ATHENS – In the context of the rest of the schedule, Georgia’s game against Samford University on Saturday is the most meaningless of the season. But for where and when it falls and what it means in the grand scheme, it’s fairly consequential.
Especially for quarterback Jake Fromm.
Not to sound like some old coach, who’s going to tell you it’s the biggest game because it’s the next game, but it is. And that goes beyond bagging the ‘W.’
All due respect to Samford (2-0), a well-run FCS program led by a good coach in Chris Hatcher, but the outcome is not in question. At least it better not be. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs are going to win and improve to 3-0 on the season. That’s practically a given.
No, what happens between kickoff and the final horn and how it specifically goes down are the issues. This is one in which how it looks and feels might matter. The last thing the Bulldogs need today is Nicholls State Part II.
There’s going to be a hangover. Count on it. The win against Notre Dame last Saturday in South Bend, Ind. was exhilarating and meaningful in the context of history, branding and confidence. It was also fun.
Georgia’s football program collected so much goodwill and positive vibe on that trip that it could’ve used a freight train to get it all back to Athens. And that goes 10-fold for the hospitality the DawgNation encountered.
On that note, it would behoove me to share here the positive feedback I got from Georgia fans who attended those proceedings last week at Notre Dame and in Chicago. I received dozens of emails from UGA supporters who raved not only about the atmosphere and experience provided by the Bulldogs in defeating the Fighting Irish, 20-19, but more so about the kindness and hospitality they encountered from Notre Dame people, administration and students.
You couldn’t move 10 yards on that pristine campus without running into a blue-jacketed individual who was there to say “Welcome to Notre Dame” and “is there anything I can help you with?” And with close to 40,000 of the DawgNation swarming the premises, they were having to say it a lot. But they did so with an authenticity and genuineness that made for the most welcoming environment I’ve ever encountered.
The email I received from Jim Parry was representative of many others I received.
“I am one of the tens of thousands Georgia fans at the Georgia-Notre Dame game,” he wrote. “It was a GREAT Saturday. Tailgates were excellent. The Notre Dame campus is absolutely beautiful. The Notre Dame Staff and fans were the most nice and hospitable people I’ve ever met in the nation. I hope we can be just as nice and hospitable to them in Athens in two years.”
UGA’s event management folks took good notes, I’m sure. So there was that lesson.
As for the competition on the field of play, while the Bulldogs’ victory over Notre Dame was glorious and rewarding, it also exposed flaws. It showed there a lot of areas that are going require tightening before Georgia enters an eight-game gauntlet of SEC games after the Samford contest.
That was particularly evident on the offensive side of the ball. The narrow victory represented the 10th time in the last 14 games that Georgia failed to reach the 30-point threshold. That’s all well and good the way the Bulldogs’ defense is playing at the moment. But the missed opportunities and inability to sustain drives will catch up with them if it’s not addressed.
Georgia had 2 turnovers against the Fighting Irish and both fall into the category of unforced. Fromm, a freshman making his first career start, fumbled the ball when trying to pull it away from Nick Chubb on a zone-read play in the first half and he forced a pass into a tightly-recovered receiver that resulted in an effortless interception.
Three things here: (1) I think it was good Fromm was pulling the handoff and trying to run with it. I don’t know how much latitude the coaching staff gives him in that regard but, as is quite apparent, there’s going to be some room to run if the QB occasionally keeps he ball and goes backside; (2) Misreads and mishandles are going to happen on occasion; when they do it’s a must to fall on the football and not try to pick it up and run with it. Doubt we’ll see that from Fromm again; (3) Fromm will grow out of such mistakes. He’s also decisive and a bit daring, and that’s generally a good thing for a quarterback and will likely help the Bulldogs in the long run.
Defensively, there’s room for improvement, as well. Despite a strong performance against the Irish, who’d put up more than 600 yards and 49 points in their opener, fundamental flaws were exposed.
While Notre Dame managed only 265 yards and 19 points, Georgia’s defense committed numerous personal foul penalties, two of which resulted in third down conversions. And the Bulldogs’ biggest bugaboo of 2016 also was apparent in this game. The Irish were 3 of 3 in the red zone. The good news in this case was only one of those resulted in a touchdown.
Enter the Bulldogs of Samford. Ranked 17th in FCS, Georgia’s visitors are just what the doctor ordered for getting better. Quarterback Devlin Hodges is a fourth-year junior who operates the pass-happy “Hatch Attack” at a high level. Georgia’s young secondary is going to see the ball in the air a lot and will have to be on its game.
Meanwhile, Samford has allowed 1,067 yards and 64 points in games against Kennesaw State and West Alabama. More than 700 yards of that production came via the pass. Georgia and Fromm need to exploit that weakness to the fullest extent. The book is in on the Bulldogs: Load up against the run and force the young quarterback to throw the ball. They need to sharpen a passing game that promises to get thoroughly tested in the coming weeks by SEC defenses.
Fromm has proven two weeks in a row he’s up for the challenge. Now it’s about refinement and detail. Samford presents an excellent opportunity to work on that.
Notre Dame exposed both areas of strength and weakness in the Bulldogs. The schedule sets up perfectly to benefit from those revelations before the SEC grind commences.