Life is all about expectations, and if you were one of the many Georgia fans that expected great things from Kirby Smart’s inaugural season you were left disappointed. I was somewhat in the middle. At first I had the Dawgs 8-4 (losing to Tenn, Florida, and Auburn plus UNC). I then put UNC in the win column.
I never saw Vanderbilt coming, though I did admit Georgia Tech worried me. All in all I would say I lean to being disappointed by the season, though not in any major way. Losing to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech at home is inexcusable, but beating a North Carolina and Auburn were nice scalps, too.
But I want to take a more macro look at the season and what I feel needs to be improved upon the most heading into next year, where some see the Dawgs bouncing back while others see another long year.While I wasn’t thrilled with Kirby’s first year as head coach, when you look at the previous six head coaches’ first seasons his wasn’t too far off the pace setter.
- 8-5 (4-4) Kirby
- 8-4 (5-3) Richt
- 5-6 (3-5) Donnan
- 6-6 (4-3) Goff
- 7-3-1 (3-2) Dooley
- 3-7 (2-5) Griffith
- 5-6 (1-3) Butts
Now, Kirby’s opening year came off of a 10-3 season, which makes his 8-5 look less impressive, but anyone who sat through Richt’s final season knows that 10-3 wasn’t anything to gloat about. Having said that, here are my thought on the season and what I’m looking for in 2017.
Things I saw that I expected to see
-First year mistakes on the sidelines and on the field. Jacob Eason looked every bit like the true freshman he was. He would make one throw that left you thinking about the Heisman in two years then he’d immediately make one that had you looking at Greyson Lambert with a hopeful eye.
On the sidelines Kirby was the young, excitable coach we expected, but with that came some clock management blunders. It’s always hard to go from the right hand man to THE MAN, and I hope Kirby got most of his rookie mistakes out of the way along with his QB.
-Nick Chubb isn’t back yet. No, he’s not some scrub, but Chubb wasn’t the dominant back we saw in 2014 and the first part of 2015. He lacked speed (see above clip, which would have been a TD two years ago) and burst to the outside and he never seemed to trust his knee and ask it to perform the jump cut that made him devastating. With Chubb (and Georgia’s best RB, Sony Michel) coming back for their senior years, I’m hopeful we’ll see the “old Nick Chubb” in 2017 and the dominant running game will return.
-Offensive woes shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. Jim Chaney is viewed by many as a very forward thinking pro-style offensive coordinator, but his numbers have never been super impressive. Add to that a rookie coach who learned from the master of the “don’t hurt us” style of offense who handed the keys over to a true freshman and voila!, we get what we got.
I’m less skeptical of Chaney than most Georgia fans for a few reasons. One, they had a new system with a new offensive line coach and a true freshman QB. Two, their best offensive player wasn’t the same back, meaning churning out 7 yards per carry wasn’t happening. Lastly, the wide receivers weren’t reliable. So you have an inexperienced QB, and star RB coming off of injury, and a group of WRs you can’t fully trust. I’m not sure what offensive coordinator would excel with those conditions.
Things I saw that I did not expect to see
-I did not think the offensive line would be a disaster. I wasn’t expecting Tyler Catalina, the Rhode Island transfer, to be some stud. In fact I said him coming to UGA was both good and bad news. But I didn’t expect the senior center, Brandon Kublanow, to get bullied as much as he did. I didn’t expect Greg Pyke, a road-grading OG, to have to play RT. Sam Pittman is considered one of the best OL coaches in college football, but he has to do more with what should be a deeper OL in 2017. I’m not expecting the OL to be dominant a la Alabama, but I am expecting a solid amount of improvement from 2016.
-Georgia’s red zone defense was comically bad. The team finished 36th in total defense from a yards-per-play standpoint, which was solid if not spectacular. Yet when teams got inside the 20 yard line Georgia’s defense went to hell, finishing 121st in red zone touchdown conversions. They failed to bow up and hold teams to field goals and it cost them some games.
-The young defensive lineman were better than I thought. David Marshall was a late addition to the class and he played major minutes from the jump. Julian Rochester looked like the 5* DT he once was before he added too much weight. Tyler Clark and Michail Carter added quality depth behind Trenton Thompson and John Atkins. Georgia still lacks consistent outside pressure, but the interior of the defensive line is going to be beastly the next few years.
Things I need to see in 2017 for it to be a success
-Eason has to read the field better and take the easy chunk plays he missed in 2016. Terry Godwin was open deep down the field in almost every game at least once, yet Eason almost rarely (if ever) connected. That has to change. I’m not saying Eason needs to turn into Peyton Manning, but he needs to be a lot closer to Jacob Coker by the time we hit the opening weekend. If the deep shot is open, hit it. That simple.
-Georgia needs to woodshed the bad teams it faces. Losing to Auburn or Tennessee on the road happens, but letting Nicholls State hang with you is inexcusable. Good teams beat bad teams into the ground, and Georgia has to start doing that with regularity.
-A wide receiver, literally any wide receiver, needs to step up and consistently make plays. Georgia doesn’t need a Heisman candidate, but it needs a Chris Conley or a Michael Bennett-type player who is reliable. No more easy drops.Whether that WR is Godwin, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, or anyone else it doesn’t matter. But someone needs to step up.
Way too early 2017 season prediction
I still think Georgia is another year away from truly contending for anything of note. That doesn’t mean it can’t win the SEC East, which will be very competitive in 2017. I expect the bottom of the division to come up while the top (Florida and Tennessee) slide back a bit. Georgia has four road games of note (Auburn, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech) plus Florida in Jacksonville. Expecting anything better than 10-2 is lunacy. Pending some catastrophic rash of injuries or payer departures, I think 9-3 is in play and winning the SEC East should be a reasonable expectation. There are too many “ifs” for UGA to have sights set on anything above winning the East. The offensive line is going to have to gel. The QB is going to have to make a major leap. The coach is going to have to do likewise. I do think 2018 is going to be huge for Georgia, but I hope others will give Kirby one more year to right the ship.