We gave you the five most successful things from Georgia’s football season. Now it’s time for the flip side of that ol’ coin.
That’s beyond the results themselves: Many of you could name five disappointments off the top of your head, and perhaps a sixth named “Nicholls State.” But within those, and the overall scope of the season, here are the five things that stand out most:
1. JIM CHANEY AND THE OFFENSE
First, give credit to Chaney for owning up to it: When he met with the media before the Liberty Bowl, he didn’t make excuses or finger-point.
“The bottom line is it didn’t get done. It ends with me to get done,” Chaney said.
Chaney’s offense then went out and had one of its best games of the season, racking up 412 yards and 31 points in the win over TCU. But it didn’t change that bottom line very much: Georgia stands 87th nationally in total offense as the bowl season nears completion, failed to score 40 points in a game for the first time since 2000, and just generally didn’t look good.
It’s the No. 1 disappointment of the season considering the optimism that Chaney, so experienced as an SEC play-caller, would turn around an offense that sputtered in 2015. Instead it didn’t improve, and statistically got worse. There were, of course, some mitigating factors, namely …
2. THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Perhaps some expected this to struggle, but not this much. Not with three returning starters, two of whom were seniors, and a third senior in Tyler Catalina, the graduate transfer from Rhode Island. The most inexperienced starter was a redshirt sophomore.
And Sam Pittman, so respected in the business he was given a three-year contract by Georgia, was the new O-line coach.
But Catalina’s adjustment was tough, senior Greg Pyke was probably playing out of position at right tackle (though he did okay), and no one else on the line had a really great season.
The running game was the biggest manifestation of those struggles, as Georgia finished 50th nationally in rushing offense – despite Nick Chubb and Sony Michel being healthy almost all season. The pass protection was only marginally better, yielding 24 sacks to tie for 44th nationally.
But that was nine more sacks than Georgia allowed in 2014.
3. THE RECEIVERS AND USE OF THE TIGHT ENDS
Isaiah McKenzie did have a breakout season on offense, operating mostly out of the slot. And freshman Isaac Nauta was as good as advertised. But otherwise it was largely a disappointment.
Georgia’s wide receivers accounted for 131 catches, 1,676 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns this season. That was only slightly better than last year (125 catches, 1,644 and eight touchdowns.) Godwin, last year’s second-leading receiver, didn’t have a single receiving touchdown. There were too many drops, especially early in the season, and the run-blocking was also a struggle at times.
But the tight ends – other than Nauta – were also used less than expected. They combined for 38 catches and 472 receiving yards, which was better than last year (28 catches for 306 yards), but it was mostly Nauta, while Jeb Blazevich saw his catches go from 15 to six, and Jackson Harris didn’t catch any.
4. SPECIAL TEAMS
Maybe the lack of a special teams coordinator wasn’t the problem all these years. Georgia fans were excited not only to finally get one, but to have it be Shane Beamer, whose father made special teams “Beamer Ball” famous at Virginia Tech.
But the Bulldogs still struggled in most facets, whether it was field goals early in the season (before Rodrigo Blankenship took over), punting, kickoff coverage and the return game.
It can’t really be laid completely at the feet of Beamer, who carried the title but was just one of many coaches involved. That’s because special teams practice typically comes in separate segments, when offense and defense aren’t practicing, so coaches are freed up to help with different special teams units.
In any case, it’s something Kirby Smart, Beamer and his staff will want to improve in 2017.
5. RED ZONE DEFENSE
While Georgia’s defense overall was pretty successful – third-best in the SEC against the pass and fourth-best against the run – when other teams got inside the 20, they almost always scored.
Georgia allowed opponents to get touchdowns 74 percent of the time, and 90 percent of the time they at least got a field goal. That was second-worst in the SEC. In fact, it took a good bowl game to move Georgia out of the bottom of the national rankings in red zone defense.
Coming next: The greatest surprises of the season.