Here’s today’s daunting task. Find a fresh angle to write about a new Georgia football season.
Come on, give me something easy, like asking Nick Saban how badly Alabama will beat Fresno State. Or maybe getting Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson to effusively praise the SEC. Or clean the breakroom refrigerator.
This is tough duty. What can we say about this Georgia team that’s any different than what we’ve been saying at this time of the year for the past decade?
This Bulldogs team is loaded at running back, tight end and linebacker, is well stocked on the defensive front and in the secondary, and is improving at quarterback and receiver, and has a schedule that’s just tough enough to make a compelling case for a national championship playoff bid.
This will FINALLY be the Bulldogs’ breakthrough season, right?
OK, should be.
Just barely possibly?
First things first. The Bulldogs need to figure out how to win the games they’re supposed to win – ahem, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech – and close out games they had won (Tennessee). Then they can worry about reversing Florida’s renewed dominance in that rivalry that started to look somewhat competitive again. Not to mention the fact that Auburn could be much improved.
Actually, as Kirby Smart pointed out last week at SEC Football Media Days, the real first thing is beating Appalachian State. Tennessee reminded everyone last year that this is no given. The Volunteers needed overtime to dispatch the Mountaineers. Smart was asked about Georgia’s second game of the season, a trip to Notre Dame.
“I think it would be remiss to talk about the second game without first concerning yourself with Appalachian State, who does a tremendous job of recruiting our state and has a great senior quarterback that I got a lot of respect for.”
That’s the right answer for a coach to give publicly, one Saban himself would give. But let’s be real. Any team with SEC championship aspirations – let alone national title hopes – should not have to sweat beating a Sun Belt Conference team.
It’s hard to look past the Dogs’ recent history and get too carried away with the possibilities. Injuries and Todd Gurley’s suspension were legitimate alibis for the 2013 and 2014 seasons that held so much promise. The past two seasons, though, have been inexcusably underachieving. It’s also hard to know what to make of a lackluster G-Day game, when the most impressive performance was the second-team offense with Jake Fromm at quarterback against the first-team defense.
Even so, there’s plenty of reasons to think this Georgia team really could be rewrite the narrative. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has had a whole offseason to study what this team’s personnel can and can’t do. Regardless of the plays that are called, here’s what Georgia must do better. Quarterback Jacon Eason must make quicker decisions and more accurate passes. The receivers must eliminate careless drops. The offensive line must give those great running backs some room to work. Some of that, though, goes back to Eason. He must recognize when the play called from the sidelines has little chance for success and change the play at the line of scrimmage. This is something Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason did so well and is a critical part of playing quarterback in the SEC.
This is a very team with experience across the board except at offensive tackle. Someone noted that Georgia returns 21 starters, which Smart disputed.
“That is a new one for me. I can't figure out. I think we had three senior offensive linemen. So that math don't work there.”
Actually, the math works better than Smart’s grammar. With multiple sets on offense and defense, the notion of 22 starters is obsolete. The Dogs return 20 players who started at least seven of the 13 games – eight on offense, 12 on defense. They return five others who started five or six games.
They did lose one of their most explosive players in receiver/punt returner Isaiah McKenzie and their best defensive player in Maurice Smith. But that’s part of college football. Every national champion lost at least a few key players from the year before.
Smart went on to take a cryptic shot at either Tennessee coach Butch Jones or Florida coach Jim McElwain.
“Last year, we had a coach tell us that we had the best talent (in the East). And he had six players taken in the first four rounds after he said we had better talent than he did and we had one player drafted,” Smart said.
One reason Georgia had only one player (McKenzie) drafted was that Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Dominic Sanders all opted to remain at Georgia for their senior seasons. That, combined with those aforementioned losses by Tennessee and Florida, is why Georgia was picked to win the East.
So, yeah. This Georgia team should be pretty good.