Here’s Kimberley Nash’s perspective on five of the biggest UGA recruiting stories that people are talking about this week:
1. Alabama-UGA: Second Verse, Same as the First
Another week, and another round of conversation, about the two teams who will be battling it out in Sanford Stadium at 3:30 pm Saturday (EST). The UGA-Alabama game is finally here and it’s still all anyone is talking about.
There are no other topics to really cover because the hottest conversation centers around whether or not UGA will come out victorious over the team that embarrassed them in 2008, and broke their heart in 2012?
But, hold up, this blog isn’t about the game (well, it’s not supposed to be); it’s about recruiting. So, my focus will have a bit of a recruiting angle. And that angle starts with the gameday atmosphere.
The prospects visiting UGA this weekend won’t only be looking at the matchup, but the atmosphere, the crowd energy, the pre-game festivities. All of that will be on display, and rare is a prospect, sporting ample offers, that doesn’t house dreams of attending a school where the stadium and its fans are as limp as wet noodles when game day arrives.
No, upper-echelon targets imagine themselves running onto the field to a pumped-up crowd, as the music blares loudly. They imagine themselves on the field, making plays, and the crowd going absolutely wild when they do.
Even more than that, the pre-game atmosphere is just as important, and UGA is doing everything it can to stoke the fires of the fanbase this weekend
Mark Richt has asked the fans to wear red (no black, thank goodness) and show up early for the Dawg Walk. The game is atmosphere enough and all of those snazzy “Beat Bama” billboards serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that the game is everything this weekend.
If UGA wins the game, the rest of the Classic City will offer its own level of excitement, and that will surely give 2016 targets a taste of what happens after the Chapel Bell gets rung.
Oh, my heart.
Let me stop, my allegiances may be showing a bit with that one.
2. Battling It Out: UGA and ‘Bama are Looking for Bragging Rights
UGA may be favored, but plenty of people still remember the last time Alabama came to Athens. That particular visit set the Crimson Tide on the championship trail, and they have rarely looked back since. As a matter of fact, if nothing else, fans should be worried about Alabama using this game as a chance to get right, yet again.
Think about it: UGA is coming into this game “favored”, while Alabama is expected to show up looking like they lost Bear Bryant’s Houndstooth somewhere in an Oxford Mississippi Grove. Alabama could just as easily show up and play their most complete game of the season. I mean, after all, isn’t this the same Alabama team that was hearing championship chatter before they lost their elephant trunks against Ole Miss?
Oh, how quickly we forget.
Honestly, all this talk about UGA looking “more like Alabama than Alabama” is enough to make me sick. Why? Because it’s nonsense!
The truth may hurt but, the truth is, UGA is 0-2 in its last two meetings against the Tide. zero and two!
Until UGA manages to take one from Nick Saban’s squad, I don’t give a flip who the Tide lost to, UGA should not be favored.
Being favored has too often led to cocky behavior from UGA, in general (recall losses to both Florida and Georgia Tech in 2014, as well as to Missouri in 2013. All of those games shoulda been won by UGA, but they based their swagger on where they were ranked, and what people said, and ended up forgetting they had to show up and play).
UGA is in the hunt for more than a few of the same prospects that Alabama has on speed dial. A win would go a long way towards making a lasting impression. The last thing Jeremy Pruitt wants Kirby Smart to be able to say to 5-star DT Derrick Brown (Lanier, Ga.) is how well his defense was able to step in, wounded after a tough loss, and make that million-dollar coordinator on the UGA side look like he learned how to call plays on a Tecmo Bowl Game.
That would not be a good look.
3. And…*GASP*, What If UGA Loses?
As much as this game has been made into a huge deal, it’s not the end of the world if UGA loses. No, a loss only guarantees a recycle of the same sorts of headlines every fan has grown accustomed to seeing. You know the ones that scream things like Will Richt’s Teams Ever Get Over the Hump? Can UGA Ever Become an Elite Team? 5 Reasons Why UGA Still Isn’t a Contender…
Truthfully, though, a loss does nothing to stem UGA’s chances to win an SEC East Championship. Nor does it keep them out of the SEC Championship Game. They will still be a part of that conversation, regardless what happens on Saturday.
