So, as I sat there waiting for the fourth quarter to get underway, with Georgia on the good side of a 31-0 lead, Matt Hinton’s words came to mind:
The first step in answering those questions would be laying a solid, routine-looking whooping on the Mountaineers this weekend, where Georgia is a two-touchdown favorite. It’s still a long way from there to Atlanta in early December, but if the long-term goal is going to become a reality then serving notice that at least the 2017 edition won’t make a habit of playing down to the competition would be a very good start.
I would say that when you start speculating early in the fourth quarter as to whether Smart’s ready to let the backups get some serious playing time, by definition, you’ve been watching exactly that — a very good start.
But a start is all it was. While there was much that was very good, starting with the fact that what we saw was light years away from last season’s Nicholls debacle, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
And with that, here come the bullet points.
- The offensive line had its moments. After all, there was only one sack and the Dawgs managed 221 yards on the ground. But the line, particularly the middle of the line, continued to struggle with eight- and the occasionally nine-man fronts and often gave Chubb and Michel little space to work with. Let’s just say that I can understand why Pittman will continue to mix and match at the guard positions. Also, two snap infractions are inexcusable, but that’s something you hope can be quickly cleaned up.
- I ain’t got nothin’ bad to say about the running backs. Chubb and Michel ran as hard as you’d expect and Chubb does seem a little quicker with his cuts than he was last year. D’Andre Swift is going to be a worthy successor to the two and showed he’s no slouch out of the slot, either, with a remarkable side line catch to bail Fromm out on a questionable throw (more on that later).
- I’m not really sure how excited I should be about the receivers. Wims was a revelation, of course, on his spectacular touchdown catch, but the rest of the wideouts were pretty quiet as a group. Hardman had one catch and Godwin, who was supposed to be the one to step up, had none. (He did have a nice block on one of the big downfield runs on the night, though.) How much of that was by design I can’t say, but I’d say the group remains an area of some concern.
- Tight ends were pretty solid blocking, but only had three or four catches as I recall. Given that on the night Georgia ran the ball two-thirds of the time, that’s not a big deal.
- And then there were the quarterbacks. I’m sure it’s tempting for many to declare that we’ve got ourselves a full-blown controversy, if not ready to change starters for good, but I’m not there yet. For one thing, between the extremely conservative playcalling and the weak line play that marked the first two series of the game, Eason wasn’t exactly dealt any favors. He also looked a little tight, overpowering an open Nauta on an intermediate throw that had way too much juice on it. There’s no way to know if Eason would have settled in as the game progressed.
- That being said, how can you not be impressed with the way Fromm handled himself? For a kid pressed into service prematurely, he sure didn’t look rattled. If anything, he played a little too fearlessly at times. He had a couple of those “no, no, no, no… yesss” completions where he was bailed out by his receivers. (A different story against an SEC secondary, perhaps.) But on that toss to Wims that made my throat clutch, the pocket was collapsing and he had three rushers on top of him as he let the ball go, threw it into coverage, but had enough awareness to put the throw up high where his guy had the only shot of getting it. He doesn’t have Eason’s arm – there aren’t many who do, of course — and kind of lollipopped some of his longer throws, but his last completion of the game, a 20-yard strike to Wims, was his best throw all night. If he can make that play consistently, he can make a living at quarterback. There’s little doubt his teammates responded to him, which is half the battle. The biggest concern about his game right now is that his command of the playbook and his ability to go through progressions are obviously limited.
- The first thing that jumps out watching the defense is that it plays noticeably faster than it did last season.
- The second thing that jumps out at you is that Trent Thompson is a monster. What a game he had!
- The thing that grew on me as the game progressed is how much more mechanically sound the defense has become. There were few missed tackles, so few that when someone blew a play — next time, don’t leave your feet like that, Richard LeCounte –it really stood out.
- My favorite counter-punch of the night came after Lamb caught the defense napping in the first quarter and ran for 32 yards, only to be sacked by Reed on a nasty blitz, fumble the ball on the next play and lose 22 yards. Speaking of Reed, for somebody who was supposedly brought in as recruiting incentive for Gibbs, he sure was a pleasant surprise last night.
- Gibbs, by the way, is huge. Speed, who played on the other side, is tall. You can see where Smart and Tucker are headed with the secondary in time.
- Roquan Smith had one of those quietly excellent games you expect from a quietly excellent inside linebacker.
- The outside linebackers showed up. Bellamy played great. Walker was his usual disruptive self. And keep an eye on true freshman Walter Grant, who wears Floyd’s number 84, bears a certain physical resemblance to Floyd and flashed some speed and tenacity when he was on the field.
- Sanders was solid and is clearly the anchor of the secondary, which, considering how much youth was served last night, is both good and necessary.
- Overall, it’s hard to say the secondary looked spectacular, even though ASU’s passing game got little traction, because it was rarely challenged.
- The kicking game was routine and boring. I can’t begin to tell you how ecstatic I am about that. Blankenship was a machine on kickoffs, getting touchbacks on five of six. I honestly cannot remember the last time I watched a Georgia kicker perform on that kind of level. As good as he was, Nizialek topped him, as App State did not attempt a return on any of his punts. His secret? Excellent hang time combined with a really fast coverage team. Who said special teams can’t be easy?
- As far as the coordinators go, Tucker had his defense ready to play and they looked the part. It’s Chaney that deserves some extra kudos, though, as he was thrown a curve ball by Eason’s injury and responded by making adjustments in his playcalling that allowed Fromm to flourish. (And doesn’t he deserve a little credit as a position coach for having Fromm ready to play in that situation?)
- Smart promised 15-20 true freshmen would see the field, and he was a man of his word about that. On offense, at right tackle, Thomas is an impressive physical specimen who looked good in run blocking (based on what I saw, he clearly deserved the starting nod over Cleveland), and Swift, as I mentioned, has a bright future at running back. On the other side of the ball, LeCounte and Gibbs got a lot of playing time and Grant looks like someone who’s going to grow into a major contributor. And, of course, there was freshmen sprinkled through out the coverage and return teams.
All told, it adds up to a very good start. The question now is whether they build on it or not. After all, things looked promising after last year’s opening win against North Carolina and that came to crashing halt the following week against Nicholls. Hopefully, history isn’t about to repeat itself.