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Can’t really begrudge these two Bulldogs for their decisions to leave

Can’t really begrudge these two Bulldogs for their decisions to leave

Can’t really begrudge these two Bulldogs for their decisions to leave

Can’t really begrudge these two Bulldogs for their decisions to leave

Jacob Eason-Georgia-quarterback-transfer

ATHENS – Well, there goes Jacob Eason, headed back West, we assume. And there goes Trent Thompson, headed for the NFL.

And just like that, the top players in Georgia’s classes of 2015 and ’16 are gone.

No, surprise in either case, I’d say. As to how it might affect the 2018 Bulldogs, any loss of elite talents such as these two are is going to hurt your team. Sure, they will be replaced by others, but to assume that it will be an equal or even net gain trade-off would be foolhardy.

But in each case the moves were made with their personal futures in mind, not Georgia’s. On that front, I’d argue that they were both justified and understandable.

Eason should arrive back in Lake Stevens, Wash., with his bags packed full of good will and kudos from the Bulldog Nation. I certainly hope he does. The kid certainly didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, I’d go as far as saying he did everything right.

There’s no question he did once that fateful injury sidelined him on Sept. 2, 2017. Running to the sideline under pressure from an Appalachian State defender, Eason caught a little shove in the back as he was heading out of bounds. That little bit of force caused him to land awkwardly on his left leg as he tried to step over the yard-marking chain and all sorts of other sideline flotsam with those long and lanky legs. It was just enough to sprain the medial collateral ligament and sideline him for at least four weeks.

Then the world discovered Jake Fromm. The true freshman from Houston County, who thought he might play in garbage time that day, had to scramble to throw on his helmet and get in the game. Fifteen games and 13 wins later, it was only at garbage that he ever left a game the rest of the way.

The season didn’t end until this past Monday when Georgia fell short in the CFP Championship game against Alabama, 26-23 in overtime. There were a lot of reasons why the Bulldogs lost, but quarterback play wasn’t one of them.

One of the memorable scenes for me at the end of that heartbreaking loss involved Eason. The former 5-star quarterback prospect nicknamed “Skinny” – who’s not so skinny anymore — waited inside the tunnel leading to Georgia’s locker room for Fromm to come off the field. There Eason greeted his road-game roommate with a hug and put his arm around Fromm as they made their way out of the limelight.

Eason told us out in Los Angeles during Rose Bowl preparations that he healthy enough to play again by midseason. But Georgia, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney would also attest, made the choice to stick with Fromm, who at that point remained undefeated and was improving at an incredible rate with each week.

All the while, Eason kept preparing and staying ready if called on while also supporting his position-mate. As he said, he always remained “a play away.”

The Seattle Times, citing “several sources,” reported days ago that Eason was transferring to Washington, his home-state school located 45 minutes away from his home in Lake Stevens. For what it’s worth, Eason’s father told me in a text they “aren’t a source” and “I don’t know where that came from.”

So Eason may or may not be headed there, but I have no reason to doubt that very reputable news outlet. If he does land at UW, Eason will have to sit out a year. But the biggest thing will be his proximity to home.

Think about these last two years for the Eason family. They’ve made the trip from Seattle to Atlanta multiple times and were pretty much everywhere Georgia was all this season. They were doing that not knowing whether their kid, the one they call “Jake,” would get in and knowing he probably wouldn’t.

Another year or so of that didn’t make much sense. To have their son just down the road and in position to come him every holiday does, regardless of future prospects.

As for Thompson, his decision doesn’t surprise me in the least. Though he was largely insulated from interacting with the media very much since he arrived at UGA, I felt like I knew Thompson pretty well. I spent a couple of days with him down there in Albany for a Next Generation piece I did the week he graduated from Westover High School. I sat in his house and talked to his mom and aunt and little brother and rode around town with Trent and met his uncle down at his Goodtimes restaurant on South Slappey Boulevard.

Thompson is a great college player who probably could benefit from another year in school to improve his draft status and all that. But there’s also a lot of people in Albany hoping and praying for him to earn living to help out all his loved ones down there who have lifted him up so much the last several years.

Clearly, Thompson had some medical problems that led to that rather high-profile incident on campus last February. He also battled shoulder and knee injuries that forced him to miss a lot of playing time this season. As a result, Thompson didn’t have as exceptional a season as he did as a sophomore.

But he made it through 15 games still upright and still made a lot of plays for the Bulldogs, including three tackles in the championship game. Still walking and relatively healthy after all that, I’m sure that made him think, “I better do this while I can.”

