Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Bye week opponent watch

Monday September 30, 2019

Sure, you could have done something productive during the bye week – that yard isn’t going to tend itself. Alternatively you could have been sucked into watching the #1 team in the nation fight for its life against a team coming off a loss to Appalachian State. A bye week was a great opportunity to check up on the teams Georgia has defeated and get to know the teams we’ll see down the road.

Vanderbit: Notched their first win of the season in a 24-18 home defeat of Northern Illinois. Vandy jumped out ahead and held NIU scoreless in the first half but ended up sweating the outcome. Ke’Shawn Vaughn became the first SEC back to have multiple 130+ yard games this season.

Murray State: Fell to 1-3 in a 40-7 loss to UT-Martin. The 17 points scored against Georgia are the most they’ve scored in a loss.

Arkansas State: Survived a 50-43 shootout with Troy and are 3-2 on the year. ASU has scored at least 30 points in all of their games win or lose…except for the shutout loss in Athens.

Notre Dame: Got back into the saddle with a 35-20 win over Virginia in the day’s only matchup of ranked teams. It’s a nice win, and many are saying that it makes Georgia’s win a week ago look a little better. I’m not entirely sure about that – the Irish needed two big defensive plays to come from behind in the second half, and the offense was actually outgained by the Cavaliers.

Of course it’s good to see our signature win (to date) get a quality win of their own. I’ll just take two things from the game: first is Tony Jones Jr. grinding out 131 yards. Georgia’s defense held him to 21 yards and essentially made Notre Dame one-dimensional. The other takeaway is why Kirby Smart seemed so obsessive about turnovers in the leadup to our game. Of course any coach will emphasize the importance of turnover margin, but every Georgia player seemed to know that Notre Dame doesn’t lose when the turnover margin is in their favor. Sure enough, Notre Dame needed every one of Virginia’s five turnovers to avoid a much closer game than the final score indicated.

Tennessee: (insert “struggled with bye week” joke). The Vols didn’t exactly win the bye week – three players departed the team, leaving Tennessee with 77 scholarship players.

South Carolina: Recorded their first FBS win of the season with a solid 24-7 defeat of Kentucky. Two Gamecock tailbacks rushed for 100 yards, and a stingy defense limited a hapless Kentucky offense to 212 yards and 3.4 yards per play. The natives had become restless after a 1-3 start, but this win was a much-needed shot of confidence going into a bye week before the trip to Athens.

Kentucky: Fell flat at South Carolina. As the saying goes, if you have zero quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. Sawyer Smith had a dreadful 2.8 yards per attempt against South Carolina, and the Wildcats asked WR Lynn Bowden to take snaps because, well, why not. The UK defense was able to keep things close-ish, but South Carolina’s second touchdown opened what seemed like a 50-point lead. The Cats will have a bye week to try to figure things out before Arkansas – maybe their best chance at an SEC win.

Florida: Shut out Towson, a school I only knew about because of a couple of NCAA Tournament appearances in the 1990s. I’m sure this game is just what the Gators needed to prepare them for a visit from Auburn next week. Kyle Trask accounted for three touchdowns with an efficient 18-20 and 9.4 YPA. The Gators remain undefeated and in the top ten but will face Auburn, LSU, and Georgia over the next five weeks.

Missouri: Had a bye this week and are 3-1. They’ll have a fairly light load in October with Troy, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. The loss to Wyoming is in the distant past now, and it would be surprising if Mizzou weren’t 7-1 when they visit Athens.

Auburn: Probably still putting up points on Mississippi State. The Tigers jumped on the visiting Bulldogs (literally) and led 42-9 by halftime en route to a 56-23 thumping. Bo Nix had his best game to date, but really every part of the Auburn offense did what it wanted in this game. Auburn’s defense was solid as always, and the MSU offense didn’t help themselves. The Tigers are rolling, but two of the next three are on the road at Florida and LSU.

Texas A&M: Escaped the SEC upset of the year with a 31-27 win over Arkansas in Dallas. This turned into the most entertaining game of the noontime slate as the teams traded scores and the lead five times. The Aggies got 251 yards passing from Kellen Mond but only rushed for 89 yards. Arkansas had the final possession inside A&M territory, but the Aggie defense prevailed. A&M is 3-2 and has yet to cover itself in glory. They’ll get a bye and then the pleasure of facing new #1 Alabama.

Georgia Tech: Were not shut out by Temple.

Post Georgia 23 – Notre Dame 17: They say the (LED) lights are bright

Tuesday September 24, 2019

“It’s a lot of the reason why they want to come to Notre Dame. It’s like being on Broadway. It’s a Broadway show. You’re on stage every game you play.” – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly

Georgia, rather than Notre Dame, put on a show for the ages Saturday night. There was the breathtaking light show. There were fans in place and in full voice well before kickoff. Of course there was the attendant hype of a visit from ESPN’s Gameday show. The weather was perfect for an all-day tailgate and a late kickoff. By most any measure the Georgia-Notre Dame game was peak spectacle and a treat for all of the senses. The producers of the latest Disney big-budget musical would have approved.

