This is the year for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs, at least that’s what I keep hearing. Never mind the fact that last year was the year and so was the year before that. No, this is really the year. I mean gosh…look at all the talent!
Yeah, let’s do that. Just think about this group of guys Kirby has assembled and run off in just a few classes:
- Jacob Eason, the number 1 QB in the class of 2016 – transferred to Washington.
- Mecole Hardman, the 12th best recruit in the class of 2016 – chose to get a job rather than hang around Smart for another year.
- Isaac Nauta, the best tight end in the class of 2016 – did what Mecole did but chose to work in damn Detroit — no one works in Detroit by choice.
- Justin Fields, the best quarterback in the country and the nation’s second-best player – transferred to Ohio State after a failed career as Georgia’s dual-threat punt specialist.
- Brenton Cox, the number two player at his position in the class of 2018 – kicked off the team by Kirby’s ego.
What talent are we talking about guys? We talk about talent like it’s still in Athens, but those guys represent 25 combined stars (all five-stars) departed from Kirby’s first three recruiting classes. Georgia has lost five 5-star talents from Kirby’s first three classes. I can’t say that enough. And that really matters. Why? Well consider the context: Only five other schools in the entire nation even signed that many 5-star talents from the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018. Those schools: Alabama, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Clemson and Florida State. Georgia isn’t going to do jack now that it has lost those guys.
I mean think about it: Florida State signed one 5-star player in 2016, four 5-star players in 2017 and no 5-star players in 2018. Do you think the Seminoles would be national championship contenders if literally all their good players left? I don’t think so. So why do we think Georgia will be in the hunt?
For years, fans complained about Georgia losing with 5-star players all over the field. Is it better that the Dawgs are now just losing the actual 5-star players? I don’t think so.
Even the world-wide leader in junk math (ESPN) knows the Dawgs don’t really have a chance. Their FPI thingy projects Georgia to have the following chances of victory:
|Opponent||Odds of Winning|
Georgia literally isn’t guaranteed a single victory. But even more telling, based on these odds the Dawgs have a cumulative likelihood of just 5.82% of going undefeated. In other words, if Kirby Smart got to do this season 17 times, the Bulldogs might run the table once. The problem is that Kirby isn’t going to get 17 chances at this. We know that because Mark Richt (who had a much better winning percentage through his first three years as a head coach) didn’t get 17 seasons.
So it’s time to get realistic. Not only is this not “the year” for Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs, but Kirby Smart isn’t even “the man” for the job. Let’s jump into the schedule to see if the Dawgs can even reach bowl eligibility.
Georgia at Vanderbilt – August 31
I really think Georgia can win this game, but it’s not going to be pretty. A night game in Nashville means a lot of things. First and foremost, it means probably no Vanderbilt fans in attendance. A small, Georgia-heavy crowd is going to make this game feel something like a spring game and Georgia barely won its G-Day game this year (final score of 22-17). The Bulldogs are going to need a better game from quarterback Jake Fromm who was just 14 of 29 for 116 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT the last time Georgia played in a spring game. Assuming he steps up, I think the Bulldogs will start the year on a high note.
Prediction: Georgia wins. Record: 1-0.
Georgia vs. Murray State – September 7
Historically, Georgia has struggled against non-state “state” schools under Kirby Smart. The Dawgs are 2-0 in such contests but the results haven’t always been pretty.
- 2016 Nicholls State – 26-24 Win
- 2017 Appalachian State – 31-10 Win
I’d expect something similar – maybe a 10-12 point victory. Lots to keep an eye on with this one though.
Prediction: Georgia wins. Record: 2-0.
Georgia vs. Arkansas State – September 14
Arkansas State has quietly become one of the best football programs in Arkansas and that is not at all a shot at the Arkansas Razorbacks and their transition from Bret Bielema (who managed just 4 wins in 2017) to Chard Morris (who managed just two wins in 2018). The Red Wolves (seriously, can’t they just be Wolves at this point? It’s 2019.) have gone to bowl games every year under head coach Blake Anderson. Georgia should have a slight edge in talent in this contest and the Dawgs will need every bit of it. Blake Anderson is a more accomplished head coach than Kirby Smart according to the internet. Anderson has 1,816 words worth of accomplishments in his bio. Smart only has 1,360. I’ve got this game as one of two toss-ups for the year, but I lean to Georgia thanks to homefield advantage.
Prediction: Toss-Up / Leaning to a Win. Record: 3-0.
Georgia vs. Notre Dame – September 21
This is the game of the year in some regards. The Bulldogs could enter this game 3-0 (or at worst, 2-1) and Notre Dame will likely come to Athens undefeated. Notably, the Irish will be crusading through the south on a revenge tour. The lamestream media will focus on a hotly contested 2017 contest won by Georgia in South Bend, but I bet they’ll overlook the two most important story-lines.
