Kirby Smart’s uncharted territory

One thing over the past few decades Georgia hasn’t done particularly well is get great seasons out of true freshman quarterbacks.

Even so, starting a true freshman quarterback in the SEC is tough, given the nuances involved.

“If you look over the history of the league, it hasn’t happened very often – especially when you talk about the first game of the season,” head coach Kirby Smart said.

Only three times since 1990 has Georgia started a true freshman in 50 percent or more of its games during a football season – Eric Zeier (1991), Quincy Carter (1998) and Matthew Stafford (2006). David Greene and Aaron Murray both redshirted their first years on campus before starting four consecutive years.

Carter was the only quarterback of the three who earned the job going into his season-opener, although he was two years removed from high school and playing minor league baseball before heading to college.

Carter had success throwing the ball in his first season, totaling 2,489 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Zeier earned six starts to total 1,984 yards and 7 touchdowns. Stafford, who made seven starts in 2006, struggled the most out of the three as he amassed 1,749 yards, 7 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

And, boy, from the best start of the three did Carter’s Georgia career end well.

None of which is to say Kirby doesn’t know what’s at stake over the next month as he evaluates his options at the most important position on the field.  The quote above indicates that he’s well aware of what kind of chance he’d be taking if he decides on Jacob Eason as the starter against North Carolina.

The question Smart has to ask himself and answer, just as we all will, is whether Georgia’s staff has the chops to overcome history and justify taking that kind of risk by coaching Eason up sufficiently to, if not succeed wildly, at least avoid being a liability.  Keep in mind it’s a decision he’ll have to make based purely on his own instincts and professional judgment, because throughout his time at Alabama, that’s a call he never watched Nick Saban make.

Since Nick Saban joined the Alabama football program in the spring of 2007, he has never started a true freshman quarterback. Things such as “seniority” and “earn it” have always been mantras in Saban’s process. It’s not that Saban wouldn’t ever consider starting a true freshman quarterback, but the two things he values the most in his quarterbacks (playing smart and limiting turnovers) are difficult to grasp for a guy who was playing high school football months earlier.

For all the attention we’ve paid to Georgia’s quarterbacks, especially after Eason’s G-Day performance, this is the aspect of the choice we may not have fully contemplated.  It’s a big deal, perhaps as much a definer of Smart’s early career as anything he’ll take on, both for what it will say about his decision to hire Jim Chaney as well as his skill in program building through talent evaluation and development.

Keep in mind that when Richt took his leap with Matthew Stafford, it came in the wake of the program’s most successful run in a quarter century.  Smart, in contrast, is making that call cold, and while, sure, he starts off in a honeymoon phase with the fan base, if the quarterback choice blows up in his face, he’ll soon find out that the fan base’s experience over the past five years has made most of us far more willing to question whether the head coach knows what he’s doing than we used to.

There’s a lot at stake, and we’ll be watching.  No pressure, Coach.

74 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football

74 responses to “Kirby Smart’s uncharted territory

  1. No pressure, Sir.

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  2. TomReagan

    To say Stafford struggled the most of the 3 ignores that he finished the season beating #5 Auburn on the road, #16 Tech, and #14 Virginia Tech.

    That win at Auburn is one of the most forgotten about games in Georgia history.

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    • That win at Auburn is one of the most forgotten about games in Georgia history.

      Well – it was a Richt win that wasn’t for a championship, so not a big game at all.

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      • Well played as usual …

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      • JCDAWG83

        We were 3-4 in SEC play going into that game with losses to UT, UF, Kentucky and Vandy, it was a big game because it was Auburn but it was not a game that mattered. Richt won quite a few “big games”, he didn’t win the games that mattered.

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        • Go Dawgs!

          You do know that he stays fired even if you don’t defend his firing every time someone makes a positive Richt post, right? He’s not coming back. Rest easy.

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        • Every Auburn game matters regardless of the records. In fact, if you don’t feel that way – I legitimately question your Dawg fandom.

          Senator, I vote we add a new term to the lexicon:

          Richt derangement syndrome: An obsession with Dawg-grading a former coach’s achievements to the point that “big game” and “games that matter” no longer mean the same thing.

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          • Closely related to RDS is Bobo Derangement Syndrome … both maladies are typically found together

            Auburn, Florida & tech games matter regardless of the records or an impact on a championship.

            #AllBig3GamesMatter

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            • JCDAWG83

              I would add Tennessee and South Carolina to that list. I would delineate “big game” from “mattered” on the basis of a game’s effect on the future.

