Opinion: 5 reasons why it’s OK to be optimistic about big UGA offensive improvements
College football fans are pretty familiar with the concept of “talking season” — a phrase made popular by Steve Spurrier that describes the frenzied pace in which hype and hot takes spew during the preseason.
Sometimes it seems the only “talk” that sells during this time of year is happy talk, and for followers of the sport who’ve seen this cycle play out over the years, it’s pretty easy to get cynical about the process.
For instance, just within the last couple of months, Georgia’s new quarterback Jamie Newman, a grad transfer from Wake Forest, has been praised more than one might expect for a guy who was third in the ACC in touchdowns thrown last season (26) while also being tied for second in most interceptions thrown (11).
Then when JT Daniels — the former five-star quarterback from USC — announced he was transferring to the Bulldogs — the hyperbole machine cranked up once again with similar commentary as if the Newman-as-savior narrative never happened.
UGA fans should be forgiven if they’re left feeling dizzy from it all. And worse, they could also be forgiven if they begin to doubt the massive evolution of the Bulldogs offense that’s been touted to them actually occurs.
A quick examination of season preview magazines that are available on newsstands this time of year provides the perfect explanation as to why.
“By hiring Todd Monken as the Bulldogs’ new OC, [UGA coach Kirby] Smart is admitting it’s time to open things up,” says this year’s edition of the Athlon Sports preview.
However, last year Lindy’s magazine said of UGA in its preview that then-new offensive coordinator James Coley “wants to air it out more” and banish what it called “good ol’ conservative play-calling.”
How’d that work out?
The point is UGA fans have heard things like this before.
Yet just because some predictions have failed to come true in the past doesn’t mean the positive projections for the Bulldogs this year are all wrong.
In fact, there are a few reasons why UGA fans should probably embrace a lot of the so-called “happy talk” around this year’s team.
The Bulldogs suddenly have quarterback depth.
Adding Daniels — whose eligibility won’t be determined until the NCAA rules on his waiver request — provides some spice to the Bulldogs’ quarterback situation, but his arrival shouldn’t be taken as a referendum against Newman.
For all the hype that’s accumulated since Newman announced he was transferring to UGA, it’s easy to forget some of the positive evaluations of him actually pre-dated his decision to join the Bulldogs.
If Daniels is eligible this season, how will he and Newman coexist with each other? And how do former four-star recruits D’Wan Mathis and Carson Beck fit into this equation? And what about last year’s backup, Stetson Bennett?
There’s no clear answer to any of those questions, but in the race to find a championship-level quarterback to provide a boost to the Bulldogs’ anemic offense from a season ago, there’s no such thing as too many options.
UGA’s pretty much loaded at the other offensive positions as well.
We’ve grown accustomed to hearing about how much talent Smart has amassed at UGA, and that all that recruiting success is a harbinger of an eventual national championship, and that… just maybe… this is the year.
You’re about to hear it again.
However, what potentially makes this version of UGA’s offense different is how balanced that talent is.
In addition to the tremendous number of elite-level running backs and offensive linemen — which we’ve come to expect from UGA — there’s also more raw wide receiver talent on this roster than maybe at any point in program history.
Rising sophomore George Pickens leads the way after a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl win vs. Baylor — a game in which Pickens hauled in 12 catches, the most for a UGA player in 17 seasons.
However, Pickens is far from the only notable name among the receivers. Another freshman phenom, Dominick Blaylock, despite recovering from a knee injury, has high expectations for the upcoming season.
Demetris Robertson — a former five-star recruit who transferred in 2018 from Cal — is entering his final year in the program and seems exactly like the kind of player new offensive coordinator Todd Monken can find creative ways to use.
Not to mention the five receivers signed as part of the 2020 class.
We’ve long assumed the Bulldogs would run the ball well behind a mammoth offensive line. This year might truly be the year UGA adds the requisite passing game to complete its offensive attack.
UGA may need a better offense to beat Florida again.
If UGA fans have gotten a little skeptical of continuous offseason hype without breaking through to win a national championship, imagine how Florida fans must feel after years worth of the national media’s “lovefest” for Gators coach Dan Mullen.
Mullen is this generation’s version of the metric system. No matter how many times we’re told he’ll soon take over America, thinking minds just roll their eyes.
Yet honesty compels me to admit, Florida has finished in the top 10 in both Mullen’s years as Gators coach, and the Gators have something that’s a bit of a rarity in the SEC in 2020 — a returning starter at quarterback.
The presence of Kyle Trask — who was second in the SEC in passing and third in touchdowns thrown last season — is enough for a lot of analysts to say this is the year the Gators overtake UGA.
I don’t believe that’s true, but the fact that it looms as a legit talking point is probably enough to motivate Smart to make sure his offense is truly firing at full capacity.
And speaking of critics…
Smart can be famously testy with reporters during good times.
After a rough offensive season in 2019 that saw the Bulldogs score 7.1 fewer points per game than in 2018 and resulted in the need to replace Coley as coordinator, the fact that some media members are questioning his willingness — or possibly his capability — to find a higher offensive gear for the upcoming season could also work as a powerful motivator as it offers a chance to tell his critics to shove it.
If offensive change proves hard, UGA’s still expected to have a great defense.
There’s some inherent risk associated with a more aggressive offensive game plan.
It was once said that “only three things can happen when you throw a pass, and two of them are bad.”
Some people say former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes first said that. Others say it was Tennessee’s Robert Neyland, or possibly Texas’ Darrell Royal.
The fact that quote could be attributed to so many coaches proves how common that sentiment once was in bygone decades.
Modern coaches are more likely to understand a little risk isn’t necessarily a bad thing — especially for a team like UGA that might have the country’s best defense. There’s nothing wrong with allowing that unit to clean up a mess every now and then if the offense occasionally goes bust while going for broke.
In fact, the defense might prefer that scenario to the situation it found itself in in 2019 where it often had to be near perfect to preserve a chance at victory.
Either way, the chatter around this season being a breakout year for UGA’s offense might feel like familiar territory, but don’t be too quick to assume it’s wrong.
Given the talent in place, a respected new coordinator in Monken and the need to hold off a rival to the south, this might finally be the year the offensive explosion we’ve all been waiting for finally occurs.