ATHENS – It’s Friday evening, the night before Georgia’s first game of the season. That means I have a lot of leftover stuff that’s not going to do me a bit of good after the Bulldogs kick off against Appalachian State.
So I’m introducing a new feature. Let’s call it, “Cleaning Out the Ol’ Notebook.” Or, to be more accurate, “Erasing the Tape Recorder.” How about “Final Musings?”
Ah, never mind that. Here’s a few things I never got around to sharing with you:
You know what’s interesting? Here we are arriving at the first game of the season and I’d say that Nick Chubb, arguably Georgia’s best player, comes in under the radar. We really haven’t heard all that much from or about the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher of all time.
I see that as a good thing. This time last year, there were all kinds of questions about how Chubb might perform less than a year removed from major knee reconstruction. Nobody could be sure then, even Chubb.
As it turned out, he looked great. Well, at least for one week. After rushing for 222 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia’s season-opening win over North Carolina, Chubb wouldn’t log another 100-yard output for five games and then only four more for the year.
It certainly wasn’t a bad season by any stretch. Chubb ended up with 1,130 yards and 9 touchdowns. But it was far from what we had been accustomed to seeing from the Human Wrecking Ball from Cedartown. Of course, his efforts weren’t helped by a balky offensive line and an early high-ankle sprain.
And that – Chubb and the running game – makes for more than a little intrigue for me as we head into this opener. The objective is for Georgia’s line to be better in a season it’s replacing three starters from last year and has all five starters playing at new positions. That’s a pretty lofty request.
But I can say this: I’ve seen enough of Chubb in camp and scrimmages to say he looks way more like the runner we saw as a freshman and sophomore than as a junior. He’s definitely coming into the season in a better state of mind.
“Yeah, a lot of the load is off of me not having to worry about that,” Chubb said of his left knee, which has been unencumbered by brace or sleeve all summer. “It’s in the past. I’m just looking forward and trying to make big plays.”
THE EASON EQUATION
Jacob Eason is another big factor for Saturday’s game and the upcoming season. Some might say “duh” to that, considering he’s the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback and one who needs to show a lot of improvement from his sophomore season.
But passing accuracy might not be the area in which Eason needs to show the most improvement. Game management might get the edge in that regard.
Actually, it was Chubb who brought up earlier this week the fact that Georgia often ran plays last season when the numbers and defensive alignment indicated the play wasn’t going to work.
“There were some times we didn’t have the right numbers to run a play,” said Chubb, who was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage the majority of times he carried the ball. “That kind of hurt us.”
Indications are that Eason has gotten better at alignment recognition and blocking calls and has earned more trust from the coaching staff to change plays at the line of scrimmage. That has always been a hallmark of Georgia’s quarterback-oriented, pro-style offense and what made it so difficult to defend.
Equally as problematic was Eason’s inability or unwillingness to operate from under center. The running game and, by association, the play-action passing game, works much better when the quarterback takes a snap from under center and can give or fake to the tailback lining up behind a lead blocker.
Eason knows this and said he has spent a lot of time trying to get better at it.
“That was a big area I needed to improve on,” Eason said. “And I think through this spring and this fall camp I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable. Now it’s second nature going under there and taking the snap and spotting the Mike (linebacker) and all that deal. Yeah, I’ve improved a lot on that aspect.”
If so, that could do a lot to enhance the Bulldogs’ running game and play-calling.
LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP
Speaking of Eason, it’s easy to forget that the sophomore from Lake Stevens, Wash., is living a long, long way from his family. That has been an another adjustment he has had to make.
Actually, he said this week it has probably been easier on him than his parents. They’re the ones doing all the traveling. Eason said they made it to all but “a game or two” last year, are in Athens this weekend and will, of course, be at Notre Dame next Saturday. Eason’s father, Tony, played receiver for the Fighting Irish.
“They got the flight schedules done a couple of months ago,” Eason said. “They’re all excited to see me for the first time since May I think it was. My brother, sister, mom and dad are coming for this game, so this will be a fun one. I’m going to be happy to see them after the game.”
As for the rest of the year, they stay in touch as much as possible.
“Mom has FaceTime down and my Dad will text me every now and then,” Eason said. “So it’s working just fine.”
THE APP STATE KICKER
I had the opportunity to talk on the phone with Appalachian State’s kicker, a sophomore named Michael Rubino. I didn’t get a chance to tell his story, but it’s an interesting one.
Rubino’s part in the Tennessee game last year is largely forgotten or maybe never really known in these parts. But, as he’ll tell you, if not for his missed extra point and/or a 42-yard field goal try, the Mountaineers would probably be celebrating their one-year anniversary of an upset of the Vols rather than the 10-year anniversary of their win over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Rubino was a redshirt freshman playing in the first college game of his life when he walked into Neyland Stadium with his teammates this time last year.
“It was absolutely crazy,” he said. “We were walking into the stadium and I was thinking, ‘dang, this is going to be my first college game, my first football game in two years. Wow!’ … It was funny, my friends were joking about me having a game-winning kick against Tennessee. I was like, ‘yeah, right.’ I thought we might win, but I didn’t know we’d be driving with 50 seconds to go, tied at 13-13, moving the ball. I was like, ‘all right, it looks like it’s going to happen.’”
Rubino had plenty of distance but missed his field goal attempt wide right. He missed an extra point after the App’s second touchdown, which allowed the Vols to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and get it into overtime. The Vols won 20-13.
Rubino recovered and went on to have a good season for the Moutaineers, who won the Sun Belt Conference and finished 10-3 after a win in the Camellia Bowl. He was 15-of-21 on field goals and never missed another PAT.
“I definitely got that experience out of the way early. And I grew from it,” Rubino said.
And he said he’d “absolutely love” the chance to make a game-winning kick against Georgia.