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Post Curating a day of classic Georgia football

Wednesday June 10, 2020

Our sports networks are digging into the archives for content, and for that we’re grateful. It’s just about all we have for now in the way of sports programming. The Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network even got into the act during the month of May with radio calls featuring Larry Munson on Saturday afternoons.

The thing is that when the TV networks do a classic Georgia game, it’s often from the same pool of 4 or 5 games. I love the Rose Bowl win like a family member, but by now I can recite it by heart. So let’s create a day of wall-to-wall Georgia football viewing with some memorable games from the past 30 years that aren’t in heavy rotation.

(Most of these are on YouTube – links included where possible.)

Midnight-3am: 2000 Tennessee. It wasn’t a particularly thrilling game (Georgia won completing 8 of 18 passes for 134 yards,) but it was a significant win. Georgia ended the decade-long losing streak to the Vols. It took a fourth down stand by, as Larry Munson called them, the “beautiful defense.” It featured the ground game and arguably launched the fan-favorite status of Musa Smith. Then there was the bizarre ending with Georgia fans rushing the field with time left on the clock…

3am-6am: 2009 Georgia Tech. “We Run This State” has been in the Georgia fan’s lexicon for over a decade now. See the game that started it. It’s not often that Georgia Tech and Georgia are in a position for a Bulldog win to be a big upset, but this outcome surprised even me.

6am-9am: 1997 Florida. Let’s end another streak. Georgia entered as 20-point underdogs to the defending champs, but Georgia came out firing and built a 14-3 halftime lead. This wasn’t the cakewalk indicated by the 37-17 final score. Florida came back and took the lead in the third quarter. It wasn’t over until Robert Edwards tightroped down the sideline with less than six minutes remaining. Olandis Gary put the cherry on top minutes later. It was an entertaining back-and-forth game with great performances by Edwards, Bobo, Ward, and you even get to watch Kirby Smart notch two interceptions.

9am-noon: 2002 Alabama. Are you man enough to watch this game? The start of the 2002 season featured several close calls. Four of Georgia’s first six wins had a margin of no more than six points. We could feature the Clemson game with the Tiger field goal that came up just short. There’s the “Pollack game” at South Carolina. But for the 2002 team to prove its worth, it had to win in Tuscaloosa. Pat Dye didn’t think they had it in them. Georgia fans who made the trip remember this game for the heat, but from the comforts of home it was an extremely entertaining watch. Enjoy some spectacular Fred Gibson catches, tense up during the Alabama comeback, wince at the pick six that put Bama on top, and exult as Billy Bennett’s game-winning field goal established Georgia as an SEC and national contender.

Noon-3pm: 1991 Clemson. Take the charged atmosphere of the 2013 LSU game. Make it at night. Add the excitement of the worst-to-first Braves clinching the division (yes, fans of both teams joined in the tomahawk chop during pregame.) Top it off with a convincing upset of a rival who happened to be the #6 team in the nation. A deep pass and score just before halftime put Georgia out in front, and things only got better in the second half. Eric Zeier put an end to the quarterback controversy of the early 1991 season, and we began to see the shape of the team that would have a pretty nice run from 1991-1992. Bonus: you get the classic ’90s broadcasting duo of Franklin and Gottfried.

3pm-6pm: 2007 Florida. A genuninely fun game in which Georgia’s offense outperformed the eventual Heisman winner. It started strong with Georgia’s bench-emptying celebration, but this game had four quarters of high-scoring action. Florida even led in the second quarter, and Georgia managed to claw back on top by halftime. The second half was back-and-forth with Georgia extending its lead and Florida fighting back to stay within a score. It wasn’t over until a late Tebow fumble within striking distance of Georgia’s endzone allowed Georgia’s fans to enjoy their second win of the Mark Richt era over Florida. Knowshon Moreno was brilliant, Stafford threw two long touchdown passes, and the 2007 team that seemed dead in the water turned the corner to become a national title contender.

6pm-9pm: 1998 LSU. Ease into the evening with a great game from Baton Rouge. Georgia and its “freshman” quarterback faced a night game in Death Valley against #6 LSU. It looked as if we were headed for a shootout: the teams traded blows en route to a 21-21 halftime tie. Georgia broke the tie in the third quarter and held on for dear life as LSU inched closer and closer with a pair of field goals. They sealed the win with a perfect over-the-shoulder catch by Champ Bailey on a risky third down pass. The Dawgs were able to run out the clock and earn the upset win that set up the program’s first visit by ESPN Gameday a week later.

9pm-midnight: 2002 Auburn. As important as this game is in the history of Georgia football, you don’t see it very often – if at all. Without this win and the miracle Greene-to-Johnson pass, there is no breakthrough SEC championship for Mark Richt. 2002 becomes just another nice 10-2 season. How we look at that entire early-2000s run changes. Greene and Pollack are never champions. Georgia, without some of its top receivers, had to find a way to manufacture offense against a good Auburn team. The Dawgs trailed throughout the game and only managed a field goal in the first half. The offense came to life in the third quarter sparked by a long run by Musa Smith after Georgia found itself pinned against its own goal line. Georgia pulled to within four points, and the teams traded fourth quarter possessions as the clock ran down. A deep sideline pass to Fred Gibson set Georgia up in Auburn territory, and you know how this one ends.

Honorable Mention / Day Two: 2007 Auburn, 2002 Arkansas, 1997 Tech, 1999/2000 Purdue, 2006 Auburn, 2006 Virginia Tech, 2016 UNC, 2017 Mississippi State, 1992/3 Ohio State


Post Deciding to renew

Friday April 24, 2020

Marc Weiszer wrote a piece last week about season ticket renewals during these times, and I was happy to contribute my perspective. I was surprised to see renewal rates so high, and I expect Greg McGarity is also (pleasantly so). As I shared with Weiszer, our decision to go ahead and renew came down to a couple of points:

  • We considered ordering tickets as a moderate-risk bet that there would be football this fall.
  • The possibility of a refund if the season were canceled (or played without fans) lessened the risk.
  • We like our location(s) in the stadium and didn’t want to be displaced after 20+ years.
  • We are grateful to be able to place that kind of a bet right now.

The last point is difficult – I know so many are struggling right now either with immediate needs or with crippling uncertainty hanging over them. That renders any other consideration meaningless. Georgia has been flexible with dates and payment options, but in the end season tickets are an expense that’s suddenly become an extravagance for many people. Even if the season is canceled and refunds issued, many can’t tie up money for that long.

There’s one scenario for which we had to accept some risk: what if they decide to open the stadiums and we aren’t comfortable returning?

There’s no question that things are going to be muddy for a while even after this first wave of infection passes. There will be no clean break and no “over”. Until there is a vaccine, the job will be playing whack-a-mole against isolated outbreaks of an easily-transmitted virus. Meanwhile, much of the nation is under intense pressure to reopen. Sports will be a big part of that reopening. There’s a symbolism to the return of sports, but there are also real financial considerations. We’ve seen the panic of schools faced with the loss of the football season that funds the whole operation. We’ve heard about the campaigns to support arena and stadium staff. We know what kind of economic impact sports has on small towns like Athens.

I don’t suggest (Mike Gundy aside) that leagues would willingly put athletes or fans at risk, but their standards and risk aversion will necessarily be colored by the pressures they face to play ball. Gabe DeArmond pointed out that it’s not news that coaches want to play. It will be news when someone with a financial stake in the game says that we shouldn’t play. Blutarsky recently touched on a question I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks. Coaches and administrators want business as usual – or at least to get back out there as soon as possible. Fans sorely miss sports. The real question though is much more personal: when will you be comfortable being packed shoulder-to-shoulder with 92,000 random fans who have traveled in from across the southeast?

