The hottest topic surrounding Georgia Football last season was the strategy, design, personnel choices and execution of James Coley’s offense. After the South Carolina game nearly every post written here had some conversation around Coley in the comments section. I was one of James Coley’s loudest critics, calling his offense “constipated” and “like playing football in a closet.”
As Covid-19 lead to a national shutdown and an abundance of free time for yours truly, I began wondering if my criticisms had been unfair. Coley was the man in the arena after all, and I watch most football games from my couch. While I did play football, and do consider myself to be more knowledgeable about the nuances of the game than your average fan, I have never found myself in Coley’s position. To hold the reins of the offense at a program like UGA is an awesome responsibility.
I wondered, what would have happened if I had been Georgia’s Offensive Coordinator in 2019?
Perhaps the personnel at Coley’s disposal was genuinely incapable of producing much more than they did. Maybe If I had been in his seat on the day of the South Carolina game I too would have clammed up and produced an offensive showing with the same aesthetic as a clogged rest stop toilet.
There was only one way to find out. I had to coordinate the 2019 Georgia Offense.
We here at DawgSports believe in science, so I dusted off my trusty old PlayStation and a copy of NCAA Football 14, the last college football game made (go to hell, NCAA). There are a group of heroes out there who update the depth charts, player names and player attributes every year, so I downloaded Georgia’s 2019 roster.
Since it was only fair to make this as hard as possible, I set the difficulty mode to Heisman and turned off all the sliders. Some of you might be sitting there thinking, “HA! This man is a fool! This is a silly little video game, of course it will be easy for him to beat Coley’s offensive output.” If your thoughts are along those lines you have never played NCAA Football 14 on Heisman difficulty.
It’s hard as hell. Linebackers who shouldn’t even be in the play jump seventeen feet in the air and grab interceptions. Receivers drop easy catches. Lineman blow blocking assignments. As the OC, I only controlled the snaps on offense. That means that the Georgia defense that was the best in college football last year gave up points by the bundle, and the kick returners who I had no control of fumbled the ball back to the opposition often. To be fair to the experiment, I had a rule that there would be no restarts or do overs. Every possession was crucial.
Because I am obviously pulling for me, I enlisted the help of internet friend Josh Hancher (@DawgStats on Twitter) of Bulldawg Illustrated to serve as a neutral party and assess my play calling. Josh took some of my personnel and play calling tendencies and made videos to go with this post. Since he is a wizard, he shows a lot of my plays side-by-side with similar plays from the 2019 season. You will see those as we go along, and I am incredibly grateful for what they add to this post. I hope you learn as much from them as I did.
The game makes you create a coach and give him a name. I needed someone to represent the attitude I wanted to bring to the team. I needed a man with an endless fount of wisdom to impart upon his players. That man was Erk Butts, a mixture of two of Georgia’s most legendary coaches. His name encapsulated my entire offensive philosophy- GATA... With our butts out. It was clear he was going to fit in perfectly on Kirby Smart’s staff.
The game doesn’t let you change the conference schedule, and for some reason, it made me play nine conference games. That meant Murray St and Texas A&M went off the schedule and I had to play Arkansas and Ole Miss instead. With few open weeks in the schedule, Notre Dame became my first opponent.
It was time to tee it up. Could I, Graham Coffey, a 31 year-old outdoor industry buyer, prove myself to be a superior coaching option to the man who made nearly a million dollars coaching Georgia’s offense in 2019? Coffey versus Coley was on.
Week 1 - At #6 Notre Dame
I had to make a statement in my opening game. So on my very first down as an offensive coordinator, I made the dreams of a million Dawg fans come to life.
I did the unthinkable and had Fromm keep it around the outside for 14 yards. Fromm is not a threat to take it to the house from our own 35 yard line, but I wanted to keep the defense honest. That simple action kept the defense from crashing towards D’Andre Swift without hesitation, and I used it a lot as the season went along. Here’s Josh’s analysis...
A few play later in the drive, I ran the same zone-read play out of the same formation. Instead of having three defenders waiting on him, Swift got to the hole and only had to make one guy miss. The result was a 30 yard gain and Swift punched it in for six On the next down.
Things were simple from there on, and we put up 401 yards on the way to beating Notre Dame by a score of 35-14. The key to the game was third down efficiency, and I went 9-for-11 on third. I felt started thinking this was going to be easy... 1-0, UGA 35-ND 14
Week 2 - South Carolina (0-1)
How do you ruin a good feeling and turn a hot Georgia team into a hot mess? Play South Carolina! Much like in real life, we struggled. Jake Fromm walked out to midfield and laid a MASSIVE egg in the form of four interceptions. D’Andre Swift carried the ball into stacked boxes and Fromm couldn’t keep the defense honest, and we went to the half down 10-3.