              All rival games are big games but some don’t matter with respect to whether or not they will affect the post season. Also, some non rival games i.e. Kentucky, Vandy, Mississippi schools, Missouri and some OOC opponents can be games that matter because a loss in them can ruin the post season. Not all big games matter but all games that matter are big games.

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    • Otto

      Agreed, however the WLOCP just before Auburn Stafford threw INTs which were costly, the price of a Freshman QB learning on the job. Eason will most likely have those growing pains if started as a true Freshman. if he start at day 1 who knows he may look better than Stafford did against Auburn by the WLOCP this year.

      I will say I remember being in Jax in ’06 and thinking if UGA could clean up the turnovers they were a national title contender. They did against Auburn. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a season like I did the ’07 season.

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      • DaddyRichATL

        That loss to South Carolina early in 07 cost us the National Championship …we couldn’t score a touchdown!

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    • PTC DAWG

      I was there, was a great game to see. Stafford came into his own.

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  3. lakedawg

    Not sure what Kirby does, but the departed CMR would definitely have Eason starting.

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    • JCDAWG83

      I don’t know why you assume that. He never started a true freshman in the season’s first game in his 15 years at Georgia.

      I think Lambert starts the UNC game.

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  4. Uglydawg

    I’ve said this before..Georgia is actually in a pretty good QB situation. With Lambert, we have an experienced, mature and probably improved graduate QB who has been through the mill….although he has struggled and we are all aware of his flaws, he’s smart and should be improved…having a great running game will make him better. With Ramsey, we see a kid who needed to mature enough to realize the opportunity before him and work to seize it. He’s a gifted athlete and would get a look at QB at most schools. If he’s improved a little bit, he’s serviceable at the very least.
    And then there’s Eason, who hasn’t taken a snap in a college football game, but is without much doubt the one we are putting the most hope in. If he’s ready to play by mid-season, it will be remarkable. With the schedule front loaded as it is, it may be best to just give him some developmental time and work him into the job.
    If Lambert and/or Ramsey are playing well, everything will be on track. If it’s necessary to start JE early, it means things aren’t going well.

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    • Go Dawgs!

      I’ve gone back recently and watched some of last year’s games. Honestly, Lambert isn’t nearly as bad as I remembered him. I’ve built him up in my mind as being truly awful (outside of the South Carolina game… LOLGAMECOCKS) but he was a serviceable player. Steady. Good enough keep us competitive, just not great. If you tell me that Chubb and Michel play in Game One, I think I’d be comfortable with him playing and Eason getting snaps. If you tell me that Chubb and Michel either don’t or don’t play much? Uh-oh.

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  5. “if the quarterback choice blows up in his face” – I can only see this happening if he starts Lambert. Start Eason and if Eason doesn’t work out, I think fans will be much more forgiving than starting Lambert and not seeing improvement from last year. Starting Ramsey would be a wild card in this scenario.

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    • JCDAWG83

      Eason’s G Day game shouldn’t be used as a barometer of his ability. He made some good throws but he also looked confused at times. At G Day, he knew he couldn’t be sacked and he knew it was a controlled scrimmage. UNC will come at the offense full bore. Lambert has the real life, game speed experience, I think he will start.

      If Lambert struggles and Kirby puts Eason in, the fans will be much more forgiving than if he starts Eason and Eason looks overwhelmed.

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      • dawgtired

        “If Lambert struggles and Kirby puts Eason in, the fans will be much more forgiving than if he starts Eason and Eason looks overwhelmed.”

        This is true. Fans have to believe the coach is doing all he can to win. They will second guess his decision if he fails. If Lambert struggles and stays in, the fans will NOT be forgiving. Of course if he does rotate QB’s one way or another, some will say he should have stuck it out with just one to let them ‘get in the rhythm’. Hard to please all of the fans.

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      • PTC DAWG

        I feel the same way, especially with the possible unknown at RB to start the season.

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  6. If the decision blows up in his face, the only people he has to worry about are the donors that pushed for him to be hired to start with.

    In a related note, I’m surprised Don in Mar-a-lago hasn’t posted video of Fran Tarkenton speaking at the RNC last night.

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    • Dolly Llama

      Fran Tarkenton spoke there? Hell, I was hoping they’d get Vince Dooley up there to speak to an empty chair.

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  7. Cojones

    Not until they at least give him extensive training on escaping a would-be rusher and make some yards with his feet on broken plays. NC likes to shoot every gap and pressure the QB, but a few well placed feets will get Jacob some respect, enough to perform well if chosen to start.

    A freshman QB in his first game is like an engraved invitation to feast and Eason’s feet may be the stalwart part to his continuing game(s). And NC wants to make this their statement game of 2016.