But it might be saying something that more people are talking about that spectacle rather than what happened on the field. This wasn’t a scripted Broadway show, so the game itself was under no obligation to match the sensory overload going on around the stadium. The scripted version of this game might have produced a thrilling shootout like the 2013 LSU game. Even better might have been a 2007 Auburn or 2014 Clemson style of game in which Georgia delivered the late coup de grâce that turned a close battle into a satisfying rout.
What you got was 0-0 after the first quarter. While the lights swirled, the stadium shook from the noise, and the crowd waited for its opportunity to explode, Georgia and Notre Dame went about their business with utmost caution, taking risks only when absolutely necessary, and leaving both sets of fans a bit confused about just what their coaches were trying to accomplish.

There was plenty of time to kill at tailgate, so we tried this thought exercise: what would your expectations be if Notre Dame were playing at Clemson or Alabama? Sure – that’s pointless tailgate talk informed only by the failures of past Notre Dame teams, but it did help to understand why expectations were high for this game even as Georgia fans reconciled these expectations with their usual dread. If Georgia aspires to be a playoff contender and the peer of Clemson and Alabama (and if not, why are we even doing this?), you might expect Georgia to handle Notre Dame as other recent playoff teams have. Fair or unfair, Notre Dame’s recent history against top teams colored how many fans and pundits saw this game. It certainly affected the point spread.

If you saw this game as a means to solidify Georgia’s status as a playoff contender or if you wanted to see a statement game, the outcome likely left you a little uneasy. If you wanted a game like the 1991 Clemson game or the 2007 Blackout game that let the party carry on in the stands, sweating that last Notre Dame possession was probably a bit of a buzzkill. At the same time, Georgia is now one of the few programs in the nation with a win over a top ten team, and that’s not a bad statement. The Dawgs have a relatively light load before a more challenging November gauntlet. With two bye weeks in the next month, a banged-up team will have an opportunity to heal. There’s time to improve. They’ll need to.

We left South Bend two years ago ecstatic over a one-point win. The playoff wasn’t really on our mind; it was enough at that moment that Kirby Smart won a huge road game. We could enjoy the Notre Dame win for what it was and maybe allow a little hope that Smart could deliver something better than the 7-5 of 2016. Georgia survived Jake Fromm’s first start and built on that win to steamroll Mississippi State and then the SEC East.

I don’t think many people will consider Saturday’s win a building block. Now each game has to be placed in the context of what it means for Georgia’s chances against Alabama and Clemson (or, increasingly, LSU or Auburn.) I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a healthy approach. Georgia is already at a much higher level as a program than it was two years ago. Notre Dame might be as well. This time a win just means Georgia passed its toughest test to date and survives September with its goals intact.

Depth Wins

Within two plays Georgia was without its starting cornerbacks. That’s a concern when the opponent’s quarterback is as effective as Ian Book had been. Daniel and Wilson were tested though not as often as I would have expected. Book took what was given him across the middle, and that more often than not was enough. Wilson had been mentioned as a possible starter in the summer of 2018 before he was injured, and we saw him make a strong case for a larger role. Tyrique McGhee had been fighting for playing time at corner and then at star, but when it came down to it in this game the coaches chose his experience over perhaps more talented newcomers.

Georgia’s biggest accomplishment on defense was containing the run. That objective was aided by the absence of Notre Dame’s top two tailbacks, but it still had to be done. The Dawgs held the Irish to just 46 rushing yards. Book has the ability to make plays while scrambling – less Jalen Hurts and more Joe Burrow – but he only kept the ball three times for 18 yards. Without much of a credible rushing threat, even the most competent passing game will struggle at times. Georgia could afford to help out its inexperienced cornerbacks, and they forced enough incompletions to keep the Irish from sustaining scoring drives. Book’s total of 275 yards might seem alarming, but those yards came on 47 attempts – just 5.9 yards per attempt and more than a full yard less than Fromm’s YPA.

Both teams were missing important contributors, but the Dawgs had better depth to manage their losses. Georgia was down a couple of cornerbacks and at times two offensive linemen. Notre Dame was without two of its better rushing options. Georgia was able to piece together a defense that limited Notre Dame to one scoring drive per half. Notre Dame never was able to get its running game going.

Phone Booth Offense

Jake Fromm completed his first six passes. He was 11-12 in the first half. He also had 59 yards passing at halftime – a subpar 4.9 yards per attempt. Of Georgia’s 11 completed passes in the first half, only two went for more than 10 yards. 5 of the 11 – nearly half – went for 3 yards or less. Coincidence or not, Georgia’s only completions beyond ten yards came on their final drive of the half which resulted in their first touchdown.

Most preseason previews of Georgia’s offense were a variation on this theme: “Teams will try to stop Georgia’s running game and make Fromm beat them with a group of inexperienced receivers.” Is anyone surprised that’s what Notre Dame tried to do? It might be a surprise that they were moderately successful, but that’s what happens when a defense throws bodies at the line of scrimmage. Not many teams have the talent in the secondary that Notre Dame has, and so the Irish felt comfortable playing pass coverage without much of a safety net. Fromm often didn’t have a ton of time to let plays develop downfield, and it took a couple of nice individual plays by Cager and other receivers to beat that tight coverage on longer passes.

