Georgia Mailbag: What does all this mean in the big picture?

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Kirby Smart has lost as many games in seven games at Georgia than he lost the past two years combined as Alabama's defensive coordinator.

The A.D. and fans were aghast, So in November, the axe came down fast; “The coach that we picked, Will be ‘smarter’ than Richt, And ten-and-three’s part of the past!” – Alfred Thigben

Yes, this week we quote not a famous song or a famous poet, but a Georgia fan. Though, Alfred Thigben does sound like it would be a poet. Not sure you’re real occupation, but maybe think about it.

The central point, however: There is much consternation among the Georgia faithful, and deservedly so. So let’s get to it.

I have heard the story that we need to give Kirby a couple of years to recruit talent. The excuse for the Old Miss game and the Tennessee game was that they had more talent. There is NO WAY that either Nicholls State or Vanderbilt had more talent than Georgia. I would venture to say that the only player on Vanderbilt on Saturday that would start for Georgia would be Cunningham. Sims and Webb would play, but not start. It appears to me that we were poorly coached and poorly prepared. The special teams receivers do not catch the ball and let it roll for poor field position. It took two or more quarters for us to throw the ball. Has McGarity hired a Ron Zook? Someone that can recruit but not be a head coach? – Jim Carroll

So that’s one slice of opinion I’ve been getting. Here’s another.

It isn’t like Mark Richt left a dumpster fire.  UGA has athletes all over the field, on both sides of the ball.  In relation to the coaching staff, how concerned should the fan base be with how much has gone wrong and remains wrong with this team? – John Wilson, Columbia, S.C.

Is it surprising that Smart and the Bulldogs are off to this rough a start? Yes. Should it be a surprise that there were growing pains for a first-year head coach? No, not at all.

Hiring a Nick Saban protégé does not automatically equate immediate success. Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley are examples of that. Hiring an alum who ideally knows the situation he’s walking into doesn’t automatically equating immediate success either. Ray Goff is another example.

Recruiting is indeed going well, and has gone pretty well from the minute Smart got here. That was always going to be the easiest transition for Smart, a proven recruiter. But he was an unknown as a head coach. Georgia hired Nick Saban’s top assistant. It didn’t hire Nick Saban. Kirby Smart obviously has some on-the-job training. Could it be said he’s in over his head right now? It’s a bit harsh, but it could be said. That doesn’t guarantee he will be in over his head in a few years, next year, or even in two weeks.

You can blame talent and-or inexperience for not winning the East. You can’t blame it for the Vanderbilt and Nicholas State games. That was about preparation and execution. That has to get better.

Maybe early struggles can be a good thing. Maybe it forces an early examination and course correction on a number of things. Does Smart remain hands on with everything, or does he delegate more? During games, does he remain as energetic and engaged with everything on the sideline, or hang back and observe more? Does the strength staff keep the pretty ambitious in-season weight lifting schedule, or do they dial it back?

It’ll be interesting to see if Smart makes some tweaks, or whether this all gets chalked up to talent and transition issues. 

Kirby Smart (L) sits next to Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity as he’s introduced as the 26th head football coach for the Bulldogs. AJC / BRANT SANDERLIN

But what am I to make of Greg McGarity if this story about Tom Herman is true? – Jeremiah Johnson

This story – that Herman was interested in the Georgia job after Richt was fired – gained traction earlier this week when USA Today writer Dan Wolken mentioned it in his Monday column. Frankly, it shouldn’t have been surprising; We reported the day that Richt was fired that the move was all about getting Smart.

There was no national search. Georgia was worried that Smart, the prodigal son, was going to get away (probably to South Carolina), so he was the clear choice when the decision was made to move on from Richt. In fact, it may have spurred the decision to fire Richt. It’s very possible that if Steve Spurrier decided not to retire, that Richt might have been Georgia’s coach this year.

McGarity was also just the point man for the change. The decision to move on from Richt and hire Smart was an institutional decision, involving the administration and influential boosters. That doesn’t necessarily mean McGarity didn’t favor it. But a decision as momentous as that isn’t left up to one person.

Side note: I may not do side notes this time. Nothing really springing to mind. The mood around here isn’t a lot of fun, which is what losing at home to Vanderbilt will do.

I’m shocked to read that people are ready to throw in the towel on Kirby just seven games in. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting this either. I thought Kirby being a first year coach would screw up some calls (he has) and Eason would screw up some plays (he has) but that they would get better over time. Seven games isn’t a full season. I’m looking for Kirby to refocus on the whole team (not just get in the middle of the d-huddle) especially during the first and last minutes of the halves until the game slows down for him. I’m looking for better communication within the offensive staff (running up the middle with the first half ending, then deciding to be aggressive? Who was on the wrong page?). I’m looking for them to stop sending out 14 players and having three run off on defense. And I’m looking for a special teams group that seems prepared. My question – what are your top three or four improvements over the final six games to show that this boat hasn’t sunk and there are sunny days ahead? – Bob Ho, Greater Chamblee

Final six games? You’re assuming a bowl trip, Bob? (Insert smiley face here. But … yeah.)

