“My wife paints it. About three days before games. Then I just don’t shower.”
– Mike “Big Dawg” Woods
Or at least that’s what I remember Woods saying when my wife, Gentry Estes and I ran into him at a Tampa outdoor bar, on New Year’s Eve before the 2011 Outback Bowl. Woods was nice, accommodating and, contrary to the public image, very calm. In the above quote he was referring, of course, to the painting of the Bulldog logo on his head. Woods gave us his card: He was available to appear at birthday parties and other events. I don’t know how well that business went for him, but whatever he could make off it, good for him. This is a country where we make something for ourselves when we carve out our identity, and Woods sure did that for himself.
But it was clearly out of love. Woods loved Georgia’s football program, and as you can see by the outpouring of support since his passing was announced, the program and its fans loved him back.
Another little-known fact about Woods: Remember Isaiah Crowell’s famous signing ceremony, when he raised an English Bulldog puppy to announce his decision? It was Woods who procured the puppy the night before. So not only did Woods have a part in one of the more interesting moments in Georgia signing-day history, but he also kept Crowell’s secret for 24 hours. Again, good for him.
Rest in peace, Mr. Woods. Let’s hope you’re reading this mailbag up there, right after you and Mr. Munson catch up and have a Scotch.
Pre-mailbag side note: This week brought a TON of submissions, so apologies to everyone who didn’t make it in. The mailbag will continue into the offseason, so plenty of time. And thanks to everyone for your questions. Now ….
I know it was a “winning” season but how does he describe losing to Vanderbilt, Florida & Georgia Tech as “successful”? If he truly believes that, then that’s concerning.
– Doug Patterson
There’s a few ways of looking at it, but to answer you right off: Yes, it would concerning if Georgia’s coaching staff and administration considered this season to be successful. I don’t think they do. Don’t mistake the good feelings at the end of the bowl game with holding celebrations. It was nice to finish on a good note, but I don’t recall Smart using that word to describe the season in general, and the administration hasn’t said much, but the vibe I definitely get is the same: Work needs to be done.
What you’re seeing right now is optimism around the fan base because of recruiting and the bowl win. But mainly recruiting. A few fans seem to be taking it a bit too far: No statues were built to coaches based on their recruiting classes. It’s how those classes pan out, and even Smart has said several times that development of those recruits is the key.
At times this year, it seemed that Kirby Smart would have his back to the game a coordinating it as a head coach and spending time huddling the defense together, mostly during TV timeouts mind you. But I’m wondering if there is anyone on UGA’s staff who can check this for him or let him know that bigger decisions need to be made at critical times (ex: short kickoff before UT’s Hail Mary)? Thanks and Happy New Year!
That’s an observation others have made, including me, and bears watching as Smart begins his second season. He hasn’t been asked specifically about that, though I did ask him about being hands-on , and another reporter asked him about any gameday adjustments he’s contemplated for himself. In both cases, Smart indicated he was comfortable with his approach.
There is, however, a case to be made for a CEO-type coach, because you observe more, both at practice and in games. The worry for a more hands-on head coach is that you’re over here taking care of a small fire while a big fire is missed elsewhere. The end of the first half at South Carolina springs to mind, when Smart didn’t realize the clock was running until it was too late, and if any other staff members realized it, none alerted Smart.
My personal opinion is it would benefit any head coach to sit back and watch, and pick the right times to intervene. But Smart also has to be himself, and he not only served under the best coach of our time for a decade, but he also grew up the son of a successful high school head coach.
I expect the run game and defense to improve next year, but I am worried about the passing game. Losing Isaiah McKenzie hurts more than most think, do you expect recruited athletes like Mecole Hardman and maybe Deangelo Gibbs to play some receiver next year? With both safties coming back and all of the defensive recruits I can see these guys helping out in offense next year even though Kirby wants them on D in the future.
– Will Pruden
I’ve been on record that the loss of McKenzie could be a key one; Georgia fans discounting what McKenzie did this year and pointing at a few drops are doing so only to make themselves feel better. He was the team’s leading receiver and the best punt returner in school history. He’ll be missed.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be replaced. Hardman is definitely a candidate on the return units, but could be an intriguing candidate on offense as well. The coaches haven’t been asked about the possibility of moving him to receiver, so I’m just voicing my own opinion here, but based on his learning curve at cornerback, and the depth in the secondary, moving him to receiver is something I’d definitely explore. Gibbs, probably not, as his long-term position appears to definitely be safety.
