Even after G-Day, Dawgs fans aren’t sure what sort of team we’ll see in the fall.
Let’s dip into my recent Junkyard Mail and see what is on the minds of Blawg readers (some letters have been edited for brevity and readability) …
The tone of a lot of articles lately seems to have some distrust in Mike Bobo’s abilities as the offensive coordinator and concerns expressed about how Bobo might change a successful offense. It seems to me that the offense has to change and would have changed had Todd Monken remained the OC. I don’t see a plug-and-play tight end that is going to be able to replace Darnell Washington for both his blocking and passing contributions. Washington was really a third offensive tackle at times in the running game, and no one else has his size and length, so it seems we are going to have fewer tight ends on the field at the same time next year. This has been hinted at. What does not seem to be talked about is the loss of Kenny McIntosh catching passes out of the backfield. … I don’t see a running back with the sure hands and pass catching abilities on the 2023 offense.
— Roger M. Hoy
You make a good point, Roger; change is a constant in most college football offenses, because the personnel constantly is changing. Whether one of the carryover tight ends from last year steps up, or one of the new ones develops quickly, the Dawgs undoubtedly will miss Washington. And, because Washington won’t be out on the field, Brock Bowers probably is going to draw a lot more double- or triple-coverage. I still expect to see multiple-tight end formations a good bit, though. It’s one of the Dawgs’ stronger units. But, if the G-Day game is any indication (and it’s not always), Georgia will continue to use the tight ends as blockers, receivers (sometimes split out) and H-backs.
Yes, McIntosh will be missed, too. I expect the quarterbacks still will be throwing to the running backs out of the backfield. You couldn’t really get a feel for the current state of Georgia’s tailback corps in the G-Day game, because so many of the backs were out with injuries. But, Daijun Edwards did catch 14 passes last year for 101 yards, so he might become a reliable target. As for the direction under Bobo, as I said last week in my Blawg about G-Day, I don’t anticipate any major changes. The offense run by both the Red and Black teams looked pretty much like last year’s offense under Monken.
Bill, I saw something recently where they were talking about the “most important” positions on a college football team. I figure the quarterback is the most important, of course, and the tailback and left tackle are key, too. What other positions would you consider to be the most crucial, for the Dawgs, especially?
— Bayou Bulldawg
Besides the ones you named, Bayou, I’d say the most important positions are the center on offense, and the cornerbacks and edge rushers on defense, followed by the nose guard and inside linebackers. I’d also add the placekicker to the list. A lot of games are won or lost on kicks — just ask Ohio State.
Bill, I was pleased to see some of the younger players, particularly the early-enrollee freshmen, were among those having good days in the G-Day game. Redshirt-sophomore Mekhi Mews obviously was a standout player, and I’ll bet we see him getting playing time as a receiver and kick returner, but freshman tight end Lawson Luckie also impressed me. Who do you see as a potential breakout star this coming season?
— Len Mathis
I agree with you, Len, about both Mews and Luckie, but the newcomer I see having the biggest impact really is “new” only to Georgia: It’s junior wide receiver Dominic Lovett, a transfer from Missouri. Last year for the Tigers, he played in all 12 games, starting six of them, and finished the regular season leading the team in receptions (56) and receiving yards (846), averaging 15.1 yards per catch, and also finished with 3 receiving touchdowns.
Named the No. 4 overall transfer this year by ESPN, Lovett didn’t get to show much during G-Day, catching 2 passes for 30 yards, but Kirby Smart was effusive in talking about him after the game: “Dom has picked things up nicely,” the head coach said. “Dom’s very intelligent. Dom’s been able to make some plays down the field. I’ve been very pleased with Dom. He’s been matched up on Tykee (Smith) and Bull (Javon Bullard) and Joenel (Aguero) a lot, and he’s made some plays on those guys. I’ve been really proud of what Dom’s been able to pick up.”