You mentioned some obvious areas of needed improvement, and all of them involve coaching and preparation. I would add: Offensive play-calling that caters to the personnel, rather than the other way around. Playmaking by receivers and tight end – but especially receivers. Better special teams. Consistent play in what’s become a leaky secondary.

I’m not including Eason, because I think he’s already shown his ability. He just needs the talent around him.

It seems fairly well documented at this point why Saban’s first year at Alabama isn’t a good comparison to Smart’s first year. Would it be more accurate to compare this season to Richt’s first year? I realize invoking Richt’s name when discussing Smart might not go over well, but what I am referring to specifically is the contrast in success between Richt’s first and second season and the potential for Smart to have a much more successful season in 2017. – Tony from Augusta

That’s absolutely a fair comparison: Both were first-year head coaches who had wild success as coordinators. Richt inherited an 8-4 team and went … 8-4. (The SEC record of 5-3 was also identical.) But he started better: The Bulldogs were 5-1 entering the Cocktail Party, then lost to Florida and Auburn, went 3-0 down the stretch and fell to Boston College in the Music City Bowl.

Smart, meanwhile, would have to run the table in order to equal last year’s record. But whatever the final record, if there are tangible positive signs – such as those outlined in the previous question – and recruiting continues to go well, then absolutely there are reasons to be hopeful about 2017.

Georgia isn’t being moved out of the SEC East, after all.

Side note No. 2: But I still believe moving Auburn and Alabama to the East and Vanderbilt and Missouri to the West makes a lot of sense. None of the current seven SEC East schools would favor it, though, for obvious reasons. 

Side note No. 3: Hey, I figured out some side notes!

UGA linebacker Tae Crowder (30) works with inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann at Wednesday’s practice. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

Is it just me, or does any other Dawg fan feel like the position changes are Faton Bauta 2.0 right before UGA VS UF? – Corey Johnson

Not at all. For one thing, these moves were announced, while Bauta was kept under wraps last year. (Or at least that was attempted.) For another thing, these moves are for the future, not the Florida game. I highly doubt Michael Barnett, Shakenneth Williams or Tae Crowder will play in Jacksonville, at their old or new positions.

Actually, these position switches, if they’re made permanent, strike me as one of the most proactive things Smart has done this season, and is one of the few tangible things I’ve seen that I think bodes very well for the future. Barnett, Williams and Crowder simply didn’t have a future at their old positions. So in giving them a shot at other positions, it helps each player, and might help Georgia down the line.

How much time is Kirby allowing each special team in practice?  Is he giving them enough time to go over the details of their job?  Are each team getting the same amount of time in practice? – Sam Crowe

We don’t get to see the portions of practice that deal with special teams. But from what we’re told it’s about the same amount of time as under the previous coaching regime, with segments in the middle and at the end of practice dedicated to special teams. Now, Shane Beamer is absorbing the brunt of criticism because of the problems, but that may be a bit misguided: While he has the coordinator title, Smart himself is very involved: Because special teams work gets its own portion of practice – drawing players from offense and defense – then all the coaches, including Smart, can involved. Smart actually said he’s as involved with special teams as he is the defense. And every assistant except the two coordinators (Jim Chaney and Mel Tucker) have a hand in special teams.

That’s pretty similar to the way things were under Richt. There’s just one person with the coordinator title now. But I digress.

While there are obvious silly mistakes that need to be cleaned up – offsides on kickoffs, too many players veering in one direction on kickoff coverage, fielding a kickoff out of bounds … wait, where was I?

Oh. While there are obvious silly mistakes that need to be cleaned up, Smart this week said they’re harping on the kicks themselves: Rodrigo Blankenship’s kickoffs being in the direction that’s called, and Marshall Long’s punts having enough hang time.

“We’re going to really target those areas and try to improve on them,” Smart said this week. “You go back to the basics and you work on fundamentals, which is what we’ll work on this week.” 

Nick Chubb isn’t just a power back. (CORY A. COLE/UGA)

I know this is crazy, but is Nick Chubb slowing down the development of Georgia’s offense? It’s no secret that Nick Chubb isn’t the fastest RB in college football; but I noticed something about the Tennessee game. Georgia completely changed their offensive philosophy without Chubb… and it worked. Gone were the many play-action passes and under-center up the middle runs. We ran a wide open spread offense with multiple side line checks, outside sweeps, and a more imaginative offensive approach in general. Not only Jacob Eason, but the entire offense looked considerably more comfortable in the scheme and it was our best offensive showing (IMO) of the season! We also had one of our better rushing games of the year. Every other game (save the SC game) has been a complete offensive stand-still. Is this because Nick Chubb has forced us into the Pro-style, pound your head against a wall type of scheme?  – Warner Bush, Smyrna

I see your point, but what’s missing is the fact Chubb is pretty fast too. He’s not just a pounding, between-the-tackles guy. The kid was a track star in high school – his best events were shot put and long jump, he also did well in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Now, where you’re right is Georgia’s offense is clearly better when they spread it out and run shot-gun. That’s where Eason is most comfortable now, and with the struggles of the run blocking, it’s better off using the pass to set up the run. They did that a lot of the time against Tennessee, but have gotten away from that lately. My colleague Chip “Chip” Towers – known to his friends as “Chip” – opined after the Vanderbilt game that Smart and Chaney are trying to put a square peg in a round hole. They’re trying to be a physical football team with a physical running style,, when that doesn’t fit their personnel right now.