I calmly reminded the team of fundamentals, and how good it feels to beat Will Muschamp at anything. That obviously worked, as a 9-yard Fromm to Swift touchdown pass capped the first drive of the third quarter. Unfortunately, South Carolina answered with a Parker White field-goal early in the fourth, and hope began to look lost.
With the clock rolling and 46 seconds remaining, Sanford Stadium was grumbling as we sat just inside the USC 40. A quick audible at the line resulted in a wide-open George Pickens and a 39-yard touchdown. Their would be no upset today. 2-0, UGA 24-SC 13
Week 3 - at Ole Miss (2-0)
The game decided that John Rhys Plumlee was too much for the UGA defense, and things got bad quickly. Another game filled with Fromm INT’s didn’t help, but I was behind most of the day and a stat line of 25 carries for 38 yards on means this is the place for Josh’s video of me making poor running calls. Fair warning, this may trigger Georgia fans with post-traumatic stress from the James Coley era.
I moved James Cook to the slot at halftime out of desperation. It saved our season. Cook hauled in 6 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second-half. His efforts got the game into overtime. Ole Miss got the ball first and quickly scored. Suddenly it was 4th-and-14 on the 29 yard-line, and my national title dreams were slipping away.
I looked my players in the eyes and said, “Let’s throw it to the tight end. This program hasn’t done that in a decade, nobody will ever expect it.” Charlie Woerner caught a 15-yard dig and a few plays later we were in the end-zone. We scored seven on our next possession as well, and the Georgia defense finally got to young Plumlee. 3-0, UGA 35-OM 28
Week 4 - Arkansas (2-0)
I realized that James Cook might just be a decent football player, and decided he would be our starting slot receiver going forward. I would have to find more ways to get him the ball as the year went along, but we’ll come back to that.
After the poor rushing performance against Ole Miss, I knew that I had to find ways to get defenses to stop keying so heavily on the interior gaps of my offensive line. I decided to commit some play calls to the sweep, something that James Coley didn’t do much in 2019. Here’s Josh’s workup...
The result made opposing linebackers have to respect the threat of runs around the edge, and it opened up the middle for more chunk plays on the ground. Ironically, many of those came on Coley’s favorite call, zone runs by Swift out of the Shotgun. In retrospect, the lack of play calls dedicated to keeping a defense honest is one of the biggest head scratchers as it relates to Coley’s game planning in 2019. Fortunately, I’m a superior tactician...
Against Arkansas everything clicked, The run game worked early, and Swift went for 131 yards and 2 TD’s on 18 carries. Eventually Arkansas sold out on the run, and that allowed Pickens to get loose over the top for 127 yards on 4 catches and 2 TD’s. Arkansas scored a couple late TD’s, but the game was never in doubt. 4-0, UGA 29-ARK 24
Week 5 - Arkansas State (3-1)
Everyone wore pink. 5-0, UGA 35-Ark St 21
Week 6 - Tennessee (4-1)
Here I discovered what would become the closest thing I had to a base package, 20 personnel with Swift and Cook lined up on either side of Fromm in the shotgun. Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t stop Tennessee, giving up 411 yards and 37 points. Fortunately, Swift, Cook and Pickens couldn’t be stopped. Fromm threw 2 INT’s but still had his best game of the season, going 22/30 for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Despite that, the Dawgs were down 37-28 entering the 4th quarter. A long drive capped by a Fromm touchdown run made it a two point game, and the defense finally held Tennessee. A long pass to Pickens was followed by another to Cook, and with the Vols on the ropes I put the ball in Swift’s hands and he scored from 12 yards out. 6-0. UGA 43-UT 37
Week 7 - at Missouri (3-2)
Just like the week before, I found myself in a shootout. Jake Fromm threw 4 interceptions once again, and the computer fumbled a kickoff. It’s hard to win a game with 5 turnovers, and wit just under a minute left in the game, Missouri scored a touchdown to go ahead by a field-goal.
I needed a drive...
He never found himself in this spot, but I don’t think Coley dialed up a four play touchdown drive all season. You didn’t misread the graphic at the end of this clip, George Pickens actually went for 7 catches, 311 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fromm’s 4 interceptions kept the game close, but his 5 touchdowns and 411 yards passing won it. 7-0, UGA 40-Mizzou 36
Week 8 - at Vanderbilt (3-3)
The first half against Vanderbilt was probably my best of the season. The offense was in a groove, and though I was turning the ball over a lot more than Georgia did in 2019, I considered it a necessary means to the end of putting up points.
James Coley never met a 2nd and short he couldn’t run a draw into, and I never met a down I couldn’t air it out on. Here’s the breakdown...