Some Georgia adjustments in the second half got the Bulldog offense out of the phone booth. Isaiah Wilson helped to shore up the pass protection. The Dawgs took a few more chances in the passing game. Fromm went from one incompletion in the first half to five in the second. But it paid off – six of the nine completions in the second half went for at least 10 yards. Four of them were for at least 15 yards. Georgia still wasn’t taking (or completing) shots downfield – there was only one reception longer than 20 yards – but even slightly longer passes went along with a few more holes and more success for the running game.

Georgia will and should remain a team identified by its running game and offensive line, but Fromm has more than earned the trust to do more.

  • Just have to mention the crowd again. When we talk about all elements of the Georgia program pulling in the same direction, the scene at Sanford is what it looks like. The music, lights, and game operations were on point, and the crowd did its part by arriving early and affecting the Notre Dame offense. The staff even found time to give the star-studded list of visiting prospects a memorable experience.
  • As much as the crowd and atmosphere affected the game (and it did), I don’t think I’ve ever heard a full Sanford more quiet than it was after Notre Dame scored in the fourth quarter. Credit to the crowd for getting back into it for Notre Dame’s last possession.
  • Notre Dame was obviously affected by the crowd, but it wouldn’t have been hard for Georgia’s players to get carried away by the scene. The Dawgs had a respectable six penalties and only one big mistake – the late hit by Shaffer. Kirby Smart talks about playing with “controlled emotion,” and between the penalties and zero turnovers by the offense, he has to be pleased with how the team handled the environment.
  • Both teams have made a living with explosive plays, and there weren’t many to be had. Each team had a deep pass or two – one to Cager and one to Kmet.
  • After Reed’s interception, we said in the stands that the only thing missing was a patented Swift knockout punch. That never came – Swift almost cracked 100 yards, but he had to grind for nearly all of them. This was one of the first times we’ve seen Swift take on the workhorse role, and he held up.
  • Lawrence Cager will never again be “that guy from Miami.”
  • Georgia’s tackle stats tell you the kind of game it was: Georgia’s top four tacklers were all middle-of-the-field defenders: safeties and ILBs. You have to go eight spots down before your get to a defensive lineman or OLB.
  • Georgia didn’t record a sack in the game (nor did Notre Dame.) Without a lot of deep passes or slow-developing pass plays, there’s not a lot of time for a pass rush to get to the target. The Dawgs were also more interested in keeping Book contained rather than take aggressive chances in the pass rush that might have opened lanes for long scrambles. Georgia was able to flush Book a couple of times, and the speed with which Nolan Smith got into the backfield on the final play led to Book putting up a low-percentage prayer.
  • Zero sacks also doesn’t mean zero havoc. Georgia notched the two interceptions, had three tackles for loss, and recorded six pass break-ups (three by Reed alone.)
  • We first got an idea of the player J.R. Reed would be in South Bend. Reed had another outstanding game against the Irish with seven tackles and three pass break-ups. He was thisclose to two pick-sixes that would have torn Sanford Stadium asunder.
  • The news that South Carolina’s Jamyest Williams has entered the transfer portal reminds me that instead of Williams and Deangelo Gibbs, Georgia got Eric Stokes and J.R. Reed. Not a bad outcome.
  • If the game was missing one thing, it was at least a small group from the Notre Dame band. That organization and the Notre Dame fight song are as much a part of the Fighting Irish tradition as the gold helmets. Most bands, including Georgia’s Redcoat Band, limit the road games for which the full band travels, but there’s at least a Redcoat presence at every game.

Post Managing the moment

Thursday September 19, 2019

Georgia has played in a lot of big games since Kirby Smart took over in 2016. Upperclassmen on this team have played for a couple of SEC titles, won a Rose Bowl, and played for the national title. A top-ten showdown against Notre Dame shouldn’t be an exotic experience for Georgia’s players.

The difference is that all of those other big games were either on the road or at neutral sites. Georgia has won important games in South Bend, Pasadena, and Atlanta, and they’ve dropped some games away from home against SEC West foes. For the first time since Kirby Smart took over the program, Georgia gets to enjoy a top-ten matchup at home.

Auburn was #9 (and fading) when an unranked Georgia team pulled the upset in 2016. It was a big win for the program, but there wasn’t much buildup for the game itself due to Georgia’s up and down season.
The most hyped home game under Smart might be the 2017 Mississippi State game when then-#17 MSU visited then-#11 Georgia. Auburn was #24 when they played in Athens a year ago, and there just haven’t been many other home games to move the needle during Georgia’s current run.

That of course all changes on Saturday when the spotlight of the college football world shines on Athens. You’d think finally having a game of national significance at home is nothing but an advantage for Georgia, but it has its perils. You can put on the “business trip” blinders on the road and insulate yourself from most things other than the team and the game at hand. It’s much more difficult to do that at home. The game is all anyone will talk about this week in class, on campus, and all over Athens. Media began streaming in starting with Smart’s press conference on Monday, and it won’t let up. With Gameday coming to town the broadcasts will start on Thursday. I want to see if the coaches – and, more importantly, the team leadership – can get the team to tune out those distractions and prepare as well as they have for the first three games. With Georgia’s new approach to scheduling, preparing for big games – home or away – is something we’re going to have to deal with a lot more often if Kirby Smart builds the kind of program we expect and Georgia becomes everyone’s biggest game.

