Here is what I’m NOT worried about come Saturday afternoon’s kickoff versus the Racers of Murray State:
1) I didn’t even know Murray was a State. I knew Murray as a newsman in Minneapolis, not an FCS school. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not too worried about football things coming out of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
2) Penalties. Yes, there were a lot of them Saturday night in Nashville. But that’s first game jitters, new players on the field, and some rough edges that can be smoothed out. Georgia averaged (by my count) 5.77 penalties a game last season for about 51 yards. If you take out 2 outliers of 10 and 13 penalties, that average drops to 4.5 flags costing not quite 42 yards. Coach Smart will have his players “do more” this week in practice to prevent letting the zebras get involved in the game as the season wears on.
By the way, we had 10 penalties against Auburn. I’m sure because they are simply Auburn. And the team we had a season high in both penalties and yardage in 2018??? Vanderbilt. 13-115. Huh.
3) Bench Depth. It seems both our boys in the trenches are banged up. Salyer and Webb were held out of Saturday’s game on the offensive side, and Rochester, Herring, and Walthour were absent on defense. Reports say all are practicing this week (aside from Walthour). But we don’t need them. At least we’d better not need them. This is why depth is so important. So even if we have the luxury to sit out a few good players, those who see snaps will likely see more snaps than normal. And this wear and tear is itself a risk. Balancing the bench is a job that gets tougher as the season progresses, but Murray State will simply be outmatched.
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I am worried about this Saturday kicking off the 2019 season Between The Hedges on the sacred grass of Dooley Field:
1) Short Yardage. I mean, I love me some RecSpecs Blankenship. And Jake Camarda is really coming on strong after a shaky start. Yet I would love to see none of them other than on extra points and kickoffs. And holding clipboards. Oh, and post-game interviews in full helmet regalia. And maybe this is just some hangover from last season, but I don’t want to see either of them very much, which means I want to keep drives going, especially when it’s short yardage.
We have a veteran signal caller who appears to manage the huddle and offense well, we have studs to tote the pigskin, and enough meat up front to add 4 more lanes to the SR 10 Loop. Murray State ranked 83rd in FCS in stopping the run last season, plus lost both their #1 pass rusher and #1 team tackler. If we fail to convert any short yardage on 3rd or 4th downs through a normally executed play (barring false-start, D-cell batteries thrown on the field, etc.), I might lose it.
2) Rodney Castille. The Racer running back is the leading rusher from the 2018 team, and opened the 2019 campaign with 10 rushes (over 6 ypc) and 6 catches out of the backfield. It wasn’t a record setting performance but Castille looks to be the go-to option for Head Speed Racer Mitch Stewart. Not to mention Coach Stewart is a graduate of Chris Hatcher’s School for Future Division I Football Coaches, and with execution, can cause any defense problems.
Andy Isabella isn’t walking through the tunnel Saturday, but still. (I fully believe we moved Isabella up a day in the 2019 NFL draft thanks to his 200+ yards receiving against us last November.) I don’t need to give a player their signature game or improve their career advancement opportunities. And I don’t need to give a team their signature win – let Tennessee be the ones to carry that cross all year.
3) Last week I was worried about sacks. Vanderbilt had a rebuilt offensive line, a freshman quarterback, and we clearly had the edge in speed. We scored two QB takedowns. Zero interceptions. Not exactly “havoc” in my lowly opinion. This week might be just as tough to get into the backfield, as the Hatch-Attack offense will get the ball out quickly. So is Dan Lanning dialing back more into “contain” mode? Or will we see more bull-rushes and blitzes off the edge? Batted balls and passes broken up won’t upset me in the least, though sacks are still a hell of a lot sexier.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below on what worries you with this week’s tilt. And as always…