The nonconference preliminaries are out of the way, with the 3-0 Georgia Bulldogs looking better than their 2016 selves, but still very much a work in progress.
Now comes the hard part: continuing to improve as the level of opponent goes up several notches.
The Bulldogs’ game against an overmatched FCS opponent is of interest here mainly in what, if anything, it can tell us about the 2017 Dawgs as they prepare to enter conference play against a surprisingly impressive Mississippi State, which knocked off LSU on Saturday.
The Samford game was a good outing for the Dawgs, but as Kirby Smart told Chuck Dowdle of the Bulldog Radio Network afterward: “We’ve certainly got a lot more improvement to do,” citing the need to be able to throw the ball downfield a lot better as a high priority.
There was improvement Saturday in some of the areas of concern coming out of the close win over Notre Dame. The Dawgs were penalized only 3 times for 25 yards, compared with 12 times for 127 a week earlier. The running game looked better, even with a banged-up Sony Michel sitting the game out. The bench basically was emptied for the tailback corps.
Also on the plus side, Georgia really didn’t suffer a mental drop-off from the Notre Dame game, perhaps because that win appeared to have energized the fan base, which filled just about all the seats at Sanford Stadium and provided vocal support — much more so than you usually hear at a cupcake game.
Still, while Georgia did score 42 points, the quality of opponent has to be taken into account. Smart expressed frustration with some of the lost-yardage plays, and the offensive line remained inconsistent, allowing a couple of short-yardage plays to get stuffed, including Chubb being stopped on fourth-and-1 during the first drive of the game.
The previously-anemic passing game also was a little better, with freshman QB Jake Fromm completing 8 of 13 attempts for 165 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he still overthrew occasionally, and the receiving corps was plagued by egregious drops. Also, Fromm had a few more freshman moments, including a fumble. As Smart told Dowdle: “He makes good decisions most of the time.”
Among the highlights, though, was Fromm connecting with junior Terry Godwin on a pretty 51‐yard scoring bomb, a career long for both of them. Godwin finished with 4 catches for a career-high 98 yards.
The defense continued to be impressive, though it lost focus a bit in the second quarter on a 75-yard Samford scoring drive, and the thin secondary continues to be a concern. Also, the Dawgs can’t seem to buy a pick, with at least two likely interceptions bouncing off their hands. However, the front seven once again ably handled a dangerous quarterback.
Jim Chaney continued calling runs up the middle, where the holes still didn’t open up, but I liked the fact that the backs showed more of an inclination to bounce those plays outside. On his 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Chubb started up the middle, saw no opening, and then swung it outside to break free. He did that again on another scoring run.
Chubb mostly looked like his old self on 16 carries for 131 yards (8.2 yard average) and two TDs.
Freshman back D’Andre Swift again was impressive, tallying 54 yards on 9 carries, and making a nifty spin move on an 11-yard run for Georgia’s final touchdown late in the third quarter. He also had a 10-yard catch.
Brian Herrien (45 yards), Elijah Holyfield (28 yards) and Prather Hudson (15 yards) also got their chance to carry the ball.
Aside from the blocked field goal, special teams play was highlighted by Rod Blankenship booming all seven of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Overall, at this early point in the season, the defense looks good enough to win the SEC East (especially considering how Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina looked Saturday), but the offense isn’t quite there yet.
I know there are some of you who think that, because I’m a fan blogger, I should be relentlessly rah-rah and talk about only the positives. I’m as ardent a Dawgs fan as anyone, but I can’t help taking a more realistic approach. It’s what I’ve always done in the Blawg.
And, the fact is, we still don’t really know how good this Georgia team is overall, with only Notre Dame counting as a “quality” win, and even then we’re not sure how good the Irish are. They looked a lot better Saturday against Boston College, running up the kind of big numbers they failed to get against the Dawgs. But BC isn’t exactly a top-drawer program right now.
Meanwhile, the Maroon Bulldogs from Mississippi come into Athens looking a lot more dangerous than was expected in the preseason, particularly with dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald currently looking like the conference’s best.
Then comes Tennessee. And, while the Vols have looked pretty ordinary so far, playing in Knoxville is never easy.
Suffice it to say, two weeks from now we’ll have a better idea whether this pack of Georgia Bulldogs could turn into a great team.
WHERE THE BIG DAWG EATS
Fall brings lots of visitors from metro Atlanta and elsewhere to Athens, whether for Dawgs football games, or parents checking in with their kids attending UGA. Usually, in both cases, at least one meal in the Classic City is involved.
But, many out-of-towners aren’t aware that Athens has a pretty diverse dining scene, with a lot of interesting spots they might not have heard about.
I wrote a column for the AJC providing tips on favorite Athens spots (avoiding the familiar chains) as well as favorite dishes from some longtime Athenians and frequent visitors to the city.
In researching the column, I thought it would be fun to include Kirby Smart and Mark Fox’s favorite spots, but the UGA Athletic Association advised me that their teams work with many different restaurants in catering, so they wouldn’t want to “endorse” one publicly.
However, I had better luck with retired football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, whose daughter, Deanna, passed along his preferences. Dooley’s culinary choices are as fundamental as his football, opting for home or a chain spot. He said his favorite place in Athens to eat is “Barbara’s kitchen.” But, when his wife is out of town, Deanna said, her dad “loves the filet and lobster at Longhorn. He says it is always consistent and delicious!!!”
I did manage to get Matt Stinchcomb, SEC Network football analyst and former Dawgs and NFL player, to share his Athens dining favorites. Said Matt: “I go to ADD Drug’s lunch counter every chance I get. Old school and it’s all good. I go egg salad and/or (more often “and” than or) pimento cheese sandwiches with fries and a shake.”
Stinchcomb also likes Home.made on Baxter Street. His favorites there are the Mayberry chicken biscuit sandwich, which “is a two-hander and a must-have. Also the candied pecans to get loose as a starter.”
He also likes Strickland’s for breakfast (“Gotta keep those cardiologists on their toes”) and, adds that the Last Resort Grill is “always good.”
The Athens spots featured in the column include Mama’s Boy, Clocked!, Last Resort Grill, South Kitchen + Bar, DePalma’s, Pulaski Heights BBQ, Mama Jewel’s Kitchen, Marker 7 Coastal Grill, The Royal Peasant and Food for the Soul.
But, it’s by no means a comprehensive listing of good places to dine in Athens. There are a lot of other spots worth checking out.
Most of these places are pretty affordable, though a few are, as my daughter Olivia put it, where UGA students go when family is visiting, “so their parents can pay for it.”
Now, that’s college-town dining at its best!