The game was 31-7 at the half, and due to some controller issues I had to simulate the rest of it. The game took this as an opportunity to give me an anxiety attack, but we prevailed. 8-0, UGA 38-Vandy 31
Week 10 - #16 Florida (Jacksonville) (6-2)
I was taking an undefeated number one ranked Georgia team to Jacksonville to face Florida. What could possibly go wrong???
The players could tell I was becoming unhinged and notice that I was hyperventilating while watching game tape from the 2002 and 2005 Cocktail Parties. James Cook and George Pickens asked to speak, and reminded me that I’m not James Coley. I began to calm down. When they reminded me that I was facing Third-and-Grantham himself, I began to cackle wildly.
When it came time to play I gave James and George the ball and put the game in their hands. In his cleanest performance in weeks, Fromm threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 attempts. The bulk of those yards came throwing to Pickens and Cook.
Coley refused to see what Cook could do catching passes out of the backfield and slot last season, but I believe in getting the ball to guys with speed who can make defenders miss. I know he’s a running back, but the fact Coley refused to try getting balls to the dynamic Cook despite having a receiving corps that had its top five pass catchers injured at one point is absurd to me. Unfortunately for the 2019 Georgia Bulldogs, I think James Coley would rather be calling something comfortable to him with no hope of success than try something unknown and inventive. Here’s some clips of just how dynamic Cook and Pickens were as my go to guys.
We never trailed against the Gators, and after the game I reminded Dan Mullen who the real offensive guru was. I also tied his shoes together and hid a red clown’s nose in his bag. 9-0, UGA 27-UF 20
Week 12 - at Auburn (6-4)
Auburn’s season had been a disappointment, and nothing would be more Auburn than to beat a top ranked team with nothing to gain from it. What ensued was the craziest game in a season full of crazy games. The plays can tell their own story here, and since Josh is a genius he managed to mix in more of his analysis and pull some comparative plays from the game Coley called on The Plains.
Things started out well enough...
Though I didn’t recreate Coley’s immortal achievement of nine straight three-and-outs to end the game, I did make quite a few mistakes...
Refusing to die, I had strung together touchdowns to close the first overtime period and start the second. All of the barners without tickets had gathered around Toomer’s Corner in anticipation of celebrating an upset over the top-ranked Dawgs. Now it was the Georgia Defense’s turn to try and make a play. I went to Dan Lanning, and begged him to hunker it down one more time.
Gus Malzhan was fired the next Monday. You really hate to see it. No, honestly, you really hate to see a coach your school has absolutely owned every season leave your schedule.
In an ironic twist, I have received thousands of letters from Alabamians thanking me for helping them avoid the toilet paper shortage that would befall most of our great nation just a few months later. No man knows the importance of a well-stocked toilet paper cabinet more than Erk Butts. 10-0, UGA 42-AU 35
Week 13 - Kentucky (3-8)
The Cook, Swift, Pickens triumvirate rolled on. With each player having a touchdown catch and both Cook and Pickens gaining over 100 yards through the air. D’Andre picked up 95 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground to go with his 71 yards in the passing game. 11-0, UGA 42-UK 28
Week 14 - at Georgia Tech (6-5)
The guys came out pretty flat, but it’s easy to do that against an FCS school like Georgia Tech. Fortunately talent took over and the game was never very close. 12-0, UGA 23-GT 10
Week 15 - Alabama (Atlanta) 10-2
Though LSU did beat Alabama in the game’s version of the 2019 season, the Tigers lost a couple of unexpected games and didn’t make it to Atlanta. Alabama was explosive, and I wanted to keep their offense off of the field. I also wanted to break the winless record of Nick Saban assistants that my boss Kirby Smart had hanging over his head.
James Coley never would have had the confidence to pull off a game plan like this, Thank God I’m not him.
We got the ball to start the game and drove it down their throats in tiny chunks, killing all but 24 seconds of the first quarter. Most of my sets were two wide-receiver looks, so I put Cook in as a fullback and snuck him into the flat on a play action pass to go ahead 7-0. He couldn’t have been more open. Throwing to him out of the fullback spot was the perfect safety valve, and the Alabama linebackers couldn’t keep up with his speed. Here’s a couple examples...
After a Bama punt, a big run by Cook out of the fullback spot set us up in Tide territory. I was pounding the ball and making sure any passes were safe. Turnovers wouldn’t be easily overcome in a game like this.
It was 14-0 early in the second quarter, but Tua Tagovailoa took his team roaring down the field before the drive stalled and the Tide settled for a field-goal. I got the ball back with three minutes left in the half, and intended to keep it. Though I couldn’t manage six, Hot Rod put in a field-goal with no time remaining in the half. It was 17-3, but I had seen this movie before.
