ATHENS — So here it is: The first “Report Card” of the 2016 season and the Kirby Smart era of Georgia football.
This is not an easy undertaking, having to grade the performance of a football team that is, after all, playing a game against itself. But we’ll do the best we can to assess how the Bulldogs performed in this past Saturday’s G-Day Game, which, as everybody knows by now, was attended by a record 93,000 fans.
Of course, the real test for Georgia will come in 137 days when its opens the season in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome against North Carolina in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. But for now, Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage is all we’ve got to go on.
So here’s our grades:
I’m sure a lot of fans would think the Bulldogs deserve an A in this category considering the Black squad rolled up 34 points and the two teams combined for 48. But, as ever, what we saw Saturday has to be put in proper perspective. First, I thought the Georgia coaches did a good job of dictating — or some might say manipulating — the action based on personnel and matchups. First of all, the Bulldogs threw the football a lot more than they will in the regular season, attempting 83 passes between the two teams (compared to 31 rushes). Georgia has injury/depth issues at tailback and passing the ball also reduces the odds of further injury. And while Jacob Eason wowed the capacity crowd by throwing for 244 yards and a touchdown, his work came against a No. 2 defense interspersed with some No. 3 personnel and some walk-ons. Meanwhile, Georgia’s defense played fairly vanilla and did very little in the way of blitzing and/or disguising coverages and generally got results when it did. Sophomore receivers Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley were targeted a lot and passed their tests with flying colors.
A defensive coach by trade, it was not surprising to hear Smart go off on the defense in his postgame remarks and bemoan the fact that 48 points were allowed in the game. He probably would have preferred to see a 9-6 affair or something like that. Probably the most tangible concern coming out of the contest was the Bulldogs’ inability to make many plays on the ball in the air. Aaron Davis did have an interception and 98-yard pick-six, but it was off an extremely ill-advised pass by Greyson Lambert and the return was the result of some lackadaisical open-field tackling further enhanced by the presence of several coaches on the field. Otherwise, there were only six deflections recorded between the two teams, and that’s something that hurt Georgia against good passing teams in 2015. On the positive side of the ledger, Georgia didn’t give up many big plays and made the offense earn everything it got. The red-zone defense was pretty good, which resulted in five field goals being attempted.
SPECIAL TEAMS: I
We have to go with an “Incomplete” grade here because Georgia — understandably — just didn’t do a whole lot of live work in the kicking game. The good news was Rodrigo Blankenship was good on two of the three field goals he attempted, including a 46-yarder through a tough wind. The bad news is there was at least one bad exchange on placement kicks and the kickoffs did not appear particularly deep. Brice Ramsey got off one nice 50-yard punt, but the rest were average to poor. Also, the Bulldogs are expected to be exceptional in the returns game, with Isaiah McKenzie leading the way, and they whistled him down if anybody got close enough to touch his jersey on Saturday. Interesting to note that Terry Godwin and Sony Michel were first on the field for kickoff returns, which tells you Smart and staff aren’t planning on protecting their front-line offensive players on special teams. Michel is actually on the punt-return coverage team as well.
Give the Bulldogs’ coaches credit for creating the situations they wanted and needed to analyze personnel while also providing somewhat of a show for the 93,000 spectators that showed up. I thought the overall organization of the day and crispness of the actual scrimmage was apparent. In fact, both teams were very sharp from an organizational perspective. There was only one penalty called in the entire exercise, and that was a personal foul for a facemask that very easily could have been determined to be inadvertent. Smart said going in that penalties and general undisciplined play was something that he simply was not going to tolerate, and his players, for one outing at least, appeared to have heeded that message and abided by it.
Here at DawgNation, we don’t generally ascribe the plus/minus scale on grading, but if there ever deserved to be a plus applied, it would be here in the area of overall assessment of the event that was G-Day 2016. Smart must be credited not only for creating the whole initiative that was #93KDay, but then with following through to the extent that it was an objective that was overwhelmingly met and even exceeded. The atmosphere was positively electric and the energy and motivation that has been created by the mere presence of Smart was apparent. It will be a long time before Smart gets to validate his appointment by his performance on the field of play against the likes of Auburn, Tennessee and Florida. But he gets high marks for the foresight of creating this bold initiative, the sense of direction for the program it represents and the atmosphere that was created by it on Saturday.