Mailbag: An offensive set of questions from Georgia fans

Jim Chaney - Georgia football
The offensive performance has given Jim Chaney a few reasons this year to throw his hands up in exasperation.

“Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock.” – Tribe Called Quest, in the song “Check the Rhyme.”

Spoiler alert: There’s a lot of angst among Georgia fans this week. Second spoiler alert: It focuses on the offense. So yeah, the mailbag is going to center on that, though we address other issues as well. No need to dawdle this week, so let’s get right to it:

Why are so many hitting the panic button? New head coach, 3rd OC in 3 years. Seems like patience is not a characteristic right now. – Coach Davis

I get that, and I don’t think this is cause to think the entire program is headed in a downward spiral, or that Kirby Smart won’t win eventually. But I’ve heard this sentiment – hey, this shouldn’t be a surprise – and there’s an easy push-back: Who out there picked them to be 4-4 right now? Who expected them to lose to Vanderbilt? Who expected them to only beat Nicholls State by two points. By every measure, this has been disappointing. The fact it was a new coach, a third offensive coordinator (and O-line coach) in three years, and a young defense was known to everybody, and when Georgia was picked to finish third in the SEC East, I don’t remember hearing anybody saying, “You know, that’s too high.”

There’s a lot of revisionist thinking going on right now. If someone can find their time-stamped tweet or e-mail saying this would be this tough a season, I’ll give them credit. My thought was 9-3 or perhaps 10-2. Where did I go wrong? I didn’t realize the offensive line would be this below-average, or that special teams would be a struggle almost across the board, not just place-kicking. I also didn’t anticipate the offensive play-calling issues, and underrated the adjustment to the head coach role that Kirby Smart would have to make.

All that said, there’s still four (probably five) games left in the season. I’ll go on record now saying I expect Georgia to be 7-5 heading into the bowl, the lone loss coming to Auburn. It’s still premature to be evaluating this season. A disappointment, for sure, but how big a disappointment remains to be decided. 

Bulldog fans want to play revisionist history right now: “What would our season look like if we had not fired Mark Richt?” Revisionist history is a merely a futile academic endeavor in my opinion. However, for the sake of discussion and the mailbag I will entertain the exercise. In my humble opinion, keeping Richt for this year would not have guarenteed a better record than 4-4, namely because I think he would have had to have hired a new OC and DC. Dawgnation’s reporting on Pruitt’s relationship with Butts-Mehre made it sound like he had burned too many bridges and was going to be forced out. If Richt was not fired, most certainly Schottenheimer would have been let go anyway given his performance last year. What say you? Also, if we do happen to make a bowl, rooting for my home town for the Birmingham Bowl. – Brad Denney

Interesting points. There’s a lot of what-ifs about last year, and futile – your word – is a good way to describe getting into them. The best thing for Georgia last year, had they not fired Richt, probably would have been to move on from the offensive coordinator (it just wasn’t working) but to make it work with Pruitt. There is a line of thinking that the toxic relationship between Pruitt and Greg McGarity was one reason the big move was made, but I can’t 100 percent confirm that. In the end, I think it was more about the feeling that overall the program had plateaud with Richt, and the questionable in-game decisions over the years (starting Faton Bauta against Florida, the squib kick against Georgia Tech, etc.)

Side note No. 1: Tribe Called Quest has a new album coming out, minus a member who passed away earlier this year. There’s a somewhat sad story about it in the New York Times, and the pictures of lead rapper Q-Tip – who looks about 75 years old in that hat – make me feel really, really old. We were all young and cool once, I swear! OK well I was young.

Is the insistence on sticking with the ineffective power run game coming from Jim Chaney or is it coming from Smart? – Sam Thames

That’s not entirely clear, to be frank. All that’s clear is that it’s not what this team does best. It has great runners in Chubb and Michel, but it doesn’t have the line, and it doesn’t have a quarterback comfortable enough running that system. I keep coming back to the Tennessee game, which Georgia needed to win to stay in the division race, and when – to quote myself in the Second Glance – “Jim Chaney finally adapted, scheming around the offensive line problems. He ran outside a lot, was creative, and used a lot of runs out of the shot-gun, which Eason is more comfortable running at this point.”

Since then, it’s been basically back to the usual. And while it worked against South Carolina, it didn’t the next two weeks. Why is that? Are Smart and/or Chaney committed to a certain style, and they’re hammering it into Eason and the team, assuming after the Tennessee loss that the division hopes were over, thus sacrificing the present for the future? That seems unlikely, but it’s hard to come up with another explanation, other than they (for some reason) think this is the best gameplan.

