ATHENS – It’s Friday and it’s a beautiful day in Athens. It also means we’re a day away from Georgia-Mississippi State, which is going to be another beautiful day, both weather-wise and because these two top 25 SEC teams are going to do battle in one of the best college football matchups in the country Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
And since it’s Friday, it means it’s time to clean out the ol’ notebook. A lot of this stuff is not going to do us any good after kickoff on Saturday. But it’s some interesting info for the here and now.
So, here now:
Herschel Walker keeps tabs on Dogs
In all the haste to get out of South Bend, Ind., a couple of weeks ago and get back to Georgia ahead of Hurricane Irma, I forgot to share “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say, from my terrific telephone interview with Herschel Walker. If you recall, I talked to the greatest tailback in the history of college football on the eve of the Bulldogs’ first game against Notre Dame since Walker ran all over them in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 national championship.
Walker told us that day that he felt Georgia should win again against the Fighting Irish as long as the players stayed together regardless of the situation, remained confident and concentrated on playing the way they were taught. That ended up being good advice and prophetic as the Bulldogs came from behind four times beat Notre Dame 20-19.
But Walker and I talked for a good 20 minutes that day and he had a lot of other things to say about a lot of other things, none of which really fit into a preview of the Notre Dame contest. So let’s revisit Walker’s insights right here.
Is he surprised Georgia has won a national championship since he was a freshman tailback in 1980?
“I’m not surprised. The talent is so competitive right now and you’re getting talented kids coming into programs everywhere every year. Recruiting is very, very important, so it’s surprising, but then it’s not. It’s so different now how they put people in the playoff from a selection committee. Years ago, when they were just putting it together and told them I wanted to be on the selection committee. But they never gave me a look. I’d still like to.”
On Georgia tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel …
“I really like those two guys. I like them a lot because they’re football players. What I mean by that is you still need running backs. If you want to win a championship you better be able to run and those two guys run the football. But they can go out and catch the football, too. And I was really happy when they decided to stay. I said as soon as that happened, ‘this is going to be a great year for us.’”
Thoughts on Georgia coach Kirby Smart …
“I like Coach Smart. I think he’s doing a good job. He has them playing crisp and tight. Everything’s real quick. How they practice is how they’re going to play and I like the way they practice. Going into games, they need to forget about everything and just go out there and play.”
On whether he keeps up with the Bulldogs …
“I do keep up with my Dogs. … I keep up with all the teams. I want to see them do well, not just in football but I want to see the University of Georgia do well. That is my alma mater and I love that university. I tell you what, I really love that university. I’m always thinking about what can I do to continue to be connected with my university, because I do love it.”
On trying to get UGA to do business with his latest venture, Renaissance Man Food Services, Inc. …
“It’s been a booger-bear to get it there. They have a contract management group and I’ve been trying to work with them. But they don’t recognize that Herschel Walker played at Georgia and I don’t think they really care that much.”
Notre Dame good will
One last thing from the Notre Dame game. I was inundated with messages and comments from UGA fans who raved about their experience in South Bend and the treatment they received from the University of Notre Dame and its people. Here’s one more example.
Joseph Sisson covers sports as a correspondent for the Rome News Tribune and the Calhoun Times over in Northwest Georgia. He was able to get credentialed to cover Georgia’s game at Notre Dame on Sept. 9. However, a death in the family prevented him from making the trip.
He informed Notre Dame Athletics ahead of time and told them how much he regretted not being able to make as it was a bucket-list trip for him.
Much to his surprise, Leigh Torbin of the Irish’s sports communication office, mailed him his customized press pass that he never got to use as a keepsake and included a nice, hand-written note.
A class institution, inside and out.
— Joseph Sisson (@Joesisson) September 20, 2017
Where’s the tight ends?
There has been a lot of talk about Georgia’s tight ends the last couple of weeks. Specifically, folks are wondering, where are they in the passing game. Sophomore Isaac Nauta, a freshman All-American with 29 catches last season, has just three so far and the tight ends as a group have only six all season.
Smart addressed that head on this week when he said, “At the end of the day, you kind of get how you practice. Those guys have to practice the right way. They play physical, they block, then they usually get rewarded.”
There’s also this: Georgia is having to heavily involve the tight ends in the blocking and protection packages. Between the offensive line struggling and having a freshman at quarterback in Jake Fromm, the Bulldogs are having to play it somewhat safe on protections and passing schemes.
Plus, Georgia remains a run-heavy team. The Bulldogs are still running the football 69 percent of the time. Therefore, the tight ends’ primary responsibility remains providing blocking for the Bulldogs’ backs. That will be especially important Saturday against Mississippi State.
Mullen’s a very good coach
Put in historical perspective, it’s pretty incredible what Dan Mullen has done with Mississippi State.
As unofficial UGA historian Jeff Dantzler pointed out this week, the Maroon Dogs had just two winning seasons from 1895-73, three from 1979-90 and one from 2001-09. They’ve pretty much only had the Jackie Sherrill era to hang their cowbells on and that came with some costs.
Likewise, Georgia has pretty much owned Mississippi State in this series. They’ve played only 23 times, but the red-and-black Bulldogs have won 17 of those meetings, and they generally haven’t been real close. UGA’s average margin of victory in those games is 16 points. Georgia’s also won 10 of the last 11.
But Mullen, a former offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at Florida, has led his Bulldogs to six winning seasons in his eight years at the helm. And this team, currently 3-0 and ranked 17th with a 37-7 win over then No. 12 LSU, appears headed for another.
In fact, UGA’s last loss to the Maroons came in Starkville in 2010 (24-12), a year in which State also beat Florida and throttled Michigan in the Gator Bowl to finish 9-4. You should also recall that Mullen’s team occupied the No. 1 spot in the college football playoff’s first rankings in 2014. They were 7-0 at the time. They finished 10-3 with a loss to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
So what Mullen has done in Starkville has been quite surprising and impressive. Equally as astonishing is the fact that he’s still there.