Catch up on previous 2020 opponent previews!
Georgia is so good that we critique the type of offense they run and how much they win by. That’s how you know you’re a blue blood.
When Kirby Smart was hired he promised to bring the “Saban Process” to Athens since he had been warmed by Saban’s dragon wing for 11 years. And true to his word, he poached* heavily from Bama’s 2016 recruiting class then went gangbusters, hauling in Top 3 recruiting classes every year since. Playoff berths, New Years Six bowls, SEC East crowns, NFL Draft picks, inexplicable losses to middle-tier SEC squads...it’s everything former coach Mark Richt used to do but with more...ya know...Saban pizzazz.
*apparently, when Kirby Smart was offered the Georgia head coaching position, he was sitting in his office in Alabama. He took the job and immediately went to Alabama’s recruiting office, took pictures of their big board, then texted all the recruits that weren’t at the top of Bama’s list, saying, “Why play for a team that doesn’t prioritize you when you could play for me?”. Dirty pool, Kirby!
So now Georgia has been fully actualized into what its fans wanted all along but still have only one conference championship to hang on to. That’s not terrible but the natives in Athens can get restless, especially when you merely plateau at greatness instead of growing to immortality. At least Kirby and his boys continue to recruit at a pace that lets them compete for National Championships consistently!
Here’s what Georgia did in 2019:
Like I said above, the fact that Georgia wasn’t winning by more was the talking point for the first month of the season. Boring, plodding offense is fine if you’re an underdog trying to shrink the game down; it makes less sense when every guy on your roster is way better than anyone they’re going against. It bit them in the butt against South Carolina and kept games against Kentucky, Auburn, and A&M way closer than they should have been. OC James Coley had his responsibilities removed and replaced by a guy with air-raid and NFL experience under his belt. How Coach Smart lets him run the offense is yet to be seen but, in theory, offensive modernization is nigh.
Head Coach: Kirby Smart - 5th year - 44-12
Kirby Smart is only 44 and has spent 11 of his 16 pre-Georgia years on Nick Saban’s staff. That means that he benefited from excellent staff and players, yes, but it also means that he has a deep understanding of this stuff works. He’s been able to deliver for the most part at Georgia but Saban always benefited from have a National Championship to point to when/if things got tough. Smart has yet to obtain that excuse. I’m not saying he’s anywhere close to being pushed out but if you’re paying a guy $7 million a year to bring in championship hardware and you only have one conference championship to your name, do you get restless?
Todd Monken - Offensive Coordinator: Monken has had a long career as a receivers coach and coordinator, working at both the college and professional levels. He’s best known for running the Brandon Weeden offenses at Oklahoma State in 2011-2012 and turning around a terrible Southern Miss program from 2013-2015. He hasn’t had as much offensive success in the NFL but has a strong track record of taking college offenses and improving them noticeably. At the very least, he at least runs a more pass-friendly offense than what Georgia has been doing the past three years so they should find more success almost immediately.
Dan Lanning - Defensive Coordinator: Lanning has only been a position coach since 2016 when he became the Inside Linebackers coach at Memphis. He then jumped to Georgia in 2018 and became DC in 2019. That is to say that the defense the Bulldogs run is not his but Kirby Smart’s through and through. There is something to be said about not messing that up. Oh, also, he has three sons named Caden, Kniles and...Titan.
Scott Cochran - Special Teams Coordinator: this was the coup of the offseason. Smart snatched away Nick Saban’s strength coach; the man who famously ridiculed Georgia in 2008 for wearing black jerseys like they were “going to a f***in’ funeral”; the man who personally developed each and every one of the Alabama Death Star athletes and groomed them to dominate the SEC and make it to the NFL; yeah, Smart gave him a huge promotion and snatched him away from his old boss. Who knows what skills Cochran has outside the weight room but this was a major offseason win for the Bulldogs over the Tide.
Dell McGee - Running Backs
Cortez Hankton - Wide Receivers
Todd Hartley - Tight Ends
Matt Luke - Offensive Line: Luke might have been set up to fail at his alma mater of Ole Miss but he’s a damn fine offensive line coach and will make an elite offensive line even better.
Tray Scott - Defensive Line
Glenn Schumann - Inside Linebackers
Charlton Warren - Defensive Backs
Georgia spent most of 2019 having their offense ridiculed but the national media. And rightfully so! The Bulldogs have rolled in the overall second best recruiting class over the past five years and deployed all those offensive stars on the field to...run into the line over. And over. And over again. Georgia was pretty good at running the ball, mind you - 39th overall, 30th in success rate, 14th in efficiency - but you don’t bring in the best recruiting classes outside of Alabama for merely a pretty good rushing attack. When they passed they were great - 22nd overall, 28th in success rate, 29th in efficiency - but the problem was 1. they hardly ever passed, and 2.) when they did it was out routes, screens, and stick routes. It was boring and predictable but as long as they were ahead of the chains - their offense ranked 8th on standard downs - they were absolutely rolling.
But knock them off schedule? The Bulldogs fell apart. They ranked an unbelievable 74th in passing downs thanks to a terrible 102nd success rate and 115th efficiency rate. And all of that stems from a surprisingly poor explosive rate— 91st. That they have all those recruiting stars at every level of the offense and bust fewer big plays than kansas is alarming.