I tend to agree with that. The coaches would obviously never admit this, but consider this scenario: Preparing for Tennessee, they realized they needed this game, so they went with what absolutely gave them the best chance to win. Air it out and run outside. Then preparing for South Carolina and Vanderbilt, two teams they felt they could beat without running up the scoreboard, they went back with the physical style they want to make Georgia football be about, and put Eason under center more as they continue to acclimate him.

But if they did spread it out again, there’s still very much a place for Chubb in that.

Side note No. 4: OK, let’s at least have one musical reference. It’s October 20. If someone starts using Christmas music in a commercial, there should be a massive boycott against that company, amirright? Wal-Mart, you’re on notice.

It’s been bugging me for weeks. During the game it seems like every coach is on the sideline. Who’s in the booth? Adjustments have been hit or miss during the games, are the coaches not seeing the bigger trends? – Morgan, in Buford

First, the information: Outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherer, inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann and receivers coach James Coley are all in the press box. That’s a normal amount, and each brings some good perspective; Sherrer and Coley are both former coordinators – Sherrer at South Alabama and Coley at Miami. And Schumann is proverbially attached to Smart’s hip, so that’s a valuable set of eyes and perspective upstairs.

But now, the counter-point: When Mike Bobo moved from the field to the press box for the 2011 season, the offense saw a marked improvement. It may have just been coincidence. John Lilly also called plays from the press box in the bowl game, and that turned out well.

Reaction to J.J. Frazier being named first-team All-SEC and Yante Maten not? – Carter Chandler

Not too surprising. There were only five first-team spots, and it would be unusual for a team picked fourth to occupy two of those spots. Frazier had a slightly better year, and definitely more noticeable to the outside world. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Maten ends up having the better year. They’re both equally good in my book.

About our offensive line, if we’re really that undersized, why not on short yardage situations substitute some our bigger freshmen (Solomon Kindley, Sam Madden, Ben Cleveland) and just ask these guys to get on a man and push, nothing complicated?  We keep hearing help is on the way, but that help will be all freshmen, and is UGA really going to start three freshmen on the line next year? – Scott Miller

The answer to the last question is no, they will not start three freshmen next year. Maybe one, perhaps even two. But Kindley and Dyshon Sims are the sixth and seventh guys this year, so they’re poised to take two of the three open spots.

Why is Chaney so stubborn? I know we want to run between the tackles but for the most part we can’t. I don’t know much about football, I’m just a fan but our offense seems to be very vanilla and predicable. I know Eason has been up and down but the play calling and overall scheme lacks alot to be desired. Does Kirby see this and if so how can he agree to this game planning and play calling? It’s obviously a weakness. Special teams are a wreck too. What’s the chance that this is a sub par coaching staff? Is it reasonable to think there might be coaching changes in the off season? Just mightily frustrated and honestly don’t have much faith in the coaching staff. – Tim, Cartersville

When this staff was put together, many fans hailed it, because they generally love a staff after they’re on board, much like they love a recruit who commits. But I always wondered if, on the day Smart was hired, the staff as it turned out to be was presented to Georgia fans, whether the reaction would be more: “Eh.” Chaney has had some very good years, but also some not-so-great years. You had some inexperienced unknowns at some positions. And atop of it all was a first-year head coach.

Smart put together a very good staff for recruiting. Basically all of those guys are proven to be good at it, with the exception perhaps of Mel Tucker, but only because he’d been in the NFL so long. But it seemed to back up the philosophy that the most important thing is recruiting. And indeed, by all accounts recruiting has gone well.

As for the coaching, it’s clear that this team has not seen vast areas improvement over the first seven games. Still, it’s just seven games. Let’s see how the next five go before we start running people out of town.

In the first game against North Carolina Kirby Smart was not wearing a visor. Georgia won that game and it was probably the best overall game this season. In every other game, Kirby has worn a visor and Georgia has been subpar at best (The Tennessee game was good but we still lost). I know this is kind of a stupid question, but should Kirby ditch the visor in order to save Georgia’s season??? – J.W. Bush

You know, we spend all this time trying to diagnose Georgia’s problems, write nearly 3,000 words about them, and only at the end someone hits on the one simple solution to everything.

But at least we solved it. Everyone have a good bye weekend, and see you again next week.


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