“Ready to run. On my way in here I heard that song, ‘Ready to Run.’ That’s gotta be us. We’ve got to be ready to run the ball if we’re going to be successful here.”
– Steve Spurrier, July 2009
South Carolina finished dead last in the SEC in rushing that season. But that quote stuck with me because, well, it was Steve Spurrier citing the Dixie Chicks, and why would that not stick with you years later?
But obviously the word “run” it’s on the front of everyone’s minds now, at least everyone probably reading this site, because Georgia suddenly can’t run the ball, despite having one of the best tailbacks in the country. So there were a bunch of questions about that – and yes, the kicking game – but we’ll start with the run:
How much of the run game issue is scheme vs. line talent/effort? Will they adjust for Ole Miss?
– Dale Hokrein
Effort wasn’t the issue, not after the line was called out endlessly following the Nicholls State game. And that ultimately may be the most discouraging thing for Georgia: If the line was playing at its best, and still struggled to run block Missouri, that’s a bad sign going forward. I do think the play calls played a bit of a role. But ultimately on the line here’s what you have: A left tackle still getting acclimated to high-level college football, a right tackle who is probably better suited for guard, a right guard rotation that has struggled thus far, leaving Isaiah Wynn and Brandon Kublanow, who are playing solid, though not great.
Would it be an easy fix to move Pyke back to right guard, and switch Catalina to right tackle and Wynn to left tackle? Maybe, but Smart did indicate they’ve tried those combinations in practice. They feel the five they’ve got are the way to go, for now.
Has anyone asked Jim Chaney/Smart about how offensive formations gave away whether a run or pass was coming?
– Chad Peltier
Well, we can’t ask Chaney, and no it hasn’t come up with Smart. After writing about it in the second glance Monday, I’ve had more time to think about it, read some other colleague’s analysis, and talk to a few more people. A lot of it, I now think, sprung out of Jacob Eason being more comfortable in the shotgun. He’s going to have to get more comfortable taking a two- or three-step drop and then throwing. And as quick as he’s learned so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see that a lot more on Saturday.
Side note No. 1: Other songs in the running to lead off this mailbag: “Run to You” by Bryan Adams, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, and “Running Into a Wall” by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the latter being an unreleased work.
No real question here but just an interesting stat regarding the rushing effort against Mizzou. This year’s game saw: 38 carries for 101 yards for a 2.7 yard average. The 2015 rushing stats were: 45 carries for 120 yards for a ……. 2.7 yard average. Maybe Missouri is just good at run defense? 🙂
– Jason Woolf
Ha, good find, Jason. Missouri definitely deserves respect for its defensive line play through the years, and it looks pretty stout again. But it wasn’t Georgia’s first game: It struggled to run against Nicholls State, and had trouble in some short-yardage situations against North Carolina. Maybe Georgia’s line will turn it around starting Saturday, but the first three games have been pretty rough up front.
Is this the week that the running game gets better? We still haven’t seen a game where both the passing game and the running game are successful.
– Rafael Cruz (I’m 18 so I can’t possibly be Ted Cruz’s father and I had nothing to do with the JFK assassination I promise)
First off, thanks for the clarification. I’ve passed it on too both the Trump campaign and Oliver Stone’s personal assistant.
We’re about to see what happens this week when you have two struggling units face each other: Ole Miss’ run defense vs. Georgia’s run blocking. The Rebels have given up 242.3 rushing yards over three games – granted against Florida State and Alabama, who aren’t too shabby running the ball, and Wofford, which is a triple-option team. So that would appear to say Ole Miss isn’t as bad as its numbers – but Georgia still has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
And now, having solved all of Georgia’s running game problems, let’s move on to the other major thing.
To some degree at least, Smart has no one to thank but himself for the underperformance of his kickers so far this young season, and it’s about time that the Bulldog Nation see this situation for what it is: two key players that have been publicly doubted and demoralized by their new coach from the get-go.
What kind of message does a coach send to his players by telling the media that he is “scared to death” about their position on the team before a single practice has been held? Adding insult to injury, Kirby Smart also lamented back in February that he and his staff “really [didn’t] know exactly what we’ve got” regarding the opening left by the departure of senior Marshall Morgan. In fact, the Bulldogs already had an All-American on their roster in Rodrigo Blankenship (ranked 7th nationally, class of 2015), who was recruited as a preferred walk-on by former head coach Mark Richt. More recently, when discussing place kickers after the UNC game, Smart sarcastically asked a reporter, “you know anybody?” Aside from being just plain unprofessional, making such statements in public can do nothing but hurt these players mentally and emotionally, and reveals Smart’s lack of faith in and support for two guys who were surely struggling enough after both had less-than-mediocre outings in that game. If, as he said after this Saturday’s game, Smart “like[s] both of those kids,” it’s strange that he sends the exact opposite message to them through his harsh words to the media, his inconsistent platooning strategy, and even by implying that he is ready to hand the job – and perhaps a coveted scholarship – over to a transfer or even a new recruit at any moment.
