Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, where each week we invite readers to tap into our expertise (snicker) about Georgia football, UGA athletics or in case this week, Tom Petty. We also will delve more into the culture change story and the benefits of the indoor facility, and we’ll have some fun with over-under and true-false predictions. But did you think we wouldn’t start with Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm?
Well, then you would be wrong.
Let me preface the following by stating I like Jake Fromm (you’re okay too, I suppose). That said, I get Smart’s reasoning on QB competition to make practice actually mean something because it apparently did not the last few years under – at worst – the third-best coach in UGA history. But, is it actually possible Eason does not return as the starter? Realistically, Greyson Lambert and/or Hutson Mason (again, good guys no doubt) would have won the last five games with the way the defense is playing and the run game being serviceable. I do not see any true freshman QB beating Alabama or Clemson. In response to the rebuttal that Alabama had a true freshman last year and Clemson has a first-year starter this year, those two QB’s are legitimate threats to run – the two runs at Tennessee notwithstanding, Fromm is not. In order to beat an Alabama or Clemson defense, you need a true dual-threat QB or one that has elite arm talent. Eason is one and Fromm is neither. Is there something wrong with my Kool-Aid?
– Okie Dawg, Tulsa, Okla.
You’re looking ahead to the SEC Championship Game and the playoffs, and that’s OK, but the coaches probably aren’t looking further ahead than Florida. And they would never even publicly admit that. The decision right now is easier because Eason isn’t all the way back, and the team is winning, and winning by a lot. It likely won’t remain that easy a call as we enter the stretch run.
You may end up being right about the parameters for a championship-winning quarterback. But I’m not sure it’s clear. Fromm may end up being the best decision, with his smarts canceling out his inexperience, and his running ability being good enough. Fromm’s accuracy may also end up being a vital factor over Eason, especially with a dominant defense, when the last thing you want is for the offense to screw it up.
The argument for Eason, however, is that his arm and his height mean Georgia truly can stretch the field. There was a reason he was going to be the starter this season, prior to his injury, and everything I heard was the coaches were excited about how much he had improved this offseason. Too many people have issued snap judgments on Eason based on the 4 passes he has thrown this season. For all we know Eason may have done even better than Smart anticipated the past five games if he’d never been injured.
This is why I think you’ll continue to see Eason get snaps, even if the team keeps winning. Of course, it’s hard for either quarterback to develop a rhythm if they’re close to splitting the duties. That’s why they may legitimately take practice performance into account. After all, the best defense either quarterback faces all year may be at practice.
As one of the greatest armchair quarterbacks of all, I ask, why doesn’t Coach Smart name a starting QB, let the team and fan base rally around him, and worry about hurt feelings after the season? All the classified bravado on who our starter is has to be a distraction for the players, right?
– John Vaughn
I only tend to think it’s a distraction if it carries on too long. My guess right now is Fromm is the main guy, but Eason will play an increasing amount based on his health. Once he’s fully healthy, then a decision has to be made. The team gets and understands that, I’m sure.
Then could some indecision hurt team morale and cause a distraction? Perhaps, but winning cures that too. If you’ve got a great defense and you’re winning games handily, as the team is now, a bit of indecision at quarterback will be forgiven. The trick is getting it right so you keep winning games, and with the schedule back-loaded, the time will come soon to get it right.
The Dawgs defense has been awesome. Depth developed at every position and playing at a high level. Junkyard Dawgs indeed! The offense still has a lot of questions. Should still be good enough to get by Vandy and Mizzou. My main concern is most of our drives are coming on short fields. I think only 3 or 4 drives longer than 55 yards. We will have to put sustained drives together at some point during the season against better defenses than we have played. How are we going to improve enough to deal with long fields against Florida, Auburn and possibly an SECCG?
– Tony Porter
Well … and that word is usually followed by a gentle correction, which hopefully this will be … Georgia has actually had 13 touchdown drives of 55 yards or longer, and 3 drives that long that resulted in field goals. But what you’re probably getting at is whether Georgia can impose its will with long, classic drives based on the run. Because that’s been rare so far this year.
The longest scoring drive at Tennessee took 3:39, and the longest one against Mississippi State was 3:58. Georgia is depending a lot on the big play, often a pass: The flea flicker touchdown on the opening play against Mississippi State, the 41-yard TD pass to Isaac Nauta later in that game, and a bunch of third-down conversions at Tennessee by Jake Fromm, either via the pass or scramble.
Now, generally whatever works, right? If you believe the early season stats, Georgia shouldn’t have trouble running the ball the next couple of weeks, as Vanderbilt is 12th in the SEC in run defense and Missouri is 11th. (Mississippi State is ninth and Tennessee is dead last.) But Florida is seventh, Auburn is fifth, Kentucky is second and if we’re already penciling Georgia into the SEC title game, then Alabama is, well, Alabama is Alabama.
So the larger point, Tony, is true: Georgia still has plenty to prove on offense, and questions remain about whether the offensive line will be good enough to carry the team to great heights this season. But Jim Chaney and the offense seem to be doing a better job this season of game planning around it, unlike last season.
Let’s do more culture change
What’s the biggest culture change you’ve seen in year 2 of Kirby versus dominant Richt teams? This team seems more business-like.