Actually, the gameplan the first quarter-plus against Florida actually was pretty good. But when Florida adjusted, Georgia didn’t. Smart said they tried to hit some long passes, hoping it would “loosen up” the Gator defense that had stacked the box. But the best strategy, it would seem, was dinking and dunking the defense with quick hits to tight ends and speedy receivers, and screens to tailbacks and receivers.

Look, I know people hate when reporters whine about access, but this is where being able to interview the assistant coaches would help. Smart himself said he isn’t as involved with the offense, so it would be helpful to fans and media to be able to ask Chaney his thinking. Maybe it would be enlightening and mollify fans. Maybe it wouldn’t. But it would help.

Do you get tired of references to Mike Bobo and pictures of him? Well too bad, but still Kirby Smart is in this photo too. (ROB SAYE/SPECIAL).

Why do people feel the necessity to equate pro style with unimaginative? They’re not mutually exclusive. “People” meaning the current UGA coaching staff. Mike Bobo showed it could be modified to suit personnel. – James Colvin

This is a point I’ve been making a lot lately: Bobo went three-wide or more 72 percent of the time during the 2013 season (that was the stat he cited). They gameplanned around a line that had some solid players but no future first, second or even third-round picks. But they were versatile enough to switch in and out of the spread.

That said, they also had an experienced quarterback, and players had been in the system for years. So they could run up-tempo and no-huddle, call and run plays quickly and keep the defense off-balance. That’s been a struggle this year with a freshman quarterback.

To get back to your point, though, you’re right, a team can actually run a fairly simplified offense and still be unpredictable with when it calls plays. Pass on first down, run it up the middle on second-and-long when they don’t see it coming, etc. And the lack of quick slants and screens lately has been befuddling.

Do you think Kirby hears the complaints about Chaney and will make a change? – Robert Beasley

No I do not. And that wouldn’t necessarily be the wrong decision. Let’s see how the next four games play out, but even if things continue as they are, pulling the plug after one year would be rather rash. Chaney has two more years left on his contract, though obviously purse-strings aren’t an issue around here anymore. But it would not only mean admitting a big mistake very early – offensive coordinator was probably Smart’s most important hire – it would also mean the fourth OC in four years for this team.

Smart can also point to having a struggling O-line, a freshman quarterback, and not enough big, standout receivers. Now could he pull a surprise and make a change after just one season? Well, Smart has no track record as a head coach, so we don’t know whether he has a quick trigger or will be patient. But my guess is it would have to be really bad, or there would have to be major philosophical differences we don’t know about, in order for a change to come this quickly.

Side note No. 2: Regarding “Check the Rhyme” and the line I quoted, later in that same verse comes one of my favorite rap lines ever: “Industry rule number four thousand and eighty, Record company people are shady.” It doesn’t really have anything to do with what we’re talking about.

How many batted down passes does our front seven have? One, two? This seems like a prime example of mediocre coaching. I watch the QB Rush, and it seems like very few stunts, very few moves other than bull rush.., so if we are just going to bull rush and contain, why are we not getting our hands up? – Matt McCarty, Los Angeles and demoralized

That’s a good point about very few batted balls. If the stats are right, Georgia defensive linemen have broken up three passes: Two by John Atkins and one by David Marshall. One each has also been credited to Davin Bellamy and Chuks Amaechi, and to be honest I don’t recall whether they were on the line for the play or in coverage.

But those numbers are actually on track with last year. Since the defensive line and outside linebackers coaches didn’t change, maybe you can blame it on them, or you can look at the overall philosophy on blitzing and pressure. While the defense has improved, the pass pressure hasn’t exactly been a glaring success. It hasn’t been bad, it just hasn’t been great.

Tell me again how the offensive line will be better next year?  If the second string can’t get significant playing time or unseat some of these number ones, how are we to believe that next year’s line will be any better? – Scott Miller

We shouldn’t believe it. The expectations should be low to begin next season, but don’t be shocked if the line at least isn’t adequate, for one reason: Sam Pittman, whose reputation as an offensive line coach is sterling.

