“Let’s be honest: When you turn a battleship, you turn it around slow, and it goes like this. It slowly turns. We have a lot of young people out there.”
– Kirby Smart, Sept. 10, 2016
“You sunk my battleship!”
– Mark Richt to Greg McGarity, morning of Nov. 29, 2015
OK, so that may not have been precisely what Richt said that morning. But it’s Smart’s battleship now, and it just barely avoided a major water mine last week. And yet there were still a lot of questions this week about the big picture. Like this one.
I was wondering if it would be fair to judge Smart and his coaching staff (this early in their tenure and in the season) by their ability to produce more out of the current roster in the coming weeks? The backdrop to this question is Richt’s inability to effect any real change, spark any fires, or create a sense of urgency during his final seasons at UGA. Or, in the unfortunate event UGA performs disappointingly, would it be not be accurate to draw any definitive conclusions about this coaching staff? Is a longer time period needed?
– Tony from Augusta
Two games in is too soon to make any grand evaluation, either about the season or a coach. Yes it’s a bad sign. But things were not as good as they seemed after the win over North Carolina; Georgia, after all, was trailing by 10 in the third quarter to a team it was favored to beat in what essentially was a home game. So the good feelings everybody had coming out of that were a bit overboard.
But things aren’t as bad as they seem after barely beating an FCS team. The body language on the sideline is a concern, the dichotomy on display after Tuesday’s practice is weird.
But it’s early. Georgia still is 2-0, and finishing with 10 wins or more will make the Nicholls State near-debacle a blip. Or it might have exposed flaws that will lead to a very disappointing season. I can’t sit here on Sept. 15 and say for sure which it is.
So how’s that for straddling the fence! I’ll try to do better with your next question.
If you were a coach, would you rather have a QB who can throw pretty well and manage the offense very well or a QB that could manage the offense pretty well and throw extremely well?
– Will, Johnson City, TN
This seems like the central question this week, and for once someone is doing the smart thing and asking me what I’d do. Well, happy to oblige.
Until Jacob Eason has a good enough handle on the offense — and judging by what we’ve seen he’s not there yet — I’d play both quarterbacks. Who starts really doesn’t matter as much as how they divvy up the reps, and going on the road the next two weeks, I’d divvy them up almost evenly.
It worked out pretty well two weeks ago when the two split time almost evenly: Greyson Lambert provided good game management, and the running game seemed a tad stronger with him in there. But Eason went in and provided the high-octane passing attack. He was a changeup that gave North Carolina problems. Then came the Nicholls State game, and while it made all the sense in the world to give Eason an extended look, being forced to bring in Lambert with the game in the balance said a lot.
If this week was another home game against a weaker opponent — Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Lafayette — it would make more sense to give Eason another long look, and thus a chance to get the experience he badly needs. But it’s not. It’s a road trip, and so is next week, which is why I’d go back to the way it was in the opener: Start Lambert, then put in Eason for more scripted series – but have that script airing it out.
Nick Saban infamously referenced Pearl Harbor and 9/11 after Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007. What would be a historical parallel to Nicholls’ impressive, yet unsuccessful, efforts against the Dawgs? Would Hannibal’s epic campaign against the Roman Empire be appropriate? Could last Saturday’s game be compared to the Three Mile Island accident? While various failures led to a partial nuclear meltdown, at least a catastrophic failure was averted.
– Shag (Phoenix, Arizona)
Man, I love the history references. Particularly the ones that are longer ago and have less sensitive connotations. I’ll go with the Hannibal reference.
A lot of people made the reference to Alabama’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Saban’s first year, and who knows, maybe it’ll prove to be similar when the story of the Smart era is written. But I don’t think the comparison is accurate, and not just because the outcome of the games was different. Saban took over an Alabama team that only won six games the year before. Georgia won 10 last year. And Louisiana-Monroe was a Division I-A team that had played at Clemson and Texas A&M earlier in the year. Nicholls State is an FCS team (once upon a time referred to Division I-AA) that only won three games last year.