The offensive scheme is completely the fault of Coach Smart’s philosophy to the game, the antiquated approach that his old boss Nick Saban abandoned in 2014. It seems that Smart finally read the room and modernized his offense by hiring offensive dynamo Todd Monken. The athleticism is certainly there on the roster, if Monken can let the horses run this offense can finally find its potential. But they only return 50% of last year’s production so there’s a lot of opportunities for guys to step up and earn playing time.
Quarterback - Jamie Newman - Redshirt Senior
When Georgia signed Justin Fields in 2018 the offensive potential was limitless. When they insisted on only using him in wildcat-esque gadget plays and, instead, keep their immaculate mayonnaise statue Jake Fromm at the helm, the disappointment among Georgia fans and the national media was palpable. Smart is clearly trying to rectify one of his bigger mistakes — especially as that mistake leads an equally talented Ohio State team to the Playoff — by throwing his hand-picked OC under the bus, bringing in a more modern coordinator, and nabbing the most in-demand dual-threat quarterback in the transfer portal, Jamie Newman.
Newman’s Wake Forest squad went 8-5 last year with the 61st best offense out of the 60th best recruiting class. The thought was if the talent around Newman was upgraded then he could make that talent even more dynamic.
Newman is good but he’s not that good: all of his rushing numbers were below national averages while his passing numbers - 61% completion rate, 5.7% sack rate, 7.1 yards per attempt - were basically right at average. Again, an upgrade in talent around him could help but Newman’s worst games were against any team with a pulse: North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke, Syracuse, and Michigan State all held him under 59% completion rate and 250 yards through the air.
Monken’s system should help his efficiency and the athletes at receiver should help the success rate but, until we see it, it’ll be a question that needs to be answered.
Running Back - Zamir White - Sophomore
As a freshman White was able to crack the rotation even with the talented D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien hogging most of the carries. Like most of the offense White wasn’t very explosive but had the best rushing success rate on the team and second-best opportunity rate as well. James Cook and Kenny McIntosh are excellent, young, depth pieces but White should be the main threat.
Wide Receiver - George Pickens - Sophomore
Ten guys were targeted at least twenty times last year; of those ten, only one had more than 334 yards receiving. And he was a freshman! Four of those ten are now gone so Pickens will be relied upon heavily.
Because this is Georgia there are, of course, four blue-chip receivers joining the fray, as well as redshirt blue chipper Makiya Tongue. But as I mention in these previews, success in the passing game relies mostly on experience and Georgia doesn’t have a ton. Any optimism about the passing game is based on high-level athleticism and a schematic improvement.
While Georgia has been wasting offensive talent for the past four years they’ve been churning out defensive all-stars non stop. Last year was no exception: the Bulldogs ranked first overall in defensive SP+ and ranked in the Top 25 in almost every defensive statistic you can think of. In fact, they ranked 1st in every rushing defensive stat. Oh, and they return 80% of last year’s production.
Defensive Line - Malik Herring - Senior
This will be the third straight defense that Missouri faces that works out of a base 3-4 defense. By this point you know that defensive lines in a 3-4 aren’t as disruptive as a 4-3 or a 4-2-5 and Malik Herring fits that mold: 20.5 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and 8 run stuffs. That’s the most on a line that returns 4 of 7 contributors, 5 of which were in heavy rotation. There’s also three blue-chip linemen joining the fold as well.
Linebacker - Monty Rice - Senior
Rice is a classic inside linebacker: a volume tackler that doesn’t create a ton of havoc but just constantly find himself in the right position to make a play. He lead the team with 69.5 tackles and will be looking for a battery mate to replace the graduated Tae Crowder. Junior Quay Walker will have the first crack at it while freshman Mekhail Sherman should also have a chance to make an instant impact.
Defensive Back - D.J. Daniel - Senior
It’s usually not a good sign when a corner is the fifth leading tackler on the team, but in this case, it’s all in the scheme! Daniel was active in run stopping, logging 2 tackles for loss and 3 run stuffs. He also broke up 8 passes while logging 39 tackles. He’s fast, active, and solid in coverage. He’ll have four others from the 7-man rotation returning as well so the secondary will be a strength once again.
So what does it all mean?
So here’s what Missouri needs to hope for to pull this one off:
- The new pass-first scheme takes awhile to take hold and an offense used to running has trouble transitioning.
- Jamie Newman is merely ok and doesn’t add enough of a run threat to make an impact.
- The receivers are too young and inexperienced to reliably convert passing downs or create more explosive plays.
- Having seven straight games - and two against Alabama and Auburn - is enough to beat up the roster and have them limping in to their second true road game of the season where Missouri catches them flat-footed before their Bye week
...that’s a lot of things to go right, huh? And in my mind that would just even the playing field, not make it so that the Tigers can win it.
Georgia recruits better and is (conceivably) running an offense that will utilize the incredible offensive talent they’ve been compiling. They’ll lose a dumb game sometime this year but it’ll be impossible to see coming. I certainly wouldn’t bank on the Baby Tigers pulling off the upset but crazier things have happened.