LOS ANGELES – Jim Chaney was in a great mood. He cracked jokes with media members. He pretended to take a dig at a fellow Georgia assistant coach. He regaled the media with the tale of how, a few miles from here, he arrived at his first coaching job with a Chevy that had no floorboard.
What a stark difference from last year.
The word that Chaney, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, kept mentioning at his bowl-game news conference last year: disappointing.
The word Chaney kept mentioning at this bowl-game news conference on Thursday: fun.
“Last year didn’t meet anyone’s expectations,” Chaney said. “It was a difficult year for everybody, particularly me, because I have a lot of pride in what I do, and I hate putting products out that don’t meet the expectations. But nobody does.”
Chaney said he only had one choice: Get his butt back to work ― he didn’t say “butt” ― and try to do a better job. The result: Chaney was giving his annual bowl news conference at the Rose Bowl, as Georgia prepares for a national semifinal matchup against Oklahoma on Monday.
“I was lucky enough that the pieces I had to work with all just kind of fell into a beautiful puzzle this year,” Chaney said. “It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.”
Georgia has the nation’s 34th-ranked offense, in yards per game, compared to 87th last year. It’s even better going by yards-per-play, where Chaney’s unit went from 86th to 13th.
And, of course, there are pure scoring stats: After only scoring 30 points twice in 2016, this year the Bulldogs reached that mark nine times and scored at least 40 on six occasions – versus none last year.
Chaney’s No. 1 reason for the turnaround: Familiarity. The Year 2 effect. The coaching staff stayed intact. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returned for their senior seasons.
“They understand our plays, they understand our temperments. We all know who we are,” Chaney said. “We all know one another a lot better right now. We know the objectives. We know there’s no false pretense, we’re all after the same thing. …
“At the end of the day we believe in what we’re doing, and we’re playing super hard. Are we the most talented offense out there in the history of the world?I would argue probably not. But I would argue we would turn on the tape and we’d play as hard as most people.”
Chaney has a laid-back demeanor most of the time anyway, but it wouldn’t have been a good look at his bowl news conference last year, the Liberty Bowl. He knew that, which is why he spent that session taking responsibility for Georgia’s offensive struggles and vowing to do some soul searching in the offseason.
“I still like what we tried to do a year ago but it wasn’t working the way we needed it to work,” Chaney said. “So we had to freshen it up and go out and get some different ideas.”
That included talking to Oklahoma coaches, ironically. And there were more run-pass options and other things introduced to the offense, although maybe not as much as people think: Chaney said they averaged about four to seven RPOs per game.
The reality, Chaney said, is the biggest change wasn’t schematic.
“People think, ‘Let’s change, let’s put a wideout over here, a tight end over here.’ Hell, I want to block better! I just want to block better,” Chaney said. “I sit here a year later, and you ask me what’s the difference in last year and this year? We blocked better.”
So how did that happen? How did the offensive line improve despite losing three starters? That might also have been the Year 2 and familiarity effect, with the players and line coach Sam Pittman getting used to each other. But personnel clearly helped.
“Andrew [Thomas] coming in at right tackle and making that solid, and Isaiah [Wynn] moving out to the left, making us solid on the edges, we had really good tackle play throughout the season,” Chaney said. “And the three inside guys have battled hard. It’s been fun to watch those guys. But they play so hard as heck. I see that position on that offense growing to a standard where we can do what we want in any game.”
Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm was another reason, Chaney acknowledged. Not necessarily because the team was better with him than with Jacob Eason. Chaney didn’t say that. But Fromm did play so well that keeping him as the starter became a no-brainer.
“I hated it for Jacob when he got hurt, and by the way, he’s been the most special kid in the world throughout this whole process,” Chaney said. “But I’m really glad that guy right here was the one behind him when he stepped in. He acted like a seasoned vet.”
Of course, this wasn’t meant to be a victory lap for this season. Georgia does have one game, and the Bulldogs hope two, games left to play.
But Chaney was asked: Other than the first Auburn game – when Chaney admits he didn’t call a good game – did the season live up to his expectations? A coach is never happy, Chaney answered, and is always looking for the perfect game. Not every goal was met, and expectations were not exceeded.
“Have we played our best football yet? I don’t believe we have. I still believe there is another game or two out there that we can hopefully go out and prove that we’re even better than what we’ve been able to do thus far,” he said. “Being content with where we’re at, I’d say that’s not true. I think we can continue to get better, and I believe we will.”