Hey Bill, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the transfer portal. I really hate it. Instead of buckling down and living up to their commitments, players these days hit the portal and transfer to a different program if they don’t start soon enough, or don’t get enough playing time to suit their mama and daddy, or don’t get as much NIL money as they think they deserve. Everyone’s a free agent, even the freshmen! I wish we could go back to the old days, where you made a commitment and stuck to it, and if you left, you had to sit out a year.
— Dan Jasper
Sorry, Dan, but those days are gone, and with good reason. Having players locked in at their original school, while their coaches were free to leave whenever they wanted, was unfair. The portal works both ways, and it’s been the salvation of some programs that don’t recruit as well as UGA does.
As Smart said after defensive lineman Bear Alexander decided recently to move on: “You know, that’s the way of the world. It’s who handles it and manages it best. It’s a new climate we’re in. The window will open and, all across the country, there will be guys going in and looking for greener pastures. That’s ultimately the climate we have created, and more power to them.”
Frankly, I think the search for more NIL (name, image and likeness) money probably isn’t the biggest factor when it comes to most players who enter the transfer portal. Even if they don’t start, players want to get enough playing time to have the kind of stats that attract the attention of NFL scouts, and that’s the main reason they leave — in search of playing time.
What do you think? Will Brock Vandagriff stick around, or will he enter the portal before it closes on April 30?
— Franny Lewis
At this point, Franny, indications are that Vandagriff is staying. At least, that’s what various college football news sites have reported, though the QB has made no official announcement at this point.
And, assuming he is staying, I think that’s a wise decision. Smart went out of his way to praise Vandagriff’s effort after the G-Day game, and to make it clear that he was only a quarter of the way to making a decision about the starting QB for the first game.
Also, as the backup QB, you’re only a play away from being the starter if the No. 1 guy gets hurt. Plus, Smart has shown a willingness to let a replacement quarterback remain the starter if he’s getting the job done. He did it when freshman Jake Fromm replaced an injured Jacob Eason (it was Eason who ended up transferring), and he did it again with Stetson Bennett in 2021, after JT Daniels got hurt.
Bill, what do you think of the rules changes just approved for Division I and Division II football that are aimed at shortening the games? The new rules require the clock to keep running after first downs (like in the NFL) except during the final 2 minutes of each half, ban the use of consecutive timeouts by a team, and will carry over a penalty at the end of the first or third quarter to the next quarter, rather than playing an untimed down. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever felt like college games are too long (unless they go into multiple overtimes). What do you say?
— Jimmy Christian
I also haven’t really felt that college football games dragged (unlike some other sports). However, in general, I’m in favor of streamlining games, and I have no problem with these rules changes. I don’t expect they’ll have a major impact on the game, anyway. Now, if we could just limit those numerous TV timeouts, which don’t bother most fans at home (they can get up and go to the bathroom, get a drink or whatever during the break) but do seem interminable when you’re there at the stadium.
One quick thought as far as expectations. Team “chemistry” cannot be recruited; it must evolve. We have had tremendous chemistry the last two years, but it is not guaranteed. A recent example in the SEC is the Alabama 2022 team. They had tremendous talent, but just did not gel.
— Jim Sandifer
You’re right about that, Jim. And, I think that’s probably going to be a key to how far the 2023 Dawgs go. Smart always has preached a team culture of composure, physicality and connection — the love between the players. If this year’s team really is to have a shot at a threepeat, it must be tightknit and support one another, no matter who the starter is at any position.
Also, some of the veteran players need to step up as leaders, to replace folks like Stetson Bennett and Nolan Smith, who were among last year’s vocal leaders. Probable candidates for leadership at this point seem to be center Sedrick Van Pran (who passed up the NFL draft to return for another season), defensive back Javon Bullard (the defensive MVP of the national championship game) and inside linebackers Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon, both of whom were cited by Smith as likely leaders.
Next time: The Blawg cranks up the time machine in search of UGA’s “lost” athletics past.