– Michael Turner, Peachtree City
That’s an interesting point that I haven’t seen raised elsewhere. Thus – as I will do time to time in this mailbag – I’ll print it for public consumption and debate, whether or not I agree with it.
Smart hasn’t been asked whether he regrets those comments, but my guess is his answer would look something like this: Kicking is a pressure situation, and if your coach puts a little public pressure on you to perform, then you should perform, or it’s a bad sign. But it’s also possible that Smart – who isn’t afraid to call out his players in the media – misjudged whether it was right to do so with kickers. Maybe he does regret it. Maybe it hasn’t even occurred to him. I don’t know.
What I do know: Smart hopes Ham or Blankenship makes all his tries on Saturday and it ceases to be a question.
Last year in a column, you wrote that Brice Ramsey’s high school coach commented that he was better kicker than punter. The coaches should see what Brice could do in handling the kickoff duties.
– Tom Jackson
Yup, he did indeed say that, and I wonder whether it hasn’t at least been tossed around as a possibility. Ramsey was working with the specialists during Wednesday’s media viewing period of practice, so you never know. But I saw Ham and Blankenship place-kicking, not Ramsey or anyone else. For whatever reason last year when I asked Ramsey about it, he said he had only worked as a punter, not a kicker.
Let’s not bury Ham and Blankenship quite yet, but here’s another missed candidate: Remember Patrick Beless, who replaced Marshall Morgan the first two games of the 2013 season after the boating arrest and suspension? Beless made all his field goals and extra points, then sat behind Morgan the next three years. Beless was on last year’s team – he made a couple extra points and missed a long field goal try – and Mark Richt at one point asked Beless if he had any eligibility left, and when Beless told him he didn’t, Richt was disappointed.
Will Blankenship kick extra points/field goals this week?
– Brandon Roach
If a change is being made, it hasn’t been announced (or leaked) as of Thursday morning. However, I’m pretty confident that if Ham is still the first place-kicker out there, he better do well or else you’ll see Blankenship very quickly. There was a good chance Blankenship was going to get the next field goal chance at Missouri, there just wasn’t one.
Side note No. 2: We looked for some songs about kicking, but there weren’t any good choices. But you should do yourself a favor and listen to the Ray LaMontange song “Hold You In My Arms.” That’s not related to anything in this mailbag or Georgia football. It’s just a good song.
Is EJ Price looking at UGA?
– James Colvin
Price, for those unaware, is the freshman offensive lineman who it was announced this week is looking at other schools, and since he’s from Georgia and was committed to the Bulldogs at one point, it’s natural to assume he’ll be looking at them again. The question here is whether the interest will still be mutual. I normally defer to esteemed colleague Jeff Sentell on recruiting matters, but since this is a transfer, I’ll just say this: There are some red flags here, the major one being leaving his team this early in the season. My sense as of now is he will not end up at Georgia, but I wouldn’t rule it out yet either.
Seth, with the Dawgs recent o-line struggles, inability to pressure/sack the qb & utter incompetence on Special teams, it is a borderline miracle the Dawgs are 3-0. Obviously, Ole Miss is going to be a tough game to win. But, after this week Georgia should be favored in most matchups. Can you see the Dawgs going 11-1 in Kirby’s 1st year (a la Muschamp’s second year at Florida). Yes, I don’t like that comparison either.
– Caleb Paul
Yes, I can see it. Both going 11-1, and the Muschamp comparison overall. We don’t know whether Smart will be like Jimbo Fisher and Jim McElwain, or Muschamp and Derek Dooley.
But as for this season, I look at it two ways: Either Georgia is very lucky to be 3-0, as you pointed out, and if they play the rest of the season the same way, it’ll only win seven or eight games. (Losses to Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and one or two surprises.) But if the Bulldogs improve enough, the schedule is manageable enough that … well let’s put it this way: Is there a game between now and the end of the season that they absolutely can’t win? Nope.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been as plugged-in to all the excellent UGA football reporting out there this year as I have in the past, so this may be a dumb question based on a small sample size. But I’ve noticed a few times where Kirby has referred to the defense as “us” or talked about an offensive issue as something “Jim” is dealing with. Obviously, Kirby is fundamentally a defensive coach, but do you get any sense that he is focusing a lot more on that side of the ball and sort of letting the offense be autonomous? (Sort of the Paul Johnson approach, but in reverse?) Or am I reading too much into a couple quotes?
