Now and then I think of when we were together,
Like when you said you felt so happy I could give you a long-term contract,
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough,
No you didn’t have to stoop so low,
Have your friends collect my play-call sheets and call me out on the Dawg Vent,
I guess that I didn’t need you to keep running up the middle though,
Now you’re just some offensive coordinator that I used to know.
I’m not sure those are the exact lyrics to Gotye’s 2011 hit “Somebody I Used to Know”. I don’t know. I’ll let the fact-checkers sort it out. All I know is that the mailbag is partying like it’s 2011 around here!
Question after question about Georgia’s play-calling? Concern that the offense isn’t adapting to the talent it has? People wondering if Jim Chaney is the right man to call plays? Makes me feel like we’re Rolling in the Deep. (Yes, Adele’s song was also released in 2011.)
This week, one fan asked why Georgia didn’t line up in a five-wide, empty backfield, when it was facing an Ole Miss secondary that was young and banged up. Another fan expressed frustration at the lack of a short-to-mid range passing game. Another asked if Kirby Smart would “have the courage” to cut Chaney loose at the end of the season if he’s not cutting it.
Yikes. Tough crowd. But Mike Bobo knew that. If he weren’t so distracted with trying to build his own program out there in Colorado State – an opportunity he earned after Georgia’s offense took off around mid-2011 – then he’d be able to give Chaney some encouraging “been there” advice.
There were so many questions pertaining to the play-calling this week that I had to issue another plea for questions this morning, lest it become all about one subject. Good news: It worked! But we start with the offense, and apologize for not getting to every question, but hope we can cover it adequately with just a few.
While it’s unrealistic to think we will be competing for Championships until we get the right pieces in place to fully implement our system, we do have the ability to change things up, surprise some teams, and be extremely disruptive. I can’t help but think of John Fox at Denver throwing the pro style playbook out the window to compensate for the extremely limited Tim Tebow several years back. I’m really interested to see how Kirby/Chaney/Pittman will get the best out of what they have. Do you think it’s possible that we see a totally different approach this week?
– Matt McLaughlin, Steamboat Springs, Col.
You make some good points, but no I don’t expect anything drastic as far as the offensive scheme. They’re going to hope for continued improvement from Jacob Eason, mainly in dealing with a pass rush (he panics too quickly because he’s not used to it) and in checking down more (if he dumps off to Nick Chubb last week, the pick-six doesn’t happen).
Still, it’s clear that some changes are in order. Run more to the outside, at least if it shows promise early in the game. Throw some high-percentage passes to playmakers, whether it be screens or quick dumps. Let Marshall Long throw more. OK maybe not that.
I’m not going to criticize Chaney too much this soon. He’s had some good years as a play-caller. Last year the big problem for Brian Schottenheimer was being too slow to adapt, which was a problem for him in the pros as well. Chaney now sees clearly what he’s dealing with. Let’s see how he adapts.
I’ve been a bit perplexed by UGA’s lack of a ground game, but think I know why now. Eason is a star in the making no doubt, but he still severely lacks understanding of blocking assignments for the running game and doesn’t do a great job at audibling into a more effective play. It appeared the run game is much stronger with Greyson Lambert than Eason calling the shots. Is that coaches not allowing him to do audible or is that lack of experience? Or is simply poor line play? Is this be the growth Kirby was talking about when he called out Eason after the Ole Miss game?
– Nathan Jaworski
It’s a pretty valid point. Now, I wouldn’t put the run game problems completely at the feet of having a younger quarterback. The offensive line isn’t getting a push, period. No matter what the pre-snap reads and calls are, an SEC front five should be able to out-block Nicholls State.
But it’s hard to miss that the running game went smoother in Lambert’s one start, and has struggled since then. Eason has audibled a few more times each game, and the more comfortable he gets that’ll happen. I also noticed him pointing out the Mike linebacker more As I’ve said many times, I’ve yet to see anything to indicate that Eason won’t pick things up. He’s just not there yet.
Do you think part of the troubles of the running game could be attributed to Eason not being able to take snaps under center? Georgia has not historically run the pistol, maybe our line is just not built for it.