- This is a very different Georgia team from the 2017 edition that almost won a national championship. Georgia ran for 185 yards at Notre Dame in 2017. Players still on the roster accounted for just 36 of those yards. Georgia boasted a meager 141 yards of receiving in that contest. Only seven of those yards came from players still on Georgia’s roster. Georgia forced two crucial turnovers in in South Bend; predictably, the players responsible are no longer on the roster. This isn’t your two-year-old sister’s Georgia team.
- Notre Dame has improved at the quarterback position; Georgia has not. Brandon Wimbush was the Fighting Irish starter when Georgia played at Notre Dame in 2017. Where is he now? He’s the quarterback at Central Florida. Quite obviously, a program like Notre Dame shouldn’t be playing with Central Florida’s quarterback. Notre Dame deserves better and the Irish have upgraded at that position in a big way. Meanwhile, Georgia is still using Jake Fromm at quarterback. You may recall, Fromm received his first career start at Notre Dame after an injury to Jacob Eason one week prior. So yeah. Georgia is still playing a quarterback who only saw the field because Jacob Eason (who has thrown for a whopping total of 28 yards during calendar years 2017, 2018 and 2019) got a boo boo.
Expect Notre Dame to put the “MASS” in massacre.
Prediction: Loss. Record: 3-1.
Georgia at Tennessee – October 5
Speaking of quarterback play, nobody is talking about how much Jarrett Guarantano has improved for the Volunteers. Guarantano (which I believe is Spanish for the word “guarantee”) had as many 300-yard passing games in 2018 as Saint Jake of Fromm. Further he held his own against Fromm in a head-to-head matchup of how not to play quarterback back in 2017. That game was really something: Fromm finished with an impressive 84 yards on 15 attempts (more than 5.5 yards per attempt!) while Mr. Guarantee was a very clean 6 of 7 passing for only 16 yards. Both of those statistical lines are pretty mind-blowing. Ultimately, I’m giving the Volunteers the edge here because of QB play. Guarantano is just much more reliable – only five career interceptions to Fromm’s 13.
Prediction: Loss. Record: 3-2.
Georgia vs. South Carolina – October 12
If there’s anything we know about South Carolina it’s that the Gamecocks like to play ugly. Truthfully, last year’s game was a little closer than it seemed. What ended up being a 41-17 Georgia victory could easily have been 41-35 if South Carolina was better at football. And that’s a problem for Georgia this year because I think South Carolina will be better at football. Candidly, this Gamecock squad seems ready to make the jump from 7-6 to 8-5 and given the rate at which Georgia is losing talent and losing games, the Dawgs may be the victim that puts the Cocks over the hump. This could be the worst Cox/Cocks loss for the Bulldogs all year.
Prediction: Toss-up / Leaning to a Loss. Record: 3-3.
Georgia vs. Kentucky – October 19
If both toss-up games break the wrong way, the Dawgs may enter this bout with the Cats riding a four-game losing streak. Fortunately, Kentucky is, as we’ve pointed out time and time again, still Kentucky. Andrew Hall, who used to write for this site, is right once in a blue-moon and he nailed the Kentucky game last year when the Wildcats were “contenders” for the SEC East.
As I’ve already said, there are no guaranteed victories for Georgia in 2019. But numbers be damned, this is as close to a guaranteed victory as one can have in the SEC and the Dawgs will need this.
Prediction: Win. Record: 4-3.
Georgia vs. Florida – November 2
The most frustrating part about this game is that Kirby Smart is going to somehow find a way to lose to the only team in the Western Hemisphere suffering from worse talent attrition than Georgia. It just feels inevitable. Kirby has never defeated Florida three times in a row as a head coach and over the past two years this game has trended in the wrong direction for the Bulldogs. Georgia’s points scored in Jacksonville declined by more than 14.28% from 2017 to 2018 while Florida’s points scored increased by more than 142.85% over the same period. If that holds, Georgia is going to lose 41-31.
I’m not really a math guy. But I’m not not a math guy and at some point you have to pay attention to the numbers.
Prediction: Loss. Record: 4-4.
Georgia vs. Missouri – November 9
This game is downright terrifying. People forget: Missouri’s new quarterback has played for teams that went to the College Football Playoff in each of the past three seasons. He won a national championship in 2017. He’s also already played four seasons of college football. By these measures, he is literally the nation’s most experienced national champion at the quarterback position. It’s downright terrifying to have that guy teaming up with an offensive genius like Derek Dooley. I’m not kidding about Dooley either. He was a dumpster fire as a head coach, but the dude has done work with Mizzou’s offense. In his first year at Missouri:
- 13th nationally in yards per game.
- 18th in points per game.
- 8th nationally in fewest sacks allowed.
- 6th nationally in fewest negative plays.
- The only non-playoff team to throw for at least 275 yards per game and run for at least 200 yards per game.
This is gonna be bad.
Prediction: Loss. Record: 4-5.
