Christ, for a guy who’s enjoyed as much success as he has, Dabo Swinney sure bitches a lot.
“We scored the other seven.” Your generosity is duly noted. See you at the CFP… oh, wait.
In response to the news that Va. Tech is canning Justin Fuente now, instead of waiting another month to get a reduced buyout, David Hale reminds us why ADs aren’t nearly as smart as they believe they are.
And likely to be getting richer.
You guys know the basic format to my Observations posts — some broad brushstrokes, followed by bullet points and on to a conclusion.
I think I’m gonna skip the bullet points this week. For one thing, I don’t think you need me telling you that James Cook obviously wasn’t suffering from the flu, or that as gifted as we know Brock Bowers is, it’s still startling to see him turn on the jets the way he did on that end around. Also, given the flu bug that hit several players, I don’t really want to pick at a kid’s performance if he was sick and trying to gut it out for the team.
But the main reason for the omission is that I don’t want to detract from what I think are the two bigger takeaways from the Tennessee game. More than any other game Georgia has played this season, I think the story of what transpired in Knoxville Saturday is best told as a big picture one.
The first story comes from not the play of the game, but the series of the game and maybe the series of the season, Georgia’s 11-play, 90-yard scoring drive that upped the score to 24-10 before the end of the first half. At that point, the message was sent that UT’s day was over, garbage time notwithstanding. If you want to watch a detailed breakdown of the drive, look no further than here:
Monken was masterful with his play selection, even if it didn’t seem all that profound at the time. The drive opened with three straight James Cook running plays, all for positive yards and a first down. The message was sent that Monken didn’t respect the way UT was defending the run. So, from there Georgia doesn’t run another running play for the rest of the drive. Eight straight pass attempts, five completions, four to Mitchell and the dagger to James Cook.
(By the way, even you Danielson haters out there have to admit Gary nailed the way the touchdown pass play went down. That almost made up for the strained Stetson Bennett/Baker Mayfield comparison he kept making throughout the game. Talk about your early favorite for the SECCG Drinking Game…)
I’m not giving you my impression after a few days to ruminate on it, either. Here’s what I tweeted immediately after Cook scored:
He really was. The overarching message I took from that drive is simply I don’t know how you scheme against Georgia’s offense to shut it down for all four quarters. That’s what you get when you’ve got an offensive coordinator willing to take what he’s offered, who has the weapons he needs to do so. It may not be flashy at times, but it’s consistent and it’s definitely effective. Georgia hasn’t scored less than 30 points in a game since the opener (averaging almost 42 points per game), and barring some unexpectedly weird shit happening, I don’t see that streak ending, even in the CFP. Monken is just that good.
The reason I put so much emphasis on that scoring drive is that it leads into my second, even bigger point about Saturday’s game. It may very well have been Georgia’s most impressive win of the season. Not because Tennessee was that team, that challenge everyone and his brother kept referring to for Georgia. After all, the game turned into another garbage time struggle, as most of Georgia’s games have gone this year, en route to the Dawgs covering another spread against a conference opponent.
No, the reason I think the game was a big deal was because it violated Mike Tyson’s famous adage about having a plan until getting punched in the mouth. Consider that they were on the road in a hostile SEC environment, with a 70-man roster and several players fighting off (or in cases like Jalen Carter’s, succumbing to) the effects of the flu. Tennessee came out and did a couple of things no other team had accomplished against Georgia’s defense this season: score a touchdown in the first quarter and score again to hold a lead at the end of the first quarter.
I wouldn’t have expected panic at that point, because that’s not something Georgia’s shown at any point this season. What I did see, instead, was a team that maintained its composure and made adjustments on both sides of the ball that choked Tennessee down completely when it counted in the second and third quarters. On offense, Ericson went out and was replaced by Truss, who was a little shaky on his first series but then settled down for the rest of the game, which was pretty much the story of the offensive line. Once the situation on the line jelled, Georgia made Tennessee pay for its scheme choice and ran the ball effectively.