There’s a reason they call it “home field advantage” though. If Georgia can solve the distraction problem, they’ll have an awful lot in their corner. The crowd will be out of its mind. Brian Kelly is correct that Notre Dame’s players are used to being the big attraction wherever they go, and I’m sure Notre Dame will bring many more fans than the 8,000 tickets allotted to the visitor. Still, it will be a loud, raucous environment capable of rattling even the most hardened road warriors.

It’s a big moment for Kirby Smart. There’s the game itself – Notre Dame seems to be the only credible threat to Georgia heading into November without a loss. Georgia’s adjustments helped to win the Rose Bowl, but this coaching staff found itself outmaneuvered a couple of times in 2018. With the home field and a presumed advantage in talent, a loss would be a setback. Smart will also be welcoming one of the most impressive collection of prospects that Georgia has hosted, and we know they’ll want to see a good show.

More generally, the game is an opportunity for Smart to show off what he’s built in less than four years. Smart’s team, culture, the facilities, and a supercharged fan base will all be on display for the first time against a top-ten opponent on Smart’s own home field. The roster is now nearly all players he recruited. Private donors and the athletic department have made a tremendous investment in facilities and personnel. Under Smart’s leadership all elements of the program seem to be aligned, and Smart lacks for no resource. With a national audience for what might be the biggest home nonconference game in over 50 years, there’s no better time for Smart to show what it’s all been building towards.

There are too many games left and bigger goals remaining at the end of the season to consider a win on Saturday a peak, but it would still be a milestone. Georgia’s narrow win in South Bend two years ago started Georgia on a run of success, and everyone will be watching to see how far they’ve come since then.

Post Georgia 55 – Arkansas State 0: Ruthless

Monday September 16, 2019

We’ll keep this brief with much bigger things to talk about this week, but if you were concerned about Georgia’s focus for a noon kickoff against a decent mid-major opponent ahead of the Notre Dame game, you should be very pleased with Saturday’s result. Even if you didn’t expect Georgia to sleepwalk through this game, it was still an impressive showing. It’s easy to forget after a result like that that Arkansas State came in to the game as Georgia’s toughest opponent of the season, but this is a fairly successful Sun Belt program with eight straight bowl appearances. Coming into the game both ESPN metrics (SP+ and FPI) had them higher than Vanderbilt. The Dawgs were focused and prepared and, perhaps for the first time this season, kept their edge throughout most of the game.

I’m not sure whether the offense or defense had the better day, but posting a shutout gives the honor to the defense by a hair. Blake Anderson’s teams had put up at least 300 yards of offense in 27 straight games. They had reached 400 yards in eight straight games. Those streaks came to a crashing halt in Athens. Georgia held the Red Wolves to 220 yards of total offense, allowed a single play over 20 yards, and forced five three-and-outs. With their leading rusher out, Arkansas State could do little on the ground – there was no running play longer than 10 yards, and no ASU back had more than 24 yards of rushing.

Without a credible rushing attack to worry about, the Georgia defense could pin its ears back against a potent passing game. Georgia’s secondary had perhaps its best performance of the season, and they were aided by a pass rush that recorded four sacks and many more pressures. ASU was held to a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt through the air while completing 57.5% of their passes. Georgia’s defense did very well limiting yards after the catch and had very few missed tackles. That’s a must if Georgia is going to take more chances up front in the service of havoc.

Some minor drama occurred late when Arkansas State attempted a fourth down conversion deep in Georgia territory. (Credit to Anderson for not taking the cheap field goal just to avoid the shutout.) Lewis Cine ended the threat with an interception in the endzone, but it was the sideline’s reaction that stood out. Cine was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of starters. They were happy for the freshman of course, but you could also tell that preserving the shutout mattered to the defense. It reminded me of the reaction after a Monty Rice tackle kept Mississippi State out of the endzone in 2017. There was a pride in the defense’s performance from the starters through the reserves, and the reserves aspired to the standard set for the starters. Of course it helps when even the reserve units are packed with 3*, 4*, and occasionally young 5* players.

Meanwhile the offense had one of the program’s top 10 games in terms of production. Georgia spread the ball around on the ground and in the air – no player had more than 9 carries or five receptions, but there were still enough balls to go around for 268 yards of rushing and 388 yards passing. Explosive plays were the order of the day – four backs had a carry of at least 19 yards, and even Stetson “Mayfield” Bennett got in on the act with a 14-yard scamper on a bootleg. Nine players had a reception longer than 10 yards, and three had a catch go for longer than 30 yards. Thanks to outstanding blocking downfield, Georgia’s ballcarriers and receivers found a lot of room once they got into open space. Lawrence Cager’s enthusiasm after blocking a defender into the endzone on Cook’s long scoring run shows how even relative newcomers are taking their roles seriously, and the offense is clicking because of it.

Georgia hasn’t faced much of a challenge over its first three games, but the team has taken care of business. There were no slip-ups, close calls, or glaring weaknesses exposed. Whether it was the penalties at Vanderbilt, the missed tackles against Murray State, or the turnovers in each game, Georgia has tightened up at the margins and built towards the result we saw on Saturday. The Dawgs look very much like the top five team they were expected to be, and that’s about all that could be asked after these three games. Georgia has a deep and well-balanced team and is the only squad in the nation after three weeks with all three units (offense, defense, and special teams) in the top 10 of the SP+ rankings. Now it’s time to see whether the team can sustain this level of play against much better competition.