Throughout the course of the season, Georgia has seemed to have the same offensive mentality: Run the ball right down your throats and mix in some play action. That obviously has not worked. We realize this halfway through the game and switch to the spread/pistol (which every player on the offense is better suited for). After we switch we finally get offensive production! (That long running plays drive to finish off TCU was almost exclusively out of the pistol). What I’m wondering is, why don’t we stick with it? Smart and Chaney clearly want to implement the aforementioned style sooner or later, but it doesn’t work with these players. The spread works great, but then the next game we go back to the same ground and pound mentality until about half way through the game. When will the staff realize we need to stick with the spread?
– Warner Bush
And this would be the other thing worth watching as we head into Year 2. Chaney admitted that there was a “contradiction in philosophy” at times between the scheme and what Eason was more comfortable doing. But would I expect Georgia to go all-out spread? It’s hard to see, especially if they feel better about their offensive line, or at least its size, this season.
The question is whether Georgia just didn’t have the personnel for its preferred pro-style offense, or whether the game is just changing too much. Are defensive players too big and fast now? Is it becoming necessary to be more of a spread-out team in order to counter those defenses? That doesn’t necessarily mean Georgia would have to abandon its physical approach, but that it would have to lean more in the other direction. I’ll put that on my list of things to ask Smart this offseason.
What are the chances, after Signing Day, that Jim Chaney decides to “mutually part ways” with Georgia, or take a year off for his health / to be with his family / recharge his batteries? I ask, because most in DawgNation see the unoriginality, stubbornness, and stagnation of the offense and are worried that a intractable coach like Kirby Smart will wait far too long to do something about Chaney, who always makes teams better by leaving them (Arkansas and Pitt, for example).
Also, is there any chance Chip Kelly comes to Athens as a “analyst” like Sark did at Bama, to bide time while he waits for the Tennessee job to come open in December?
Regarding Chaney, I guess you can never rule anything out. Since this is Smart’s first go-around, there isn’t much precedent to indicate his own thinking, though I checked with some Alabama people and they said that such a late coaching change wasn’t something Saban normally did. Yes, it would delay any recruiting ramifications of a coaching change, but the arguments against it are more compelling: The pool of candidates would be much smaller by then, the P.R. hit for not telling recruits, and from a purely football standpoint, your offense would have its fourth offensive coordinator in as many years.
Regarding Kelly, I don’t consider that likely either: Sarkisian had left a college coaching job and had a connection at Alabama in Lane Kiffin. Kelly has been an NFL head coach, albeit a twice-failed one, so would he be filling to come down to the college level just for an off-field role? Biding your time at Alabama, with all its championships, is one thing. But Smart and Georgia would probably need to build up more national credibility to attract such a well-known advisor.
TOKEN BASKETBALL QUESTION!!!
Doesn’t Fox seem stubbornly against playing Tyree Crump? Should UGA fans be disappointed in the basketball season thus far? I understand Fox has built consistently decent teams (and close to High Durhams winning percentage I believe), but the offense has limited balance and runs through JJ and Maten. When one or both are off, UGA seems destined to lose. In a way, it feels like Chaney stubbornly running his system. It’s old, tired, and just good enough to be on the bubble every year. Playing safe to be a bubble team just seems…well, I guess unexciting. Maten for as good as he is seems destined to never win a tournament game similar to KCP and Trey Thompkins. Anyway, great coaches evolve. Are you starting to wonder if Fox can?
– Charles Forrester
Crump may not be the answer by himself. He may have a bright future, but I’ll at least defer to Fox that if Crump were ready to light up the scoreboard now he’d at least be playing a little. But I do remain befuddled as to why he isn’t getting a few minutes.
The offense right now is a struggle because other teams are focusing on Frazier and Maten and Georgia doesn’t have enough to burn them for it. Juwan Parker, Jordan Harris and Turtle Jackson hit some outside shots, but opponents still don’t respect them enough to stay on them: Notice how wide open those guys tend to be when they hit those shots. Derek Ogbeide is a good threat underneath, but he doesn’t go outside and is still a bit raw underneath.