Georgia at Auburn – November 16
Georgia teams – even ones as bad as this one – don’t really lose to Auburn. Dating back to 2006, Georgia is 11-3 against the Tigers. The common thread for those three Bulldog losses: Georgia scored fewer points than Auburn in each contest. But that has been a rarity. It’s hard to even call Auburn a “rival” at this point.
- Auburn has scored more than 17 points just twice in its last nine games against the Dawgs.
- On average, Georgia has outscored Auburn by nearly two touchdowns in the last 14 meetings.
- Georgia has outscored Auburn 421 to 255 over this time frame.
This is a win. As much as I hate Kirby, even I can’t get worried about this one.
Prediction: Win. Record: 5-5.
Georgia vs. Texas A&M – November 23
It’s hard to know what to make of this game. Georgia is riding a two-game winning streak against the Aggies, but those wins came in the Shreveport Bowl (where Georgia may be heading again this year) in 2009 and at home in 1980. For better or worse, neither Joe Cox nor Herschel Walker are walking through that door. So throw the record book out the window, folks.
What may be a bit more relevant here is Kirby Smart’s history against Jimbo Fisher. Alabama played Florida State in 2017, but Kirby wasn’t the Tide’s Defensive Coordinator at that juncture. In that game, the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide held No. 3 Florida State to just seven points. But Kirby didn’t do that. So really all we have to go on in the Kirby Smart vs. Jimbo Fisher debate is this: In 2013, Alabama lost to Auburn and Auburn lost to Florida State (coached by Jimbo Fisher) in the National Championship Game. So the edge here goes to A&M.
Prediction: Loss. Record: 5-6.
Georgia at Georgia Tech – November 30
Calling Georgia Tech “little brother” is an insult to little brothers at this juncture. If Georgia is “Big Brother” in this analogy, then Georgia Tech is a lice that is getting passed around little brother’s class. Eventually, it could make its way home and cause Big Brother some discomfort but that’s not going to keep anyone up at night.
I know Georgia Tech has a new coach, but Georgia fans should stop pretending to be worried about Geoff Collins. “But he won games at Temple!” you people say. Yeah, so did Bill Cosby. That doesn’t mean you need to be scared of the guy (unless you know…in the case of Cosby…).
Frankly, what Collins accomplished at Temple won’t translate to Tech. Why is that?
- He had more talent at Temple. Over the past two seasons, Collins had five Owls (Jacob Martin and Julian Taylor in 2018 and Rock Ya-Sin, Ryquell Armstead and Michael Dogbe) drafted. Georgia Tech hasn’t had any players drafted in the past two drafts.
- Collins played worse competition than Tech does. If you ranked the Top 10 conferences based on difficulty, you’d objectively have to say: 1. SEC, 2. Second-Tier of SEC, 3. ACC, 4. Big Ten 5. Big 12, 6. American Athletic (Where Temple Plays), 7. Pac-12, 8. Conference USA, 9. Notre Dame/BYU, 10. Sun Belt. Point being: Collins is now in the nation’s third-best conference, as opposed to the sixth-best.
So with infinitely more NFL talent than Georgia Tech and a weaker schedule, Collins posted a .600 winning percentage at Temple. Big deal. He also went winless against the SEC. That trend will hold.
Prediction: Win. Record: 6-6.
It’s not all gloom and doom for Georgia this year. There’s a legitimate path forward to a bowl game and that means a shot at a winning record. But bad things happen when you can’t retain talent on the coaching staff or the roster. That’s the price of Smart Football.
Y’all have fun this season though.
-The Kirby Smart Hater
Let’s start here: Georgia did not belong in the playoff. Hear me out.
Was Georgia a Top-4 team on Saturday? Absolutely. Were the Dawgs a Top-4 team down the stretch, when they cruised by Florida, Kentucky and Auburn? Probably. But Georgia wasn’t a Top-4 team all season long, and that shouldn’t be too hard for you to wrap your mind around. After all, up until last Tuesday (we’re talking literally six days ago), the Bulldogs weren’t a Top-4 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings. This was not an unjust travesty or failure by the system. It just wasn’t.
I hear all the arguments for putting the Dawgs “in” loud and clear and I agree with most of them. But the reality is no man-made committee will ever appropriately reach a consensus on something as subjective as who the “best” teams are. That’s why the BCS system was created in the first place. So, a panel of experts retreat into a room and do what boards tend to do—act in the interest of self-preservation. Anyone with a lick of common sense knows it would not have been a politically popular move to put Georgia into the playoff. And that “anybody with a lick of common sense” qualifier applies to Kirby Smart, who contrary to the bad fake-punt call he may never live down, does in fact have a functioning brain.
Smart did his best to lobby for Georgia but he knew the odds were stacked against the Dawgs after Saturday’s heartbreak. That’s probably part of why the aforementioned punt call came to be in the first place. It’s certainly why the Dawgs played like a team with no margin for error down the stretch of the season, because after the LSU game two narratives were abundantly clear as it relates to the Playoff:
- Georgia did still, technically, control its own destiny.