  • Fromm only had five incomplete passes. At least three of those were downfield shots just off the fingertips of the receivers. On a couple to Pickens, Fromm could have put a little more distance on the pass as Pickens had to slow down and allow a defender to make a play. Fromm’s poise earned a touchdown before halftime as a play broke down and Fromm bought time until Cager became open.
  • The Pickens Catch of the Year of the Week is a thing now. Certainly his game can use plenty of refinement, but there’s no mistaking the raw talent. The emergence of a playmaker on the outside will only make the job easier for Georgia’s running game.
  • Interior pass blocking had been an issue over the first two games, but it was solid on Saturday. Hill had his best game so far. The line didn’t give up a sack, but there was a close call on a play on which Thomas was beaten. Fromm had to rush the pass, and it was underthrown. Pickens made a nice play to come back to the ball, and a near-disaster turned into a moderate gain.
  • As at Vanderbilt, Georgia’s third down conversion rate was under 50%. The four third down conversions were huge: two went for explosive scoring plays, another kept a scoring drive alive, and the final conversion helped Georgia escape its own goal line and set up Kenny McIntosh’s long touchdown run.
  • Only three of Georgia’s third down opportunities were short yardage (3 yards to go or less). Georgia converted two of those.
  • Georgia only ran the ball on three of its third downs, and one of those runs was a draw on 3rd-and-14. Even on its three short-yardage third downs, Georgia passed twice. Georgia was similarly unpredictable on third-and-short last week, and Coley has moved the ball around well in those situations. It’s still nice to know Fromm can burrow his way forward for two yards if necessary.
  • After two weeks of seeing the tight ends a little more involved in the passing game, a 6-yard reception by Eli Wolf right before halftime was the only catch for a tight end on Saturday. Woerner was targeted on another pass. It’s not that Georgia changed much with play selection; other options were open. The tight ends didn’t take the afternoon off – they were again outstanding in run blocking.
  • Tyson Campbell had one of his better games and is settling into the cornerback spot opposite Stokes. Stokes-Campbell-Webb seem to have solidified as the top unit in nickel coverage, but Wilson and Daniel are providing some nice depth. There were still some shaky moments, and Arkansas State’s best chance to hit a big play was fortunately dropped. In all the secondary held its own against a couple of quality receivers.
  • Lewis Cine saw a lot of action in garbage time, and he made the most of it. As the only player without a name on the back of his jersey (because his usual #8 was shared with Blaylock), a lot of people wanted to know who #28 was.
  • Can’t let Pickens’s theatrics overshadow another good game for Blaylock. Not only is he a threat for big plays as a receiver, it was important to have him available as a steady option when Simmons couldn’t field punts.
  • Both Simmons and Blaylock got coached up by Smart after letting punts hit the field. Otherwise special teams had another productive game. Early drives ending in field goals wasn’t ideal, but Blankenship still made sure Georgia got points out of those drives and increased that early lead ever so slightly.
  • Stetson Bennett made better decisions in his second game. He could have forced a pass on the bootleg, but the room was there for a big gain on the ground. He managed the situation well when Georgia was backed up on its own goal line and made a key third down pass to move the chains.
  • Cager’s difficult come-back touchdown catch at the goal line was a just reward for Cager’s outstanding blocking work on the outside. Cager’s blocks were involved in two and maybe three other touchdowns. Good downfield blocking = explosive plays.
  • On the flip side, I hated to see Trey Blount have his first career touchdown taken away from him. It was the right call, but Blount has done a lot of grunt work (and was on the field to block for Sony Michel’s Rose Bowl gamewinner.) Hopefully he gets in the endzone soon.

Finally, credit to the fans and program for the show of support towards Blake Anderson and the Red Wolves program. The idea, promotion, and execution of the impromptu pink-out was tremendous, and it was heartwarming to drive down Milledge before the game to see how the students responded. The team didn’t allow the moment to distract from the business at hand on the field, and the outreach to Anderson and ASU stayed on the right side of uncomfortable and patronizing. It was a wonderfully decent and human gesture, but it was also simply the right thing to do.

Post Big Bear is watching

Friday September 13, 2019

Earlier this summer I wrote about professional teams using data mining from electronic transactions to monitor and customize the fan experience.

I shouldn’t be surprised to see this technology now being used by some of our quasi-professional college teams.

(Alabama) is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season. But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.

I’m not a fan of coaches scolding students and fans for lack of attendance and support. Play better opponents. Provide a better experience.

At the same time, Alabama’s plan doesn’t bother me that much. Attend or don’t attend; leave or stay. But I don’t have much of a problem using scarce and subsidized postseason student tickets as an incentive to reward consistent attendance. It’s not perfect – there are legitimate reasons to leave games or skip them entirely, and that’s the student’s choice. I’m sure some will find a way to game the system. It does seem preferable to ticket distribution based on a random lottery or even seniority though. If the location tracking is your hangup, I have a few flip phones to sell you.

