Daily Archives: April 17, 2016

Observations from the end zone, G-Day edition

My group, perhaps not trusting game preparations entirely, thought it would be wise to make for the stadium a couple of hours early.  For more than one reason, it wound up being a sensible choice.  Included in that was the opportunity to find a seat – a real seat, with a seat back – in the shade.  View of the field was good, to boot, so no complaints in that department.

Kirby famously stated earlier in the week that he wasn’t interested in putting on a show, that yesterday would be business as usual.  And in that sense, he was correct.  There wasn’t a single trick play.  Nick Chubb was dressed out and participated in pregame workouts, but never saw the field.

Nevertheless, I think the crowd was thoroughly entertained.  And not just by Ludacris.

And so, with the exception of the quarterbacks, whom I’ll address in a separate post, on to our old friends, the bullet points:

  • Brother, if you wanted to see the tight ends involved in the passing game, you got the tight ends involved in the passing game with a vengeance.  Tons of throws in their direction, and I would bet somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen catches.  As a whole, the group looked good.  Nauta, for a true freshman, looks polished and physical.
  • Ditto for the running backs in the passing game – lots of throws to Douglas and Payne.  All of the above useful for keeping the chains moving on a day when the running game seemed a bit constipated.
  • The downside to the above, of course, is that the defense appeared vulnerable to those plays in the flats.  There were a number of times when the offense was able to sneak somebody out into an area where there was an open spot in the coverage.  Sure, that’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it would kind of be nice to see a little progress.
  • It was hard to judge the running game.  For one thing, injuries have taken their toll.  Douglas got far more work than I would have expected, given his injury (although he played with a black jersey, so he wasn’t supposed to be tackled).
  • For another, the offensive line still has a way to go with run blocking.  Pittman appears to have his work cut out for him in that regard.  The good news is that there is some serious size there – Cleveland and Madden, in particular, are large human beings – but consistent physicality, something the staff wants, isn’t there yet.
  • The wide receivers group may have been the most pleasant surprise of the day.  Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley were targeted early and often and made some nice catches.  (Judging from the big screen and Kirby’s reaction, it looked like Chigbu was robbed on what should have been a great TD catch.)  Reggie Davis showed his speed and, more importantly, his hands, in having what I think was the best day yardagewise of any of the receivers.  Riley Ridley was another early enrollee who impressed, showing a great pair of hands on one impressive catch he made over the middle.
  • If that was the happy spot from yesterday, the defensive line has to be the biggest cause for concern.  Not because it’s talentless – Thompson was unblockable on occasion, D’Andre Walker embarrassed Baker with back-to-back sacks and Julian Rochester had his moments when he was a handful – but because there is no depth there due to injuries.  Add in the suspensions, and it looks really dicey for the opener.  We’d best hope there is someone in the bunch coming in the summer who can step up and take a few meaningful snaps.  Otherwise, the starters are going to get run to death with a HUNH offensive gameplan.
  • For all the passing yardage, I thought the defensive backs looked pretty good.  And you can see the Alabama effect – Smart and Tucker know how to coach secondaries – starting to take hold.  Roundtree had a nice pass breakup that looked just like they coach it, right on the border between physical coverage and pass interference.  (No penalty was called.)
  • The biggest surprise from special teams was simply that they decided to go live on kickoffs and punts, albeit without tackling the returners.  (Boy, did that frustrate McKenzie.)  There’s plenty of work to be done in the kicking game.  One botched snap and hold cost Ham a clean shot at a field goal.  There wasn’t a single touchback on a kickoff.  The only punt that was boomed came from Ramsey, and who knows if he’ll be the punter in the fall.
  • Aside from the snaps and a few understandable communication issues with the quarterbacks and Shaquery Wilson on handoffs, it was a surprisingly cleanly played affair.  I don’t recall much in the way of procedural penalties and the quarterbacks did a good job getting plays called and snapped in a timely way.  (Of course, some of that may have been due to their head coach standing right there urging them to get the plays off, but, still…)
  • Overall, there was a workmanlike feel to the day.  Job One was clearly to evaluate the quarterbacks.  Accordingly, there was an emphasis on the passing game, and a complete absence of Wildcat plays and jet sweeps, the latter, at least, being something you’d expect Chaney to deploy to take advantage of skill position speed.