On defense, two things — first, the coaches pulled Brini, moved Smith to star and played Dan Jackson at safety, which tightened the coverage on the short stuff that had been giving Georgia fits on UT’s first few drives and also slowed the Vols’ running game. Second, they deployed all three of their boss ILBs, Dean, Walker and Tindall, on the field together. It was an effective way to make up for Anderson’s absence at the EDGE position and it absolutely wrecked Tennessee’s offense.
Georgia’s won a lot of games this season just on sheer talent and physical presence (see, for example, the last three minutes of the first half against Florida). Saturday was something different. Georgia took UT’s best shot early, analyzed the lay of the land, adjusted accordingly and cold-bloodlessly kicked ass. That’s what superior in game coaching really is all about, despite what your dumbass cousin who’s a Gator fan might otherwise insist. When you can do that and choke a team riding a bunch of momentum and energy to a slow and steady death, you’re really good.
Georgia is really good.
Marc Weiszer has a good write up of how Georgia handled the challenge of the flu bug hitting a 70-man SEC road trip roster, but that’s not exactly what I wanted to focus on in this post. Instead, take a look at something he brought near the end of his article:
Offensive tackle Jamaree Salyer traveled and warmed up Saturday but didn’t play after injuring his foot against Florida.
“It bothered him a little,” Smart said.
Smart didn’t rule out moving Salyer inside and leaving Broderick Jones at left tackle. Xavier Truss stepped in for Warren Ericson at right guard Saturday.
Georgia hopes by then the team’s issues with the flu is behind.
Sure, Jones is coming on and Truss played his best game in a Georgia uniform Saturday, but I am more than a little surprised Smart didn’t flat out shut that kind of speculation down. Barring having your hand forced by injury, what coach embarks on a personnel switch on the o-line this late in a season like the one Georgia is enjoying, especially a coach who openly embraces the value of continuity as Smart does?
I’m really doing what I can not to read too much into this, but I think it’s pretty clear the guard position has been the weak link on the o-line this season. It’s just that I thought if Salyer was moving inside, it would have happened several games ago. Would the coaches really make a big move like this now?
Kirby Smart, on the dilemma posed by guarantee games ($$):
Kirby Smart was asked Monday about the value of playing these FCS games, and whether he would like to continue doing it. He gave a lengthy answer that boiled down to two points:
Yes, he would like to because it’s good for the smaller schools, who tell him that sometimes half their budget comes from guarantee games, and much of that money goes to players’ scholarships. If it means keeping these programs alive, then Smart wants to do so for the sake of the sport.
“My concern is that less kids grow up wanting to play football because less of their parents may have played football and reached out to another sport,” Smart said. “When you take away the opportunities at these universities, you take away a lot of opportunities for kids to get scholarships and go play. Some of these FCS schools are what keep these kids’ hopes alive to play football in college when you might not be an SEC-caliber player.”
But Smart’s second point is it’s going to be hard to keep doing it.
“The league is going to get bigger. There’s going to be more games, and fans want the bigger games,” he said. “Fans don’t usually want these games. It’s a pulling of two separate ways.”
There’s also the dilemma of SEC coaches wanting the easy win for win’s sake, but I digress.
Fans don’t want to spend money on “these games”. Churlish of us, I know. But here’s the thing — even if the SEC adds another conference game to the schedule — not that I’m convinced Sankey’s going that route — and even if schools continue to beef up their non-conference scheduling to impress the selection committee, nobody in their right mind is going to quit playing cupcake games altogether.
Beyond that, a pretty obvious compromise I can think of, if a primary consideration is making sure FCS schools’ budgets aren’t hammered, is to allow FBS schools to play a spring game against FCS opposition, charge something for it (before you ask, yes, I’d fork over something for that) and pay the visitor a guarantee fee. If it takes on the trappings of something more than a glorified scrimmage, which is all something like G-Day is, it’s probably worth more to Mickey to broadcast it. That’s as close to a win-win as I can come up with.
Matt Hinton neatly summarizes the — should we call it angst? — feeling among the Georgia faithful about putting their trust in Stetson Bennett to deliver a national championship. (And, yes, it felt a little surreal to type that.)
First, there’s the “what has he done for us lately?” side of the ledger.