- Georgia had zero room for mistakes.
And to be clear: Georgia wasn’t in any greater of a predicament than any other team in contention.
Ohio State couldn’t afford another mistake after losing to Purdue. The Buckeyes completely checked the big boxes thereafter (crushing Michigan for arguably the most impressive win of the entire college football season and winning a conference title by 21 points). But my guess is the committee perceived lackluster performances against Nebraska and Maryland as mistakes. If you lose a game you shouldn’t lose in ugly fashion, you get a second chance, but you have to be perfect.
Oklahoma couldn’t make any mistakes after losing to Texas. And though you may not like how the Sooners won games, they won them all. And ultimately, Oklahoma was more deserving, from the standpoint of accomplishments, than Georgia. Oklahoma lost only once, to a rival away from home during the regular season and avenged that loss in a conference title game. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how Georgia got into the playoff last year. We’re kidding ourselves if we think the committee was going to eliminate a team for style of play. That’s not how the committee operates.
Georgia is probably one of the four best teams in the country. But Georgia doesn’t belong in the playoff—at least not in this current reality. If we’re being honest, the playoff is a lot less about the nit-pickiness of who the best four teams are and a lot more about ensuring with certainty that the best team comes out on top. And frankly, that’s how it should be. That’s the point of playoffs in general. The BCS formulas weren’t about the gap between number 17 and number 18, they were about making sure the best team was standing at the end. The same is true of the playoff. That’s part of why I’m opposed to expanding to eight teams, even though doing such a thing would have benefitted Georgia this year. I don’t think the wrong champion has been crowned in the Playoff Era (and I don’t think the wrong team took the crown during the BCS Era either for that matter).
The SEC Championship Game was a playoff game—at least for Georgia. And though we might think we know how Oklahoma (or later Notre Dame or Clemson) will hold up against the Crimson Tide, we do know (precisely) how Georgia would do against Saban & Co., because we just saw it. We know—concretely—that in a one-game, must-win setting, Georgia lost to Alabama. Because of that, I see why the committee felt compelled to put Oklahoma in. Because we don’t know that the same would be true of Oklahoma—at least not yet.
That’s a bitter pill for Bulldog fans to swallow, but it’s a pill I’ll take nonetheless.
Because this is what we came for.
Georgia didn’t swap Mark Richt for Kirby Smart for anything less; that’s for damn sure. But why, exactly, was the change made and how, specifically, has it already been validated? Surely, no one really misses the Richt Era at this juncture, but still, how do we know this is working? Let’s take a step back for some context.
If Georgia wins the Sugar Bowl, it will mark the program’s 25th win over a two-year period. The Bulldogs have never done that. They’ll have accomplished that partially with Richt’s guys and partially with the youngest roster in the country. But that’s not what we came here for.
We came here, quite frankly, to be disappointed, by that figure. “Georgia should already have 25 wins over a two-year stretch,” we should be saying. “Or maybe even 26.” Georgia should be in the playoff. Georgia should already have its first National Championship since 1980.
We came here for disappointment in anything shy of perfection. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we chose with Kirby Smart and that’s where he’s taken us—already.
I happen to love it, and I don’t know how you could not.
Heading into the SEC Championship Game, I was disappointed in the demeanor of Georgia fans. I talked to a handful who felt the Bulldogs had an outside chance. I heard a few podcasts that kept the Dawgs in the game. But that was about it. Most seemed to embrace the national narrative. Nobody—and certainly not Georgia—was going to dethrone Alabama. That bothered me to my core. I was, after all, somewhere between confident in the Dawgs and misguidedly confident in the Dawgs.
But now that the smoke has cleared and I’ve had time to reflect on a game that was closer than almost anyone would have expected and that somehow went largely how I anticipated, I realize I’ve been a hypocrite. I’m as guilty as the next guy of not thinking Georgia is really there.
I watched the National Championship Game at Miller’s Ale House in Orlando. I was down there for a work thing I couldn’t get out of (booked shortly after Georgia’s 2017 loss to Auburn), and because good things don’t happen to Bulldog fans, the first Georgia national championship game appearance of my lifetime occurred in my backyard and I was in another state listening to investment pitches from small cap retail & consumer companies. It is what it is.
I had at least three drinks that night. It was a rare occasion in which I got to have one-too-many drinks in celebration and one-too-many drinks in mourning on the same damn day.
When the game ended, everything got really dark. Not in a blackout kind of way, more a macabre kind of defiance. I was sitting on the floor at Miller’s commiserating with some recent Georgia grads. They were in Orlando for training with KPMG or Ernst and Young or something. Not long after I sat down (again, on the floor of Miller’s Ale House in Orlando), I grew testy. The tone of the conversation from all other participants was: We’ll never get back here. This is the worst. Being a Georgia fan is the worst. This is unfair. Woe is me.