– Raj Kumar, Pittsburgh, PA
Perhaps. But ultimately I think Eason’s inexperience under center is manifested more in the passing game, because he’s not been as used to taking drops. It shouldn’t make that much off a difference in handing the ball off. That’s more about the defense keying on the run game, especially when Eason is under center, and perhaps Eason hasn’t been experienced enough to audible out of the play when it’s obvious the defense is keying where the ball is going to go.
That’s another thing you’d have to imagine is going to improve for Georgia, sooner or later.
Side note: We haven’t heard from Gotye in awhile, have we? How long does it take to officially christen somebody a one-hit wonder? Five years is probably enough. But I don’t make fun one-hit wonders, ever since a few years ago when I heard Shawn Mullins perform at The Foundry here in Athens. Mullins, you may remember, had the hit song “Rockabye” in the 1990s, and while people may think he went away, he’s still performing, and having heard and been impressed by his set, it was a reminder that even the one-hit musicians have more skill in their pinky than 99.9999 percent of the rest of the world.
Anything illuminating on Sam Pittman, re: style, ideas, since O-line is a focus and Pittman so highly regarded?
– Rob Shapard
What’s struck me about Pittman is how positive he is, at least from what we can tell while we’re at practice. During the Will Friend years, we were used to coming out there and hearing and lot of yelling, not just from Friend but his graduate assistant. Of course, the line performed better then, so maybe it was a case of keeping them on their toes, while Pittman has to take a different approach now.
From a pure coaching standpoint, the book may still be out, but keep in mind that right now Georgia is starting a converted defensive tackle at right guard, and an FCS transfer at left tackle. Those two guys are the ones who have struggled the most, but if people behind them were better, I’m sure they’d be playing.
One area is going well: Pittman has a reputation as a good recruiter, and Georgia does have three four-star commits for next year’s class, and a three-star guard who’s 356 pounds. Pittman also found Solomon Kindley, who’s apparently impressed in practice as a true freshman.
A couple weeks ago Butch Davis, who was North Carolina’s head coach when Pittman was there, e-mailed me out of the blue (or Tar Heel blue) to say he thinks Pittman is the best at what he does in the country, and that Georgia’s line will be fine.
If the offensive line continues to struggle to create a push can we expect to see some of the younger guys play later in the season and what could it mean for the four current O-line commitments for the class of ’17.
Oh, those four commitments are surely being told regularly to be ready to hit the ground running. A struggling line plus three seniors means next year’s starting five is wide, wide open.
As for this season, the staff is very hesitant to make what they would view as hasty decisions: Smart pointed out that they decided this group based on 29 practices, and wouldn’t let a few games change that. Plus, the coaches also see backups every day in practice. The rest of us don’t.
But it goes on much longer, they’ll change something up. It could be Kindley playing at guard, or maybe giving Kendall Baker a shot at tackle. (He was first-team left tackle at the outset of spring practice.) They could also look at Aulden Bynum at tackle, or move some guys around. But I think that’s the limit. Ben Cleveland will redshirt unless something strange happens. He’s still 18 years old and has a lot to learn.
Should I be worried (four games in) that Kirby’s staff can’t coach up the talent or is there more to it? Culture change, etc?
– Nick Coia
It’s an incomplete picture right now. Not that one more game should settle the question, but let’s see how things go on Saturday. That’s probably one of the two biggest games of the year, and if Georgia plays well it’s a great sign. If not …
I’m on record as saying the “Georgia doesn’t have enough talent” argument is overblown. There is talent (eight former five-stars), but the 2013 class, largely a bust, has left the team without seniors and fourth-year juniors who would be experienced leaders.
The culture change question could take longer to bear out. Take the change I just wrote about: The team doing full lift sessions Sundays and Wednesdays of game week. The Monday and Thursday practices are also a bit more physical – shoulder pads instead of just helmets this year.