Post Georgia 63 – Murray State 17: Past, present, and future

Tuesday September 10, 2019

Georgia paid tribute to one of its icons on Saturday, and the Bulldog Nation welcomed back some of the greatest players of the 60s, 70s, and 80s (*). The ceremony introducing “Vince Dooley Field” was enough to fill the stands on a relentlessly hot day and move a nearly-capacity crowd to a warm ovation.

It was by no means a farewell for Dooley who remains active in the Athens community and makes frequent appearances at events. In some sense though it was closure and a way to wrap up an unsettled period in Georgia history that covered nearly two decades now. Clashes with the administration led to the end of Dooley’s career as athletic director and divided a Georgia fan base right as its flagship football program began to show signs of life. With all of that division a distant memory and that administration long gone, Saturday’s ceremony might have been as much about putting that era behind us as it was a recognition for a long and successful career.

Whether or not the “Dooley Field” recognition could be seen as vindication or a last laugh, it should be at least enough to close this chapter with an appropriate ending. Dooley himself seems at peace. “It’s all been great, but I’ll be glad when it’s over, to focus all the attention back to where it should be, on the football team,” he said. Dooley is content now to “(fade) away in the sunlight in my garden,” and we hope that twilight isn’t for many years to come.

Meanwhile the team that plays on the field now named for Dooley is doing anything but fading away. If the pregame ceremony was about the past, Saturday’s game quickly became about the bright future of the program. Some initial shakiness had fans grumbling about a 7-7 score after one quarter, but a 35-point second period cleared the way for waves of reserves to have their moment in the (did we mention brutally hot) sun.

Fromm was sharp as usual with only one incompletion, Swift got into the endzone and had yet another explosive run, and Reed perfected his scoop-and-score technique. The starters did their jobs. After the game though most of the conversation had to do with some of the impressive Sanford Stadium debuts we saw. So often these blowouts end up with the team basically taking a knee for the second half, but those who stuck around or watched on TV saw plenty of action. The offense scored as many points (28) without Fromm in the game as with him. The defensive reserves allowed just a field goal.

Here are just some of the firsts we witnessed:

  • George Pickens’s first reception and touchdown.
  • Pickens leading the team in receiving yards
  • Zamir White’s first touchdown
  • White leading the team in rushing yards
  • Nolan Smith’s first sack(s)
  • Eli Wolf’s first career multiple-reception game
  • Stetson Bennett’s first touchdown pass
  • Latavious Brini’s first interception
  • Demetris Robertson’s first Sanford Stadium receiving touchdown
  • Dominick Blaylock’s debut and first touchdown
  • Netori Johnson’s first tackle for loss on a late fourth-down stop

Those are just individual highlights. Several other players saw their first action at Sanford Stadium. Thanks to the new redshirt rule, Georgia emptied the bench. If a scholarship player didn’t play in this game, they were probably injured. What struck you was that even with the reserves in the game you were still watching impressive, though inexperienced, talent. It’s late in the fourth quarter, and there’s 4* DE Bill Norton. At cornerback was 4* Tyrique Stevenson who could have played for anyone. Blaylock didn’t even play last week and showed explosiveness. I thought about three years of watching Smith, Pickens, Blaylock, Walker, Dean, and White and couldn’t help but smile. Even as we celebrated the past by honoring Dooley, the present is exciting, and Georgia’s not going away for the foreseeable future.

Kirby Smart will have plenty to pick apart from the game. Pass protection can still be a concern. Smart wasn’t pleased with tackling. Georgia was more successful at creating havoc plays, but at times it came at the cost of giving up big plays when the initial tackle was missed. He’ll be pleased with fewer penalties and the results against the run, but Murray State’s air raid exposed a few areas to clean up in pass coverage. Fans don’t have to think about all of that. This is a good, deep team, and it showed on Saturday against a lesser opponent. As Smart reminded us, it’s something else to perform this well against more equally-matched opponents. We’ll worry about that when those opponents show up.

There was one area in which Georgia’s depth was more than just a luxury. The midweek injury to Isaiah Wilson meant that Georgia would have to find a solution at right tackle. We assumed that Mays would slide out to tackle with Cleveland taking over at guard, but Jamaree Salyer also saw time at tackle with the first unit. The offense didn’t suffer much with either combination. Granted the level of competition had something to do with it, but Georgia was still able to do most of what it wanted to. Since Wilson could miss the Notre Dame game, the team will have another week to experiment with its starting offensive line and find the best combination to take into the big game.

One thing that might be overlooked was how clean the game was in terms of operations. Murray State’s air raid offense wanted to push the tempo. If they huddled, they often used a “sugar huddle” that didn’t give the defense much time to align itself to the formation. Even their punt unit used an unconventional method to get on to the field. Georgia was rarely caught off-guard by any of this. The Dawgs had to burn an early timeout before a punt, but otherwise they were prepared with quick substitutions involving entire changes of personnel groupings. I don’t recall any substitution infractions or major misalignments of the defense, and that’s tough to accomplish against this kind of team. Given the heat and how easy it would have been for minds to wander with such a lopsided score, it’s even more impressive considering how many reserves played and the dizzying number of combinations Georgia had to get on and off the field. That’s a credit to the detailed preparation that went into an FCS opponent.