The change of the past month has been swift. In early March, I was sat among fans from Tennessee to South Carolina to Mississippi at the SEC women’s basketball tournament. Sure, we knew to wash hands a little more carefully and be suspicious of coughs and fevers, but the games went on. A little over a month ago Georgia played a men’s basketball game in Nashville. It all ended abruptly that week: first the NBA pulled the plug. (Rudy Gobert was irresponsible, but how many lives did his recklessness indirectly save?) College conference tournaments began postponing and then finally cancelling games. The NCAA tournament wasn’t going to take place. Within a week the SEC had ended spring sports. Now we’re separated from friends and loved ones, and a simple trip to the grocery store is fraught with peril. That’s a severe and sudden psychological and behavioral shock, and it’s not easily reversed.

I told Weiszer that I wouldn’t attend games under current conditions. That implies limited testing and an unproven toolkit of therapeutic responses. The hope (and the assumption) is that we’ll be working under a different paradigm later this year. That means more widespread testing to identify and contain outbreaks, contact tracing, and more proven therapeutics that will reduce the risk of mortality or even severe illness for those who are infected. Most every plan forward outlines those elements as requirements along the long road from shelter-in-place to a vaccine. The extent and effectiveness of those remedies will determine which pieces of society can safely resume and at what level.

The “how” of sports returning doesn’t concern me so much. It’s something I’d like to see very much, but it’s not really under my control. Whether it’s an abbreviated schedule, a delayed start, a season without fans in the stands – those are all just ideas based on our current understanding of how things might work. It’s good to think about those things now, and you’d expect any decent organization to have an array of plans available in order to be flexible when the time comes to reopen. Certain administrators and pundits have taken heat for pessimism about playing this year, but a lost year is a possibility that can’t catch anyone off-guard. Time (and the virus) will help to instruct us about under which circumstances sports may return. The same applies to travel, retail, tourism, entertainment – any activity that brings people into shared spaces.

What I can control is my participation. That’s the agency any of us has in whatever comes next. You’ve likely seen the survey that found that over 60% of fans wouldn’t be comfortable returning to the stands until a vaccine is available. It’s possible that many respondents were spooked by the sudden onset of the pandemic and might moderate their views as time goes on. It’s still very likely that fans will be slow to return in person even as games get underway. I expect we’ll see the same in other areas of life as things are allowed to reopen.

Public health regulations might allow games to occur. Students might return to campus, and other necessary conditions might be met. Each of us will still have our say in whether we feel safe enough to attend. At most I’ll lose the cost of a ticket. It would hurt to miss something I love dearly. Fortunately I don’t have to make that decision right now. As Weiszer writes, we’ll “now have the months ahead to see what a Bulldogs football season might look like in 2020.” It’s foolish now to make forecasts whether or not there will be a football season and what form it might take. Renewing season tickets now bought me time to watch and wait and make a more informed decision months from now. I hope progress is such that there’s an easy decision to make.


Post Not spring football – football in the spring

Friday April 17, 2020

While most public statements are optimistic about a normal college football season in the fall, we also know that most every sport is kicking around alternative plans. There’s too much money at stake; games will be played in some form if authorities give the go-ahead. That might mean games with no fans in the stands. It might mean a delayed start to the season. Coaches have raised alarms and proposed solutions to the amount of time necessary to prepare for the season. One suggestion even moves the season to the spring of 2021.

That idea does raise plenty of questions and issues, but, again, there will be desperation to fill the coffers. The implications of a “season-ending injury” are certainly worth thinking about. I wonder what a roster for a spring season might look like:

  • How many top seniors and draft-eligible underclassmen will skip all or part of a season that extends into spring semester? Unless the NFL also delays its 2021 draft date, the first three months of the year are dedicated to focused draft preparation once the college season ends. Workouts, combines, all-star games for draft-bound players, pro days – all of these pre-draft activities occur early in the year. Basketball (especially women’s basketball), baseball, and softball have drafts much closer to the end of the season – sometimes even before the college postseason is over. Those players play complete seasons, but we know that the physical demands of football make it a different animal. Who will want to go from the grind of a college season straight into NFL OTAs if the lack of a recuperation and conditioning period hurts their chances of making a roster spot?
  • Would early enrollees be eligible to play in spring games? Currently they may participate in bowl practices before classes begin, but they can’t play in bowl games. If they’re enrolled and taking classes at the start of the season, what would distinguish them from any other member of the team?

Post 2020 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Wednesday March 4, 2020

A familiar name is back on top of SEC women’s basketball. South Carolina took a small step backwards in 2019 after a dominant four-year period, but they’ve come roaring back in 2020 with an undefeated conference record. As much as 2017 was the breakthrough season for Dawn Staley and her Gamecocks, this year’s edition might be more well-rounded with few weaknesses. South Carolina enters this year’s SEC tournament in Greenville as the overwhelming favorite. It would be a shock if they didn’t reach the finals. If there’s to be much drama this weekend, it’s likely to come in the early rounds as teams jockey to become South Carolina’s championship game opponent. Four teams tied for third place with 10-6 records, and they could all be involved in head-to-head knockout games in Friday’s quarterfinals.

The SEC might not have many of the nation’s best teams, but some of the nation’s best individual talent will be on display in Greenville. Rhyne Howard and Chennedy Carter are among the nation’s top five in scoring. Rennia Davis has a flair for the dramatic big play. Chelsea Dungee, and really any Arkansas guard, can take over a game. Unfortunately teams have had to deal with injuries to many of those same star players. Howard and Carter missed significant time during conference play, forcing Kentucky and Texas A&M to lean on their supporting casts to remain near the top of the standings. LSU’s Ayana Mitchell was lost for the season, and the Tigers have had mixed results since. The good news is that Carter and Howard are back in form, and SEC fans will get to see Carter in postseason action for the first time in two seasons.

It’s also been a year of youth. It’s not just top teams South Carolina and Mississippi State showcasing impact freshmen (though they certainly did.) Teams from Missouri to Florida to Vanderbilt introduced players who will be handfuls for the next three seasons. Only one of the league’s top ten scorers is a senior, and three of the top 11 are true freshmen. That’s a positive for the future of the league, but it’s also meant that most teams don’t have the seasoned depth to make much noise outside of the conference. The SEC could get as few as six or as many as eight NCAA tournament bids this year, though only South Carolina and Mississippi State look to be first round hosts. Much of the spotlight in NCAA women’s basketball has shifted west this year. UConn isn’t as dominant outside of their conference. Notre Dame will miss the NCAA tournament. The Pac 12 though has been wild with a pair of national title contenders and enough good teams to cause chaos. Baylor is just cooling their heels waiting to defend their 2019 national title. The SEC hasn’t made many waves nationally this year – except for the powerhouse in Columbia.

Georgia’s Path Through the Tournament:

Wednesday: Bye
Thursday / Second Round: vs. #8 Alabama: Noon ET SEC Network
Friday / Quarterfinals: vs. #1 South Carolina: Noon ET SEC Network
Saturday / Semifinals: 5:00 pm ET ESPNU
Sunday / Finals: 2:00 pm ET ESPN2
Complete Bracket Here

The Field

(LY – last year’s finish, PS – coaches preseason projection)

1) South Carolina (7-22, 16-0) (LY-2nd, PS-2nd): We warned last year that if you couldn’t beat South Carolina in 2019, it might be a while. The Gamecocks still finished second in the league, but they were upset by Arkansas in the SEC tournament and “only” reached the Sweet 16. They’ve added the nation’s top signing class and quickly find themselves back on top of the SEC and the nation. They recorded the program’s first win over UConn and beat both the Huskies and Baylor by double figures. They’ve had only a couple of stumbles with an early loss to Indiana and a close call at home against Mississippi State, but this is a complete team that’s improved over the season.

Dawn Staley has done a wonderful job of mixing the young infusion of talent with her two senior leaders. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan spent her first two seasons in the shadow of A’ja Wilson, but she’s developed into a well-rounded senior who can score inside or outside, rebound, pass, and defend. The offense flows through point guard Tyasha Harris. Harris can create offense and scores 12 points per game, and she set the program record for assists.