How dare they! I’d seen worse. They weren’t at Georgia in 2008. They weren’t fans yet in 2012. They hadn’t blogged millions of words about this program like me. They didn’t have the right to be disappointed!
In hindsight, no one has the right to be disappointed in a college football team—not even me. But as Georgia fans, we now have that privilege. And oh, what a righteous indignation it is to be disappointed. And that, my friends, is the new state of Georgia football.
We’re not pissed off just because Florida is running over us time and time again anymore. We’re not annoyed by our Dawgs’ inability to get past Tennessee in a meaningless mid-season game. We’re not bitching about trivial woulda / shoulda / couldas. We’re not wondering why the Bulldogs can’t show up for big games.
Nope. That’s not what we’re disappointed by. We’re bummed out that our team outplayed Alabama for 119/120 minutes of regulation in two meetings and we have no wins to show for it. We’re hot and bothered to not be repeating as SEC Champions while the most dominant dynasty in the history of the sport is happening across the aisle within the conference’s other division. We’re pissed off that we’re not going to play for a second national championship in as many years despite boasting the nation’s youngest roster. And we’re downright irritated that we keep running head-first into a problem that is literally once-in-a-generation.
Think of it this way: If Alabama only has Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia is either 1-1 against the Tide or (more likely) 2-0 over the past 12 months. I truly believe that. The Bulldogs beat Hurts in January when they prepared for him but couldn’t fend off Tua in the second half. Tua was obliterated by Georgia on Saturday (when Mel Tucker and his staff brilliantly prepared), but Hurts found ways to beat Georgia. Never before has college football had a team as generally talented as Alabama and that almost didn’t matter against the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, never before has a college football team boasted two such supremely talented quarterbacks with such differentiated skills. The uniqueness of this situation can’t be overstated.
Jalen Hurts was the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016. As. A. Freshman. And that wasn’t lip service. He accounted for 3,734 yards and 36 total touchdowns that year. Georgia has fielded some pretty good freshman QBs in recent history, too. For context, here’s how they compare to Hurts (SPOILER: They’re nowhere close):
- Jake Fromm: 1,040 fewer yards of offense, nine fewer TDs
- Jacob Eason: 1,349 fewer yards of offense, 19 fewer TDs
- Aaron Murray: 518 fewer yards of offense, eight fewer TDs
- Matthew Stafford: 1,794 fewer yards of offense, 28 fewer TDs
- David Greene: 904 fewer yards of offense, 18 fewer TDs
That’s the guy who beat Georgia this past weekend.
And he only really beat Georgia this past weekend because the Dawgs were consumed by preparations for another, completely different quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa. Were it not for the curb-stomping (or should I say, Kirb-stomping) Georgia put on Tua this past weekend, he would surely have won the Heisman Trophy while posting the highest passer rating in the history of college football. As it stands at this moment, the Heisman may go to Kyler Murray and Tua may have to settle for the second-highest passer rating in the history of the sport.
And here we are as Georgia fans. We’re frustrated that Georgia is somehow 0-for-2 against this dynasty and those quarterbacks—not just both of them individually, but both of them at the same time.
THIS is what we came for.
We came to be disappointed. Not because we’re masochists. Not because we’re delusional. Not because the expectations are too high. But because we’re ready to watch a football program transcend. Because we know it’s doable. Because we know the expectations are exactly where they should be—our Bulldogs have just set them a little early.
That is what we came for.
I’ve talked a few times with a particular reader of this site about Georgia’s early success under Kirby Smart. This guy is a Mississippi State fan and someone I know personally. His point, and it has merits, is this: Georgia fans will be spoiled by early success under Kirby. They’re going to come to expect this year-in and year-out and that’s going to doom Smart and his staff as such levels aren’t sustainable.
To be perfectly clear: This guy could be correct. Maybe only time will tell. But there’s a certain relative-to-Richt-ness or relative-to-history-ness about that narrative. In other words, the narrative seems to still involve the old guy. Yeah sure, Kirby is winning a lot now and it seems better than what you had. But if you start to expect that you’re only going to be disappointed because it can’t be sustained as evidenced by Richt at Georgia and others elsewhere.
To be clear: I don’t know if the Richt angle is intended in the narrative above or if I’m contriving it, but either way, I would counter with something like this:
You’re exactly right. Georgia—the program, the administration, the coaches, the dozens of analysts/personnel directors, the players themselves and even the fans—have come to expect a hell of a lot more under Kirby. And he’s damn right that pressure is a privilege. But the pace with which Georgia has gotten here isn’t merely fortuitous instant gratification or fool’s gold. It’s actually proof of concept.
This is what we came for. And we’re not leaving.
Immediately following the National Championship Game, I legitimately wondered if Georgia would ever get back in the playoff. As I said at this article’s onset, I never thought the Dawgs would be in the playoff this year and they’re not. But the fact remains that just 11 months after rock bottom for Georgia fans, Kirk Herbstreit and countless other pundits were lobbying for a playoff spot for an allegedly-rebuilding Georgia team.