Fox and his staff need to do something different with their half-court offense to get the ball to players – Frazier, Maten or whoever – with a chance to score. Frazier and Maten need help, or else this season won’t go anywhere.
Yes, Georgia fans should be disappointed. This team was expected to be better at this point. That said, there’s still plenty of time to go: Georgia’s RPI rank is 50 as of Thursday, with a schedule strength rank in the teens, so the Bulldogs’ NCAA hopes are by no means over. They’re just going to need to beat somebody good; I don’t think they can go 0-5 in their remaining games against South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky. Steal one or two from them, avoid bad losses, and I think an 11-7 SEC record and win over Texas might be enough.
First, what benefits are lost if a player with a football scholarship replaces that scholarship with a HOPE scholarship? If a player who is eligible for HOPE walks into Smart’s office and says, “Coach, I want to give up my football scholarship so we can extend an offer to X recruit,” what specifically is that player giving up?
– Sam Irvin
Good question, and pertinent considering the Blankenship situation and the overall scholarship crunch. There is a pretty huge difference, as a HOPE scholarship just pays tuition, while a football scholarship also includes room and board, books and now the cost of attendance, which at Georgia is upwards of $2,500 per semester. So yes, those football scholarships are very valuable.
Is Eason a lock to start next year or will he have to beat out incoming 4star?
– John Vaughn, Newnan
Eason is start the opener, or I’ll be shocked. I’m sure Fromm is good, and I’ve started to hear this talk that he could threaten Eason for the job. Maybe he will eventually, but the talk of it happening right away is a product of Eason having played this season, thus showing off his warts for the first time, while Fromm is the shiny new object. The backup quarterback, or the highly-touted quarterback, is always a pretty popular guy. But next year Fromm will be going through the same adjustment that Eason had to this year, while Eason will have that year of experience and will probably be more polished and ready. o
As a fan, I always dreaded the injuries that were sure to come every year for the boys in red and black. This year the injuries really never happened. Is this the difference of a new strength and conditioning coach, harder workload during practice, increased lifting, etc.? Do you see this as an improvement from the new coaching staff?
– Jamie (Asheville, NC Dawg).
The test for this will be next year, in my opinion. This year might have been a fluke, as I can’t remember a team that’s been tis fortunate with injuries. But if next year’s team has similar or even close to it results, then the strength program will deserve a bunch of credit. Under Smart and Scott Sinclair, his strength coach, the players lifted a lot more during the week, and while it probably left a few players exhausted, it also may have prevented injuries.
Who do you look for to break out year next season that did not play this year? Hardman, Holyfield, Manac, Cleveland or … ?
I would have said Manac or Holyfield until the veterans ahead of them opted to return for their senior year. Cleveland, maybe, I think he’ll be in contention for a starting spot. Hardman needs a position, and I have my doubts whether it’ll be cornerback. So I’ll pick another name: Tyrique McGhee. He will be a candidate to start at the star, unless Aaron Davis moves down there and opens a safety spot up for one of the incoming freshmen. And another name: Tyler Simmons, whose skill set could be of more use now with Isaiah McKenzie gone.
I don’t know if there’s any worth to it, but it seems like there’s some concern about Ben Cleveland’s ability to play OL (something about flexibility/athleticism etc.). Given all the talent coming in this year’s recruiting class on the OL, what’s your/the team’s thoughts about moving Cleveland to defensive tackle? I know he played DL in high school, and with his size, that would be a monster in the middle. What do you think?
– Nathan Olive, Gothenburg, Sweden
Hmm, there’s an interesting suggestion. If Georgia needed more help on the defensive line, I’d say it’s worth entertaining. And who knows, with John Atkins set to be a senior, I guess there’s not a natural nose tackle candidate for the long-term. I just haven’t heard any buzz about it being a potential move.
Chances Trent Thompson comes back for his senior year after this one… (thinking slim).
– Brett Mauldin
It’s hard to project too far forward, and over the past few years Georgia has tended to keep most of its players around rather than go pro. (Most, but not all.) Still, next year’s team will definitely have a key group of juniors on defense who will be worth watching: Thompson, Roquan Smith, Natrez Patrick, Jonathan Ledbetter.
