Observations from the 35, home opener edition

Ah, to be back is to feel a little more normal.  Tailgating restored.  Real crowd noise inside Sanford Stadium.  The staff at The Taco Stand fucking up my post-game order.  Real chicken soup for the Bulldog soul stuff.

Oh, yeah — and Georgia won.  Won convincingly, as a matter of fact.  I couldn’t help but ponder how the game would have gone if the Dawgs had played UAB in 2019, especially the second half of that season.  A low scoring grinder, I suspect, something on the order of a boring 24-3 result with Kirby assuring everyone in his post game presser how that was okay as the team kept its eye on the goal of returning to the SECCG.

Instead, almost shockingly, it was fun.  It was entertaining, largely for two reasons.  One, of course, was Stetson’s crazy, unexpected, utterly in control performance.  The other was witnessing how impressively deep Georgia’s defensive roster is.  With regard to the latter, we’ve all been to games where Georgia was in command in the second half and Smart let the backups get playing time, only to see an understandable decline in performance.  Against UAB, that shoe never dropped.  Instead, we saw a pick six and a defensive shut out.  To say that bodes well for the future is an understatement.

Now, some bullet point action…

  • I just have to start with Stetson Bennett IV, don’t I?  I’ve already said a fair amount this week, but one thing really bears repeating.  He’s noticeably improved his game, not just from last season, but from the G-Day game, when he still showed a regrettable tendency to throw the ball at the wrong time to the wrong place.  There was none of that on display Saturday.  His reads were spot on.  His first incompletion was a sensible throw away in the end zone rather than to try to force a dangerous throw.  His touch has improved, as well, as best seen on his first TD throw to Bowers, but also in the was he zipped the ball on Bowers’ second TD catch.  All in all, a huge game for him and a huge lift for the team.
  • Speaking of Bowers, good grief — has to be the best start for a true freshman receiver at Georgia since Malcolm Mitchell.  Against Clemson, he showed good hands, solid route running and a willingness to block.  Add the jets he showed against UAB and you’ve got something remarkable.
  • Of course, you don’t average better than 25 yards a catch without your receivers kicking some righteous ass on their own.  Arian Smith seems like he’s guaranteed to break open at least one deep route a game; the question is whether his quarterback can get the ball to him in the moment.  (Bennett did.)  Burton’s not 100%, but he still contributes.  Mitchell and McConkey are already handfuls, but they’re both going to be more with time and S&C.
  • The o-line remains a work in progress.  Fortunately, the schedule gives Matt Luke that luxury.  With the way UAB loaded the box — on the first two plays from scrimmage, all eleven defenders were within nine yards of the line of scrimmage — run blocking was going to be a struggle, and it was.  Still, only two tackles for loss occurred.  Pass pro was much better.  No sacks were allowed and the quarterbacks were rarely even seriously pressured.
  • That all being said, I am a little puzzled by some of the personnel decisions.  Ericson, with his injury, is a liability at guard right now.  Salyer started at left tackle in a game where I thought it would be a good time to move him inside and experiment at the tackle position.  I was glad to see that Jones and Mims got a decent amount of playing time, though.  Truss at right guard was something I wasn’t expecting, but I thought he acquitted himself okay.
  • The backs didn’t do all that much, not that it mattered.  The two longest runs on the day came from Bennett and Beck.  But they all pitched in on pass protection.  James Cook’s touchdown run was something.  I loved McIntosh’s TD catch.  The play design was superb and so was his execution, both in terms of how he ran the route and made the catch without losing stride.  And does anybody run harder than Daijun Edwards?
  • Beck’s first real action of 2021 was much like his G-Day play — some good, some bad, some indifferent.  The pick-six was the bad part (although his receiver didn’t do Carson any favors), but he looked really sharp on the one touchdown drive he led.  Mostly, he just seemed impatient to me, which I suppose is understandable.  Hopefully the more he plays, the more he’ll calm down.
  • We’re only two weeks into the season and it feels like I’m running out of superlatives for the defense.  What can you say after two games in which the opponent’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown?  UAB only converted on third down once all day; you aren’t going to lose many games when you’re shutting down a team like that.  In the opener, they wouldn’t let Clemson run; Saturday, UAB couldn’t pass.  And the Dawgs won the turnover margin battle, at +2.  That’s how you get to 49-point victories.
  • As far as individual play goes, Channing Tindall continues to ball out like his hair is on fire.  He’s always had speed, but his situational awareness has grown noticeably.  He’s someone you feel like you have to keep your eye on every play.
  • Speaking of keeping your eye on something, Kelee Ringo’s interception was spectacular.  There’s never been any question about his sheer physical ability, but it was his technique on that play that stood out for me.  Huge leap from how he played against Clemson.  If he continues to progress like that, he’s gonna be a real bear for opposing offenses to handle.
  • There are too many fresh faces to mention, but two who stood out during the game to me are both sophomores who haven’t gotten that much playing time to date:  Trezmen Marshall and Tymon Mitchell.  Again, this defensive roster is flat out loaded.
  • Special teams didn’t have a perfect day — just ask Chip Towers — but they had a perfectly decent one.  UAB had no kickoff return yardage and negative punt return yardage.  Camarda was consistent.  Jackson had one big punt return and, but for a penalty, would have had a second.
  • Like chicks, Todd Monken loves the long ball.  And all it took was one play to see how UAB’s defense was going to let him call what he loves.  Again, all day long you could see how terrific his play design is.  I’ve already mentioned the McIntosh TD, but if you get the chance to see Bowers’ second TD catch again, Monken is the reason he was open.
  • With Lanning, Muschamp and Smart, is it any wonder how well coached Georgia’s defense is?  (And is Smart’s obvious trust in Monken at this point allowing him to focus more on the defensive side of the ball?)
  • Smart’s coaching so far in 2021 has been impressive, to say the least.  His team played in the moment in the opener and avoided a let down against UAB.  But saying that really isn’t fair enough to Smart.  Georgia was aggressive against a weaker opponent and, miracle of miracles, Smart didn’t let up even with a 35-point lead at halftime.  I think it’s safe to expect more of the same in the next two games.