Thompson likely won’t be the last of the underclassmen leaving Georgia after this magical season. Linebacker Roquan Smith almost certainly will be next. He’s getting some Top 10 projections in NFL mock drafts. There’s no guarantee, but that’s like winning the lottery, for you and me. So I’m sure no one will begrudge Smith whenever he makes that decision.

There might be others. Jonathan Ledbetter has been pretty adamant that he’s coming back, and that’s a very good thing for Georgia if he does. Cornerback Deandre Baker and center Lamont Gaillard are among those who were still thinking about it late in the year. It’d be worth their while to remain in college, in my opinion. But who knows.

I saw some fans post on social media that Friday’s news was adding to their depression from having lost the national championship to Alabama. But it shouldn’t.

This is just the price of doing business on this level. This is why Kirby Smart remains such a relentless recruiter and tries to stack 5-stars on top of 5-stars at every position.

As for the quarterback position, I think the Bulldogs will be fine. Certainly there are some depth concerns. But in addition to getting Justin Fields ready to play fast, the Bulldogs also have Stetson Bennett waiting in the wings. Scoff if you want, but it has been a long time since I’ve heard as many players and coaches rave about a scout team quarterback the way they have Bennett. I’m convinced he could handle anything Georgia needed if pressed into service.

Meanwhile, I’ll watch with great interest how Eason’s future unfolds. He gave Georgia all he had and remained a good teammate and friend when things didn’t go his way.

He told me in L.A. he thought things would have gone just as well for the Bulldogs had he not gotten injured because of the tremendous team chemistry and overall talent this team possessed. Alas, we’ll never know.

But Eason should also leave knowing there’s a whole nation of Bulldogs rooting for him going forward. Unless and until they run into each other in the playoffs one day. And even then they’ll probably hope he plays well.

I know I will.

The post Can’t really begrudge these two Bulldogs for their decisions to leave appeared first on DawgNation.