Staley augmented that senior duo with four ESPN top 100 5* freshmen. Three of them have started all 30 games for the Gamecocks. Relying on that many freshmen in key roles might have been the reason why the coaches didn’t project the Gamecocks to win the league, but this group has been up to the job. Guard Zia Cooke might eventually replace the senior Harris as the floor general, but with Harris running the show Cooke has been free to do damage as a combo guard. Cooke leads the team in three point attempts and makes, but she also leads in free throw attempts. Cooke isn’t afraid to drive to the rim and draw contact. Forward Aliyah Boston was both the SEC Freshman of the Year and Defender of the Year. She was an imposing figure inside right out of the gate and has the most blocks in the conference. Boston isn’t just a defender; she’s even with Herbert Harrigan as the team’s leading scorer and shoots an efficient 61% from the floor. Brea Beal is what you want from a wing: someone who can play on the perimeter but is also at home posting up inside to take advantage of her size.

So South Carolina has perimeter offense, interior offense, a rim protector, the league’s best distributor, good wing play, depth, and one of the game’s best coaches. That’s why they enter the tournament perfect in the league and the odds-on favorite to beat the field for their fifth tournament title in six seasons.

2) Mississippi State (25-5, 13-3) (LY-1st, PS-3rd): A step back was inevitable. The final pieces of a core group that played for two straight national titles broke through to win an SEC tournament title last season. The roster has all but completely turned over since that incredible three-year run. It says something about the foundation Vic Schaefer built that the Bulldogs could lose so much talent over two seasons and only fall back to a solid second place finish in the SEC and a borderline top ten national ranking. MSU hasn’t been as dominant as they’ve been in recent years, but they’ve had more than enough on most nights. A narrow loss to Stanford was their only non-conference blemish. They came within two points and a controversial call of beating South Carolina in Columbia. A rematch with the Gamecocks on a neutral court (as much as Greenville, SC can be “neutral” for South Carolina) might be interesting, but the Bulldogs have shown that they’re not a lock to reach the finals.

Jordan Danberry is the link to those historic MSU teams. She was granted a fifth year of eligibility after an NCAA appeal and is a graduate student. Danberry is second in the SEC in steals and chips in 12.5 PPG. She’s the lone senior though, and the team’s top two MSU scorers are underclassmen. Jessika Carter emerged as a worthy heir to Teaira McCowan at center. The sophomore leads the team in rebounding and blocks and scores nearly 14 PPG. MSU also has an impact freshman: forward Rickea Jackson is the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Bulldogs. Much like former star Victoria Vivians, Jackson is a long athletic forward who can score anywhere on the court. Also like Vivians, Jackson led the team in scoring as a freshman and will be one of the SEC’s top players years to come.

The Bulldogs lost three conference games including a two-point heartbreaker at South Carolina. Other teams have pushed them, and the Bulldogs can go through droughts in the halfcourt offense. They were 1-8 from outside in an upset loss to Alabama, and the team’s perimeter scoring usually depends on the streaky shooting of Chloe Bibby. As one of the league’s top teams in generating turnovers, they rely on transition for explosive offense. More often than not, they get it. They’re set up for another finals clash against South Carolina, but this Bulldog team has shown just enough vulnerability that you can’t quite pencil in that rematch just yet.

3) Kentucky (21-7, 10-6) (LY-4th, PS-4th): Matthew Mitchell’s team has only finished out of the top four twice since he took over the program. SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard’s midseason fractured finger raised the difficulty level of another top four finish. Thanks to a win over Mississippi State, the Wildcats were able to emerge from a four-team tie with the highest seed. It’s tough to say that Howard’s absence cost Kentucky a shot at a higher finish. Losses to Florida and Arkansas were certainly winnable games, but Kentucky fell to LSU and Vanderbilt with Howard in the lineup.

An upside to losing a star like Howard is that other players have no choice but to step up. Kentucky has six players shooting at least 33% from outside. Only Arkansas shoots better from outside. The team as a whole takes care of the ball, and Kentucky is third nationally in turnover margin. Howard also leads the team in rebounds, but four players have pulled down at least 100 boards. There’s no question that Howard is the star, but this is still very much a team that’s better than the sum of its parts. Forward Keke McKinney has become an emotional leader of the team after battling her own injuries. Sabrina Haines is shooting 40% from outside, and senior point guard Jaida Roper has been the veteran hand guiding the whole operation.

The Cats are fun to watch just to see so many moving parts working together, but occasionally this year the system has ground to a halt. Kentucky will have to avoid those lapses in order to advance through a fairly difficult bracket. Mississippi State would love to get another shot at a Kentucky team that beat them earlier in the season, but a quarterfinal against a very desperate Tennessee team might come first. The Wildcats just edged the Lady Vols thanks to a career-high 37 points from Howard. Does Howard have it in her to carry this team deep into the weekend?

4) Texas A&M (22-7, 10-6) (LY-3rd, PS-1st): The Aggies were preseason favorites due in large part to the return of Player of the Year candidate Chennedy Carter. Carter had an excellent junior season and finished second in the SEC in scoring, but she missed seven games during conference play with an ankle injury. A&M lost the game in which Carter was injured and went only 4-3 during her absence. Carter returned in a big way with 37 points in a win at Tennessee, and it seemed as if the Aggies were back on solid footing. They fell to Alabama and South Carolina in the final week, and that stumble means a much more difficult path to the finals relative to a third place finish. They still earned the double-bye and will advance to Friday, but they’ll be challenged right away in the quarterfinals. Arkansas upset the Aggies in the SEC semifinals a year ago, and the clash of styles between Gary Blair’s deliberate inside-the-paint squad and Arkansas’s bombs-away approach is always interesting.

Fortunately for the Aggies the players behind Carter were experienced and capable enough to prevent complete collapse without their star. N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson are among the SEC’s top ten in rebounding. Kayla Wells remains another strong scoring option at guard. This is very much a Gary Blair team: they don’t shoot a ton from outside, but they hit a decent percentage. They win with defense, protecting the rim, and owning the glass on both ends of the court. Throw in a typical night from Carter, and it’s a very successful formula. If Carter is out or having a poor night, as she did in the loss to Alabama, A&M will struggle to keep pace with teams in the top half of the league.

5) Arkansas (22-7, 10-6) (LY-10th, PS-5th): The Razorbacks were the surprise story of the 2019 tournament. They began as the #10 seed and pulled three upsets en route to the championship game. The offensive firepower of Arkansas was never in doubt, and they were able to put it all together for a deep run. Mike Neighbors’s team built on last season’s strong finish for a very respectable 2020 season that represents the program’s highest SEC win total. They didn’t vault to the top of the standings, but they have remained a borderline ranked team all season and proved that last year’s tournament run was no fluke. A couple of surprise losses to Georgia and Florida kept them just on the outside of the top four. As devastating as their offense can be, defense has been shaky at times and can have them on the wrong side of an up-tempo game if the offense isn’t in top form.

Chelsea Dungee continues to be one of the more dangerous scorers in the SEC, but she hasn’t had to match the ridiculous productivity she had a year ago. Arkansas spreads the scoring around and has three of the top eight scorers in the league. Any of the “Splash Sisters” (Dungee, Amber Ramirez, and Alexis Tolefree) can lead the team on a given night, and it’s a defensive nightmare to find and cover all three in Arkansas’s fast-paced offense. The Hogs lead even South Carolina with 84.4 PPG, and they lead the SEC in three pointers made and attempted as well as three point percentage. They can score inside off of rebounds or transition, but Arkansas will live or die with the outside shot.