Can you swallow that pill?
Eleven months later, we’re second-guessing Kirby Smart about a fake punt at midfield in the SEC Championship Game against the team some were calling the best in college football history. That’s the level of nit-picking we’ve reached as a fan base. And no, I don’t think that’s wrong. I don’t think it’s unhealthy. I don’t think it’s misguided and I don’t think it will be short-lived.
This is the new normal. The expectations are now oppressively high, and the program has proved that they should be.
Perfection or bust. Or, as a wise philosopher once said, “Anything less than the best is a felony.”
I’m here for that.
That’s all I got/
I think Alabama has clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff. I don’t think that’s a hot take, and I also don’t think it has anything to do with Georgia. Bama could beat Georgia by a ton and get in. Bama could barely beat Georgia and get in. Bama could lose by a small margin and get in. Bama could lose by a billion and get in. Honestly, that’s not a gripe. Alabama is undoubtedly one of the four best teams in the country. They’re favored by way too big of a margin against Georgia. They’d be rightfully favored against everyone in contention even if they got blown out be Georgia.
It also goes without saying that if Georgia, currently #4 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, beats the top-ranked team in the country during the last week of play, the Bulldogs will be in the playoff. At that point, the Bulldogs would be favored against whoever they draw (likely Notre Dame in a #2 vs. #3 matchup).
If/when that comes to pass, Georgia and Alabama will be on a crash course for a re-match with Alabama seeking revenge. But Kirby Smart isn’t going to let that happen.
I re-watched the national championship game last night and it’s as painful as it was in January. Georgia lost the game in truly unique fashion. It’s not as simple as “Tua came in and did magic things.” It’s not as simple as “Tyler Simmons was onsides.” There were freak plays (the Fromm pick on the first drive wouldn’t happen again if he threw the same ball nine more times; the Raekwon Davis interception off a helmet was one-in-a-thousand), missed calls (not just the Simmons thing but also a flagrant face mask missed on the ensuing drive, etc.), atypical blown coverages (Malkom Parrish is noted for being beat on the game’s final play, but he was beat several times—including Tua’s first TD pass—despite a stellar career in Georgia’s defensive backfield).
It hurt. Bad.
Kirby isn’t going to let that happen again. There is no way he’s going to lose to Bama in the National Championship two years in a row. He won’t do that to Georgia. He won’t do that to his players, his coaches or the program’s fans. He just won’t.
But he’s also not going to end Nick Saban’s career, and beating his former mentor twice in a matter of six-and-a-half weeks would surely be the end of Saban’s career. It might literally KILL Nick Saban to lose twice to the same team on such little turnaround. And I don’t think Kirby Smart wants Saban dead. At least not yet.
So if he can’t rip out the hearts of Georgia fans in the National Championship Game and he can’t let Saban die on the field, his only other option will be to lose to Notre Dame. That’s obviously not an option because Notre Dame is still Notre Dame dammit. That would make the entire SEC look bad.
So there’s really only one option: Kirby has to remove himself from the situation as a whole. And the only way to avoid this whole godforsaken scenario is to lose to Alabama on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.
If—and this is a big if—Georgia loses to Alabama this weekend, it’s because Kirby did the noble thing. He refused to decapitate his washed up mentor. He refused to let the conference down. He refused to break his alma mater’s heart. If Georgia loses Saturday, it’s because Kirby says, “This is more than a game, and there’s always next year.”
And what’s more Georgia than that?
That’s all I got/
Tua is a good football player. He’s a great player. He’s probably going to win the Heisman. But I think a lot of quarterbacks could put up video game numbers against the passing defenses Alabama has faced this year. But first, a look backwards…
Most people (Georgia fans in particular) seem to think Tua Tagovailoa finished last year’s national championship game 1-for-1 for 41 yards and a TD. Well fine, that’s technically how he finished the game. But prior to that moment here’s how his game was going:
- 13 of 23 (56.5% completion rate)
- 125 passing yards
- 5.4 yards per attempt
- Two TDs (one thrown to someone other than the guy who caught it)
- One INT (into a field of red jerseys)
- Two sacks for combined losses of 20 yards
He finished the game (in its entirety) with a QB Rating of 149.4. That’s a good number. Maybe even a really good number. But that’s not what we would now consider a TUA NUMBER. You see, this season Tua has posted a year-long QB Rating of 212.5. That’s not only tops in the country, it’s the highest by nearly 6 points (Kyler Murray is second at 206.8). Further, here’s 15 years’ worth of historical context. These aren’t just random dudes. These are the national leaders in each of the past 15 seasons.
Nobody is even close!
Tua is not human!
Except…when he is.
Remember, against Georgia in January his QB Rating was actually 149.4. That figure wouldn’t have been anywhere close to leading the country at any point over the past 15 years. Further, it would rank 32nd this year.