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Georgia Sports News

  • COLUMBIA, S.C. – It was late in the first half on Wednesday night, and Georgia was putting its five men back on the court after a timeout. It took a second before the realization hit press row: Is that Isaac Kante? Reporters looked closer. Yes, really, it was Kante, the rarely-used freshman, so rarely used he had only played in three SEC games, and just one minute each time, all at the end of blowouts. He was the 12 th man on the bench, and yet here was entering late in the first half of a close game, a very important game for Georgia. Kante didn’t play long, only two minutes. But it was symbolic of a Georgia team that still seems to be trying to find itself. And maybe that’s why this season has been such a struggle. Perhaps that’s looking too much into it. Head coach Mark Fox would say so. He was asked after his team’s 66-57 loss at South Carolina, when his team looked off balance, whether it was the match-up or his team was still trying to figure things out. “No that’s a total credit to South Carolina. They disrupt everybody,” Fox said. “The way that they play, your hope is you get a game where you can win the foul line. But that’s a total credit to South Carolina and how they defend, and how disruptive they are.” It may be true. South Carolina (15-13 overall, 6-9 in the SEC), now having swept Georgia (15-12, 6-9), may just be a bad match-up for the Bulldogs. But the Bulldogs also committed 17 turnovers, including five travel violations in the first nine minutes alone, and you can’t chalk all those up to just a bad match-up. “At the end of the day turnovers are always on the offense,” Georgia senior Yante Maten said. Then there’s the offense itself, which continues to be a confusing mess in certain half-court sets. Last week players like Tyree Crump and Derek Ogbeide were giving Maten help off the bench with scoring help. But on this night only one other player – Turtle Jackson – finished in double figures. Georgia used 12 scholarship players in the first half alone on Wednesday, including Kante. (Foul trouble contributed to that.) The rotation shortened somewhat in the second half, but the team still lacks much consistency: Maten is going to play and get his, but whether the supporting cast gives him enough help is usually a coin flip. Rayshaun Hammonds, the freshman forward, sort of accidentally described the team’s offense when summarizing what the team was trying to do after trailing by 15 at halftime. “We were just talking about getting out of the hole,” Hammonds said. “Playing our game, and trying to find a way to score. Get it to Yante if he’s open. Find a way. That’s really it.” Look at those last three sentences:  “Get it to Yante if he’s open. Find a way. That’s really it.” Well, Maten is hardly ever open. That should open things up for other players, but that hasn’t happened most of the time lately. And it didn’t on Wednesday. Crump made two 3-pointers, including one while being fouled. But why did he only shoot one other 3? Why did the team’s best outside shooter only try 3-pointers? Why did Jackson, Crump and Teshaun Hightower – all three played some point guard on Wednesday – fail to get the team going? “We just made some poor plays. Our point guards made some very poor decisions,” Fox said. “We threw two balls away that should have never been thrown away.” It is true that Georgia’s perimeter defense was also largely to blame: South Carolina, one of the worst shooting teams in the SEC, shot 13-for-31 beyond the arc. But even if it had shot worse and Georgia had somehow won, it would have won a low-scoring game. The problem remains an offense that just isn’t consistent, perhaps the result of a team that just hasn’t been able to establish its roles. It’s getting too late to fix it. The post Georgia still seems to be trying to find itself as season nears end appeared first on DawgNation.
  • COLUMBIA, S.C. – This was the game that would either keep changing the story for the Georgia basketball team, or send it careening back in the wrong direction. It went careening, undone by sloppy offense and helpless perimeter defense. Georgia fell at South Carolina, 66-57, losing control late in the first half and not able to fight back. Turnovers and 3-point shooting were the keys: Georgia committed 17 turnovers, South Carolina only three. South Carolina was 13-for-30 beyond the arc, and Georgia was 6-for-18. Thus ended a two-game winning streak that had put some juice back into the season for Georgia. But after being swept by South Carolina the Bulldogs (15-12 overall, 6-9 in the SEC) will have to win their final three just to finish .500 in the league, and may have to do that to enter the SEC tournament with any shot at an NCAA tournament bid. Three who mattered Yante Maten: Georgia’s best player was once again surrounded whenever he got the ball down low, and once again the result was a frustrating night. He was held to just 13 points, going 5-for-13 from the field. Turtle Jackson: When Georgia beat Florida and Tennessee last week, it was largely because Maten had scoring help. But on Wednesday only Jackson joined him in double figures, finishing with a team-high 14 points. Tyree Crump: The sharp-shooting sophomore had a 4-point play in the first half, and a more traditional 3-point play pulled Georgia within 63-57 with 1:45 left. But those were the only two 3s he made, missing his other attempt. Turning point The last five minutes of the first half, when South Carolina finished on a 23-10 run, including a 13-3 run at one point. The Bulldogs were flailing on defense, their zone shredded by 3-pointers, and threw the ball away several times on offense. After being within 19-17 with just over five minutes left, the Bulldogs went into halftime trailing 42-27. Observations Rallying short. Georgia made it interesting right away in the second half, going on an 11-2 run to make it 44-38. But it stalled there. During one key sequence it had three open 3s on one possession, but missed all three – and then South Carolina hit a 3 on the other end to go back up 11. Emptying the bench. Georgia used all 12 available scholarship players in the first half. Even Isaac Kante saw action, after only appearing in seven games this season. The only scholarship player on the roster now to play was the suspended Jordan Harris, who remains out indefinitely and was not on the trip. More ugly play. Georgia committed five travel violations in the first nine minutes of the game. Worth mentioning In the first half, which proved decisive, Georgia was 8-for-24 from the field with 10 turnovers. What’s next Georgia hosts LSU on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Stegeman Coliseum. Georgia won 61-60 at LSU on Jan. 16. The post Georgia basketball: Bulldogs fall flat at South Carolina appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. The play sheet today calls for the latest twist in the recruiting story of 4-star in-state DL Curtis Fann, Jr.  