Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, where each week we invite readers to feast on our knowledge (short meal) and discuss Georgia football, UGA athletics or whatever springs to mind. And with the Bulldogs riding high this young season, the fans are, too.
But is it too high? Let’s delve into that.
On Sunday following the big win over MSU a lot of internet chat centered around the culture of the UGA program. The 2017 Dawgs seem to be doing what championship caliber (okay, championship might be a bit premature) teams do; find a way to win against ranked teams and pound lesser opponents. That hasn’t been the case in recent years. Confidence is growing that the Dawgs show up ready to play every week; whether against a ranked team or lesser team. Outside of numbers and stats, I’d like your perspective on the culture or attitude of the team as opposed to years’ past.
– John Wilson, Columbia SC
This is the part where I play wet blanket. Oh, not in the sense that I think Georgia isn’t going to win the SEC East. I think it will. But the idea that – not to pick on you, John – this is something we haven’t seen before and thus a corner has been turned:
2015: Georgia opened 4-0 with routs of Louisiana-Monroe (51-14) and Southern (48-6), as well as South Carolina (52-20). There also was a convincing, albeit sloppy, road win at Vanderbilt (31-14). Then Alabama came in and I’ll spare reminding everyone the details.
2012: Georgia opened 5-0 with routs of Buffalo (45-23), Florida Atlantic (56-20) and Vanderbilt (48-3), an escape at home against Tennessee (51-44), and a big road win at Missouri (41-20). Then came South Carolina and, again, I’ll spare everyone the reminder.
There are other examples of unbeaten starts (2004, 2006, 2008) that didn’t result in championship seasons. I’d also throw in 2013, when after a 3-point road loss at Clemson, the Bulldogs ran off four straight, including wins over two top-10 teams in South Carolina and LSU. And then the injuries caught up with that team.
This isn’t to say this team won’t be different. It has shades of 2002 – another Year 2 coaching situation. There’s a lot of reason for optimism right now. A great defense can take you far, the offense at least seems improved, and the SEC East is so putrid.
It just may be too early to say there’s been a culture change, or some big lesson from all this. That assumes the culture was broken. The argument can be made that under Mark Richt the program had plateaued, and that for whatever reason his program couldn’t take the final step. But under Richt the program did look this good early in various seasons. Whether Smart has instilled something different from Richt that will carry the team to the final step remains to be seen.
There is a case to be made that this program is becoming more mentally tough due to a better approach to practices, and it permeates its way into how everyone plays every Saturday, no matter the opponent. That’s the Nick Saban way that Smart is trying to instill. We will see, starting with the Tennessee game.
Seth, as an out of state fan I greatly appreciate DawgNation and the work you all do to keep us informed. Thank you. It’s very relevant here in Orange team country that Georgia tends to have one or two letdown games each year. It’s been mentioned every day this week by friends and family. My question is: What is the belief around Athens and the (Dawg)nation that we have made the step in year two under Kirby to avoid those letdowns? I truly believe we have and am hopeful that this week proves it to everyone.
– Jeremy, Johnson City, Tenn.
That’s the test now, isn’t it? The way the schedule has played out so far, Georgia could be favored in every remaining game – Auburn being the possible exception – so another measure of the supposed culture change is how the team handles this.
Something people haven’t mentioned enough is how Georgia last season got up for big games (North Carolina, Auburn, TCU) but struggled and lost when it wasn’t expected (Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech). This season there have been two highly anticipated games, and Georgia won both. Now we get to see the flip side. The trick for Kirby Smart and the staff is to get the players to realize that this could be a special season, and therefore every game is truly huge. But we’re dealing with human beings, and college-age kids at that.
THE QUARTERBACK SECTION
I was stoked last year about Eason coming in and playing QB. And while he had some big throws last year (i.e. Missouri game winning TD and what should have been game winning TD vs Tennessee); he also missed a lot of wide open receivers in games. Since the Spring Game, I have been a big proponent of Fromm. After this 4-0 start, where to me he has been so accurate and seems like he has such control of this offense and is a leader on the field; how can there be any talk of a QB controversy? Why disrupt what you have already built and start Eason who has only played 3 snaps? To me it would be ludacris.
– Jeff Seal, Richmond, Va.
I know you meant ludicrous, but I left it that way because it was funny.
Here’s my sense of the quarterback situation: Jake Fromm will start on Saturday and until either a) Georgia loses a game, or b) Fromm really struggles and the team needs Jacob Eason to come in for the rescue. I don’t think Eason is healthy enough to start this week, but he may be soon, and at that point the coaches may have the dilemma … or may not.
Before the injury, I was as skeptical as anyone that there was a true quarterback competition. Eason was clearly the choice based on his experience, what he did last season, and what he had done in practice. But what Fromm has done the last four games speaks for itself. Even Eason, deep down, would have to admit that it’s hard to make a change when the team is playing this well.
That said, the difficult decision comes if there are more games like Notre Dame: The defense and special teams won that game, with Fromm struggling at times, though he led the team on the game-winning drive.
First “real” road test for Fromm, are coaches doing anything extra to prep him aside from the usual Rocky Top on repeat?
– Jordan Mann
Not much different from the Notre Dame game, from what I can tell. I asked Jeb Blazevich about this, and he said they have a silent snap count ready, which is standard for road games. But in terms of overall preparation, Blazevich said they weren’t doing much different this week.
“I doubt we’re going to have a home game up there at Neyland Stadium like we did up in South Bend,” Blazevich said, smiling. “No, I think he’s ready. We’ve prepared him as much as we can. Really, I keep forgetting he’s a freshman, with just how mature he is, how intelligent he is with football smarts, and how he approaches the game. Just that businesslike: ‘I’m here to work, I don’t care what’s going on, I’ve got a million things to do, all this pressure.’ But he can just shed it all off and go to work.”