– Noah from Virginia
It’s funny, I hadn’t noticed specifically what you’re referring to in Smart’s quotes, but I think you’re onto something in the larger sense. I’ve observed it at practice and at games: Smart is very hands-on, but mainly with the defense.
During the preseason, Smart seemed to move more evenly between the offense and defense. A big part of that may have been to observe the quarterbacks. But since the season has started he’s seemed to always be with the defense during the media viewing period. And he’s intimately involved, as I mentioned in the practice report: Smart, holding the call sheet, was literally lining up scout teamers.
I’ve also noticed as have some others, that during games Smart spends a lot of times on the sideline with the defense. Mel Tucker, meanwhile, seems to take a lower profile.
Side note No. 3: If folk-rock isn’t your thing and you don’t like Ray LaMontange, or have trouble spelling his name, listen to Geto Boys “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” It’s the best rap song ever written. There is no arguing this point, or saying it’s a matter of taste. It’s fact.
Anyway, back to football.
I’ve seen the Ole Miss defense become quite tired in two of their three games so far. It would seem that a physical, clock-controlling offense might be needed by the Dawgs in order to stand a competitive chance against a very good team, playing at home, with its back against the wall by way of a 1-2 start. Do you think Eason’s (and Chaney’s) passing attack will prevent the Rebels from simply stacking the box and neutralizing the ground game, or will they lean on their secondary and challenge Eason to throw the ball? Or does it even matter, though, since Smart and Chaney have shown a propensity to adapt offensive schemes during the game?
-Tony from Augusta
Actually, it presents a quandary for Ole Miss’ defensive plan, because other teams, including Missouri, have stacked the box, allowing them to shut down the run game. Do you keep doing that, and let Eason burn you a few times in the name of not letting Chubb and Michel take over? I would do that if I were Ole Miss, which has to figure that with Chad Kelly and company it can win a shooting match. Where things turn in Georgia’s favor is if Georgia controls time of possession, keeping Kelly, Evan Engram and company off the field.
Totally serious – if the spread is so scary and unstoppable, why doesn’t everybody do it? Why go “pro style?”
– Jonathan Lewis
It’s why a lot of teams are doing it. But there’s still a reason teams like Georgia, Alabama and Florida State are holdouts: Because it still works for them. And the reason it does is because those programs can recruit great running backs, and they at least should be able to also recruit big, athletic offensive linemen. There aren’t a lot of great tailbacks to go around, which is why other programs tend to go to the spread, and why still others (like Georgia Tech) stick to the triple option. It’s the great equalizer.
There’s also an offense-defense part to it. A lot of coaches believe, quite rightly, that time of possession and wearing down a defense with the run game are key. The spread is great when it puts up points, but when it doesn’t that leads to a lot of short drives, and can hang your defense out to dry.
90 degrees at kickoff in Oxford on Saturday, does that help the Dawgs?
– Rex Shoemaker
I would tend to think it’s a wash. Maybe Georgia is a little better off having practiced through the heat since August, thanks to the lack of an indoor facility. But it could also hurt Georgia’s defense if it has to keep going up tempo all game, which it isn’t as used to doing, while the Rebels are.
I do not remember seeing Charlie Woerner at Missouri. You?
– Jeff Isenberg
He was there, and he played, lining up at receiver on some plays, as I thought might happen. (But not as much as I suggested.) Woerner just didn’t have many passes thrown his way. The tight ends have now accounted for just seven catches this season – with the freshmen having five of them.
That’s another area of upside to this offense: The more Eason gets comfortable checking down, the more he might find those tight ends open to move the chains, rather than just chucking an incompletion out of bounds.
Any idea regarding the lack of touches for Terry Godwin? Has McKenzie supplanted him as the #1 WR option or is something else fans aren’t seeing in-game?
McKenzie is the clear No. 1 right now, which I have to admit is a surprise. I criticized Brian Schottenheimer for not getting him involved more, but Chaney has gone beyond what I anticipated, in that McKenzie is running real receiver routes, rather than just low-percentage passes aimed at putting him in space. McKenzie hasn’t caught a single screen, unless I’m forgetting. He’s running and getting open – which by the way is another credit to the O-line, which is giving Eason enough pass protection on most plays.
Godwin did at least become more involved at Missouri, catching four passes for 68 yards. Those were season highs, it was just overshadowed by McKenzie’s big night. The problem for Godwin is that with McKenzie playing so well, it’s hard to get both on the field, because they’re smaller guys who won’t be as strong run blocking, and thus if a defense sees them out there on first or second down then they can safely assume it’s a pass play coming or a run up the middle.