Now this is just me speculating, but could that be fatiguing to some players? Greg Pyke and Isaiah McKenzie said it didn’t effect them, but they were the only two I’ve had a chance to ask. (Though it’s doubtful any player would admit on the record that they’re tired.) So again, just speculating, but maybe a few players here and there have been left a bit tired by the new schedule. But Smart and Scott Sinclair’s long-term goal, presumably, is to be tougher in the long run. So maybe that’s part of an attempted culture change.
Side note No. 2: My one-year-old daughter took her first steps this week. It was a proud moment. She also had yet to say her first words, but once she took those steps she took her pacifier out and proclaimed: “These steps are great, but when you’re trying to turn a battleship there are many steps, and you have to be patient, the battleship doesn’t turn as fast as you want.” My wife then ordered me to stop transcribing Smart’s press conferences with our kids around.
I know there are going to be growing pains with a new coaching staff, new scheme, etc. But what do you see as the biggest problem for why we’ve barely squeaked out two sub-par wins and then got trounced against the decent competition? Do we not have the talent to do things the “Alabama” way yet and CKS is trying to force that on the current roster? Are the coaches being stubborn in not adapting to what we have and the best way to use it? Are the players not buying in and pushing back?
– Glenn Orman, 06′ Alum, Fort Worth Texas
For the record, I’m still squarely against the CKS acronym, and I’m just letting it go this time. I’ll answer your questions in bullet-point form, because bullet points are fun:
- Talent: There’s enough for this to be a good team, though probably not enough – at least not enough experienced talent – to be a great team. But there’s too much talent to have the Nicholls State and Ole Miss results.
- Coaches being too stubborn: There are signs, as pointed out earlier, on Smart and his staff of doing things that have short-term drawbawks in the name of long-term gain. Starting Eason and letting him go through growing pains on the field is one of them. But it’s not like there’s been a huge transition: The offense has remained pro-style, the defense has remained a 3-4 base.
- Players not buying in: I’ve not seeing or hearing any evidence of that. Keep in mind, there are 85 (or so) scholarship players, and 125 overall. Not everybody’s going to be on board, and not everybody’s going to agree with every decision. But so far there’s been no evidence that key players or wide swaths of players are pushing back.
Which players have shown improvement with the new coaching? Mizzou’s O setting an example of how a coach impacts performance.
– J. Ryan
It’s not a great sign that I had to think really hard before answering.
Isaiah McKenzie, up until the Ole Miss game, looked great, which may have been more about finally being used properly. Trent Thompson and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle have done fairly well with more playing time, though that’s with a holdover coach. Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick have been okay at inside linebacker, whether that’s new coaching or just natural improvement from freshman to sophomore. After that, well, let’s just say it’s still early in the season and there’s not a complete sample yet.
Don’t discount the freshman, by the way, and the role the coaches have in getting them ready to play right away. Eason, Brian Herrien, David Marshall and all those defensive lineman have all done pretty well.
Side note No. 3: Notice how many of those improved players were defensive lineman? … And yes, that was an actual football-related side note. Sorry about that.
Does UGA’s passing D get better this week given they are not facing a top 20 passing offense (like 3 of first 4 games)? Or does UT’s pass offense move up the rankings after Saturday?
– Will Robinson in Seattle
The short answer is yes, statistically it’s a better match-up. Tennessee is only averaging 201.3 passing yards a game, 10th in the SEC. But I don’t think it’s that easy.
Tennessee has the best running game Georgia has seen this year: Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara are very good, and Hurd is very good between the tackles. Add in Josh Dobbs’ ability to run, and that’s dangerous. Tennessee’s run game hasn’t been dominant either – it only ranks eighth in the SEC – but Georgia’s run defense has started to look leaky.
I do think that if Georgia can stop the run consistently, then the secondary should be able to hang back and play better. But even then it has to watch for Dobbs’ to scramble. Guys on the edge – Maurice Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy – are going to need to tackle a whole lot better than they have been.
There’s a lot of (justifiable) attention being paid to the unimpressive and weak offensive line. But equally bad is the defensive line. Seems to me it may be worse than the defensive back situation — and in fact cause for all of the deep defensive woes. Any luck they’ll be able to pressure an SEC quarterback this season?
