The college football season is really heating up. We’re starting to see who the contenders are in each conference and who might be looking for a new coach by the end of the season. It’s probably this way every season, but for some reason I cannot remember this many coaches of big time programs being on the “hot seat” in one year. Jim Mora at UCLA, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Bret Bielema at Arkansas, and Butch Jones at Tennessee are just a few of the big names that could be in trouble. On the other hand, teams like Alabama and Clemson appear to be keeping it rolling while some newcomers to the playoff hunt (including Georgia) are starting to make noise. The Dawgs made such noise this past weekend at Sanford Stadium by obliterating Mississippi State. Here’s what I saw from the game:
1. Fromm put on his big boy khakis: Jake Fromm is growing up right before our eyes. He was outstanding in this game, particularly in the first half where he did not throw an incompletion. The flea flicker to start the game was executed to perfection, and Fromm threw a perfect strike to Terry Godwin for the touchdown. Fromm’s other touchdown pass (a 41-yarder to Isaac Nauta in the 3rd quarter) was just as good. He stood in the pocket under pressure, delivered a perfect throw, and took a shot in the process. It wasn’t just his successful plays though. On Georgia’s last drive of the 1st quarter, Fromm just went down for no gain when the pocket collapsed around him. Instead of trying to force something, he just went down. That’s the growth I’m talking about. There was also another time when he just threw the ball at a receiver’s feet as opposed to trying to force something. That one seems like direct learning from another similar situation (the forced throw to Nauta that was intercepted against Notre Dame). As Fromm’s play continues to improve and he continues to grow in this offense, I don’t see any quarterback controversy. Fromm has to stay the starter while he plays this well. Period. The offense is clicking and I just don’t think you mess with the chemistry that is developing between Fromm and his receivers and Fromm and the offensive line.
2. Kirby and Mel’s defense is swallowing everything in sight: Yes, that is a reference to the pink Nintendo character that ends his opponents by swallowing them. It’s also an accurate depiction of what this defense is doing to the opposition so far this season. A big part of this is improvements in fundamentals. Towards the end of the Coach Richt era, Georgia’s defense was plagued by a lack of discipline and sloppy fundamentals. It seemed like Georgia would miss one tackle or have one penalty that would cause them to lose a game. Well, that definitely wasn’t the case on Saturday. Every chance the Dawgs had to make a play on defense in the open field, they executed. One play in particular I loved was Aaron Davis wrapping up and plowing a State player into the ground on a third down to force a punt. That just doesn’t seem like a play that got made with regularity a few years ago.
3. Don’t let them do what they do: Partly because of my points from number 2, Georgia completely forced Mississippi State away from their game plan on Saturday. State is a team that tries to exploit opposing defenses with their dual threat quarterback in read option situations and the threat of him running opens up the passing game. Well, when Georgia did not allow Nick Fitzgerald his normal running room (and when the Dawgs jumped out to a big lead), State became one-dimensional. They are not a team that is designed to come back from big deficits because they are not built to throw the ball around a lot. When they tried to do that, Georgia forced two interceptions that completely killed off the game. Georgia did not record any sacks against Mississippi State, but they didn’t need to. The goal was to keep Fitzgerald in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm, which he clearly couldn’t do.
4. Speed 3 – Dawgs on the Move: Much better than the first two installments in the Speed franchise (no offense to Keanu Reeves or Sandra Bullock), Georgia’s team speed continues to be one of its biggest strengths. On defense, this team swarms to the ball before opponents can react. On offense, the receivers are doing a great job of getting separation and the backs are hitting the hole and getting into space seemingly at will. It was great to see Nick Chubb get back to his best in this game, and D’Andre Swift has been a revelation this season. Team speed has been the hallmark of pretty much every National Champion in recent memory. The best example of that I can think of is the complete mismatch between Notre Dame and Alabama for the 2012 National Championship. Alabama was much, much faster, and it clearly showed. Over the last two title games, Alabama and Clemson have had similar speed, and that’s a big reason why both games were close. This Georgia team is on that level in terms of overall speed.
5. Getting a kick out of Cameron Nizialek: Georgia has had some good punters over the years, but recently, that part of the game hasn’t been very consistent. Well, that inconsistency seems to be in the rearview mirror. Georgia getting Cameron Nizialek from Columbia (yes, the Ivy League school in the middle of Manhattan) could prove to be one of the most important moves this team has made in a long time. His punts are not only long, but the hang time is remarkable. Teams just aren’t getting the chance to have punt returns because by the time the ball gets to the returner, he’s got a host of UGA’s punt coverage team in his face. Nizialek had 4 punts against Mississippi State. He averaged 45.5 yards with a long of 54, and NONE of the punts were returned. In fact, with Rodrigo Blankenship also constantly nailing touchbacks, State had zero kick returns of any kind against Georgia. As long as this consistency continues, not having to worry about special teams mishaps/inconsistency in the kicking game will go a long way in Georgia accomplishing their goals this season.
6. Aaron Murray… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ : Aaron, what were you thinking? Maybe in some strange way, predicting that Mississippi State would beat Georgia was your way of trying to motivate the Dawgs. I want to say something to all college football pundits/commentators: Nobody is going to think you’re any less credible if you back your school. Shoot, Desmond Howard does it all the time for Michigan on College GameDay. Murray definitely felt the backlash too as not only were the boo birds out when he was introduced on the field during the game, but a bunch of his former teammates/former UGA players were killing him on Twitter about it. Murray is new to the broadcasting game, and maybe he thought picking State would show that he can be unbiased, but again, this is college football. Fans don’t care about objectivity if it relates to the school you attended. It’s part of the reason that David Pollack has seen some backlash from UGA fans. Now Aaron, we’ll let it slide this once. Just don’t get in the Ramblin’ Wreck car and hold up a number one while a “To Hell with Georgia” flag waves next to you…
7. The road ahead: I know Georgia handled Mississippi State with relative ease, but looking at the rest of Georgia’s schedule, this might have been one of Georgia’s hardest games. Going to Tennessee this weekend (and the house of horrors that is Neyland Stadium) will not be easy, but that team is struggling right now and Butch Jones is already getting paranoid and ranting at the media. Alabama just destroyed Vanderbilt, so that game in Nashville all of a sudden looks less daunting. Missouri might be the worst team left on the schedule, and that game is at home. Florida has nine players that are facing felony charges, including their two best offensive players. Outside of the Auburn game, it’s very possible that Georgia will be favored in all of their games for the rest of the season. That’s not to downplay any of them, but the point is that if Georgia really is moving in the right direction and getting where Coach Smart wants them to be, they cannot slip up against teams they should beat. That was the “old” Georgia. Let’s hope the “new” Georgia is here to stay.