By any other measure, though, he has played his part as well as even the most unforgiving skeptic could ask for. With the regular season drawing to a close, he leads the SEC and ranks among the top 5 nationally in yards per attempt, overall passer rating and Total QBR. Against type, he also leads the conference in average depth of target (11.8 yards), defying doubts about his downfield arm strength. In fact, Bennett has connected on 56.5% of his attempts of 20+ yards, per Pro Football Focus, the best completion percentage among all Power 5 quarterbacks. Saturday’s 41-17 win at Tennessee was his 5th straight game with a touchdown pass in that category.
I think it’s fair to say if it were JT Daniels compiling those stats, we’d all be pinching ourselves over our good fortune and checking the weekly Heisman odds.
The reason we can’t bring ourselves to do that with Stetson?
The fact is, the lingering questions about Bennett’s limitations against Playoff-caliber defenses can’t be addressed until he actually steps on the field against a Playoff-caliber defense. The nearest approximations he’s faced so far this season have yielded his best performance (vs. Auburn) and his worst (vs. Florida), both in games the defense had well in hand from start to finish. (Bennett didn’t play in the opener against Clemson, which memorably held Georgia’s offense to 3 points with Daniels at the helm and has continued to field an elite defense in the meantime.) Keeping pace with Alabama or Ohio State, explosive attacks that are actually capable of putting some points on the board against any defense, will be an entirely different challenge.
Yes, Stetson’s performance last season against the two teams Georgia faced with potent offenses left something to be desired and I get why that sits in the back of folks’ minds. Still, I think Matt’s take there shortchanges this Georgia team a little. It’s going to take more than an offense that can challenge Georgia’s defense — which is definitely a lesser standard than what those potent 2020 ‘Bama and Florida offenses were capable of — to beat Georgia. Somebody’s going to have to come up with a way to keep Georgia off the scoreboard more than any defense has been able to so far this season. And, honestly, if Clemson is your benchmark (and their defense probably ought to be), I’m not sure Georgia will see a defense in the postseason that can perform to that level.
That being said, even if Matt didn’t say it directly, I think Tennessee solidified my feeling about the only way to hope to keep Georgia’s offense with Bennett at QB in check is to play soft coverage in the back to prevent the big play and hope your front seven can hold Georgia’s running game down just enough. (Against Tennessee, that worked, until it didn’t.) Selling out to stop the run against this Georgia team has proven to be a suicidal approach against Stetson Bennett.
So, maybe there’s a chance. But maybe — and at the moment, I’d say this is the more likely possibility — Bill Connelly’s got it all sussed:
And hell, if Bama’s offensive line isn’t up to snuff, it could get destroyed by Georgia’s front, at which point nothing else might matter. There might not be an offense as good as last year’s Bama and Florida offenses this year, so for all we know Bennett will keep right on doing what he’s doing, and the Dawgs will be just fine. But in theory, Atlanta might still tell us something.
Keep enjoying the ride, folks.
If you’re looking for a benchmark against which to judge whether a person asking a question at a head coach’s presser is so full of himself that it reveals more about the questioner than the coach (and not in a good way), might I humbly suggest your search is over?
I’m not a Sark fan, but you can almost see the moment when he thinks “what the fuck?”.
I know it’s Charleston Southern, but it’s still a Georgia game. Plus, it’s Senior Day.
Haggle away in the comments and, as always, please be specific with your needs.
Down goes Okie. Although I will say I’ve left the door open for redemption if the Sooners beat Oklahoma State and go on to win the Big 12. (Same may apply to the Cowboys if they manage the same result.)
The tough call this week was Cincinnati. The Bearcats haven’t exactly dominated their last four opponents, which had a whopping total of seven wins between them going into Saturday. In the end, I let that Notre Dame win carry them for another week, but that’s getting to be thin beer at this point.
All told, the Cinci decision took about nine minutes and forty five seconds of my ten minutes of ballot time. The rest was easy.
Dan Lanning is deservedly nominated for this year’s Broyles Award. It’s a one assistant per school deal, so Todd Monken wasn’t, which is a damned shame.
By the way, one weird thing about the award worth mentioning here: there are three former Georgia head coaches on the selection committee — Dooley, Donnan and Richt.