I got the feeling afterwards that the coaches would spend a lot of time over the next few months chewing over yesterday’s game tape.  It may have been entertainment for us, but it was another day at the office for them.

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Four months later, the place feels different.

There is a temptation to look at what went on yesterday and oversell it, so I think I’ll lay off the ALL CAPS and the dawn of a new era dramatics to be on the safe side.

But I don’t think it’s overstating things to recognize that a page has been turned in the story of the Georgia football program.  And that’s to Kirby Smart’s credit.

There were so many things happening, both big and small.  Taken together, the day definitely had a different feel to it than G-Days past.

Take the emphasis on reaching out to former players.

I saw it walking up to the stadium, where I passed a huge tent in the area where former lettermen tailgate.  And there’s no question it all led to plenty of good vibes.

Some will say that feeling was noticeable on Saturday given the record-breaking crowd of 93,000 that was on hand for G-Day. But to former UGA quarterback Cory Phillips, the good feelings were actually evident the night before.

“We got here (to Athens) last night, and there seemed to be a lot of people here,” Phillips said “The enthusiasm is high — which makes it fun.”

Phillips believes Smart’s energy and the way fans are responding to it sends a valuable message to recruits, and Phillips has been impressed with the first-year coach’s aggressive approach to gaining the attention of the next generation of college stars.

“I don’t think those guys sleep,” he said.

It isn’t just recruits who are being won over. Ex-players like Phillips are being courted too. Phillips said he couldn’t even count the number of messages and correspondences that have gone on between the former lettermen and the football program since Smart took over.

That level of communication is a welcome addition to the UGA program by Smart, according to Gilbert, who likes everything he’s heard from the coach so far.

“When we found out he was going to be hired it just changed the whole attitude,” Gilbert said.

Kirby gambled on the size and enthusiasm of yesterday’s crowd, a gamble that paid off handsomely.  First, orchestrating a spring game Dawg Walk that ended bringing the team through a gauntlet down one of the stadium sidelines was both a new experience and a success.

Just as unprecedented and brilliant a call was the move to honor the 2016 class at halftime.

Both served as a reminder that things were changing in Athens – a reminder to the fan base and to the recruits who were in attendance.  Add to that a well timed announcement of a 2017 commitment, and the momentum on the recruiting front felt palpable.

If you recall Smart’s Q&A with Stewart Mandel, he spoke about his value as a former player returning as head coach.  That was in the context of recruiting, but it was on display for the fan base yesterday, too, as mention was made in the pregame video of his returning home. It wasn’t oversold and that’s what made it effective.

There were other little things, too, that served as a reminder that changes have been afoot.

All told, it was a day to savor.  Kirby’s efficiency and management may have even rubbed off a little, as the pregame concert went off without a hitch and served to pump the crowd up nicely.  I got to the stadium two hours early and stayed until the end, so I can’t say I’m a particularly good judge of how the crowd was handled, but things appeared to run smoothly in that department.  Traffic control postgame, though, was its usual train wreck.  (Not that that’s on the school, of course.)

I don’t know how you couldn’t have been there yesterday and not come away impressed and optimistic about the direction things appear to be headed, even if just a little.  I know I was.  What time is the North Carolina game?

 

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You asked for it, you got it.

Who knew it would be that easy?

As impressive as that video is, it doesn’t have the impact of sitting in Sanford Stadium yesterday two hours before kickoff, watching the place slowly and steadily fill.  I kept waiting for the flow to slow to a trickle and then peter out entirely, but it never did.

Every seat had an occupant by kickoff, with an overflow on stairs and the bridge.

And that’s why you can’t quibble with the math.

A new SEC attendance record.  As someone who’s been to more G-Day games than I can count, it was nothing short of surreal.

We delivered, Kirby.  Now it’s your turn.

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