Quarterback Carousel Continues; Georgia Looks to Get Over Hump

HAN ~ Offseason reporting:

Han Vance on Georgia football: Jacob Eason is again the savior. No not our Lord and savior. And, no not “our” either, but that of Udub. He’s home in Washington, ready to shine.

For all Kirby Smart’s heralded recruiting prowess on-paper and based on only future projections and “expert” rankings, predecessor Mark Richt ultimately headed up the recruitment that actually inked: Roquan Smith – the school’s best ever linebacker as only Butkus Award winner; Deandre Baker – the school’s only ever Jim Thorpe award winner (given to the nation’s best DB); Todd Gurley II – an NFL MVP whose inconsistencies in health and eligibility over three years probably ultimately cost Richt his job; Isaiah Wynn – the first Georgia offensive lineman drafted in the NFL’s first round in decades, with none projected to go that high again this year; Sony Michel – the greatest rookie postseason rusher in NFL history and a world champion who scored the only touchdown in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta; Nick Chubb – who paired with Sony to become the greatest statistical duo in NCAA rushing history. Leonard Floyd, Dominick Sanders, etc.

On several levels, it was actually a real travesty for UGA that Richt was not coaching the near national champions of two seasons ago led by his recruits. As little as that team passed, Jake Fromm was clearly NOT the key to that title run. Sony and Chubb being blocked for by Wynn and friends and Roquan Smith’s speed opposite the shutdown skills of Baker, who gave up no touchdowns for two seasons, were.

Point to me Kirby’s best recruits in proven on-field success. Not “they will be great next year” but on-field. Sure, Fromm is a good player, and a great leader. I love Fromm.

Possible future #1 overall NFL draft pick – based on his arm talent, stature and other measurables – QB Jacob Eason was already in the Georgia fold because of Mark Richt, and he simply maintained his commitment by signing with Kirby. He’s gone. All-world tight end Isaac Nauta was the same, but coordinator Jim Chaney underused him in their rocky time in Athens, then Nauta bolted for the NFL. Last year’s #1 get, QB Justin Fields, was frankly undeveloped and visibly unprepared to play at Georgia.

D’Andre Swift suffered the worst game of his career in New Orleans, fumbling twice in the Sugar Bowl and literally playing like he was hungover or something, starting his 2019 Heisman campaign with a worse than no-show defeat. Dogs would have been better off if he had not played at all. Texas and their maligned-by-Georgia Big 12 defense completely buried him.

Hyped recruit Richard LeCounte III so far from the ballhawk he was advertised to be, was repeatedly trucked by a quarterback in the sUGAr. I love to be optimistic about the future, and all, but that was cold hard reality.

The defense, personally coordinated by Kirby Smart, after outgoing defensive coordinator Mel Tucker bolted to head coach Colorado, could not tackle a straight ahead tough running quarterback and were routinely out of position. Sitting the top (also outgoing) pass rusher D’Andre Walker was not the issue, there. As Georgia fans enduring a two-game losing streak saw the dreaded University of Florida tie Ol’ Georgia in one poll’s final rankings and pass UGA in another. Think off that: after sweeping the SEC East for two straight years, nationally Georgia was not even considered the best team – not in the whole SEC – in their division.

Kirby Smart suddenly thinking about offensive trickery (on what should have been a standard special teams down, to punt and trust the defense), was indicative of a longer seasonal bad trend that started with the unnecessary doomed fake field goal at LSU in what then became a bad loss. Kirby does not seem to really get offense at all except in an how-to-stop it capacity, and is also the single worst at calling trick plays – always a head coach thing – I have ever seen. Each of his three seasons with the big boy headset has examples I won’t list here. You asked for him, and QB Justin Fields had the most memorable moment of the season, folks. A fake punt on 4th and 11 at midfield in a tie game, which had been physically dominated by Georgia. Kirby’s talent-rich football teams simply squandered a national and then SEC championship to Bama, in my final analysis of his opening third-of-a-decade. Winning one SEC was nice. Always is.