It’s taken a hit this season, though. Did they have better options? Apparently not. It’s startling when you think about it: Georgia is on track to use the same starting five in the same spots all season, despite its struggles. Yes, that’s not a great statement on the talent behind them. The only thing Georgia fans can hope is that veterans who aren’t playing like Pat Allen, Kendall Baker and Dyshon Sims will still be better after another year of the weight room, Pittman’s coaching, etc. In the cases of freshman, Solomon Kindley, Ben Cleveland and Chris Barnes, well, they’re freshmen, so maybe they make a good leap next year.

That’s a lot of maybes. So yes, next year could be rough again on the line. Georgia fans, in Sam Pittman you must trust.

Photographic evidence of Jayson Stanley catching a pass in practice, something he does a lot in practices. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

Is Jayson Stanley two-for-two on drops? Does he have any catches this year? Why not play Charlie Worner more at receiver since TE is stacked? – Brian Zorn

Stanley has the two glaring drops, the other people in the end zone at Ole Miss. He may have another that escapes my memory at the moment. He’s an interesting case: Smart mentioned him as a player who made a move this spring, he has size (6-2) and speed, and he’s started five games. But he just hasn’t earned Eason’s confidence. Remember when Stanley was streaking wide open down the sideline at South Carolina and Eason completely missed him, because he was zeroed in on Isaac Nauta?

Woerner has dealt with an ankle problem all year, or else I think you would have seen him used more at receiver. Actually I’ll stop myself: That’s another one of those no-brainer moves from my perspective that the staff may not agree with. But yes, if it were me, and Woerner were fully healthy, he’d be at receiver most of the time.

Since Georgia has already done the unthinkable this year and lost to Vandy, and there is a big game looming with Kentucky this weekend then my questions are going to revolve around those two teams. When was the last time (if ever) that Georgia has lost to both Vandy and Kentucky in the same season? Also, has Georgia ever finished behind both Kentucky and Vandy in the SEC East standings? – Matt Hall

It wasn’t long ago at all that Georgia lost to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season: 2006, in the same stadiums and about the same time of year. That was the THIRD time it had ever happened, the others being 1973 and 1956.

But it’s been a LONG time since Georgia finished behind Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the standings: 1958, when the Bulldogs were 2-4 in the SEC, finishing ahead of only Tulane (yes it was that long ago) and Mississippi State). It also happened in 1955 and 1956, so these were not exactly the halcyon days of the program.

What’s interesting: For all the stigma that comes with losing to Vanderbilt, Georgia has actually done that more than it’s lost to Kentucky. The all-time record against Vanderbilt: 55-20-2. The all-time record against Kentucky: 55-12-2. Of course, most of those losses to the Commodores came at the start of the rivalry, as Georgia began 1-8-1 against Vanderbilt from 1893-1923. The Kentucky rivalry, on the other hand, started in 1939, and the worst run Georgia ever had was 1947-56, when it lost three of four to the Wildcats.

Anyway, this history lesson has been brought to you by me, Seth Emerson, and not Loran Smith, who I’m sure is busy doing something productive with his day while I’m pretending to be him.

Side note No. 3: My actual favorite Tribe Called Quest song is “Bonita Applebum.” But given the circumstances, opening with lyrics from a song called “Bonita Applebum” just didn’t seem like it would work. It wouldn’t put me on. 

Two quick questions assuming a worst case scenario and a 5-7 finish:  1. How does UGA’s APR score match up with other schools in the event not all bowl matchups are filled by 6-6 teams?  2.  If UGA went to a bowl at 5-7, would the SEC place UGA in one of their bowl tie-ins or would UGA go wherever a slot is available?  Thanks & keep up the great coverage on both football & basketball! – Josh Cahill, Milton, Ga.

You’re welcome, Josh. (I usually cut off the compliments in the e-mail submissions, because it’s so self- aggrandizing to re-print them. But sometimes I also run them because sometimes I’m self-aggrandizing.)

Georgia’s APR score – supposedly something the NCAA uses if there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams – has always been fine, so I would assume that if the Bulldogs want to go to a bowl at 5-7, and there’s a slot available for them, then they’ll get in. Whether it would be an SEC bowl or someone else will depend on if enough other SEC teams reach bowl eligibility. If the SEC slots get taken up, I’m sure a random bowl somewhere else will gladly take Georgia.

Can’t believe we’re talking about all this, can you? Neither can I.