The Tide didn’t manage a score on the first drive of the second half, and I decided that now was the time to have the drive of my life. It was death by a thousand paper cuts, and I even converted one third-down by lining up Andrew Thomas as an eligible tackle and hitting him for a 4-yard out route. James Coley could never.
The drive ended with another Hot Rod field-goal, but it was now a three possession game with only 1:49 left on the clock. I had slayed the dragon. Our endless crimson nightmare was over.
I ended the game 11/13 on third-down, and Jake Fromm was 16/19 for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns. Swift went for 120 yards on 28 carries, and Cook pitched in 5 carries for 56 yards. Pickens grabbed 4 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, but the sweetest statistic of all was time of possession. 19:01 to 4:59 for the Tide. Bama only ran 22 plays, and Nick Saban would spend the off-season trying to figure out how to both slowdown and speed up offenses before retiring in frustration. 13-0, Georgia 20-Alabama 10
Clemson - BCS National Championship (Pasadena, CA)
The venue of the Rose Bowl made me feel a bit better, but I was genuinely worried about keeping up with Trevor Lawerence and newly crowned Heisman winner Travis Etienne.
Those concerns felt warranted when Clemson sprinted out to a quick two touchdown lead and the first quarter ended with them up 13-0. I was sputtering, and panicking a little bit as Jake Fromm had thrown a couple early interceptions. This might not be my day.
With Fromm shaky, I leaned on the running game. The line started opening huge holes, and Swift barreled through them to the tune of 8.4 yards per a carry for 135 yards. The first touchdown calmed everyone’s nerves, and George Pickens caught another touchdown to tie the game just before the half. 14-13. One half away from glory.
The third quarter had plenty of fireworks, and started off with a 56-yard touchdown catch by James Cook. Lawerence answered with a short touchdown pass to Diondre Overton and a two-point conversion tied the game. We came flying back down the field on the back of Swift before James Cook caught a 9-yard touchdown to take a 28-21 lead. Then the defenses settled in.
Both sides traded punts, and as the clock began ticking down, I thought the game might be won. Lawerence and Overton had different ideas, and connected on a 51-yard pass to tie the game with 1:07 remaining. A million tweets about Georgia blowing another national title went out across the country as the game headed to overtime.
Clemson won the toss, and I took the ball first. The rest is college football history...
Joel Ostareen and the Tigers sulked back to Clemson as property was destroyed all over Georgia. 14-0, Georgia 35-Clemson 28... 2020 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
Who Was The Better Coordinator?
Fromm - 225/359, 62%, 36 TD/34 INT, 4100 yards, 169.5 QBR - School Record for Yards
Swift - 308 att, 1625 yards, 5.3 ypc, 22 TD’s
Cook - 32 att, 162 yards, 1 TD
Pickens - 61 rec, 1781 yds, 29.1 ypc, 19 TD’s
Cook - 66 rec, 1101 yds, 16.6 ypc, 12 TD’s
Swift - 42 rec, 282 yds, 6.7 ypc 2 TD’s
Woerner - 10 rec, 161 yds, 2 TD’s
PPG - 33.4
Rushing YPG - 124
Passing YPG - 285
Yards Per Game - 419
Total Yards - 6,095
Total Touchdowns - 62
Fromm - 234/385, 60.5%, 2860 yards, 24 TD/5 INT, 141.2 QBR
Swift - 196 att, 1218 yards, 6.1 ypc, 7 TD’s
Herrien - 103 att, 490 yards, 4.8 ypc, 6 TD’s
Pickens - 49 rec, 727 yards, 14.8 ypc, 8 TD’s
Cager - 33 rec, 476 yards, 14.4 ypc, 4 TD’s
Robertson - 30 rec, 333 yards, 11.1 ypc, 3 TD’s
Swift - 24 rec, 2016 yards, 9 ypc, 1 TD
Rushing YPG - 185.1
Passing YPG - 223
Yards Per Game - 408.1
Total Yards - 5,713
Total Touchdowns - 50
The numbers favor Coley in the rushing game, but it can easily be argued that Georgia was so heavily skewed towards the run that it did the team a disservice strategically. Either way, I win the battle when it comes to passing yards per game, total yards and yards per game,
Of course the most important stats are touchdowns and wins. In those two categories I have a strong margin...
James made $950,000 last year at Georgia and will make $450,000 coaching tight-ends at Texas A&M this fall.
Science has proven that I am a better offensive coordinator than James Coley.
College football coaches, my DM’s are open and my email is listed on the masthead. Send me your best offers.
Until then, Go Dawgs!
The author would like to thank Josh Hancher (@DawgStats) for the many hours he spent contributing ideas to this project and making the videos in this post. Thanks, Josh!