I didn’t intend to spend the better part of the holidays and bowl season away, but life had other plans. It’s about time to put the football season to bed and move on to the winter sports.
So, right, there was the bowl. We spent so much of the year talking about how much more difficult the job was for our defense because of turnovers and disadvantageous field position. How nice to finally get a taste of what several Georgia opponents experienced this year. You wouldn’t know it from the final score, but Georgia’s offense wasn’t terribly impressive. Georgia’s 14 first half points required about 2 yards of offense. Credit the running game for putting it away and Cox for a nice touchdown pass to White that opened things up, but it was a nice change to see how things went with a little help from the opponent and no Kentucky-like meltdown.
Doug’s right – there’s not much long-term to take from the bowl. It was a lame duck game, and we know that much about the team will be different the next time they take the field. In a general sense, we can be excited about proven players at almost every position on offense except quarterback, and we can be skeptical about the unknown identity of the defense (especially if two key juniors move on).
Speaking of juniors moving on, I surely wasn’t alone in reading Rennie Curran blowing off a disciplinary running session (and his subsequent quarter-long suspension) as a sign that he will be declaring for the NFL draft. It took him a while to get going in the bowl game, but his third down stop on a quarterback scramble in the third quarter with A&M driving might have been the play of the game. The Aggies scored out of the gate in the second half, but after Curran’s stop and the disrupted fourth down attempt that followed, we didn’t hear much from the A&M offense the rest of the way.
So now we have three big storylines over the next month: 1) the new defensive coordinator and position coaches, 2) the draft-related decisions of Curran and Jones (and any other attrition), and 3) the final month of recruiting. How much each of those stories affects the others could be interesting – will the naming of the defensive staff affect recruiting (likely) or the decisions of the juniors (less likely)? In a month we’ll also be talking about mat drills and offseason conditioning, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that get extra attention this year.
Mark Fox’s first year is going about as expected. The Dawgs haven’t been able to lean on newcomers very much expect for situational minutes, so the cast is pretty familiar. Struggles on offense are unfortunately no surprise, but it is encouraging to see the system in action only a couple of years removed from the Sundiata Gaines-and-pray scheme. Shots are there, and hopefully there will soon be players in place to knock them down.
There have been bright spots. Travis Leslie’s development has been fun to watch. McPhee has done more than could be expected of him. Thompkins has come on strong late in December, and he’s starting to embrace his role. But spotty shooting and turnovers continue to plague the Dawgs and likely will all season.
The highlight of the season was definitely the win over Illinois in Gwinnett. That showcased everything good about this team – physical play inside, a big game from Thompkins, and timely plays by the guards. We were brought back to earth this past weekend at Missouri as the combination of early Thompkins foul trouble and relentless Missouri pressure turned the game into an alarming rout.
There was discussion whether Georgia’s win over Illinois was Mark Richt’s “Hobnail Boot” moment. In the sense that it was the new coach’s first high-profile win, OK. But Illinois was unranked. They’re a good, but not great, team. Dennis Felton managed to knock off #3 Georgia Tech (not to mention Florida) in his first season. If we’re looking for a signature win to get the Fox program off and running, I hope we can do better this year than Illinois. A win this week over a ranked Tech team would go a long way.
Georgia overcame a 10-point halftime deficit by holding Alabama to only 14 second half points and escaped Tuscaloosa with a win in the SEC opener. The Lady Dogs are off to an undefeated 14-0 start and are ranked in the top 10. The perfect record hasn’t been built entirely on easy wins – they’ve beaten teams like Oklahoma, Rutgers, Virginia, and Georgia Tech who are all bound for the NCAA Tournament and have been ranked this year.
A good core of seniors has been augmented by an exciting group of freshmen. The development of sophomore win Meredith Mitchell has been a great shot in the arm. Freshman guard Jasmine James is one of the most entertaining and capable shooting guards the team has had in years.
The one caution with the women’s team is on offense. The team is shooting under 40% for the year, and it got them in a hole against Alabama. They’ve needed late rallies to win several games. To their credit the defense has held tough and made it possible to overcome poor shooting nights. They’re winning games that would be losses over the past couple of seasons. The shooting is going to have to come around against better SEC competition though.
The team hosts Kentucky and Florida over the next week, and it’s a bit like playing South Carolina in football. Neither will win the SEC, but they’re respectable teams that will provide serious challenges and should serve as early measurements of Georgia’s SEC prospects. If they can beat Kentucky it would mark the best start in the program’s storied history. UK is much improved in recent years though, and they only have one blemish so far this season themselves.