Curtis Fann grew up a UGA fan. He was at G-Day last year as a fan. It wasn’t long before he had an offer from his dream school. Yet somehow along the way, the Bulldogs didn’t recruit him like a few of their SEC rivals did. It led Fann to believe that maybe sometimes the dream school isn’t the right school to fulfill every player’s dreams. It has to be the right fit. South Carolina was the first school to offer Fann and they’ve continued to be the most consistent and direct in their pitch to Fann. But now there’s a new twist here. The Bulldogs have picked up their communication to Fann over the last six weeks. That’s probably the 20-second version of his recruiting story up to this point. “Yeah, you got it about right,” Fann told DawgNation. The next chapter will come this weekend. The 4-star weak-side DE, who ranks as the nation’s No. 17 prospect at his position for this cycle, will take an unofficial visit to UGA this weekend. The Bulldogs have returned into the race for Fann. They contacted him on National Signing Day and even dropped by his school in January. That uptick has likely sparked this weekend’s visit. Kirby Smart even said something that hit home. That’s even beyond the Bulldogs bringing up a chance for Fann to play OLB in their defense. “He has just been telling me about what position I can play,” Fann said. “He kind of described me as a Jon Ledbetter type. He said I was one of their top guys and he wanted me to come back up there to Athens soon.” The Bulldogs coming back into the race will be an interesting turn. “It makes it a little more complicated,” he said. “That’s one more extra school that I have to look at. But I think that’s a good thing. I want to pick the school that is the best for me.” Fann even stated that he was almost at the point of committing a short time ago. If he did, it would have been before the Bulldogs really came back into the mix in this decision. How the Bulldogs got back into it for Curtis Fann The 6-foot-3, 246-pound prospect recaps that story very well in his own right. “After the season was over coach Smart and coach (Glenn) Schumann came by the school,” Fann said. “Then after signing day, they started texting me and communicating with me a little more. They started getting with me on maybe now an everyday or an every other day thing.” Did the Bulldogs lose ground to a few conference rivals during that stall? “I really can’t say,” Fann said. “I guess it will depend on how well my visit goes on Saturday.” That will be Fann’s first trip back to Athens since he camped in Athens last summer. There were not any magic words that sparked the trip. “It really wasn’t really anything that they said,” Fann said. “It was just the fact they came back and tried to recruit me a little bit more. I just really want to give Georgia another chance here to see if that would be something I would really want to do. I think I am going to have a pretty good time.” What do the Bulldogs need to show him this weekend? “I think they just need to spend a little time with me and try to build a strong relationship with me outside of football and just go from there,” Fann said. “Because I think that’s the most important thing is building a relationship with the coaches.” The Georgia staff texted him on National Signing Day actually. That’s the day they were locking down the nation’s top class for 2018. “They told me I was one of their top guys,” Fann said. “They actually told me that a little before signing day as well.” How does he feel about UGA heading into that unofficial visit? “I still think it is a great school,” Fann said. “I would still love to go there if it is for me. I’m still trying to see that and find the college that is going to fit me the best.” Florida State, South Carolina and Tennessee have worked hard over the last few months to recruit Fann. He’s been to visit Auburn and South Carolina so far this year. The Gamecocks are recruiting him the hardest right now.   Whatever happened to?  There’s one thing we didn’t too that great of a job during out post-signing day coverage? That would be to update what happened to a few UGA commits and former signees that didn’t wind up in Athens. Which schools did those one-time Bulldogs pledges wind up signing with? Here’s a quick-and-the-point summation of a few of the major names. OT Max Wray: Ohio State OT D’antne Demery (2016 signee): Florida International WR Elijah Moore: Ole Miss OLB Caleb Tannor: Nebraska S/OLB Aaron Brule‘: Mississippi State DE/OLB Jaevon Becton: Virginia Tech S Rachad Wildgoose Jr: Wisconsin ILB Donovan Georges: Florida International Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed just as fast as former Georgia All-American LB Roquan Smith found the ball after the snap. The post 4-star DL Curtis Fann previews his upcoming UGA visit appeared first on DawgNation.
  • The Falcons have opened contact discussions with kicker Matt Bryant, who could become an unrestricted free agent on March 14.  > More: What could a Bryant deal look like Bryant, who’s set to turn 43 on May 29, became the franchise’s all-time scoring leader -- passing Morten Anderson’s 806 points in 2016 -- and is known as one of the top kickers in the NFL. > Also: Falcons’ salary cap casualty candidates Never miss a minute of what’s happening with the Atlanta Falcons. Subscribe to myAJC.com
