Welcome to a weekly experience in which we enrich the lives of Georgia fans by building up their confidence and convincing them that there is no possible way the Bulldogs will lose this week.
We could dance around references to the 2007 Appalachian State upset of Michigan all day long, but this isn’t that Mountaineer team and (thank God) Georgia is not Michigan. App State is coming off back-to-back bowl wins and 21 total victories over the past two seasons. The Mountaineers are upset-minded and not to be taken lightly.
But there is absolutely no chance Georgia loses to Appalachian State on Saturday and here’s why:
Georgia’s Front Seven is Too Darn Nasty
At first glance, it’s easy to look at App State’s dual-threat quarterback, Taylor Lamb, and quiver with fear. Georgia tends to struggle against mobile quarterbacks and even if Kirby Smart were to directly mirror Alabama’s process and accompanying success, that would still imply deficiencies against read-option threats under-center.
Lamb, a senior with 38 games worth of experience (almost entirely in a starting role), can do a little bit of everything. He’s thrown for over 7,000 yards in his career and he’s rushed for more than 400 yards in each of his three seasons. But what he’s accomplished on the ground in totality and what he’s accomplished on the ground against Power 5 defenses are two different things.
Taylor Lamb vs. Power 5 Opposition
|Year||Power 5 Opponent||Rush Attempts||Rushing Yards||Yards Per Carry|
|Year||Power 5 Opponent||Rush Attempts||Rushing Yards||Yards Per Carry|
Lamb is capable of running wild. He’s surpassed the century mark on the ground twice. But is the defense he’s facing Saturday closer to the likes of Michigan, Clemson, Tennessee and Miami? Or is it going to resemble the front-seven of Toledo or Louisiana-Monroe? We all know the answer to that question.
Running back Jalin Moore could also pose a threat coming off a 1,400 yard season, but he’s also less likely to find gaping holes Between the Hedges. Tennessee held Moore to 17 yards on seven attempts last year while Miami kept him under 4 yards per attempt despite 23 totes. He’ll be under the 100-yard mark on Saturday.
The Big Dawgs are gonna eat this weekend, and they have got to be starving. The only question is whether or not there will be enough to go around for the likes of John Atkins, Trent Thompson, Julian Rochester, Lorenzo Carter, Natrez Patrick, Jonathan Ledbetter, Davin Bellamy, David Marshall…you get the idea.
If the Mountaineers struggle on the ground, it could be a long day for an offense that was among the nation’s worst in passing a year ago. App State ranked 105th in passing yards per game with just 179 per contest.
The Talent Edge
One would be remiss to not mention the tremendous disparity between roster talent. Now, more five- and four-star recruits does not always equate to a victory, but at this point in the season it at least merits a mention. After all, we don’t really know anything about how talent will translate to on-field results in 2017—at least not yet. Further, we still don’t yet know everything we’d like to know about the new era of Kirby Smart football (more on that in a moment), but what we do know is that Coach Smart can fill a locker room with talent.
Having already touched on part of the defense, we might as well switch sides of the ball and highlight a few advantages for the Bulldogs.
First and foremost, App State will not be able to stop the Bulldog ground attack. It’s just not going to happen.
Nick Chubb is back, and he actually feels quick. He was sluggish in last year’s season-opener when be ran for 222 yards and two scores against North Carolina. He wasn’t quick when he racked up four more 100-yard games in 2016 en route to 1,130 rushing yards. But he’s quick now. That’s pretty terrifying.
Oh and Sony Michel has always been quick. He’s the most electrifying player on Georgia’s roster and could probably run through, around or by any Mountaineer on the field. Toss in fellow returners Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield (if not suspended) as well as newcomer D’Andre Swift and Georgia’s backfield talent is some of the best in the nation. The offensive line may still be a 1,500 pound question mark, but in this game the prowess of the running backs will be insurmountable.
The passing game for Georgia remains something of an unknown, with expectations for second-year quarterback Jacob Eason firmly planted all over the place. Truthfully, if the passing game were to outshine the ground attack—be it for the season or even a single game—that would be a surprise. And given a talent disparity, a healthy dose of Chubb, Michel, Herrien, Holyfield and Swift should suffice in putting distance between the good guys and the bad guys.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s plenty I’d like to see out of Eason and a slew of developing receivers, but I don’t see that as essential to success against Appalachian State.
This is Actually a Statement Game
App State is a worthy season-opening opponent. No, this isn’t a nationally prominent game like Bama’s matchup with Florida State and it’s not a renewed rivalry like the Dawgs’ matchups with Clemson a few years ago. But this is not the cupcake that some may mistake it for.
Further, if you subscribe to the theory that last season was Year Zero of the Kirby Smart Experience, then this is the first game that really matters for the post-Richt Bulldogs. I’m not trying to negate anything that happened on or off the field last year, but I do think some of that should be marginalized. After Richt was canned in November 2015, I noted (on my old site) that an 8-win season seemed right for the 2016 Bulldogs regardless of who was coaching. Somehow—and it may have just been blind luck—I was proved right in Smart’s first go at it.
But this is the year in which progress must be shown. How we define progress remains to be seen. Maybe it’s 10 wins. Maybe it’s winning the division. Maybe it’s beating Florida. Maybe it’s not getting blown out twice a year. But maybe, just maybe, improvement simply means performing to expectation on a weekly basis. At a minimum, that seems like a prerequisite to bigger, better dreams. After all, it’s a logical linear progression to assume that before raising the bar one must clear its existing height.
Something tells me Smart, his staff and his players know that. And believe it or not, a convincing win at home against Appalachian State will actually mean something. This isn’t Nicholls State or Louisiana-Lafayette; this foe is significantly more threatening. And yet there’s no excuse for not winning this game handily, if Georgia is truly destined to win its division. Smart can’t allow opponents of this caliber to hang around for too long if he wants to demonstrate a positive trajectory.
I’m not going to fall back on trite Coach-isms here, but there’s some truth to the notion that “you can’t win ‘em all if you don’t win the first one.” In this case, you can’t say the culture’s changing if you don’t show results. In that regard wide margin of victory (something decidedly greater than the 14-point spread) will make a statement.
The Bulldogs can’t lose to App State; they just can’t. And they won’t. There’s no way.