Does the issue of who will play QB when Eason is healthy seem to affect and/or divide the team?
– DCorbett 70, via DawgNation Forum
It hasn’t yet, and probably won’t if it plays out as mentioned above, with the decision being obvious. But if it does become a murky decision, it could get dicey. It’s no secret that quarterback controversies have divided locker rooms before, which is why coaches absolutely do take the clubhouse factor into consideration.
What’s the chances of potentially a 2 QB setup at UGA when Eason is 100%? I know it’s unorthodox, but is it a possibility.
– Corey Johnson
I wouldn’t rule it out, at least with one quarterback getting a few snaps. Nick Saban has done it before. A full-fledge time share almost never happens.
In all the media coverage that UGA is getting after the win over MSU one thing that has been overlooked in my opinion is the injury to Solomon Kindley. Watching the game live it appeared to me that Kindley was quickly becoming a leader on the offensive line as he shows a lot of passion and energy on the field. He’s also one of our few interior linemen with ideal size to get a good push in the run game, and I fear the O-line could take a step back without him right after what was easily the best performance of the year. How much do you think this impacts an improving, but thin and young offensive line? I feel if we have another injury up front things could start looking dire rather quickly.
You’re right, and there’s a reason that Kindley was pinpointed as a starter awhile back, and nearly cracked the rotation last season as a rookie. He’s a big guy but moves well for his size, which is perfect for interior linemen. It may not be an accident that the run game has looked good since Kindley returned, and if he’s not in there the line may take a step back.
The good news for the line is that all five guys played well against Mississippi State, with Lamont Gaillard and Kendall Baker also doing a great job to render Jeffery Simmons irrelevant. Dyshon Sims will start in Kindley’s place, and he is experienced. The hope is Kindley shouldn’t be out too long, as it’s just an ankle, and big guys can withstand more pain on those types of injuries. The worry is this has happened twice with Kindley.
I believe I noticed something in Chaney’s strategy last Saturday that was very smart. It seemed to me that he either put a receiver in motion or had two tailbacks in the backfield for the majority of the play calls. I believe he did this to give the defense more to read and give the O-line more time to get to their assignments. (I highly doubt that Grantham and MSU prepared for Chubb to be a fullback for Swift and the opposite) Question: Do you agree with this logic? More threats in the backfield and/or WR motion to help the OL.
– Drew Stewart
Yup, there’s been a lot of motion involved in the offense, which isn’t altogether unusual. It’s one of those things that everybody would do all the time if they could; the trick is pulling it off, not overdoing it and confusing yourself, etc. The Washington Redskins offense I grew up watching under Joe Gibbs was crazy with motion, trying to keep the defense off-balance and guessing before the snap.
Who would you name MVP of this team? Just through the first 4 games. Personally, it’s hard to name just one, as it’s been a great overall team effort. But I guess I’d go with Roquan Smith, with Chubb, Carter and Reed right there with him. What say you?
Roquan Smith, and that’s said without any hesitation. I suspect most coaches and players would say that, too. He’s been incredible on defense, covering so much ground. If I had to re-do the Most Important Players series, I’d put Smith at the top. That’s the guy who if he got hurt tomorrow it would feel like a gut punch to the whole team.
How often do gimmicks like checker-boarding the stadium or wearing the ‘smoky grey’ jerseys work for Tennessee, and what are some notable games that they have coordinated these shticks?
– Forestry Dawg
I’ve told this story before: During the 2009 season, otherwise known as the Lane Kiffin era in Knoxville, I was covering South Carolina’s game there, when the Gamecocks were ranked. It was near Halloween, and there were rumors but no confirmation of black jerseys. Tennessee came out in orange jerseys in warmups. But after they went back in the locker room, they emerged wearing black jerseys. The crowd went wild. Tennessee won the game, 31-13, and while I’ve never been a gimmick guy, I’ll always believe the jerseys and the crowd’s reaction had an effect on that outcome.
Is Crumpton the new Rumph? Barely a sighting through the first four games after hearing how we was tearing it up in fall camp. What’s up with that?
– Snoop Dawg
Sometimes guys get a lot of attention in fall camp because they’re new. Such was the case with Ahkil Crumpton, and add in the fact he was wearing Isaiah McKenzie’s old number, had the same game as McKenzie, and was a JUCO transfer, and perhaps the hype train was a little too full. That doesn’t mean he won’t eventually make an impact, but keep in mind that Georgia found him just before preseason, so it’s not like we’re talking about a can’t-miss prospect.
Can UGA accept full academic scholarship players into their recruiting class without it counting against the 85 scholarships for football?
– Icecold Dawg
Yes, but the NCAA has regulations that restrict academic scholarships to Division I athletes who were at least in the top 10 percent of their high school class, had a GPA of at least 3.5, and had a 1200 or higher on the SAT. There are also other stipulations. So while it can conceivably happen, that’s why you don’t routinely see teams bringing in way over the 85 and just giving academic scholarships to the extra players. The NCAA generally wants to discourage that.
OKAY, SOMEONE ASKED …
Just for giggles… does 1 loss UGA team (lose to BAMA in Atlanta) get into playoffs? I know it’s a long long long shot, but….
– John Vaughn
Hey, look at the schedule: It’s not a three-longs shot. Just a long shot. And enough in the realm of possibility that I’ll answer it, though not in a flashy way: It depends on what happens elsewhere. If both teams in the SEC championship emerge with one loss, the winner surely will make the playoff, while the loser will get in if there aren’t three unbeaten Power 5 conference teams out there. At least that would be my guess.