On the other hand, you could flip it to this argument: If you believe Georgia fell flat in big games because Richt was too even keeled all the time — whipping the FCS teams but not beating the big ones — is it a positive that under Smart Georgia overlooked a weak team, because it means it will be more likely to get up for the big games? Or are we stretching things?
First off, let’s give Greyson Lambert some credit where credit is due. He will forever have a spot in my heart and I will remember him as a hero. In my mind his game against South Carolina last year was the final nail in the coffin that made Steve Spurrier go away! . . . Second, do you think that the lack of intensity and lack of focus during the Nicholls game is partly due to Kirby’s decision to start a true freshman in the second game of the season? I feel that it sent the signal to the team that this game wasn’t one that deserved 100 percent effort. What are your thoughts based on what you saw and heard during the week leading up to that game?
– Brian Claxton
That’s an interesting theory. Of course everyone will deny it played a part — some even say it created excitement to start Eason — but it may have, as you say, subconsciously confirmed to at least a few players that this game was in the bag.
The only problem with attributing the near-debacle to Georgia taking it lightly is that it had a couple chances to have an in-game wake-up call – only leading 10-7 at halftime, then Nicholls State rallying in the fourth quarter – and Georgia still struggled to put the game away. That all may have been a product of poor effort in practice in the week leading up to the game … or it could be a sign of deeper flaws.
Why haven’t we seen a specific package for Mecole Hardman on offense? He’s a home run hitter. Also, all we heard in the offseason is how Jim Chaney likes to throw to the tight ends. Not seeing much of it.
– Sam McDaniel
The staff would prefer Hardman spend as much time as possible learning cornerback, which he didn’t play much in high school. And while he could be a potent offensive weapon — and I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a cameo on offense at some point — the Bulldogs already have dynamic, speedy guys in Isaiah McKenzie, Terry Godwin and now Sony Michel. If Hardman were a 6-foot-3 physical blocker, I think the coaches would be glad to use him.
As for the tight ends, I’d give it time. Blazevich should have had a touchdown catch last Saturday but Eason didn’t see him springing free. Isaac Nauta should have had one catch but dropped the Lambert pass against North Carolina. And the tight ends are on the field a lot. The bigger worry is wide receivers not getting enough separation to get open.
Side note No. 1: I hope those didn’t come off like snippy questions, Sam. They’ve actually been on the minds of a lot of fans, and hopefully my answers help. I’m just trying to turn the battleship around here.
Do you think that the lack of blocking by the offensive line and the rest of the offense will contribute to Nick Chubb not winning the Heisman? After week one, I was sure he was going to run all the way to the ceremony in New York. But don’t these players get that by not showing up 100% or taking an opponent lightly they jeopardize not only the game, but this as well? And I realize that there is a lot of competition, but I thought he had a good chance to at least get there. Now, I’m not so sure. Sure, it’s still a young season but the games will only get tougher as we get to the meat of the schedule.
– Melissa Rabb
That’s a pretty good point, Melissa. Chubb still was showing up on the top-5 Heisman lists I saw this week, but there’s only so many 80-yard performances he can absorb before he slips down the list. The good news is the schedule: There’s no Alabama or LSU on the schedule. There is Florida, and Tennessee could be good.
I’ve given up on projecting Georgia players for the Heisman, especially after Todd Gurley in 2014. Something always seems to come up. If November rolls around and Chubb is still in the top 5, then I’ll start looking at hotels in New York.
Side note No. 2: If New York hotels have rates as jacked up as Atlanta hotels did for the Georgia-North Carolina game, then we’re going to be needing a new expense account. Maybe enough to buy a battleship. Yes we’re making forced battleship references now.
