Junkyard Mail: Are UGA’s Smart and Michigan’s Harbaugh strange campmates?

Some UGA fans wonder why Kirby Smart is going satellite camping with Jim Harbaugh. (David Barnes / UGA)

Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh becoming frenemies, fan takeaways from G-Day, improving the spring game, nonconference scheduling and North Campus tailgating restrictions are some of the topics arising from our latest dip into the Junkyard Mail.

Let’s get straight to it …

Jimmy C. writes: Bill, I think I got whiplash watching the turnaround by SEC coaches following the NCAA changing its mind about outlawing coaches working satellite camps at other schools. So, what, we go from Jim Harbaugh of Michigan taking shots at “the Georgia coach” on Twitter to him and Kirby Smart teaming up for a camp? Talk about strange bedfellows! Just wondering, though, what’s in it for Kirby, teaming up with a coach who not only has been antagonistic, but who is looking to poach Peach State football talent?

And Mark Lee writes: Hi, Bill, I was looking at the destinations that Kirby has picked so far for the camps and was wondering why you think he is keeping them in Georgia. Why not hit FL or LSU country? Think maybe he is still playing good defense?

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is going camping with “the Georgia coach.” (Getty Images)

We’ll have to wait until Smart decides to talk about his reasons for teaming up with Michigan’s head coach for a satellite camp, though he had previously said that the contretemps between him and Harbaugh was “so overblown” by the media and that “in the coaching profession we’re a bit more light-hearted about it.” Still, I’d think there were probably a couple of reasons for joining up with the Michigan coach, and they’re named Netori and Justin. The June 2 satellite camp is being organized by the coach at Cedar Grove High School, where two junior offensive linemen, Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer, are verbally committed to UGA. Smart likely wants to reinforce those commitments while fending off any moves by Harbaugh. As the Godfather told Michael Corleone, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

As for Mark’s question, I think as I indicated above, Smart probably is playing “defense,” as you put it, up to a point. But I would expect that, down the road, we’ll see the UGA coach visiting some other states for satellite camps as well.

Sam Priddy writes: Bill, I enjoyed your G-Day column and tend to agree with you about the QB competition. If it is still close between the three contenders in August, Smart ought to go ahead and start Jacob Eason so he has a chance to get his freshman mistakes out of the way early on. But what about the other positions? Did you come away from G-Day feeling better or worse about any of the Dawgs’ units?

And James R. Lambert writes: Look and compare other schools’ end of spring drills. I am a die-hard Georgia fan, but I see a fan base with unreal expectations. We have a defense problem. Alabama manhandled receivers last year. We have to be able to do the same thing in the defensive secondary and D-line. After watching other practices, I think I see a problem looming. It has to do with wanting too much too quick. The only school I see solving this is Alabama, with one heck of an athlete in a dual-threat QB.

To answer Sam first, I was pleasantly surprised by the play of the wide receivers behind Terry Godwin and Isaiah McKenzie. Jayson Stanley and Michael Chigbu looked good and veteran Reggie Davis appears to have upped his game. I think true freshman Riley Ridley is going to be a dangerous weapon, too. Also, while I expected the tight end unit to be deep and talented, I was pleased to see the frequency with which new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had the ball thrown in their direction.

Georgia looks to be rebuilding its defensive front around Trenton Thompson (Jim Hipple / UGA)

At the other end of the spectrum, the kicking game remains something of a mystery (though, if I had to bet, I’d put my money on Rodrigo Blankenship as the placekicker and Brice Ramsey as the punter), the offensive line is unsettled, and the rebuilding defensive front is still very much a work in progress and will have a couple of players suspended for the season opener. Trenton Thompson has looked impressive, but with Elijah Hood providing North Carolina with a potent running attack, Georgia’s front seven is going to have a baptism by fire right from the start.

And, James, I think you’re right. Those fans who expect Smart to automatically better last year’s 10 wins are being pretty unrealistic. Even if Nick Chubb returns from the start of the season and picks up right where he left off, this is still a team with a lot of question marks.

Lebron Brock writes: Bill, My wife and I attended the G-Day game and hope it can be packed out every year. Judging from the recruit response, I think everyone who attended should feel that they have a part in the success of the recruiting class this year. Our experience was not ideal, however. My wife stepped in an unseen hole shortly after we parked our car and broke her foot. She then walked (limped) the mile or more to the stadium. Her slow progress meant we arrived on the south side only 15 minutes before kickoff. All the seats seemed to be taken but we could see some available on the north side so we walked (she limped) around the concourse east end to the north side only to find those seats filled. We stood 3 rows deep on the stairs where we could see only half the field until halftime. Judging from the number in the concourse and on the stairs who could not find a seat I believe there must have been in excess of 100k there. From where I stood I could see a few empty seats scattered around on the other side of the stadium. By then my wife could walk no more and I doubt if I could have found the seats except from the vantage point of the other side of the stadium. This brings me to my point. If tickets were printed with a seat number on it and passed out free to anyone at the gates, everyone could find a seat until all the tickets were gone and then it could be decided if standing room only fans would be allowed in or they could be directed to a location where a TV could be seen. An accurate attendance number could be determined, there would not be empty seats and the experience of the fans would be greatly enhanced.

