ATHENS – Brian Schottenheimer was leaning back in his chair, against a corner wall, when he heard someone leaning in over his left shoulder. It was Mark Richt, beaming.
“Iowa-Indiana. 59 to 30 mike,” Richt said. “To the house. House call.”
He had apparently been watching the start of a Big Ten game, when Iowa got a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game.
“Your favorite play,” Schottenheimer said. “Your favorite play in football.”
Richt walked away, letting Schottenheimer continue his postgame interviews.
“A lead draw play. He gives me a hard time, I don’t call it enough,” Schottenheimer said, smiling. “That was a shot at me right there, by the way.”
Schottenheimer was kidding about that one, but the first-year Georgia offensive coordinator has been taking plenty of shots from fans and media. For one day, at least, he and Richt could have some fun, as Georgia beat Kentucky 27-3 behind the kind of offensive day they envisioned before the season: A dominant run game (300 yards) supplemented by a mistake free passing game (only 90 yards, but zero interceptions.)
The opponent also helped. Kentucky entered the game ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense. Three of Georgia’s past four opponents (Alabama, Missouri and Florida) are the SEC’s best three defenses, statistically.
Next week’s opponent, Auburn, entered the weekend ranked dead last in the SEC in total defense. So the Bulldogs have a chance to keep improving their own offensive stat rankings; they were eighth in the SEC in total before Saturday, and Schottenheimer’s playcalling and handling of the quarterabcks had come under withering criticism.
Schottenheimer is used to it, having spent six years as a play-caller in the New York media market, guiding the New York Jets market. And St. Louis isn’t a small market either.
He was asked Saturday how he’d absorbed the criticism and whether he’s done much looking in the mirror this season.
“Oh absolutely,” Schottenheimer said. “You know, criticism comes with the job. I get that. I’ve been doing this long enough. New York obviously is a huge media market. I think what’s different now obviously is all the social media and stuff. I don’t really do much with that. But it’s part of the job.”
The knock on Schottenheimer in the pros was predictability and being slow to adapt. And indeed Saturday’s somewhat funky offense – running out of the Wildcat on about one out of four plays – happened in the ninth game of the season. The Wildcat had been in place for two weeks, Schottenheimer said. This was the first game they just “felt great” about using it because of the timing that’s necessary for it to work.
The Bulldogs also tinkered with their offensive line, giving a sophomore (Dyshon Sims) his first career start at right guard, and moving everyone else except center Brandon Kublanow to a new spot. Sims was replaced in the second quarter by Greg Pyke, so the same five ended up back in there for most of the game, though three of them at different spots.
Kolton Houston, who went from right tackle to left guard and then back to right tackle, said the shuffling didn’t make a difference. It was more of a “mindset issue” prior to this week.
“I think we got so caught up in the moment. We weren’t really able to be who we are,” Houston said. “We’re focusing on the championship, focusing on all the outside stuff. And with that being gone, I think we were able to live in the moment, play in the game, have a good time. That’s when you do really good at football. That’s when it shows. Today we were all playing with a lot of energy.”
There might have been another more subtle change with the offense. Richt seemed more engaged than usual, standing about 10-to-15 paces from Schottenheimer throughout the game while the offense was on the field. Richt had a play sheet with him, but he’s done that in the past too.
Still, Richt’s kidding “shot” at Schottenheimer may have been to show who is still running the offense. And who, at least for one day, got credit for it, rather than blame.
“We came in and talked to the staff on Sunday and I said, Hey we need to make some changes. To repeat what we’ve been doing over the last two weeks wasn’t working,” Schottenheimer said. “So we kind of put our heads together. I’m proud of them. We brainstormed some stuff, we put a plan together. And most importantly these young men went in and executed.”