Since Kirby Smart has been hired as the head coach at UGA, he has often spoken about players playing “Georgia football” and/or doing things the “Georgia way”; however, it seems to many of us that things are the “Alabama way” instead. An example is the Dawg Walk. Heretofore players came through the Dawg Walk in their jerseys, and fans –young and old alike– could identify most players by their jersey numbers. Saturday Coach Smart had the players wearing coat and tie for the Dawg Walk (a la Alabama’s tradition). Walking through in their jerseys presented the appearance of players ready to play. Walking through in coat and tie presented the appearance of going to a meeting, job interview or church, not a football game. It was also obvious that some of the players did not have a nice dress jacket. One came through wearing a tuxedo jacket and pants that were at least 10 inches too short. My wife and friends felt sorry for him. Has Coach Smart given any explanation as to why he changed the Dawg Walk to imitate Alabama? I know a lot of people, and no one I know likes the change.
– Mike Deal, Alpharetta
This is a case where I don’t really have a response, but am putting this out there for public consumption. I haven’t heard this point made until now, but the part about not being able to recognize players is a good one.
It’s also interesting whenever certain small changes are made by a new coach — I’ve covered coaching changes before — and they’re all great and symbolic at first, but when you hit a rough stretch, they’re more likely to be criticized.
I’m not a coach and have no idea, so that’s why I ask the question, so here goes….. if our offensive line is so maligned, under-sized, ineffective, etc., then why is it we can start a true freshman quarterback, but not play any of the huge freshmen linemen that we have? Solomon Kindley, Ben Cleveland, and Sam Madden are all much bigger than any guy out there now, so if our guys who are playing can’t get the job done, why can’t we put these massive guys in there?
– Scott Miller
This is Sam Pittman’s first year, so he should get the benefit of the doubt, given that he’s not wedded to the returning veterans, but has ended up with very similar personnel evaluations to Rob Sale, his much-maligned one-year predecessor. If anything. Pittman did reach for an inexperienced guy: Lamont Gaillard, a redshirt sophomore who just moved over to the O-line last year. He’s starting now.
Pittman also saw Cleveland (an early enrollee) and Madden and Sage Hardin (redshirt freshman) during spring practice, and opted to bring in Tyler Catalina.
But as for Kindley, it does appear he’s getting a long look at practice. They like his combination of size and athleticism at guard. But if Cleveland or anyone else could help, I’m sure Pittman would be getting them ready.
We are starting 2016’s top rated pocket QB in 5 star Eason. We have a solid commitment in 2017’s 5 star QB, and 460/gm passing freak, Jake Fromm. We are the leading choice for the once UGA commit, 5 star, #1 2018 prospect, Trevor Lawrence. Despite having this wicked strong stable of throwing QB’s lined up 3 deep for the coming 5-6 years, we labor to even get considered by middling receiver talent, let alone actual commitments and matriculation. I’d think the nation’s best receivers would be turning themselves inside out to commit as quickly as possible to have a chance to be part of that battery. What gives? I will also need a movie or music quote from you to give context to your responsive commentary.
– Jimmy Cox, Marietta
You let (him) walk away
Now it just don’t feel the same
Gotta blame it on something
Blame it on the (run)
If Milli Vanilli can lie about who was signing, I can change the lyrics too suit my purposes.
Over the past few years, from Isaiah Crowell to Todd Gurley to Nick Chubb, Georgia has been known for its run game. That’s been used against the Bulldogs in recruiting wide receivers. Sure, go to Georgia, rival coaches say, but you won’t catch as many passes as you will in my high-octane offense. Yes, Alabama and its similar offense had Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Georgia had A.J. Green and Terry Godwin.
But that doesn’t mean Georgia should have been doomed to not recruit well enough at receiver. Tony Ball, the receivers coach until 2014, simply was not a strong recruiter. He did pull in Michael Chigbu, so watch how he develops. Bryan McClendon only had a year on the receiver beat. We’ll see how Georgia does going forward with James Coley, and with the inducement of those highly-regarded quarterbacks.
Could UGA WR’s benefit from a few sessions of help from Hines Ward, mentioned by Terrence Edwards? Ward has said he wants to help.
– Bobby R. (via Twitter)
Of course, but Ward would have to enroll as a student, as Kevin Butler has done, in order to be a student assistant at practice. I would also assume that Coley is teaching it well in practice. The players just have to do it.
