Georgia Mailbag: Better was expected, but will better still come?
Bluto: What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Boon: Forget it, he’s rolling.
Bluto: And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough…
Actually, I’m not here to give a pep talk. Probably more of a downer, actually, so if you’re looking for Sunshine and Roses then save yourself now and click away. But I just thought everyone could use an “Animal House” quote every now and then. Especially inn these times.
There were, as you might expect, a lot of post-Georgia Tech questions this week. I’ll apologize to everyone who I couldn’t fit in. I hope some of the answers below fill the gap, and if not feel free to save your question for a future Mailbag.
Anyway, the time has come for someone to put their foot down, and that foot is me. So let’s get going:
Just like most every Dawg fan, I’m disappointed with this season’s outcome, although I’m very optimistic about the future. As I recall with the months following Kirby’s hire, he continuously downplayed this team’s ability/expectations. My question would be, do you think he could foresee this type of year for the team, or was he simply trying to cool down Dawgnation? Also, from a coaching aspect, do you think he grew well after year one as a head coach?
– Adam Spielberger
To be fair, I don’t remember Smart specifically downplaying expectations, at least any more than a coach typically does. He did have a lot to say about the talent he inherited, especially downplaying the secondary. But do I think Smart foresaw this kind of season? I doubt it. Who did?
Oh, people are saying now that a rough season should’ve been expected, given a freshman quarterback, talent and depth issues, etc. But I don’t remember many people picking a 7-5 or 8-5 season. The Bulldogs were No. 18 in the preseason AP poll. Bovada, the betting side, set the Bulldogs’ over-under win total at 9.5 before the season and I don’t remember a hue and cry about that being too high.
So has Smart grown as a coach? That will be a good question to ask him in the offseason, and when recruiting dies down I’d like to. I will say this for Smart: He’s a smart guy, no pun intended, and if changes need to be made in his own approach or coaching style, there’s a good chance he’ll realize it and do so. I also don’t think he’ll be slow to make staff changes, if he thinks it’s necessary.
The one benefit of starting out with a rough first season is the warts become apparent, and you get to see what needs changing. The last coaching change I covered – South Carolina basketball with Darrin Horn – the new coach’s first season was better than expected, and it led to some over-confidence, and things spiraled downward the next few years. Maybe the opposite will happen with Smart.
I read the article on DawgNation about how other head coaches fared in their first seasons. It mentioned how most head coaches, who are now very successful, improved their teams record from the previous year. I may be the only one, but even though Georgia’s record is worse this year, I don’t feel as though the team is worse than last year. In fact, in their 7 wins against power five schools, the teams they beat had a combined 33-52 record for the season. This year, with only 5 wins against power 5 teams, those teams record (not counting the bowl games) is much improved; a combined 46-38 record, including two ranked wins, and a top 10 win against Auburn. My question is, Do you think Kirby’s first season really went as poorly as most people think?
– Connor, Lawrenceville
I actually made my own schedule comparisons between last year and this year, but couldn’t fit it in that story. So I’ll run it here:
- In Mark Richt’s final year, Georgia’s 10 wins included zero over ranked opponents, three were guarantee games, and only one was over a Power 5 team with a winning record (and that team, Auburn, only had nine wins.)
- In Smart’s first year, he beat two teams ranked at the time (North Carolina and Auburn, though UNC has since fallen out of the rankings, no longer even receiving votes in the AP poll, while Auburn is now No. 18.) Two of Smart’s wins this year were guarantee games, and just two were over teams with winning records (Kentucky at 7-5 and North Carolina at 8-4). Georgia lost three games at home, and of its five losses, one was to a team losing record (Ole Miss) and another to a .500 team (Vanderbilt).
So in essence Richt’s final team at Georgia beat the teams it should have – often in a rout – while Smart’s teams were more erratic, winning some it shouldn’t have but also losing some it shouldn’t have.
But to answer your question, I don’t think there’s any way to sugarcoat this as anything but a disappointing season. You are what your record is, as Bill Parcells said, and Georgia is 7-5. Entering the bowl, it’s been (barely) out-scored by its opponents this year. That doesn’t mean the Smart era won’t become a success. It’s just been a rough start.
If UGA doesn’t blow the fourth quarter lead, how much difference does the season feel? Basically a 2nd place finish in SEC.