Instead of a sure king’s coronation based on one strong year, I’m reasonably now in a wait and see on Kirby, still, as a head football coach. Pollyanna Georgia fans surely don’t want to hear it, but Mark Richt had the exact same level of accomplishment as Kirby and Richt had a slightly better record in each of their first three years in Athens. Kirby replaced a regular 10-game winner, though, not a regular four-game loser, while also benefitting from the creation of a College Football Playoff.

Coach Smart received no votes for 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the Coach of the Year awards this previous campaign and publicly pandering between losses hurt his reputation. Last season, UGA finished first in recruiting rankings, while Alabama tumbled several spots from the top without Kirby as recruiting coordinator in Tuscaloosa. This year, Bama is projected ahead.

Show me results on the, um, fields. Show me with plural championships, with your players. Quarterback play, as always in football, will be key.

Would I bring Richt back if I could? Yes, as athletic director. He should have never been fired, with the best winning percentage in school history and having had his best individual player out much of each of his final three seasons, the year prior being a play away from playing for a national championship. But, he could’ve personally saved his job by ending the doomed tenure of his final offensive coordinator (Schitty hire) sooner.

Likewise, James Coley better shine as an offensive mind or Georgia won’t be getting over any hump. Georgia hasn’t arrived yet and just lost four of their top five receivers and half of their strong running duo to the NFL.

QB Jake Browning leaves Washington a four-year starter who turned the program around for head coach and notable QB guru Chris Petersen, of Boise State fame and glory. Eason was 7-5 as a starter in his lone (8-5) season starting at Georgia, after he replaced starter (and winner) Greyson Lambert in game one. Thrust into game play too early, Eason started through game one of the next year.

Fromm was then thrust into action due to injury, not a coaching decision. They went with Eason, who tallied his 8th (pretty small number) career win as he got hurt, then stayed benched. Fromm was throwing just 10-15 passes a game, after that. But, he improved and more importantly won.

Justin Fields joins a proven quarterback development system at Ohio State as a transfer, albeit without outgoing head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer, not Saban, is the coach with the best winning percentage and has similar proven results at multiple schools. He was undefeated at Utah, even, and is known for beating Saban head-to-head regularly. Due to let’s-call-it personality deficiencies he has never stuck and stayed and continued to roll at any program the way Saban has at Alabama after winning his first national championship at LSU. Could Georgia get on a roll? …Maybe!

As I projected publicly, Saban was undressed by Clemson. My take on the SEC this year was that it was overrated, and the league went sub .500 in bowl games over the last two seasons. Georgia did not show mettle in Atlanta so much as expose Alabama as weaker than heralded.

I was right. Cry me a river.

The schedules for Georgia and especially Alabama were garbage. The SEC East finally had a better record heart-to-head versus the vaunted SEC West, who were way overhyped. Perceptions were proven wrong. Yet, people out there still think Georgia would have beaten Clemson up.

Losing QB transfer Jalen Hurts to national power Oklahoma hurts Bama, who we hope are finished as champions of the SEC. Tua is point blank no big game quarterback. After growing up with a physically abusive psycho for a father who made him throw left-handed because “Dad” was left-handed, he has shown again that he can not handle adversity. Tua did not take the national championship from Georgia off the bench in January of 2018, it was gifted to them. Hurts (and the egregious Kirby/Fields choke) took it more – the SEC – from Georgia, this time, December of 2018. Around the time he won the Thorpe Award, Baker stated that Georgia did not prepare for Hurts at all. (WHY? Don’t we know history rhymes.) He played great in relief, while Tua in his biggest win threw a pick and benefitted from Georgia not calling enough running plays in the 2nd half.

Former walk-on Stetson Bennett IV returns to Georgia after playing a year at a smaller level, so he is able to play right away and becomes Fromm’s backup. That three-name hyped recruit out of Mississippi decided to stay instate, flipped to Ole Miss, after Dwan Mathis flipped from Ohio State to Georgia to be developed. Bennett is undersized but described by Mel Tucker and Georgia’s defensive players as “better than Baker (Mayfield)”, which is a big stretch, I’d say, after attending the 2018 Rose Bowl. He’s an accurate passer, Georgia’s former scout team leader. Dwan Mathis is dual threat and four star. National Signing Day (traditional style) is Wednesday.