“But that was last year,” you may be saying to yourself. “That was true freshman Tua against a much better Georgia defense.”
Well, Tua has looked human a few times this year as well—against LSU and Mississippi State in particular. Here are his lines from those games:
- LSU: 25 of 42 for 295 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT (rating: 129.5)
- Mississippi State: 14 of 21 for 164 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT (rating: 138.5)
What do LSU and Mississippi State have in common with last year’s Georgia squad as it relates to passing defense? Well, all three defenses are pretty darn good against the pass. Case in point: the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs and both the 2018 LSU Tigers and 2018 Mississippi State Bulldogs all gave up fewer than 6.0 yards per pass attempt. That’s pretty damn good.
- 2017 Georgia – #2 nationally, 5.6 yards allowed per pass attempt
- 2018 Mississippi State – #3 nationally, 5.4 yards allowed per pass attempt
- 2018 LSU – #14 nationally, 5.9 yards per pass attempt
Tua has been relatively ho-hum against three top-15 pass defenses. What’s that have to do with this Saturday’s game? Well, Georgia (this year’s Georgia!!!) ranks 12th in the country at 5.8 passing yards allowed per attempt. By that measure, these Bulldogs are more alike than different from the past three teams that have brought Tua down to earth. But what’s wild is this: Tua hasn’t really seen any other defenses anywhere close to this—at least not this season. Here’s how the rest of his 2018 FBS opposition shapes up.
- Arkansas State – #49 nationally, 6.9 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Auburn – #51 nationally, 7.0 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Tennessee – #87 nationally, 7.6 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Missouri – #92 nationally, 7.7 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Ole Miss – #100 nationally 7.9 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Arkansas – #114 nationally, 8.5 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Texas A&M – #117 nationally, 8.5 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Louisville – #119 nationally, 8.5 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Louisiana – #121 nationally, 8.5 yards allowed per pass attempt
Tua has played exceptionally awful passing defenses. Period. Even with Mississippi State and LSU included, the cumulative average of these figures is that Tua has played eleven FBS defenses this year who have, on average, given up 7.5 yards per pass attempt. For what it’s worth, Georgia Tech’s passing defense has allowed exactly 7.5 yards per pass attempt and ranks 81st in the country. This has nothing to do with Tua, but Jake Fromm posted a passer rating of 255.6 vs. Tech last week. Good quarterbacks have good games against bad pass defenses. That’s a tale as old as time.
This is what matters:
- Tua Tagovailoa is a really good quarterback.
- He looks unapproachable because he’s played terrible defenses.
What’s that have to do with this game? Again, Georgia’s pass defense is not terrible. Further, if you’re looking for Tua to be worth a 14-point spread by himself because he has put up crazy numbers, you’re looking for a false indicator. For even more context, consider Georgia’s passing game. When adjusted for context, Tua becomes a bit more relatable – even to a Georgia QB (Jake Fromm) that some Bulldog fans don’t want starting (shoutout to the Fields Fanboys).
Why does Fromm lag Tua so much in national perception? A few reasons:
First and foremost, Fromm doesn’t pass as much as Tua. Much has been made of Tua “never playing four quarters.” Fromm doesn’t always play four quarters either. But irregardless of how much either player plays, the fact remains that Tua has attempted 269 passes this year and Fromm has attempted 233. That 36 pass gap may not seem like a lot, but Tua has thrown about 15.5% more times than Fromm. Put another way, Fromm has never attempted 36 passes in a game – so he’s more than a full game behind Tua in attempts. In fact, in his last two games Fromm has attempted just 21 total passes. Further, since the loss to LSU, Georgia has five games (all against FBS competition, three against Top 25 teams, two away from home against Top 25 foes). Fromm has averaged just north of 15 pass attempt per contest over that period. Why? Because Georgia’s average margin of victory in those contests has been north of 23 points per game. For what it’s worth, Fromm is a combined 62 of 85 (73 percent) for 827 yards (9.7 YPA) 11 TDs, 1 INT and a rating of 195.02.
But sure, it’s Tua whose numbers suffer because his team crushes opposition so badly.
If you throw more (as Tua does), you should throw more completions (and Tua does). But the completion percentage of these two is roughly equivalent. Fromm has hit on 69.1 percent of his attempts. Tua has an edge at 70.3 percent. Where Tua runs away with this thing is that he has a lot more touchdowns (36 to 24), fewer interceptions (two to Fromm’s five) and a higher yards-per-attempt average (11.9 for Tua; 9.6 for Fromm).
