, only drink egg nog in December … and most importantly, don’t listen to any Christmas music until Thanksgiving is over.

There are rules, people, and if these rules are broken the entire system breaks down. That’s when people start serving corn and beets on the side, in place of mashed potatoes, and it ruins the whole experience. Ruins it, I say.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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