It’s game week! As we turn the page from 2013 to 2014, Georgia has some big questions heading into the season. Who’s going to play in the secondary? Can the defense turn it around under a new coach? How will the holes be filled along the offensive line? Not much good will happen without positive solutions to those problems. Other than fewer visits from the injury bug, what are some of the more specific changes we’ll be looking for from 2013 to 2014?
Can Hutson Mason start games as well as he’s finished them? It’s a small sample size, but it’s taken the Georgia offense a while to get going in both of Mason’s starts. Tech surprised Georgia on both sides of the ball before the Dawgs managed a score just before halftime, and it took well into the second half before Georgia mustered a touchdown in the bowl game. This was occasionally an issue for Murray due to nerves, and Georgia’s first two 2014 games will be nothing if not hyped and emotional. If the offense is supposed to be the strength of the team, it can’t take its time before showing up.
Will Collin Barber be back in form? Barber has been a solid punter, but he wasn’t quite the same after taking a brutal hit on a blocked punt at Tennessee. Barber averaged an impressive 46.75 yards per punt over the first five games in 2013 but only 40.8 yards per punt after the Tennessee game. After a poor outing at Auburn, Barber was replaced by Adam Erickson for the rest of the season. With so much of the special teams under scrutiny this offseason, we haven’t talked much about punting. We hope we never have to punt the ball, but we’ve seen how much of a weapon a strong punter can be and how much an inconsistent punter can cause problems for a struggling defense.
As good as the linebackers are, they’ve struggled defending the pass. Will that remain an exploitable weakness, or will Pruitt fix it?
Can the team sustain a setback? The middle of the 2013 season was a Jekyll and Hyde experience for Georgia’s defense. The defense actually helped the team build double-digit second half leads against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida. That defensive success proved fragile, and each game had a very clear turning point that eventually put Georgia’s lead at risk and saw some good defense turn into bad rather quickly. The 2014 defense can show improvement in many areas, but one of the most important might be developing the ability to overcome a turnover or special teams mistake that could swing momentum back to the opponent.
Can Pruitt really be transformative? Of course Georgia’s new defensive coordinator has the freedom to remake the defense as he pleases. He’s left his mark on the hiring of positional coaches, and he’s taking on an exhausting audition of talent to construct the 2014 secondary. The hiring of Pruitt though implied more than just improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
There’s a hope that Pruitt will leave as much of a positive impact on Georgia’s culture as he does on its defense. It’s what was behind the pining of so many fans for Kirby Smart, and the success of Pruitt’s last two programs gave him instant credibility with Georgia fans. To put it crudely, we want some of the success of those programs to rub off on Georgia.
Agents of change can face resistance, and Georgia has some very established ideas about how to handle everything from academics to discipline to recruiting. Importing cultural change has big risks, especially in a field where large egos are the norm. This is still Mark Richt’s program, and it will ultimately reflect his core ideals and values. That doesn’t mean Richt must be inflexible in all areas, and we’ve already seen some subtle changes – most visibly in the higher numbers Georgia seems to be targeting for its 2015 signing class. To what extent will Pruitt (and the new assistants) be able to nudge the program towards its championship goals, and how much of that change can show up on the field in 2014?