Who’s going to play center next season? Also, has anyone with the team called for a blackout on signing day?
– Mitch Pike
Uh, I’ll leave the black-out question for someone else, but the center in all likelihood will be Lamont Gaillard. He got reps at center before games, and if something had happened to Brandon Kublanow, it would’ve been Gaillard moving over to replace him. Dyshon Sims did start getting some center reps near the end of the season, so he could be a possibility too, but Gaillard has been the heir apparent for awhile.
Will Smart and Pittman keep all the returning offensive lineman with six new recruits coming in? Should we expect some to leave for a better chance to play elsewhere or will they try to keep that many happy?
– Sam Crowe
I’m always loathe to publicly speculate on specific players transferring. But I do think it’s fair to say that right now next year’s team has an overload of offensive linemen: The six recruits, plus nine returning scholarship players. Fifteen is a big amount, especially when you face an overall numbers crunch. Maybe some players will leave before spring practice. Maybe some will go through spring practice and then decide where they stand. Maybe some have already seen the writing on the wall and have decided to go, but we just don’t know about it yet. I’ll frankly be surprised if they carry a full 15 scholarship offensive linemen into next season.
Seth, you gave the offense a “D” in Kirby’s first year and I can’t disagree. How would you grade Eason’s improvement/development from game one to game 13?
– Lamar Aultman
I’d give Eason’s overall season a B-minus. The good:: Passing yards, lack of many interceptions and clutch passes. The bad: Completion percentage, sailed too many passes (which is why he didn’t throw so many picks, because he overthrew his own players). The rest was in between: Command of the offense and the huddle was mostly good, but with still some freshman moments. As far as his level of improvement, the coaches say the intangibles (how he handled the playbook and such) did get a bit better, but it’s hard to give an accurate great from afar. Did Eason look light years better in the second half of the season? Not really, but he did look a bit better. And while Eason told me he felt more comfortable doing drops as the season went on, rather than just the shot-gun, I still think that’s something that is very much a work in progress. He can do it, but can he do it as well as he does in the shot-gun? Certainly not yet.
Why did Georgia go to the suit-and-tie gear doing the Dawg walk we loved seeing our Dawgs in full gear walking through the crowd we get amp for this but seeing them come through in dress clothes took away something from the Dawg walk its not as hyped as it used to be.
– Reggie Harris
Not the first time I’ve heard this complaint. It was all about fostering a businesslike approach to the game, and it seems many players did enjoy the Dawg Walk part of it: Sony Michel was among those who made sure to be swagged out, including with a stylish hat. But I suspect many of the players got annoyed having to then change in the team locker room.
AND FINALLY, LET’S PAT ME ON THE BACK
The next mailbag might be a good time to review your preseason over/under predictions. (Your article is linked here.) I believe you went 5-2 against the spread.
– Allan Harvey
Ah, good find. And actually I believe it was 6-1. For those who need to be saved from clicking, here was what Allan asked me to predict, and how it went.
1-Chubb: 1,500 yards this season. I said: Under, but only because Michel and Holyfield are behind him. … Nailed it, with an exception. Chubb finished with 1,130 yards, while Michel had 840, but it was Brian Herrien who also had 363 yards, while Holyfield only had 29.)
2-UGA passing: 2,500 yards. I said: “Over, but I’m not hugely confident about that.” …. Also nailed it, as the final number was 2,515.
3-Leading receiver yards: 600. I said: “Over, Terry Godwin should approach 1,000 yards. … Correct, but Godwin only had 397 yards. It was McKenzie who went over, and barely with 633 yards.
4-TE receptions: 30. I said: “Over.” …. Correct again, as the tight ends had 40 catches, though 29 of those came from one player (Isaac Nauta.)
5-UGA offensive points per game: 30. I said: “Under, not by much.” …. Correct, but it was by a lot: Georgia averaged just 24.5 points per game.
6-UGA defensive points surrendered per game: 17. I said: “Over, but also not by much.” …. Correct, but again it wasn’t as close as I thought: Georgia yielded 24 points per game.
7-UGA wins: 8.5. I said: “Over … not by much.” …. Wrong … but not by much.