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  8. Go Dawgs!

    Senator, you’re supposed to post a trigger warning before you mention Quincy Carter.

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  9. Nate Dawg

    Here’s my issue with this: Stafford, maybe, but how can you bring up Carter or Zeier in this scenario? It’s a different world man…dude’s had a private “world class” QB coach for how many years now? How many “elite future QB” camps has he attended? I won’t be surprised in the least if Lambert starts against the Baby Blues…but I gotta think Eason is mo bettah prepared than Carter or Zeier just simply because of the times we live in.
    Also, anyone who questions whether auburn, tenn, fla or gt are big games or not…we ain’t livin’ in the same Dawg world…

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    • The other Doug

      I don’t think Eason has ever taken a snap from under center.

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      • Sh3rl0ck

        This is immaterial to people who believe in a narrative instead of reality. Memes have officially replaced facts.

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      • MGW

        True, but Chaney didn’t seem to care during G-Day. He ran a bunch of shotgun and the offense moved like clockwork. Point is I’m not sure Chaney’s as prone to shoving square pegs into round holes as we’ve seen in the past, and I think thats kind of been his calling card throughout his career.

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  10. CaliDawg

    This is from Seth Emerson so your milage may vary on how valid this is but word on the street is Lambert will start but Eason will see playing time. Ramsey is in 3rd and has a ways to go in fall camp.

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    • JCDAWG83

      Last season, I heard from a very reliable source (a player’s parent) that Ramsey simply didn’t have “it”. He is a good punter and could play qb if everyone in front of him got hurt, but he is no threat to anyone ahead of him at the qb position.

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  11. The other Doug

    Here is my guess:

    Kirby has to settle on a starter early in the preseason, but it’s between Lambert and Ramsey. Whoever loses gets dropped all the way to 3rd string, and Eason continues to get a lot of snaps in practice. If the UNC starter protects the ball and manages the game, he stays the starter. If he slips and Eason is ready, then Smart makes the switch.

    Smart is from the Saban school, and he will want experience and a manager if he can get away with it.

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    • MGW

      This seems pretty likely.

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    • Dylan Dreyer's Booty

      That’s true, but I am more and more despairing of our chances with Greyson running the show because of reruns that I have seen this summer from last year. Yes, he set a record against SC but only because they played so far off the receivers that the little short passes were gimmees. He’s horribly inaccurate if he has to throw more than 20 yards. I am too lazy to look it up, but I would not be surprised to find out Godwin’s pass in the bowl game was the longest completed pass of the season.

      That is a problem because defenses are free to 1) load up the box, 2) play their corners tight and 3) leave a safety out to play centerfield and pick off any dying ducks that make it past the line of scrimmage. I hope I am wrong. What I’m really hoping for is that Greyson is playing the role of Crash Davis to Eason’s Ebbie Calvin. And getting him to the bigs.

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      • Brandon

        Actually I think the long ball he threw to Reggie in Knoxvegas would’ve been the longest had he actually caught it. Not Greyson’s fault though. He can be accurate on long balls when he steps up in the pocket and steps into his throws. His misfires last year were mostly from getting happy feet and throwing off his back foot…. which unfortunately happened an awful lot.

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      • Cojones

        Both of you need to review more film with Lambert throwing precise passes over the D before you will get the idea that he is more than serviceable. Quit knocking the guy with the same ole, same ole that clearly shows you have not looked at Lambert’s last year’s games nor UGA’s best plays of the year. Lambert has better than middlin’ speed running also.

        Right now, he’s the best we have to step into the SEC arena first. I’m hoping that Eason can get some early work, but don’t think it should be forced. Let him get his feet wet before we throw him to the Lions as we did Stafford.

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        • Both of you need to review more film with Lambert throwing precise passes over the D before you will get the idea that he is more than serviceable.

          Lambert’s passer ratings in October and November: 109.33 and 132.89
          Mason’s passer ratings in October and November: 152.0 and 199.4
          Murray’s passer ratings in October and November 2013: 115 and 166.84
          Murray’s passer ratings in October and November 2012: 128.09 and 215.89
          Cox’ passer ratings in October and November: 112.73 and 155.69

          Lambert’s numbers are the lowest of the bunch, so I’m not sure what you mean by “more than serviceable”.

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          • Cojones

            The subject was his passing ability for certain passes and that can be seen by reviewing the games or highlights. The criticisms have gone from descriptions of passes he can’t throw to his demeanor in games and I think it is worthwhile for people to look for themselves and make comments instead of parroting the party line here at gtp.