It’s early, so take this for what it’s worth.  2021 feels different to me than any other season under Smart.  Yes, even 2017.  This is a team that senses it has the raw ability to accomplish great things and, so far at least, hasn’t felt burdened by those expectations.  I mean that for both the players and the coaches.  There are some challenges on the schedule, to be sure, but it’s what they do in the short run against teams they should dominate that I’ll be watching closely.  Do they manage themselves against South Carolina and Vanderbilt the way they did against Clemson and UAB?  For now, I’m pretty confident they will, even as they remain handicapped somewhat by injuries.

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A peaceful, easy feeling

It’s a point I made earlier this week, but Matt Hinton’s reiteration is worth noting.

… With 5-star Brock Vandagriff‘s arrival in the spring and Carson Beck in his second year in the program, Bennett’s presence in 2021 seemed like a footnote. But when called, the guy just keeps showing up. With Daniels sidelined by a core injury, Bennett’s stat line in Saturday’s blowout win over UAB (10/12, 288 yards, 5 TDs) was the most efficient performance by passer rating since the turn of the century for a quarterback with more than 10 attempts — not just among Georgia quarterbacks, or SEC quarterbacks, but among all I-A/FBS quarterbacks. UGA’s 5 first-half touchdown drives with Bennett in the game spanned a grand total of 15 plays.

Conference-USA defense or not, Georgia badly needed that after failing to score an offensive touchdown in the opener vs. Clemson. That doesn’t mean Bennett is suddenly a viable long-term option for a team in Playoff-or-bust mode, as his obvious limitations in big games in the past has made clear. Ultimately, the Bulldogs’ championship fate is going to hinge on Daniels, whose status for this weekend’s SEC opener vs. South Carolina is up in the air but whose status as the full-time starter when healthy is secure. In the meantime, though, Bennett just proved again that he’s still very much the kind of competent, veteran backup who can be counted on to survive the UABs and South Carolinas of the schedule without steering the season into the rocks. That’s a luxury not every team with big goals gets to take for granted.

If you’re one to shit talk Kirby Smart’s management of the quarterback position from 2018 to 2020, it only seems fair to note how nicely structured the position appears two games into the 2021 season:  a clear number one, a backup who can be counted on to perform routine maintenance at a respectable level when called upon and two developmental players.  Even more, Smart’s let his offensive coordinator engineer conditions where those developmental players are being given opportunities for in game development by leaving the playbook open in a one-sided rout.  But something, something Justin Fields, I guess.

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TFW you trust Todd Monken’s play design

If a picture’s worth a thousand words…

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“Will Alabama be Florida’s signature Mullen moment in 2021?”

Dude who is a two-time graduate of the University of Florida isn’t saying it will be, just that if it is, the win will cement Mullen as the SEC’s second-best coach.  I mean, look at these credentials!

Long criticized for failing to win the big one, Mullen is 5-6 against ranked teams at Florida. That’s not tremendous, but considering UF was 9-26 against ranked teams from 2010-2017, it’s a massive improvement.

He’s 6-2 against Florida’s traditional rivals of Georgia, Tennessee and FSU, flipping the script in the FSU rivalry where the Gators had lost 5 consecutive games entering Mullen’s first campaign. He has delivered at least 1 signature win in each of his 3 seasons, whether it was a big win over a top-5 LSU at home in 2018, a dominant victory over top-5 Auburn in 2019, or last year’s rout of rival Georgia in the Cocktail Party.

