You know it’s the football offseason when, in addition to the usual queries about the coming season for Kirby Smart’s Dawgs, my mail also includes questions about UGA basketball … and even baseball!
Let’s jump straight into some of the recent fan musings in the Junkyard Mail …
Bill, Always interesting our position concerns going into next season. … Surprisingly, my biggest concern is the running back position at “Running Back U.” Is Zamir “Zeus” White truly ready to handle the load after two major knee surgeries? He was a great story last season. But was he truly explosive to carry a team? No. I’m hoping this extra off season helps him heal and get him back to the player before his first injury in high school. Is there a complement to Zeus in the backfield? James Cook was highly ranked, but has he really dazzled in college? A small back with speed either being misused or simply overrated. Kenny McIntosh? Highly rated. Nothing special, so far. Can the new, incoming stud freshman, Kendall Milton, be the answer to a “thunder and lightning” backfield with Zeus? We can only hope. What are your thoughts on our backfield entering spring?
Keep in mind that it took a full season for Nick Chubb to get back into top form after knee surgery. I’m encouraged by the improvement I saw in White through the 2019 season, culminating his Sugar Bowl performance, where he had a season-high 18 carries for 92 yards and a 13-yard TD run in the Bulldogs’ 26-14 win over Baylor.
Looking ahead to the coming season, I believe White likely will be the lead back in what has become UGA’s tradition of tailback-by-committee to keep fresh legs in the game. I think Cook’s best use might be going in motion, or as a receiver in the slot, rather than trying to run between the tackles. I haven’t seen enough of McIntosh against top-notch competition yet to know where he fits in, though he looked great against lesser opponents like Arkansas State. And, of course, in addition to the 5-star Milton, Georgia bolstered its 2020 recruiting class (currently ranked best in the nation) this week with the addition of 4-star running back prospect Daijun Edwards.
I have a feeling that at least one of the freshmen might figure heavily into the Dawgs’ tailback rotation as the season progresses. It’s also worth noting that having a quarterback in Jamie Newman, who is a threat to run, might help loosen up opponents’ defenses and benefit both Georgia’s running and passing games.
Why can’t we get a pash rush? Our players are overrated, or [is it] scheme? Year after year, we are at the bottom of the SEC in sacks.
Actually, Georgia finished in the middle of the pack in the SEC in sack totals this past season, ranking No. 7 in the conference, behind Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama. And, Georgia’s leader in quarterback pressures and sacks, Azeez Ojulari, also was tied for No. 7 in the individual SEC sack rankings.
Your point that Georgia has room for improvement in this area is a valid one, though. Still, I think the Dawgs are likely to see that improvement, particularly as Ojulari hones his game. Already, as a redshirt freshman, he was named to the 2019 Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team and was a semifinalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award. He showed what a key role he can play in the Sugar Bowl, when Ojulari sacked Baylor’s quarterback and forced a fumble on Baylor’s 4th-and-4 attempt. I think Smart’s emphasis on more “havoc” plays is starting to pay off.
Bill it’s getting harder and harder to enjoy a football game, college or pro, without at least a couple of controversial calls or non-calls involving pass interference. The majority of the calls seem to be on third down and a lot are game-changers. In the [College Football Playoff championship game] there were two that I saw, one offensive, one defensive, that should have been called the other way. Does anyone know what pass interference is? And can we get some consistency?
Ah, consistency, the lack of which is the main complaint fans (and I imagine players and coaches) have with college officials, particularly the ones in the SEC. How the officials define pass interference, and when they call it, seems to vary with the officiating crews. I thought it interesting this past season that, in some games, the officials took a fairly laissez-faire attitude, letting defenders get pretty “handsy,” as long as they didn’t impede the progress of the receiver.
Georgia actually benefited from such a policy, because the Dawgs’ pass defenders tend to use their hands a lot, which didn’t sit well with some opponents, including Texas A&M and Baylor, who felt there were quite a few potential interference calls against the Dawgs that weren’t made. On the other hand, LSU got away with a lot of touching in the SEC Championship Game.
Basically, I’m OK with whichever way officials want to call it, as long as they are consistent and call it the same way for both teams. That’s where I get aggravated.
Bill: I really like Kirby and his staff, and he seems to be making the changes the fans want. We have had great success the last three years BUT is Georgia really any different than we have been in the past? In other words, why do we fall short each year of winning it all? … It seems like each year we are deficient in some area that costs us in the big game: 2017 we should have never lost the national championship game but we did, to a backup QB. Coaching and conservative play calling from mid-third quarter cost us in games each year. In 2018, it was our defensive depth that hurt us. So, we lost to Bama. In 2019, it was our receiving corps. Every year, it is something so what will it be in 2020? Offensive line? QB? Injuries? Coaching?
Well, Georgia again will have a different person calling offensive plays (that didn’t help much in 2019), the defensive depth is pretty deep, the receivers who were young last season will have another year of experience, and UGA continues to recruit at an elite level. So, they again should be in the playoff conversation.
But, losing most of the starting offense, as well as the nation’s best placekicker, might not be easy to overcome quickly. Perhaps one or both of those things will be the “something” that holds Georgia back in 2020, or perhaps the infusion of new thinking and a more mobile quarterback will make up for them.
It should be an exciting season for Dawgs fans. Whether it will be the year they put it all together is, unfortunately, beyond the range of my crystal ball.
I know so many are disappointed we’ve not won the national title recently, but to win at the level we’re winning at now with the talent wearing the red and black, my wife and I are truly loving this. [Over 30 years as season ticket holders], we’ve had so many wonderful experiences at The Promised Land … plus we’ve missed only a few road games over last dozen years. We’ll win the CFB championship soon, but make no mistake: we have also loved the ride over these past three years. To be perfectly honest, these past three seasons have been more fun (and more wins) that the three years [No.] 34 played, championship notwithstanding.