But let this be perfectly clear: Fromm has played MUCH better passing defenses. Here is where his foes stack up by the same measure as above (yards allowed per pass attempt):
- LSU – #14 nationally, 5.9 yards per pass attempt
- Florida – #19 nationally, 6.1 yards per pass attempt
- Kentucky – #31 nationally, 6.4 yards per pass attempt
- MTSU – #39 nationally, 6.7 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Auburn – #51 nationally, 7.0 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Vanderbilt – #68 nationally, 7.3 yards allowed per pass attempt
- South Carolina – #76 nationally, 7.4 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Georgia Tech – #81 nationally, 7.5 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Tennessee – #87 nationally, 7.6 yards allowed per pass attempt
- Missouri – #92 nationally, 7.7 yards allowed per pass attempt
- UMass – #124 nationally, 9.0 yards allowed per pass attempt
Fromm’s 11 FBS foes boast an average defensive YPA of 7.1. Another way to think about it is through the lens of common opponents. Tennessee is the fifth-best passing defense Tua has faced but the ninth-best faced by Fromm. Missouri is the middle-man (number 6 of 11) for Tua. Mizzou is the next-to-last defense Fromm has faced.
Also, I didn’t include FCS opponents because neither QB should really care about showing out against those folks. Tua, predictable, padded his stats (18 of 22 for 340 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs) against the Citadel in late November. Fromm did little more than a warm-up against Austin Peay, hitting on 12 of 16 passes for 157 yards 2 TDs and 0 INTs. If you remove those games, Tua’s season-long rating falls from 212.5 to 208.6. Fromm basically stays the same—in fact taking out the cupcake moves him up from 179.4 to 180.8.
I’m not saying Fromm is as good as Tua. I’m certainly not saying he’s better. I’m just driving home the point that the quality of opposition played should matter. So, what’s the statistical prediction for Tua in this game?
I’m expecting something like this: 22 of 36 for 290 yards, three TDs and 1 INT. That equates to a rating of 150.7.
How about for Fromm? Last year he was 16 of 32 for 232 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. He’s a better player and I think Georgia’s offense is better. But I don’t think he’ll throw 30 passes. So give me: 15 of 24 for 225, 2 TDs and 0 INTs. That’s a rating just shy of 169. Nice.
That’s all I got/
I didn’t grow up a die-hard Georgia fan. I watched any and every SEC game I could get my googly eyes on as a kid, and I rooted aggressively against the University of Tennessee. But I did not really dive into Georgia football until I enrolled at the University as a freshman in 2006. In fact, even after being accepted to UGA I didn’t totally commit. Truthfully, I didn’t know where I wanted to take my academic talents. I applied to tons of schools—Georgia, Tennessee (lol), Vanderbilt, Clemson, Samford, you name it. I even applied—and almost went—to Auburn. Ultimately, I chose the University of Georgia over Auburn (my backup school…sorry!). And ever since that day, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry hasn’t been much of a rivalry.
You see, rivalries are supposed to be competitive. Frankly, Georgia/Auburn hasn’t been. Since 2006, Georgia is 10-3 against Auburn. To be sure, this period has featured some pretty decent Georgia teams (and some good Auburn teams as well), but 10-3 isn’t exactly competitive. In fact, Georgia’s winning percentage against the Tigers/War Eagles (.769) is actually higher than Georgia’s winning percentage as a whole over that time period (.728).
My beloved Bulldogs have absolutely dominated Auburn by practically every measure in head-to-head competition. And that makes me wonder: Is this even a rivalry anymore?
Georgia is notorious for having too many rivals. Florida and Tennessee are longstanding SEC East rivals, but South Carolina gets rival-like treatment as well. Georgia Tech is an in-state rival to some and Clemson was once a bitter rival and may someday soon return to the schedule and heat things up. Some would argue that Alabama is becoming a rival given the heated battles on the field, within coaching staffs and on the recruiting trail. Either way, there are too many rivals!
I’ve long advocated for removing the Georgia Tech “rivalry” from the schedule, because it’s just not competitive. Frankly, Georgia/Auburn is even less competitive.
Since 2006, the only team Georgia has defeated more than Auburn is actually Kentucky (lol).
We don’t really consider Kentucky and Vanderbilt (the only other teams Georgia has beaten at least 10 times since 2006) rivals do we?
Further, among teams Georgia plays somewhat frequently (meaning in this case, at least five times since 2006), Auburn is clearly not in the “rivalry” pool.
Missouri, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Auburn. What do these teams have in common? For starters, they’re the only teams Georgia has played at least five times since 2006 while posting a winning percentage of better than .750. That’s actually it. Which of these things is not like the other? Auburn. Why? Because Auburn is allegedly a rival.
What’s even crazier is the cumulative impact of these games. If we look at Georgia’s combined scoring advantage since 2006, Auburn is once again in elite company—right alongside Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
And that number isn’t just a byproduct of playing Auburn a lot of times. Since 2006, Georgia has played 27 different Power-5 opponents (this includes independent Notre Dame cuz duh). Auburn has been the 22nd-most competitive opponent from this pool as measured by average scoring differential vs. Georgia. Woof!
I said this heading into the SEC Championship Game last year, but let’s stop pretending Auburn against Georgia has a chance on Saturday. And when it’s done, we probably don’t need to celebrate.
That’s all I got/