Dawgs fan talk: Trap game, Fromm unleashed, Yale 2029 and more!

Tyler Simmons is Georgia's most experienced returning wide receiver for the upcoming season.

As Kirby Smart’s team prepares for the opening of summer camp in Athens this week, Dawgs fans are eagerly anticipating the upcoming season, but have lots of questions on their minds. Here are some of them, from recent Junkyard Mail …

Hey Bill, what’s your pick as the most likely trap game for the Dawgs this season? I’m thinking Missouri, because it’s right after Jacksonville, and Kelly Bryant at QB is likely to make the Tigers much better than most people expect. How about you?

— Doc Sykes You’re not alone. It seems Mizzou is a trendy pick for a “trap” game on Georgia’s schedule, since it might find Georgia looking ahead to Auburn the next week. However, I think Missouri is likely to have the Dawgs’ full attention this year, thanks to the arrival of grad transfer Bryant, who was good enough to lead Clemson to the College Football Playoff before he got beat out last season by phenom Trevor Lawrence. I’m more concerned the Dawgs might overlook Tennessee. The game will be in Knoxville, and will follow an off-week after Notre Dame. Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols aren’t yet at Georgia’s level in terms of talent, but they return eight starters on offense and six on defense, and they’ll also have an off week to prepare for the Dawgs. It’s a game the Dawgs should win, but they’ll need to be focused.

Hey Bill! So what are your thoughts on the upcoming season with James Coley at the helm of our offense? Do you think he will have his feet held to the fire as far as offensive output by our fellow Dawg fans during this season’s pretty tough schedule? And, lastly, do you think that he’ll unleash Fromm more than [Jim] Chaney did? … I personally would like to see the offense put more pressure on the opposing defense through all four quarters, instead of letting off the gas as they seem to be prone to do under the Coach Smart regime. Chaney had a lot of weapons the last two seasons, but only had 2 or 3 games where those weapons seemed to be utilized to their upmost capacity.

— Dave Morrone

As I noted when he departed for Tennessee, I wasn’t a big fan of Chaney’s play-calling, and especially was frustrated by the Dawgs’ repeated failures in short-yardage and first-and-goal situations last season.

Offensive coordinator James Coley confers with running back James Cook. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

When it comes to Coley, we know from his time as an offensive coordinator at Florida State and Miami that he tends toward a slightly more wide-open offense than Chaney ran, though the Canes produced two 1,000-yard rushers during his tenure, so he knows how to use the run as well. I imagine the Dawgs will remain a team that likes to run first (how could they not be, with D’Andre Swift in the backfield?) and use the pass primarily to set up the run. Coley also has shown a tendency to throw more to his tight ends and backs, which will help since Georgia is going to be very inexperienced at receiver.

Most importantly, I’m hopeful Coley will be less predictable than Chaney was in his play-calling. That would help “unleash” Fromm, who too often had to hand off to the back up the middle when everyone knew it was coming last year, though he still wound up completing 67.4% of his passes and threw 30 touchdowns. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit recently said he thinks Fromm is “arguably the best leader in the country,” and that Georgia “has a chance to have a magical year.” That should help Coley get off to a great start as Georgia’s offensive coordinator and keep the fan base off his back.

Bill, we all pretty much know what the Dawgs’ strengths will be this season — offensive line, Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and the other running backs, and safety J.R. Reed — but which position group do think is traveling under the radar and will be a pleasant surprise?

— Sandy Dorsey

I think Georgia’s decimated wide receiver corps could be more of a strength than a lot of people are expecting. If Tyler Simmons continues to improve like he did last season, he could become Fromm’s “go-to” target. The addition of a very experienced receiver in transfer Lawrence Cager from Miami also is big. He caught 21 passes for 374 yards and 6 touchdowns last year for the Canes. Another thing that makes me optimistic is the arrival of freshmen George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock, two of the most highly ranked receiver prospects Georgia has signed in a while. Yes, as  Demetris Robertson found out last season, in Georgia’s offense it’s not enough to know how to catch a pass; if you want playing time at receiver, you have to be able to block as well. But I figure that, by the second half of the season, the talented Pickens and Blaylock will be catching some balls from Fromm. Meanwhile, there are other talented young receivers on the team. One of them is Matt Landers, who has a lot of potential to be a downfield threat, though he’s going to have to hold on to the ball better than he did in the G-Day game. And, perhaps Robertson finally will live up to his hype this season. 

Bill, I can’t figure out what is keeping Kirby’s exceptional recruiting skills from recruiting 5-star D-linemen. The D-line has been a weakness lately. And we all know Kirby is a defensive-minded coach. I question whether or not DL coach [Tray] Scott is the proper fit on this staff. I’m afraid this year’s lack of upper-class, defensive line depth will be the Dawgs’ Achilles heel, and keep us again from a championship.

— Jim Parry

Jordan Davis has become one of the mainstays of Georgia’s defensive line. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The defensive line is the biggest question mark hanging over the Dawgs this season, and it’s the area where Georgia most clearly still lags behind Alabama and Clemson. There’s talent there, including last season’s standout, big Jordan Davis, but as Smart has said, Georgia’s defensive front needs to become much more disruptive than it was last year. The Dawgs especially need to become much more of a sack threat. Newcomer Nolan Smith might help there. The DL also needs to defend much better against the run.

You’re right, though, that DL is the one area where Georgia’s recruiting hasn’t been spectacular during the Smart era. The head coach knows that, of course, and Georgia is putting a lot of emphasis on going after highly rated line prospects in the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes.