I’m not sure I could agree that the past three years were more fun than when Herschel Walker was delighting and amazing Dawgs fans, but it’s certainly been a great run, and the 2017 team is my second-favorite, after 1980’s. And, I agree that, based on what we’ve seen in Athens the past three years, Georgia is likely to continue as a national championship contender for the foreseeable future.
Now, on to basketball, where I heard from several fans who share this reader’s concerns about Anthony Edwards …
Bill, I know our expectations for Anthony “Antman” Edwards probably were a bit sky-high. One player, no matter how good he is, isn’t going to make a mediocre Georgia basketball program into a championship contender overnight. But, with it looking less and less likely that we’ll even make the Big Dance, I have to say I’ve been very underwhelmed by Edwards so far this season, particularly in the past couple of losses. Do you really think he’s an NBA lottery pick, or would he benefit from another year of college ball?
What I think is that it doesn’t matter what sort of season Georgia has while Edwards is on the team, or how he looks playing for Tom Crean’s Bulldogs. I think he’s a lock to be one of the top four picks in the NBA draft, regardless, because of what they see as his potential.
Whichever NBA team takes Edwards won’t be doing so because of what he does at UGA. Frankly, most of them probably would prefer to go back to the days when they could draft kids straight out of high school and be finished with this one-and-done thing. Whoever gets him (and it could well be the Hawks) will do a much better job of gradually developing Edwards than Georgia’s staff could hope to do in a single season.
While we’re at it, though, let’s keep in mind that Edwards might not be the superman that some Georgia fans were anticipating, but he’s been pretty darn good.
In Georgia’s 63-48 win Saturday over Texas A&M, which my wife and I attended, Edwards came on strong after a relatively slow start. For the second straight game, and the second time in his career, he had a double-double, this time with 29 points and 15 rebounds. Edwards is the first Georgia freshman to do that since Jumaine Jones in the 1997-98 season.
And, it was Edwards’ 10th 20 point-plus game of 2019-20. Earlier in the season, he was selected National Freshman of the Week following his 37-point explosion against Michigan State (33 of them in the second half), and he’s also currently the nation’s top-scoring freshman.
Yes, he tends to try and rely too much on lofting 3-point tries, and he needs to go to the rim more, but I think he’s learning that, based on what we saw in the second half of the A&M game.
And we’ve seen enough flashes of brilliance from No. 5 during this season to justify the high ratings NBA scouts give him. That windmill slam he had against the Aggies was awesome, as was a shot where he flipped the ball up and in underhanded, as he was falling out of bounds under the basket.
So, I’m not surprised at all that in a recent CBS Sports NBA Mock Draft, the young shooting guard was projected as the No. 1 pick overall.
Just saw a ranking of national football facilities. UGA came in 18th place. I was shocked, considering how much has been spent recently on improving facilities. In the ranking, UGA was below schools in the SEC like Kentucky, Auburn and others. Way behind Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
Rankings of facilities such as the one done by 247Sports that you cited are pretty subjective, to start with. And, this one seemed particularly driven by who’s just finished building what, and how much it cost.
Sure, Georgia has spent more than $30 million on an indoor practice facility (something the program lagged behind other schools in getting) and $63 million on the renovation of the west end of Sanford Stadium, with a new locker room and recruiting lounge. But, that’s old news now.
If it really matters to you where UGA finishes in such a ranking, take heart that the current two-phase Butts-Mehre expansion project, covering 165,000 square feet of new and renovated space — including an expanded locker room, weight room, coaches’ offices, team meeting rooms and a nutrition area in the first phase, and a multipurpose lounge and video suite in the second — is set to cost $80 million. That’ll probably improve Georgia’s standing in future facilities rankings.
Still, I’m not sure I care whether Georgia ever approaches the amenities of Clemson’s No. 1-ranked facility, which 247 described as “basically a player’s theme park in rural South Carolina” with a giant sliding board and “a basketball court, miniature golf course, a Whiffle ball field, bowling lanes, arcade games and various other outlandish activities for players between classes and practice.”
I guess when your school is located in a place like Clemson, you might think you need those sorts of things.
Finally, a baseball question …
Bill, I hear that the annual charity baseball game played by Georgia and Georgia Tech won’t be in the Braves’ stadium (whose new name I forget) this year. What’s up with that?
Yeah, the former SunTrust Park (newly renamed Truist Park) played host to a two-day ski and snowboard event that has made the field unplayable until the Braves’ season starts, precluding the Diamond Dawgs and Jackets playing there this year. Instead, their annual game to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been moved to Coolray Field in Gwinnett County, home of the Braves’ AAA team, the Gwinnett Stripers.
Interestingly, instead of playing home and home games and the neutral-site game sprinkled throughout the season this year, UGA and Tech are playing a three-game series over one weekend, Feb. 28-March 1, with Friday’s game at Foley Field in Athens at 5 p.m., Saturday’s contest at 2 p.m. at Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta, and the series concluding at 2 p.m. that Sunday at Coolray Field with the Spring Classic.
Since 2004, that game has raised more than $200,000 annually for CHOA’s not-for-profit pediatric healthcare system. Georgia holds an 11-6 edge over Tech in games played at the Braves’ stadiums, going 9-5 at Turner Field and 2-1 at SunTrust Park.
By the way, there’s a lot of excitement about the coming UGA baseball season, with the Diamond Dawgs recently having debuted at No. 4 in the USA Today preseason baseball coaches’ Top 25 poll.