6) Tennessee (20-9, 10-6) (LY-8th, PS-7th): With one former Lady Vol standout ousted after last season, Tennessee turned to another former Pat Summitt point guard to turn the program around. Kellie Harper survived the usual attrition after a coaching change and held on to a good signing class. The Lady Vols started strong with a 17-4 record and a 7-1 mark in the SEC. That record was a bit of a mirage as quality wins were few and far between. Tennessee dropped five straight in February as the conference schedule became more difficult. They righted the ship and closed the regular season with three straight wins, but even those wins featured a couple of too-close-for-comfort games against Vanderbilt and Auburn. The Lady Vols enter the postseason with 20 wins, but they’re still not on solid footing for the NCAA tournament. LSU is the lone quality win in their pocket and their only success against the top half of the league. A Friday matchup with Kentucky presents a great opportunity to enhance their credentials, but a loss on Thursday could be devastating.

Rennia Davis has had a productive junior campaign and leads the team in scoring. The Lady Vols are another team that leans on impact freshmen. Tamari Key’s 78 blocks lead the SEC. All-Freshman guard Jordan Horston is a matchup nightmare at 6’2″. But aside from Davis’s 18.3 PPG, there’s not a lot of punch to this team. There are a lot of good, if not great, pieces, and only three players average over 10 PPG. It’s no surprise that a Summitt pupil would continue Tennessee’s long tradition of relentless rebounding and matchup zone defense. The Lady Vols are the SEC’s tallest team, and they use their length to their advantage to disrupt passing lanes, alter shots, and secure rebounds on both ends. It’s become a broken record though – you’re not sure what you’re going to get with Tennessee, and their annual Bubble Watch is still very much a thing.

7) LSU (19-9, 9-7) (LY-9th, PS-6th): The Tigers lost star forward Ayana Mitchell in an early February game against Texas A&M. They were able to hang on for the upset win, but it’s been tough going since. LSU is 3-4 in games without Mitchell, and they’ve dropped four of their last five heading into the postseason. LSU has had some big wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, and a sweep of Texas A&M, and those wins should be enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. They’ve also fallen to Missouri, Georgia, and Auburn and could be vulnerable to an athletic Florida team in their SEC tournament opener. LSU was a low-scoring team even with Mitchell, and they rely on good defense and slow tempo to grind out wins. Forward Faustine Aifuwa has had to become the primary interior presence. Without Mitchell’s scoring, the backcourt has had to take on a larger role. Awa Trasi came on near the end of the season. Leading scorer Khayla Pointer is a classic penetrating guard. In typical LSU fashion, this isn’t a great team shooting the ball from outside, but they’ll generate offense with defense, score inside of 15 feet, and make an opponent earn everything they get.

8) Alabama (18-11, 8-8) (LY-11th, PS-11th): At the end of January Alabama was near the bottom of the conference at 2-6. They eeked out a one-point win at winless Ole Miss, avoiding a loss that might have sunk their season. That escape at Ole Miss was a turning point. Alabama went 6-2 in the second half of the conference schedule, losing only road games at Kentucky and Georgia by a total of five points. They enter the SEC tournament as one of the league’s hottest teams and are on a four-game winning streak that includes upset wins on the road against Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Even at 2-6 they had some very close losses including a buzzer-beating heartbreaker at Tennessee. This is a much-improved team, and they’ve gained confidence now that they’ve put a few wins together. The month of February took the Tide from a Wednesday play-in game to the precipice of the NCAA tournament. Alabama is one of the mythical “first four out” according to ESPN’s bracketology, and that leaves them with some very clear motivation in Greenville.

The Tide are led by a fleet of athletic wings and guards who can attack the basket or hit from outside. The offense runs through point guard Jordan Lewis who returns after a season-ending injury a year ago. Lewis is the team’s leading scorer but has also dished out 113 assists. Even at 5’7″, Lewis ins’t afraid to go to the rim. She’s the team’s third-leading rebounder and has attempted 150 free throws – almost twice as many as any other Alabama player. Forward Jasmine Walker is a dynamic wing who leads the team in three-point shooting but also rebounding. Cierra Johnson hasn’t been the force she was in 2019, but she’s still a capable scoring guard. The Tide also have a physical inside presence with Ariyah Copeland who can make teams pay for extending their defense.

9) Georgia (16-13, 7-9) (LY-7th, PS-10th): The Lady Dogs are right about where they were expected to be. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a topic for a separate post. For the second straight season, the Lady Dogs will need to win the tournament to continue their season. If that doesn’t happen, it will be the first time in program history that Georgia has missed consecutive NCAA tournaments. Georgia has been capable of high-level wins in games at Arkansas and LSU, but home losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, along with unremarkable nonconference results, all but ended Georgia’s hopes of an at-large bid.

Joni Taylor’s team is led by its large junior class. A lone senior, Stephanie Paul, contributes but is limited by chronic knee pain. A top 15 freshman class hasn’t really developed as hoped. The team usually needs a good night from three of its juniors to have a shot. Gabby Connally has been the team’s leading scorer, but she’s had to play out of position all season at point guard. All-SEC defender Que Morrison was lost for the season in late February. The story of the season has been the February emergence of center Jenna Stati. The Maryland transfer is scoring 11.5 PPG, but she’s averaged over 20 PPG in the last seven games and scored at least 15 points in 8 of the last 9 games. Her contribution has led the Lady Dogs to a 4-2 record to end the season even with Morrison sidelined.

There are some wildcards who could carry Georgia into the quarterfinals. Shaniya Jones is a streaky shooter who could put up double figures in a matter of minutes. Wing Maya Caldwell often has the opportunity for open jumpers. The team has been playing well enough to cool off a hot Alabama team and will almost always play with great effort defensively, but Georgia must do the little things to advance: hit layups, manage their foul load, and value possession without turnovers. Those haven’t been sure things this season, and that’s why the Lady Dogs are in the position of having to win the tournament.

10) Florida (15-14, 6-10) (LY-13th, PS-14th): Florida made measured progress this year and escaped the bottom four. Wins over Arkansas and Kentucky (minus Rhyne Howard) helped the team surpass meager preseason expectations and avoid a game on Wednesday. Much of the team’s progress has to do with the emergence of freshman wing Lavender Briggs. Briggs leads the team in scoring with nearly 15 PPG and is second on the team in rebounding. Fellow freshman Nina Rickards gives Florida another perimeter weapon. Forward Zada Williams is capable of a big game, but Florida has several quick players with good size who can cause matchup problems. Their issue this year has been putting the ball in the basket as they lag in shooting, free throw, and 3pt percentage. The Gators were 4-4 in February and could present a challenge to a reeling LSU team on Thursday.

11) Missouri (8-21, 5-11) (LY-5th, PS-9th): The Tigers lost a strong senior class that featured Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter, and their rebuilding year has been much tougher than expected. A win over LSU in January was the bright spot of the season, and they looked to be turning a corner in early February with a close loss against Arkansas and a win over Georgia. Losses in four of their last six leave them among the four teams playing on Wednesday. They should be able to get past Ole Miss, a team they swept during the regular season, but their season will likely end against Tennessee. Amber Smith was poised to take over as team leader following Cunningham and Porter, and she has had a solid season. But it’s been a pair of freshmen, Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank, who lead the team in scoring. That bodes well for the future, but it also helps to explain the slide this year.

12) Vanderbilt (14-15, 4-12) (LY-14th, PS-12th): This is progress, right? Vanderbilt doubled both their conference and overall win totals from a year ago. That still leaves them near the bottom of the standings, but they’re out of last place and will be wearing their home whites in an SEC tournament game. The Commodores raised a few eyebrows with a 10-3 nonconference mark that included a win over Washington and respectable losses to Rutgers and UConn. They started 2-1 in the SEC with convincing wins over Auburn and Georgia, and Stephanie White’s fourth season began to look much different from her first three. Reality set in over the rest of the conference slate: Ole Miss was their only other win for almost two months. Vandy has been playing better of late though. They had close single-digit losses at both Tennessee and LSU, and a fourth quarter outbust powered them to an upset of Kentucky on the final day of the season. Freshman forward Koi Love has been a great find and forms a productive frontcourt with Mariella Fasoula, but the team has struggled outside the arc. Jordyn Cambridge leads the conference in steals.