            We all know quite well how you feel about Lambert, but I’ll venture to guess that your appraisal of him doesn’t jibe with the professionals we hire to decide who is best to put into the game. I’ll rely on all the coach’s judgements, thank you.

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            • Last year’s professionals benched him for the Florida game and put him on a tight leash for the rest of the season afterwards. I guess they were following the party line, too.

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              • Cojones

                They didn’t for 10 games. What do you want to see if his abilities were good enough to win 10 games? I know, you just want to keep knocking the guy even when he wins games and turns your predictions of him into pigeon shit.

                Players wearing the red and black and winning games should be appreciated, not downgraded. Ragging on his abilities only sets him up to get booed by a feckless few whenever he isn’t perfect in games. Are you one of the guys who jump up and opines at players and coaches during the games in order for everyone to think you are an expert?

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                • My prediction of Lambert was that he would turn out to be a mediocre quarterback with a better surrounding cast than he had in Charlottesville. I didn’t see anything last season that changed my mind in that regard. Maybe this season he’ll progress. Maybe he’ll be more comfortable with Chaney. Maybe the offensive line will give him the opportunity to play more relaxed. If he starts and plays better, I’ll be the first to applaud him for that.

                  What I’m not going to be is a blind homer. If you think that’s a more appealing way to blog about Georgia football, I invite you to start your own. Otherwise, you can keep your editorial advice to yourself, because I’m not really interested.

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  12. Red Cup

    I think CKS will use the QBs like Dabo did against us in 2014. Dabo’s mistake was not using Watson enough before the game got out of hand. That first drive he led when he hit the TE over the middle just beyond our LB was scary. I was very happy he did not get back in untll we had pretty much taken over. CKS was a player when Quincy got his start so he has seen it. But i believe Lambert will start but Eason will play. Just hope Eason has enough to win the job by week 3.

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  13. MGW

    As the saying goes, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying”:

    The kid is special. He may well be the perfect Murray/Stafford hybrid. I’d forgive Kirby for taking a flyer on Eason.

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  14. I have posted before in discussions about Eason preparedness. He is very talented and we are lucky to have him, but I haven’t heard of anyone making the prediction about him that was made about Stafford in the preseason of 2006. I think Eason is comparable to Stafford but I don’t think Eason is measurably more advanced than Stafford was at this point.

    These are Stafford’s stats from his final year at Highland Park:

    15 Games
    Comp: 209
    Att: 322
    Yards: 4108
    Comp %: .649
    Avg: 19.7
    Yds per Game: 273.9
    TD’s: 38
    QB Rating: 147.6

    I could not find info about the # of interceptions he threw that season. He also won the state championship beating Ryan Mallett and Jevan Snead in the playoffs. Plus, Stafford missed the first 3 games of the season due to a knee injury, so I am unclear if Highland Park played 18 games that year (that sounds like a lot) or he put up these numbers in 12 games.

    Here are Eason’s stats from last season:

    13 Games
    Comp: 235
    Attempts: 338
    Years: 3585
    Comp %: .695
    Avg: 15.3
    Yds per game: 275.8
    TD’s: 43
    Int: 6
    QB Rating: 136.4

    Eason’s team didn’t win the state title. His stats are very comparable to Stafford’s. Given the level of talent and competition in Texas, Stafford played against a higher quality opponent. In the last few years about 25% of the NFL starters at QB played HS football in Texas. But there was a moment in time when a heck of a lot of QB talent in the NFL came from the Pacific Northwest too.

    The level of competition goes both ways though. If Stafford played against a level higher than Eason, then he probably also played with teammates were a level up from Eason.

    Eason has been working with a private qb coach as a high schooler. I can’t find any information that Stafford did the same but judging by previous comments about working with a private qb coach as a professional, I don’t think he ever did.

    I don’t know if it is a positive or negative in terms of SEC readiness that Stafford came in with an established coaching staff while Eason is a true freshman with a new coaching staff. That established coaching staff in 2006 believed that they could best achieve the team’s goals with a more mature individual (I didn’t say player because JTIII hadn’t played a whole lot prior to 2006) until the SEC East was out of reach. It was only after losing to UT and Vandy that Stafford became the starter.

    For me, it then comes down to how much talent around the QB’s is available and the confidence the coaching staff has in accomplishing their goals with the supporting cast. We know that Lambert is a much more seasoned and successful QB than JTIII. Lambert is the risk averse choice. It doesn’t mean that won’t result in a high reward but the safe choice means every other position group has to play at a highly effective level (which is asking a lot for new coaching staff.)

