Full of some highs, and many lows, it’s safe to say Kirby Smart’s first year coaching at Georgia left much to be desired. Even though Georgia finished at 7-5, many would argue Georgia should have pulled out 9-10 wins through the regular season. “Undisciplined players, undisciplined decisions will get you beat.” (Kirby Smart after Tennessee game) You could certainly make a point that the Dawgs heartbreaking losses came down to being undisciplined. Considering in 3 of Georgia’s 5 losses they were leading in the 4th quarter, it’s difficult to argue otherwise. But, did Georgia really deserve to win 10 games this year like some say? They only averaged 24 points a game, their lowest since 2005. Even though Georgia had their fair share of improbable losses, improbable victories came too. A 4th and 10 20-yard completion to Isaiah McKenzie for a TD is ultimately the reason the Dawgs escaped Missouri. Overcoming a 10-point deficit in the second half against North Carolina in Week 1 also went Georgia’s way. Even though Georgia seemed to try and blow the game against Louisiana Lafayette, they managed to hold on. All day you could go back and forth deciding whether Georgia was fortunate to end their regular season at 7 wins, or unfortunate for only 7 wins. There’s certainly room for improvement next year, but many questions loom as well.
Has Georgia’s rushing game fallen off?
When you think of Georgia football, defense probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Nor do you think of Georgia as being able to beat teams with simply 400+ passing yards a game and nothing else. It’s always been the run game that has defined Georgia. For instance, Nick Chubb averaged 7.4 yards per carry in 2014, and in 2015 he averaged an even better 8.1 yards per attempt. Not to mention, halfbacks like Sony Michel and speedy wide receivers that got involved in the rushing attack such as Isaiah McKenzie were all used as versatile weapons in previous years. If you’re wondering about Nick Chubb in 2016, only 4.8 yards per carry. Michel and McKenzie were still used quite frequently, but without Chubb producing high numbers, it seemed as if there was always a piece missing in Georgia’s rushing game. Without the run game being as lethal as in previous years, it resulted in many pressure situations for rookie quarterback Jacob Eason as it was up to him to convert many 3rd and long situations.
Even though Georgia’s rushing game never seemed to reach full potential through the 12-game regular season, it seemed to improve through the course of the second half. In the final 4 games the Dawgs averaged slightly above 200 rushing yards a game. That stat is certainly what Georgia hopes to build off of for their upcoming bowl game and the 2017 season. However, one thing that could be a dampen in 2017 is that both Michel and Chubb have the option to declare for the draft. Assuming the worst-case scenario where both decide to leave Georgia, it would leave halfbacks such as Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien to step up. Both were highly recruited three star athletes, and we all know Georgia rarely has a shortage of talent at the running back position. If Georgia’s going to be successful next year, it all starts with the rushing attack. And let’s not forget, the O-line too. So be on the lookout for those two things next year. If they have both, they’re bound to be right back to being a top SEC threat.
Before Jacob Eason even touched the field, he was already being compared to one of Georgia’s greatest, Matthew Stafford. He was hyped up to have a terrific season. But, in my opinion, he wasn’t terrific, but he did exactly what we should have expected from him. A 14/8 touchdown to interception ratio is not bad, especially considering the legend he’s being compared to finished his freshman year with a 7/13 touchdown to interception ratio. It’s obvious why Eason is already being compared to Stafford in his first year. Both have a cannon for an arm. Neither of whom were afraid to show it off in their first year. Multiple times I’m sure you’ve all seen Eason throw up the deep ball, and it turned out to either be a bad decision, or a slightly off target throw. That’s all part of the learning process for the young QB. In the next year or two, many predict Eason will be one of the best deep threat quarterbacks in the game. Some of that is because of what he showed to us this year. Who else remembers Eason’s 47-yard bomb to Riley Ridley in the final seconds of the Tennessee game? His throw was so perfect I don’t think Eason could have handed the ball to Ridley any better. As we all know, the football gods didn’t intend for that to be what gets played repeatedly on SportsCenter. Instead, it was a Hail Mary pass moments afterward that stole the show. Even though Georgia took a loss, Eason still deserves credit for being clutch in that game. He also showed how clutch he can be in the Missouri and Kentucky game when he recorded game winning drives in both those games. Obviously, there still is room for much improvement, as there is for most first year QBs. Accuracy is an aspect of his game that he needs to improve on. He only completed 55% of his passes this year. His inaccuracy proved very costly in the Georgia Tech game when he threw behind wide receiver Terry Godwin resulting in an interception that led to Tech’s game winning drive. All in all though, you can’t ask for Eason to have done anything better than what he did through the season. Nearly every Dawg fan looks forward to seeing Eason improve year by year.
Georgia’s defense averaged almost exactly 24 points given up per game. To put that in perspective, Alabama’s defense averaged only giving up 11 points per game. Any wise man can tell you that’s why Georgia finished 7-5 and the Crimson Tide finished 12-0. Before Georgia even dreams about one day becoming national champions, fixing the defense must come first. It’s easy to win games by simply outscoring your opponent, until you begin to play top tier schools such as Alabama. When it comes down to it, Georgia must get better on defense. And, they’ve made a couple steps in the right direction. Georgia was able to snatch Kirby Smart (the previous Alabama defense of coordinator) to improve the defense this year. So far, the only thing that has changed with our defense is that we are giving up 7 more points a game than we were last year. However, it’s far too soon to play the blame game with Smart, it’s only his first year and he hasn’t had time to bring in his own recruits. Looking ahead to 2017 and 2018 expect the defense to become more disciplined and perhaps create more turnovers, too.
Did Georgia pull the plug to soon on Richt?
November 29th, 2015, thousands of Georgia fans were left in shock as they read the notification that Georgia had decided to part ways with 15-year head coach Mark Richt. Many were relieved by this, and many were left in utter disbelief. Those who were in disbelief asked “How could Georgia fire the second winningest coach in franchise history?” The answer is, he couldn’t win the games he had to. As a division 1 SEC coach it’s expected for you to end nearly every season with an above 500 record, and the expectations for a UGA coach is even larger. Most of the time, Richt met the expectations or even exceeded them by a little. But whenever it came down to a game that decided the fate of the season, Georgia ended up on the losing side. Not to mention, under Mark Richt, Georgia only made it to the SEC championship game 3 times. This may not sound bad, but for a school as big as Georgia, most fans expected a little bit more. This takes nothing away from Richt’s magnificent career at Georgia. The way Richt taught character and integrity compares to no other. Sadly for fans who loved Richt, every generation must come to an end. Now, it’s Smart’s turn to take the wheel and mark the beginning of a new era for Georgia.
Below are sources from which I got information/images