  • Eli Wolf didn’t just have a career high in receptions. His five receptions in 2019 match his 2018 total at Tennessee, and he already has more receiving yards at Georgia (84) than he did in his Tennessee career (78). Wolf has been a welcome addition and has allowed Georgia to use a lot more 12 (ace) personnel than we expected, and the tight ends are doing more than blocking. They were key parts of the passing game during the second quarter scoring outburst.
  • Perimeter blocking is consistent – even late in the game Trey Blount was getting it done on the outside.
  • Last season kick coverage was often an adventure when there wasn’t a touchback. Three such kicks in 2019 is a small sample size, but Georgia seems to have solved its coverage issues. Special teams in general are solid, and Camarda has been outstanding.
  • Stetson Bennett showed he was capable of running a simplified offense. He made a couple of mistakes and probably should have been intercepted twice, but you know he was anxious to make something happen in his first meaningful action at Georgia.
  • A week after subpar results on third down, Georgia converted 8-10. Only one of those failed conversions came before the fourth quarter – the sack of Fromm in the first quarter. Murray State’s defense isn’t Vanderbilt’s, but that’s still improvement.
  • More interesting might have been the way Georgia mixed it up on third-and-short (three yards or less.) The Dawgs didn’t face third-and-short until the second quarter, but that 3rd-and-3 play was a 24-yard Fromm pass to Wolf. On six plays of 3rd-and-3 or shorter, Georgia ran three times and passed three times. Georgia’s only short-yardage third down play near the goal line was a handoff to Zamir White, and he plowed six yards into the endzone behind some nice blocking.
  • I didn’t see any serious injuries or even cramping – that’s incredible in those conditions. Kirby Smart made a point of practicing outdoors as much as possible in August, and the team’s conditioning seemed to be up to the challenge.
  • It wasn’t obvious in broad daylight, but you could see the new lighting system being used before and during the game. Georgia’s new LED lights can be instantly turned on and off individually to create any number of effects, and they can also be dimmed similar to what you’ve seen at a Braves game. We’ve also seen testing of red lights. It should be quite a show for that little night game in two weeks.
  • At least from my perspective the University did well to manage the conditions. Cold water was available well into the second half. The policy to allow ticketholders to bring water into the stadium helped, and I heard good reviews of the water filling stations. I only saw one heat-related incident in our area, and it was promptly handled. I appreciate the hard work it took by stadium staff to make the heat as tolerable as possible.

* It amazes me that this era still resonates as it does with younger fans and recruits. A recruit meeting Herschel Walker now would be the equivalent of a young Walker meeting Frank Sinkwich or some other WWII-era legend.

Post Georgia 30 – Vanderbilt 6: Your ordinary everyday takeover

Wednesday September 4, 2019

A year ago Georgia led Vanderbilt 21-6 at halftime but scored 17 third quarter points to allow both the bench and stands to empty early. The Dawgs enjoyed the same halftime margin on Saturday night but struggled to pull away, settling for a trio of second half field goals for the final margin. Penalties, a turnover, and a failed fourth down conversion kept the Bulldogs out of the endzone in the second half. The result was a comfortable if not flashy 30-6 win. There are plenty of things to work on and improve but very few areas that should keep fans up at night.

It’s a new season, but the Georgia team we saw in Nashville was very familiar. Even with two new coordinators both the offense and defense would have looked at home in 2018.

That’s not to say there weren’t some tweaks. The offense featured a bit more pre-snap motion, especially orbit motion that brought a player in motion behind the quarterback. Georgia ran from passing formations and, as on the first touchdown, passed when a run might have been expected. Play-action was a big part of the passes Georgia attempted, and Georgia’s run threat led to some very open shots down the field. Otherwise though, it was the run-heavy attack you’d expect from Georgia. The motion and spread looks allowed the offense to showcase its speed on the outside while creating nightmare defensive matchups when Georgia decided to run between the tackles.

Things also looked familiar on defense, and that might merit a closer look. We’re going to be sick of the term “havoc” before long, but the defense identified havoc as a key area of improvement this season. If that’s the case, it’s worth pointing out that Georgia shut down some capable skill players and kept Vanderbilt out of the endzone without creating much disruption. In fact, according to Patrick Garbin of UGASports.com, it could be said that Georgia took a step back in havoc relative to 2018.

Pass pressure and hurries aren’t a part of the havoc calculation due to inconsistent stats, but, as Garbin points out, Georgia fared much better pressuring the quarterback in this game even if it didn’t lead to tangible results like sacks or turnovers. More often the results were errant passes or short gains that neutralized Vanderbilt’s explosive potential. Georgia only allowed five plays longer than 10 yards and only one play longer than 20 yards. Without those big gains, Vanderbilt could be relied upon to shoot themselves in the foot with their own miscues. It’s a formula that worked against enough teams in 2018 to give Georgia a top 10 defense, and it worked again on Saturday night. I’m not so sure that’s the identity the team wants this year though.

Georgia’s defense – the line in particular – was a little more into the game in the second half. The few havoc plays largely occurred after halftime, and as a result the Vanderbilt offense wasn’t able to stay on the field very long. During one stretch in the second half, Vanderbilt had four straight three-and-outs losing a combined 1 yard. Even though Georgia’s offense slowed down, the Bulldog defense slammed the door on any kind of comeback. For contrast, Vanderbilt had no possession shorter than six plays in the first half, and several of those drives only stalled due to penalties. Consequently Georgia only had four first half possessions while their offense was humming.