  • ATHENS ― The parallels between what Georgia is doing and what Clemson has done are uncanny. There is not an emotion that the Bulldogs or their fans are feeling that the Tigers did not experience two years ago. Clemson made it to the National Championship Game following the 2015 season in the second year of the College Football Playoff and pushed perennial powerhouse Alabama to the brink. But Dabo Swinney’s Tigers came up short, losing 45-40. Clemson also fell victim to some of Nick Saban’s masterful in-game calls. The Tigers led heading into the fourth quarter. But after Alabama tied the game at 24-24 with 10:34 left in the game, Saban took a gamble and called for an onside kick to try to keep the ball away from Clemson’s red-hot quarterback, Deshaun Watson. It worked. Marlon Humphrey recovered and the Crimson Tide quickly scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass to give them a lead they’d never relinquish. But Clemson never went away. The Tigers stayed right on Bama’s tail until the very end. The outcome wasn’t decided until Clemson’s onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds with seconds left in the game. Clemson players and fans were devastated. It had been 34 years since the program’s last national championship. They felt like victory was in their grasp, and they let it slip away. Georgia players and fans can relate. On Jan. 8, the Bulldogs led 13-0 at halftime and 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter before finally falling to Alabama 26-23 in overtime of the National Championship Game. What made the loss even harder to take was that the Tide’s winning score came on a 41-yard pass on second-and-26 with Georgia leading by 3. In Clemson’s case, the Tigers made it back to the National Championship Game following the 2016 season, but this time the Tigers vanquished the Alabama monster. They won 35-31 to secure the school’s first football national championship in 35 years. The question now is this: Can Georgia do the same thing? Can the Bulldogs finish first after finishing second? And would they need to go through Bama again, whether that be in the SEC Championship Game or the playoffs? The answer is yes. And Clemson stands as precedent. Larry Williams is in the perfect position talk about the similarities and differences in Clemson’s latest run of success and the one that many are predicting for the Bulldogs. Williams once covered UGA athletics as a newspaper beat reporter. Today, he is a senior writer at TigerIllustrated.com, the Rivals website dedicated to covering Clemson. He also wrote a book chronicling the Tigers’ 2015 season, Clemson Tough: Guts and Glory Under Dabo Swinney. Williams said what Georgia did in 2017 and in the National Championship Game in particular is reminiscent of Clemson’s 2015-16 run. And, lest we forget, the Tigers were in the College Football Playoff again after last season. “It was nothing like Georgia experienced with the officiating; that’s a big difference,” Williams said with a laugh. “There’s reason for Georgia fans to continue to be ticked off for the next few weeks and years, really. It was nothing like that for Clemson. But after the initial devastation of how close they came, the (2015) season still retained that sort of magical quality and the fans and the team came away thinking, ‘Wow, we were right there on college football’s biggest stage.’ ” To this point, Georgia has matched Clemson only in terms of losing to Bama in the title game. The key now is getting back into the playoffs for a second consecutive run. And that’s much easier said than done. To start with, the Bulldogs lost to graduation or to the NFL draft 11 players who started against Alabama in the CFP final in Atlanta. Seven of those players come from the defensive side of the ball, including Butkus Award-winning linebacker Roquan Smith. But if it’s any consolation, so did Clemson. The Tigers lost their top two defensive ends, who were first- and second-round NFL draft choices, a couple of interior defensive linemen, their starting inside linebacker, their top cornerback and both safeties. “They lost a ton of talent,” Williams said. “They just sort of reloaded because they had been recruiting so well.” Sound familiar? Georgia has been recruiting exceptionally well under coach Kirby Smart. In fact, if one puts any stock in recruiting rankings, the Bulldogs are recruiting even better than Clemson did in its lead-up to three consecutive playoff berths. The Tigers finished 11th, ninth and 16th in the 247Sports composite team recruiting rankings in the three years leading up to winning the national championship. That’s an average of 12th. Georgia has posted recruiting classes ranked first, third and sixth in the last three seasons, an average of 3.3. “We can talk all we want about the motivation and the intangibles and all that stuff. Really, it’s about the horses,” Williams said. “Clemson beat Alabama [in January 2017] because they had Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett and Wayne Gallman. They just put playmakers on the opposite side of the ball, and that’s what it takes. That’s why they couldn’t beat [Bama] the third time.” That talent infusion is why everybody is pointing to the Bulldogs to repeat as SEC East champions in 2018. But that’s just part of the equation. Williams pointed to the motivation of opposition as another obstacle that must be overcome. Clemson managed to repeat as ACC champions and make it back into the playoffs, but it wasn’t easy. Clemson struggled early in the 2016 season. The Tigers barely beat Auburn, had to fight like mad to beat Troy in their own stadium and lost to Pittsburgh. They squeaked by Louisville and Florida State, and Virginia Tech, although a heavy underdog, gave Clemson all it could handle in the ACC Championship Game. “It was kind of a struggle for them all year,” Williams said. “I remember one of their coaches telling me that they were adjusting to that target on their chest. That’s something that Georgia is going to have to deal with and experience as well. Clemson in ’15 and Georgia’s season last year both had that sort of magical quality; they were doing a lot of things for the first time. It’s just a different deal when everybody you’re playing watched you play in that championship game.” Georgia is proud to be in the position to wear that target. And with the pedigree of athlete Smart has brought to Athens during these last three recruiting classes, it’s one the Bulldogs could wear for a long time. The post Clemson precedent shows Georgia can return to College Football Playoff and win appeared first on DawgNation.