– Geoff S.
Actually, if anything the Richt teams were more businesslike. What stands out to me this year is the energy and joy that seem to accompany the wins. I’ve been on the field for the end of the two SEC games and at Notre Dame, and the celebration from the team – not just players, but staff – has seemed to be about more than just winning a game. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Clearly celebrating at Notre Dame didn’t prevent the team from getting ready for the next week.
I delved a bit into the culture change that players say has been instilled by Smart since he arrived. The sense I got was it just took a year to see the benefits.
In the large sense, however, people may sometimes overrate the culture of the team being impacted by the coach. The players dictate much of that, especially the best players and the quarterback. In that way, Aaron Murray in 2012 and Jake Fromm (if he remains the starter) in 2017 are very similar.
But the locker rooms and circumstances are different. This 2017 team is marked by its enthusiasm and is riding the defense, where everyone seems on the same page, allowing the offense to relax and not press as much. The 2012 team, on the other hand, was perilously close to an offense-defense clash, then Shawn Williams lit a fire in the defense before the Florida game and they rode that until the SEC championship.
How much difference has the indoor practice facility made and what other “needs” do our current players have to prepare them for the next level? Common thought was always that Alabama players had already reached their full potential prior to advancing but UGA players were far from it.
This remains an underrated factor, and one that should get more attention if Georgia keeps playing well. The Bulldogs seem to be in great conditioning shape, and the whole “practices are harder than the games” culture change philosophy would appear to have been helped by this.
I’ll admit that I was as guilty as anybody for years in downplaying the importance of an indoor facility. People in the administration would point to the few rainy days lost to practice, and I’d write it and not do the right research. Lesson learned. Football is a physical, grueling sport, especially in the deep South, and an indoor facility allows teams to go inside on hot days periodically and have better practices.
Where is the tight end play with the offense?
– Luke Barton
About where it’s been the previous two seasons: out of favor. And actually Isaac Nauta’s targets are way down from last year, so the trendline is for the tight ends to catch even fewer passes. Perhaps that’s because Nauta wasn’t practicing well enough, as Smart said a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps that’s a result of Eason not being in there, as he and Nauta had a clear rapport last year.
I know it may sound dumb or naive, but I’ve always wanted to know…do head coaches call other head coaches for advice on upcoming opponents? In our case, would Smart ever call Saban for advice??
Not naïve at all. Yes, coaches call each other all the time, and Kirby Smart has alluded to that this year, saying that when he was at Alabama he would talk to Todd Grantham, when he was at Georgia, to compare notes on opponents. He hasn’t mentioned anything about calling Saban, but perhaps he did this week, or at least someone at Alabama, considering the Tide played Vanderbilt just two weeks ago.
What’s the latest on Jeremiah Holloman? Has he gotten into any games yet? I can’t remember.
No catches this season, but he has appeared in three games, including at Tennessee. He had the nagging hamstring injury in the preseason, and I’d imagine that slowed his progress.
These come via ForestryDawg, presumably not his real name, though you never know:
Will Kyle Shurmur, the first true pro-style quarterback, have 60 percent completion: Under. Mainly because they’ll be playing from behind and airing more lower-percentage passes as the game goes on.
Jake Fromm (or Jacob Eason), same question: Under. Fromm is at 59 percent this year, and Vanderbilt is only allowing 52.6 percent of completed passes thus far this season.
Wolf Pack, 1.5 sacks: Over. And I assume we’re including D’Andre Walker and Walter Grant in this? Well, whatever, Georgia is facing a pocket quarterback for once and, assuming Vanderbilt is playing from behind, it will do more passing.
Ralph Webb, 2.5 YPC: Over. But not by much. My guess is Georgia doesn’t key on the run as much as it has in past games because of the passing threats, and Webb breaks a couple of long-ish runs.
Chubb, 135 yards: Under, only because of the carries being spread around and the expectation he won’t play much in the fourth quarter. (Obviously if the game ends up closer than expected, many of these predictions go out the door. All of them, actually.)
WildDawg plays called 0.5: Over. Not sure how many, but I expect them to do it at least once because, well, they usually do.
These also come via ForestryDawg:
True/False, UGA will stay perfect in the red zone: False. Call me a pessimist, but I’ll just say Georgia is due. I have nothing to base that on other than that.
True/False, UGA will keep Vandy out of the end zone: False. Same deal. It’s just hard to hold a team out of the end zone three straight weeks. But I don’t exactly expect multiple trips.
Tom Petty tribute tine
Don’t have a question, but love Runnin’ Down a Dream … that guitar solo taking the song out is one of my favorites of all time! American Girl was the first (and one of the only, I play guitar and drums) songs I learned to play on the bass, and always loved halfway through Full Moon Fever when TP said “Hello CD listeners” and advised that cassette and LP listeners needed to flip the cassette or record over for side 2! Classic Petty humor, he will be missed. RIP.
– Palm City Dawg
Well put. I was never a huge Tom Petty fan, but respected his music a lot. And his videos were great, especially Don’t Come Around Here No More. My top 5:
5. A Face In the Crowd
4. I Won’t Back Down.
3. Learning to Fly.
2. Free Falling.
1. Don’t Come Around Here No More.