My question is why have we not seen the number one athlete in Georgia see the field on offense on a jet sweep or reception in the flat ? Mecole Harddman will only be with us three years and this one’s wasted, in my opinion. – Mike Blessitt

Oh, I don’t know that he’s definitely a three-year guy. But he’s also probably not a four-year guy. He’s only played on special teams, which is a surprise, but like with other young players he’s been a victim of Georgia not blowing anybody out this year: The Nicholls State game should have been a chance to clear the bench. Vanderbilt too. At this rate, the only left for that is Louisiana-Lafayette. Normally by now guys like Hardman, Tyrique McGhee, Solomon Kindley and Tyler Simmons would have at least seen some substantial fourth-quarter action on offense or defense. Not the way this season has gone.

As for Hardman on offense, my push-back on that is that they also haven’t done a good enough job of getting the main playmakers the ball. So I wouldn’t regard not getting Hardman involved on offense a failure. He’s good, but it’s not like he’s the only playmaker they have available. 

Turtle Jackson could be one of the keys to Georgia’s season. (AP/JOHN BAZEMORE)

Side note No. 4: Hey, it’s that time. Get used to questions along the following line not taking this long to be in the mailbag:

Basketball question!!! I feel like Mark Fox is close to getting things rolling this year and for years to come. What are realistic expectations for the basketball team this season? – Ashley Griffin

This team has the talent and the depth to make the NCAAs, win a game, and then pull off an upset and end up in the Sweet 16. That’s kind of the high-end. The realistic expectation is to just make the NCAAs and be competitive in its first round game. That’s what happened two years ago. Is this team better? Potentially, but you can’t say for sure yet.

It has a dynamic outside scorer in J.J. Frazier, a very good low-post scorer in Yante Maten, and a deep bench. The main question to me is the development of the supporting cast: Does someone emerge as a consistent third option? Does Derek Ogbeide, who’s a rebounding machine, become a prolific low-post scorer as well? The key guys to me are going to be Turtle Jackson and Tyree Crump. If they emerge as scoring threats and take pressure off Frazier, that will open a lot of things up.

I’m genuinely curious about who from the current UGA staff/players you’d like to interview that you currently aren’t allowed to based on policies. Will you name, say, the top three coaches/players you’d like to report on, that you currently can’t, and a brief description of why? – Tyler

Thanks for the question. Something that we in the media haven’t really made a big deal out of this season is that it’s not just freshmen and assistant coaches we haven’t been able to interview. A number of non-freshmen, including some starters, have also been repeatedly denied. If anyone’s noticed a lack of personal feature stories this season, that’s why.

Let’s take the obvious off-limits player (Jacob Eason) and coaches (Jim Chaney, Mel Tucker, Shane Beamer) out of the equation. Here’s the top three of each I’d also love to interview:

Players:

  1. Brian Herrien: He went from not knowing where’d be going to school to being a breakout player as a Georgia freshman, and scoring a touchdown on his first carry. It’s an amazing story, and I’d love to hear his side of it.
  2. Riley Ridley: He was off Georgia’s radar, then after the coaching change suddenly commits and enrolls early. His brother is a star at Alabama. We’ve never been able to sit down and talk to him about his story. He’s had a hand in a couple big moments this year. We’ve never been able to talk to him about those.
  3. Greyson Lambert: By all accounts he’s handled not being the starter anymore with grace and class, and has done everything he can to help Eason. He’d make a nice story.

Honorable mentions: Mecole Hardman, Jonathan Ledbetter, Julian Rochester, Isaac Nauta, Rico McGraw, Ben Cleveland, Tae Crowder, Shakenneth Williams, Michael Barnett, Juwuan Briscoe. We also have only gotten Tyler Catalina, Javon Wims and Rodrigo Blankenship after games, and that’s a hard time to do feature-related interviews.

Coaches:

  1. Scott Sinclair: What are his philosophies, techniques and goals for the strength program?
  2. Glenn Schumann: I’m not sure he’s done a real interview in his career, since he’s only been at Alabama in an off-field role, but by all accounts he’s a key adviser to Smart and a rising star in the profession.
  3. Dell McGee: What an interesting run he’s had the past four years, going from a high school coach in Columbus to Auburn, then Georgia Southern, where he was an interim head coach, to now coaching Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

Honorable mentions: Sam Pittman, James Coley, Kevin Scherrer, Tracy Rocker.

If I was to ask you the perfect question, what would that be? Also, wondering about Rumph would be preferable to this season. – Jeremiah Johnson

The perfect question. Do I love my wife Kerstin so much?

The answer: She’s the world to me.

There you go. (I’ve been under the weather a lot the last two weeks and my woman takes good care of me. And two kids. And the dog. And somehow still holds down a job. Women are incredible people.)

 

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