Georgia Football: A Well-Informed UNC Preview
This is awkward.
Georgia opens the 2016 season and the Kirby Smart era in the Dome on Saturday. The opponent? The barely-border rival North Carolina Tar Heels. The programs share a lot of similarities– their stadiums are built on the same footprint by the same architect, Dooleys led them to their respective promised land, and they both somehow gave me degrees.
As a lifelong Carolina fan, I have lived through some incredibly lean times. Last year’s 11-3 campaign was the Tar Heels’ best since an 11-1 1998 season, which ended in Mack Brown going to Texas. Refraining from any trite cliches, I’m just looking forward to seeing my two schools square off and hoping its not too lopsided a blowout.
This is what you should expect to see from Carolina on Saturday:
An explosive offense.
The 2015 Tar Heels led the country in yards per play, at over 7. They scored over 4 points per possession. And they return 8 starters.
Among them, you have four offensive linemen I won’t bother naming, and a crazy collection of skill talent.
Fortunately for Georgia, Carolina’s most explosive weapon, Mack Hollins, will be on the sideline for the first half for this targeting call…from last year’s bowl game. Problems with that rule aside, the lack of a 6’3 burner who led the nation at over 24 yards per catch (30/745/8) last year will require other options to step up. As such, 6’5 senior Bug Howard (29/488/4) and slot man Ryan Switzer (55/697/6) will see a lot of the early targets.
Feeding them the rock is Mitch Trubisky, who, while a first-time starter, has been the heir apparent to the Carolina quarterback job for three years. Its amazing that he didn’t transfer out, and Heels fans are thankful. Last year, he only completed 85% of his passes for 6 TD’s, 0 INT, and a mind-boggling 226.4 passer rating.
I’m serious y’all, Carolina has some weapons.
Larry Fedora likes to keep his offense balanced in a perfect world, but will attempt to exploit whatever the defense gives him. As such, if Georgia goes two high safeties to protect the air attack, the ground game could flourish.
Junior RB Elijah Hood led all P5 running backs with 4.0 yards after contact per carry last year, and totaled 1463 yards and 17 TD. As you’ll see below, Hood is a head down and move forward back. With breakaway speed, he’d be in the Fournette/McAffrey/Chubb/Cook conversation. Shifty T.J. Logan went for 400 and 5 on about 6 per carry. A big part of that was the threat of last year’s QB, Marquise Williams, keeping the ball himself. Trubisky will have to keep the Dawgs’ front seven honest if Hood and Logan are to repeat that efficiency.
By any metric you can find, even schedule-adjusted ones like the S&P+, this is by far a better offense than any Georgia faced last year. If Trubisky doesn’t repeat Williams’ frustrating tendnecy to turn the ball over in key spots, look out.
Having said that…
The run D is atrocious.
Like, 645 yards to Baylor’s single wing in the bowl game atrocious. There were a few excuses (injuries, suspensions along the DL) but they just got MANHANDLED. The young guys are a year older, the line (especially the interior) has plenty of 4-star talent, but…
- The DE’s are BAD. The best of the bunch, Dajuan Drennon, will not play on Saturday. The Heels will go with two unheralded rotation guys, Mikey Bart and Tyler Powell, on the edges. Powell is a converted DT, which seems terrifying…maybe he’ll hold up better against the run?
- The LB’s are RAW. Gone are Shak Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer, and in is basically a whole new linebacking corps. MIKE Andre Smith showed flashes last year, but is anchoring the D as a true sophomore. Cayson Collins is a beast, but was a rotation guy last year because he (self-admittedly) didn’t understand Gene Chizik’s watered-down concepts. The Heels will play true freshmen and walk-ons behind these guys.
Basically, if Georgia gets any second-level blocks, its lights out. I expect a lot of outside zone to exploit the DE’s, and force the safeties into the box.
That’s a good thing for Georgia with true freshman Jacob Eason behind center, because…
The secondary, corners especially, are pretty damn good.
Best corner duo in the nation? Probably not. But somebody at ProFootballFocus thinks so. Both Desmond Lawrence and M.J. Stewart are fluid, rangy corners who should smother bigger guys like Michael Chigbu, and physically dominate the Reggie Davis, Isaiah McKenzie types. Both break incredibly well on balls in the air, so Eason can’t force throws.
Due to Georgia’s run game, Carolina will likely leave these two on an island a good bit to help with run support. This leads me to the biggest advantage Georgia actually has: overcommitted LB/S on guys like JEBBLAZE, Jackson Harris, and Isaac Nauta. I expect Jim Chaney to exploit the middle seam often, and in so doing, accomplish two things:
- Give Jacob Eason some easy throws to establish a rhythm;
- Soften the middle of the field for one Nick Chubb;
Special Teams: Advantage Carolina.
The aforementioned Switzer? If you’ve heard his name as an SEC person, its likely for his exploits returning punts. He has seven in his three years, tied for an NCAA record with Wes Welker. All things being equal, he and Isaiah McKenzie are about the same player…difference being Carolina has actually had special teams coaching over the past four years.
PK Nick Weiler was GODAWFUL two years ago, and…awesome last year. He credited yoga with curing his yips, so…yeah.
This really does set up to be an excellent game. Carolina will move the ball quite well against Georgia’s D, and Georgia will likely run for 250+ on Carolina’s.
Georgia’s desire to play ball control will play well, I think. Chizik’s D is very ‘bend-but-don’t-break’, so it’ll be up to Eason to make a couple of plays in the red zone to demoralize the Heels with some long drives ending in TD’s, not field goals (or attempts thereof).
Carolina’s desire to play fast will further tire the defense, but the offense is one that can explode for four touchdowns over the course of 12 plays.
I think superior defensive talent and depth is the difference here, as Georgia wins 38-33.