13) Auburn (10-17, 4-12) (LY-6th, PS-8th): It’s been a disappointing season for Auburn after a trip to the NCAA tournament a year ago. Junior Unique Thompson is a first team All-SEC selection and averages a double-double, but the Tigers have struggled to find her much help. Thompson and lone senior Daisa Alexander are the only upperclassmen on a team with 11 freshmen and sophomores, and Terri Williams-Flournoy’s squad took it on the chin during this rebuilding year. There are signs of improvement: in February the Tigers took Mississippi State to overtime, beat LSU, and lost to Tennessee by a point in the season finale. They won’t be afraid of a quarterfinal game against Arkansas if they can get past Vanderbilt, a team with which they split the season series.

14) Ole Miss (7-22, 0-16) (LY-12th, PS-13th): Coach Yo struggled to find a breakthrough win this season, and it’s unfortunate that the team’s most newsworthy moment came from scoring two points in the first half against South Carolina. To their credit, the team has continued to fight and has come close to several wins. They’ve lost to Georgia by seven, Florida by two, and Alabama by just one point. Ole Miss will welcome a solid recruiting class to Oxford next season and should soon be a much more competitive team.


Post How other sports handle one-time transfers

Friday February 28, 2020

I’ve been waiting for a piece like this for a while. The one-time transfer exception seemed like a good idea a year ago when everyone was up in arms about the transfer portal. Since most sports operate that way already, I thought it was reasonable to ask how they managed.

It would be interesting to see coaches interviewed from other sports who have had to deal with unrestricted transfers for years…These coaches live in this world already and could provide some good insight on how to manage a program.

Nicole Auerbach did just that. It’s at The Athletic and behind the paywall, but what she finds shouldn’t surprise anyone. Recommended reading.

The key takeaway is that these coaches have adapted to their transfer process, and there are just as many ways to stretch a different set of rules. Coaches don’t explicitly recruit players who haven’t announced an intent to transfer. Instead the backchannel work is done with a club coach or other third party, and the player magically has a destination not long after they announce their intent to transfer. The transfer market will have to be considered as another source for improving the roster even more than it is today. Coaches will have to balance a full recruiting class with the flexibility of keeping a few scholarships in reserve for transfers. Yes, adjustments will be required, but “none of these coaches are turning over huge portions of their roster each year.”

One scenario I hadn’t considered was suggested by a soccer coach. He “can absolutely envision a world where high-major or elite Power 5 football coaches tell a recruit that he’s not quite good enough to play at School X right now, but he could be after a good season at School Y. Those coaches could maintain the relationship with the recruit and circle back a year later, eventually adding him as an up-transfer.”

Is that not the next evolution of blue/grayshirting?


Post Watching and waiting

Tuesday January 14, 2020

While Burrow, Brady, and the offense deserve the spotlight, LSU became a scary machine when the defense rounded into form late in the season. The book on LSU had been “great offense, but there are points to be had against them.” They survived a shootout with Texas, got lit up by an Alabama team with a hobbled quarterback, and how many Georgia fans hung their hopes on the 38 points scored by Vanderbilt or the rushing yardage LSU surrendered to Ole Miss?

The 2018 LSU defense was a juggernaut that finished ranked 5th by SP+. Devin White and Greedy Williams left for the NFL. Some important pieces returned, especially Chaisson and Delpit, but the Tigers would be counting on several inexperienced newcomers to fill in the gaps and come along quickly. LSU’s defense was ranked 37th by SP+ after week 7, and the inexperience was compounded by some early injuries. Injured players began to return to the team, and young players like Derek Stingley Jr. began to emerge. There wasn’t a sudden turnaround, but the defensive SP+ rating improved into the 20s and cracked the top 20 by the beginning of the postseason.

The Tigers held Texas A&M, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson to 7, 10, 28, and 25 points to close out the season. That list includes three of the top five teams in the final playoff rankings. The LSU offense went supernova, and they were aided by an improved defense that began to keep the offense well-supplied with possessions, turnovers, and field position. You can even credit the offense with providing the defense plenty of cover to improve. Keeping up with LSU’s output put tremendous pressure on opponents, and the best-laid plans to control the ball and keep Burrow on the sideline went out the window as the Tiger offense went scorched-earth. Opponents were jarred out of their comfort zones, and gameplans went out the window. The LSU defense could key on pass plays, and an inexperienced and banged-up unit still finished second in the SEC in sacks and first in interceptions.

I’m happy for LSU – to an extent. They were a fun team to watch with exceptional players, and there’s no denying the greatness of this year’s team. In Georgia terms, this was their 2017 – except that they finished. They’re still the competition, especially on the recruiting trail. Will Georgia now be chasing two teams in the SEC instead of just Alabama? Has LSU supplanted Alabama? Alabama and Clemson were able to survive wholesale turnovers of talent and win multiple national titles within a couple of years of each other. LSU will also face a big drain of talent from its roster and perhaps also its coaching staff. They’re not going to disappear from relevance like Washington or FSU. But will they be able to remain part of the title discussion like Clemson or Alabama, or will they take a step back to the next tier of teams?

Georgia fans know all about that next tier. We’ve taken up residence there for two seasons now. As much as we might have enjoyed LSU’s win as SEC sympaticos with their likeable cast of characters, it was a little bittersweet. Georgia was supposed to be next. 2019 was set up as a test of whether Georgia could finally get over the Alabama hump an on to bigger things. Instead it was LSU that blew past the rest of the SEC, Georgia included, en route to a national title. LSU proved that our vision for Georgia was possible; it was just put into practice somewhere else.

It’s still not too late for Georgia. The Bulldog program isn’t fading away, and top-rated talent continues to arrive. We’ll see whether LSU’s success is enough of a shock to the system to force Kirby Smart to reconsider the offense he chooses to pair with his top-rated defense. The approach so far was good enough to beat just about any team on a typical regular season schedule, but the Georgia program is in a position now where it is judged against a higher class of competition.


Post Georgia 10 – LSU 37: Passed by

Monday December 9, 2019

We started the season wondering if 2019 would be the year in which Georgia finally solved its Alabama problem. We never got the chance to find out, and we’ll be able to recycle those stories for another offseason. But while we were waiting to measure ourselves against a team not on the schedule, LSU actually went out and solved their own Alabama problem. The combination of a reconstituted offensive scheme and the talent to run that scheme got the Tigers over the hump as SEC champions and into their first CFB playoff.

Georgia started the year with one problem. Now it has two.

LSU realized that its offense, plenty good enough to upset a good team like Georgia in 2018 and get to a New Year’s Six bowl, wasn’t making the most of its talent and wasn’t going to be enough to make LSU a national contender. They made changes, brought in outside help, and dramatically improved production with many of the same core players. They made the moves Georgia was supposed to make to get over the top. They’ll lose Burrow and some other pieces, but they’ve recruited well and have another top class coming in next year. Despite the predictable “is Alabama’s dynasty ending?” pieces after the Iron Bowl, the Tide will return a maturing defense and will welcome yet another loaded signing class. Neither of these programs will go away on their own.

Yes, of course Georgia needs to improve and open up the offense. Kirby Smart isn’t adverse to a productive and explosive offense and passing game; S&P+ ranked the offense #7 in 2017 and #3 in 2018. The emergence of LSU this season makes the need for change more urgent. Is Alabama still the target and the model? Certainly pre-2013 Alabama isn’t what we’re after, but both Alabama and LSU have transitioned to an offense that features its quarterback and a fleet of playmaking receivers. Even their tailbacks would be among Georgia’s top four receivers. If Georgia is able to stay atop the SEC East for another year, it will be interesting to see who will be waiting for them in next season’s championship game. The Alabama-LSU discussion will suck most of the air out of the preseason, but Georgia is going to have an important offseason making sure it can remain part of the conversation.