– Chris Sweat
That’s exactly right, Chris. While 8-4 still wouldn’t have been worth throwing a parade, a four-game winning streak heading into the bowl, including an upset over Auburn, leaves an entirely different feeling than people have right now.
Again, that’s not to say anybody should go around making excuses: Georgia lost three games by a total of five points, but it also won three other games by a total of six points.
Side note: Yes, I’m repeating myself often. The Bill Parcells quote and the above paragraph were both in my Second Glance. It’s not plagiarizing if you’re plagiarizing yourself. … I think. … Eh, whatever.
What are the odds that either Nick Chubb or Sony Michel come back for next season? I don’t think Chubb will be coming back, but I think we may have a chance in getting Sony to stay. If Sony does stay and Chubb leaves, do you think Elijah Holyfield will slide into the 2nd spot to give a change of pace over Herrien?
– Tyler Clifford
It’s likely, though not certain, that both have played their final game at Sanford Stadium. I’d put Chubb at 90 percent gone and Michel about 75 percent. I know neither is a surefire high pick, but it’s a different deal with tailbacks, who only have a certain amount of tread on their legs. And with Georgia losing three seniors off an offensive line that struggled to block as it was, Chubb and Michel could be forgiven for wondering if another year would improve their stock.
Herrien, who was the surprise – shock, actually – of the offense over the first half of the season, will obviously be in line for a larger role. So might Holyfield, whose running style resembles Chubb, while Herrien is more like Michel. But don’t forget about the incoming freshmen: D’Andre Swift (5-9, 214) out of Philadelphia is one of the nation’s top tailback recruits, and Toneil Carter (5-10, 197) is a four-star prospect as well. Georgia should still be deep at tailback, but with Chubb and Michel gone I’d be surprised if there isn’t some dropoff. The question is just how steep.
Are we fans overreacting to poor offensive play this season? Dearth of WR talent, dearth of o-line talent? Are things that bad?
– Kasey Taylor
I guess it depends on what you consider an over-reaction. But I think to say this has been a disappointing season offensively is accurate. Georgia ranks 89th nationally in total offense, six spots worse than last year, and if it doesn’t reach 40 points in the bowl game, this will be the first season that’s happened since 2000.
A freshman quarterback, an under-talented offensive line and receiving corps, that all has something to do with it. But in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel you have two really good tailbacks, in Isaiah McKenzie you have a dynamic offensive weapon, and the tight end position was loaded. Not to mention, the freshman quarterback is very talented and only threw eight interceptions in the regular season.
There was a ceiling to what this offense could do this year. But Georgia should have done better than it has.
Auburn in the Sugar Bowl makes me want to, as my children used to say, “frow up”.But in the bigger picture, why does it seem like the Dawgs always draw the short straw in SEC bowl assignments? Are we not a TV draw? Do we not travel well? If you cut us do we not bleed red and black? Granted, we had a mediocre year and should probably be glad that anyone has to ask up to dance at all, but this has been going on for a while now. We seem to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the East. Why no respect?
– Frank from McDonough
Frankly – get it? – I’m a little surprised this isn’t brought up more by fans. Georgia hasn’t tended to get very favorable bowl assignments over the years, even after good seasons. Two years ago, when it was 9-3 and ranked No. 13 it was put in the Belk Bowl. Two years ago, after falling five yards short of winning the SEC championship, it lost out on the Sugar Bowl to Florida, though that had a lot to do with voters penalizing Georgia for a close loss and rewarding Florida for not playing. Last year’s return to the Gator/TaxSlayer Bowl may have had a lot to do with the coaching change.
Georgia fans do travel well, and they always tend to have attractive players. I don’t get it. McGarity claims there’s no lobbying done these days.
Anyway, let’s see how things shake out on Sunday. The Texas, Liberty or Music City Bowls would be fair assignments for Georgia’s season. If the Bulldogs drop to the Birmingham or Shreveport bowls, then some hard questions need to be asked.
Side note No. 2: Can you tell that I’m terrified about having to spend my Christmas in Shreveport? Listen, I’ve never been there, so I’m not judging that part of it, but I’ve got family coming in from California, Virginia and Germany, we’re making dinner for all of them and their kids and … actually, Shreveport may be just fine, now that I think about it.