– Daniel H.
Oh, I wouldn’t go that far. The defensive line hasn’t been great, but it’s been far better relative to its offensive counterparts. It’s also been using a lot of young players – true freshmen David Marshall, Julian Rochester, Michail Carter and Tyler Clark have all played.
In this defense, the main job of the D-line is to swallow up blocks and allow the outside linebackers to make plays. The onus for that is mainly on the OLBs. The D-line has had a lot of four-man rushes against five blockers, so it’s understandable those guys aren’t breaking through to the quarterback.
The D-line has largely done its job swallowing up blocks. The edge guys need to get to the ball better and make more plays.
Does Kirby stick with trying to “contain” the QB or does he go after him this game?
– Larry Mansfield
That’s a tough one. They mostly held back at Ole Miss and it didn’t work. Now it’s another mobile quarterback, and another veteran who has read defenses before. So the risk with sending even creative blitzes is that Dobbs will not be rattled and will also be able to quickly read where to find the receiver left open by the blitz.
There’s a reason I’m a sportswriter, and not a defensive coordinator, but my opinion is I would hold back, and watch his scrambling by having a spy on each side: Dobbs isn’t quite as accurate a passer as Kelly, so maybe he won’t burn Georgia as badly even if he has time to throw. That’s still no guarantee, though, and it’s why keeping Tennessee under, say, 20 points would be a major accomplishment for the Bulldogs.
Is there any chance that Georgia might look at taking a Junior College kicker–one who has proven he can kick off the ground and has at least a little college experience? It would seem to be less chancy than taking another kicker straight out of high school–at least for the near future.
– Sue Muller
Oh, I’m sure if there was a kicker out there who was booming it at a junior college, even in Guam, and showed the slightest interest in Georgia that Kirby Smart and Shane Beamer would be on the first flight there. And I’m sure they’ve been checking. And they’re checking on high school kickers too.
What’s the full update on Michael Wasson? He was missing from a bunch of practices and now there are pictures of him on a stationary bike at practice. Was it injury related? Something else? Could he be a legitimate contender for the job?
– Eric White
He’s still on the team, and I’ve heard nothing about an injury. He might’ve been on a bike this week at practice, but it would be a recent injury. I did hear pretty early in the preseason that he wasn’t a realistic candidate for place-kicker. The other two guys just beat him out. Simple as that.
Side note No. 4: The best song of 2011, because everyone wants my opinion, was “If I Die Young” by the Band Perry. The worst song of that year was Britney Spear’s remake of “My Prerogative,” which actually came out about a decade before, but I’m sure someone played it that year and that song was an abomination.
Hypothetical here, but what do you think Georgia’s record would be if Mark Richt were still the coach right now?
– Eric Bowman
Now there’s a third-rail question. I should say “unbeaten” and just step away to watch the comments section combust.
But my guess is Georgia’s record would still be the same. Maybe the point differential would be different: Richt never had a close game against an FCS team. But if Richt had remained, I don’t know that this year’s roster would look a whole lot different, I suspect they’d be playing a very similar lineup, and the schedule the first four games would be the same.
Still, as you say it’s a huge hypothetical, so who knows.
On a scale of 1 to Christmas, how excited are you about covering Georgia basketball this season? Really special season possible.
– John Gunnels
I’d be curious your definition off a really special season. For the reasonable Georgia fan, playing on the weekend in the NCAA tournament – in other words, winning a first round game – would seem a good goal. And it’s a realistic goal. Anytime you have difference-makers inside (Yante Maten) and outside (J.J. Frazier) you have a chance. And there’s some good talent around them. I like what I’ve seen and heard from freshman Tyree Crump and junior college transfer Pape Diatta.
That said, when you ask about excitement in covering the team, that kind of depends. Mark Fox and the communications staff do a really good job of being accessible, and making their players accessible. And I like basketball. But as Chip wrote earlier this week, it’s disheartening the next day when you look at the analytics on our stories. At some point, decisions have to be made.
I’m cautiously excited about covering Georgia basketball this season. I’d be more excited if I knew you all would read my stories.