This year’s SEC championship game was decisive enough that it’s not worth breaking down. You sensed it wouldn’t be Georgia’s day when Burrow was able to catch his own deflected pass and turn it into a first down gain. Burrow, given ridiculous amounts of time by Georgia’s three-man rush, then found an open receiver in the endzone. This followed Georgia’s opening series on which an open receiver dropped a pass and another open receiver was missed. That possession ended on a shanked punt. So there you had it – Georgia’s offense, special teams, and even defense came up short the first time they stepped on the field, and it didn’t get much better.

One of the side effects of Georgia’s problems on offense is that they ended up in a lot of close games. While the Dawgs used a lot of players, especially on defense, in even the tightest of games, there weren’t many opportunities to do much of anything in those games but hold on and get the win. So when it came time to build a credible running game with D’Andre Swift severely limited, Georgia’s tailback depth became a mirage. Zamir White had a total of 17 regular season carries after the South Carolina game. James Cook had 12. On defense, Lewis Cine got his first start in the SEC Championship and figured to be a big part of the plan to defend LSU. He played wonderfully, and he’ll be a fixture in Georgia’s secondary for the next couple of seasons. But safety was a rare defensive position that didn’t see a lot of rotation during the season, and Cine didn’t see nearly the playing time that other freshmen like Travon Walker or Nakobe Dean.

That applies on a macro level too. It was welcome and probably even a good idea to open up passing the ball downfield. We’ve seen several of these concepts all season. It might have been better to break out a more open offense before the biggest game of the season though. James Coley was in a tough spot – the plan made sense, but the execution was lacking. The job of the coordinator isn’t just playcalling; it’s also preparation and crafting a scheme that plays to the strengths of the unit. Without Swift, Georgia’s biggest strength and identity – its large and talented offensive line – was neutered. The line generally blocked well in pass protection, but the inability to run the ball left an inconsistent Fromm throwing to a depleted receiving corps. The Dawgs were going to have to execute well and get touchdowns from its scoring opportunities, and that didn’t happen.

Georgia’s defensive plan was also new and made sense, but it, too, lacked execution. Rushing three and dropping extra defensive backs like Cine was modeled after Auburn’s successful approach to limit the LSU offense. It required one of two things though: either coverage has to be stout to limit explosive plays, or the front three must generate pressure on their own. Neither happened. Georgia had a productive and deep defensive front this season, but it doesn’t have someone like Derrick Brown who can consistently generate a push by himself. Given plenty of time, even as much as eight seconds on the first touchdown pass, even the best coverage will usually break down. Georgia eventually brought more pressure, but Burrow got himself out of enough tough spots to make devastating plays that put the game away in the second half.

Payment due

The Texas A&M game marked the end of a tough four-game stretch against some of the better defenses in the SEC. Over that span Georgia wrapped up their third straight SEC East title, closed out the decade with wins over their biggest rivals, and managed to defeat both regular season SEC West opponents for the first time under Kirby Smart. Three of Georgia’s four November SEC opponents were ranked, and two of them were ranked among the top 15.

When the 2019 schedule came out, most of us went right to the Notre Dame game. It didn’t take long though for eyes to wander down to the end of the schedule and notice what was in store for November. There were four SEC games in November, and the two most difficult would be away from home. Even the two home games weren’t gimmes: Missouri was a darkhorse in the SEC East, and Texas A&M would be tougher than its record against an impossible schedule indicated. I wrote after the A&M win that “Georgia was supposed to be tested by its November schedule, and even the harshest critic must admit that Georgia passed that test.”

The Dawgs might’ve passed that test and emerged from the regular season in playoff position, but like a student wiped out at the end of exams, there wasn’t much left in the tank. The season, and especially November, took its toll on the team. Lawrence Cager, the team’s leading and most reliable receiver, was lost for the year. D’Andre Swift was knocked out of the Tech game. Injuries to key players, not to mention the physical and mental toll of the grind itself, left Georgia in a suboptimal position for the postseason. The bill for a successful November came due just in time to face LSU. That’s no excuse – few teams are in prime condition after 12 games. But no one can say that the Dawgs were a team peaking and building towards a postseason run.

Never want to be the underdog

Underdogs and favorites are in those roles for a reason. Maybe it was rationalization, but how many of your friends and fellow fans did you hear leading up to the game relishing the underdog role? “No one is giving Georgia a chance – perfect!” Well, we saw why. Sure, sometimes teams can find a little extra motivation from being told they’re not the favorite – Alabama took exception when they were slight ‘dogs at Georgia in 2015. Upsets happen. More often than not, though, underdogs lose. I would hope we’re beyond that mentality now as a program and fan base. It’s two-faced: you can’t claim to aspire to be a playoff-quality team from year to year and at the same time shy away from the spotlight.

It’s especially silly given the tremendous respect for the Georgia program and brand that’s out there. Even after South Carolina, Georgia was the top-ranked one-loss team. Even after the beating at the hands of LSU, Georgia remained the top-ranked two-loss team and even gave the playoff committee something to think about against one-loss conference champion Oklahoma. Georgia was a touchdown underdog to LSU because the Tigers were that much better this year. That’s something we should aim to correct and reverse rather than embrace.


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 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 Fromm is perfect for Georgia but not a Heisman candidate

Thursday July 11, 2019

Jake Fromm is an outstanding quarterback and the best possible person to lead Georgia’s offense. He’s beaten out and held off two higher-rated quarterbacks because he does exactly what Kirby Smart and the staff ask of him: run the offense efficiently, make plays to sustain drives, and avoid critical mistakes. He’s been a leader from the moment he took over from Eason, and he’ll likely be a high draft pick when he chooses to leave Georgia. The Dawgs aren’t going to go far this year without Fromm playing at least as well as he did in his first two seasons.

With that said, he’s not going to win the Heisman. Put another way, if Fromm is even in the Heisman conversation at year end, something has gone very, very wrong with Georgia’s offensive identity.

Individual moments of excellence are part of any Heisman season, and it doesn’t hurt to be on a winning team. Fromm checks those boxes. Fromm’s stats last season were more than respectable: 67.4% completion rate, 2,761 yards, 30 TD / 6 INT, and 9.0 yards per attempt. They’re comparable to the stats from his freshman campaign in 2017 during Georgia’s run to the national title game. But compared with the ten most recent quarterbacks to win the Heisman since Tim Tebow in 2007, those numbers aren’t competitive.

These ten Heisman-winning quarterbacks have met one of two criteria:

  • Gaudy passing numbers: 6 of the 10 threw for at least 4,000 yards in their Heisman seasons. Half threw for over 40 TD.
  • Dual-threat ability: 7 of the 10 rushed for at least 699 yards in their Heisman seasons. 7 accounted for at least 10 rushing touchdowns.

Of course most of them showed some combination of the two – that’s why they stood out over everyone else. All threw for at least 3,200 yards except for Cam Newton, and he made up for it with 20 rushing TDs and nearly 1,500 rushing yards. All rushed for at least 5 TD except for Jameis Winston, but he passed for over 4,000 yards and 40 TD. Kyler Murray set a ridiculous bar with over 4,300 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards, and a total of 54 touchdowns.

Heisman quarterbacks are expected to be at least a credible threat to run the ball, and Fromm hasn’t shown that to date. Oh, he’s not a potted plant and has the vision and creativity to move around the pocket. But in two seasons, he has a grand total of 52 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Last year he had zero rushing touchdowns and negative rushing yardage. And that was with a five-star quarterback on the bench behind him. With an unsettled backup situation in 2019, how willing do you expect the staff to be to call many designed runs for Fromm?

If they’re not going to create Heisman moments on the ground, quarterbacks have to put up head-spinning numbers through the air. Sam Bradford only rushed for 47 yards in 2008, but he threw for over 4,700 yards and a whopping 50 touchdowns. Baker Mayfield had 311 rushing yards in 2017 but passed for 43 TD and over 4,600 yards at a completion rate over 70%.