I know the thinking is that Georgia’s offense went conservative in the second half with the game more or less under control. That might be the case, but there are still reasons to have expected more points on the board. The defense’s ability to get off the field meant that four of Georgia’s six second half possessions started with field position no worse than their own 46. You want more than six total points out of those four possessions. The other two possessions ended on downs and Jackson’s fumble. Georgia was still running its first team offense with the long strike to Jackson and consecutive shots at the endzone with Pickens, so it wasn’t a case of the offense taking a knee for the final 30 minutes. You want to see the offense finish those drives better especially when given that kind of field position.

Spreading it around

In each of the past two seasons a single receiver emerged as Jake Fromm’s favorite target. Wims stood out in 2017, and Holloman became that target in 2018. Whether Fromm feels more comfortable spreading the ball around or he just hasn’t found that go-to target yet, we saw Georgia showcase a variety of weapons in the passing game. Fromm completed 15 passes to eight different receivers. Six players had multiple receptions, and no one had more than three. There were three receptions by tight ends, three by tailbacks, and nine by four different wide receivers. Others (Simmons and Pickens in particular) were targeted but didn’t record a reception.

There were hardly any outright drops – many of the incompletions were just passes into tight coverage. We can’t dismiss concerns about the receiving corps yet, especially with Jackson’s injury, but some nice options seem to be available. Simmons and Pickens will soon join the stat sheet, and we haven’t even seen others like Blaylock yet. Georgia (and Fromm) had a bit tougher time of it on more obvious passing situations like third and long or at the end of the first half.

There were some shaky moments in pass protection. Hill, as the newest member of the regular offensive line, is still figuring some things out and had problems with a couple of stunts and twists, and he wasn’t alone in getting beat by the pass rush. LSU and Texas last season were able to confuse Georgia’s protection at times as they limited Georgia’s offense. We’ll see if Pittman can address those protection issues before Georgia faces another opponent that can take advantage of them.

Tailback U

When you combine for over 300 yards on the ground against an SEC opponent, something is going right. The offensive line and perimeter blocking were excellent, but each of the backs had something worth celebrating in this game:

  • Herrien earned a well-deserved start and set the tone right away with a 10-yard gain.
  • Cook showed how versatile he can be in the offense with two carries and two receptions. He glided to the endzone on his scoring run, and he’s going to be a tough assignment running the orbit motion.
  • Zeuuuuuuuuuuus – I was surprised that Georgia fans had it together enough to not only recognize that White got into the game but to greet him with a serenade loud enough to make the other players wonder what was going on. The reception for White could turn a heart of stone, and it was a well-deserved appreciation for the two years of hard work that led to White just taking the field. White didn’t disappoint on his five carries – just hold onto the ball!
  • Swift’s health and availability was a daily preseason obsession, but he showed no limitations once the lights were on Saturday. He led Georgia in both carries and yardage. No disrespect to the other ballcarriers who contributed to the win, but a fully operational Swift is just in a class by himself.

Tight ends

I wondered if Georgia might turn to its offensive line depth to help the tight ends in short-yardage situations, but the three tight ends Georgia used Saturday turned out to be enough. When Georgia went into the I-formation on the goal line they turned to Eli Wolf as the blocking back, and he was up to the job taking out two Vanderbilt defenders. Tight ends were active in the passing game with three receptions, and they (especially Woerner) were devastating blocking in open space.

The tight ends were a little less effective blocking in tight formations. The fourth down attempt was a mess. It wasn’t an issue of five offensive linemen left to block seven defenders; Georgia was in 12 or (“ace”) personnel with two tight ends in to help up front. There were enough blockers, but both tight ends missed their block. Georgia was more effective in short yardage with a lead blocker (Wolf) or running out of a spread look.


There weren’t a ton of true freshmen who played at Vanderbilt, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of new faces. Georgia mixed in a handful of new-to-us players who had us scrambling for our roster sheets. JUCO transfers DJ Daniel and Jermaine Johnson were popular choices on third downs. Grad transfers Eli Wolf and Lawrence Cager had nice debuts for the offense. Divaad Wilson got an earful from Kirby Smart on a thoughtless personal foul but was right back out there as part of Georgia’s secondary. In all five redshirt freshmen, two JUCO transfers, and two grad transfers joined with seven true freshmen to make a significant impact on the outcome.

In the haze of the celebration after Georgia’s first touchdown, I swore I saw a freshman defensive linemen charging down the field to cover a kickoff. That says about all you need to know about Travon Walker – part basketball player, part defensive end, and part special teams gunner. Walker is already working into the defensive line rotation, and it was surprising to see Walker get the nod over more experienced players like Malik Herring.

Azeez Ojulari isn’t a newcomer, but you might not know the name if you tuned out of the Sugar Bowl. Ojulari stepped into Ledbetter’s #13 and looks to be a three-down option at outside linebacker. Nolan Smith quickly showed why he was the nation’s top prospect with an impressive backside pursuit to force a Vanderbilt punt.

A home nonconference game and the full roster combined with the four-game redshirt rule should mean many more glances at the roster this week.