Seth, next year UGA’s roster will be full of huge and talented offensive guards. The only experienced OL with OT experience is Wynn, but he’s undersized. Of course Kendall Baker, Aulden Bynum and Pat Allen are OTs, but haven’t impressed enough to get playing time thus far. We will have two talented freshman OTs coming in (Andrew Thomas and D’Antne Demery), but starting one would be unlikely. Starting both would be impossible. So, it looks to me like one or more of our OGs must make the switch to OT. Who do you think has the feet and ability to make the switch? Have any of our OGs gotten any practice reps at OT?
– Hugh Nash
Dyshon Sims is a prime candidate to move to offensive tackle, as is Wynn. If Sam Pittman and company are desperate to have taller guys there, then there are options with the freshmen, the veterans you listed and Ben Cleveland. Frankly, there isn’t an obvious solution, as in “this guy will be a tackle and will definitely start next year.” So it’ll be interesting to see how they line up this spring.
Who is actually redshirting this year?
– Daniel Holbrook
Three true freshmen are definitely redshirting: OLB Chauncey Manac and OL Ben Cleveland and Chris Barnes. The wild card is OL Solomon Kindley, who entered for one play at Missouri, which would normally preclude a redshirt, but Georgia is going to apply to the NCAA for one.
At least two other veterans with a redshirt available have not played: WR Shaquery Wilson and DL Michael Barnett, both sophomores.
Why don’t we use Isaiah McKenzie on kickoff returns?
– Dewey Moody
This was something I wondered about with the previous staff, and the new staff went the same route. This is educated speculation, but I imagine McKenzie’s size makes him a greater risk for injury or fumbles on kickoffs, where the defense is coming harder and faster at you than on punts. Reggie Davis, to be fair, has also been decent at it, averaging 22.8 yards per return, which ranks eighth in the SEC. But yes, that’s only decent.
Side note No. 3: I once had a supervisor whose last name was Leibowitz. And every time I called someone and listed her as a reference or contact, there would be a long pause on the other end and the person, invariably a man, would respond: “Does she know a … Fawn Leibowitz?”
I know this is a long shot but thought I would ask anyway. Everybody knows that Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban’s relationship appears to be getting worse as time goes by. Is there any chance in your opinion that Lane would consider a move to UGA as Kirby’s offensive coordinator next year? I believe they had a good relationship while Kirby was at Alabama. It would do wonders for UGA to accelerate the success we all want in Athens.
– Jackie Jones, Aiken, South Carolina
I’ll confess this is the first time that’s occurred to me as a possibility. Frankly I don’t think it is: Kiffin is a candidate for the Houston job, according to ESPN, and possibly some others, and if he makes a lateral move it most likely would be to LSU, which has an opening and a head coach that Kiffin has known longer. And then there’s the all-important fact that Jim Chaney is still Georgia’s offensive coordinator, with two years left on his contract.
I’m always cautious about saying never say never, and Smart has shown himself to be pretty proactive. But I’d call Kiffin-to-UGA a longshot.
I was wondering what your thoughts were on the decision to bring in Brian VanGorder. Do you think Kirby saw the writing on the wall weeks ago that Mel might land a head coaching job, and brought him on to eventually take a bigger role. I know BVG has struggled recently but I remember that Dawg defense from years back.
That was just Smart being very proactive, in my opinion. He saw Nick Saban do things like that for years, and on its face it was a good move. Obviously it didn’t work out perfectly, though.
Hey Seth, I was wondering if Jim Chaney has any previous reputation for not being able to get 7 points out of the red zone. Any insight on if he had problems at previous jobs with that? If not do you have any ideas why our offense can move but not score?
– Will Morris
The short version of my answer would be that Chaney seems to do really well when he has a lot of talent, but he’s also had some poor years offensively. Last year at Pittsburgh wasn’t great, and this year the man who replaced him is a finalist for the Broyles Award.
But for more in-depth analysis, read this story I posted last year when Chaney was hired, when I got comments from beat writers who had covered Chaney at three of his past stops.
Side note No. 4: This is about the point in the Mailbag where we get to basketball, but there were no basketball questions this week. So let’s keep going with the football angst – the very justifiable angst, especially when it comes to scheduling.
How bad is Georgia’s home schedule in 2017 compared with others you’ve covered? Why am I renewing my season tickets again
– @mondilator, via Twitter
As bad as can remember: Appalachian State, Samford, Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi State. The people in UGA’s ticket office will deserve hazard pay over the next several months. But I suspect there will still be lots of fans there on Saturdays and more than a few sell-outs, because this is Georgia football we’re talking about.