Wow, Lebron, your wife is some determined Georgia Bulldog! I agree with you that, if they want to continue to push for 93K at every G-Day with free admission, there ought to be a better way of handling the seating arrangements. But, rather than hand out tickets at the gates, which would probably lead to folks camping out overnight instead of standing in line for a couple of hours, I’d prefer to see free tickets be made available in advance online. That way the fans would know they were guaranteed to get into the game and where they’d be sitting, making the trip to Athens less of a crapshoot.

Dave Dawkins writes: Hey, Bill, I bet just like me you’re really getting excited about the Dawgs’ home schedule in 2018, what with UMass and Murray State among the opponents! OK, sarcasm aside, what’s your view of UGA’s nonconference scheduling in football? If the SEC isn’t going to add a ninth conference game, don’t you think teams need to be building up their nonconference home schedules? I mean, if the panel picking the College Football Playoff participants uses anything like basketball’s RPI, the likes of Massachusetts and Murray State aren’t going to look very good!

I wrote something about that almost exactly a year ago, Dave, back when Greg McGarity had announced the future home-and-home series with Notre Dame and this year’s neutral-site game with the Tar Heels. McGarity indicated he was working on adding more big-name nonconference opponents for the future, giving UGA fans a chance to experience home-and-home series with teams that play in “iconic” stadiums. He hinted that a deal with Penn State might be in the offing, as well as Southern Cal or UCLA. But, so far, nothing along those lines has materialized.

Anyway, at the time I asked some Dawgs fans what other marquee opponents they’d like to see Georgia play during the regular season, and Michigan (hello, again, Jim Harbaugh!) was by far the most popular choice, since the two programs last played in 1965. However, McGarity said that a deal with Michigan wasn’t likely because the Wolverines are “tied up” with other schools, including Florida.

Ohio State is another name that comes up a lot with fans, but Georgia and Ohio State had a memorandum of understanding to play in 2020 and 2021, only to have it canceled by Ohio State because of Big 10 scheduling concerns, and McGarity said that was now “off the table.”

Other teams that fans mentioned they’d like to see the Dawgs play included Florida State and Miami (which would be even more interesting now that Mark Richt is there!).

But my own personal preferences remain Georgia and Clemson continuing as at least a once-a-decade series, and I’d love to see the Dawgs play Texas, a game that would be especially helpful in recruiting.

Bruce Henley writes: I’m wondering since Coach Smart is trying to create a new atmosphere and culture for football and get the fans’ support, will there be any changes to the tailgating restrictions on North Campus, Herty Field and the library quad? Since many of the parking lots around the stadium have been removed to make way for new buildings, the tailgating spots have become smaller and smaller while North Campus remains completely empty. … Most all of our SEC rivals have large open areas and embrace tailgating. UGA has the whole North Campus Quad sitting empty on game days. The new administration should free up North Campus on game days to early tailgaters as a show of support to Coach Smart’s efforts to make football Saturdays in Athens electric once again by encouraging fans to come early and stay late. Your thoughts?

I remember what a zoo North Campus became during its latter days as the ground zero for tailgating and the problems that resulted with protecting the historic area, so I’m not sure I’d be in favor of full-on tailgating there. But, I put your question to UGA athletic spokesman Claude Felton, who replied: “At this point in time, we have not heard of any changes to North Campus for this year. So, as of now, looks like the same guidelines.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with those guidelines, which were instituted to “reduce physical damage to North Campus grounds and mitigate behavioral concerns,” tailgaters are not allowed to set up more than five hours before kickoff, and the list of things not allowed includes kegs, generators, TVs, amplified music, grills or cookers of any type and tables longer than 6 feet. You can find all the rules by clicking here.

Dennis the Dawg writes: Bill, I watched the G-Day game on TV and noticed that after Aaron Davis got his interception and returned it for a TD, he was running around on the sideline with a lacrosse stick. What’s up with that?

That’s a new motivational wrinkle Kirby Smart has introduced. He told the Athens Banner-Herald that UGA defenders are being awarded with a lacrosse stick when they take the ball away from the offense. (He was inspired by the way lacrosse defenders whack their opponents’ sticks to cause turnovers.) The mindset of the defense, Smart told the ABH, “is attack the ball, rip the ball, pull it at the ball, bat the ball, intercept the ball. It’s all about the ball. We want the ball, the ball, the ball.”

Hey, whatever works.

Got something you want to discuss or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email me at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

Have trouble finding past entries of the Junkyard Blawg at DawgNation? You can read them here (bookmark this link for future use!).

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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