With Fromm’s rushing stats, he’d have to have about 75% more passing yards and 15-20 more TDs this year than in either of his first two seasons to get into Bradford territory. Does that sound like Georgia’s offense? The Dawgs might have a new offensive coordinator, but there’s no chance that Kirby Smart will prefer anything but heavy doses of Swift and the other backs behind one of the nation’s biggest and best lines. (*) If Georgia is as successful as we hope they’ll be, think about how infrequently the Dawgs pass the ball when they’re salting away a comfortable second half lead. Consider also the amount of production gone from the receiver and tight end positions, and it might be an impressive feat just to approach 3,000 yards through the air.

Enjoy Jake Fromm for what he is and appreciate his mastery of his role on this team.

* – Is Swift a more realistic Heisman candidate? Georgia’s recent tailbacks haven’t been Heisman finalists largely due to how well-rounded the group has been. Sharing carries and production has been great for the team and the endurance of the individual backs, but no one back has been able to pile up huge numbers. That might change a little this year depending on how much Zamir White can contribute or whether Cook, Herrien, or McIntosh can prove themselves worthy of splitting carries with a healthy Swift.


Post “I will know when you come in and what you buy and when.”

Monday June 24, 2019

Daniel Kaplan at the Athletic has a piece looking at the push at sporting events towards cashless transactions. Stadiums and arenas, especially newer ones opening with the technology already baked in, are foregoing cash at point-of-sale locations. Fans must either use credit cards or NFC-enabled devices (watch or phone) to buy concessions, merchandise, and anything else while they’re in the stadium.

The appeal of cashless transactions is convenience and speed. Using cash isn’t exactly as slow as writing a check in the grocery store line, but you still have to count out money and wait for change to be made. A tap or a swipe should be quicker, provided everyone in line knows how the system works – not always a sure thing.

Kaplan points out an issue with cashless payments that shouldn’t be overlooked: not all fans have smartphones, and certain groups and income levels are less likely to have credit or debit cards. Some facilities are addressing this issue with “reverse ATMs” where fans can load cash onto prepaid debit cards, but even that requires someone to plan out how much to load on the card. That will often be more than they intend to spend if they don’t want to get caught at the register with less on their prepaid card than they need.

It’s not just about the fans of course. Going cashless isn’t without benefits to the stadiums and teams, and this is probably the most interesting part of Kaplan’s piece. Electronic transactions provide countless opportunities for data-mining and tracking. Sure, no one has to buy anything at the ballpark, but even the ticket to get in the place is now often tied to a phone.

Steve Cannon, CEO of the group that owns Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium and the sports teams that play there, points out how the data might be used to improve the customer experience. Teams can learn what fans do and don’t like and even offer coupons and discounts. It doesn’t take long for things to get a little creepy though. “We will have a much more nuanced understanding of what your likes are,” Cannon explained. As more elements of the gameday experience from ticketing to parking to concessions to merchandise are routed through team-controlled apps, Cannon is very clear about what it all means: “‘I will know when you come in,’ he concluded, ‘and what you buy and when.'”

Will Leitch recently wrote about the trend of sports teams and arenas chasing fans willing to spend top-dollar for “exclusive” seating, access, and benefits. Leitch cites studies that estimate “70 to 80 percent of ticket revenue comes from the first 15 to 20 rows.” Modern stadiums don’t tout capacity anymore; it’s now about the courtside bar.

Whether someone buys a hotdog or a jersey is useful information (hey, here’s a coupon for our online team store!) but still fairly small potatoes. Businesses requiring cashless payments is nothing new, and neither is data-mining a customer’s purchase history. As the stadium experience is tailored more and more for the higher-end customer Leitch describes, those are the fans about which teams will want to know as much as possible. Knowing the purchasing habits and preferences of someone willing to pay thousands of dollars for a premium experience is valuable. Many companies would go to great lengths to be able to focus their marketing efforts at that audience, and teams will be able to monitor (and even customize) that fan’s entire event experience by funneling as many actions as possible through their app.

Sanford Stadium’s concession stand fundraising-group-of-the-week is almost refreshing in its low-tech anonymity.


Post More like Clemson every day

Wednesday May 29, 2019

A couple of years ago a former baseball letterman wrote one of those open letters sent to local media about the state of Georgia athletics. Football had struggled through Kirby Smart’s first season, and baseball was at a turning point. The thing to do, the letter-writer suggested, was to follow the lead of Clemson – a program celebrating a football national title and opening glittering new facilities left and right.

The problem with that suggestion was the difference between perception and reality. Even with the higher-profile sports underperforming, Georgia’s overall program was a good 30 points higher in the Directors’ Cup standings than Clemson. But because Clemson football had broken through, the perception, according to this letter, was that Georgia had a lot to learn from its rival up I-85.

I bring that up because this post by Blutarsky reminded me of that letter from two years ago and how things have changed in a way that would meet with the approval of its author. Kirby Smart has things rolling. Basketball just pulled in arguably its best recruiting class ever. Gymnastics seems to be on an upswing. The decision to stick with Scott Stricklin has paid off as the Diamond Dawgs are looking at a high national seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. In terms of the overall athletics program though, there’s this reality: “Georgia is 35th in the most recent NACDA Directors’ Cup, which ranked ninth in the SEC. The Bulldogs were 15th in the standings at this point a year ago in the all-sports measurement.”

There are bright individual spots. There always are. Track is a national power. Women’s tennis had a strong season. Several ongoing sports like men’s golf and baseball have an opportunity to earn some hardware. The metric tells us that Georgia’s programs overall are decent with “17 of 21 sports competing in the NCAA postseason,” but it’s not near the usual level of success. I doubt we’ll see impassioned appeals to the media about the state of things this summer. Didn’t you see the latest defensive line commitment?

(Clemson by the way? Down there with Georgia Tech in the 80s.)


Post Want a beer? Get in line now.

Wednesday May 29, 2019

So the SEC is going to review its “decades-old bylaw prohibiting member schools from selling alcohol” at this week’s spring meetings in Destin.

I’m not opposed to the idea of alcohol sales in the stadium, but can Sanford Stadium handle it? I don’t mean the patrons; I’m talking about the neglected infrastructure of areas of the stadium that haven’t been touched since the East stands were added in 1981. I’m trying to visualize how the already-overcrowded concourses of Sanford Stadium would handle beer lines. Navigating the tight East or South concourses for concessions (or anything, really) is already bad enough.

If the plan involves placing beer sales in more open areas in Reed Alley, around Gates 6 and 7, or the West endzone, fine. But this is about revenue, so the temptation won’t be to limit the number of taps or place the majority of them away from where most fans are seated. I have no doubt alcohol sales will happen sooner than later, but I’m going to be very interested in how Georgia implements it. Getting it wrong could be just one more reason to stay at home and enjoy the cold ones from the fridge.


Post Transfers, young teams, and a story pitch

Tuesday February 19, 2019

“Transfer portal” is now right up there with “polar vortex” as a label for something that is very real and normal but which has come to represent a much bigger phenomenon.

The transfer portal doesn’t do much other than provide transparency to a process that had been done behind closed doors. It does take some power away from schools to restrict who may and may not contact a prospective transfer, and it broadcasts to the world that someone is available. It makes the process slightly easier, but that’s not enough on its own to open the transfer floodgates.

A bigger change is the softening (and march toward elimination) of the requirement to sit out a year after transferring. Critics warn of a free-for-all transfer market, coaches fret over the loss of control of their roster, and the term “free agency” has become pejorative. Georgia’s been the beneficiary of more generous eligibility waivers: Demetris Robertson was immediately eligible to play last season after his transfer from Cal. Now Justin Fields’s waiver has been granted at Ohio State, and all eyes are on the status of Tate Martell at Miami. I don’t know why Martell’s circumstances are all that different from Fields’s, but that’s the way the media is playing the story. You almost feel for Jacob Eason who sat out last season without seeking a waiver.