The 2017 home slate has no marquee SEC names. Too bad Auburn switched years. Will odd years be like this going forward?
– Will Robinson
Unfortunately, yes, that’s the byproduct of the Auburn switcheroo a few years back. Georgia Tech and Auburn will both be home or road games each year. Florida obviously never comes to Sanford Stadium. So in the years Georgia Tech and Auburn are away games, you just have to depend on luck with the SEC rotation or schedule a major non-conference opponent. Notre Dame comes here in 2019, for what it’s worth. But for my purposes I’m more looking forward to going to South Bend next year, having never been there.
Side note No. 3: In “Rudy,” when Rudy’s father enters Notre Dame Stadium and says “this is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen,” that’s just … really cool.
Thanks for the updates this week on Elijah Holyfield and Hardman. It sounds like the coaches fully intend to play them both ASAP. While it’s too early for redshirt decisions, who do you think are strong candidates this year? Last week we missed a golden opportunity to play a bunch of freshmen with the unexpected close game with Nicholls. Now we hit the meat of the SEC schedule, which doesn’t present itself as a good time to throw them in there to test the water. The opportunities seem to be dwindling unless injuries force the issue.
– Mark in Suwanee
I’m still pretty confident that Holyfield will play. There’s not much reason to redshirt a tailback, as they don’t usually stick around for five years. Even Keith Marshall left with a year left.
Hardman also will play at some point, possibly on Saturday. The players most likely to redshirt are Ben Cleveland, Chris Barnes, Chauncey Manac, Tyler Simmons and Solomon Kindley. I would still say Simmons and Manac are 50-50 to play this year. Kindley is still running second-team left guard, but the longer the season goes on without him playing, the more it would seem a waste to burn his redshirt.
Side note No. 4: While Battleship was a fun board game, wasn’t it played a bit slower and less dramatic than a real battleship fight would be? Think about and get back to me.
Through two games, I don’t believe we have seen a trick play called by Kirby. I’m not saying the right situation has presented itself yet, but is one called this week or are we to wait for the right opportunity maybe against Ole Miss/UT? And, will my hopes of Brice Ramsey coming in as a pooch punter and throwing downfield this season go unfulfilled?
– Charles Forrester
Everybody runs a gadget play at some point. I’m sure Georgia will, and would attribute the lack of one to still getting Eason comfortable in the offense. But as for Ramsey, it’s starting to look bleak, as the more weeks Marshall Long has like last week, the less chance you’ll see Ramsey in a punting situation. He’s not a pooch punter anyway; he’s more of a boomer.
I’ve watched Kirby’s two previous Monday pressers and I wanted to get your thoughts on something. Every other head coach’s press conference I’ve watched, the coach typically spends 3-5 minutes talking about the other team, their key players, praising their coach/scheme, etc. The typical coach talk. They may or may not talk about the previous week’s game, but most everyone I’ve seen gives a pretty good summary of challenges coming up in next week’s game. Kirby seems to address all of this in about 30 seconds and then immediately opens it up to questions. What are your thoughts on this? Does he do this to spend as little time as possible with the media and is this another example of the Saban model we’ve grown accustomed to?
– Will Snipes
I’m actually thankful Smart doesn’t do that. Richt would spend about the first 10 minutes of his Tuesday main presser reading down the opponent’s depth chart, and I’d spend that time updating my fantasy football lineup. When Smart is asked a question about the opponent or one of its players he’s obviously up to date and has something informative to say. But not droning on about them leaves more time to ask the questions we want.
Are you listening to TK Show now that it’s a podcast?
– Josh Hancher
Of course! I’m a proud little, though with football season I still tend to be a few days behind. Much like my television watching: Between work and raising two kids our DVR is pretty clogged up. (Nobody tell me how “The Sopranos” ends, please.)
Apologies to all who couldn’t get their question in this week. Feel free to try again next week or any other week: E-mail me at email@example.com or tweet me at @sethemersonajc … The mailbag runs every Thursday. Thanks!