I am not going to pretend that Georgia’s 26-14 win over Baylor was a game for the ages, but as a sign that perhaps this coaching staff has learned a few lessons over the past year, yeah, I think there’s a case to be made for that.
It wasn’t realistic to expect some sort of dominating blowout by the Dawgs, given the departures both on the roster and the coaching staff, but Smart deserves a good deal of credit for stabilizing the team and avoiding what could have been a depressing ending to a disappointing season. The players were emotionally and mentally prepared. Matt Luke did a decent job cutting and pasting together a functional offensive line.
Perhaps most importantly, Coley did solid work being patient with an offense that came out misfiring — the Dawgs clearly had a problem getting in sync on that side of the ball, unsurprisingly — and being just creative enough with his playcalling to build a first half lead that was never really threatened as the game played out. 199 yards of offense in the second quarter against a respectable defense was as good an offensive outburst as this team has managed all season. Given all the missing pieces, it likely ranks as Coley’s best effort of the year.
While there’s hope to be taken from that for next year, there’s some real excitement to be taken from how many of the younger players on the roster stepped up to make real contributions. White and Pickens showed out, certainly, but several players on the defense had quite the coming out party: Cine,
Olujari Ojulari, Smith and Herring in particular. The defense was salty this season, but there’s no reason to think it can’t be even better in 2020.
Here are the bullet points to cap a 12-2 season:
- It took a while for the o-line to gain some traction, but once it did, for the most part, it turned in a competent performance. It came as no surprise that there were communication issues picking up stunts and blitzes, but considering that Baylor’s front was nationally ranked in sacks, our guys did a very good job in the first half keeping Fromm upright. James Lynch, Baylor’s all world defensive tackle, had a relatively quiet game, which might have been the line’s best work of the night.
- That being said, I would be shocked if Georgia started the same five against Virginia that it did against Baylor. For one thing, Cade Mays is a tough, versatile lineman, but a left tackle he isn’t. For another, it’s only natural to expect Luke to have a different perspective on his starters than did Pittman. Put it this way: watching the o-line situation at G-Day is going to be interesting.
- With the offensive line’s slow start, it was no surprise that Zamir White took some time to build up a head of steam, but he turned in his best effort of the year, by far. He showed his power, but, more than that, some quicks and an ability to cut that I hadn’t seen much of before. He clearly benefited from the work he got as the primary back and certainly made me feel like Swift’s departure won’t hurt Georgia’s running game much. Speaking of Swift, the flea flicker was a nice call; Baylor couldn’t know for sure how banged up he was, so they had to honor the hand off, which opened things downfield for Pickens.
- Pickens was ridiculous in the first half. (I almost hate to say it, but it reminded me of A.J. Green’s coming out party against Arizona State his freshman year.) The attention he’s going to bring from defensive backs next season… well, if you’re a competent Georgia wideout in 2020, you ought to get some opportunities.
- Simmons made some good catches. Landers, stunningly, made a tough catch for a TD reception; it would be nice if that gave him some confidence going forward. On the other hand,
Robinson Robertson was pretty much a cipher who has regressed. He should have made the catch of what was, admittedly, not a perfectly thrown ball, for a touchdown. Bottom line: we sure had better hope there are some incoming receivers in this year’s recruiting class who can play right out of the gate.
- The tight ends didn’t catch anything, but turned in excellent efforts as blockers, particularly Wolf, who I thought had his best showing of the season in that regard. Given the o-line situation, that was a big help.
- Fromm, much like his team, didn’t have a perfect game, but he was certainly effective. He played another smart, tough game. In the second half, he made a good decision to take a sack instead of throwing what would likely have been a pick-six, as the Baylor DB jumped Pickens’ route. I wish he’d have put a little more on the flea flicker pass to Pickens, who could have scored if he hadn’t had to slow to reach the ball, but his two touchdown passes were both well thrown balls. Georgia didn’t lose a game all season in which Fromm didn’t throw a pick, and while you may not think that’s significant, I’m pretty sure Kirby Smart would disagree.
- Tyler Clark missed the game, but it made shockingly little difference. In fact, I’d argue the defensive front turned in its best effort of the season. Baylor didn’t run the ball well up the middle. There was constant pressure on pass plays, as well. Herring and Walker were dominant. Jordan Davis did Jordan Davis things.
- Outside linebackers weren’t as good on contain as I would have liked, but, jeez, all that speed managed to clean a lot of it up. Ojulari, Smith and Anderson took a while to get the pass rush going consistently, but in the end, brought significant pressure on Brewer when it mattered.
- ILBs were solid at worst (Rice has played better games) and excellent at best, as Tae Crowder went out with a great night. Dean is going to be something next season.
- The secondary might not have been perfect, but the defensive backs certainly played well enough in Reed’s absence. Yeah, Daniel and Stokes got burned by Mims in the third quarter, but I’d argue some of that was due to the officials suddenly deciding they wouldn’t let all the physicality go that they allowed in the first half. As I mentioned, Cine looked good. LeCounte’s first interception was big, as it stopped what could have been the first scoring drive of the game. Mark Webb had a good game, maybe his best of the year.
- Lanning called an aggressive game all night and mixed his blitzes well. I haven’t credited him as much as I probably should have this year, but he’s done well.
- Special teams were a somewhat mixed bag. On the plus side, you have to start with the fake field goal, which was well designed and almost perfectly executed. (If Camarda doesn’t slip, he likely scores.) Blankenship was flawless and finished his career never missing an extra point. He is going to be missed, in more ways than one. On the not so plus side, there was Georgia’s punt game. Baylor punted seven times and Georgia managed only one return, for nine yards. Camarda’s first two efforts were on the flat side. Baylor managed to put up some yardage on a couple of returns (although one was reduced by a penalty). Camarda did improve as the game went on, though, so you can take that as quibbling.
Again, it was far from a perfect night. But it was a good night. Clearly, there’s something to build on for 2020, although there is a big personnel decision to be mindful of in terms of where Fromm winds up playing. All we can hope is that the staff can mold what they’ve got into something bigger and better. Which, considering they’re starting with a 12-win team that won the division for the third time in a row, is nothing to sneer at.
And on that note, adios to another year of Georgia football.