The unmistakable trend can be summed up by “early.” Players are arriving earlier: 14 members of the 2019 signing class enrolled early to get a head start on playing right away. Even players who will end up redshirting are able to play earlier now. They’re leaving earlier too. The past two seasons have set records for the number of underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft. Graduate transfer rules make it more common for a player to seek a new opportunity for his final season. Those who don’t pan out or earn playing time right away will look to a loosening transfer process.

Coaches love to talk about their young teams, but that’s the new reality. All teams will be young teams. Successful coaches will be those who are able to manage rosters heavy on freshmen and sophomores with small groups of upperclassmen. It’s not just managing the numbers, though that will be a big part of it. The early signing period means that schools like Georgia that can fill most of their class early can spend the six weeks before the late signing period observing the transfer and attrition landscape and using those last few spots to fill needs with a prospect or a transfer. Coaches will also have to tailor schemes and how those schemes are implemented to make sure that they can be picked up rapidly and executed at the highest level by relatively inexperienced players.

Is there a model for how programs might be managed in the future?

The NCAA allows for an unrestricted one-time transfer in most of the sports it governs. You have to be in good academic standing, but there are only four sports to which the “sit out a year” rule applies:

If you transfer from a four-year school, you may be immediately eligible to compete at your new school if…you are transferring to a Division I school in any sport other than baseball, men’s or women’s basketball, football (Football Bowl Subdivision) or men’s ice hockey.

Most of us focus on football, but what we’re dreading as an era of free agency is actually the normal for the majority of NCAA sports.

With that in mind, it would be interesting to see coaches interviewed from other sports who have had to deal with unrestricted transfers for years. Softball would be a great place to start – Alex Hugo, perhaps the best Georgia softball player in the past decade, was a high-profile transfer who played her freshman season at Kansas in 2013 and was immediately eligible to play at Georgia in 2014. Georgia of course has also been on the other end of transfers. These coaches live in this world already and could provide some good insight on how to manage a program.

(I’m trying to think through how unrestricted transfers might play out differently in a sport like football or basketball versus, say, softball. I’m inclined to think that there would be more frequent transfers in football/basketball since one year of exposure in the “right” system could be worth millions. There are of course professional opportunities for softball, but the incentives aren’t as great in Olympic sports to maximize the collegiate system for future income.)


Post Georgia 45 – Austin Peay 0: From the lowly East endzone

Tuesday September 4, 2018

So where does this rank among the all-time hot games? Alabama 2002 and Clemson 2003 are the standard, and this felt as hot as it’s been in Sanford Stadium. Fans, vendors, and even support staff fell victim to the heat around the stadium. It’s good news that the team made it through the game unscathed, though the heat sapped a lot of energy and enthusiasm from the players. We were fortunate that the coaches had the good sense to shave five minutes off the fourth quarter before anyone else got hurt.

If there was something we can take away from a game like this, it was Georgia’s display of speed on both sides of the ball. The offense showcased its weapons: six different players and two quarterbacks were involved in the team’s six touchdowns. Two of the scores were explosive sprints by receivers: Robertson announced his presence with a 72-yard jet sweep, and Mecole Hardman ran past the Austin Peay secondary to turn a mid-range completion into a 59-yard score. James Cook was everything we heard about from camp both as a receiving threat out of the backfield and as a tailback. He might be the team’s second-best rushing option already (more on that in a second.)

We wondered for eight months how a Georgia offense would look without Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. We got a glimpse of that on Saturday. No, we didn’t see anything close to the entire offense – there was no wildcat, no special “Fields package”, or even much downfield passing. But in terms of basic identity, we saw an offense much more focused around the perimeter. The offense marched down the field with bubble screen after bubble screen, and tailbacks caught nine of the team’s 21 completions. The longest runs of the day – some by design, and some not – went to the outside.

While it was thrilling to see the speed of Georgia’s backs and receivers in space, the more conventional running game sputtered. Swift was fine, and his day ended early. Holyfield did have a nice bit of improvisation on his touchdown, and Herrien sent a charge through the crowd with a spin move on a swing pass. Still, it was a fairly unremarkable game from the tailbacks as you went down the depth chart. Some of that might be from the line dragging in the heat, but the backs didn’t do much to create the impression of a strong unit behind Swift. If anything, Cook might have looked like the second-best back if only because of his raw speed.

A shutout is always a good result for a defense regardless of the competition, but it’s also a credit to the entire team. The offense didn’t hurt itself with turnovers and stalled drives that flipped field position. Special teams did its job with touchbacks on kickoffs, deep punts, and no return yardage allowed. Until Cook’s penalty in the meaningless fourth quarter, Austin Peay’s best starting field position was its own 25. Overmatched teams aren’t going to put many drives together with that field position. Austin Peay got close with a missed field goal attempt in the first half and a failed fourth down attempt in the second half, but Georgia’s defense held.

Georgia did well to hold Austin Peay to under 100 yards rushing. The Governors feature one of the best FCS rushing offenses, and they use some option elements to test a defense’s discipline and assignments. Kirby Smart wondered how that style of offense would challenge Georgia’s young defense. “I’m not saying they’re going to come in and dominate and be able to run the ball every down on us, but I think what they can do is get explosive plays,” he explained. The defense passed that test thanks in large part to outstanding lateral speed. That speed was a big reason why Austin Peay had no run longer than 14 yards and no reception longer than 12. The secondary might be young and raw, but the speed of guys like LeCounte, Reese, Rice, Gibbs, and Campbell will have them in position to make many more plays than they don’t.

Austin Peay’s running game did expose one area of concern in the Georgia defense: a softness up front. Georgia never established much of a push from the defensive line. Georgia was able to keep those modest gains from turning into more, but matchups will only get tougher for the interior line and linebackers. It’s good to see Reed continuing his 2017 form, but it’s not necessarily a great sign to have safeties as three of your top four tacklers. Monty Rice led the front seven in tackles, and that’s encouraging, but he needs some help. I’m not as concerned about a lack of sacks – the nature of Austin Peay’s offense doesn’t give pass plays much time to develop. You had to like how active Brenton Cox was in his debut.

How young is the defense?

Seventeen defenders were credited with at least two tackles. Only five of those players were upperclassmen. Here’s how it broke down:

  • Seniors: 2
  • Juniors: 3
  • Sophomores: 7
  • Freshman: 5

Of course some of that had to do with how the game unfolded. When you’re emptying the bench in the first half, there’s going to be a lot of inexperience on the field.

Extra Points

  • It was almost unfair to see Adam Anderson out there in the fourth quarter. Emptying the bench meant playing a fresh 5* outside linebacker. His combination of speed and power was unmistakable.
  • So we have a punter, right? Camarda didn’t show any sign of jitters on his three punts, and his first drew an audible reaction from the crowd. He’ll work on placement, but for now I’ll take the cannon shot and a touchback to keep the ball from a returner like Deebo Samuel.
  • The quarterbacks weren’t asked to do much, but they executed well. Each had a near-miss: Fromm threw into tight double coverage on one of the few deeper passes, and Fields nearly had a bubble screen picked off. The risk of a defender stepping in front of one of those screens is high as we see better competition, so both quarterbacks will have to make good decisions if we continue to use that play to get the ball in the hands of receivers and tailbacks.
  • Watch Nauta and Woerner on Robertson’s touchdown run. Glad to see Nauta get his own score later in the game.

Last Thing

It struck me how clean the game was from Georgia’s perspective. It wasn’t the toughest opponent, but we’ve seen teams here and elsewhere slop around in these games. We saw few mistakes related to operations – delays, false starts, substitution penalties, or unforced timeouts. Ridley drew a couple of penalties with aggressive blocking, and Cook was involved in two big mistakes in the fourth quarter. Overall though Georgia had the appearance of a prepared and focused team. Each side of the ball has something major to work on: the offense has to establish a more consistent conventional running game, and the defensive interior must be more physical. Kirby Smart will be hammering home those points as Georgia prepares for much tougher SEC fare, and the temperature won’t be any cooler in Columbia.