… No, he doesn’t have the national title Jimbo Fisher has and he hasn’t won the SEC Championship like Kirby Smart has at Georgia. But no coach ever won at the level he did at Mississippi State…

I’m convinced.  Why wait?  Elect the man into the Coaching Hall of Fame now.

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Respect the troll

Gotta give the man credit for extending his anti-SEC shtick to a team that’s not even in the SEC yet.  So there is such a thing as preemptive trolling.

Now do FSU-Jacksonville State, Danny.

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Filed under Media Punditry/Foibles, SEC Football, Texas Is Just Better Than You Are.

Butts-Mehre’s legacy

From The Athletic’s look at the top five jobs in college football ($$):

The other factor that drove Georgia up the list is a donor base that demanded the administration stop pinching pennies and start pouring resources into football facilities. This coincided with the firing of Mark Richt and the hiring of Smart. Georgia wasn’t always the kind of place where the coach could get what he asked for every time. It basically is now. One staffer who put Georgia atop their list said it came down to support from donors and the fan base and pure potential.

Richt certainly had his share of warts and flaws, but no football coach is going to win at a power program where the AD doesn’t buy into what the coach needs to succeed.  The dysfunction may have stayed largely beneath the surface for a few years, but by 2014 it was obvious McGarity wasn’t seeing eye to eye with his football coach.

But even before McGarity, it was apparent that Georgia was a program where the administration was reluctant to provide Richt with the level of support that an Alabama did for Saban the moment he walked through the door in Tuscaloosa.  The irony was that B-M was able to leverage Richt’s own loyalty to the program to control spending.

Putting profit before sustained success on the field, while all the while holding yourself out as being somewhat purer than the typical football school is what the Georgia Way was all about.  There is a part of me that gives Richt credit for being as successful as he was in the face of dealing with that.  But there is a bigger part of me that gives Smart credit for using his substantial leverage to call bullshit on the whole thing.

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“Deez nutz are a process.”

I just…

I don’t know what gets me more — that someone could compose, in all due seriousness, a sentence like “Lane Kiffin adds some valuable insight on Saban’s “deez nutz” jokes” or that of course Junior could provide valuable insight.  What a time to be alive, eh?

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That pot’s not gonna stir itself.

Crisis time! “Missed field goals cranks up kicking competition for Georgia“.

Chip Towers brings the strong AJ-C business model with this:

Georgia has a kicking problem.

That’s a rarity for the Bulldogs, who have one of the greatest place-kicking traditions in college football. And it wasn’t expected to be an issue this season with junior Jack Podlesny coming back after a stellar 2020 season.

But the kicker known as “Hot Pod,” after his legendary predecessor Rodrigo “Hot Rod” Blankenship, has experienced some early hiccups. He has missed two of his first three field-goal attempts, with the failed kicks coming from just 32- and 36-yards. His one successful kick was from 22 yards out. Podlesny also has grazed an upright on one of his nine point-after attempts and been well off center on a few others.

“Well off center”?  Holy shit, Georgia’s doomed.

Read down five paragraphs — assuming you haven’t already dropped the article in panic and run from the room screaming, that is — and you’ll discover that Kirby isn’t quite at DEFCON 1 yet.

For now, Smart remains patient and hopeful that Podlesny can work out the kinks.

“We’re always in competition, as you well know…”

I’m sorry if I scared you with that.

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Too much information

Interesting Q&A from Kirby’s presser yesterday:

When other team about to snap the ball, when is it too late to adjust your defense?
“I don’t think it’s ever too late to adjust, but it’s probably too late for them to hear us. At some point, they’ve got to go get ready to go play the play. That is probably simultaneous with snapping the ball. We always say the hay’s never in the barn at Georgia. You’re always getting ready before the game. We’re going over adjustments and going over things that could happen. At halftime, we’re going over things that can happen. In drives, we’ll pull a guy out and go over something new that they did and say hey, this is how we’ve got to play this. A lot of times you see us doing that it’s if a guy’s not lined up right. We want him to get wider or we might know a tendency the other team has and try to help somebody out with what we think it is because ultimately offenses try to copycat other offenses. If we’ve given up whatever the play might be—an inside zone, this formation, they might try to copy that. We sometimes know the answer to the test better than the players so we’re trying to help them out. A lot of time it doesn’t help, we just confuse them more.”

I can’t help but wonder what Todd Grantham’s answer would sound like.  I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t include the last sentence, even though… well, you know.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but go and drink.”

I guess that’s a natural response when Chip Kelly turns down your job offer and you’re forced to turn to Dan Mullen.

Now, if only Dellenger can get the story on Greg McGarity wanting to replace Richt with Mullen and being told to forget it.

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