Still, Godwin is Georgia’s second-leading receiver right now, also has a couple runs and has lined up at quarterback on a few plays. Let’s not act like he’s hardly playing.
It seems like Mizzou has multiple plays where the receivers on one side of the field don’t even bother running routes. Is that for real? Do they just assume the progression will never make its way over there, so why even try? (feel free to skip this one if you want, the next one is what’s really got me hot!)
– Nathan Olive, Gothenburg, Sweden (yes, seriously)
Yes, I noticed that too! Not during the game, but on re-watching the next night. I didn’t put it in the At Second Glance, but I should have. It was the weirdest thing to watch, because it kept happening, and wasn’t any isolated incident. It’s probably a result of Missouri’s quick-passing attack: The receivers decide not to waste energy when they know the quick pass isn’t going to their side of the field. Doesn’t seem a wise strategy to me, but hey, all I’m doing is sitting on my butt up in the press box.
Watched the last play from Mizzou. Looked like everyone was going to the end zone. Why no short routes for the 1st down? Seemed very risky.
– Joseph Stoffa
Sure, but it worked out. And I was watching Eason the whole time, he was going to McKenzie the whole time, once he saw Missouri wasn’t putting a safety back. That appeared to be the strategy, to spread the defense back and leave McKenzie in one-on-one. Of course I’m just going on McKenzie’s word. We’re not able to talk to Eason or Jim Chaney to get their view on the play.
Side note No. 4: Let’s throw everybody off and take a basketball question!
Seth- switching gears from football- thoughts on the recruiting struggles so far in hoops and what will be staffs options moving forward ?
– George Wese, Memphis, Tenn.
It’s true that as of now Georgia has no commitments for next year’s class, with the fall signing period approaching, and not the favorite to sign anyone major. From what I can tell, forward-center Nicolas Claxton, son of former Georgia center Charles Claxton, could end up signing. He’s long and tall with some outside skills, and has drawn interest from some big programs. Georgia is also in the mix for Jamir Moultrie, a point guard, and J.J. Chandler, another point guard. The Bulldogs are also trying for a few high-profile guys, Wendell Carter Jr. and Garrison Brooks.
Yes, history would say not to count on Georgia getting one of those high-profile guys. History would also say to count on most of those mid-tier and lower-tier guys proving to be pretty good for Georgia. This year’s team will be led by Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier, two guys who weren’t top 100 prospects.
Side note No. 5: Regarding the previous side note, it’s true that it technically wasn’t a side note, it was an introductory to the next question. We were just hoping to slip that through. Along with our use of the third person.
Now, on to things people REALLY love, which is reporters talking about media access!
Are coaches contractually obligated to meet with the media? Some seem to dislike it!! Some seem to use it to motivate there team.
– Mark Crosby
Actually, there is a media requirement in not only Kirby Smart’s contract, but Jim Chaney and Mel Tucker’s. But the definition of that isn’t outlined, and frankly no one’s every pushed the point.
No matter how he may appear to hate it, Smart wants to do media – if for no other than somebody has to. If “one voice, one message” is the mantra, then somebody has to be the voice. It’s important for recruiting and marketing.
I’ll now use this to go on my own diatribe.
The idea of keeping freshman away from the media is an outdated, considering the vast majority of these guys arrive in college having done plenty of interviews during the recruiting process, or about their own high school team. Eason did probably dozens before he got to Athens, then met the media on signing day, and did just fine. Maybe you keep certain players away from the media if they grew up in a small town and weren’t highly-recruited, and are thus inexperienced in dealing with the media. But the vast majority of freshman football players at Georgia are very experienced in it, especially Eason.
It’s also a false assumption that reporters are looking for bulletin-board material. We just want good stories to write, positive or not. I loved talking to Lorenzo Carter about his love for the cello, for instance. Those kinds of stories are increasingly rare. And I’d love to get Brian Herrien’s story, or talk to David Marshall about what it’s like to be a freshman making an impact.
But when players do go “off script” it isn’t necessary bad. Shawn Williams went off in 2012 before the Florida game, and it proved to be just what the team needed. It may have saved the season.
Seth, Aaron Murray used to take his O-line out for ice cream for every game that he wasn’t sacked. Is the issue of offensive line performance a consequence of Eason’s unwillingness to treat his big men to a little Dairy Queen? Perhaps they said, “no ice cream, no blocking.” And could anyone really blame them?
– William Morris
Greyson Lambert took the line for ice cream last year after no-sack game. The way this year is going, the downtown Ben and Jerry’s is going to go out of business. That would be a shame, so I’m going to go throw some business their way. My sacrifice for Athens. You’re welcome.