Here is what I’m NOT worried about for Saturday’s season opener against Arkansas:
1) UGA players affected by a hostile crowd. And I feel kinda sad to write this. It’s low hanging fruit to include it, as the pandemic will affect fan attendance at every game. But to dive deeper, Georgia has played well inside the Natural State’s borders. 2014 was the Nick Chubb show in Little Rock, with the Bulldogs scoring 31 points in the 2Q to put the game almost out of reach by halftime. 2009 was a shootout: Ryan Mallett came out slingin’ it and put the Hogs up 21-10 in the 1Q before Joe Cox (!!!) matched Mallett’s 5 TD passes (!!!) and AJ Green just did his stuff. The University of Arkansas faithful are as ardent a bunch as any, and they’re pumped to have Sam Pittman back in the fold, but we’re just too good, too deep and two deep, so this shouldn’t be a problem (on paper) no matter the crowds.
2) Kendal Briles racking up points. I’m sure the Arkansas Offensive Coordinator is a genius with X’s and O’s, but he doesn’t have the athletes to execute his plan. While very capable, Feleipe Franks is not the kind of quarterback to win a game single-handed. With a new system, a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a totally new feel, I don’t see the Razorbacks playing flawless offensively, and probably only comfortable with half the playbook. They may score, yet I doubt they move the ball consistently.
3) UGA Defense applying pressure. Dan Lanning and Kirby Smart like havoc plays. And who better to target for havoc than our old friend Feleipe Franks? The QB for Arkansas is like a long-lost friend, and I’m sure vets Jordan Davis and Malik Herring will greet Franks with open arms and some semblance of a loving hug to talk about the old days. They’re probably also telling Nolan Smith, Travon Walker, Nakobe Dean and the other youngsters what a great guy Franks is, and that they should probably have a meetup in the backfield at his place. Arkansas HC Sam Pittman is a wiz with the O-Line, and does return 4 starters, but he will be too busy in his headset to coach them up much.
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:
1) The Arkansas defense. I always feel that defenses have the advantage early in the season, at least with the front four and in run support. They typically have less complicated schemes that are very effective in hitting gaps, applying pressure, and pushing other large human beings. And Barry Odom is on the other sideline, who has gotten very good defensive results out of otherwise mediocre teams, specifically on the defensive line. He’s done it at Memphis, at Mizzou under Gary Pinkel, and even as the Mizzou head coach. Sure Arkansas was ranked 110th in FBS last season, but Odom and Pittman understand how to use said large human beings and I expect them to play hard.
What will we throw at possibly the strongest Hawg unit for the first game? A couple of running backs, who while not season starters, certainly have experience. A couple of receivers including highlight film George Pickens. And a reworked offensive line missing 3 stalwarts to the NFL and a sometimes-starter as a UT transfer. (That doesn’t sound good.) But at least under center we have a redshirt senior in Jacob Eason. Oops, I mean a four year starter in Jake Fromm. That meant to read as a sure-fire NFL draft pick dual-threat stud. Uhhh… maybe it should say a fifth year grad transfer. Possibly a former 5 star Power 5 transfer who will be medically cleared? A Juco Transfer who graduated high school like 6 years ago? A green-around-the-ears freshman? How about someone not too far removed from life-threatening brain surgery? And coming from a new scheme and the headset of a newly hired offensive coordinator.
This. This is why I worry.
2) Gotta get those freshman in early. With all kinds of relaxed rules about eligibility, but the four game limit for redshirting still in place (I think?!?), we have to have our youngsters getting playing time right away. This is for a variety of reasons: depth, shortened schedule, and recruiting.
With any positive COVID-19 test, your football team will immediately be stressed. And with contact tracing protocols requiring quarantines, there’s no guarantee you’ll have your 3 and 4 deep available, so get everyone experience immediately. A condensed schedule also limits healing time, so better to know what you’re dealing with before an injury wrecks your plans. And Georgia faces 4 straight ranked teams after this week. Plus showing recruits that you can come in an play as a freshman goes a long way with the top targets. Kirby Smart has proven you earn your playing time no matter your age. And heck, last season was the first for Smart that UGA didn’t have a freshman quarterback on the field at some point. Will 2020 return to form?
3) Place Kicking game. Gone is Hot Rod. We still have Jake Camarda as punter who really seemed to come into his own late last season. But we will trot out a new foot for the held kicks. Do y’all remember how sketchy Rodrigo was those first few games his first season? Extra points were barely clearing the bar, they were knuckling all over the place, and a few were pulling left harder than my famous double-cross golf swing. We need someone to get some confidence quick, not crush his dreams and lose the trust of his teammates in crucial situations. I can’t believe this game will come down to kicking, but we didn’t think the 2019 South Carolina game would either. This is 2020, after all.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about our first season between the Bulldogs of Georgia and the Razorbacks of Arkansas.
And as always…