Here is what I’m NOT worried about as we face some Bulldogs Saturday afternoon:
1) Samford is returning 8 offensive starters and 7 on defense, and even 2 of their special teamers. This would normally make one nervous – an opponent laden with experience, leadership, and maybe a chip on their shoulder. But these returning starters are from a team that went 4-7 last season, and finished 7th in the Southern Conference.
2) Hatch Attack. Many of you can more accurately relay the history of Valdosta State football and its place in the development of the Air Raid offense. But Samford Coach Chris Hatcher was there under Hal Mumme in the 1990’s, and threw for a lot of yards as the quarterback with the Air Raid. Hatcher took a lot of those concepts and developed his own “Hatch Attack”, which he used upon returning to Valdosta State as coach (with Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart on his staff). And while Samford does like to sling it around, there just aren’t enough weapons to consistently open up downfield against the likes of Ringo, Stark, Smith, & Jackson et al.
3) Looking back, or looking forward. I’m sure the Georgia locker room is aware of the buzz generated from the 46 point beatdown of Oregon last week. Moving up a spot in the AP poll probably made its way inside Butts-Mehre as well. But as we’ve seen, Kirby Smart and his staff both control the message, and channel the message through the team very well. This is a program that was #1 in the nation for the second half of the season last year and favored in pretty much every game they laced up for.
And with the SEC opener next week, on the road against a division foe, there is the possibility that younger Bulldogs are not focusing on the game at hand. Yet I have faith that the veterans on the team will keep practices crisp, show by example how you keep the main thing the main thing, and generally provide that organic chemistry whereby all the Bulldogs are in lockstep.
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch. So here’s what does worry me about trying to beat the Alabama version of Mercer:
1) We have to run the ball. More importantly, we have to get the run blocking solidified before we get into the meat of the season and stout front 7s. 133 yards against Oregon doesn’t sound like much, and take away the couple of gallops by McConkey, it’s even less. The averages weren’t bad (over 5 yards per attempt), but Todd Monken only attempted 25 runs? In a game that was well in hand by halftime? That is the fewest attempts since the Peach Bowl against Cincinnati. And that was a game we played behind much of.
Samford hasn’t recently had a stout run defense. Last season, 7 of their opponents racked up over 200 yards on the ground, 3 of them over 350 yards. But the Bulldogs of Bama did hold Kennesaw State last week to under 200 yards… on 63 attempts! So someone else tried to run the dang ball, and I hope Kirby gets off the recruiting bus and gets on the road grading bus to get some good snaps, figure out assignments, and the best 5 for pounding it out on the ground. We’re going to need it sooner rather than later.
2) Get into the backfield. I love a sack as much as the next person. Blindsides are always fun – as long as no one gets hurt. The bull rush sack up the middle is a thing of beauty. Watching a linebacker stunt right into an open gap and swallowing the opposing QB is poetry. Yet I’m not picky – I love batted balls at the line, check downs caught from behind the line of scrimmage, and even errant throws right into zone coverage… all because the quarterback was pressured.
We didn’t cause that much havoc Saturday. It was probably part of the Duck game plan for Bo Nix to get rid of it quickly, and Chris Hatcher isn’t exactly known for having a QB pop out a lawn chair and crack a cold one. If I remember correctly, there wasn’t that much extra pressure dialed up in the form of blitzes – it was a lot more of a contain strategy that worked perfectly. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see who the next great edge rusher in red and black will be.
3) Couldn’t Stand the Weather. From what I’m seeing, Saturday will be cooler, overcast, and possibly rainy. That isn’t what the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce necessarily wanted for a home opener and the first game in Sanford Stadium for the National Championship Georgia Bulldogs. And I hope it doesn’t dampen the spirit of the fans, the students, or the tailgating. But at least it decreases the chance for cramping and other heat-related issues for our players.
Which also means it will be imperative for the Bulldog coaching staff to keep top players on a pitch count. I know Kirby is all about the best players playing, whether that be on kickoff coverage or the first 3rd and long. So I hope the offensive plan is to score plenty in the first 20 minutes, and start some liberal subbing. And then let’s get deep into the bench in the final 20 - to rest, to prevent injuries, and to get some game experience.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about the Bulldogs of Georgia versus the Bulldogs of Samford. And as always…