    I believe that Eason = Stafford and I have my doubts that he will be absolutely prepared above and beyond Matt Stafford before the mid-point of this season. Starting Eason in Week 1 is higher risk with hopefully a higher reward.

    My personal belief is that if Eason is starting Game 1 then CKS believes that he doesn’t the talent available surrounding the QB to go win the East with the risk averse choice.

    Of course what the hell do I know – it’s still talking season.😉

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    • Cojones

      Damned good post. Good research and conclusions from such leads me to believe that you are on the realistic path that we face. After all, Lambert did win 10 games for us last year, so why wouldn’t we want him to start and win. Jacob will do well and will go into our games as the Head and O Coaches want. You fault the coaches for their choice, not the players.

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  15. JCDAWG83

    I hope Eason can hold things together until Fromm arrives next January. Maybe Eason can get in a good sophomore season while Fromm redshirts in 2017 and then Fromm can take over and lead us to a few championships the next three or four years.

    Georgia needs a qb from the state of Georgia to win a championship. These out of state kids can’t get it done. In the past 36 years Belue, Greene and Shockley are the qbs that have produced a championship of some kind and they were all from Georgia. Fromm is the missing piece of the puzzle.

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    • Brandon

      I just hope Eason can bridge the gap to Fromm who can bridge the gap to Trevor Lawrence. I think that kid’s only 15 now but HE is definitely going to win 4 championships for Georgia. LOL

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      • JCDAWG83

        Lawrence can come in in 2017, redshirt a year, back up Fromm for a year, then have 2 or 3 years to win championships. The best qb is always a couple years away.

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    • Chadwick

      The missing piece of the puzzle is the LOS. It sure as hell isn’t the state a Qb played high school ball. Belue had good lines and the best college rb in history. Greene and Shockley played behind good lines and had decent defensive lines. It will start and end for UGA in the trenches.

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  16. AthensHomerDawg

    Boy I was surprised! Not much posted about Mr. Carter.
    FIFY
    “Georgia already had four quarterbacks on the roster — Daniel Cobb, Jon England, Nate Hybl and Mike Usry. But after Quincy Carter left pro baseball, came in over the summer, won the starting job in the three weeks of preseason camp and ended up playing in every game, UGA was left with one quarterback.”

    Nate Hybl went on to Oklahoma where he won the real Big 12 and MVP of the Rose Bowl. His younger brother stayed and played a good game of golf for the Dawgs.
    Daniel Cobb went on to start at Auburn. We lost that game 24-17. We beat uT that year…so there us that!

    Lavonya Quintelle “Quincy” Carter

    Somehow Quincey was involved/responsible with Mikey Greers departure to Valdosta. He had a good set of hands. Liked that kid!

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    • JCDAWG83

      I was at the Quincy 5 int game in Columbia. The only upside of that game was walking out knowing Quincy would probably cost Donnan his job. By then, it was obvious to anyone with any sense at all that Donnan had lost all control of the team and had no clue. The coke stories about Quincy coming out of Athens were too numerous to ignore and his “thumb injury” later in the season sealed the deal.

      I always liked Donnan and thought he had some good football knowledge and was a good recruiter, but he was only a little less over his head at Georgia than Goff was.

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      • AthensHomerDawg

        I never thought much of Donnan. Agree he lost control. Ran our program like he was back at Oklahoma. Ramsey hire earned him a punch in the nose. Losing to techsters. He did less with more. Orlandis gary, that Wiggins kid and the twins were a great package when he arrived. I don’t think Marshal appreciated it though. One of my clients got sucked into that scam of his. Good people. Nah. Fuck donnan.
        YOMD.
        “Orantes Grant, Tyrone Robertson, Jamie Henderson, Kendrell Bell, Marcus Stroud, Demetric Evans, Richard Seymour, Tim Wansley, Terreal Bierria, Josh Mallard, Charles Grant, Will Witherspoon, and Boss Bailey – all major contributors that season and all would eventually play in the NFL.

        Yet, this group of defenders, statistically, is one of the worst in Georgia football history. “

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        • Cojones

          Donnan came from Marshal, not Ok. Wasn’t sure if you meant the state of or the school. Sorry if my reading comprehension varies and meant no malice concerning your shitty (:) ) comments.

          Screw Trump.

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  17. Hey, Quincy… can you pass the salt? Intercepted!

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  18. 69Dawg

    Ole Quincy loved his dope. Donnan kept Quincy and Jasper but kicked Michael Greer to the curb over MJ. Rumor was Donnan was pissed at Steve Greer the then Director of Football Operations. Jim was borderline paranoid and had an inferiority complex based on his being the hire of last resort. All in all a typical cluster F but the Georgia Way.

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