We are paying big money to play directional schools etc…. why do we not keep this money in state and help our own schools ? First its not like there is a shortage of schools in Georgia that fit the bill, and it also might even make the games more interesting for fans. We do it every so often with Georgia Southern now. I would rather pay Georgia State than Arkansas State.
– J.C. Harris
This is a very good point I’ve heard often. The question hasn’t expressly been put to Greg McGarity – it should at some point – but I can guess. For one, there aren’t enough such schools in Georgia. The only two are Georgia Southern and Georgia State, and UGA doesn’t want to play Georgia Southern every year, and so far there seems a reluctance to play Georgia State, which may date back to its former coach hosting satellite camps for other schools. (I can remember Mark Richt and Trent Miles having a long conversation about it in Macon in 2015.)
There’s a better argument for playing more FCS and Division II programs from inside Georgia. Mercer and Georgia Tech played earlier this season, for instance.
A lot has been said about the performance of the O-line this year. Can you help me understand the difference between zone blocking schemes versus man on man? Which style did Richt use and what technique was used this year?
I’ll quote from this fine post at Footballoutsiders.com: In a “man” or “drive” blocking scheme the lineman is responsible for an individual, and the play is designed for a running back to hit a particular gap. The zone blocking scheme, on the other hand, has a lineman blocking an area instead of a designated defensive player. If multiple linemen are blocking an area than one can break off and block into the second level.
As for Georgia, it has used a mix of zone and man blocking both this year under Pittman and in past years under Richt. There may be some difficulties in transition when it comes to blocking on certain plays. But it’s not a zone vs. run blocking thing.
Would you consider Kirby’s use of Mecole Hardman a waste of his freshman year?
– J. Lewis Alston
That would be going a bit far. He just wasn’t ready to play on defense, according to the coaches. But presumably he improved as a player via practice. If he didn’t, and thus this year was a waste, then we’ll find out later if he doesn’t earn playing time.
It’s seems that there has been an undercurrent of resentment (or maybe just frustration) among beat writers over Smart’s policy of limiting access to assistants and freshman players. I think it has affected the way his first season has been reported in the AJC and other places. Do you think the perception of the season and the various opinion pieces re: same would be different if Smart was less antagonistic and more accommodating?
– M. Scott Bailey
No, I trust the professionalism of my colleagues, and I think media availability and what we write about the team are two separate issues – other than when we’re writing about the team’s media access. (As I’ve said, less players available and no assistant coaches ultimately hurts our ability to have insight and thus pass it on to the fans.)
When we do get more access, it does allow us to question and confront more people, and thus just run their comments and let the readers decide. In the absence of that, yes, you may see the media get more opinionated in order to fill the gap. But any negativity you’re seeing, I think what you’re seeing is just a reflection on the season the team has had, nothing else.
I hear a great deal about Coach Smart limiting media access to players and prohibiting access to coaches. So how is it that Kevin Butler, a volunteer “student coach,” does pre and post game radio shows, as well as a Sunday morning show? Is it because he’s a volunteer? Or because he was “grandfathered” since he was already involved in such media work? Or because he is technically not being interviewed? Or is Coach Smart incredibly savvy and realizes the value of having an “insider” in such a position? Nothing against Coach Butler, but his comments, particularly following controversial games, would hardly be considered impartial or objective. He clearly can be a strong advocate for the program and for Coach Smart and his goals in that capacity.
– Herb Flanders, Fayetteville
This is a case of a reader answering his own question. Arguably my favorite kind of question. Nice job.
Which SEC school has the best football program/musical entertainer combo? (has to be individual/band associated with the university or town). I say Georgia/REM edges out Florida/Tom Petty.
– Mark Mitchell
On its face I think you answered your own question, but to be sure I did some research. Baton Rouge, which you’d think would have a lot, has Randy Jackson of American Idol fame, but he’s the most famous. Knoxville has Kenny Chesney, but he got his lift-off from Nashville. (Vanderbilt’s football history, despite success this season, obviously precludes it from winning this contest. At least say I.) South Carolina has Hootie and the Blowfish, but it didn’t have the staying power of R.E.M.
So ultimately, I agree that it comes down to Georgia and Florida, though I’d call it more like a tie. Petty is in fairly legendary status. But Athens is a better music scene overall, also claiming the B-52s, Widespread Panic, and so on.