Hi Bill, This is the season I’ve had circled since Kirby arrived. …  I did indeed expect a drop off last season because of the veteran talent and outstanding leadership lost. Let’s not forget just how important the leadership on that 2017 team was.  If leaders are honored and forever immortalized, that team should be so remembered. Having said all that, tracking closely the talent that was consistently coming to Athens and the team makeup of classes with so much youth, 2019 became THE year on paper that perfectly and naturally lined up to be very special indeed. … My wife and I are so incredibly blessed that we rarely miss any game — home or away — and this season our plans have us supporting the team in person for every contest. … This season will be very, very special, with Kirby, Swift, Fromm, et al lifting the trophy as national champions in New Orleans; coincidentally the same place we last hoisted the trophy. 

— Steve Upshaw

I love the optimism that pervades Bulldog Nation this time of year. And I hope your admirable devotion to following the Dawgs is indeed rewarded with that elusive national title. If not this year, though, I do feel pretty certain we will see it happen at some point under Smart.

Public interest in scheduling out of conference games revolves almost exclusively around Power 5 opponents. Schedules will continue to include a couple of bought wins each year. That said, those games don’t have to be lacking in some novelty and interest. Has UGA explored the possibility of adding Yale to the 2029 schedule to mark the 100th anniversary of Sanford’s inaugural game?  If we’ve got to sit through an FCS game, this at least would be a really special from a historical perspective.  I realize that Ivy League schools rarely play FBS teams, but it does happen occasionally.  I think the University is REALLY dropping the ball if they don’t at least contact Yale to float the idea.

— Aaron Jones

Handsome Dan is the mascot of the Yale Bulldogs. (Yale University)

Back in 2017, a Connecticut Public Television documentary, “Bulldog vs. Bulldog,” looked at the Yale-Georgia football rivalry in the late 1920s and ‘30s, back when Yale still was a national power. (The other Bulldogs, who’ve been playing football since 1872, have 27 national championships to their credit.)

As a way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Sanford Stadium, the documentary suggested a rematch for 2029, similar to Yale scheduling Army in 2014 for the 100th birthday celebration of the Yale Bowl.

Yes, there’s a stark disparity these days between Yale, which plays in the Ivy League (where they don’t issue traditional athletic scholarships, though they’ve started giving “grants” to athletes), and perennial SEC powerhouse Georgia.

But, with Texas, Clemson and Georgia Tech occupying the other nonconference schedule spots that season, an FCS opponent for the fourth spot actually makes sense. Unless there’s a precipitous drop in Georgia’s success level between now and then, I doubt the program would have to worry much about whether or not the NCAA let It count the game against an FCS opponent toward bowl eligibility that year.

At the time of the CPTV documentary, the New Haven Register reported that “a Yale athletics spokesman said there’s been no discussion with Georgia about reviving the battle of the Bulldogs.”

I ran your suggestion by the UGA athletic folks this week, but they declined to comment.

Still, as the New Haven paper noted, Georgia and Yale playing a 100th anniversary game is an intriguing idea, “not from a competitive standpoint, of course, but for the historical significance and pure fun.”

I think it’s something UGA should pursue.

UPDATE: After this Blawg originally had been published, I heard belatedly from Claude Felton, UGA’s senior associate athletic director, who said: “We did have extensive discussions with Yale about the possibility of a game in 2029; however, they were unable to schedule a game in Athens.”

Too bad. I think it would have been great fun.

Bill, Enjoy reading your articles about the Dawgs. I was wondering if you could give any information about the Junkyard Dawg mascot that disappeared in, I guess, the late ’80s, early ’90s. I vaguely remember him as a kid but don’t exactly recall what he looked like. I don’t have any old programs or media guides and there is no mention of him in any current publications. If you had any photos of him and any idea as to why he went away that would be great.

— Ryan Hannay

Back when the sideline was more crowded, Fluffie (left) and Frankie (right) joined Hairy Dawg. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Garbin)

I believe you mean Fluffie Dawg, a rather cartoonish, silly looking gray bulldog who was around when the band used to play James Brown’s “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs,” so that’s probably why you thought that’s what he was called.

UGA football historian Patrick Garbin said Fluffie, Georgia’s first costumed mascot, was created by the late Mike Castronis (who was in charge of the cheerleaders) in 1975. Garbin said the mascot sometimes was called “Bunny” for some reason, and Helen Castronis, one of Coach Mike’s daughters, said she and her brother Mike both recall him being called “Floppy” by the cheerleaders. “I didn’t know there was an official name,” Helen said, and my brother Jon, who was in the Redcoats at the time, said the same. The Fluffie name wasn’t well-publicized, and most fans had no idea that’s what he was called. 

Helen thinks Fluffie/Floppy’s main contribution was inspiring Tom Sapp to create the Hairy Dawg mascot, who debuted at the 1981 Sugar Bowl. “Once Hairy Dawg came along, Floppy was the basketball mascot,” Helen recalled.

Garbin reports Fluffie appeared at home football and basketball games until the mid-1980s, and Fluffie’s sidekick, Frankie, yet another costumed mascot, was created just after the 1983 Final Four, when Fluffie was considered not tough/mean enough looking. Frankie also did some baseball games, and once fell off UGA’s dugout onto pitcher Steve Muh, Garbin said.

These days, the only other costumed mascot besides Hairy is Spike, the inflatable bulldog who appears at basketball games.

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