LEXINGTON, Ky. — Everybody wanted to downplay it afterward. In the jubilant Georgia locker room, coaches and players made it sound like offensive coordinator Jim Chaney moving from the sideline up to the coaches’ box to call plays wasn’t a big deal.
I beg to differ. It was a big move, it paid off Saturday against Kentucky and it may have salvaged the Bulldogs’ season.
Georgia reached a new low last Saturday when it managed just 21 yards rushing and 231 total yards in a 24-10 loss to Florida. Smart said he and Chaney had a “long meeting” the following Sunday morning back at the Butts-Mehre football complex in Athens. They decided during that summit that Chaney would move from the field, where he’d been calling plays all season, up to the coaches’ box hundreds of feet up in the stadium.
It’s not the only reason that Georgia gained its most yards — 461 — since the opening game of the season, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
“The thought process was just a change-up,” Smart said. “He came in Sunday morning after Florida and we both sat down and talked for a long time and we both felt like it was the best decision and we went with it. I think you guys (reporters) will make a bigger deal out of it than we will.”
Georgia had sunk to 12th overall in both total offense and scoring offense coming into Saturday’s game. To be sure, the Bulldogs’ inability to run the ball effectively on a consistent basis was having a trickle-down effect on the whole offense. But they could never get both the run game and pass game working at the same time to achieve the objective of balance.
In Saturday’s 27-24 come-from-behind victory over Kentucky, Georgia had 215 yards rushing and 245 passing.
“It was not balanced, because 245 to 245 would be balanced,” Smart quipped. We’re obviously looking for balance, but it’s something where you’ve got to make a decision. We made a decision to go three (wide receivers), open it up a little bit when we started struggling. You could criticize that because we were running the ball good in two-back, but they started stopping us. We’ve got to have things we can go to, we’ve got to have ways to use our good players and let them help us in the game.”
There was a lot of heavy stuff going on in Georgia’s camp this past week. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you start looking down the barrel of a possible losing season and no bowl bid for the first time in two decades.
Depending on whom one believes, the Bulldogs’ star tailbacks called a meeting with Chaney asking why they weren’t getting the ball more and why the team was unable to run it better. That was the word from Nick Chubb to reporters after practice this past Wednesday.
Sony Michel offered what might be considered revisionist account of that meeting in the glow of Saturday’s victory.
“There was a lot of talk this week,” Michel said. “The story was we called the meeting. We didn’t call the meeting. Coach Chaney called the meeting. He wanted to talk to us. We didn’t just go up there and say ‘we need to run the ball more.’ That’s not what we did. He wanted to tell us that we were going back to the basics of running the ball.”
Whoever called the meeting and whatever was said, it worked. Michel, who had a total of three touches for two yards against Florida, carried the ball 19 times for 127 yards Saturday, scored on highlight-reel, 26-yard run and caught two passes for 15 yards.
Chubb got going as well. The junior had 85 yards on 21 carries. His strong effort was tainted with two fumbles in the same game for the first time in his career. But the Bulldogs and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship saved him the humiliation.
“People will forget about it because we won the game,” Chubb said with a laugh. “If we didn’t win the game, I would’ve felt 10 times worse and put a lot of heat on myself. But we won the game so hopefully people can look away now.”
Chubb wasn’t the only one relieved Saturday. So was Chaney. He’s wasn’t available for interviews per Smart’s policy for assistant coaches, but he let loose a hardy “whoop” upon exiting the press box and running to the elevator when the game was over.
Smart didn’t really get into it but it sounds like Chaney will stick with this arrangement. Most offensive coordinators call plays from the box. In the preseason Chaney said he has done it both ways and wasn’t sure in August what he was going to do.
“Whether it helped or not, who knows?” Smart said. “Maybe we played a little better on offense tonight because that defense wasn’t as good as Florida’s. I don’t know. We thought it’d be a good change-up and we thought it’d be good for Jacob (Eason), too, because he could still talk to him on the headphones.”
Regardless, Georgia’s offensive players wanted to stand up for their coach after Saturday’s game.
Said Michel: “A lot of people want to blame the offensive coordinator. At the end of the day, no matter what play is called, if we get beat as players the play is not going to work. So it’s on us to be more physical and execute the play that’s called.”
As for whether he thought things went better because Chaney was “up top,” Michel said, “I’m not sure. That decision was on the coaches.”
“The offense did a great job tonight by sticking together and playing hard,” he said. “Everybody wants to bash Coach Chaney, but at the end of the day it’s on us. If we don’t come out to play we’re not going to look good. I think today we came out to play.”