What a loss will do is temporarily drop them out of the national conversation. A conversation they’ve managed to stay in thus far and one that has considerable helped them on the recruiting trail.
There’s a reason a kid like 5-star offensive tackle Greg Little (Allen, Texas) is at least willing to listen to what UGA offensive line coach Rob Sale has to say.
From a recruiting standpoint, the takeaway from a loss could be locating the weakness and then telling a prospect, “see, buddy, that’s why we need you here”.
In Little’s case, for example, if the UGA run game gets stymied QB Greyson Lambert sees the ground more than he feels the breeze, you can stress how all-important that left tackle spot will be next season and how crucial it will be to bring someone in who can immediately step in and make a difference.
Or, to 4-star WR Kyle Davis (Lawrenceville, Ga.), you wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon might mention how much more effective the passing game might have been with more sets of hands to pick the pigskin out of the air in the red zone.
There’s always a way to spin it and playing to the one thing that a lot of these prospects seem to value most, their egos, is rarely a bad thing.
4. What /Who Should Prospects Be Watching?
UGA will be losing a lot of talent over the next 18 months. At the end of this season, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell will be gone, as will tight end Jay Rome. In addition, offensive tackle John Theus and offensive lineman Kolton Houston will make their exits.
We won’t even discuss the coming evacuation on the defensive side of the football, and it’d be silly to believe either Nick Chubb or Sony Michel won’t consider an early jump if their careers continue as they have to this point.
What that means is there’ll be plenty of room on the roster for players to come in, play early, and make an immediate impact.
Look for UGA to showcase as many of its skill players as possible this Saturday. They want every talented set of eyes watching, both official and unofficial, to see where they will fit into Brian Schottenheimer’s offense and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense.
And, as far as Schottenheimer goes, if that Alabama front seven comes in as advertised, and I expect they will, he will need to do a lot more than let Nick Chubb set the tempo on offense. Even Chubb knows that.
This game will require a lot more than a good set of legs to win and all hands will definitely be on deck.
With more than a few athletes and wide receivers, as well as one very interested tight end, watching closely, it’s the perfect time for Schottenheimer to show the world just how much money can buy.
5. Sam I Am: Sam Petitto Making Waves in His “Administrative Position”
I warned you this would be another week of UGA-Alabama chatter, right? Well, I’m a woman of my word, so there you go. However, I will end with this little bitty nugget on, not a prospect, a guy who is making some serious use of his Louisiana connections: Sam Petitto
UGA moved Petitto into the Director of Player Personnel position left vacated by Ronnie Letson when he decided to go to Colorado State, along with former UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Petitto held the same position when he was an assistant on the Alabama staff in 2008.
His name may bring question marks to your mind because he’s not an on-field coach, but his deep ties to the state of Louisiana have given UGA some headway with more than a few contacts, to name a few 4-star 2017 commit WR Devonta Smith (Amite, La.), 4-star defensive back Shyheim Carter (Kentwood, La.), and 5-star offensive tackle Willie Allen (New Orleans, La.).
Petitto is the former high school football coach at the school where Smith currently plays and both Allen and Carter have mentioned Petitto as one of the reasons they have remained interested in UGA throughout this process.
UGA has truly embraced a different approach to recruiting since Jeremy Pruitt’s arrival and it’s a difference that really can’t be denied. From the sidelines to the office, everyone is doing their part to make sure some of the best prospects in, and out of, the state make their way to UGA.
Sam Petitto is definitely one of those people and he’s using his time wisely while he’s at UGA.
Kimberley Nash has blogged about UGA Football Recruiting since 2011.